May 252018
 
 May 25, 2018  Posted by at 2:20 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte The therapeutist 1937

 

The Spanish government is about to fall after the Ciudadanos party decided to join PSOE (socialist) and Podemos in a non-confidence vote against PM Rajoy. Hmm, what would that mean for the Catalan politicians Rajoy is persecuting? The Spanish political crisis is inextricably linked to the Italian one, not even because they are so much alike, but because both combine to create huge financial uncertainty in the eurozone.

Sometimes it takes a little uproar to reveal the reality behind the curtain. Both countries, Italy perhaps some more than Spain, would long since have seen collapse if not for the ECB. In essence, Mario Draghi is buying up trillions in sovereign bonds to disguise the fact that the present construction of the euro makes it inevitable that the poorer south of Europe will lose against the north.

Club Med needs a mechanism to devalue their currencies from time to time to keep up. Signing up for the euro meant they lost that mechanism, and the currency itself doesn’t provide an alternative. The euro has become a cage, a prison for the poorer brethren, but if you look a bit further, it’s also a prison for Germany, which will be forced to either bail out Italy or crush it the way Greece was crushed.

Italy and Spain are much larger economies than Greece is, and therefore much larger problems. Problems that are about to become infinitely more painful then they would have been had the countries been able to devalue their currencies. If you want to define the main fault of the euro, it is that: it creates problems that would not have existed if the common currency itself didn’t. This was inevitable from the get-go. The fatal flaw was baked into the cake.

 

And if you think about it, today the need for a common currency has largely vanished anyway already. Anno 2018, people wouldn’t have to go to banks to exchange their deutschmarks or guilders or francs, they would either pay in plastic or get some local currency out of an ATM. All this could be done at automatically adjusting exchange rates without the use of all sorts of middlemen that existed when the euro was introduced.

Americans and British visiting Europe already use this exact same system. Governments can make strong deals that make it impossible for banks and credit card companies to charge more than, say, 1% or 0.5%, on exchange rate transactions. This would be good for all cross-border trade as well, it could be seamless.

Technology has eradicated the reason why the euro was introduced in the first place, and made it completely unnecessary. But the euro is here, and it is going to cause a lot more pain and mayhem. Any country that even thinks about leaving the system will be punished hard, even if that’s the by far more logical thing to do.

Europe is not ready to call for the end of the experiment. Because so much reputation and ego has been invested in it, and because the richer nations and their banks still benefit -hugely- from the problems the poorer face. The one country that got it right was Britain, when it decided to stay out of the eurozone.

But then they screwed up the next decision. And found themselves with the most incompetent ever group of ‘chosen few’ to handle the outcome. Still, anyone want to take out a bet on who’s going to be worse off when the euro whip comes down, Britain or for instance Italy or France? Not me. Close call is the best I can come up with.

 

The euro was devised and introduced, ostensibly, to solve problems. Problems with cross border trade between European nations, with exchange rates. But instead it has created a whole new set of problems that turn out to be much worse than the ones it was supposed to solve. That’s how and why M5S and the League got to form Italy’s government.

In Spain, if an election is called, and it looks that way, you will either get a left wing coalition or more of the Rajoy-style same. Left wing means problems with the EU, more of the same means domestic problems; the non-confidence vote comes on the heels of yet another corruption scandal for Rajoy’s party.

And let’s not forget that all economic numbers are being greatly embellished all over the continent. If you can claim with a straight face that the Greek economy is growing, anything goes. Same with Italy. It’s only been getting worse. And yeah, there’s a lot of corruption left in these countries, and yeah, Europe could have helped them solve that. Only, it hasn’t, that is not what Brussels focuses on.

Italy for now is the big Kahuna. The EU can’t save it if the new coalition is serious about its government program. But it also can’t NOT save it, because that would mean Italy leaving the euro. And perhaps the EU.

If Italian bonds are sufficiently downgraded by the markets, Mario Draghi’s ECB will no longer be permitted to purchase them. And access to other support programs would depend on doing the very opposite of what the M5S/League program spells out, which is to stimulate the domestic economy. Is that a bad idea? Hell no, it’s just that the eurozone rules forbid it.

 

The euro has entirely outlived its purpose, and then some. But it exists, and it will be incredibly painful to unravel. The new game for the north will be to unload as much of that pain as possible on the south.

Europe would have been much better off of it had never had the euro. But it does. The politicians and bankers will make sure they’re fine. But the people won’t be.

The euro will disappear because the reasons for it not to exist are much more pressing than for it to do. At least that bit is simple. The unwind will not be.

 

 

Feb 222018
 
 February 22, 2018  Posted by at 10:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Wasatch Mountains. Summit County, Utah 1940

 

Bond Yields Moving From ‘Sweet Spot’ To Riskier Area (CNBC)
Who Will Buy All Those Trillions of US Treasury’s? (Hamilton)
A Major Misconception About The Market Exposed In One Chart (CNBC)
Spiking Mortgage Rates, High Home Prices, New Tax Law, the Housing Market (WS)
Existing US Home Sales In January See Biggest Drop In 3 Years (R.)
Homeownership Is Increasingly For The Wealthy (CNBC)
Dallas Fed President Kaplan Sounds Panic Over Level Of US Debt (ZH)
Trump Gov’t May Make It Easier To Wipe Out Student Debt In Bankruptcy (CNBC)
Top US Treasury Official Slams China’s ‘Non-Market Behavior’ (R.)
Extending Brexit Transition Period Would Cost UK Billions More (Ind.)
Give Antidepressants To A Million More Britons, Doctors Urged (Ind.)
Are Driving Bans Coming for German Cities? (Spiegel)
Three Months On And Still No Action From Government On Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

 

 

It’s the investors and reporters that live in sweet spots.

Bond Yields Moving From ‘Sweet Spot’ To Riskier Area (CNBC)

The 10-year Treasury yield is getting dangerously close to 3%, a level that some say will set off serious alarm bells for some stock investors. While the entire Treasury market is moving, the 10-year is the benchmark, the rate most widely watched by investors and the one tied to a whole range of business and consumer loans, including mortgages. On Wednesday, it rose to a fresh four-year high of 2.957%, and that helped turn a strong stock market rally after the Fed minutes into a bloodbath. The Dow closed down 166 points at 24,797. That puts the focus again on the bond market Thursday and the events that could impact trading. That would include an appearance by New York Fed President William Dudley on Thursday morning and a 7-year bond auction Thursday afternoon.

The 3% level does not necessarily have to stop the stock market’s bull run, but it is a level where the probability for losses in the S&P 500 increases, according to a new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “You’re on the cusp of leaving the sweet spot, but that being said, the rising rates are not necessarily bad for the stock market. Yes, from your finance courses, a higher discount rate means you’re going to see lower valuations, all else being equal. But the ‘all else being equal’ missing ingredient is a high growth rate,” said Marc Pouey, equity and quant strategist at BofAML. Pouey said the “sweet spot” for stocks is a 10-year yield between 2 and 3%, but the fact that not only U.S. growth but global economic growth is strong makes it more likely that stocks will be able to positively navigate a zone where the 10-year is above 3%.

Read more …

These buyers don’t exist.

Who Will Buy All Those Trillions of US Treasury’s? (Hamilton)

As of the latest Treasury update showing federal debt as of Wednesday, February 15…federal debt (red line below) jumped by an additional $50 billion from the previous day to $20.76 trillion. This is an increase of $266 billion essentially since the most recent debt ceiling passage. Of course, this isn’t helping the debt to GDP ratio (blue line below) at 105%.

But here’s the problem. In order for the American economy to register growth, as measured by GDP (the annual change in total value of all goods produced and services provided in the US), that growth is now based solely upon the growth in federal debt. Without the federal deficit spending, the economy would be shrinking. The chart below shows the annual change in GDP minus the annual federal deficit incurred. Since 2008, the annual deficit spending has been far greater than the economic activity that deficit spending has produced. The net difference is shown below from 1950 through 2017…plus estimated through 2025 based on 2.5% average annual GDP growth and $1.2 trillion annual deficits. It is not a pretty picture and it isn’t getting better.

Even if we assume an average of 3.5% GDP growth (that the US will not have a recession(s) over a 15 year period) and “only” $1 trillion annual deficits from 2018 through 2025, the US still continues to move backward indefinitely.

The cumulative impact of all those deficits is shown in the chart below. Federal debt (red line) is at $20.8 trillion and the annual interest expense on that debt (blue line) is jumping, now over a half trillion. Also shown in the chart is the likely debt creation through 2025 and interest expense assuming a very modest 4% blended rate on all that debt. So, for America to appear as if it is moving forward, it has to go backward into greater debt?!? If you weren’t troubled so far, here is where the stuff starts to hit the fan.

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These guys can make themselves believe anything.

A Major Misconception About The Market Exposed In One Chart (CNBC)

There’s one chart that could cast doubt on an age-old market adage. As Treasury yields hover around multiyear highs with the 10-year inching toward the 3% mark, Oppenheimer technician Ari Wald says that history shows that rising rates are actually bullish for the market. A more common belief is that a rising rate environment bodes ill for stocks, but Wald says the technicals point to the opposite. “The key point for us is that the direction of interest rates is equally, if not more important, than the level of interest rates,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.” “So in general, we’re of the view that low and rising tends to be bullish for stocks and high and [falling rates] is what’s bearish.”

On a chart of the 10-year yield and the S&P 500 going back to 2000, Wald points out that since then falling interest rates have actually coincided with a drop in the market. “If you look back through history, you’ll see that it was a downturn in interest rates that coincided with market tops in 2000 and 2007, as well as what we’ve been calling the top in risk in that 2014 to 2015 period,” he said. “So we see rising rates as growth coming back into the market.” As a result, Wald believes that if investors are looking to put money to work, cyclical sectors like financials look to be a good bet right now. He cautions against bond proxies like utilities, telecom and real estate investment trusts as he believes they are going to “get hammered” in the current environment.

Read more …

US housing approaches a bottleneck.

Spiking Mortgage Rates, High Home Prices, New Tax Law, the Housing Market (WS)

The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages with a 20% down-payment and with conforming loan balances ($453,100 or less) that qualify for backing by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac rose to 4.64%, the highest since January 2014, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey, released this morning. This chart shows the recent spike in mortgage rates, as reported by the MBA. There are two spikes actually: The spike off near-historic lows in the summer of 2016 (the absolute low was in late 2012) when the Fed stopped flip-flopping about rate hikes; and the spike when the subsequent rate hikes started belatedly driving up the 10-year Treasury yield late last year. It’s the 10-year yield that impacts mortgage rates. Note that, except for the brief mini-peak in 2013, the average mortgage rate would be the highest since April 2011:

The average interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages backed by the FHA with 20% down rose to 4.58%, the highest since April 2011, according to the MBA. And the average interest rate for 15-year fixed-rate mortgages with 20% down rose to 4.02%, also the highest since April 2011. This may be far from over: “What worries investors is that if inflation increases faster than expected, the Fed may be obliged to ‘slam on the brakes’ to keep the economy from overheating by raising interest rates faster than expected,” the MBA mused separately. Home prices have skyrocketed in many markets since those years of higher mortgage rates, such as 2011 and before. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index has surged 40% since April 2011:

That’s the national index, which papers over the big differences in individual markets, with prices lagging behind in some markets and soaring in others. For example, in the five-county San Francisco Bay Area, according to the CaseShiller Index, home prices have surged 80% since April 2011:

So with home prices surging for years and with mortgage rates now spiking, what gives? Today the National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes fell 4.8% year-over-year in January – the “largest annual decline since August 2014,” it said – even as the median price rose 5.8% year-over-year to $240,000. I’m not sure if the new tax law, which removes some or all of the tax benefits of homeownership, has had an impact yet since it just went into effect. But the lean inventories and falling sales combined with rising prices tell a story of potential sellers not wanting to sell, and this could be exacerbated by the new tax law.

And they have a number of financial and tax reasons for not wanting to sell, including: • They’d lose some or all of the tax benefits that they still enjoy with their existing mortgages that have been grandfathered into the new law. • Given the higher mortgage rates that they would have to deal with on a new mortgage (which might exceed their existing rate by a good margin after repeated refinancing on the way down), and given the high prices of homes on the market, they might not be able to afford to move to an equivalent home, and thus cannot afford to sell.

Read more …

Now try and square this with that recovery story.

Existing US Home Sales In January See Biggest Drop In 3 Years (R.)

U.S. home sales unexpectedly fell in January, leading to the biggest year-on-year decline in more than three years, as a chronic shortage of houses lifted prices and kept first-time buyers out of the market. The supply squeeze and rising mortgage interest rates are stoking fears of a lackluster spring selling season. The second straight monthly drop in home sales reported by National Association of Realtors on Wednesday added to weak retail sales and industrial production in January in suggesting slower economic growth in the first quarter. “There may be some headwinds ahead for home resales with rising mortgage costs affecting how much the buyer can afford and this could put a damper on existing home sales and take some of the wind out of the economy’s sails,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Existing home sales dropped 3.2% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.38 million units last month, with purchases declining in all four regions. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast home sales rising 0.9% to a rate of 5.60 million units in January. Existing home sales, which account for about 90% of U.S. home sales, declined 4.8% on a year-on-year basis in January. That was the biggest year-on-year drop since August 2014. The weakness in home sales is largely a function of supply constraints rather than a lack of demand, which is being driven by a robust labor market. The shortage of properties is concentrated at the lower end of the market. While the number of previously-owned homes on the market rose 4.1% to 1.52 million units in January, housing inventory was down 9.5% from a year ago.

Read more …

Everything is.

Homeownership Is Increasingly For The Wealthy (CNBC)

The sharp drop in January home sales was not due to a shortage of homes for sale. It was due to a shortage of affordable homes for sale. While real estate economists continue to blame the pitiful 3.4-month supply of total listings (a six-month supply is considered a balanced market), a better indicator is a chart on the second-to-last page of the National Association of Realtors’ monthly sales report. It breaks down sales by price point. Sales of homes priced below $100,000 fell 13% in January year over year. Sales of homes priced between $100,000 and $250,000 dropped just more than 2%. The share of first-time buyers also declined to 29%, compared with 33% a year ago.

“Affordable inventory has been more depleted than expected and the upcoming spring homebuying season will likely be filled with bidding wars and multiple offers,” said Joe Kirchner, senior economist at Realtor.com. The biggest sales gains were in homes priced between $500,000 and $750,000, up nearly 12% annually. Apparently there are more of those homes for sale. That’s a problem, because higher price points are not where the bulk of buyers exist and especially not where most first-time buyers exist. If you look at sales distribution, about 55% of buyers are in the below $250,000 category. Just 13% are above $750,000. Unfortunately, the entry-level price point is not where most new-home builders exist either today, given the significantly higher costs of construction.

The median home price of a newly built home is around $335,000, according to the U.S. Census. The lower-price tier is, however, where investors exist. During the recession, when the supply of homes for sale was about four times what it is today, investors bought millions of properties, saving the housing market overall by putting a floor on tumbling home prices. Realtors say now is the time for those same investors to sell.

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“..when US debt doubled in the past decade the Fed had no problems, and in fact enabled it. And now, it’s time to panic…”

Dallas Fed President Kaplan Sounds Panic Over Level Of US Debt (ZH)

Nearly a decade after the US unleashed its biggest debt-issuance binge in history, doubling the US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion under president Obama, which was only made possible thanks to the Fed’s monetization of $4 trillion in deficits (and debt issuance), the Fed is starting to get nervous about the (un)sustainability of the US debt. The Federal Reserve should continue to raise U.S. interest rates this year in response to faster economic growth fueled by recent tax cuts as well as a stronger global economy, Dallas Federal Reserve Bank President Robert Kaplan said on Wednesday. “I believe the Federal Reserve should be gradually and patiently raising the federal funds rate during 2018,” Kaplan said in an essay updating his views on the economic and policy outlook.

“History suggests that if the Fed waits too long to remove accommodation at this stage in the economic cycle, excesses and imbalances begin to build, and the Fed ultimately has to play catch-up.” The Fed is widely expected to raise rates three times this year, starting next month. Kaplan, who does not vote on Fed policy this year but does participate in its regular rate-setting meetings, did not specify his preferred number of rate hikes for this year. But he warned Wednesday that falling behind the curve on rate hikes could make a recession more likely. [..] The most ironic warning, however, came when Kaplan predicted the US fiscal future beyond 2 years: he said that while the corporate tax cuts and other reforms may boost productivity and lift economic potential, most of the stimulative effects will fade in 2019 and 2020, leaving behind an economy with a higher debt burden than before.

“This projected increase in government debt to GDP comes at a point in the economic cycle when it would be preferable to be moderating the rate of debt growth at the government level,” Kaplan said. A higher debt burden will make it less likely the federal government will be able to deliver fiscal stimulus to offset any future economic downturn, he said, and unwinding it could slow economic growth. “While addressing this issue involves difficult political considerations and policy choices, the U.S. may need to more actively consider policy actions that would moderate the path of projected U.S. government debt growth,” he said. So to summarize: when US debt doubled in the past decade the Fed had no problems, and in fact enabled it. And now, it’s time to panic…

Read more …

Something’s in the air.

Trump Gov’t May Make It Easier To Wipe Out Student Debt In Bankruptcy (CNBC)

Student loan borrowers may finally have their day in court. The Education Department said Tuesday it would review when borrowers can discharge student loans, an indication it could become easier to expunge those loans in bankruptcy. The department said it is seeking public comment on how to evaluate undue hardship claims asserted by student loan borrowers to determine whether there is any need to modify how those claims in bankruptcy are evaluated. As of now, “it’s almost impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a student loan expert. “The problem was undue hardship was never defined and the case law has never led to a standardized definition.”

Meanwhile, college-loan balances in the United States have jumped to an all-time high of $1.4 trillion, according to Experian. The average outstanding balance is $34,144, up 62% over the last 10 years. Roughly 4.6 million borrowers were in default as of Sept. 30, 2017, also up significantly from previous years. The national student loan default rate is now over 11%, according to Department of Education data. Student loans are considered in default if you fail to make a monthly payment for 270 days. Your loan becomes delinquent the first day after you miss a payment. “I’m encouraged that they are asking the question,” Kantrowitz said of the Department of Education’s request for comment, although “this doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any policy changes.” And even still, bankruptcy should only be considered as a very last resort, he added.

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“..what they’re doing is perpetuating a system that worked for their benefit but ended up costing jobs in most of the rest of the world..”

Top US Treasury Official Slams China’s ‘Non-Market Behavior’ (R.)

The U.S. Treasury’s top diplomat ramped up his criticisms of China’s economic policies on Wednesday, accusing Beijing of “patently non-market behavior” and saying that the United States needed stronger responses to counter it. David Malpass, Treasury’s undersecretary for international affairs, said at a forum in Washington that China should no longer be “congratulated” by the world for its progress and policies. “They went to Davos a year ago and said ‘We’re into trade,’ when in reality what they’re doing is perpetuating a system that worked for their benefit but ended up costing jobs in most of the rest of the world,” Malpass said, at the event hosted by the Jack Kemp Foundation.

He said market-oriented, democratic governments were awakening to the challenges posed by China’s economic system, including from its state-owned banks and export credit agencies. He reiterated his view that China had stopped liberalizing its economy and was actually reversing these trends. “One of the challenges for the world is that as China has grown and not moved toward market orientation, that means that the misallocation of capital actually increases,” Malpass said. “They’re choosing investments in non-market ways. That is suppressing world growth,” he added. China said that its state-owned enterprises operate on free-market principles and is battling within the WTO’s dispute settlement system to be recognized as a “market economy” — a designation that would weaken U.S. and EU trade defenses.

Read more …

Tightening the noose…

Extending Brexit Transition Period Would Cost UK Billions More (Ind.)

Britain’s Brexit divorce bill will soar by billions of pounds if it tries to extend the transition period beyond the date suggested by Brussels, EU officials have told The Independent. Sources near the EU’s negotiating team said the UK would inevitably have to pay more – with the bill agreed by Theresa May already as high as £39bn – if it wants more time to prepare for its final break from the bloc. It came after a British Government document opened the way for a transition that could go on longer than the EU’s proposed end-date of 31 December 2020, though Downing Street was adamant the period will still be around “two years”. The prospect of a higher divorce bill, charged at millions of pounds a day, is likely to anger Tory Brexiteers as Ms May’s Cabinet gathers at Chequers today to try and hammer out a joint negotiating position for a trade deal with the EU.

Many hardline Eurosceptics are already uncomfortable with the idea of following EU rules with no say in making them – which some MPs have compared to making the UK a “vassal state”. One EU official close to talks told The Independent the financial settlement would “of course” have to be renegotiated if the transition extended into the next budget period, while another added: “Britain will have to pay for any transition beyond 2020, probably annual payments with no rebate.” In a statement published yesterday the Government said that the “period’s duration should be determined simply by how long it will take to prepare and implement the new processes and new systems that will underpin the future partnership” and that while “the UK agrees this points to a period of around two years” it “wishes to discuss with the EU the assessment that supports its proposed end date”.

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Wonder who paid for the study.

Give Antidepressants To A Million More Britons, Doctors Urged (Ind.)

More people should be offered drugs when suffering from mental health problems, according to a new study which calls into question recent concerns about over prescription. Research from Oxford University, which was published in The Lancet, found that more than one million extra people would benefit from being prescribed drugs and criticised “ideological” reasons doctors use to avoid doing so. Data from 522 trials, involving 116,000 patients, found that every one of the 21 antidepressants used were better than a placebo. In general, newer antidepressants tended to be better tolerated due to fewer side effects, while the most effective drug in terms of reducing depressive symptoms was amitriptyline – a drug first discovered in the 1950s.

“Antidepressants are routinely used worldwide yet there remains considerable debate about their effectiveness and tolerability,” said John Ioannidis of Stanford University, who worked with a team of researchers led by Andrea Cipriani. Mr Cipriani said the findings offered “the best available evidence to inform and guide doctors and patients” and should reassure people with depression that drugs can help. “Antidepressants can be an effective tool to treat major depression, but this does not necessarily mean antidepressants should always be the first line of treatment,” he told a briefing in London. The study looks at average effects and therefore should not be interpreted as showing how drugs work for every patient.

Read more …

It’s clear where Der Spiegel stands: “Preparing for Chaos”, “Normal city life would be rendered impossible.”

Ironically, the bans may get support from the car industry, since many people and firms would need to buy new vehicles.

Are Driving Bans Coming for German Cities? (Spiegel)

Emissions standards passed by the European Union in 2010 are regularly exceeded, essentially robbing residents of clean air to breathe. They have not, however, stayed quiet. Three years ago, 30 local residents launched a crusade against the city, demanding that traffic-calming measures be implemented and, ultimately, suing the city for inaction. In response, all they got were assurances that the city was looking into it or excuses that they didn’t have enough staff to deal with the problem. “Nothing has happened,” Lill says. That could change on Thursday. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig is set to consider whether vague plans to maintain clean air go far enough or whether problematic cities like Hamburg must ensure clean air as rapidly as possible, even if that means implementing driving bans. And there is plenty to indicate that the judges will prioritize health, just as lower courts in Düsseldorf and Stuttgart have done.

The landmark decision could very well send out shock waves affecting more than 60 municipalities in which, like Hamburg, limits on poisonous nitrogen oxide emissions are consistently exceeded. Germany’s major carmakers would also be put on notice, as would the German Chancellery and the ministries responsible. All have ignored the problem for years and are hardly prepared should the court prove stubborn. Things threaten to get even worse after that: Just a few weeks after the Leipzig ruling, the European Commission is also set to decide whether to initiate legal proceedings against Germany at the European Court of Justice for its failure to do anything about high levels of harmful emissions in its cities. Should Brussels decide to do so, it would clearly expose Berlin’s cozy relationship with the automobile industry at the expense of public health. “That would be a real disgrace for the German government,” says a state secretary in Berlin.

[..] The German government is now facing the consequences of its inactivity — or at least it will if the court rejects the appeals from Stuttgart and Düsseldorf against driving bans. Depending on the grace period the court decides on, the cities could be forced to close down their streets within three to six months. A verdict of that nature would destroy billions in value because drivers would suddenly be unable to drive into the city for work or to go shopping. Cars that already have to be marked down significantly in many places could then only be sold in foreign countries. Millions of cars would be affected by the ban and there is a possibility that even delivery vehicles and trucks belonging to craftsmen would not be permitted. Normal city life would be rendered impossible.

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Did anyone actually believe they’d do something?

Three Months On And Still No Action From Government On Plastic Pollution (Ind.)

MPs have attacked a three-month delay since the Chancellor pledged to tackle the huge environmental damage from plastic pollution – protesting that no action has followed. In his November Budget, Philip Hammond vowed to investigate new charges to make the UK a “world leader in tackling the scourge of plastic littering our planet and our oceans”. “We cannot keep our promise to the next generation to build an economy fit for the future unless we ensure our planet has a future,” he told the Commons. But, three months later, the Treasury has failed to start a consultation on what action to take, or even explain which Government department will run it. The protest comes from the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which has – in the meantime – recommended a 25p charge is levied on all drinks sold in disposable cups, which are lined with polyethylene.

Mary Creagh, the committee’s chairwoman, said: “Pollution from single use plastic packaging is choking our oceans and devastating marine wildlife. “Three months ago, ministers promised to look at using the tax system reduce the use of throwaway plastics, but still have not published a call for evidence. “The Government has talked the talk on plastics pollution, but it has been too slow to walk the walk.” In a stinging letter, sent to Mr Hammond and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, the committee demands to know when ministers will set out action to curb the “700,000 plastic bottles that are littered every day”. “These are just one example of single-use plastics that can end up in our seas and oceans, killing wildlife and breaking down into harmful microplastics,” Ms Creagh added.

Read more …

Feb 212018
 
 February 21, 2018  Posted by at 10:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Landscape with House and Ploughman 1889

 

90% Of Americans Strongly Opposed To Each Other (Onion)
Mueller’s Comic Book Indictment (David Stockman)
Foreigners Flock In As Buyers Of US Government Debt (CNBC)
Foreign Investors Cut Treasury Buying As US Flogs Record Level Of Debt (MW)
It’s Going to Be a Long Year for Bond Traders (BBG)
The Bear Still Cometh (Roberts)
Technical Charts Suggest Another Stock-Market Drop Is Coming (ElliottWave)
Final Version Of TPP Trade Deal Dumps Rules The US Wanted (R.)
UK Farmers: Lack Of Migrant Workers Now ‘Mission Critical’ (G.)
Vancouver’s Hot Housing Market Gets Tougher for Wealthy Chinese (BBG)
Amazon Tracks Its Workers Using Wristbands (Jacobin)
Come the Recession, Don’t Count on That Safety Net (NYT)
Plastic Bans Worldwide Will Dent Oil Demand Growth – BP (G.)
There Is No Time Left (CP)

 

 

I know, it’s sad if you need to open with the Onion. But that’s how sad things have become.

“..the 10% of survey participants who indicated otherwise did so because they didn’t consider those they disagreed with to actually be Americans..”

90% Of Americans Strongly Opposed To Each Other (Onion)

In a new study published Tuesday that surveyed U.S. residents about their attitudes toward current events, the Pew Research Center found that approximately 90 percent of Americans described themselves as strongly opposed to each other. “In the questionnaire we administered, nine out of 10 participants indicated they fundamentally disapproved of the actions currently being taken by their fellow citizens,” said polling analyst Babette Randolph, noting that the rate of opposition remained consistent across all 50 states and virtually every demographic regardless of age, gender, race, religion, or political identification. “The vast majority of poll respondents signaled they were dead set against the U.S. populace, condemning in forceful terms the way others have handled things over the past year and giving the people of their nation historically low ratings.” Randolph went on to note that the 10% of survey participants who indicated otherwise did so because they didn’t consider those they disagreed with to actually be Americans.

Read more …

Stockman goes through the whole comedy act and leaves little standing. Prior to the “13 Russians”, the Mueller investigation seemed dead. So note the timing.

Mueller’s Comic Book Indictment (David Stockman)

[..] with his comic book indictment, Robert Mueller has actually made himself a mortal threat to America’s democracy and national security. That’s because his indictment is unleashing a rabid anti-Russian mania in the Democratic party and turning flaming liberals and leftwing progressives, who used to form the backbone of the peace party in America, into outright war-mongers. The Donald tweeted over the weekend about Moscow “laughing its ass off” about the Mueller indictment, but we think he missed the mark. It is the Deep State on the banks of the Potomac that is bursting with glee – literally licking its collective chops – about the endless budget boondoggles now assured to be coming its way.

The neocons and military/industrial complex had already taken control of the GOP lock, stock and barrel. Then, his campaign rhetoric about “America First” notwithstanding, Trump abdicated to his empire-minded generals in order to concentrate on his Twitter account. And now in the wake of the RussiaGate hysteria being given a powerful new boost from Mueller’s comic book, the Dems are lining up to say we will see your $700 billion budget and crank it up from there. The truth is, there is a screaming fiscal crisis coming hard upon Imperial Washington. That’s owing to the $15 trillion of new deficits that are now built-in for the next decade – at the very time when the Fed has shut down is massive bond-buying experiment and the Baby Boom is hitting the social security and medicare rolls in droves.

Absent the RussiaGate hoax and the Dems descent into mindless, anti-Putin hysteria, there would have been a moment of maximum danger for the Deep State’s hideously inflated military, intelligence and surveillance operations. In the coming battle against fiscal collapse, they surely would have been on the fiscal chopping block like at no time since the aftermath of Vietnam in the 1970s. But rescue is now at hand. The Dems have been shell-shocked ever since the evening of November 8, 2016, and have worked themselves into deliriums about how it was all a big mistake enabled by Russian meddling and collusion with the Trump campaign. To a substantial degree, however, those narratives were on their last legs until the Mueller indictment came along. For anyone who takes the trouble to read it, of course, it’s just a potpourri of nonsense, marginalia and irrelevance.

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Dick Bove. I know. But even he can’t make it all up.

Foreigners Flock In As Buyers Of US Government Debt (CNBC)

Last week the United States Treasury Department released its latest data related to foreign buying of United States debt. It was a shocker. It showed that in the 12 months leading up to November 2016, the month that Donald Trump was elected president, foreigners had been net sellers of $339 billion in U.S. Treasurys. In the 12 months leading up to December 2017, they had shifted to being net buyers of $20 billion. Contrast this to the prior administration’s record. In November 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president, the trailing 12-month figures showed that foreigners had been net buyers of $301 billion in Treasurys. This dropped to the $339 billion outflow figure in November 2016, just noted, when he lost power. Putting the two sets of numbers together one sees that foreigners swinging $640 billion to the negative during the Obama presidency.

During the Trump presidency to date, foreigners swung positive by $359 billion. Wow!! It appears that foreign U.S. debt buyers are as enthused by the Trump agenda as much as domestic equity buyers are. Or, that the faith in the U.S. economic recovery is global in nature. The largest foreign holding of U.S. debt would be the combined portfolio of China and Hong Kong. It is about 6% of outstanding Treasury debt. This portfolio, if looked at year-over-year numbers, was up 1.5% in August, 2.1% in September, 6.1% in October, 11.1% in November and 10.4% in December. Overall, it grew by $145 billion. Other big buyers year over year were Saudi Arabia (up $47.1 billion), the United Kingdom (up $34.2 billion), Singapore (up $28.1 billion), India (up $26 billion), Switzerland (up $19.3 billion), Russia (up $15.6 billion) Korea (up $11.2 billion) and France (up $10.1 billion). The biggest sellers were Japan (down $47.1 billion) and Germany (down $14.7 billion).

Finally, of note, Ireland’s holdings jumped $51.3 billion possibly due to Brexit. The importance of these numbers cannot be understated. If one segregates the buyers of U.S. debt into its four main categories foreign buying is most important. Presently, it is believed that foreigners own 31.2% of outstanding U.S. debt. American households and businesses own 29.1%; Social Security and other government pension funds own 27.5%; and the Federal Reserve holds 14.2%. There is 2% double counting in the figures mainly in the amount held by Americans. This fiscal year due to the tax cut, higher interest rates and possibly other new fiscal programs, it is expected that the government must raise possibly another trillion dollars along with refinancing a portion of the $20 trillion already owed.

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Err, Wait! We just saw they’re buying, and now they’re not?

Foreign Investors Cut Treasury Buying As US Flogs Record Level Of Debt (MW)

As traders and analysts debate over who will harbor enough appetite to snap up $250 billion of debt sales this week, one group of investors has steadily retreated into the shadows — foreign bond-buyers. With the Federal Reserve halting its asset purchases several months ago, it’s unclear who will take up its place to soak up the deluge of issuance without demanding dramatically higher yields. An increase to spending caps and Republican tax cuts have escalated the Treasury Department’s borrowing needs, with some estimating more than $1 trillion of net issuance this year. Against that backdrop of increased supply, the diminished presence of a key bulwark to the bond market is troubling. “We expect that any increase in [foreign central bank] demand this year will be modest relative to the scale of supply, and that foreign private investor demand will be sporadic,” said strategists at Credit Suisse.

Foreign investors have slowly reduced their participation in Treasury auctions since the 2007-’09 financial crisis, according to Deutsche Bank. In 2008, in the throes of a global recession, foreign bond-buyers rushed into U.S. government paper, one of the largest liquid markets for safe assets in the world. From 2009 to 2011, Wall Street banks and international investors took down around 80% of the U.S. debt issued. But by 2017, foreign buyers took up 16% of the debt sold through auctions, compared with 29% in 2009. t’s not just auctions data that shows foreign investors are pulling back. The international share of the total U.S. debt fell to less than 45% in September 2017, down from 57% in December 2008. Though there was a slight uptick last year, for the most part the downtrend has remained intact.

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With one source saying foreigners are buying, and the other denying that, no wonder it’s going to be a long year.

It’s Going to Be a Long Year for Bond Traders (BBG)

It’s not even March yet, and bond investors probably can’t wait for the year to be over. The Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index has fallen 2.12% since the end of December through Feb. 16, and there’s little on the horizon to suggest a rebound anytime soon. U.S. Treasuries fell across the board Tuesday as the government began flooding the market with supply to rebuild its cash balance and start paying for the recently enacted tax cuts. Investors were asked to digest $179 billion in Treasury bills and two-year notes in a matter of hours, resulting in the highest borrowing rates for the government since 2008. While that’s good news for savers who have suffered with near-zero rates since the financial crisis, it’s not so good for borrowers. Overall, the government is forecast to at least double its debt sales this year to more than $1 trillion- the most since 2010.

In a research note, the strategists at Goldman Sachs wrote that they now see 10-year Treasury yields, which were at 2.89% on Tuesday, rising to 3.25%, up from their prior forecast of 3%. And since Treasuries are the global benchmark, the firm also boosted its yield forecasts for German bunds, U.K. gilts and Japanese government bonds. The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said it expects the U.S. budget deficit to swell to $1.2 trillion in fiscal 2019 alone after the Trump administration enacted tax cuts late last year that will reduce federal revenue by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The auctions continue Wednesday, with the sale of $35 billion in five-year notes followed by the sale of $29 billion of seven-year notes on Thursday.

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Central banks make for bigger crises.

The Bear Still Cometh (Roberts)

In April, the current economic expansion will become the second longest in U.S. history. However, that period of expansion will also be the slowest, based on annualized economic growth rates, as well. Could the current economic expansion become the longest in U.S. history? Absolutely. Over the next several weeks, or even months, the markets can certainly extend the current deviations from long-term means even further. But such is the nature of every bull market peak, and bubble, throughout history as the seeming impervious advance lures the last of the stock market “holdouts” back into the markets. The correction over the last couple of weeks did little to correct these major extensions OR significantly change investor’s mental state from “greed” to “fear.”

As discussed above, the bullish trend remains clearly intact for now, but all “bull markets” end….always. Do not be mistaken, the next “bear market” is coming. Of that, there is absolute certainty. As the charts clearly show, “prices are bound by the laws of physics.” While prices can certainly seem to defy the law of gravity in the short-term, the subsequent reversion from extremes has repeatedly led to catastrophic losses for investors who disregard the risk. There are substantial reasons to be pessimistic about the markets longer-term. Economic growth, excessive monetary interventions, earnings, valuations, etc. all suggest that future returns will be substantially lower than those seen over the last eight years. Bullish exuberance has erased the memories of the last two major bear markets and replaced it with “hope” that somehow “this time will be different.”

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Don’t think we really needs technical charts for that.

Technical Charts Suggest Another Stock-Market Drop Is Coming (ElliottWave)

With the market rally experienced over the past week, many in the media are now reconsidering their recent perspective regarding the demise of the bull market. Not only did the market strike the minimal upside target we laid out for members a week ago — once we broke through 2646 on the Emini S&P 500 — it even exceeded our minimal target by about 25 points. However, just as the market has everyone now considering how much more upside we can see, I think we may be setting up for another drop to begin this week. Due to the lack of impulsive patterns evident off the recent lows in many of the charts I am following, it would suggest the stock market is likely going to see a retest of the prior lows, or a lower low before this wave (4) has run its course.

Again, I want to remind you that 4th waves are the most variable of the Elliott Wave 5-wave structure. For this reason, we almost have to expect many twists and turns, especially during the b-wave of that structure. Currently, we are still in the b-wave of this wave (4), and unless we see an impulsive drop below the 2700 support region on the S&P 500 SPX, -0.58% we may remain in this b-wave for the next several weeks. In other words, should we drop below the 2700 region this week in a corrective and overlapping fashion, we will likely be only dropping in a (b) wave within a larger b-wave, as presented in the attached charts in yellow. However, if the market does provide us with an impulsive structure below 2700 for wave 1 of the c-wave down, then we will likely be targeting the 2400 region within the next few weeks.

Yet, the drop we experienced on Friday off the high was not clearly the start of an impulsive structure. While the market has certainly struck the minimum target we set for this wave (4) between 2424 and 2539, the structure of the rally off that low is suggesting that this wave (4) will likely take more time and provide more whipsaw in the coming weeks. However, as long as we hold over the 2400 region support, my expectation is that we have a date with the 3011-3223 region for the S&P, which will likely be struck by the end of 2018 or early 2019. It will be at that point that I expect we can begin a 20%-30% correction.

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Without exports we’re all dead?!

Final Version Of TPP Trade Deal Dumps Rules The US Wanted (R.)

The final version of a landmark deal aimed at cutting trade barriers in some of the Asia-Pacific’s fastest-growing economies was released on Wednesday, signalling the pact was a step closer to reality even without its star member the United States. More than 20 provisions have been suspended or changed in the final text ahead of the deal’s official signing in March, including rules around intellectual property originally included at the behest of Washington. The original 12-member deal was thrown into limbo early last year when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement to prioritize protecting U.S. jobs. The 11 remaining nations, led by Japan, finalized a revised trade pact in January, called the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). It is expected to be signed in Chile on March 8.

The deal will reduce tariffs in economies that together amount to more than 13% of the global GDP — a total of $10 trillion. With the U.S., it would have represented 40%. “The big changes with TPP 11 are the suspension of a whole lot of the provisions of the agreement. They have suspended many of the controversial ones, particularly around pharmaceuticals,” said Kimberlee Weatherall, professor of law at the University of Sydney. Many of these changes had been inserted into the original TPP 12 at the demand of U.S. negotiators, such as rules ramping up intellectual property protection of pharmaceuticals, which some governments and activists worried would raise the costs of medicine. The success of the deal has been touted by officials in Japan and other member countries as an antidote to counter growing U.S. protectionism, and with the hope that Washington would eventually sign back up.

“CPTPP has become more important because of the growing threats to the effective operation of the World Trade Organisation rules,” New Zealand Trade Minister David Parker said on Wednesday.

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In reality, these farmers don’t care where workers come from, they just want them dirt cheap. Give them a good wage and the whole thing changes, you can get Britons to work for you.

UK Farmers: Lack Of Migrant Workers Now ‘Mission Critical’ (G.)

Farmers are running out of patience with what they see as government inaction over the future availability of seasonal fruit and vegetable pickers, the environment secretary has been told. Michael Gove was confronted over the issue at the National Farmers’ Union annual conference, but told delegates that while he understood their plight he did not have the power to accede to their demands for a new deal for non-EU workers on temporary contracts on farms. Ali Capper, who chairs the NFU’s horticulture team, told Gove that the availability of workers to pick fruit and vegetables was now “mission critical for 2018”. Gove told her the NFU’s demand for clarity on labour was “powerfully and loudly” made but that the lead department in the matter was the Home Office, not his.

“It’s already the case that the supply of labour from EU27 countries is diminishing as their economies recover and grow. So, in the future, we will need to look further afield,” he added later, saying he had to abide by decisions in a collective government. Capper welcomed Gove’s acknowledgement that labour shortages were now so great that farmers needed to go beyond the EU, but said time was running out. “We just need action; without wanting to blaspheme, I’m sick of hearing ‘we understand the issue, we know you need access to non-EU and EU workers’,” she said. Meurig Raymond, the outgoing NFU president, told Gove that this was a critical issue for farming, citing a recent Guardian report of a fruit farmer in Herefordshire moving part of his business to China because of Brexit.

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Yesh, like 5% more tax will work miracles.

Vancouver’s Hot Housing Market Gets Tougher for Wealthy Chinese (BBG)

Vancouver, one of the hottest housing markets in North America, is getting a little tougher for wealthy Chinese buyers. British Columbia Finance Minister Carole James announced measures targeting foreign buyers and speculators in the first budget since her government was elected on a pledge to make housing more affordable for residents of Canada’s Pacific Coast province. Starting Wednesday, foreigners will pay the province a 20% tax on top of the listing value, up from 15% now, and a levy on property speculators will be introduced later this year, according to budget documents released Tuesday. The government will also crack down on the condo pre-sale market and beneficial ownership to ensure that property flippers, offshore trusts and hidden investors are paying taxes on gains.

Premier John Horgan faces formidable demands after taking power in a fiercely contested election last July. His New Democratic Party made expensive promises to topple the Liberals, whose 16-year-rule brought the fastest growth in Canada, but also surging property while incomes stagnated. Public outrage has surged amid perceptions that global capital seeking a stable sanctuary, especially from China, is driving double-digit gains in Vancouver, the country’s most expensive property market. “The expectations that we will do everything in our first budget are huge,” James told reporters in the capital Victoria. “Our goal is fairness – fairness for the people who live here, who work here and pay their taxes here.”

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Dickens Redux. Very interesting overview of worker control since the 19th century.

Amazon Tracks Its Workers Using Wristbands (Jacobin)

The latest scandal to emerge from Amazon’s warehouses centers on the company’s newly patented wristband, which gives it the ability to track and record employees’ hands in real time. Some have described the technology as a “dystopian” form of surveillance. Amazon has countered that journalists are engaging in “misguided” speculation. To hear the retail giant tell it, all the device does is move its inventory-tracking equipment from workers’ hands to their wrists — what’s the big deal? Given the level of surveillance and regimentation already in place in Amazon warehouses, the company isn’t completely off base. Currently, warehouse workers called pickers carry a scanner that directs them from product to product. All shift they race the countdown clock, which shows them how many seconds they have to find the item, place it in their trolley, and scan the barcode.

A variation on this method exists in warehouses where robots bring the shelves to workers. There, workers stand in place as stacks of products present themselves one by one. For ten and a half hours, they must stoop and stretch to retrieve an item every nine seconds. The scanners control workers’ behavior by measuring it, preventing slowdowns and allowing managers to create new performance benchmarks. Quick workers raise the bar for everyone, while slow workers risk losing their job. The wristbands introduce a wrinkle to this regimentation, monitoring not just the task but the worker herself. It’s a distinction managers first became obsessed with more than a century ago and crystallized in the “scientific management” movement of the period. Amazon’s peculiar culture notwithstanding, the wristbands in many ways don’t offer anything new, technologically or conceptually. What has changed is workers’ ability to challenge this kind of surveillance.

The first workers required to mechanically record their location while working were the nineteenth-century watchmen. Hired to walk around plants at night, watchmen would look out for irregularities like fires, thieves, open windows, or bad odors. But employers had a problem: who would watch the watchmen? In 1861, they received their answer when the German inventor John Bürk patented one of the first practicable time detectors — a huge watch with a strip of paper running around the casing’s interior. Employers would chain different keys in each room of their property. When watchmen entered a room, they would have to insert the key into the watch, making an indentation on the strip of paper hidden inside. Since each key had a unique pattern, and since the strip of paper was tied to the hands of the clock, the employer could come in the next morning, pull the strip out, and examine a record of when the watchman visited each room.

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Sorry, NYT, it’s not the Republicans who cause this. It’s the Ponzi models. But a good warning: don’t count on the safety net.

Come the Recession, Don’t Count on That Safety Net (NYT)

What will President Trump’s first recession look like? The question is not that far-fetched. The current economic expansion is already the third longest since the middle of the 19th century, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. If it makes it past June of next year it will be the longest on record. While the economy is hardly booming, trundling along at an annual growth rate of about 2.5%, investors are getting jittery. The stock market tumble after the government reported an uptick in wages last month suggests just how worried investors on Wall Street are that the Federal Reserve might start increasing interest rates more aggressively to forestall inflation. And the tax cuts and spending increases pumped into an expanding economy since December shorten the odds that the Fed will step in forcefully in the not-too-distant future to bring an overheated expansion to an end.

It is hardly premature to ask, in this light, how the Trump administration might manage the fallout from the economic downturn that everybody knows will happen. Unfortunately, the United States could hardly be less prepared. Not only does the government have precious few tools at its disposal to combat a downturn. By slashing taxes while increasing spending, President Trump and his allies in Congress have further boxed the economy into a corner, reducing the space for emergency government action were it to be needed. The federal debt burden is now the heaviest it has been in 70 years. And it is expected to get progressively heavier, as the budget deficit swells.

To top it off, a Republican president and a Republican Congress seem set on completing the longstanding Republican project to gut the safety net built by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, which they blame for encouraging sloth, and replace it with a leaner welfare regime that closely ties government benefits to hard work. As noted in a new set of proposals by leading academics to combat poverty, published Tuesday by the Russell Sage Foundation, anti-poverty policies and related social-welfare benefits over the last quarter-century “have largely shifted from a system of guaranteed income support to a work-based safety net.”

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We waste oil to make petrol, and we waste it the make plastics. It’s like there’s a big plan to get rid of the stuff ASAP. Like nature developed mankind to get rid of a carbon imbalance issue.

Plastic Bans Worldwide Will Dent Oil Demand Growth – BP (G.)

Bans around the world on single use plastic items such as carrier bags will dent growth in oil demand over the next two decades, according to BP. However, the UK-headquartered oil and gas firm said it still expects the global hunger for crude to grow for years and not peak until the late 2030s. Spencer Dale, the group’s chief economist, said: “Just around the world you see increasing awareness of the environmental damage associated with plastics and different types of packaging of one form of another. “If you live in the UK that’s clearly been an issue, but it’s not just a UK-specific thing; you see it worldwide, for example China has changed some of its policies.” Theresa May has branded plastic waste an environmental scourge, and MPs have called for charges on plastic bags to be extended to disposable coffee cups.

Dale predicted such measures around the world could mean 2m barrels per day lower oil demand growth by 2040. But he said single use plastics were only about 15% of all non-combusted oil, which is used for petrochemicals, an industry that BP expects to be a big driver of global growth in crude demand. The company’s energy outlook report, published on Tuesday, forecasts demand peaking at about 110m barrels per day between 2035 and 2040, up from . Much of the growth comes from rising prosperity in the developing world. But Dale said his position was that “nobody knows when it’s going to peak because small changes can shift it by five to 10 years”.

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Robert Hunziker first says that only drastic measures will do, and then blames the US for not adhering to CON21, which has no such drastic measures. It’s hard.

There Is No Time Left (CP)

Imagine a scenario with no temperature difference between the equator and the North Pole. That was 12 million years ago when there was no ice at either pole. In that context, according to professor James G. Anderson of Harvard University, carbon in the atmosphere today is the same as 12 million years ago. The evidence is found in the paleoclimate record. It’s irrefutable. Meaning, today’s big meltdown has only just started. And, we’ve got 5 years to fix it or endure Gonzo World. That’s one big pill to swallow! That scenario comes by way of interpretation of a speech delivered by James G. Anderson at the University of Chicago in January 2018 when he received the Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service, in part, for his groundbreaking research that led to the Montreal Protocol in 1987 to mitigate damage to the Ozone Layer.

At the time, Anderson was the force behind the most important event in the history of atmospheric chemistry, discovering and diagnosing Antarctica’s ozone hole, which led to the Montreal Protocol. Without that action, ramifications would have been absolutely catastrophic for the planet. Stratospheric ozone is one of the most delicate aspects of planet habitability, providing protection from UV radiation for all life forms. If perchance the stratospheric ozone layer could be lowered to the ground, stacking the otherwise dispersed molecules together, it would be 1/8th of an inch in thickness or the thickness of two pennies. That separates humanity from burning up as the stratospheric ozone absorbs 98% of UV radiation. In his acceptance speech, Anderson, Harvard professor of atmospheric chemistry, now warns that it is foolhardy to assume we can recover from the global warming leviathan simply by cutting back emissions.

Accordingly, the only way humanity can dig itself out of the climate change/global-warming hole is by way of a WWII type effort with total transformation of industry off carbon and removal of carbon from the atmosphere within five years. The situation is so dire that it requires a worldwide Marshall Plan effort, plus kneeling in prayer. Additionally, Anderson says the chance of permanent ice remaining in the Arctic after 2022 is zero. Already, 80% is gone. The problem: Without an ice shield to protect frozen methane hydrates in place for millennia, the Arctic turns into a methane nightmare. This is comparable to poking the global warming monster with a stick, as runaway global warming (“RGW”) emerges from the depths. Interestingly enough, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group/UK, composed of distinguished scientists, seems to be in agreement with this assessment.

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Feb 162018
 
 February 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Yellow haystacks (Golden harvest) 1889

 

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)
There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)
T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)
“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)
Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)
Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)
Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)
US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)
Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)
Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)
Monopolies Game the System (Nation)
Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)
Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

 

 

Short is hip again.

US Market Gurus Who Predicted Selloff Say Current Calm An Illusion (R.)

You ain’t seen nothing yet. Some veteran investors who were vindicated in calling for a pullback in shares and a spike in volatility could now be cheering. Actually, they’re looking at the risks that still lie ahead in the current relative calm. The last week’s wild market swings confirmed that the market was in correction territory – falling more than 10% from its high. The falls were triggered by higher bond yields and fears of inflation but came against a backdrop of a stretched market that had taken price/earnings levels to as high as 18.9. Adding to downwards pressure was the unwinding of bets that volatility would stay low. The fall had come after a growing number of strategists and investors said a pullback was in the offing – although the consensus opinion was that the market would then start rising again. The big question is: what comes now?

“Do you honestly believe today is the bottom?” said Jeffrey Gundlach, known as Wall Street’s Bond King, last week, who had been warning for more than a year that markets were too calm. Gundlach had been particularly vocal in his warnings about the VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” which tracks the volatility implied by options on the S&P 500. The sell-off in U.S. stocks derailed some popular short volatility exchange-traded products, which contributed to more downwards pressure on the market. Gundlach in May last year warned that the VIX was “insanely low.” Hedge fund manager Douglas Kass was short SPDR S&P 500 ETF and said he “took a lot of small losses” last year but says he still sees more stress ahead. He said he is now re-shorting that ETF. Investors who bet low volatility would continue will need time to unwind their strategies, Kass said.

[..] Veteran short-seller Bill Fleckenstein, who ran a short fund but closed it in 2009, said that “last week’s action was an early indication that the end of bull market is upon us.” Fleckenstein said there was a lot of money in the market with no conviction behind it, for example, buying index funds and ETFs just “to be part of the party” which was an element of “hot money.” “Last week was just the preview to the bigger event that we’ll see this year probably,” Fleckenstein said. Fleckenstein said he is not short at the moment – although he did make “a couple of bucks” last week shorting Nasdaq futures. He said he is looking for an opportunity to get short again. He said he has “flirted with the idea of restarting a short fund”.

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The US is betting big. But don’t let that blind you to the fact that so is everyone else.

There Will Be No Economic Boom (Roberts)

Last week, Congress passed a 2-year “continuing resolution, or C.R.,” to keep the Government funded through the 2018 elections. While “fiscal conservatism” was just placed on the sacrificial alter to satisfy the “Re-election” Gods,” the bigger issue is the impact to the economy and, ultimately, the financial markets. The passage of the $400 billion C.R. has an impact that few people understand. When a C.R. is passed it keeps Government spending at the same previous baseline PLUS an 8% increase. The recent C.R. just added $200 billion per year to that baseline. This means over the next decade, the C.R. will add $2 Trillion in spending to the Federal budget. Then add to that any other spending approved such as the proposed $200 billion for an infrastructure spending bill, money for DACA/Immigration reform, or a whole host of other social welfare programs that will require additional funding.

But that is only half the problem. The recent passage of tax reform will trim roughly $2 Trillion from revenues over the next decade as well. This is easy math. Cut $2 trillion in revenue, add $2 trillion in spending, and you create a $4 trillion dollar gap in the budget. Of course, that is $4 Trillion in addition to the current run rate in spending which continues the current acceleration of the “debt problem.”

But it gets worse. As Oxford Economics reported via Zerohedge: “The tax cuts passed late last year, combined with the spending bill Congress passed last week, will push deficits sharply higher. Furthermore, Trump’s own budget anticipates that US debt will hit $30 trillion by 2028: an increase of $10 trillion.” Oxford is right. In order to “pay for” all of the proposed spending, at a time when the government will receive less revenue in the form of tax collections, the difference will be funded through debt issuance.

Simon Black recently penned an interesting note on this: “Less than two weeks ago, the United States Department of Treasury very quietly released its own internal projections for the federal government’s budget deficits over the next several years. And the numbers are pretty gruesome. In order to plug the gaps from its soaring deficits, the Treasury Department expects to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year. Then nearly $1.1 trillion next fiscal year. And up to $1.3 trillion the year after that. This means that the national debt will exceed $25 trillion by September 30, 2020.”

Of course, “fiscal responsibility” left Washington a long time ago, so, what’s another $10 Trillion at this point? While this issue is not lost on a vast majority of Americans that “choose” to pay attention, it has been quickly dismissed by much of the mainstream media, and Congressman running for re-election, by suggesting tax reform will significantly boost economic growth over the next decade. The general statement has been: “By passing much-needed tax reform, we will finally unleash the economic growth engine which will more than pay for these tax cuts in the future.”

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Nobody expects the bond vigilantes?!

T-Bills Flood Set to Put Upward Pressure on Short-Term Funding Costs (BBG)

Get ready for the deluge of Treasury bills, and the increase in short-term funding costs that’s likely to accompany it. Investors are bracing for an onslaught of T-bill supply following last week’s U.S. debt ceiling suspension. That’s already prompting them to demand higher rates from borrowers across money markets. And that’s just a result of the government replenishing its cash hoard to normal levels. The ballooning budget deficit means there’s even more to come later, and that deluge of supply could further buoy funding costs down the line, making life more expensive both for the government and companies that borrow in the short-term market. Concerns about the U.S. borrowing cap had forced the Treasury to trim the total amount of bills it had outstanding, but that’s no longer a problem and the government is now busy ramping up issuance.

Financing estimates from January show that the Treasury expects to issue $441 billion in net marketable debt in the current quarter and the bulk of that is likely to be in the short-term market. “Supply will come in waves and we’re in a very heavy wave right now,” said Mark Cabana at Bank of America. “If you take Treasury at their word that they want to issue $300 billion in bills, that’s a lot of net supply that needs to come to market.” Next week’s three- and six-month bill auctions will be the largest on record at $51 billion and $45 billion respectively, Treasury said Thursday. The four-week auction will be boosted to $55 billion next week, having already been lifted to $50 billion for the Feb. 13 sale. Auction volume at the tenor had earlier been shrunk to just $15 billion.

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Spikes but is still negative. Wait till that changes.

“Financial Stress” Spikes – Just As The Fed Intends (WS)

The weekly St. Louis Fed Financial Stress index, released today, just spiked beautifully. It had been at historic lows back in November, an expression of ultra-loose financial conditions in the US economy, dominated by risk-blind investors chasing any kind of yield with a passion, which resulted in minuscule risk premiums for investors and ultra-low borrowing costs even for even junk-rated borrows. The index ticked since then, but in the latest week, ended February 9, something happened. The index, which is made up of 18 components (seven interest rate measures, six yield spreads, and five other indices) had hit a historic low of -1.6 on November 3, 2017, even as the Fed had been raising its target range for the federal funds rate and had started the QE Unwind. It began ticking up late last year, hit -1.35 a week ago, and now spiked to -1.06.

The chart above shows the spike of the latest week in relationship to the two-year Oil Bust that saw credit freeze up for junk-rated energy companies, with the average yield of CCC-or-below-rated junk bonds soaring to over 20%. Given the size of oil-and-gas sector debt, energy credits had a large impact on the overall average. The chart also compares today’s spike to the “Taper Tantrum” in the bond market in 2014 after the Fed suggested that it might actually taper “QE Infinity,” as it had come to be called, out of existence. This caused yields and risk premiums to spike, as shown by the Financial Stress index. This time, it’s the other way around: The Fed has been raising rates like clockwork, and its QE Unwind is accelerating, but for months markets blithely ignored it. Until suddenly they didn’t.

This reaction is visible in the 10-year Treasury yield, which had been declining for much of last year, despite the Fed’s rate hikes, only to surge late in the year and so far this year. It’s also visible in the stock market, which suddenly experienced a dramatic bout of volatility and a breathless drop from record highs. And it is now visible in other measures, including junk-bond yields that suddenly began surging from historic low levels. The chart of the ICE BofAML US High Yield BB Effective Yield Index, via the St. Louis Fed, shows how the average yield of BB-rated junk bonds surged from around 4.05% last September to 4.98% now, the highest since November 20, 2016:

But a longer-term chart shows just how low the BB-yield still is compared to where it had been in the years after the Financial Crisis, and how much more of a trajectory it might have ahead:

The Financial Stress Index is designed to show a level of zero for “normal” financial conditions. When these conditions are easy and when there is less financial stress than normal, the index is negative. The index turns positive when financial conditions are tighter than normal. But at -1.06, it remains below zero. In other words, financial conditions remain extraordinarily easy. This is clear in a long-term chart of the index that barely shows the recent spike, given the magnitude of prior moves. This is precisely what the Fed wants to accomplish.

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Feels a bit like Soros vs Britain in 1992.

Hedge Fund King Dalio Bets Big Against Europe (BBG)

Ray Dalio, billionaire philosopher-king of the world’s biggest hedge fund, has a checklist to identify the best time to sell stocks: a strong economy, close to full employment and rising interest rates. That may explain why the firm he created, Bridgewater Associates, has caused a to-do the past two weeks by quickly amassing an $21.65 billion bet against Europe’s biggest companies. The firm’s total asset pool is $150 billion, according to its website. Economic conditions in Europe appear to fit Dalio’s requirements. Last year, the continent’s economy grew at the fastest pace in a decade, and ECB President Mario Draghi has indicated he’s on a slow path toward boosting rates as economic slack narrows. Factories around the world are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with demand, potentially forcing them to raise prices.

But Dalio is leading his firm down a path that few other funds care to tread. Renaissance Technologies, most recently famous for its association with Breitbart donor Robert Mercer, is only $42 million short in Europe. Two Sigma Investments is betting even less than that. Kenneth Griffin’s Citadel has less than $2 billion in European company shorts. So Dalio will rise or fall virtually on his own. “It is not unusual to see strong economies accompanied by falling stock and other asset prices, which is curious to people who wonder why stocks go down when the economy is strong and don’t understand how this dynamic works,” Dalio wrote in a LinkedIn post this week. Bridgewater’s shorting spree started last fall in Italy. With the country’s big banks accumulating billions in bad debt, Bridgewater mounted a $770 million wager against Italian financial stocks.

Saddled with non-performing loans and under constant regulatory scrutiny, they made for a juicy target. Throughout the fall and into winter the bet against Italy represented the majority of Bridgewater’s publicly disclosed short positions. The initial bet was eventually raised to encompass 18 firms and nearly $3 billion. Bridgewater had flipped its portfolio in January to turn bearish on Western Europe stocks and also started shorting Japanese equities, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. The hedge fund significantly raised its long U.S. equities exposure last month, the person added.

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“This market is nuts.”

Everybody’s Already Invested, So Who’s The Buyer? (ZH)

With stocks erasing their early-day losses and the VIX tumbling once again, CNBC – the go-to resource for retirees and other retail investors – was back to reassuring investors that this month’s explosion of volatility was just another dip deserving to be bought. But Embark Capital CIO Peter Toogood offered an important counterpoint during an appearance this morning where he warned his audience against exactly this kind of credulousness by ignoring the fundamental growth global growth story that seemingly every other portfolio manager has been relying on and instead pointing to one simple fact: “Everybody is already invested”.

But even with positioning stretched to such an exaggerated degree, that doesn’t necessarily mean a crash is right around the corner. Instead, Toogood foresees a “step bear market” that will continue until the PPT, newly reconstituted under the leadership of Jerome Powell, realizes that they must once again intervene…because with so much systemic debt and myriad other risks – like the dangerously underfunded pensions that we’ve highlighted again and again – a sustained selloff would be far too risky to countenance. “I noticed Dudley the other day say ‘this is small potatoes’ and warning investors not to worry about it. And I would accept that’s all true, if everybody wasn’t already invested. And I want to know who the marginal buyer of this story is. Everyone is in. Look at consumer sentiment surveys, loo at professional money managers, everyone is in. So who’s the buyer? It’s very 2007-2008.”

He added that hedge fund managers are now “sitting around scratching their heads” because even European high yield bonds – the debt of some of the worst companies on Earth – are yielding a staggeringly low 2%. Toogood also pointed out that stocks are breaking through important technical levels… “You’re breaking some very major levels in most markets outside of the US still, and that is very, very significant. That is the test of where you’d think a bear market is coming; I still do, just on valuation alone. I think this market is nuts,” Toogood said. Which is leaving asset managers in a bind… “It’s one of those extremely unpleasant moments when people need income but income is expensive and that’s the other problem we see … We are forced into high yield (bonds) and we don’t want to be there,” Toogood said.’

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“..our currency, but your problem..”

Donald Trump’s Dangerous Currency Game (Spiegel)

“There is no longer any doubt that the U.S. government is not only waging a currency war, but is also in the process of winning it,” Joachim Fels, chief economist at Pimco, says. Trump’s policies represent a threat to Europe’s recovery, a situation that has displeased the ECB. But there isn’t much the ECB can do about it. By pursuing economic policies that ignore the needs of America’s trading partners – an approach economists refer to as “beggar-thy-neighbor” – Trump has revisited an old American tradition. In the early 1970s, it was Treasury Secretary John Connally who raised the prospect of a budget deficit of $40 billion – a massive sum at the time – and justified it as “fiscal stimulus.” In response to concerns voiced by his European counterparts, worried as they were about the weak dollar, he responded with his legendary line that the dollar “is our currency, but your problem.”

Lloyd Bentsen, treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, informed the Japanese in 1993 that he urgently desired a stronger yen in order to stem the Asian trading partner’s high export surpluses. With “America First,” Trump has now elevated “beggar thy neighbor” to the status of administration doctrine. The first part of Trump’s economic policy agenda envisions stimulating the economy through tax cuts and public infrastructure investments. That would help American companies, and the rest of the world could also profit initially if the U.S. economy were to grow more rapidly and companies in Europe or Asia were to receive more orders. But it’s the second part of the Trump program that reveals the real strategic thrust.

During the same weak that the treasury secretary could be heard preaching the virtues of a weak dollar, the U.S. government imposed steep import tariffs on washing machines and solar cells. The combination of a weak dollar and protectionist measures are aimed at creating a competitive advantage for American companies versus their competitors from around the world. “The government clearly wants a weak dollar right now because inflation is moderate and a weaker dollar will make it easier for the manufacturing sector to grow,” says Barry Eichengreen, a professor for economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

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Europe will have to act. Simple as that.

US Dollar Spirals Down, Hits Lowest Point Since 2014 (WS)

The US dollar has dropped 2.0% in the past five days, 2.4% over the past month, 4.1% year-to-date, 5.3% over the past three months, and 9.4 % over the past 12 months, according to the WSJ Dollar Index. At 82.47, the index is at the lowest level since December 25, 2014: The index weighs the US dollar against a basket of 16 other currencies that account for about 80% of the global currency trading volume: Euro, Japanese Yen, Chinese Yuan, British Pound, Canadian Dollar, Mexican Peso, Australian Dollar, New Zealand Dollar, Hong Kong Dollar, South Korean Won, Swiss Franc, Swedish Krona, Singapore Dollar, Indian Rupee, Turkish Lira, and Russian Ruble. The currencies are weighted based on their foreign exchange trading volume.

Whatever the reasons may be for the decline of the dollar against this basket of currencies — everyone has their own theory, ranging from the much prophesied death of the dollar to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s actively dissing the dollar at every opportunity he gets — one thing we know: The decline started in late December 2016, after the index had peaked at 93.50. And it has not abated since. With the index currently at 82.47, it has fallen nearly 12% over those 14 months. The dominant factor in the decline of the dollar index is the strength of the euro, the second largest currency. Over those 14 months, the euro, which had been given up for dead not too long ago, has surged 20% against the dollar. The decline of the dollar is another indication that markets have blown off the Fed, similar to the 10-year Treasury yield falling for much of last year, even as the Fed was raising its target range for the federal funds rate.

The Fed keeps an eye on the dollar. A weak dollar makes imports more expensive and, given the huge trade deficit of the US, adds to inflationary pressures in the US. Over the past few years, the Fed has practically been begging for more inflation. So for the Fed, which is chomping at the bit to raise rates further, the weak dollar is a welcome sight. Conversely, a surging dollar would worry the Fed. At some point it would get nervous and chime in with the chorus emanating from the Treasury Department and the White House trying to talk down the dollar. If the dollar were to surge past certain levels, and jawboning isn’t enough to knock it down, the Fed might alter its monetary policies and might back off its rate-hike strategies or it might slow down the QE Unwind.

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“For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago Good luck trying to find buyers.

Home Ownership Among Britain’s Young Adults Has ‘Collapsed’ (G.)

The chances of a young adult on a middle income owning a home have more than halved in the past two decades. New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows how an explosion in house prices above income growth has increasingly robbed the younger generation of the ability to buy their own home. For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago. Middle income young adults born in the late 1980s are now no more likely than those lower down the pay scale to own their own home. Those born in the 1970s were almost as likely as their peers on higher wages to have bought their own home during young adulthood.

Andrew Hood, a senior research economist at the IFS, said: “Home ownership among young adults has collapsed over the past 20 years, particularly for those on middle incomes.” The IFS said young adults from wealthy backgrounds are now significantly more likely than others to own their own home. Between 2014 and 2017 roughly 30% of 25- to 34-year-olds whose parents were in lower-skilled jobs such as delivery drivers or sales assistants owned their own home, versus 43% for the children of those in higher-skilled jobs such as lawyers and teachers. The study shows the growing disparities between rich and poor, as well as young and old, across the country. It also illustrates the drop in home ownership over the past decade. While those on middle incomes have seen the largest fall in ownership rates, those in the top income bracket have been least affected.

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Who needs capitalism when you can worship the golden calf?

Long article in a new series at the Nation.

Warren Buffett, Prime Example Of The Failure Of American Capitalism (Dayen)

Warren Buffett should not be celebrated as an avatar of American capitalism; he should be decried as a prime example of its failure, a false prophet leading the nation toward more monopoly and inequality. You probably didn’t realize that the same avuncular billionaire controls such diverse companies and products as See’s Candies, Duracell batteries, Justin Boots, Benjamin Moore Paints, and World Book encyclopedias. But Buffett has transformed Berkshire Hathaway, initially a relatively small textile manufacturer, into the world’s largest non-technology company by market value. Berkshire Hathaway owns over 60 different brands outright. And through Berkshire, Buffett also invests in scores of public corporations. The conglomerate closed 2016 with over $620 billion in assets.

The money mainly comes from Berkshire’s massive insurance business, composed of the auto insurer GEICO, the global underwriter General Reinsurance Corporation, and 10 other subsidiaries. Insurance premiums don’t get immediately paid out in claims; while the cash sits, Buffett can invest it. This is known as “float,” and Berkshire Hathaway’s float has ballooned from $39 million in 1970 to approximately $113 billion as of last September. It’s a huge advantage over rival investors—effectively the world’s largest interest-free loan, helping to finance Buffett’s pursuit of monopoly. “[W]e enjoy the use of free money—and, better yet, get paid for holding it,” Buffett said in his most recent investor letter. Indeed, as a 2017 Fortune article noted, with almost $100 billion in cash at the end of that year’s second fiscal quarter, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway literally has more money than it knows what to do with.

The dominant narrative around Buffett is that he invests in big, blue-chip companies whose products he enjoys, like Coca-Cola or Heinz ketchup. But Buffett’s taste for junk food cannot match his hunger for monopoly, and he scours the investment landscape to satisfy it.

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Monopoly contradicts capitalism. Well, in theory, that is.

Monopolies Game the System (Nation)

More than a century ago, Elizabeth Magie developed two sets of rules for a board game that would become known as Monopoly. There’s the one we know today: You play an aspiring real-estate tycoon, buying up properties to extract ever-larger sums from your opponents; you win when everyone else is destitute. But in Magie’s version, players could agree to switch midgame to a second rule book. Instead of paying rent to a landowner, they’d send funds to a common pot. The game would be over when the poorest player doubled their capital. Magie’s goal was to show the cruelty of monopoly power and the moral superiority of progressive taxation. Her board game was a rebuke to the slumlords and corporate giants of the Gilded Age.

Today, a few corporations once again dominate sectors of our economy. In an interview with The Nation’s George Zornick, Senator Elizabeth Warren points out that two companies sell 70% of the beer in the country; four companies produce 85% of American beef; and four airlines account for 80% of domestic seats. With monopolies squeezing out the competition and underpaying workers, profits are funneled to a tiny elite. It’s no coincidence that the three richest Americans—Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett—are together worth slightly more than the bottom half of the entire US population.

Just as railroad monopolies once controlled the crucial infrastructure of 19th-century commerce, tech companies are trying to own the infrastructure of the 21st. As Stacy Mitchell explains in “The Empire of Everything,” Amazon is not only the leading retail platform, but it has developed a vast distribution network to handle package delivery. Amazon announced in February that it would begin testing its own delivery service, which could soon rival UPS and FedEx. It also runs more than a third of the world’s cloud-computing capacity, handling data for the likes of Netflix, Nordstrom, and The Nation. Unlike past monopolies, however, Amazon doesn’t want to dictate to the market; it seeks to replace the market entirely.

Under these conditions, small businesses and start-ups are struggling to compete. In 2017, there were approximately 7,000 store closings—more than triple the number in the prior year. And the percentage of companies in the United States that are new businesses has dropped by nearly half since 1978. In many industries, starting a new business is like playing Monopoly when all the squares have already been purchased: Everywhere you land, there’s a monopolist making demands, everything from fees to sell items on its website to the release of data with which to undercut you later.

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EU and US better act. Greece will start shooting soon. They have a formidable army.

Greece Warns Turkey Of Non-Peaceful Response Next Time (K.)

Athens toughened up its stance on Turkish action in the eastern Aegean, with the foreign minister and the government spokesman making it clear to Ankara that Greece’s response to another incident will not be peaceful. Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said in an interview on Alpha TV late on Thursday that the incident on Monday, when a Turkish vessel rammed a Greek one off Imia island, “touched on the red line and in some sense it overstepped it.” He went on to add that there will not be another such peaceful behavior by the Greek side should such an incident recur.

Kotzias also clarified that “Imia is Greek” and warned Ankara “you should not open a gray-zone issue, because if we do, based on international law, not only are you wrong but you will also incur losses.” Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos echoed Kotzias on Friday morning, warning that aggression will be met with an equal response. “If there is another act of Turkish aggression on Greek territory, there will be a response and there is no other way for us,” he told Skai TV. Greece’s verbal toughening comes as the Turkish armed forces conducted an extensive war game near the Greek-Turkish land border by Evros river in Thrace, including the scenario of crossing a river to invade a neighboring country.

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Words cannot express the sadness. Once we’ve eradicated the man of the woods, man is next.

Borneo Has Lost Half Its Orangutans This Century (Ind.)

Borneo has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss, according to a new report. Logging, mining, oil palm, paper, and linked deforestation have been blamed for the the diminishing numbers. However, researchers also found many orangutans have vanished from more intact, forested regions, suggesting that hunting and other direct conflict between orangutans and humans continues to be a chief threat to the species. The report published in the Current Biology Journal found more than 100,000 of the island’s orangutans vanished in the period of 1999 to 2015. “Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape. “Immediate action is needed to reform industries that have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction. UK consumers can make a difference through only supporting brands and retailers that buy sustainable palm oil.” Around half of the orangutans living on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, were lost as a result of changes in land cover. [..] The report comes after an orangutan was shot at least 130 times with an air gun before it died earlier in the month, according to police in Borneo.

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 February 11, 2018  Posted by at 11:23 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Peach trees in blossom 1888

 

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)
Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)
Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)
Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)
IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)
UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)
Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)
Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)
Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)
Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)
Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)
Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)
Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)
US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

 

 

Bond markets are 10x stock markets?!

What Crushed Stocks? (WS)

On Friday at around 1:40 p.m., during whiplash-inducing market moves, the S&P 500 index was down 1.9%, bringing the total loss for the week to 8.3%, which would have been the biggest weekly loss since November 2008, after the Lehman bankruptcy. But dip-buyers jumped in courageously and saved the day. The S&P 500 ended up 1.5%, bringing to the total loss for the week to 5.2%, the worst week since, well, the selloff in January 2016. Everyone has their own reasons why stocks plunged last week. Some blamed algorithmic trading. Others blamed the short-volatility financial complex that blew up.

More specifically, Jim Cramer blamed “a group of complete morons” who traded in this space. Others blamed the stratospheric valuations of stocks that had been rallying for eight years with only a few dimples in between, and it’s simply time to unwind some of those gains. Whatever the factors might have been, rising bond yields certainly had something to do with it. They tend to hit stocks, eventually. Last week, prices of short-dated Treasuries edged down and prices of long-dated Treasuries edged down, and their yields edged up, but there was some turmoil in the middle, with some interesting consequences.The three-month Treasury yield rose to 1.55% on Friday, the highest since September 11, 2008. Investors are beginning to price in a rate hike in March:

But the two-year yield, after having surged to 2.16% on February 1, got very nervous, dropping and bouncing during the week, and fell sharply on Friday, ending the week at 2.05%:

The 10-year yield closed on Friday at 2.83% and in late trading went on to 2.85%. The interesting thing about this is the difference (the “spread”) between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield. It surged. This spread is one of the indications of the slope of the yield curve and was one of the most watched bond-data points during the scare last year over an “inverted” yield curve. This is a phenomenon where the two-year yield would be higher than the 10-year yield. The last time this happened was before the Financial Crisis. By early January, the spread between the two-year yield and the 10-year yield had dropped as low as 50 basis points (0.5 percentage points), the lowest since October 2007. As the two-year yield kept spiking, the 10-year yield had started rising, but not fast enough. All this has changed, and the 10-year yield has been rising faster than the two-year yield and the spread has widened to 78 basis points on Friday:

The 30-year yield rose to 3.14% on Friday. For the first time, it is now back where it had been on December 14, 2016, when the Fed stopped flip-flopping and started getting serious about raising its target range for the federal funds rate. The market responded to each rate hike with increases in short-term yields but defied the Fed on longer-term yields, which fell until September 2017. So what happened last week was that the two-year yield fell, while the yields of most longer maturities stayed put or rose, steepening the yield curve from the two-year yield on up.

The chart below shows the “yield curves” as they occurred on these four dates: • Yields on Friday, February 9, 2018 (red line) • Yields on December 29, 2017 (black line) • Yields on August 29, 2017 (green line) two weeks before the QE unwind was detailed. • Yields on December 14, 2016 (blue line) when the Fed stopped flip-flopping, raised its rates, and became a clockwork. Note how the spread has widened at the longer-dated ends between the black line (December 29, 2017) and the red line (Friday), and how the slope of the red line has steepened, with the 30-year yield surging 40 basis points over those six weeks. That’s a big move:

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The cheap money has BEEN the entire market.

Test Of Nerve For Markets As 10 Years Of Cheap Money Come To An End (G.)

Stock markets are heading for a wild ride this year as central bankers strap on their bullet-proof vests and test investors’ willingness to accept higher interest rates. Last week’s share price crashes, which in two days wiped $4 trillion off the value of markets around the world, was just a foretaste of the battle to come. In the days following Monday’s crash, share values have recovered strongly only to dive again as competing theories about the path of interest rates and the likely impact on economic growth fight for attention. Most investors want the era of cheap borrowing to continue and many are willing to sell their shareholdings if it looks like coming to an end. Without low interest rates, they cannot borrow and invest cheaply, especially in the assets that for the past decade have gone up every year by much more than their salary – property and shares.

Countless businesses have also come to rely on low borrowing costs to keep going, and investors fear they might go bust should their bank raise loan rates. Weaning companies and investors off their addiction was never going to be easy, even 10 years after central banks first put their stimulus packages in place, and despite warnings that these measures need to end. For some time, the US Federal Reserve has taken on the role of the advance guard, forging a path towards higher rates for others to follow. But its campaign got off to a faltering start. Back in 2013 it was forced to retreat when it signalled in the mildest terms that it would begin withdrawing its quantitative easing programme. The main effect of QE was to drive down long-term interest rates, allowing investors to borrow cheaply not just over one or five years, but for 30 years.

And so its withdrawal was as much of a blow for some fund managers as an immediate rate rise. Wall Street and markets in Europe and Asia, where heavy selling turned into a rout, forced Fed officials to retreat. The Fed adopted a more incremental approach. It gave markets more warning and spaced out the policy decisions. As it entered 2017, US interest rates had trebled, but only from 0.25% to 0.75%. Yet the economy was booming more than ever. The Fed appeared ready to get tougher, and with justification, according to Karen Ward at JP Morgan Asset Management. After the heavy lifting needed to get the industrialised world back from bankruptcy, she said, “economies are now rested”. Ward, who until recently was an adviser to the chancellor, Philip Hammond, said: “Households and businesses are feeling better about the future. They do not need a boost in quite the same way. Central banks can ease off the accelerator without troubling either growth or markets.”

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The problem is not that they’ve never seen a crash, the problem is they’ve never seen a functioning market.

Market Tests Millennial Traders Who’ve Never Seen A Crash (BBG)

In his career in finance—all seven years of it—Ben Kumar has seen some tough days. There was 2013, when traders worried about the Federal Reserve, and 2016, with the Brexit vote. But, at 29, Kumar and many millennials like him on Wall Street and the City of London have never endured a full-blown crash. For them, markets have always bounced back—fast—and gone on to heights. Now, with world stocks sinking and central banks withdrawing stimulus that’s supported markets for years, elders worry Kumar’s generation isn’t ready for its trial. Kumar is chill. “Find me someone who worked in the era of 15% inflation and I’ll talk to them about Bitcoin and the Internet,” said the 29-year-old, a fund manager at Seven Investment Management in London .

After $3 trillion was erased from global stocks in a week, he’s weighing whether to buy on the dip now—or wait a bit longer. “I don’t even think that this move is a wake-up call,” he said on Tuesday. Many bankers older than 40 shudder at the thought of what will happen if – or when – some unforeseen trigger sparks a crash that drags down not just stocks, but also bonds and currencies together. Etched in their memories is the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. In its wake, stock market valuations alone were cut in half. By contrast, most millennial investors have only worked in an era where central banks printed trillions of dollars to prop up their economies and markets. Since starting their careers, average interest rates in the developed world have barely nudged above 1%, inflation all but vanished, the S&P 500 Index more than doubled and bonds rallied so high that more than $7 trillion of debt is negative yielding.

“You have to have had that stage where you’re looking at the screen through your fingers to really appreciate risk-reward in this industry,” said Paul McNamara at GAM in London. “Not just seeing things go wrong, but going so much more wrong than you imagined was possible.”

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Why own stocks when bond yields rise? Still, inflation is a ludicrous fear.

Bond-Stock Clash Has Just Begun as Inflation Looms (BBG)

The tug-of-war between stocks and bonds is at the heart of the shakeout roiling financial markets. This week’s U.S. inflation report could hold the key to the next phase. Seemingly every time 10-year Treasury yields approached a four-year high last week, equities investors panicked, fearing the specter of higher inflation and a more aggressive pace of Federal Reserve rate hikes. Whether you want to say Treasuries are in a bear market or not, the surge in yields to start 2018 has left investors reassessing the value of equities and corporate bonds. Profits were easy when the 10-year yield traded in its narrowest range in a half-century, inflation stayed subdued and volatility across financial markets plumbed record lows. Gains are harder when low rates, a linchpin of the post-crisis recovery, start to disappear.

“What’s happening now is just price discovery between bonds and equities – how far can the bond market push yields up before the equity market cracks?” said Stephen Bartolini, portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, which manages more than $10 billion in inflation-protected strategies. “The big fear in risk markets is that we get a big CPI print and it validates the narrative that inflation is coming back and the Fed is going to have to move faster.” The focus on inflation is nothing new, but it became even more critical after a Feb. 2 report showed average hourly earnings jumped in January at the fastest pace since 2009. That contributed to the dive in stocks. (It also led President Donald Trump to tweet about the “old days” when stocks would go up on good economic news.)

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Should be filed under Famous Last Words, but won’t be.

IMF Chief Lagarde Says Market Swings Aren’t Worrying (R.)

Sharp swings in global financial markets in the past few days are not worrying since economic growth is strong but reforms are still needed to avert future crises, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund said on Sunday. Christine Lagarde, speaking at a conference on global business and social trends in Dubai, said economies were also supported by plenty of financing available. “I‘m reasonably optimistic because of the landscape we have at the moment. But we cannot sit back and wait for growth to continue as normal,” she said in her first public comments on market movements since the latest round of turmoil at the end of last week.

“I‘m ringing not the alarm signal, but the strong encouragement and warning signal.” Global stock markets were hit by wild fluctuations, with the U.S. benchmark S&P 500 tumbling 5.2% last week, its biggest weekly percentage drop since January 2016. The volatility was fuelled by investor worries about rising interest rates and potential inflation. Lagarde repeated an IMF forecast, originally issued last month, that the global economy would growth 3.9% this year and at the same pace in 2019, which she said was a good backdrop for needed reforms.

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No society should ever relinquish control over its essentials.

UK Labour Vows Renationalisation Of Water, Energy And Rail (G.)

Labour launched a full-frontal attack on the privatised water industry last night, accusing companies of paying out the “scandalous” sum of £13.5bn in dividends to shareholders since 2010, while claiming huge tax breaks and forcing up prices for millions of customers. The assault by shadow chancellor John McDonnell came as he pledged total, “permanent” and cost-free renationalisation of water, energy and rail if Labour won power at the next election. The three privatisations in the 1980s and 1990s became hallmarks of the Tory governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. The dramatic intervention – which stunned the companies involved – was the strongest denunciation yet by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour of the privatisation programme that has become part of the British political landscape of the last 40 years.

The Conservative party and the Confederation of British Industry both condemned McDonnell’s comments. The CBI said Labour’s renationalisation agenda would “wind the clock back on our economy” while chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss warned that placing politicians in charge of public utilities “didn’t work last time and won’t work this time”. McDonnell told the Observer that water companies could not even claim to offer choice to customers but instead operated regional monopolies, and were therefore able to increase prices without the risk of losing out to competitors, as well as “load up debt” while paying out huge dividends to shareholders. “It is a national scandal that since 2010 these companies have paid billions to their shareholders, almost all their profits, whilst receiving more in tax credits than they paid in tax,” he said.

“These companies operate regional monopolies which have profited at the expense of consumers who have no choice in who supplies their water. “The next Labour government will call an end to the privatisation of our public sector, and call time on the water companies, who have a stranglehold over working households. Instead, Labour will replace this dysfunctional system with a network of regional, publicly owned water companies.” Citing figures from the National Audit Office, the shadow chancellor said water bills had risen by 40% in real terms since privatisation of the industry in 1989. In 2016-17, the forecast average for water bills was £389 per household. McDonnell claimed that in 2017, privatised water companies paid out a total £1.6bn to their shareholders. Since 2010, the total was £13.5bn.

[..] Corbyn said that Labour would back a “great wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities. “We can put Britain at the forefront of the wave of change across the world in favour of public, democratic ownership and control of our services and utilities,” he said. “From India to Canada, countries across the world are waking up to the fact that privatisation has failed, and taking back control of their public services,” he added.

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Banks and governments are accomplices in blowing this bubble.

Australia’s Big Banks Focus On Job Cuts As Inquiry Looms (R.)

Australia’s big banks are responding to a revenue crunch by cutting jobs and other costs, prompting fears on the eve of an inquiry into their businesses that the industry’s tarnished reputation is about to take another hit. Regulators’ demands that banks hold more capital and their scrutiny into internal operations have made cost-cuts the in-vogue metric at the so-called Big Four banks, Australia and New Zealand Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac, to boost profits. But the strategic change will come at a cost for the banks. “If you can be the most successful at bringing your staff numbers down the quickest, that’s going to give you the quickest cost advantage,” said one senior bank insider with direct knowledge of the cost-cutting strategy.

But, added the insider, as jobs cuts mount, “society and the community will push back, won’t accept it.” Cost cuts are not limited to jobs, with banks preparing to make use of improved technology to reengineer back office functions, and reduce the number and physical size of their branches. But the insider said he expected the Big Four to shed up to 40,000 jobs over five years as part of that overhaul, making a reduced wages bill the primary saving. The focus on costs coincides with the start of a royal commission looking into misconduct in the financial sector starting Monday. Scandals that have shaken public confidence include allegations of interest rate rigging, claims of a toxic trading room culture within some banks, and accusations that some institutions withheld legitimate health insurance payouts and gave misleading financial advice.

The inquiry, expected to last a year and which can recommend criminal charges and legislative changes, could potentially result in restrictions that affect bank profits, similar to a government-imposed bank tax levied last year. According to the government, Australia’s big four are still among the most profitable banks in the world, earning net profit margins of 36.4% in the June quarter of 2017. Years of economic growth and a booming property market had encouraged executives to focus on lifting sales rather than trimming operations. “Top line revenue growth is going to be a struggle, so they need to look closely at their cost lines really seriously,” said Brad Potter, head of Australian equities at Nikko Asset Management, which owns shares in the major banks.

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It’s the economy that causes much of the illness. Putting dollar numbers on it is not the way to go.

Treating Mental Illness Could Save Global Economy Billions (CNBC)

Reducing mental illness is one of the key ways to increase happiness worldwide, according to a study by the Global Happiness Council (GHC). The report, published Saturday, said that while mental illness was one of the main causes of unhappiness in the world, the net cost of treating it was actually negative. “This is because people who are mentally ill become seriously unproductive. So when they are successfully treated, there are substantial gains in output. And these gains exceed the cost of therapy and medication,” GHC researchers said. The most common conditions associated with mental illness are depression and anxiety disorders, the study said. And at least a quarter of the global population were thought to experience these conditions over the course of their lifetime.

Researchers at the GHC also said that mental illness was a “major block” on the global economy as it was found to be the main illness among people of a working age. Therefore, treating the conditions, it said, would save national income per head by 5% — that equates to billions worldwide. The study estimated that for every $1 spent on treating depression, production would be restored by the equivalent of $2.5. And while physical healthcare costs were thought to balance out, the GHC claimed net savings when treating anxiety disorders was greatest of all — with production restored by the equivalent of $3 for every $1 spent. In the U.K., the National Health Service (NHS) estimates that around 10 to 15% of people are considered to have had a mental illness at some stage of their lives. There are many types of mental illness but most conditions fit into either a neurotic or psychotic category, according to the NHS.

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Any individuals will escape persecution.

Pain Pill Giant Purdue to Stop Promotion of Opioids to Doctors (BBG)

Pain-pill giant Purdue Pharma will stop promoting its opioid drugs to doctors, a retreat after years of criticism that the company’s aggressive sales efforts helped lay the foundation of the U.S. addiction crisis. The company told employees this week that it would cut its sales force by more than half, to 200 workers. It plans to send a letter Monday to doctors saying that its salespeople will no longer come to their clinics to talk about the company’s pain products. “We have restructured and significantly reduced our commercial operation and will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers,” the company said in a statement. Instead, any questions doctors have will be directed to the company’s medical affairs department. OxyContin, approved in 1995, is the closely held company’s biggest-selling drug, though sales of the pain pill have declined in recent years amid competition from generics.

It generated $1.8 billion in 2017, down from $2.8 billion five years earlier, according to data compiled by Symphony Health Solutions. It also sells the painkiller Hysingla. Purdue is credited with helping develop many modern tactics of aggressive pharmaceutical promotion. Its efforts to push OxyContin included OxyContin music, fishing hats and stuffed plush toys. More recently, it has positioned itself as an advocate for fighting the opioid addiction crisis, as overdoses from prescription drugs claim thousands of American lives each year. Purdue and other opioid makers and distributors face dozens of lawsuits in which they’re accused of creating a public-health crisis through their marketing of the painkillers. Purdue officials confirmed in November that they are in settlement talks with a group of state attorneys general and trying to come up with a global resolution of the government opioid claims.

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At least there are still some truly pan-European values left.

Asylum Seekers In UK Living In ‘Disgraceful, Unsafe’ Housing (G.)

Asylum seekers are being placed in appalling housing conditions where they are at risk from abuse and violence, according to a survey published on Sunday documenting the lives of new arrivals. A year after the home affairs select committee found asylum seekers were being held in “disgraceful” conditions and called for a major overhaul of the system, new research suggests the situation remains poor. In-depth interviews with 33 individuals inside a north London Home Office asylum accommodation centre found that 82% had found mice in their rooms. The survey, by the human rights charity Refugee Rights Europe, also found that two-thirds of asylum seekers interviewed felt “unsafe” or “very unsafe”.

Others, some of whom have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after fleeing violence and persecution from war zones, described how non-residents would enter the building and threaten residents, or simply use the kitchens and hallways to sleep. Of those interviewed, 30% alleged they had experienced verbal abuse in the accommodation from fellow residents or from staff, with 21% claiming they had experienced physical violence. “A number of respondents were under the impression that the cleaning staff may hold racist views. Sometimes this was expressed through abusive or hostile language in English, and, at other times, the respondents were shouted at in a foreign European language which they couldn’t understand,” said the study.

Marta Welander, head of Refugee Rights Europe, said: “An entire year has passed since the home affairs select committee released its alarming report on asylum accommodation in the UK, yet it seems as though little to nothing has changed. Our research revealed terrible hygiene standards and widespread problems with vermin. “Many of the [interviewees] said they felt unsafe in their accommodation, in particular the younger ones or those diagnosed with PTSD. Others explained they’re experiencing health problems, which they attributed to the unsanitary conditions in their bedrooms and communal areas.”

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C’mon, it’s funny.

Russia Might Sell S-400 Systems To US If Americans Feel Insecure (RT)

The head of Russia’s strategic defense industry corporation Rostec says Moscow is ready to sell S-400 air defense systems to any nation that feels insecure and wants to seal its airspace, including the US if it wants to. Just before the end of the year, Moscow agreed to supply S-400 surface-to-air missile batteries to Ankara, making Turkey the first NATO member state that will integrate Russian technology into the North Atlantic defense structure once the $2.5 billion order is delivered. On Wednesday, Sergey Chemezov, head of the Russian state conglomerate Rostec, extended the offer to purchase S-400 Triumf, or the SA-21 Growler as it is known by NATO, to the Pentagon. “The S-400 is not an offensive system; it is a defensive system. We can sell it to Americans if they want to,” Chemizov told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) when asked about the strategic reasoning behind the S-400 sale to Turkey.

The S-400, developed by Russia’s Almaz Central Design Bureau, has been in service with the Russian Armed Forces since 2007. The mobile surface-to-air missile system which uses four projectiles can strike down targets 40-400 km away. The deployment of S-400 batteries to Syria served as one of the pillars to the successful Russian anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) campaign. While the Almaz Bureau is currently developing S-500 systems, foreign orders to purchase the S-400 have skyrocketed. Besides China and Turkey, who are awaiting order deliveries, India, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are currently negotiating to purchase the Russian military hardware. The growing demand can be attributed to the high reliability and long history of the S missile defense system family. The S-200, designed by Almaz in the 1960s, still serves many nations today. On Saturday, a Syrian S-200 Vega medium-to-high altitude surface-to-air missile was allegedly used to intercept an Israeli F-16.

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The humanitarian industrial complex in all its glory.

Oxfam Staff Partied With Prostitutes In Chad, Haiti, (G.)

Oxfam was hit with new allegations of staff involvement with prostitution on Saturday, after claims that employees at a second country mission had used sex workers while living at the organisation’s premises. Former staff who worked for the charity in Chad alleged that women believed to be prostitutes were repeatedly invited to the Oxfam team house there, with one adding that a senior member of staff had been fired for his behaviour in 2006. Roland van Hauwermeiren, who has since been embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal in Haiti, was head of Oxfam in Chad at the time. Van Hauwermeiren resigned from Oxfam in 2011, after admitting that prostitutes had visited his villa in Haiti. One former Chad aid worker said on Saturday: “They would invite the women for parties. We knew they weren’t just friends but something else. “I have so much respect for Oxfam. They do great work, but this is a sector-wide problem,” the former staffer told the Observer.

[..] Oxfam said it could not confirm whether it had any records about a Chad staff member dismissed in 2006. Its staff in Chad at the time lived under a strict curfew due to security concerns: employees could not walk around freely and were confined to the guest house from early evening. Some employees had raised the issue of prostitutes with Van Hauwermeiren. Oxfam’s beleaguered chief executive, Mark Goldring, denied suggestions the charity had covered up revelations that staff had hired prostitutes in Haiti during a 2011 relief effort on the earthquake-hit island. His defence of Oxfam’s handling of the scandal came as Britain’s charity regulator said Oxfam had failed to mention allegations of abuse of aid beneficiaries in Haiti and potential sexual crimes involving minors in a report to it in 2011. It took no further action at the time.

[..] The scandal broke on Friday when the Times revealed that senior Oxfam staff had paid earthquake survivors for sex and that a confidential Oxfam report had referred to a “culture of impunity” among aid workers in Haiti. The Times on Saturday said Oxfam did not tell other aid agencies about the behaviour of staff involved after they had left to work elsewhere. Goldring told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday: “With hindsight, I would much prefer that we had talked about sexual misconduct, but I don’t think it was in anyone’s best interest to be describing the details of the behaviour in a way that was actually going to draw extreme attention to it.”

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And what about next week?

Maclean’s Is Asking Men To Pay 26% More For Latest Issue (Maclean’s)

This month, Maclean’s has created two covers with two different prices—one at $8.81, the other at our regular price of $6.99—to reflect the 26% gap between full-time wages paid to men and women in Canada.It’s a cheeky way to draw attention to a gap that has barely budged in decades, but we’re not the first to do this. In 2016, a group of students at the University of Queensland in Australia put on a bake sale. They called it the Gender Pay Gap Bake Sale, and they priced their cupcakes higher for men than women to illustrate Australia’s pay equity gap. The fierce social media backlash (“Kill all women” and “Females are f–king scum, they should be put down as babies” and “I want to rape these feminist c–ts with their f–king baked goods”) was so horrific it made international headlines.

When we discussed the story during our Maclean’s news meeting at the time, we wondered what would happen if we tried it here in Canada. So let’s see, shall we? After years of stasis, pay equity is having its moment as the next beat in the cadence of the #MeToo movement. Our hope is that these dual covers stir the kind of urgent conversation here that is already happening elsewhere around the world. In England, Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s China editor, resigned earlier this year when her pay was revealed to be at least 50 per cent less than her two male counterparts, saying, “My managers had yet again judged that women’s work was worth much less than men’s.” #istandwithcarrie trended on Twitter. In Iceland, after women walked out of work at precisely 2:38 p.m.—a full workday minus 30%, to illustrate the pay gap there—the country enacted a new law that makes it mandatory for companies with 25 or more employees to show they provide equal pay.

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Surprised? Me neither.

US Professor Fired After Telling Student ‘Australia Isn’t A Country’ (RT)

Southern New Hampshire University has fired a lecturer who insisted that Australia was a continent – but not a country – and took some time to conduct “independent research” into the issue before reviewing a student’s paper. Ashley Arnold, 27, who is studying toward an online sociology degree at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), was “shocked” to learn she had failed an assignment, part of which required students to compare social norms between the United States and any other country – in her case Australia. Arnold was downgraded because her professor believed “Australia is a continent; not a country.” At first I thought it was a joke; this can’t be real. Then as I continued to read I realized she was for real,” she told BuzzFeed News. “With her education levels, her expertise, who wouldn’t know Australia is a country? If she’s hesitating or questioning that, why wouldn’t she just Google that herself?”

To address the professor’s apparent ignorance, Arnold sent a series of emails containing references from the school’s library which clearly stated Australia is both a continent and a country. Arnold even referred her to a section of the Australian government’s webpage called “About Australia” that said “Australia is an island continent and the world’s sixth largest country (7,682,300 sq km).” The female professor with PhD in philosophy, whose name is being kept private, was still not convinced, however, and said she needed to conduct “some independent research on the continent/country issue.” After reviewing Arnold’s paper the professor gave her a new grade of a B+, but never apologized, merely acknowledging that she had a “misunderstanding about the difference between Australia as a country and a continent.”

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Feb 102018
 
 February 10, 2018  Posted by at 11:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Frank Larson Times Square, New York 1950s

 

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)
By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)
The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)
‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)
The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)
US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)
2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)
Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)
Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)
UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)
Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)
Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)
EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

 

 

The one thing that really matters now is volatility, and all the outstanding bets for or against it.

Worst Week in 2 Years for Stocks Ends on High Note (BBG)

U.S. equities ended their worst week in two years on a positive note, but rate-hike fears that pushed markets into a correction remain as investors await American inflation figures on Feb. 14. The S&P 500 tumbled 5.2% in the week, its steepest slide since January 2016, jolting equity markets from an unprecedented stretch of calm. At one point, stocks fell 12% from the latest highs, before a furious rally Friday left the equity benchmark 1.5% higher on the day. Still, the selloff has wiped out gains for the year. Signs mounted that jitters spread to other assets, with measures of market unrest pushing higher in junk bonds, emerging-market equities and Treasuries. The Cboe Volatility Index ended at 29, almost three times higher than its level Jan. 26.

The VIX’s bond-market cousin reached its highest since April during the week, and a measure of currency volatility spiked to levels last seen almost a year ago. Pressure on equities came from the Treasury market, where yields spiked to a four-year high, raising concern the Federal Reserve would accelerate its rate-hike schedule. Yields ended the week at 2.85%, near where they started, as Treasuries moved higher when equity selling reached its most frantic levels. Commodities including oil, gold and industrial metals moved lower Friday. The dollar, euro and sterling all declined. “Sometimes making a bottom can take time,” Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust Co., said by phone. “Investors should be at least aware, cognizant, and expect a little more volatility after we go through this period of more cathartic volatility.”

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In more detail: volatility. Or in other words: how the Fed killed the market.

By Betting On Calm, Did Investors Worsen The Stock Market Fall? (G.)

Back in 2008, the non-financial world had to digest a lot of jargon in a hurry – collateralised debt obligations (CDOs), asset-backed securities (ABSs) and the rest of the alphabet soup of derivative products that contributed to the great banking crash. This week’s diet has felt similar. As the Dow Jones industrial average twice fell 1,000 points in a day, we have had to swallow tales about the VIX, the inverse VIX, the XIV, and ETPs. Did this overdose of three-letter acronyms really cause the stock markets to swoon? Have those geniuses in the back offices of investment banks really baffled themselves – and a lot of investors – with complexity again? The short answer to the second question is: yes. The chart shows one of the most spectacular blow-ups you could hope to see.

This is the XIV – it is actually the snappier name for the Credit Suisse VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short Term exchange traded note – since the start of 2016. It was a beautiful investment until, suddenly, it was a disaster. What is the XIV? It was a way to bet that the S&P 500, the main US stock index, would be tranquil – in other words suffer few outbreaks of volatility. The measure of volatility is called the VIX and it is compiled and published by the Chicago Board Options Exchange by noting the prices of various option contracts in the market and then applying a mathematical formula. The VIX is more famously known as the “fear index”. In itself, the VIX is just a number – its long-term average is about 20, more than 30 is a worry, and more than 40 could herald a crisis.

For much of last year it was between 10 and 12 but on Tuesday it hit 50, before recoiling back to around 30 currently. The fun starts when products are invented to trade and speculate on how the VIX will perform. Conventional futures contracts came first. Then ETFs, or exchange-traded funds, a low-cost product that has taken the financial world by storm in the last couple of decades, followed. The XIV is slightly different (it’s a note, rather than a fund) but it comes from the same school. By trading S&P 500 options, or contracts to buy and sell the S&P at points in the future, it was structured to do the exact opposite of the VIX. If volatility in the stock market was low – as it was throughout 2016 and 2017 – owners of the XIV would do well. In the jargon, they were “short vol”. But, if volatility exploded, then the XIV would fall.

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Posted a different version of this chart (from Arbeter) yesterday, coming from Market Watch.

The Scariest Chart For The Market (ZH)

Interest-rates going up “for the right reason” is bullish, right? Each time interest rates have surged up to their long-term trendline, a ‘crisis’ has occurred…

But this time is different right? Because rates are “going up for the right reason.” Hhmm, the reaction in markets each time the yield on the 10-Year Treasury yield reaches its trendline is ominous…

So the question is – have interest rates ‘ever’ gone up for the right reason? Or is this narrative just one more bullshit line from a desperate industry of asset-gatherers and commission-takers? It does make one wonder what the relationship between US government ‘interest costs’ and global money flow really is. Does an engineered equity tumble spark safe-haven-buying and ease the pain as deficits and debt loads soar. It would certainly help as $300bn additional budget deals are passed, The Fed has left the game, and China is threatening to be a seller not a buyer…

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If everyone’s on the same side of the boat, somebody must be on the other.

‘Bond Vigilantes’ Are Saddled Up And Ready To Push Rates Higher (CNBC)

There’s reason to be concerned about bond vigilantes, who are no longer under “lock and key” and are free to push yields higher, Wall Street veteran Ed Yardeni told CNBC on Friday. Yardeni, a market historian, coined the term bond vigilantes in the 1980s to refer to investors who sell their holdings in an effort to enforce fiscal discipline. Having fewer buyers drives prices down — and drives yields up — in the fixed-income market. That, in turn, makes it more expensive for the government to borrow and spend. “They had been sort of put under lock and key by the central banks. The Fed had lowered interest rates down to zero in terms of short-term rates and that pushed bond yields down. And then they bought up a lot of these bond yields,” said Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research.

Now the Fed is slowly raising interest rates and starting to unwind its balance sheet. On top of that, new tax cuts were passed and a massive spending deal was just signed into law. “Now people are looking more at the domestic situation and saying, ‘You know what, maybe we need a higher bond yield,'” Yardeni said in an interview with “Power Lunch.” “They’ve saddled up, and they’re riding high. The posse is getting ready. They’re getting the message out.” Bond vigilantes last made their mark during the Clinton administration, when a bond market sell-off forced President Bill Clinton to tone down his spending agenda. Yardeni said while Clinton got the message back then, he doesn’t think the Trump administration has this time around.

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Sub: Rising rates slam stocks as market volatility rages on.

The Worst Of The Bond Rout Is Yet To Come, Says Piper Jaffray (CNBC)

It all started with bond yields. Spiking yields spilled over onto the stock market in the past week, first triggering a nearly 666-point drop on the Dow last Friday and then sparking two declines of more than 1,000 points within just 4 days. The bond rout will continue with yields on the 10-year possibly reaching 3% in the near term, according to Craig Johnson, senior technical strategist at Piper Jaffray. That is a level it has not reached since January 2014. “This is a 36-year reversal in rates,” Johnson told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Thursday. Bond yields, which move inversely to prices, have generally been in decline over the past 3 decades, indicating a long-term bull market for bond prices.

“When you reverse that downtrend from down to up you typically get a momentum response and a quick move up. That’s exactly what you’re seeing in the bond market right now,” added Johnson. “You’ve got to be careful in here right now.” The yield on 10-year Treasurys has risen at a fast clip since the U.S. election in November 2016. Bond yields held at around 1.8% prior to the election and have since moved up 100 basis points to hit a 4-year high of 2.86% this week. The uncertainty of a Trump presidency initially sent bond prices lower and yields higher at the end of 2016. Now, worries over the effect an accelerating economy and rising inflation might have on Federal Reserve policy this year have taken over. Historically, bond prices fall when interest rates rise.

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No savings and huge debt means less consumer spending. Which is what 70% of US GDP is made of.

US GDP Growth Is Not As Rosy As It Seems (Lebowitz)

Last Friday, GDP for the fourth quarter of 2017 was released. Despite being 0.3% short of expectations at 2.6% annual growth, it nonetheless produced enthusiasm as witnessed by the S&P 500 which jumped 25 points. One of the reasons for the optimism following the release was a strong showing of the consumer which notched 2.80% growth in real personal consumption. The consumer, representing about 70% of GDP, is the single most important factor driving economic growth and therefore we owe it to ourselves to better understand what drove that growth. This knowledge, in turn, allows us to better assess its durability. There are three core means which govern the ability of individuals to spend. The most obvious is income and wages earned.

To help gauge the effect of changes in income we rely on disposable income, or the amount of money left to spend after accounting for required expenses. Real disposable personal income in the fourth quarter, the same quarter for which GDP growth data was released, grew at a 1.80% year over year rate. While other indicators of wage growth are slightly higher, we must consider that payroll gains are not evenly distributed throughout the economy. In fact as shown below 80% of workers continue to see flat to declining growth in their wages. While this may have accounted for some of the growth in consumption we need to consider the two other means of spending over which consumers have control, savings and credit card debt.

Savings: Last month the savings rate in the United States registered one of the lowest levels ever recorded in the past 70 years. In fact, the only time it was lower was in a brief period occurring right before the 2008/09 recession. At a rate of 2.6%, consumers are spending 97.4% of disposable income. The graph below shows how this compares historically. [..] the savings rate is less than half of that which occurred since the 2008/09 recession and well below prior periods.

Credit Card Debt: In addition to reducing savings to meet basic needs or even splurge for extra goods, one can also use credit card debt. Confirming our suspicion about savings, a recent sharp increase in revolving credit (credit card debt) is likely another sign consumers are having trouble maintaining their standard of living. Over the last four quarters revolving credit growth has increased at just under 6% annually which is almost twice as fast as disposable income. Further, the 6% credit card growth rate is about three times faster than that of the years following the recession of 2008/09.

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The liquidity super machine is stalling.

2018 Won’t Kill The Speculators. But It Will Teach Them A Lesson Or Two (Xie)

A decade of massive, synchronised monetary and fiscal stimulus has led to the greatest asset bubble in history, to the tune of about $100 trillion, nearly 1.5 times the world’s GDP. Compared to 2-3% of GDP growth in the global economy, we should be mindful of the potential and huge cost associated with it. Even though the US stock market is more expensive than in 1929 or 2000, and China’s property valuation is higher than Japan’s a quarter-of-a-century ago, fear-driven selloffs have been rare and brief, leading to the belief that high asset prices are the new normal. Massive amounts of financial and business activities, especially in technology, are predicated on high asset prices going higher. The unusual longevity and resilience of high asset prices are largely because government actions — not herd behaviour in the market — are force-feeding the bubble.

Government actions will lose their grip only when growth expectations crash or inflation flares up. Neither is a major risk for 2018. Hence, 2018 won’t kill the speculators of the world. But 2018 will teach them a lesson or two. High-risk assets such as internet stocks and high-end properties will struggle like never before in the past decade. US interest rates will rise above inflation for the first time in a decade. And China is tightening, especially in the property sector, out of fear of a life-threatening financial crisis. China accounts for about half of global credit growth. The interaction between the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing and China’s credit targeting has been the liquidity super machine. It is stalling in 2018. The asset bubble demands that the excess liquidity-money supply rises faster than GDP to sustain it.

This year may see global money supply line up with GDP. The Fed is likely to raise interest rates from the current 1-1.25% and take the level to 2.5%. This is still low compared with the 4.5-5% nominal GDP growth rate. But the US stock market is more expensive than it was in 1929 or 2000. When the interest rate surpasses inflation, it will become wobbly. Policymakers are caught between a rock and a hard place. The structural problems that led to the 2008 crisis are still here. The global economy grows ever more dependent on asset bubbles. If the global asset bubble bursts, the economy will slide into recession. Hence, when a market wobbles — as it probably will in 2018 — policymakers will come out to soothe market sentiment and may even temporarily reverse the tightening.

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The EU is a feudal neo-liberal machine. There is no such thing as Soical Europe anywhere but in words. It’s about keeping the poor down, and dependent on your money.

Minimum Wage Awkward Pillar Of Emerging Social Europe (AFP)

Twenty-two out of 28 EU states have introduced a minimum wage, trumpeted as a key pillar in the construction of a social Europe. But huge disparities from one country to the next are fuelling resistance from opponents who see the policy as dragging down competitiveness, sovereignty as well as levelling down salaries. Brexit, as an expression of eurosceptic populism, has jolted the European Commission into going on the offensive as it looks to show the European Union is not just a common market but a bloc with a social dimension. A November 17 Social Summit for Fair Jobs and Growth last year set the ball rolling as all 28 EU members signed up to a Europe-wide charter on social rights, laying down 20 basic principles including statutory minimum wages as a mainstay of a policy framework to boost convergence.

“Adequate minimum wages shall be ensured, in a way that provide for the satisfaction of the needs of the worker and his/her family in the light of national economic and social conditions, whilst safeguarding access to employment and incentives to seek work,” according to the guidelines. But the non-binding declaration is, as such, merely symbolic, not least because “European treaties stipulate clearly that salaries come under the national purview,” notes Claire Dheret, head of employment and social Europe at the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC). To date, the Gothenburg charter is being respected only partially, even if all but six EU states have a legal minimum wage, as witnessed by Eurostat data highlighting starkly varying levels from Bulgaria’s 460 leva (€235; $270) a month gross to €1,999 in Luxembourg, that is, nine times as much.

Even so, the discrepancy does shrink to around a factor of three when the cost of living in each state is taken into account. But the Eurostat data shows up major discrepancies between eastern and western states. Ten of the former pay a minimum of less than €500, whereas seven western EU members have set rates surpassing €1,300 euros. Five southern states pay between €650 and €850. The six without an official minimum, which have their own arrangements to cover the basic needs of low earners are Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy and Sweden.

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We can repeat this every day: the mess gets messier.

Relations Between Britain And The EU Sink To A New Low (Ind.)

David Davis has been dragged into renewed war of words with Brussels over the Brexit transition period, accusing the EU of having a “fundamental contradiction” in its approach and wanting to “have it both ways” after a week of fruitless talks. Relations between Britain and the European Commission sank to a new low on Friday after Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, casually claimed at a press conference the UK had cancelled an important meeting due to a “diary clash”. UK officials behind the scenes took offence to the claim and said the meeting had not been cancelled at all and instead took place in the afternoon. Mr Barnier sealed the state of mutual incomprehension, telling reporters in Brussels that he had “problems understanding the UK’s position” on the transition period.

In a statement issued on Friday afternoon after Mr Barnier’s press conference – a solo affair in contrast to previous joint outings – Mr Davis said the EU could not “have it both ways” on the transition period. “Given the intense work that has taken place this week it is surprising to hear that Michel Barnier is unclear on the UK’s position in relation to the implementation period,” he said. “As I set out in a speech two weeks ago, we are seeking a time-limited period that maintains access to each other’s markets on existing terms. “However for any such period to work both sides will need a way to resolve disputes in the unlikely event that they occur.

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And collapsing social services, health care etc. It’s a choice, not a flaw.

UK Has More Than 750,000 Property Millionaires (G.)

There are now more than 750,000 property millionaires in Britain, and in some towns in the south of England half of all homes cost more than £1m, according to analysis by website Zoopla. Despite a slowing property market, Zoopla estimated that the number of property millionaires has climbed to 768,553, a rise of 23% since August 2016. The figures underscore the hugely lopsided nature of the UK property market. Yorkshire and Humberside has 4,103 property millionaires, and Wales 2,223, while in London the figure is 430,720. The figures suggest that while one in 20 people in the capital are paper property millionaires, the same can be said for only one in every 1,400 people in Wales. Zoopla did not take into account the mortgage debt attaching to properties, just the number of properties valued at over £1m.

Outside London, Guildford in Surrey is the town with the most property millionaires, estimated at 5,889, followed by Cambridge and Reading. But Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire emerges as having the greatest concentration of property wealth in just one town. Zoopla found that 49% of all the houses in the town of 12,000 people nestled below the Chiltern Hills are valued at more than £1m. Agents in the town – dubbed Mayfair in the Chilterns – are currently marketing an opulent six-bed home in Beaconsfield’s “golden triangle” for £6m, boasting a cinema, wine-tasting room and its own six-person smoke-mirrored passenger lift opening on to a galleried balcony with a “Sexy Crystals” chandelier. There is a separate annexe for staff.

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The EU plays the ultimate card: Scotland. The UK has no rebuttal. None. Nada.

Brexit Plan To Keep Northern Ireland In Customs Union Triggers Row (G.)

Officials from the UK and EU are drawing up a plan to in effect keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and the single market after Brexit in order to avoid a hard border. The opening of technical talks followed a warning from Brussels that keeping the region under EU laws was currently the only viable option for inclusion in its draft withdrawal agreement. The development, first reported by the Guardian on Friday and later confirmed by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, triggered an immediate row. Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted: “If NI stays in single market, the case for Scotland also doing so is not just an academic ‘us too’ argument – it becomes a practical necessity. Otherwise we will be at a massive relative disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs and investment.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a Tory MP and officer in the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting Conservatives, accused Barnier of “playing hardball”. “I am surprised that the media are reporting his comments as if they are the only voice and hard fact,” she said. “Perhaps Mr Barnier could remember that the UK is in negotiations, which is a two-way discussion.” “It is important to tell the truth,” Barnier said. “The UK decision to leave the single market and to leave the customs unions would make border checks unavoidable. Second, the UK has committed to proposing specific solutions to the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. And we are waiting for such solutions. “The third option is to maintain full regulatory alignment with those rules of the single market and the customs union, current or future, that support north-south cooperation, the all-island economy and the Good Friday agreement. “It is our responsibility to include the third option in the text of the withdrawal agreement to guarantee there will be no hard border whatever the circumstances.”

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The present European commissioner for migration and home affairs is reported to have taken €40 million in bribes. He should lose his job, today.

Greek PM Steps In To Police Exploding Novartis Bribery Investigation (FPh)

Just days after 10 former ministers in Greece were implicated in bribery allegations against Novartis, the country’s prime minister is calling for a special parliamentary committee to investigate the charges, which have been pegged as slanderous by some politicians pulled into the widening scandal. Meanwhile, three former Novartis executives believed to have provided the meat of the allegations have come under fire, even as their lawyer fights to shield their identities. The investigation targeting Novartis’s Greece offices has been going on since last January, but it blew up earlier this week when news emerged that the case would be submitted to the Greek parliament, which would then decide whether to prosecute the 10 politicians. Novartis is the target of allegations that it bribed doctors and government officials to help boost sales of its drugs.

Now Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wants the special committee to look into allegations that the 10 politicians received millions of euros in exchange for fixing drug prices and granting other favors to Novartis, according to local press reports. A spokesman for Novartis told FiercePharma that the company continues “to cooperate with requests from local and foreign authorities.” Novartis has not received an indictment related to the investigation in Greece, he added. According to press accounts of the prosecutors’ report, the allegations of bribery stemmed from testimony from three witnesses who worked for Novartis. The witnesses spoke to the FBI, which joined in the investigation in Greece. The employees reported that Greece’s health minister from 2006 to 2009 took €40 million ($49 million) in exchange for ordering “a huge amount” of Novartis products, according to The Greek Reporter.

The health minister working between 2009 and 2010 allegedly accepted €120,000 ($147,000) from the company and laundered it through a computer hardware firm, the news organization added. At least one of the politicians named in the report wants the identities of the three Novartis witnesses to be revealed. Dimitris Avramopoulos, who was the health minister from 2006 to 2009 and now serves as European commissioner for migration and home affairs, held a press conference Friday during which he said he will file a lawsuit demanding the names of the witnesses be made public, according to Politico.

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How dare he use the word sovereign in this context? Greece, like all other EU nations, was and is always sovereign. Demand his resignation.

EU’s Moscovici Says Greece Will Be ‘Sovereign Country’ After Bailout (K.)

On exiting its third international bailout in August, Greece will be an “absolutely sovereign country,” European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told a conference on Friday organized by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur and Kathimerini in Athens. “There should be no precautionary credit line,” Moscovici said. “There should be an end to the programs.” The commissioner said that Greece “did what it had to do” but that economic and structural reforms must continue. He also drew attention to an “issue of administrative competence,” without elaborating. In addition, Moscovici expressed his confidence in Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who he described as “smart and flexible,” adding that their relationship was “perfect.” Tsipras and Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos decided to “play ball,” Moscovici said. He further said Tsakalotos’s predecessor Yanis Varoufakis wreaked major political and financial damage on Greece.

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Feb 052018
 
 February 5, 2018  Posted by at 11:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Horacio Coppola Calle Corientes at the corner of Reconquista, Buenos Aires 1936

 

Global Equity Slump Deepens as Rate Fears Grow (BBG)
Stocks Punished As Inflation Shadow Spooks Bonds (R.)
The Grand Crowded Trade Of Financial Speculation (Noland)
Don’t Panic. This Slump’s Just a Blip (BBG)
This Isn’t the Start of a Major Downturn – JPMorgan (BBG)
Gundlach: ‘Hard To Love Bonds At Even 3%’ Yield (R.)
Oil Rally Is Unraveling On Fears Over A Rise In US Production (BBG)
Yellen Says Prices ‘High’ for Stocks, Commercial Real Estate (BBG)
Overworked Americans Are Stuck In A Financial Groundhog Day (MW)
SYRIZA’s “Success Story”: Austerity By A Different Name (MintPress)
The Beautiful Cure – Immunology And The Heroes Of The Resistance (G.)
Whale And Shark Species At Increasing Risk From Microplastic Pollution (G.)

 

 

Out of stocks but into what?

Global Equity Slump Deepens as Rate Fears Grow (BBG)

Asian equities fell and U.S. stock futures headed lower, extending the biggest selloff for global stocks in two years as investors adjusted to a surge in global bond yields. Shares sank across the region, with Japan’s benchmarks falling the most in 15 months. S&P 500 Index futures pared a drop of as much as 0.9%, signaling Friday’s rout won’t extend for another day. Shares in Hong Kong and Shanghai trimmed declines after China’s securities regulator urged brokerages to help stem the rout. Australia’s 10-year bond yield surged as the 10-year Treasury yield neared 2.87% after solid jobs data on Friday showed rising wages. The yen advanced. “It’s likely the pullback has further to go as investors adjust to more Fed tightening than currently assumed,” said Shane Oliver at AMP Capital Investors.

“The pullback is likely to be just an overdue correction, with say a 10% or so fall, rather than a severe bear market – providing the rise in bond yields is not too abrupt and recession is not imminent in the U.S. with profits continuing to rise.” The re-pricing of markets has come as investors question whether the Federal Reserve will keep to a gradual pace of monetary tightening, and whether it may need to end up boosting interest rates by more than previously expected in coming years. A higher so-called terminal rate for the Fed’s target implies higher long-term yields – raising borrowing costs across the economy. Yields on 10-year Treasuries have climbed to a four-year high from 2.40% at the start of the year. Last week’s decline for global stocks follows one of the best starts to a year on record amid hopes for ever-expanding corporate profits and growth in the world economy that’s broadening. The MSCI All Country World Index tumbled 3.4% last week, its biggest such slide since January 2016.

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If anyone’s scared of inflation, they’re scared of the wrong thing. But perhaps that’s a fitting way to end a make-believe world.

Stocks Punished As Inflation Shadow Spooks Bonds (R.)

Wall Street had already been flashing expensive by many historical measures and sold off in reaction. “It has to be remembered that U.S. shares were priced for perfection at around 19 times earnings,” said Craig James, chief economist at fund manager CommSec, noting the historic average is around 15 times. “Still, U.S. companies have produced stellar earnings over the reporting period. So it is understandable that some ‘irrational exuberance’ would emerge.” With half of the S&P 500 companies having reported, 78% have beaten expectations against an average 64%. Chris Weston, chief market strategist at broker IG, noted the sudden spike in volatility caused some rules-based funds to automatically dump stock as their models required.

“There is talk that volatility targeting annuity funds could have to sell a further $30 billion of stock this week and another $40 billion should realized volatility not retreat lower,” he warned. The lift in U.S. yields provided some initial support to the dollar after a rocky start to the year, though it was starting to lose altitude again in Asian trade. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar was down a fraction at 89.123 having climbed 0.6% on Friday for its biggest single day gain in three months. The dollar backed off to 109.95 yen from an early 110.29, while the euro was barely changed at $1.2461. Any rally in the U.S. dollar is considered a negative for commodities priced in the currency, with the Thomson Reuters CRB index down 0.5%. Gold was off a touch at $1,332.04 an ounce after losing 1% on Friday.

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Minskian fragility pops up its head.

The Grand Crowded Trade Of Financial Speculation (Noland)

Even well into 2017, variations of the “secular stagnation” thesis remained popular within the economics community. Accelerating synchronized global growth notwithstanding, there’s been this enduring notion that economies are burdened by “insufficient aggregate demand.” The “natural rate” (R-Star) has sunk to a historical low. Conviction in the central bank community has held firm – as years have passed – that the only remedy for this backdrop is extraordinarily low rates and aggressive “money” printing. Over-liquefied financial markets have enjoyed quite a prolonged celebration. Going back to early CBBs, I’ve found it useful to caricature the analysis into two distinctly separate systems, the “Real Economy Sphere” and the “Financial Sphere.”

It’s been my long-held view that financial and monetary policy innovations fueled momentous “Financial Sphere” inflation. This financial Bubble has created increasingly systemic maladjustment and structural impairment within both the Real Economy and Financial Spheres. I believe finance today is fundamentally unstable, though the associated acute fragility remains suppressed so long as securities prices are inflating. [ZH: This week’s sudden burst of volatility across all asset-classes highlights this Minskian fragility]. The mortgage finance Bubble period engendered major U.S. structural economic impairment. This became immediately apparent with the collapse of the Bubble. As was the case with previous burst Bubble episodes, the solution to systemic problems was only cheaper “money” in only great quantities.

Moreover, it had become a global phenomenon that demanded a coordinated central bank response. Where has all this led us? Global “Financial Sphere” inflation has been nothing short of spectacular. QE has added an astounding $14 TN to central bank balance sheets globally since the crisis. The Chinese banking system has inflated to an almost unbelievable $38 TN, surging from about $6.0 TN back in 2007. In the U.S., the value of total securities-to-GDP now easily exceeds previous Bubble peaks (1999 and 2007). And since 2008, U.S. non-financial debt has inflated from $35 TN to $49 TN. It has been referred to as a “beautiful deleveraging.” It may at this time appear an exquisite monetary inflation, but it’s no deleveraging. We’ll see how long this beauty endures.

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People need to be reassured, apparently.

Don’t Panic. This Slump’s Just a Blip (BBG)

Is it a blip, a correction or the end of days? Stock markets in Asia tumbled Monday, extending the biggest global selloff in two years. Equity investors are fretting as Treasury yields approach 3%. On Friday, 10-year returns touched 2.85%, and the dollar rallied 0.9%. Some context, however. While the MSCI Asia ex-Japan Index’s 7.5% return in January was good, it’s not unprecedented. In January 2001, the benchmark soared 12.8%. Also, U.S. government bond yields have been on a steady rise since the start of the year, and that hasn’t stopped Asia from partying. A currency’s strength is dictated by interest rate differentials, in theory at least. And it’s unclear the dollar will get much stronger. Based on the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, which determines currency weights according to their relative importance to the U.S. in terms of international trade, one-third of the dollar’s value is dictated by the euro.

[..] But five-year bunds finally offered you something last week, after being negative since 2015. Next in line is the Japanese yen, which dictates 18% of the dollar’s value. There have been plenty of murmurings, from this columnist included, that the Bank of Japan will start stealth tightening, especially in a world of rising U.S. interest rates. After all, Japan’s central bank already owns an unprecedented 45% of the nation’s bond market; how much more entrenched can it get? Interest rates have been climbing in emerging Asia as well. Malaysia and Pakistan have both embarked on tightening cycles while the Philippines is expected to hike by 50 basis points this year. Interest rates in China and India are also on the up, as Beijing limits credit expansion and Delhi can’t stop spending. You get my point: Just because U.S. rates are strengthening doesn’t mean the dollar will necessarily follow suit.

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Life in a fantasy world paid for by the Fed through taxpayers.

This Isn’t the Start of a Major Downturn – JPMorgan (BBG)

Equities still feel like the right place to be relative to bonds for multi-asset investors, according to JPMorgan Asset Management. The pullback in risk assets among overbought conditions and stretched sentiment doesn’t look like the start of a major downturn, the money manager said. With economic and earnings growth remaining solid amid a real macro deterioration, “stretched valuations just aren’t enough to cause a big market sell-off,” said Patrik Schowitz, global multi-asset strategist at JPMorgan Asset, in a note. The firm oversees $1.7 trillion in assets. Asian equities fell and U.S. stock futures headed lower Monday, extending the biggest selloff for global stocks in two years as investors adjusted to a surge in global bond yields.

Investors are questioning whether the Federal Reserve will keep to a gradual pace of monetary tightening, and whether it may need to boost interest rates by more than previously expected in coming years. To be sure, the biggest “endogenous” risk the firm has been pointing to is rising bond yields. “The level of yields in absolute terms is not the issue, rather the velocity of the yield moves is what matters. Investors should continue to watch this closely,” said Schowitz. He said the firm has for some time flagged rising risks of a correction in risk assets on the back of increasingly more stretched positive sentiment in markets. “This move may yet turn out to be the start of something more significant, but so far it is pretty limited and it is likely that buyers will step in before we get near ‘real’ correction levels,” he said.

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Because of accelerating US economic growth. Just wait five minutes.

Gundlach: ‘Hard To Love Bonds At Even 3%’ Yield (R.)

Jeffrey Gundlach, the chief executive of DoubleLine Capital, says “it is hard to love bonds at even 3%” yield, given the backdrop for accelerating economic growth in the U.S. “It seems the tradable buy on bonds will need a flight-to-safety bid on a wave of fear washing over risk markets,” Gundlach told Reuters late on Saturday. “Hard to love bonds at even 3% when GDPNow for Q1 2018 is suggesting annualized nominal GDP growth above 7%.” The 10-year Treasury yield hit a four-year high on Friday after the latest jobs report showed solid wage gains, effectively confirming the expected rate increase at the Federal Reserve’s next meeting in March. Friday’s selloff contributed to the broad decline in U.S. government paper within the last week as inflation fears, strong economic data and an announcement of bigger Treasury auctions drove yields higher.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbed 7.9 basis points to 2.852%, the highest since January 2014. “Treasury yields have been rising at a pace above 200 basis points annualized on parts of the (yield) curve since September,” said Gundlach, known as Wall Street’s Bond King. “This is partly caused by the manic mood and partly caused by the falling dollar and related rising commodities. Rates up significantly and dollar down significantly with exploding deficits is a dangerous cocktail reminiscent of 1987.” Last month, Gundlach predicted the S&P 500 may go up 15% in the first part of the year, but “I believe, when it falls, it will wipe out the entire gain of the first part of the year with a negative sign in front of it.”

On Saturday, Gundlach said: ”What matters to success this year is understanding that we entered a mania phase in 2017 that went completely out of control after September with the Bitcoin blowoff exhibiting exactly the same lunacy as the dot com blow off back in late 1999. “Similar to that period, but even more excessive this time -who’d have thought it possible – is the explosion of bullish sentiment, with some surveys registering 96%, 97%, even 100% bullish respondents. Long Island Blockchain. Kodakcoin. Cryptokitties. Sheer madness.” Gundlach said overall, the U.S. stock market is an odds-on favorite to turn in a negative return for 2018. “Whether Friday is the start of a crash or just the first chapter in the topping process is not the issue,” he said.

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Highest production in 40 years.

Oil Rally Is Unraveling On Fears Over A Rise In US Production (BBG)

Oil’s rally is unraveling on fears over a rise in U.S. production after crude’s best January in more than a decade. Futures in New York are extending declines for a second session as Baker Hughes data showed American explorers last week raised the number of rigs drilling for crude to the highest in almost six months. Short-sellers betting against West Texas Intermediate oil increased their positions for a third week, according to figures from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Crude has remained above $60 a barrel this year, extending a rally driven by the extension of an output deal until the end of 2018 by OPEC and its allies. While oil’s best start to the year since 2006 was also helped by falling U.S. inventories and a weaker greenback, Citigroup says the market is underestimating U.S. output growth as a bigger surge is forecast along with an increase capital spending.

“With the higher U.S. oil rig counts and higher oil production sustaining into February, the concerns in the market seem to be valid at this point,” Barnabas Gan, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp., said by phone from Singapore. “As these worries resurface, prices are edging lower.” [..] U.S. drillers last week added 6 rigs to raise the number of machines drilling for crude to 765, the highest since Aug. 11, Baker Hughes data showed Friday. That may lead to a further increase in U.S. crude production, which breached 10 million barrels a day to the highest level in more than four decades in November.

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She starts at Bernanke’s think tank today. Good riddance.

Yellen Says Prices ‘High’ for Stocks, Commercial Real Estate (BBG)

Outgoing Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said U.S. stocks and commercial real estate prices are elevated but stopped short of saying those markets are in a bubble. “Well, I don’t want to say too high. But I do want to say high,” Yellen said on CBS’s “Sunday Morning” in an interview recorded Friday as she prepared to leave the central bank. “Price-earnings ratios are near the high end of their historical ranges.” Commercial real estate prices are now “quite high relative to rents,” Yellen said. “Now, is that a bubble or is it too high? And there it’s very hard to tell. But it is a source of some concern that asset valuations are so high.” Yellen, 71, stepped down as Fed chief on Saturday after one term, after President Donald Trump opted to replace her with Republican Jerome Powell, who’s been a Fed governor since 2012.

“I made it clear that I would be willing to serve, so yes, I do feel a sense of disappointment” about not being renominated, Yellen said. The only woman to serve as the head of the U.S. central bank described her work at the Fed as “the core of my existence.” Yellen said she’s supportive of former investment banker Powell, 64, whom she termed “thoughtful, balanced, and dedicated to public service.” The financial system is now “much better capitalized” and the banking system “more resilient” than they were entering the global financial crisis a decade ago, Yellen said. “What we look at is, if stock prices or asset prices more generally were to fall, what would that mean for the economy as a whole?” Yellen said. “And I think our overall judgment is that, if there were to be a decline in asset valuations, it would not damage unduly the core of our financial system.”

Yellen’s final act at the Fed was to hit one of the largest U.S. banks, Wells Fargo, with an unusual ban on growth that follows the lender’s pattern of consumer abuses and compliance lapses. In the interview that aired Sunday, she warned that it would be a “grave mistake” to roll back the regulations put on banks after the previous economic collapse. The current U.S. economic expansion is now approaching nine years and is the third longest in duration since 1945, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Yellen said the economy can continue to grow. “Yes, it can keep going,” she said. “Recoveries don’t die of old age.”

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Never no holiday, Try and explain that in Europe.

Overworked Americans Are Stuck In A Financial Groundhog Day (MW)

The U.S. had the fastest wage growth since 2009 in January. But in many other ways, American workers feel like they are working harder to achieve the same result. Does today feel a bit like yesterday, and the day before that? Feb. 2 is Groundhog Day. In the 1993 movie of the same name, Phil (Murray) wakes up at 6 a.m. only to find out that his day is actually exactly the same as the day before and the day before that. “I think people place too much emphasis on their careers,” he says. There may be a reason why that resonates with people in 2018. “Americans are doomed to relive the same reality each year: Forfeited vacation time, burnout, less time for loved ones, and negative consequences for health and well-being,” according to a report by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off. More than half of Americans (53%) are burned out and overworked, according to this survey of more than 2,000 workers by Staples Advantage, a division of office supplier Staples.

“We found that low pay and more hours is burning employees out and it causes up to half of what employees quit,” says Dan Schawbel, founder of WorkplaceTrends.com. Even so, year after year, most Americans say they are one paycheck away from the street with no emergency savings for a car repair or emergency room visit. But one reason for this exhaustion does not look like it will be changing anytime soon. Some 42% of workers took a vacation last year, according to a separate survey of more than 2,000 American adults released last year by travel site Skift using Google Consumer Surveys. (Nearly 40% only took 10 days or less.) One theory: Roughly one in four workers don’t get any paid vacation from their employers. Many are low-income workers and are the least able to afford to take an unpaid vacation day. Under the The Fair Labor Standards Act, the U.S. is also one of the few developed countries that does not require employers to provide paid time off.

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At least I’m not the only one constantly saying this. Recovery is a mathematical impossibility for Greece.

SYRIZA’s “Success Story”: Austerity By A Different Name (MintPress)

Initially, in May 2016, the Greek parliament passed a 7,500 page omnibus bill, sans any parliamentary debate, that transferred control over all of the country’s public assets to a fund controlled by the EU’s European Stability Mechanism for a period of 99 years – that is, until the year 2115. Not even Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled that far into the future! Second, Greece’s loan commitments to the “troika” of lenders are set to continue, at the current rate of repayment, until 2059, as reported recently by the German newspaper Handelsblatt. That is the year when Greece is expected to have repaid the balance of the loans it has received, as part of its so-called “bailouts,” since 2010. The same article pointed out that the Greek government has made commitments to implement further austerity measures through 2022.

These measures — totaling €5.5 billion and agreed upon in June 2017 in what is, in essence, a fourth memorandum — include no less than 113 demands on the part of the troika, encompassing new privatizations of public assets and pension reductions. Other measures foreseen as part of this deal include a reduction in the tax- free income threshold and the further dilution of already-decimated worker rights. No increase in the also-decimated minimum wage is foreseen, nor are any new social measures to be implemented until 2023, despite Tsakalotos’ promises to the contrary. In connection with this agreement, assets slated for privatization include such strategic holdings as 25% of Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in Athens, the remaining regional airports that have not already been privatized, Greece’s national defense industry, and the Corinth Canal.

Third, the SYRIZA-led coalition government has committed to the maintenance of annual primary budget surpluses of 3.5% through 2023, and then 2% annually through 2060. In plain language, what this means is that the state will spend less than it earns in revenues. If revenues therefore decrease, expenditures will be slashed accordingly. And, as foreseen in the 2017 deal between the Greek government and the troika, should there be shortfalls in these fiscal targets, automatic budget and spending cuts are to be immediately implemented through at least 2022. Here it should be noted that the net revenues of the Greek state declined in 2017, falling to €51.27 billion from €54.16 billion in 2016, leading in turn to a reduction in the pre-tax primary budget surplus from €2.78 billion to €1.97 billion. With state expenditures having reached €55.51 billion, Greece now faces a post-interest deficit of €4.24 billion, resulting in an increase in the country’s public debt.

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WHy do people never get smallpox and measles at the same time?

The Beautiful Cure – Immunology And The Heroes Of The Resistance (G.)

In 1989, Charles Janeway, a scientist at Yale University, had an epiphany that would revolutionise immunology. For 50 years, immunologists had subscribed to the dogma that vaccines worked by training the body to recognise molecules that were foreign to the body – “non-self” in immunological jargon. The usual way of doing this was to use vaccines to expose people to a dead or harmless version of a microbe, prompting the activation of antibodies that would be ready to swamp the germ should they encounter the alien entity a second time. But there were exceptions to the rule: sometimes, proteins separated from originating germs proved ineffective as vaccines; at other times, vaccines required the addition of an adjuvant, such as aluminium, to kickstart an immune response and no one could explain why.

What if, wondered Janeway, the presence of something that had never been in your body before was not sufficient to trigger an immune reaction? What if a second signal was required? Today, that second something is known as a pattern-recognition receptor and it is understood that there are countless varieties of them, each equipped to detect specific types of germs and switch on the appropriate immune responses. Together with an alphabet soup of other specialised cells, hormones and proteins, they form part of our innate immune system, helping us to distinguish harmful bacteria and viruses from beneficial ones, such as gut microbes essential for digestion. For Daniel Davis, professor of immunology at the University of Manchester, they constitute a “beautiful cure” more powerful than any product of a pharmaceutical laboratory.

Yet it is only in the past 30 years that immunologists such as Davis and Janeway, who died in 2003, have begun to shed light on these “wonders taking place beneath the skin”. In the process, they have found new ways to treat cancer, diabetes, arthritis and other age-related diseases. Immunologists are even beginning to understand the way in which immune responses are dependent on emotional and psychological states and the role that stress and exposure to light play in fighting disease. Given this, you would have thought that research into the workings of the immune system would be a top scientific priority. But while billions have been poured into the pursuit of the Higgs boson, immunology lacks a similar programmatic call-to-arms. Instead, Davis argues, immunology has always been a curiosity-driven science, a matter of “a few individuals following their nose”.

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Filter feeders. The big boys and girls. Meaning: they ingest lots of plastic.

Whale And Shark Species At Increasing Risk From Microplastic Pollution (G.)

Large filter feeders, such as baleen whales and basking sharks, could be particularly at risk from ingesting the tiny plastic particles, say scientists Whales, some sharks and other marine species such as rays are increasingly at risk from microplastics in the oceans, a new study suggests. Species such as baleen whales and basking sharks, which feed through filtering seawater for plankton, are ingesting the tiny particles of indigestible plastic which now appear to permeate oceans throughout the world. Some of these species have evolved to swallow hundreds or even thousands of cubic metres of seawater a day, but taking in microplastic can block their ability to absorb nutrients, and may have toxic side-effects. The new study, published in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, advises more research on the megafauna of the oceans, as the effects of microplastics on them is currently not well understood.

Scientists have found, for instance through examining the bodies of beached whales, large pieces of plastic in the guts of such creatures, but the effect of microplastics, though less obvious, may be just as harmful. Elitza Germanov, a researcher at the Marine Megafauna Foundation and co-author the study, said: “Despite the growing research on microplastics in the marine environment, there are only a few studies that examine the effects on large filter feeders. We are still trying to understand the magnitude of the issue. It has become clear, though, that microplastic contamination has the potential to further reduce the population numbers of these species, many of which are long-lived and have few offspring throughout their lives.” Many species of whale, filter-feeding shark and rays are already under threat from other problems, such as overfishing and pollution. The added stress from microplastics could push some species further towards extinction, the authors of the study warned.

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Jan 312018
 
 January 31, 2018  Posted by at 10:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin Farm in Brittany 1894

 

Market Euphoria May Turn to Despair If 10-Year Yield Jumps to 3% (BBG)
Forget Stocks, Look At EU Bonds – They Are The Real Problem (Luongo)
The Ticking Time Bomb in the Municipal-Bond Market (Barron’s)
UK Interest-Only Mortgagees Are at Risk of Losing Their Homes
US National Debt Will Jump by $617 Billion in 5 Months (WS)
Trump Urges Congress To Pass $1.5 Trillion In Infrastructure Spending (R.)
Trump Joins Bezos, Dimon, Buffett In Pledge To Stop Soaring Drug Prices (MW)
Trump Says ‘100%’ After He’s Asked to Release GOP Memo (BBG)
Saving Rate Drops to 12-Year Low As 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings (WS)
U.S. Regulators Subpoena Crypto Exchange Bitfinex, Tether (BBG)
Customer Lawsuits Pummel Spanish Banks (DQ)
Britons Ever More Deeply Divided Over Brexit (R.)
The GDP of Bridges to Nowhere (Michael Pettis)

 

 

If central banks and governments have really lost control over bonds, find shelter.

Market Euphoria May Turn to Despair If 10-Year Yield Jumps to 3% (BBG)

It’s getting harder and harder to quarantine the selloff in Treasuries from equities and corporate bonds. The benchmark 10-year U.S. yield cracked 2.7% on Monday, rising to a point many forecasters weren’t expecting until the final months of 2018. For over a year, range-bound Treasuries helped keep financial markets in a Goldilocks state, with interest rates slowly rising due to favorable forces like stronger global growth and the Federal Reserve spearheading a gradual move away from crisis-era monetary policy. Yet the start of 2018 caught many investors off guard, with the 10-year yield on pace for its steepest monthly increase since November 2016. It’s risen 30 basis points this year and reached as high as 2.73% in Asian trading Tuesday.

Suddenly, they’re confronted with thinking about what yield level could end the good times seen since the presidential election. For many, 3% is the breaking point at which corporate financing costs would get too expensive, the equity market would lose its luster and growth momentum would fade. “We are at a turning point in the psyche of markets,” said Marty Mitchell, a former head government bond trader at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. and now an independent strategist. “A lot of people point to 3% on the 10-year as the critical level for stocks,” he said, noting that higher rates signal traders are realizing that quantitative easing policies really are on the way out.

U.S. stocks have set record after record, buoyed by strong corporate earnings, President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and easy U.S. financial conditions. The S&P 500 Index has returned around 6.8% this year, once reinvested dividends are taken into account, and the U.S. equity benchmark is already higher than the level at which a Wall Street strategists’ survey last month predicted it would end 2018. What often goes unsaid in explaining the equity-market exuberance is that Treasury yields refused to break higher last year. Instead, they remained in the tightest range in a half-century, allowing companies to borrow cheaply and forcing investors to seek out riskier assets to meet return objectives.

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It’s all bonds, not even just sovereign bonds. Investors will move from equities into bonds all over the place.

Forget Stocks, Look At EU Bonds – They Are The Real Problem (Luongo)

While all the headlines are agog with stories about the Dow Jones dropping a couple hundreds points off an all-time high, German bunds are getting killed right before our eyes. The Dow is simply a market overdue for a meaningful correction in a primary bull market. And it’s a primary bull market brought on by a slow-moving sovereign debt crisis that will engulf Europe. It’s not the end of the story. Hell, the Dow isn’t even a major character in the story. In fact, similar stories are being written in French 10 year debt, Dutch 10 year debt, and Swiss 10 year debt. These are the safe-havens in the European sovereign debt markets. Meanwhile, Italian 10 year debt? Still range-bound. Portuguese 10 year debt? Near all-time high prices. The same this is there with Spain’s debt. All volatility stamped out. Why? Simple. The ECB.

The ECB’s quantitative easing program and negative interest rate policy (NIRP) drove bond yields across the board profoundly negative for more than a year. [..] the ECB is trapped and cannot allow rates to rise in the vulnerable sovereign debt markets — Italy, Portugal, Spain — lest they face bank failures and a real crisis. The problem with that is, the market is scared and so they are selling the stuff the ECB isn’t buying – German, French, Dutch, Swiss debt. In simple terms, we are seeing the flight into the euro intensify here as investors are raising cash. The euro and gold are up. The USDX continues to be weak even though capital is pouring into the U.S. thanks to fundamental changes to tax and regulatory policy under President Trump. In the short term Dow Jones and S&P500 prices are overbought. Fine. Whatever. But, the real problem is not that. The real problem is the growing realization in the market that governments and central banks do not have an answer to the debt problem.

[..] The U.S. economy is about to be unleashed by Trump’s tax cut law. It will be able to absorb higher interest rates for a while. Yield-starved pension funds, as Armstrong rightly points out, will be bailed out slightly forestalling their day of reckoning. And in doing so, higher rates in the U.S. are driving core-rates higher in Europe. An overly-strong euro is crushing any hope of further economic recovery in the periphery, like Italy. The debt load on Italy et.al. has increased relative to their national output by around 20% since the end of 2016. This will put the ECB at risk of a massive loss of confidence when Italian banks start failing, Italy’s budget deficit starts expanding again and hard-line euroskeptics win the election in March. As capital is drained out of Europe into U.S. equities, the dollar, gold and cryptocurrencies, things should begin to spiral upwards rapidly.

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See? More bonds. Meredith Whitney was 10 years early.

The Ticking Time Bomb in the Municipal-Bond Market (Barron’s)

There’s a looming disaster in the market for municipal debt. Every market participant knows about it, and there isn’t much any of them can do about it. Many state and local governments, even more than corporations, have promised generous pensions they can’t afford. The promises may have looked plausible in the past, especially during the dot-com boom, when money that pension funds put in the markets was doubling. When the market crashed, so did their returns—and, a few years later, the global financial crisis took out another substantial chunk. And with interest rates at historic lows, bonds have failed to deliver the income the funds relied on. While governments delay dealing with the problem as long as they can, analysts and researchers are wondering if we have reached the point of no return. For investors in municipal bonds, it could mean future defaults and losses.

“We are increasingly wary of high pension exposure, especially among state and local credits,” the Barclays muni-research team wrote this month, citing “inflated return targets, low funded ratios, growing obligations, perhaps heavy allocations to equities and compressed tax revenues make for especially adverse conditions.” What’s more, “short-term investment gains won’t be sufficient to plug liability gaps.” Yet many pensions still assume they will be able to generate the returns they saw in the past. New Jersey’s pension and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System have lowered their assumed rate of return to 7%. But with the 30-year Treasury yielding less than 3% and stocks already at record highs, it’s unclear how public markets can generate 7%—which is why many pensions have turned to higher-risk, lower-liquidity strategies, such as private equity.

Muni investors, for their part, are increasingly sensitive to pensions’ widening gap. After the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, they suddenly became interested in pension finances. A report late last year by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College found that, as pension liabilities grew, spreads between state and local municipal bonds and Treasuries also increased. When such issuers came to issue new debt, they discovered the market was charging them more to borrow. “Pensions have become increasingly relevant to the municipal bond markets and can have a meaningful impact on the borrowing costs of a municipality,” the report says.

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Rising bond yields mean higher mortgage rates. Australia is overflowing with interest only loans. Plenty other countries have loads of it too.

UK Interest-Only Mortgagees Are at Risk of Losing Their Homes

Some borrowers with interest-only mortgages may lose their homes as a result of shortfalls in repayment plans, the U.K.’s Financial Conduct Authority warned. The FCA has identified three peaks in interest-only mortgage repayments, the first of which is currently underway. Defaults are less likely in the present wave of maturities because the homeowners are approaching retirement and have higher incomes. The next two peaks, from 2027 through 2028 and in 2032, are more at risk of shortfalls, the regulator said. Customers are reluctant to discuss with their lenders how they’ll pay off the loans, limiting their options, the FCA found. Almost 18% of outstanding mortgages in the U.K. are interest-only or involve only partial payment of the capital, according to the statement.

“Since 2013, good progress has been made in reducing the number of people with interest-only mortgages,” Jonathan Davidson, executive director of supervision retail and authorization at the regulator, said in a statement. “However, we are very concerned that a significant number of interest-only customers may not be able to repay the capital at the end of the mortgage and be at risk of losing their homes.” The FCA reviewed 10 lenders representing about 60% of the interest-only mortgage market for the study. The supervisor also urged lenders to review and improve their own strategies regarding repayment of the loans.

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Now add some infrastructure.

US National Debt Will Jump by $617 Billion in 5 Months (WS)

While everyone is trying to figure out how to twist the new tax cut to their advantage and save some money, the US Treasury Department just announced how much net new debt it will have to sell to the public through the second quarter to keep the government afloat: $617 billion. That’s what the Treasury Department estimates will be the total amount added to publicly traded Treasury securities — or “net privately-held marketable borrowing” — through the end of the second quarter. This will be the net increase in the US debt through the end of Q2. By quarter: During Q1, the Treasury expects to increase US public debt by $441 billion. It includes estimates for “lower net cash flows.” During Q2 – peak tax seasons when revenues pour into the Treasury – it expects to increase US public debt by $176 billion.

It also “assumes” that with these increases in the debt, it will have a cash balance at the end of June of $360 billion. So over the next five months, if all goes according to plan, the US gross national debt of $24.5 trillion currently – which includes $14.8 trillion in publicly traded Treasury securities and $5.7 trillion in internally held debt – will surge to about $25.1 trillion. That’s a 4% jump in just five months. Note the technical jargon-laced description for this (marked in green on the chart). The flat lines in 2013, 2015, and 2017 are a result of the prior three debt-ceiling fights. Each was followed by an enormous spike when the debt ceiling was lifted or suspended, and when the “extraordinary measures” with which the Treasury keeps the government afloat were reversed. And note the current debt ceiling, the flat line that started in mid-December.

In November, Fitch Ratings said optimistically that, “under a realistic scenario of tax cuts and macro conditions,” the US gross national debt would balloon to 120% of GDP by 2027. The way things are going right now, we won’t have to wait that long. Back in 2012, gross national debt amounted to 95% of GDP. Before the Financial Crisis, it was at 63% of GDP. At the end of 2017, gross national debt was 106% of GDP! Over the next six month, the debt will grow by about 4%. Unless a miracle happens very quickly, the debt will likely grow faster over the next five years due to the tax cuts than over the past five years. But over the past five years, the gross national debt already surged nearly 25%, or by $4.1 trillion. So that’s a lot of borrowing, for an economy that is growing at a decent clip.

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Coverage of SOTU proves my point: Moses split the nation.

As for infrastructure, they will go for what provides most short term gain. That is, make people pay. For roads, not public transport, for instance.

Trump Urges Congress To Pass $1.5 Trillion In Infrastructure Spending (R.)

President Donald Trump called on the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to pass legislation to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending. In his State of the Union speech to Congress, Trump offered no other details of the spending plan, such as how much federal money would go into it, but said it was time to address America’s “crumbling infrastructure.” Rather than increase federal spending massively, Trump said: “Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private-sector investment.” The administration has already released an outline of a plan that would make it easier for states to build tollways and to privatize rest stops along interstate highways.

McKinsey & Company researchers say that $150 billion a year will be required between now and 2030, or about $1.8 trillion in total, to fix all the country’s infrastructure needs. The American Society of Civil Engineers, a lobbying group with an interest in infrastructure spending, puts it at $2 trillion over 10 years. Trump said any infrastructure bill needed to cut the regulation and approval process that he said delayed the building of bridges, highways and other infrastructure. He wants the approval process reduced to two years, “and perhaps even one.” Cutting regulation is a top priority of business lobbying groups with a stake in building projects and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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Just the kind of folk you want in charge of your health. With your medical needs standing in the way of their profits.

Trump Joins Bezos, Dimon, Buffett In Pledge To Stop Soaring Drug Prices (MW)

President Trump pledged to bring down drug prices. “One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs,” Trump said during his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening. “In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States and it’s over, very unfair. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities for the year.” Mark Hamrick, Washington, D.C. bureau chief at Bankrate.com, said the president has made that promise before. “Will his choice of a former drug industry executive, Alex Azar, now the head of Health and Human Services, deliver results on that front?” he said. “I’d prefer to place my bet on the partnership just announced by Berkshire Hathaway, J.P. Morgan Chase and Amazon.”

Earlier Tuesday, Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JP Morgan Chase, three of the biggest companies in the U.S., surprised the health-care industry on Tuesday with a plan to form a company to address rising health costs for their U.S. employees. They said it will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints.” Health-care costs have skyrocketed over the last 60 years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit, private foundation based in Washington, D.C. In 1960, hospital costs cost $9 billion. In 2016, they cost $1.1 trillion. In 1960, physicians and clinics costs were $2.7 billion, but ballooned to $665 billion. Prescription drug prices soared from $2.7 billion in 1960 to $329 billion. U.S. health-care spending reached $3.3 trillion, or $10,348 per person in 2016.

The Trump administration has pledged to roll back the 2010 Affordable Care Act, perhaps Barack Obama’s signature achievement as U.S. president. Roughly 1 million people will lose their insurance under Trump’s plans, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO Warren Buffett didn’t hold back in excoriating the health-care industry. “The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy,” Buffett said. Amazon founder CEO Jeff Bezos and J.P. Morgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon were more measured in their remarks. “Amazon, Chase and Berkshire Hathaway think they can do it better than the insurance companies,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “There’s a lot of frustration with the high cost of health insurance, yet government’s offering almost no systemic solutions. It’s as big a change as I have seen in the market in years.”

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Just do it?! Perhaps it makes sense not to release it before SOTU, it would have been the only talking point.

Trump Says ‘100%’ After He’s Asked to Release GOP Memo (BBG)

President Donald Trump was overheard Tuesday night telling a Republican lawmaker that he was “100%” planning to release a controversial, classified GOP memo alleging bias at the FBI and Justice Department. As he departed the House floor after delivering his State of the Union address, C-SPAN cameras captured Representative Jeff Duncan, a South Carolina Republican, asking Trump to “release the memo.” Republican lawmakers say the four-page document raises questions about the validity of the investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, now led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “Oh yeah, don’t worry, 100%,” Trump replied, waving dismissively. “Can you imagine that? You’d be too angry.”

Republicans in the House moved to release the memo, authored by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, in a party-line vote on Monday. The move has been opposed by Democrats, who argue the memo gives an inaccurate portrayal of appropriate actions undertaken by law enforcement, and by the Justice Department, which has said it should remain classified. Releasing the memo has become a cause for conservative congressional Republicans, who say the FBI and the Justice Department pursued the investigation of possible Russian ties to the Trump presidential campaign under false pretenses. Trump has as many as five days to review the document for national security concerns, and White House officials insisted earlier Tuesday he hadn’t yet seen the document.

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Talk about your American Dream: “..households are living paycheck-to-paycheck even if those paychecks are reasonably large and even if life is comfortable at the moment.”

Saving Rate Drops to 12-Year Low As 50% of Americans Don’t Have Savings (WS)

In terms of dollars, personal saving dropped to a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate of $351.6 billion, meaning that at this rate in December, personal savings for the whole year would amount to $351.6 billion. This is down from the range between $600 billion and $860 billion since the end of the Financial Crisis. But who is – or was – piling up these savings? Numerous surveys provide an answer, with variations only around the margins. For example, the Federal Reserve found in its study of US households: Only 48% of adults have enough savings to cover three months of expenses if they lost their income. An additional 22% could get through the three-month period by using a broader set of resources, including borrowing from friends and selling assets. But 30% would not be able to manage a three-month financial disruption. 44% of adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency and would have to borrow or sell something to make ends meet.

Folks who had experienced hardship were more likely to resort to “an alternative financial service” such as a tax refund anticipation loan, pawn shop loan, payday loan, auto title loan, or paycheck advance, which are all very expensive. Similarly, Bankrate found that only 39% of Americans said they’d have enough savings to be able to cover a $1,000 emergency expense. They rest would have to borrow, sell, cut back on spending, or not deal with the emergency expense. All these surveys say the same thing: about half of Americans have little or no savings though many have access to some form of credit, including credit cards, pawn shops, payday lenders, or relatives. So what does it mean when the “saving rate” declines?

Many households spend more than they make. For them, the personal saving rate is a negative number. This negative personal saving rate translates into borrowing, which explains the 5.7% year-over-year surge in credit card debt, and the 5.5% surge in overall consumer credit. It boils down to this: most of the positive saving rate, with savings actually increasing, takes place at the top echelon of the economy – at the top 40%, if you will – where households are flush with cash and assets and where the saving rate is very large. But the growth in borrowing for consumption items (the negative saving rate) takes place mostly at the bottom 60%, where households are living paycheck-to-paycheck even if those paychecks are reasonably large and even if life is comfortable at the moment.

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Peculiar: $2.3 billion ‘worth’ of a dollar-pegged ‘currency’, backed by nothing much in proof.

U.S. Regulators Subpoena Crypto Exchange Bitfinex, Tether (BBG)

U.S. regulators are scrutinizing one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges as questions mount over a digital token linked to its backers. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission sent subpoenas on Dec. 6 to virtual-currency venue Bitfinex and Tether, a company that issues a widely traded coin and claims it’s pegged to the dollar, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The firms share the same chief executive officer. Tether’s coins have become a popular substitute for dollars on cryptocurrency exchanges worldwide, with about $2.3 billion of the tokens outstanding as of Tuesday.

While Tether has said all of its coins are backed by U.S. dollars held in reserve, the company has yet to provide conclusive evidence of its holdings to the public or have its accounts audited. Skeptics have questioned whether the money is really there. “We routinely receive legal process from law enforcement agents and regulators conducting investigations,” Bitfinex and Tether said Tuesday in an emailed statement. “It is our policy not to comment on any such requests.” Bitcoin, the biggest cryptocurrency by market value, tumbled 10% on Tuesday. It fell another 3.2% to $9,766.41 as of 9:19 a.m. in Hong Kong, according to composite pricing on Bloomberg. The virtual currency hasn’t closed below $10,000 since November.

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Who’s aiding Spain in keeping its problems hidden? 30,000 complaints in 9 months, and the ECB is silent?!

Customer Lawsuits Pummel Spanish Banks (DQ)

Following a succession of consumer-friendly rulings, bank customers in Spain are increasingly taking their banks to court. And many of them are winning. Last year an unprecedented wave of litigation against banks forced the Ministry of Justice to set up dozens of courts specialized in mortgage matters to prevent the collapse of the rest of the national judicial system. The Bank of Spain, according to its own figures, received 29,957 complaints from financial consumers between January and September 2017 — already double that of the previous year and by far the highest number of complaints registered since 2013, a record year when investors and customers were desperately trying to claw back the money they’d lost in the preferred shares that issuing banks had pushed on their own customers as savings products.

In 2017, eight out of 10 complaints related to one key product: mortgages, and in particular the so-called “floor clauses” contained within them. These floor clauses set a minimum interest rate — typically of between 3% and 4.5% — for variable-rate mortgages, even if the Euribor dropped far below that figure. This, in and of itself, was not illegal. The problem is that most banks failed to properly inform their customers that the mortgage contract included such a clause. Those that did, often told their customers that the clause was an extreme precautionary measure and would almost certainly never be activated. After all, they argued, what are the chances of the Euribor ever dropping below 3.5% for any length of time? At the time (early 2009), Europe’s benchmark rate was hovering around the 5% mark.

Within a year it had crashed below 1% and has been languishing at or below zero ever since. As a result, most Spanish banks were able to enjoy all the benefits of virtually free money while avoiding one of the biggest drawbacks: having to offer customers dirt-cheap interest rates on their variable-rate mortgages. But all that came to a crashing halt in May 2013 when Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the floor clauses were abusive and that the banks must reimburse all the funds they’d overcharged their mortgage customers — but only from the date of the ruling! Then, on December 21, 2016, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) delivered a further hammer blow when it acknowledged the right of homeowners affected by “floor clauses” to be reimbursed money dating back to when the mortgage contract was first signed. Since the ECJ ruling, law firms are now so confident of winning floor-clause cases that they’re even offering no win, no-fee deals.

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US and UK suffer from the exact same problem.

Britons Ever More Deeply Divided Over Brexit (R.)

The social divide revealed by Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union is not only here to stay but deepening, according to academic research published on Wednesday. Think tank The UK in a Changing Europe said Britons were unlikely to change their minds about leaving the EU, despite the political and economic uncertainty it has brought, because attitudes are becoming more entrenched. “The (Brexit) referendum highlighted fundamental divisions in British society and superimposed a leave-remain distinction over them. This has the potential to profoundly disrupt our politics in the years to come,” said Anand Menon, the think tank’s director.

Britain is negotiating a deal with the EU which will shape future trade relations, breaking with the bloc after four decades, but the process is complicated by the divisions within parties, society and the government itself. Menon said the research, based on a series of polls over the 18-month period since Britain voted to leave the European Union, showed 35% of people self-identify as “Leavers” and 40% as “Remainers”. Research also found that both sides had a tendency to interpret and recall information in a way that confirmed their pre-existing beliefs which also added to the deepening of the impact of the vote. The differences showed fragmentation was more determined by age groups and location than by economic class.

Polls have shown increasing support for a second vote on whether or not to leave the European Union once the terms of departure are known, but such a vote would not necessarily provide a different result, a poll by ICM for the Guardian newspaper indicated last week. The report also showed that age was a better pointer to how Britons voted than employment. Around 73% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted to stay in the EU, but turnout among that group was lower than among older voters. “British Election Study surveys have suggested that, in order to have overturned the result, a startling 97% of under-45s would have had to make it to the ballot box, as opposed to the 65% who actually voted,” the report said.

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How China hides debt through swaps. As US and EU have done for ages now.

The GDP of Bridges to Nowhere (Michael Pettis)

In most economies, GDP growth is a measure of economic output generated by the performance of the underlying economy. In China, however, Beijing sets annual GDP growth targets it expects to meet. Turning GDP growth into an economic input, rather than an output, radically changes its meaning and interpretation. On January 18, 2018, China’s National Bureau of Statistics announced that the country’s GDP grew by 6.9% in 2017. A day earlier, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) announced that total social financing (TSF) in 2017 had increased to 19.44 trillion renminbi.

[..] I was recently part of a discussion on a listserv that brings together Chinese and foreign experts to exchange views on China-related topics. What set off this discussion was a claim that the Chinese economy began to take deleveraging seriously in 2017. Everyone agreed that debt in China is still growing far too quickly relative to the country’s debt-servicing capacity, but the pace of credit growth seems to have declined in 2017, even as real GDP growth held steady and, more importantly, nominal GDP growth increased. I was far more skeptical than some others about how to interpret this data. It is not just the quality of data collection that worries me, but, more importantly, the prevalence in China of systemic biases in the way the data is collected. Not all debt is included in TSF figures. The table above, for example, indicates a fall in TSF in 2015, but this did not occur because China’s outstanding credit declined.

[..] in 2015 there was a series of debt transactions (mainly provincial bond swaps aimed at reducing debt-servicing costs and extending maturities) that extinguished debt that had been included in the TSF category and replaced it with debt not included in TSF. The numbers are large. According to the China Daily, there were 3.2 trillion renminbi worth of bond swaps in 2015, plus an additional 600 billion renminbi of new bonds issued. If we adjust TSF by adding these back, rather than indicate a decline of 6.4%, we would have recorded an increase of 15.7%. [..] The point is that the deceleration in credit growth implied by TSF data might indeed reflect the beginning of Chinese deleveraging, but it could also reflect the surge in regulatory concern. In the latter case, this would mean that China has experienced not the beginnings of deleveraging, but rather a continuation of the trans-leveraging observers have seen before.

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Oct 302017
 
 October 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí Cadaques 1923

 

The Dollar’s Enjoying a Renaissance (BBG)
Biggest Stock Collapse in World History Has No End in Sight (BBG)
China’s Bonds Spell Disaster (BBG)
China’s Debt Battle Has Global Growth at Stake (BBG)
China Corporate Bond Investors’ Luck May Be About to Run Out (BBG)
China Bond Selloff Spreads to Stocks as Deleveraging Risks Mount (BBG)
US Regulator Wants To Loosen Leash On Wells Fargo (R.)
Damning Verdict On UK Austerity In Major Report (Ind.)
Plan To Create $400 Million Army in Sahel Faces UN Moment Of Truth (G.)
Greek Islanders Are ‘Heroes,’ Says European Commission VP (K.)
Bushman Banter’ Was Crucial To Hunter-Gatherers’ Evolutionary Success (G.)

 

 

“More than a dead cat bounce?!”

The Dollar’s Enjoying a Renaissance (BBG)

After getting pummeled all year by the euro, the dollar is having a moment. In Wall Street parlance, it may be more than just a dead-cat bounce, as politics, economic fundamentals and technicals have converged to give the greenback a boost. The U.S. currency surged in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump’s election victory before suffering a long descent that lasted from December until last month. That’s when the political viability of U.S. fiscal policy reform in the shape of – as yet to be detailed – tax cuts (and maybe even tax reform) became increasingly likely. Although equity markets have reflected optimism all year that tax cuts would come, the dollar has conveyed doubt along with gold and bonds. The Bloomberg Dollar Index is up more than 4% from its low for the year on Sept. 8, partially rebounding from the more than 10% drop since the end of December.

There could be more to come in the short term if tax cuts happen, because the legislation is likely to contain a provision that would allow U.S. companies to repatriate significant foreign profits and further bolster the economy. That could spark more inflation and put U.S. monetary policy on a more aggressive path. In terms of the euro, the political situation in Europe has been a distraction. After the election of the far-right Alternative for Germany party to the Bundestag on Sept. 24, the independence movement in the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia has devolved into a political rat’s nest. Uncertainty, regionalism and the risk of escalating discord in Spain are adding to the political dissonance – a stark contrast to the apparent acceptance of U.S. Senate Republicans of higher national debt levels in exchange for tax cuts.

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Lots of Bloomberg today. After the Party Congress, things start to look very different. Stocks and bonds both under a lot of pressure.

Biggest Stock Collapse in World History Has No End in Sight (BBG)

It’s going to take more than the biggest stock slump in world history to convince analysts that PetroChina has finally hit bottom. Ten years after PetroChina peaked on its first day of trading in Shanghai, the state-owned energy producer has lost about $800 billion of market value – a sum large enough to buy every listed company in Italy, or circle the Earth 31 times with $100 bills. In current dollar terms, it’s the world’s biggest-ever wipeout of shareholder wealth. And it may only get worse. If the average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg proves right, PetroChina’s Shanghai shares will sink 16% to an all-time low in the next 12 months.

The stock has been pummeled by some of China’s biggest economic policy shifts of the past decade, including the government’s move away from a commodity-intensive development model and its attempts to clamp down on speculative manias of the sort that turned PetroChina into the world’s first trillion-dollar company in 2007. Throw in oil’s 44% drop over the last 10 years and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious plans to promote electric vehicles, and it’s easy to see why analysts are still bearish. It doesn’t help that PetroChina shares trade at 36 times estimated 12-month earnings, a 53% premium versus global peers. “It’s going to be tough times ahead for PetroChina,” said Toshihiko Takamoto, a Singapore-based money manager at Asset Management One, which oversees about $800 million in Asia. “Why would anyone want to buy the stock when it’s trading for more than 30 times earnings?”

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No mincing words.

China’s Bonds Spell Disaster (BBG)

Qin Han, chief fixed-income analyst at Guotai Junan Securities, doesn’t mince his words when it comes to the rout in Chinese bonds. “Considering the pace of the slump, which is very fast, it’s fair to say we are likely in a bond disaster,” Qin said. Shorter-tenor notes led the selloff in government debt on Monday, making the yield curve inversion the steepest since at least 2006, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Concern that rising borrowing costs and inflation will erode returns have weighed on the debt market in the past month, with one top-performing macro fund manager saying he was shorting Chinese bonds.

The yield on five-year government bonds surged nine basis points to 3.97% as of 1:29 p.m. in Shanghai, while the cost on 10-year notes jumped six basis points to 3.9%, with the spread reaching eight basis points earlier Monday. The yield gap will widen further, and the cost on debt due in a decade will likely reach 4% “very soon,” said Qin. “The yield will become even more inverted as fragile sentiment prevails,” he said. “Yes, this is overselling, but it’s not the time to buy yet as the overselling could last longer.”

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It’s not just China that’s affected.

China’s Debt Battle Has Global Growth at Stake (BBG)

It used to be that when America sneezed, the world caught a cold. This time around, it’s the risk of a sickly China that poses a bigger threat. The world’s second-largest economy is now trying to ward off the sniffles. While output is still growing at a pace that sees GDP double every decade, the problem remains that much of that has been fueled by a massive buildup of credit. Total borrowing climbed to about 260% of the economy’s size by the end of 2016, up from 162% in 2008, and will hit close to 320% by 2021 according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates. Economy-wide debt levels are on track to rank among “the highest in the world,” according to Tom Orlik, BI’s Chief Asia Economist. That path may be what prompted outgoing People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan to warn of the risk of a plunge in asset values following a debt binge, or a “Minsky Moment,” earlier this month.

Given that China is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to contribute more than a third of global growth this year, controlling China’s debt matters far beyond its borders. There are two key components of China’s credit clampdown, each posing challenges to policy makers. First is wringing out bets on property prices. As President Xi Jinping put it in a keynote policy speech to the Communist Party leadership on Oct. 18: Housing is for living in, not for speculation. The latest data show that in some areas, prices are still surging in many cities despite a raft of measures to make it harder for investors to buy real estate with borrowed money. Xi’an, China’s ancient capital, saw home values soar almost 15% in September from a year before. It will be up to regulators to come up with measures that deliver on Xi’s mandate without tipping housing into a downward spiral.

Property crashes in the U.S., Japan and U.K. over the past three decades amply illustrated how damaging they can be to economies. The second key challenge is progress in aligning borrowing costs with borrowers’ ability to repay — rather than with their relationship with the state. China’s financial system has long let companies that are state owned or are seen to be implementing state initiatives get funding more cheaply than others. That’s thanks to the assumption the government would step in if needed to back them up. To help encourage capital to be deployed more efficiently – and to prevent firms that are effectively insolvent keep going thanks to continued funding – policy makers have begun to gradually take away implicit support.

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“A majority of non-bank financial institutions’ debt holdings are corporate bonds, so their selloff can lead to severe consequences..”

China Corporate Bond Investors’ Luck May Be About to Run Out (BBG)

Investors in Chinese company bonds have so far avoided the brunt of a debt selloff that’s driven 10-year sovereign yields to the highest in three years. Their luck may be about to run out. Now that the Communist Party Congress is over, China’s bond holders may be about to get hit by “daggers falling from the sky,” said Huachuang Securities Co., referring to aggressive deleveraging policies. Plus, accelerating inflation and the risk that China’s central bank may follow the Federal Reserve in raising borrowing costs are casting a shadow over the entire bond market. That all means that the situation that’s existed for most of 2017 – sovereign yields rising, and corporate debt remaining relatively resilient – is at risk of cracking. As appetite for bonds of any kind dwindles and authorities roll out measures that target higher-risk investments, company securities are in the line of fire.

“It’s very likely we will see a significant increase in corporate yields in the coming year,” said David Qu, a market economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Shanghai. “The trigger could be tougher regulations or a default. A majority of non-bank financial institutions’ debt holdings are corporate bonds, so their selloff can lead to severe consequences. Banks are underestimating authorities’ intentions to tighten regulations.” Signs of a turnaround are already beginning to show, with the yield on three-year AAA notes – the most common grading for Chinese corporate debt – rising 21 basis points this month to the highest level since early June. The spread between those notes and government debt has climbed in October and was last at 116 basis points, though it’s still a long way from this year’s peak of 150 basis points in April.

Losses accelerated earlier this month after People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan voiced concern about high borrowing levels and signaled that growth could beat expectations. If concerns on regulation intensify and risks of a debt repayment failure appear, the market may go through a major correction in the near term, Huachuang analysts including Qu Qing wrote in a note last week.

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How far will Xi go? Is that big yuan devaluation still in play?

China Bond Selloff Spreads to Stocks as Deleveraging Risks Mount (BBG)

Chinese stocks fell the most since early August, breaking the calm that persisted through the recent Communist Party Congress, as government bonds extended a monthly rout amid concern the government will step up efforts to reduce leverage in the financial sector. The Shanghai Composite Index dropped as much as 1.7% on Monday, and was 0.8% lower at 11:27 a.m. local time. Small-cap shares bore the brunt of the selling, with the ChiNext gauge tumbling as much as 2.5%. Equity indexes in Hong Kong pared gains. The 10-year yield climbed five basis points to 3.90%, a three-year high. While China’s equity market was subdued for most of this month amid state efforts to limit volatility during the twice-a-decade Party gathering, sovereign yields have been climbing.

There’s more than 1 trillion yuan ($150 billion) of funding provided by the central bank that matures this week, the most since February. “Pessimism in the bond market is spilling over to the stocks,” said Hao Hong, chief China strategist at Bocom International Holdings Co. in Hong Kong. “Surging yields of the government bonds are resulting in worsened sentiment and higher funding costs for companies, of which smaller ones will suffer most as they rely more heavily on the market rather than bank loans for financing.” There are also early signs economic data may weaken, after solid figures for most of this year buoyed equities. Chinese shares held steady during the week-long Congress amid speculation the “National Team,” as state-backed funds are referred to, would step in to avoid any large swings.

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Yeah, that sounds great. Wells Fargo should be shut down and its execs put on trial.

US Regulator Wants To Loosen Leash On Wells Fargo (R.)

A leading U.S. regulator wants to make it easier for Wells Fargo to pay employees when they leave, loosening a restriction in place since a phony accounts scandal hit the bank last year, according to people familiar with the matter. The initiative comes as President Donald Trump is trying to lighten rules on Wall Street and the bank regulator, Keith Noreika, acting Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), must weigh whether to vet new Wells Fargo executives. If Noreika’s approach prevails, the OCC could go easier on Wells Fargo and any other large banks sanctioned in the future. Since Noreika took control of the OCC in May, he has advocated easing up on sanctions imposed on Wells Fargo in the wake of the scandal over abusive sales practices, according to current and former officials.

Wells Fargo reached a $190 million settlement in September 2016 after admitting that its sales staff opened as many as 2.1 million accounts without customers’ consent. Since then the estimate has climbed to as many as 3.5 million. As part of the deal with regulators, incoming Wells Fargo executives can face a vetting from the OCC while severance payouts must be cleared by the OCC and a sister agency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. But Noreika wants officials to work faster when they review severance pay and the agency can choose to waive its check on incoming executives. Hundreds of Wells Fargo employees have had their severance payouts frozen when they left as regulators tried to determine what role those employees might have had in the scandal.

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High time for the Tories to leave.

Damning Verdict On UK Austerity In Major Report (Ind.)

Despite years of painful austerity, the UK’s level of public spending is today no lower as a share of national income than it was after 11 years of a Labour government in 2008, according to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The major report from the UK’s leading economic think tank shows that deep cuts have left the NHS, schools and prisons in a “fragile state”, and have merely returned public spending to pre-financial crisis levels. The document presents a challenge to claims that Conservative-driven austerity saved the public finances following years of Labour overspending. The think tank’s report goes on to conclude that in the light of the data, Chancellor Philip Hammond’s plan to abolish the UK’s deficit by the mid-2020s is “no longer sensible”.

With his critical Budget approaching in November, it challenges him to admit the target looks “increasingly unlikely” in the light of a worsening economic outlook, exacerbated by Britain’s “terrible” productivity and uncertainty over Brexit. The IFS analysis of public spending levels appears in its pre-Budget look at the Chancellor’s options published on Monday. It found public spending as a share of national income was at a similar level both now and shortly before the financial crash, an event David Cameron and George Osborne claimed Labour overspending left the country ill-prepared for. In 2007-08, public spending as a share of GDP was 39%, it peaked in 2009-10 at 45.1% and is forecast to be 39.6% this year, according to the IFS.

The main justification for austerity has been the need to reduce and eventually abolish the deficit, a target that the IFS refers to as “ever-receding”. The IFS argues Mr Hammond’s critical budget speech next month, will be given against a backdrop of a worsening economic outlook that demands austerity goals are rethought. [..] The IFS report said: “It looks like [Mr Hammond] will face a substantial deterioration in the projected state of the public finances. “He will know that seven years of ‘austerity’ have left many public services in a fragile state. And, in the known unknowns surrounding both the shape and impact of Brexit, he faces even greater than usual levels of economic uncertainty.”

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Armies. The only answer we have.

Plan To Create $400 Million Army in Sahel Faces UN Moment Of Truth (G.)

Unprecedented plans to combat human trafficking and terrorism across the Sahel and into Libya will face a major credibility test on Monday when the UN decides whether to back a new proposed five-nation joint security force across the region. The 5,000-strong army costing $400m in the first year is designed to end growing insecurity, a driving force of migration, and combat endemic people-smuggling that has since 2014 seen 30,000 killed in the Sahara and an estimated 10,000 drowned in the central Mediterranean. The joint G5 force, due to be fully operational next spring and working across five Sahel states, has the strong backing of France and Italy, but is suffering a massive shortfall in funds, doubts about its mandate and claims that the Sahel region needs better coordinated development aid, and fewer security responses, to combat migration.

The Trump administration, opposed to multilateral initiatives, has so far refused to let the UN back the G5 Sahel force with cash. The force commanders claim they need €423m in its first year, but so far only €108m has been raised, almost half from the EU. The British say they support the force in principle, but have offered no funds as yet. Western diplomats hope the US will provide substantial bilateral funding for the operation, even if they refuse to channel their contribution multilaterally through the UN. France, with the support of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and regional African leaders, has been pouring diplomatic resources into persuading a sceptical Trump administration that the UN should financially back the force.

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With a straight face. But the refugees must stay on the islands, even if there’s no place for them.

Greek Islanders Are ‘Heroes,’ Says European Commission VP (K.)

The Greek islanders in the eastern Aegean who have helped thousands of refugees under adverse conditions are “heroes,” according to the European Commission’s First Vice President Frans Timmermans. In an interview with Sunday’s Kathimerini ahead of his visit to Greece on Monday, Timmermans said that, despite being under immense pressure, the mayors and residents of the islands are doing everything in their power to help refugees.Timmermans, who has described the situation on the islands as “unacceptable,” expressed concern over the difficulty the Greek government has in absorbing EU funds – around €1 billion – for infrastructure to shelter some 50,000 refugees.

“We are faced with a series of problems,” he said, adding that that the Commission’s experience “has shown that it’s hard to get the support we provide in the spot where it is needed most.” Timmermans, who was one of the main architects of last year’s deal between the EU and Turkey to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, said that people whose asylum applications have been processed should be returned to Turkey as stipulated in the agreement. But with just 1,600 returns having taken place since 2016, Timmermans said that “this doesn’t happen enough.” He refrained from placing blame on either Greece or Turkey but insisted that the system must not be changed. Migrants, he said, must stay on the islands, despite the difficulties, because their transfer to the mainland would send a wrong message and create a new wave of arrivals.

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” If the success of a civilisation is judged by its endurance over time, this means the Khoisan are by far the most successful, stable and sustainable civilisation in human history.”

Bushman Banter’ Was Crucial To Hunter-Gatherers’ Evolutionary Success (G.)

Barely a day goes by when proponents of greater taxation, universal income and other initiatives aimed at addressing systematic inequality are not accused of inciting the “politics of envy”. Doing so is an effective way of closing down debate; envy is, after all, among the deadliest of the “deadly sins”. Yet politicians inclined to dismiss inequality in this way may do so at their peril. For the evidence of our hunting and gathering ancestors suggests we are hard-wired to respond viscerally to inequality. In the 1960s, the Ju/’hoansi “Bushmen” of the Kalahari desert became famous for turning established views of social evolution on their head. But their contribution to our understanding of the human story is far more important than simply making us rethink our past.

Until then, it had been widely believed that hunter gatherers endured a near-constant battle against starvation. But when a young Canadian anthropologist, Richard B Lee, conducted a series of simple economic input-output analyses of the Ju/’hoansi as they went about their daily lives, he found not only did they make a good living from hunting and gathering, but they did so on the basis of only 15 hours’ work per week. On the strength of this, anthropologists redubbed hunter-gatherers “the original affluent society”. I started working with Ju/’hoansi in the early 1990s. By then, more than a half-century of land dispossession meant that, other than in a few remote areas, they formed a highly marginalised underclass eking out a living on the dismal fringes of an ever-expanding global economy. I have been documenting their often traumatic encounters with modernity ever since.

The importance of understanding how hunter-gatherers made such a good living has only recently come to light, thanks to a sequence of genomic studies and archaeological discoveries. These show that the broader Bushmen population (referred to collectively as Khoisan) are far older than we had ever imagined, and have been hunting and gathering continuously in southern Africa for well over 150,000 years. If the success of a civilisation is judged by its endurance over time, this means the Khoisan are by far the most successful, stable and sustainable civilisation in human history.

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Oct 232017
 
 October 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gordon Parks Place de la Concorde, Paris 1950

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go? (IceCap)
Americans Have More Debt Than Ever – And It’s Creating An Economic Trap (BI)
Crisis, What Crisis? Banks Pile Back Into China (BBG)
China’s Home Price Growth Steadies In September (R.)
Jimmy Carter Unleashed: Russians Didn’t Alter Election (DaWi)
Italy Regions Back ‘Big Bang’ Autonomy (AFP)
Noble, Once Asia’s Largest Commodity Trader, Struggles To Survive (BBG)
Washington To Back Greek Call For Debt Relief (K.)
Car Pollution Causes A Huge Salmon Die-Off (WaPo)
CO2 Rise ‘Will Affect All Sea Life’ (BBC)

 

 

“..a +0.7% increase in the US 10-Year Treasury market yield created chaos, havoc and over $1.7 Trillion in losses..”

Should I Stay or Should I Go? (IceCap)

Life was so bad – especially for bond investors, that by the time 1982 rolled around you couldn’t give a bond away. If you were an investor or working in the investment industry at the time – you were painfully aware of the bond market and you were schooled to never, ever buy a bond again. Of course, 1982 was actually the best time ever to buy a bond. With long-term rates dropping like a stone over the next 35 years, bond investors and bond managers became known as the smartest people in the room. But, that was then and this is now. There are 2 points to remember forever here: 1) What goes down, must come up 2) There’s no one around today to remind us of what life was like for bond investors when long-term rates marched relentlessly higher

Interest rates are secular. And with interest rates today already hitting the theoretical 0% level – they have started to rise. And when long-term rates begin to rise, (unlike short-term rates) it happens in a snapping, violent manner. Neither of which is good for bond investors. Of course, there’s another important point to consider, the rise in long-rates from 1962 to 1982 occurred when there wasn’t a debt crisis in the developed world. And since 99% of the industry has only worked since 1982 to today, then 99% of the industry has never experienced, lived or even dreamt of a crisis in the bond market. This of course is the primary reason why all the negative stories about the stock market are alive and well played out in the media – they simply don’t know any better. And this is wrong. Very wrong. After all, the bond bubble dwarfs the tech bubble and the housing bubble. Think about it.

To grasp why the bond market is on the verge of crisis, and why trillions of Dollars, Euros, Yen and Pounds are about to panic and run away, we ask you to understand how free-markets really work. For starters, all free markets have two sides competing and participating. There are natural buyers and there are natural sellers. The point at which they meet in the middle is the selling/purchase price and the entire process is called price discovery. Price discovery is a wonderful thing. It always results in the determination of a true price for a product or service. However, a big problem arises when there is an imbalance between the buyers and sellers, and when one of the sides isn’t a natural buyer or seller. This is what has happened in the bond market. And this is why bond prices (or yields) have become so distorted; the true price of a bond hasn’t existed now for almost 9 years.

[..] over the last year, we’ve seen the most significant market reaction in the history of the bond world, not once but twice. Yet, the talking heads, the big banks and their mutual fund commentaries, and the stock market focused world have completely missed it. Almost a year ago in November immediately after the American Election, over a span of 54 hours – the bond market blew up. To put things into perspective, Chart 2 shows what happened during those fateful days. Ignoring the why’s, the how’s and the who’s – the fact remains that this tiny, miniscule increase in long-term interest rates caused the bond market to vomit over itself. Yes, a +0.7% increase in the US 10-Year Treasury market yield created chaos, havoc and over $1.7 Trillion in losses around the world.

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“Most consumers, especially those in the bottom 80%, are tapped out..”

Americans Have More Debt Than Ever – And It’s Creating An Economic Trap (BI)

There’s a scary little statistic buried beneath the US economy’s apparent stability: Consumer debt levels are now well above those seen before the Great Recession. As of June, US households were more than half a trillion dollars deeper in debt than they were a year earlier, according to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve. Total household debt now totals $12.84 trillion — also, incidentally, around two-thirds of GDP. The proportion of overall debt that was delinquent in the second quarter was steady at 4.8%, but the New York Fed warned over transitions of credit card balances into delinquency, which “ticked up notably.” Here’s the thing: Unlike government debt, which can be rolled over continuously, consumer loans actually need to be paid back. And despite low official interest rates from the Federal Reserve, those often do not trickle down to many financial products like credit cards and small business loans.

Michael Lebowitz, co-founder of market analysis firm 720 Global, says the US economy is already dangerously close to the edge. “Most consumers, especially those in the bottom 80%, are tapped out,” he told Business Insider. “They have borrowed about as much as they can. Servicing this debt will act like a wet towel on economic growth for years to come. Until wages can grow faster than our true costs of inflation, this problem will only worsen.” The IMF devotes two chapters of its latest Global Financial Stability Report to the issue of household debt. It finds that, rather intuitively, high debt levels tend to make economic downturns deeper and more prolonged. “Increases in household debt consistently [signal] higher risks when initial debt levels are already high,” the IMF says.

Nonetheless, the results indicate that the threshold levels for household debt increases being associated with negative macro outcomes start relatively low, at about 30% of GDP. Clearly, America’s already well past that point. As households become more indebted, the Fund says, future GDP growth and consumption decline and unemployment rises relative to their average values. “Changes in household debt have a positive contemporaneous relationship to real GDP growth and a negative association with future real GDP growth,” the report says. Specifically, the Fund says a 5% increase in household debt to GDP over a three-year period leads to a 1.25% fall in real GDP growth three years into the future.

“Housing busts and recessions preceded by larger run-ups in household debt tend to be more severe and protracted,” the IMF said. Is there a solution? If things reach a tipping point, yes, says the IMF — there’s always debt forgiveness. Even creditors stand to benefit. “We find that government policies can help prevent prolonged contractions in economic activity by addressing the problem of excessive household debt,” the report said. The Fund cites “bold household debt restructuring programs such as those implemented in the United States in the 1930s and in Iceland today” as historical precedents. “Such policies can, therefore, help avert self-reinforcing cycles of household defaults, further house price declines, and additional contractions in output.”

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“.. it’s odd that banks would think China is getting debt under control even as they provide more of it.”

Crisis, What Crisis? Banks Pile Back Into China (BBG)

China has been working hard to convince the world that it’s not a financial crisis waiting to happen. Judging from the latest data on cross-border lending, banks are buying it. Foreign banks’ total exposure to China reached $750 billion in June 2017, up from $659 billion a year earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s a big contrast to a couple of years ago, when lenders were pulling tens of billions out amid concerns that a combination of high indebtedness, excessive investment and slowing growth would precipitate a wave of defaults. Here’s how that looks:

What changed? For one, China’s economy (according to the suspiciously smooth official data, at least) has proven more resilient than expected: The pace of growth has accelerated from a mid-2016 low of 6.7%, and forecasters have raised their projections for 2018. Perhaps more important, Chinese officials have advertised their commitment to controlling debt and containing an overheated property market. That said, it’s odd that banks would think China is getting debt under control even as they provide more of it. Although the accumulation has slowed in some areas, it has boomed in households and elsewhere. By one early-warning measure – the difference between the current and long-term levels of business and household credit as a share of GDP, also known as the credit gap – China and Hong Kong are still by far the riskiest countries tracked by the BIS.

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As Beijing buys 25% of sales.

China’s Home Price Growth Steadies In September (R.)

China’s new home prices registered a second straight month of weak growth in September, with prices in the biggest markets slipping and gains in smaller cities slowing as government measures to cool a long property boom took hold. China’s housing market has been on a near two-year tear, giving the economy a major boost but stirring fears of a property bubble even as authorities work to contain risks from a rapid build-up in debt. While monthly price rises peaked in September 2016 at 2.1% nationwide, they have softened only begrudgingly since then, regaining momentum as buyers shrugged off each new wave of measures to curb speculation. Analysts say more tightening could still be expected in lower-tier cities with relatively fast price gains, as critics argue China’s ever-growing administrative control over its property market has only reaffirmed speculator views that prices will remain steady.

“China’s property prices are still rising even as sales are falling off a cliff, which suggests the market still sees property as an investment product in the belief that the government won’t let prices fall,” said Yi Xianrong, a Professor of Economics at Qingdao University. Still, signs of a more stable and less frothy housing market for now will be welcome to the country’s leaders as they attend a critical Communist Party Congress to set political and economic priorities for the next five years. President Xi Jingping opened the twice-a-decade gathering last week, stressing the need to move from high-speed to high-quality growth. Average new home prices rose 0.2% month-on-month in September, the same rate as in August when prices rose at the slowest rate in seven months, according to Reuters calculations from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Monday.

“The curbs are in general still intensifying, which have gradually impacted property buyers’ expectations,” said Zhang Dawei, an analyst with Centaline, a property agency. New home prices rose 6.3% year-on-year in September, decelerating from August’s 8.3% increase, partly thanks to last September’s high base. Higher prices are also eating up more of home buyers’ disposable income, which could dampen future demand.

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Truth to power.

Jimmy Carter Unleashed: Russians Didn’t Alter Election (DaWi)

At 93, Jimmy Carter is cutting loose. The former president sat down with The New York Times recently and chatted about all kinds of subjects. The Times decided to play up the fact that Carter — one of the worst presidents in U.S. history — would love to go over to North Korea as an envoy. But the Times is steadily proving how out of touch it is, and how it no longer seems to actually “get” what real news is. Here are some major highlights from the interview:

1. The Russians didn’t steal the 2016 election. Carter was asked “Did the Russians purloin the election from Hillary?” “I don’t think there’s any evidence that what the Russians did changed enough votes — or any votes,” Carter said. So the hard-left former president doesn’t think the Russians stole the election? Take note, Capitol Hill Democrats.

2. We didn’t vote for Hillary. Carter and his wife, Roselyn, disagreed on the Russia question. In the interview, she “looked over archly [and said] ‘They obviously did'” purloin the election. “Rosie and I have a difference of opinion on that,” Carter said. Rosalynn then said, “The drip-drip-drip about Hillary.” Which prompted Carter to note that during the primary, they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. “We voted for Sanders.”

3. Obama fell far short of his promises. Barack Obama whooshed into office on pledges of delivering “hope and change” to the country, spilt by partisan politics. He didn’t. In fact, he made it worse. “He made some very wonderful statements, in my opinion, when he first got in office, and then he reneged on that,” he said about Obama’s action on the Middle East.

4. Media “harder on Trump than any president.” A recent Harvard study showed that 93% of new coverage about President Trump is negative. But here’s another shocker: Carter defended Trump. “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about,” Carter said. “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”

5. NFL players should “stand during the American anthem.” Carter, who joined the other four living ex-presidents on Saturday for a hurricane fundraiser, put his hand on his heart when the national anthem played — and he has a strong opinion about what NFL players should do, too. “I think they ought to find a different way to object, to demonstrate,” he said. ” I would rather see all the players stand during the American anthem.”

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Expect more of this. Much more.

Italy Regions Back ‘Big Bang’ Autonomy (AFP)

Two of Italy’s wealthiest northern regions on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy in the latest example of the powerful centrifugal forces reshaping European politics. Voters in the Veneto region that includes Venice and Lombardy, home to Milan, turned out at the high end of expectations to support the principle of more powers being devolved from Rome in votes that took place against the backdrop of the crisis created by Catalonia’s push for independence. Veneto President Luca Zaia hailed the results, which were delayed slightly by a hacker attack, as an institutional “big bang”. But he reiterated that the region’s aspirations were not comparable to the secessionist agenda that has provoked a constitutional crisis in Spain.

Turnout was projected at around 58% in Veneto, where support for autonomy is stronger, and just over 40% in Lombardy. The presidents of both regions said more than 95% of voters who had cast ballots had, as expected, done so to support greater autonomy. The votes are not binding but they will give the right-wing leaders of the two regions a strong political mandate when they embark on negotiations with the central government on the devolution of powers and tax revenues from Rome. Secessionist sentiment in Veneto and Lombardy is restricted to fringe groups but analysts see the autonomy drive as reflecting the same cocktail of issues and pressures that resulted in Scotland’s narrowly-defeated independence vote, Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the Catalan crisis.

“What this vote has shown is that there is no ‘autonomy party’ in Veneto – what there is is an entire people who back this idea,” said Zaia. “What’s won is the idea that we should be in charge of our own back yard.” Lombardy governor Roberto Maroni said he would be looking to present detailed proposals on devolution within two weeks, in a bid to ensure they are considered before national elections due by May next year. “I will go to Rome and ask for more powers and resources within a framework of national unity,” he said.

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Too much debt?!

Noble, Once Asia’s Largest Commodity Trader, Struggles To Survive (BBG)

Embattled commodity trader Noble Group warned of a more than $1 billion third-quarter net loss and agreed to sell most of its oil-liquids unit to Vitol Group at a loss, further complicating its fight for survival. The long-awaited deal to sell its prized oil business provided little relief to Hong Kong-based company, with shares falling the most in three months. Details of the sale announced on Monday failed to give much clarity on how much Noble Group would ultimately receive from Vitol, while the third-quarter results highlighted the company’s struggle to return to profitability as it offloads assets to repay debt. “They’re still fighting to survive,” Nicholas Teo, a trading strategist at KGI Securities said by phone. Noble Group’s stock slumped as much as 12% in Singapore, extending a more than 90% retreat since questions over its financial reporting emerged in early 2015.

While the company has defended its accounting, it has also written down the value of its long-term commodity contracts, ousted senior managers and put almost all of its businesses outside Asia up for sale. Noble Group’s 2020 notes are trading at about 39 cents on the dollar, with analysts at BNP Paribas and Nomura predicting that the company will eventually be forced to restructure its debt. Noble Group said that based on its end-June accounts it would have received net proceeds of $582 million from the oil unit deal after paying back borrowings under a secured credit facility. But that figure included proceeds from the earlier sale of its gas-and-power unit, the company said, and was prior to a third quarter in which the business was “adversely impacted” by “capital constraints.” Based on that number, the company would report a $525 million loss on the sale.

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As US alienates itself from Erdogan. For good reasons.

Washington To Back Greek Call For Debt Relief (K.)

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appears set to spearhead initiatives for Greek debt relief as part of Washington’s efforts to bolster Greece as a bastion of stability in the wider region, according to Kathimerini sources. Mnuchin took part in a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the White House last week that addressed ways to promote investments in Greece, strengthen defense cooperation and push Greek debt relief demands. It was, reportedly, made clear at the meeting that Trump has made a strategic decision to support Greece as a reliable ally in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As a first step, the US may ask for an informal meeting of the IMF’s Executive Board to be convened – after a government is formed in Berlin and provided the third Greek bailout review is completed – where pressure will be applied for a specific time frame with regard to Greece’s debt. Another indication that the ball is beginning to roll was the result of talks between Tsipras and IMF chief Christine Lagarde a day before the meeting with Trump. Mnuchin told Trump and Tsipras that Lagarde had contacted him saying her talks with the Greek premier went well and there will be no surprises during the negotiations to complete the review. Mnuchin added that Lagarde said the IMF will push for debt relief.

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A curious story.

Car Pollution Causes A Huge Salmon Die-Off (WaPo)

Silvery coho salmon are as much a part of Washington state as its flag. The fish has a sacred place in the diets and rituals of the state’s indigenous peoples, beckons to tourists who flock to watch its migration runs, and helps to sustain a multimillion-dollar Pacific Northwest fishing industry. So watching the species die in agony is distressing: Adult coho have been seen thrashing in shallow fresh waters, males appear disoriented as they swim, and females are often rolled on their backs, their insides still plump with tiny red eggs that will never hatch. “Coho have not done well where a lot of human activity impacts their habitat,” said Nat Scholz, a research zoologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s to say the least.

A recent study traced a major coho salmon die-off to contaminants from roads and automobiles — brake dust, oil, fuel, chemical fluids — that hitch a ride on storm water and flow into watersheds. The contaminants are so deadly, they kill the salmon within 24 hours. “Our findings are . . . that contaminants in stormwater runoff from the regional transportation grid likely caused these mortality events. Further, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse historical coho declines without addressing the toxic pollution dimension of freshwater habitats,” said the study, published Wednesday in the journal Ecological Applications. This sort of point-source pollution from antiquated sewer systems is a problem across the nation, including the Chesapeake Bay region. Rain overwhelms storm drains, commingles with human waste and surface road garbage, then flushes into ponds, creeks, streams and rivers.

In Seattle and large cities across the Pacific Northwest, those waters are stocked with salmon. The finding could be a breakthrough in a mystery that has vexed scientists for years. But it fell short of explaining another mystery: Why are coho the only one of five salmon species to be affected? Chinook, sockeye, pink and chum don’t remotely experience the same mortality. “This is the great mystery that we are working on,” Scholz said. The future for a species that experiences up to 40 percent mortality before spawning in Puget Sound is no mystery. “The population will crash,” said Jay Davis, an environmental toxicologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated field research for the study.

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“.. an increase in acidity of about 26%…”

CO2 Rise ‘Will Affect All Sea Life’ (BBC)

All sea life will be affected because carbon dioxide emissions from modern society are making the oceans more acidic, a major new report will say. The eight-year study from more than 250 scientists finds that infant sea creatures will be especially harmed. This means the number of baby cod growing to adulthood could fall to a quarter or even a 12th of today’s numbers, the researchers suggest. The assessment comes from the BIOACID project, which is led from Germany. A brochure summarising the main outcomes will be presented to climate negotiators at their annual meeting, which this year is taking place in Bonn in November. The Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification report authors say some creatures may benefit directly from the chemical changes – but even these could still be adversely affected indirectly by shifts in the whole food web.

What is more, the research shows that changes through acidification will be made worse by climate change, pollution, coastal development, over-fishing and agricultural fertilisers. Ocean acidification is happening because as CO2 from fossil fuels dissolves in seawater, it produces carbonic acid and this lowers the pH of the water. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the average pH of global ocean surface waters have fallen from pH 8.2 to 8.1. This represents an increase in acidity of about 26%. The study’s lead author is Prof Ulf Riebesell from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel. He is a world authority on the topic and has typically communicated cautiously about the effects of acidification. He told BBC News: “Acidification affects marine life across all groups, although to different degrees.

“Warm-water corals are generally more sensitive than cold-water corals. Clams and snails are more sensitive than crustaceans. “And we found that early life stages are generally more affected than adult organisms. “But even if an organism isn’t directly harmed by acidification it may be affected indirectly through changes in its habitat or changes in the food web. “At the end of the day, these changes will affect the many services the ocean provides to us.”

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