May 122017
 
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Robert Doisneau Le Baiser Blotto, Paris 1953

 

Human Beings Are Not Efficiency Seeking Machines (Radford)
Stockman: Trump’s Tax Plan Never Had a Chance (DR)
Is China Really Deleveraging? (Balding)
China Stocks Are Tumbling Again. Unlike 2015, World Doesn’t Care (BBG)
China Has the World’s Biggest Productivity Problem (BBG)
No Evidence of Russian Intrusion in US Political System (Ron Paul)
Canada’s Home Capital Seeks New Funding Sources, Uncertain Of Future (BBG)
Open Letter to Theresa May: Annul The Phoney Negotiations! (Varoufakis)
Pound Stumbles As Bank Of England Releases Gloomy Economic Report (Pol.)
Macron Spells the End to the Global Baby-Boomer Rule (BBG)
European Monotony (K.)
Anxiety Mounts As Italy Moves To Get More Migrants Out (AFP)
G7 Finance Chiefs Can’t Agree On Trade, So They Talk About Greece (BBG)
Greek Economy to Grow Over 2% in 2017 – Economy and Development Minister (BBG)
European Commission Slashes Greece’s Economic Forecasts (GR)
Schaeuble Says Greece Needs Reforms, Defends 2015 ‘Timeout’ Idea (K.)
One In Six Greek Businesses Are Late Payers – Central Bank Chief (Amna)
Somebody’s Going To Suffer: Greece’s New Austerity Measures (Michael Hudson)

 

 

Wonderful: “..if your goal is to understand real economies replete with real humans, modern economics is a waste of time.”

Human Beings Are Not Efficiency Seeking Machines (Radford)

I don’t understand why people get upset when I say that economics is a waste of time. I suppose it’s because I don’t make a clear enough difference between economics as a general topic and economics as a formal, mainstream, body of knowledge. It’s the latter that is a waste of time. The former is wonderfully interesting. At its heart economics is a study of human behavior, where that behavior is specific to certain activities. It is thus deeply rooted in psychology, so it is more closely associated with biology than physics. This is not a new idea: some of the greatest economists of the past have argued as much. Trying to transfer in ideas from physics, even metaphorically, therefore tends to lead to dead ends.

Like the notion of efficiency. That’s something of great interest to engineers, but has little to do with economics. You can have an efficient physical system. You cannot have an efficient social system. There’s just too much we don’t know and can never know. Still economists all over the world are obsessed with efficiency. So what do they do? They start to abstract and simplify. They model and fine tune. They test and re-test. And still their ideas run afoul of reality: human beings are not efficiency seeking machines, and so any system filled with humans is likely to be darned near impossible to steer towards efficient outcomes. Nothing daunted economists press on. If humans are unlikely to be efficient the logical next step is to construct a theory to exclude actual humans.

That’s what’s happened in economics: the faulty decision to root economics in a physics-like setting rather than in a biology like-setting forced subsequent generations of economists to “refine” their thinking and, eventually, to force real people out of their theoretical world. Voila! Modern economics ends up as a wonderful edifice with extravagant claims as to its ability to understand human behavior precisely by eliminating all contact with humanity. Weird. Ergo, if your goal is to understand real economies replete with real humans, modern economics is a waste of time.

Go study something else. You can learn a great deal about real economies by reading psychology literature. Behavioral economics — which despite all the press it gets has had only a marginal impact on the mainstream and on textbook economics — is an attempt to do that. The behavioral economics project is in its infancy. Go get involved. By the way: anything that refers to strategic behavior is also useful. Real humans are constantly trying to outwit each other. That’s when they’re not cooperating, which is another human characteristic economics determinedly overlooks. Humans are complicated. Too complicated for an economics built on an exclusive belief in relentless rationality.

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“This rosy scenario, which is the current ten-year baseline, assumes 30% more nominal GDP and wage growth per year than we’ve actually had in the past ten years.”

Stockman: Trump’s Tax Plan Never Had a Chance (DR)

David Stockman joined Fox Business and Maria Bartiromo on Mornings with Maria to discuss President Trump’s tax plan efforts and what he viewed as a massive calamity unfolding in Washington. The Fox Business host began the conversation by asking what he thought on the Trump tax plan proposal. Stockman pressed, “I think it is a one page, $7.5 trillion wish list that has no chance of being enacted and is pretty irresponsible this late in the game.” The host then fired back by asking how the former Reagan budget director placed a price tag on the plan without a score from the Congressional Budget Office. The author fired back, “The corporate is at 15%, the pass through rate on all unincorporated business is at 15% and that will cost roughly $4 trillion. Doubling the standard deduction will cost over $1 trillion. Getting rid of the alternative minimum will cost nearly $1 trillion.”

Then when referencing the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (which Stockman is a Board Member of) the author highlighted, “The gross cost is $7.5 trillion and that perhaps the government could earn back $2 trillion through loophole closing and base broadening. My argument is, after ruling out charitable contributions, home mortgages and a Congress that says they won’t touch a health care exclusion… when you go through the math there is no $2 trillion that this Congress and Republican party will even remotely be able to put together.” When asked about the assumption from Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Senior Economic Advisor Cohn that new economic growth would pay for the budget Stockman pressed on the facts as he saw them:

“Growth always helps, but what they’re failing to realize, and what I learned in the 1980’s is that there is more growth built into the baseline forecast from the CBO than you’re ever going to achieve in the real world.” “This rosy scenario, which is the current ten-year baseline, assumes 30% more nominal GDP and wage growth per year than we’ve actually had in the past ten years.” When asked about the conditions in Congress and how else the government could raise revenue he directed, “We have to look at the numbers. There’s $10 trillion of new deficits built in over the next ten years, within the current policy, with rosy scenario economics. If you are going to try to push $2-$6 billion in tax cuts on top of that with $1 trillion of defense increases, $1 trillion for infrastructure in addition to Veteran spending and more – we’re headed for a fiscal calamity.

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Christopher Balding and crazy numbers.

Is China Really Deleveraging? (Balding)

There’s growing evidence that China is finally scaling back its epic borrowing binge. That’s important for a lot of reasons, not least for reducing risk and avoiding a financial crisis. The question is whether the government can sustain the pain. Regulators in Beijing are well aware of the risks that excessive leverage poses, and have tried many times over the years to crack down. Yet they routinely fail to rein in local government officials who get promoted by boosting economic growth, regardless of what systemic risks they may be incurring by binging on debt. To adapt a Chinese proverb: Growth is high and the banking regulator is far away. Evidence is mounting that this time is different. Lending to banks from the People’s Bank of China, which surged by 243% from December 2015 to January 2017, has declined by 12% in the past two months.

Loans to non-financial corporations are up a relatively moderate 7.3% from March 2016, which is a slower rate than nominal growth in gross domestic product. Although this clampdown followed an enormous surge of credit in the first half of last year, it does suggest real progress. Another good sign is that the government is starting to rein in shadow banking. Issuance of risky wealth-management products declined by 18% in April from March, as banks and insurance companies have been pressured to rely on them less. Because the sector is so enormous – with more than $4 trillion outstanding – getting it under control is a crucial prerequisite for any serious deleveraging. Predictably, though, these reforms have pushed down asset prices. Stocks, bonds, commodities and real estate have all turned strongly negative.

Interest rates have been inching up, inflicting losses on bond investors. Allocations of stocks and commodities in wealth-management products are at their lowest levels in almost a year, depressing prices further. This will probably get worse. Industrial capacity is widely up while demand growth is flat. Steel rebar prices have dropped by only 8% from their highs this year, and remain up by an amazing 91% since December 2015. Yet even this small dip has had a major effect. In March, when prices peaked, 85% of Hebei steel makers reported being profitable. Now that figure stands at 66%. If an 8% drop in prices results in a 19 percentage-point decline in the number of profitable steel mills, more serious price drops could well push the industry to the brink.

For a sector in which listed firms have suffered operational losses of 5.1 billion yuan since 2010 – during one of the largest building booms the world has ever seen – a sustained deleveraging effort may well spell disaster. The property market could also be in for a rough ride. Chinese consumers take the ability to buy an apartment as a birthright, and prices have risen in response to demand. Mortgage lending has grown by 31% since March 2016. But as cities place more restrictions on purchases and banking regulators get tougher about slowing mortgage growth, the resulting pressure on prices could be an unpleasant surprise for homeowners and indebted developers.

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Don’t worry, the world will care yet.

China Stocks Are Tumbling Again. Unlike 2015, World Doesn’t Care (BBG)

Global investors are still shaking off a rout that’s erased more than $560 billion from the value of Chinese equities, making them the world’s worst performers since mid-April. Below are four charts showing just how deep the pain has spread in China’s mainland. Outside of the nation’s borders, investors are indifferent to the weakness in the second-largest equity market after the U.S. The MSCI All-Country World Index is near a record and the VIX Index, the so-called fear gauge for U.S. stocks, is close to its lowest level since 1993. The ChiNext small-cap gauge, seen as a barometer for Chinese stock-market sentiment, has taken quite the hit this year, down 9.7% and close to its lowest level since February 2015. The selloff erased all that was left of a rebound from a low later that year, after a bubble in China’s markets burst.

A technical indicator suggests the Shanghai Composite Index has fallen too far, too fast. The gauge’s relative strength index dipped further below the 30 level that signals to some traders an asset is oversold, and is close to levels not seen since 2013. Chart watchers are still waiting for that rebound. The benchmark for yuan-denominated shares has lost 6.9% in the past month, while global stocks are up 2.8%. That divergence means the Shanghai measure is trailing the rest of the world by the most since 2014.

Chinese stocks now make up less than 9% of the world’s equity market, the smallest slice since June last year. The value of global equities is near a record $73 trillion reached earlier this month.

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Quite shocking: “..each employed worker in China generated only 19% of the amount of GDP an American worker did.” Workers in India generate just 13%.

China Has the World’s Biggest Productivity Problem (BBG)

Just about everybody assumes that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s indispensable economy. One factor, however, could slow its seemingly relentless march and cast doubt on China’s prospects for becoming an advanced economy: faltering productivity. Sure, China is advancing daily in wealth, technology and expertise. But nothing is inevitable in economics. As costs rise and the labor force shrinks due to Beijing’s decades-long “one-child” policy, China will need to squeeze a lot more out of each remaining worker to keep incomes growing. If not, China could succumb to a sluggish trajectory that threatens both its future and that of the entire global economy. Despite China’s reputation as a paragon of authoritarian efficiency, the country isn’t immune to the global trend of dwindling productivity gains.

The Conference Board, using adjusted economic growth estimates, figures that Chinese labor productivity rose 3.7% in 2015, a precipitous plunge from an average of 8.1% annually between 2007 and 2013. (Official Chinese statistics also show productivity growth falling off, although settling at higher rates.) Of course, even that reduced clip looks drool-worthy to policymakers elsewhere. Labor productivity inched upwards by a mere 0.7% in the U.S. and 0.6% in the euro zone in 2015. But the smaller increases in China are a big problem, because it has so much catching up to do. Chinese workers are miserably unproductive compared to their U.S. counterparts. The Conference Board calculates that in 2015 each employed worker in China generated only 19% of the amount of GDP an American worker did.

That’s not a whole lot better than Indian workers, who created 13%. China, like other economies in Asia, is facing the consequences of its past success. The region’s economies achieved eye-popping growth rates by tossing their poor and primarily agrarian workers into industry and global supply chains. That unleashed a torrent of productivity gains, as peasant farmers started making everything from teddy bears to iPhones. In other words, China propelled its rapid development by shifting underutilized labor and capital into a modern capitalist economy. (That’s why Paul Krugman once argued that there was nothing particularly miraculous about the Asian “miracle.”) Inevitably, though, such low-hanging, productivity-enhancing fruit gets picked as the economy advances. Then the bang you get for every buck of new inputs starts to taper off.

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It’s time for proof on all aleegations concerning Russia. Either that or a full stop. I was just talking to someone who said he ‘believes’ the Russians downed MH17. But belief doesn’t cut it, we need facts and proof.

No Evidence of Russian Intrusion in US Political System (Ron Paul)

RT: Sergey Lavrov says President Trump wants productive relations with Moscow after the previous administration soured them. Can they be improved considering the storm over the alleged ties between the Trump team and Russia?

Ron Paul: Absolutely. And I think that has been. What is going on right now is an improvement. I think what is going on in Syria with these de-escalation zones; I think that is good. They are talking to each other. I just don’t understand why sometimes there is an impression that we shouldn’t be having diplomatic conversations … All the tough rhetoric doesn’t do any good. Trump’s statement to me sounded pretty good. I think the whole thing about the elections, putting that aside would be a wise thing because the evidence is not there for any intrusion in our election by the Russians. I think this is good progress, and there will be plenty individuals in this country who complain about it because it just seems like they are very content to keep the aggravation going. Right now, the relationship from my viewpoint has greatly improved. I think that is good.

RT: During the media conference, some journalists again raised the question of possible Russian involvement in US politics. How is it possible for such a great nation to think this way?

RP: If it is a fact, we should hear about it, but we haven’t. And those individuals who are trying to stir up trouble like that, they haven’t come up with any facts. Nobody wants anybody’s elections interfered with. But the facts aren’t there, so why dwell on that? Why use that as an excuse to prevent something that we think is positive and that is better relations with Russia. I think what is happening with this conversation is very beneficial.

RT: According to Lavrov, Trump also expressed his support for creating safe zones in Syria. Will this pave the way for co-operation between the two coalitions?

RP: With Assad and Russia working together and getting more security for the country, at the same time the US is now talking with Russia. I think this is good. But just the acceptance of the idea that we should be talking and practicing diplomacy rather than threats and intimidation. There are obviously a lot of problems that we have to work out, but I think in the last week and the last couple of days very positive things have been happening.

RT: The meeting came after the firing of the FBI director James Comey. What do you make of the timing?

RP: I don’t think that firing had anything to do with the so-called investigation. I think it has to do with the credibility of Comey as such, where he was involved too politically in the issues. First, it looked like he was supporting Hillary, then the next time he was supporting Trump, and he should not have been out in front on either one of those issues; that should have been done more privately on these charges made that were unconfirmed. I think this represents poor judgment on Comey’s part and certainly, the president had the authority to fire him. It will be politicized now, and the question will be whether there will be a special prosecutor, but if there are no problems, then a special prosecutor in my estimation is unnecessary.

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Stick a fork in it and turn it over.

Canada’s Home Capital Seeks New Funding Sources, Uncertain Of Future (BBG)

Home Capital said it’s seeking new sources of funding after a run on deposits sparked by a regulatory investigation raised concerns about the Canadian mortgage lender’s ability to stay in business. “Material uncertainty exists regarding the company’s future funding capabilities as a result of reputational concerns that may cast significant doubt” about continued operations, Home Capital said in a statement late Thursday. “Management’s focus is on finding more sources of funding in the near term so we can be more active serving our customers, and on seeking longer-term solutions that put the business back on track.” Home Capital’s troubles are being closely watched by investors concerned about possible contagion to other lenders and to the red-hot real estate markets in Toronto and Vancouver.

The Canadian dollar has slumped, and is the worst performing currency among Group of 10 nations this year. Moody’s Investors Service late Wednesday cut the credit ratings on six Canadian banks, citing rising household debt and soaring real estate prices that make the banks more vulnerable to losses. Home Capital, accused by regulators last month of misleading investors over fraudulent mortgage loan applications, has lost almost C$1.8 billion ($1.2 billion) in high-interest deposits in five weeks, draining the Toronto-based company of funds used to finance mortgages. The company said it’s facing liquidity issues because of reputational concerns raised by the Ontario Securities Commission allegations, as well as a class action lawsuit announced earlier this year. The lack of a chief executive officer and chief financial officer is also hurting, the company said.

High-interest savings plummeted to C$134 million as of May 9 from $1.9 billion at March 31, the company said. Home Capital also lost C$344 million in cashable GICs, or guaranteed investment certificates. Tightening lending criteria and broker incentive programs will lead to a decline in originations and renewals going forward, the company said. The lender’s liquid assets are about C$1.01 billion as of May 10, it said in a separate statement Thursday. It had drawn C$1.4 billion of a C$2 billion rescue loan from an Ontario pension fund that carries an effective interest rate of 22.5%, the firm disclosed. The company also sold a C$154 million portfolio of preferred shares to raise cash.

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Brussels is a cesspit obsessed with power politics, not with representing Europeans.

Open Letter to Theresa May: Annul The Phoney Negotiations! (Varoufakis)

Dear Mrs May [..] While the clock is ticking away, and your country is caught up in pre-election fever, there are two potential mistakes I wish to warn against: First, the belief that a strong mandate on June 8 will enhance your ability to negotiate. Second, that meaningful negotiations are possible within the less than two years left after the triggering of Article 50. Your mandate will, I believe, enrage Brussels in proportion to its magnitude and steel their preordained determination to frustrate the negotiations in order to procure a mutually disadvantageous outcome. Why would they pursue mutual disadvantage? Because faced with a choice between an agreement that is to the advantage of the peoples of Europe and one that bolsters their own power within the EU institutions at the expense of Europe’s social economies, the Brussels establishment, and the powerful politicians behind them, will choose the latter every time.

In 2015 the proposals I was tabling, of a moderate Greek public debt restructure, lower tax rates and deep reforms, would have allowed the EU to reclaim more of European taxpayers’ loans to Greece. Except that getting back their taxpayers’ money was lower on their list of priorities than signalling to the Spaniards, the Irish, the Italians etc. that if they dared to elect a government promising to challenge the EU’s authority, they would be crushed. Thankfully, Britain is too rich to crush. Alas, Britain is not too big to be pushed into a disadvantageous form of Brexit as a deterrent to other Europeans voting against the edicts of the Brussels apparatchiks. The political utility to the Brussels establishment of leading the UK-EU negotiations to impasse is greater than any disutility they might experience from watching European people and businesses lose out.

If I am right, negotiations will be an exercise in futility and frustration. Barnier’s two-phase negotiation announcement amounts to a rejection of the principle of … negotiation. He is, effectively, saying to you: First you give me everything I am asking for unconditionally (Phase 1) and only then will I hear what you want (Phase 2). This is nothing short of a declaration of hostilities and, moreover, of his lack of a mandate to negotiate with you in good faith. Moreover, if you try to bypass Brussels, in order to communicate directly with, say, Angela Merkel, you will be given the EU runaround (i.e. Merkel refers you to Juncker, who refers you to Barnier who suggests you go back to Merkel, and so on ad infinitum). Meanwhile, the leaks about your ministers’ “lack of preparedness” will be flooding out of the meeting rooms as part of a propaganda war of attrition.

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As long as the UK is as splintered as it is now, its economy will be in danger.

Pound Stumbles As Bank Of England Releases Gloomy Economic Report (Pol.)

Less than a month ahead of the U.K. general election, the Bank of England published a gloomy report indicating British families’ finances are being squeezed that sent sterling tumbling. The BoE’s latest quarterly inflation report, published Thursday, points to a stronger-than-expected squeeze in real incomes which would translate into decreased household spending. The report also shows inflation continuing to climb above the central bank’s 2% target, and is expected to hit close to 3% by December, as the fall in the value of sterling has raised import prices and started to feed through to the real economy. Economic growth in the first quarter of this year was also weaker than expected, the BoE said.

Sterling fell sharply against the dollar after the report was released, losing half a cent to $1.288. In a warning to the British government, the central bank said, “The outlook for U.K. growth will continue to be influenced by the response of households, companies and financial market participants to the prospect of the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU including their assumptions about the nature and timing of post-Brexit trading arrangements. The Bank of England also Thursday decided to leave interest rates and the levels of monetary stimulus untouched. Its monetary policy committee voted seven to one to maintain the BoE’s benchmark rate at 0.25%, while unanimously backing the level of U.K. government bond purchases at £435 billion, and corporate bond buying at up to £10 billion.

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Fun with numbers.

Macron Spells the End to the Global Baby-Boomer Rule (BBG)

President-elect Emmanuel Macron will still be seven months short of his 40th birthday when he takes power on Sunday, putting him within a year of France’s median age. While voters often pick experience over youth, France chose a political rookie to chart a new course after successive baby-boomers from the establishment parties oversaw a decade of stagnation. The country’s youngest head of state since Napoleon Bonaparte is also the only leader from the old Group of Eight nations who can claim to be the same age as his people – 70-year-old Donald Trump has the biggest gap at 32 years older than the median American. Macron will get to compare notes with his G-7 peers later this month in Italy.

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Yes, Le Pen was right. Merkel rules France.

European Monotony (K.)

When Alexis Tsipras became prime minister in 2015 he raised the hopes of the radical left across Europe. But after six months, the turnaround of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition government was complete, as it adapted to the European order of things. The conclusion is that guerrilla talk is good for coffee shops and that politics and policy are formed and enforced elsewhere. One might say that this sort of situation is confined to decadent and incoherent Greece, or that it occurred because of leftist adventurism. But possibly not. Because we all saw what happened in France. It was basic restraint that saved all those who were not enthralled by the rise of the extreme right.

At the end of the day, the only thing that Marine Le Pen achieved was to secure a little more than a third of the support of French voters, doubling the percentage received by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002, and to lift the National Front from the fringe and turn it into a political force. But we have better things to preoccupy ourselves with. During the election campaign, Emmanuel Macron projected himself as someone who will save France from the specter of the far right, but also as someone who aimed to change the profile of Europe. And immediately after his election, he proposed a way out of Europe’s dead end, but that was immediately rejected by Germany.

Manfred Weber from Bavaria, who pummeled Tsipras in the European Parliament, said that Macron can talk about reforming Europe only when he has proved himself capable of implementing reforms in France. More condescendingly, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said Macron’s proposals were impossible to implement. Given this, there is a danger that Le Pen will be vindicated in her prediction that if she was not elected president, then France would be run by another woman, Angela Merkel. The most likely outcome is that Macron will realize that talk of changing Europe is alright for the legendary La Rotonde brasserie in Paris’s 6th arrondissement, where he celebrated his victory in the first round of the elections. Something similar happened to Tsipras on the other side of the political spectrum. Because, at the moment, Europe is Germany and everyone else.

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High time for safe zones in Syria, Libya and beyond. But that would hurt arms sales.

Anxiety Mounts As Italy Moves To Get More Migrants Out (AFP)

Behind the high fences of the repatriation centre at Ponte Galeria, just down the road from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, dozens of women sit outside, waiting for word on whether they will have to leave Italy. But as the government steps up its efforts to send more migrants home, many who pinned their hopes on asylum appeals are growing increasingly worried. This week an official decree paved the way for the creation of 11 more repatriation centres capable of housing 1,600 people pending deportation, on top of the four currently in operation. At Ponte Galeria, in courtyards easily mistaken for cages, Khadigia Shabbi, 47, can barely hold back her tears. “Here we are dying,” the former Libyan university lecturer says. Arrested in Palermo at the end of 2015 and convicted of inciting terrorism, Shabbi protests her innocence and has requested asylum.

She is not alone. Half of the 63 women at Ponte Galeria, which AFP was able to visit, have made similar requests. Several are from Nigeria, having crossed Libya to reach Italy. But there are also Ukrainians and Chinese. The country is sheltering more than 176,000 asylum-seekers, with about 45,000 migrants arriving since January 1 – a 40% rise on the same period last year – and officials are bracing for another summer of record arrivals. To cope with the influx – and to deter others from coming – Interior Minister Marco Minniti pushed through parliament last month a plan to increase migrant housing and provide new resources for expelling those who have come only to seek work. The plan includes creating fast-track asylum appeal courts for the roughly 60% of migrants who have their initial requests denied, in order to reach a binding decision that gets them out of the country sooner.

Between January and April, Italy expelled 6,242 people who did not have the right to stay, an increase of 24% on the same period last year. But the figures include more than just people rescued from the overcrowded boats coming daily from Libya who have failed in their asylum requests. Many were sent home directly because of repatriation agreements, such as those with Tunisia, Egypt or Morocco, while others were expelled after overstaying their student or tourism visas. But despite Italy’s new efforts to deter migrant arrivals, many say they won’t give up trying. “If they expel me, I’ll come back afterwards. I say this honestly — there is nothing for me back there,” said one woman at Ponte Galeria.

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US pressure may be the only way out for Greece.

G7 Finance Chiefs Can’t Agree On Trade, So They Talk About Greece (BBG)

Group of Seven finance chiefs don’t see eye-to-eye on trade, so they’re reverting to a default issue in economic diplomacy: Greece. Officials arriving on Thursday for talks in the Southern Italian port of Bari – a crossroads of commerce for more than two millenia – downplayed any focus on their festering disagreement after two abortive Group of 20 discussions this year suggested the Trump administration won’t sign up to the long-existing global consensus on free trade. That leaves sideline talks on Greece as the most fruitful arena for talks for now. On Wednesday, a senior U.S. Treasury official said they are looking for Europe to take the lead in solving the country’s debt problem. Informal talks on Greece were held on Thursday night, according to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble.

His nation, together with Italy, France, the IMF and the ECB make up the so-called Washington Group. “Trade is explicitly off the table – they’re not going to clinch anything at all,” said Isabelle Mateos y Lago at BlackRock. But on Greece, “this is the right grouping within which to reach an agreement on some of the more political aspects.” Talks on easing Greece’s debt load have been picking up steam amid hopes of striking a deal later this month, with officials targeting the May 22 meeting in euro-area finance ministers in Brussels. Among the preferred options is the use of leftovers from the country’s latest euro-area-backed bailout to repay about €12.4 billion of IMF loans to Greece outstanding, according to EU officials. “We’ll carry on working on this debt relief package,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Friday. “We certainly hope that the Europeans will be far more specific in terms of debt relief which is also an imperative.”

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That so-called ‘Growth’ is achieved because Greece raises taxes and cuts pensions for its poorest, and sells its assets for pennies on the drachma. But that is not growth. That is scorched earth.

Greek Economy to Grow Over 2% in 2017 – Economy and Development Minister (BBG)

Greece is confident that the country’s economic output will exceed 2% in 2017 boosted by investments, privatizations and exports, Economy and Development Minister Dimitri Papadimitriou said. This year will be “the year of real growth in Greece,” Papadimitriou said in a May 10 interview in Nicosia, Cyprus, at the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. With the exception of 2014, Greece’s economy shrank every year since 2008. The IMF in April cut its forecast for 2017 Greek economic growth to 2.2% from 2.8%. The European Commission revised earlier today its estimate for the Greek growth rate to 2.1% from 2.7%. Papadimitriou cited committed investments for 2017 of €300 million by Philip Morris International and €500 million by Hellenic Telecommunication as well as applications to make investments worth €1.9 billion following the introduction of new legislation that provides incentives to investors. He also highlighted higher industrial production, increased exports and a rise in employment.

Greece will also complete in 2017 an “ambitious” privatization program worth over €2 billion that mainly comprises regional airports, the country’s second-largest port of Thessaloniki, the national railroad operator Trainose and units of state-controlled Public Power Corp., the largest electricity supplier, Papadimitriou said. With almost one-quarter of Greeks without work in the fourth quarter of 2016, or 23.6%, the highest in the EU, Greece is targeting a fall in the unemployment rate by 2020/21 to the euro-area average of 12% through targeted programs for job creation, Papadimitriou said. The final conclusion of the review of Greece’s bailout program with the country’s international creditors will see the nation’s sovereign bonds included in the ECB’s asset purchase program that will mean Greece will be like “a normal country and every other member of the euro zone,” Papadimitriou said.

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Growth, you said? Both sides are making up numbers that suit their book. And in the end, Greece loses.

European Commission Slashes Greece’s Economic Forecasts (GR)

The European Commission forecast for Greece’s economic figures is not as optimistic as the one presented by Athens. Specifically, the European Commission sees growth of 2.1% of GDP in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018 (compared with 2.7% and 3.1% respectively as the Greek government projected). The government deficit is projected to fall to 1.2% of GDP in 2017 and to a surplus of 0.6% in 2018. In the Commission’s winter forecast, the deficit was slightly lower for 2017 (1.1%) and the surplus slightly higher for 2018 (0.7%). Regarding the sovereign debt, the forecasts for the decline of the state debt are also more conservative than the Commission’s winter forecasts.

It is estimated to drop from 179% of GDP in 2016 to 178.8% in 2017 (177.2% in winter forecasts) and 174.6% of GDP in 2018 (170.6% in winter forecasts). At the same time, unemployment numbers differ, as it is estimated that from 23.6% in 2016 it will fall to 22.8% in 2017 (compared with 22% in the winter forecasts) and 21.6% in 2018 (compared to 20.3% in winter forecasts). Inflation is expected to be 1.2% in 2017 and 1.1% in 2018. Finally, estimates of investment growth are also mitigated by lower growth. Specifically, investment growth is projected to increase by 6.3% in 2017 (compared with 12% in the winter forecasts) and 10.8% in 2018 (compared with 14.2% in winter forecasts).

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Schaeuble blames Greece for not exiting the Eurozone in 2015. Like the EU would have let them. The world on its head.

Schaeuble Says Greece Needs Reforms, Defends 2015 ‘Timeout’ Idea (K.)

Structural reforms are key to membership of the euro area, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has said while defending his 2015 offer of a Greek euro “timeout.” “If a country does not want to leave [the euro], then it has to make structural reforms – like Greece has,” Schaeuble said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published Thursday. “With the euro, the time is over when some countries could increase their competitiveness through currency devaluation. This is a political short-cut,” he said. Asked about his proposal for a temporary Greek exit from the eurozone, put forward in the dramatic summer of 2015, the German finance minister defended his idea. “You know what [Italian Economy Minister] Pier Carlo Padoan said in public: an overwhelming majority of finance ministers were convinced that it would be better if Greece were temporarily out of the euro,” Schaeuble said. “It was Greece that decided otherwise. We are now making an effort to make sure that the third aid package is a success,” he said.

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Remember 40% of Greek businesses don’t expect to survive 2017.

One In Six Greek Businesses Are Late Payers – Central Bank Chief (Amna)

About one in six businesses in Greece has the characteristics of a late payer, Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said on Thursday, addressing an audience at the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (FING) in Thessaloniki. Stournaras said it is urgent to address the problem of non-performing loans (NPLs), saying it should be a priority among the reforms discussed between Greece and its lenders, as it is a very significant obstacle to economic recovery. “This is the biggest challenge facing today, not just the banking system but the Greek economy,” he said, adding that according to a conservative estimate based on a sample of 13,000 businesses with loans over one million euros, an average of one in six has the characteristics of a bad payer.

He said there are indications that the analogy is significantly higher for smaller businesses and households. “But this will change in the immediate future with a series of initiatives that have already underway to address the aforementioned causes and which have hindered banks’ efforts to resolve the problem for years,” he said. Stournaras also expressed confidence that the approval of the prior actions by the parliament agreed during the second program review will open the way for the disbursement of the next loan tranche from the Eurogroup on May 22. “The financial markets are already expecting this result,” he said.

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“Somebody’s going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF’s constituency.”

Somebody’s Going To Suffer: Greece’s New Austerity Measures (Michael Hudson)

Michael Hudson: I wouldn’t call it a negotiation. Greece is simply being dictated to. There is no negotiation at all. It’s been told that its economy has shrunk so far by 20%, but has to shrink another 5% making it even worse than the depression. Its wages have fallen and must be cut by another 10%. Its pensions have to be cut back. Probably 5 to 10% of its population of working age will have to immigrate. The intention is to cut the domestic tax revenues (not raise them), because labor won’t be paying taxes and businesses are going out of business. So we have to assume that the deliberate intention is to lower the government’s revenues by so much that Greece will have to sell off even more of its public domain to foreign creditors. Basically it’s a smash and grab exercise, and the role of Tsipras is not to represent the Greeks because the Troika have said, “The election doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what the people vote for. Either you do what we say or we will smash your banking system.” Tsipras’s job is to say, “Yes I will do whatever you want. I want to stay in power rather than falling in election.”

Sharmini Peries: Right. Michael you dedicated almost three chapters in your book “Killing the Host” to how the IMF jjunkeconeconomists actually knew that Greece will not be able to pay back its foreign debt, but yet it went ahead and made these huge loans to Greece. It’s starting to sound like the mortgage fraud scandal where banks were lending people money to buy houses when they knew they couldn’t pay it back. Is it similar?

Michael Hudson: The basic principle is indeed the same. If a creditor makes a loan to a country or a home buyer knowing that there’s no way in which the person can pay, who should bear the responsibility for this? Should the bad lender or irresponsible bondholder have to pay, or should the Greek people have to pay? IMF economists said that Greece can’t pay, and under the IMF rules it is not allowed to make loans to countries that have no chance of repaying in the foreseeable future. The then-head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, introduced a new rule – the “systemic problem” rule.

It said that if Greece doesn’t repay, this will cause problems for the economic system – defined as the international bankers, bondholder’s and European Union budget – then the IMF can make the loan. This poses a question on international law. If the problem is systemic, not Greek, and if it’s the system that’s being rescued, why should Greek workers have to dismantle their economy? Why should Greece, a sovereign nation, have to dismantle its economy in order to rescue a banking system that is guaranteed to continue to cause more and more austerity, guaranteed to turn the Eurozone into a dead zone? Why should Greece be blamed for the bad malstructured European rules? That’s the moral principle that’s at stake in all this.

[..] Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister under Syriza, said that every time he talked to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde and others two years ago, they were sympathetic. They said, “I am terribly sorry we have to destroy your economy. I feel your pain, but we are indeed going to destroy your economy. There is nothing we can do about it. We are only following orders.” The orders were coming from Wall Street, from the Eurozone and from investors who bought or guaranteed Greek bonds. Being sympathetic, feeling their pain doesn’t really mean anything if the IMF says, “Oh, we know it is a disaster. We are going to screw you anyway, because that’s our job. We are the IMF, after all. Our job is to impose austerity. Our job is to shrink economies, not help them grow. Our constituency is the bondholders and banks.” Somebody’s going to suffer. Should it the wealthy billionaires and the bankers, or should it be the Greek workers? Well, the Greek workers are not the IMF’s constituency. It says: “We feel your pain, but we’d rather you suffer than our constituency.”

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Apr 162017
 
 April 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Fred Stein Snow White 1946

 

Who Will Buy Baby Boomers’ Homes? (CityLab)
Canada Completely Lost Its Mind Over Real Estate (McL)
The Bank of Canada Should ‘Cease and Desist’ (Mises)
Will Trump Accept Responsibility When This Shitshow Implodes? (Quinn)
Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (ET)
China Finally Halts Outflows. Now What? (Balding)
Russia Could Soon Take Over A Chunk Of US Oil Infrastructure (Vice)
Britain Set To Lose EU ‘Crown Jewels’ Of Banking And Medicine Agencies (G.)
The Dream Is Officially Over For Iron Ore (SMH)
Brazil’s Odebrecht Paid $3.3 Billion In Bribes Over A Decade (R.)
Zimbabwe Cash Crisis: ‘Coins May Also Disappear’ (AllA)
Marine Le Pen Faces Wipe Out In French Election After Computer Blunder (E.)
The Refugee King of Greece (NYT)
EU ‘Leaving Migrants To Drown’ Say Rescuers (Ind.)

 

 

These people are so stuck in their narrow field and views. Build more! is not an answer to any of this. Homes are grossly overpriced, and they will be ‘re-priced’.

Who Will Buy Baby Boomers’ Homes? (CityLab)

Frequent sales put pressure on the market to produce homes catering to changing tastes among buyers. Nelson notes that the home building industry is now producing less than half the number of new houses it did in the mid-2000s. Though demand now outpaces supply, homeowners are hanging on to properties significantly longer—nine to ten years—because they owe more on their houses than they can get for them, their houses are worth less than before the recession, or they can’t find a home that meets their needs due to insufficient supply. “It’s not that Boomers are going to ‘age in place,’” says Nelson. “They’re going to be stuck in place, and they’re going to make the best of it.” Those who can afford it will remodel. Regardless of when it occurs, the great senior sell-off won’t affect every Boomer equally.

A large chunk of Millennials—Nelson posits around two-thirds—will want to buy suburban homes because they like the lifestyle, or because they will be priced out of cities like Washington, D.C. or Los Angeles, where housing costs are exorbitant. Most of the other third, he says, will want to live in central cities and the oldest, closest suburbs—though not necessarily downtown. The small percentage who prefer downtown living but cannot afford certain cities may move to more affordable ones, such as Philadelphia or Minneapolis. Nelson predicts that the fringe areas surrounding cities will bring the biggest headaches for Boomers looking to unload their houses. Because Millennials will be looking for small homes when they finally start to buy in larger numbers, the sprawling McMansions of the exurbs won’t be desirable to many of them.

“The Boomers in the exurbs are going to be in a real pickle,” says Nelson. “Even in a dynamic market like Washington, D.C. or other booming cities, the market for those homes is going to be soft.” Though Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, agrees that exurbs and rural areas will likely be vulnerable to the Boomer/Millennial housing mismatch, she’s not as pessimistic about the sell-off as a whole. “The Baby Boomers are a large generation,” she says. “Nothing they do is going to happen en masse.” She also believes that the Boomers who don’t age in place will demand an increasing array of housing options that will help spread out sales over time, decreasing the likelihood of a sudden glut of housing.

But many analysts do agree on one thing: More housing will need to be built for Millennials—and it needs to be scaled to their desires, not their parents’s. “Millennials are likely to prioritize different features in their homes, such as greener materials or in-law suites,” says Molinsky. And according to the Harvard Joint Center’s projections, nearly 90% of those looking for homes in 2035 will be under 35 or 70 and over—and both groups tend to buy less square footage. The challenge for local governments and developers, says Nelson, “is to anticipate these future needs and build different and smaller homes now—before getting trapped with too many larger homes later.”

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“In British Columbia, real estate and related fields such as construction and finance make up an astounding 40% of GDP..”

Canada Completely Lost Its Mind Over Real Estate (McL)

The average selling price for all homes in the Greater Toronto Area, including houses and condos, surged to $916,567 in March, a 33% rise from the year before, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board. Since January alone, prices are up 19%. A lowly semi-detached house in the city is now worth more than $1 million. Prices are growing even faster in the surrounding suburbs. More first-time homebuyers and investors are looking to Barrie, Ont., a city about 100 km north of Toronto, where the average selling price jumped 33% compared to the year before.

[..] Canada is a country deeply reliant on real estate. The industry accounts for roughly 12% of its GDP. In British Columbia, real estate and related fields such as construction and finance make up an astounding 40% of GDP. Vancouver is seeing prices rise again after numerous efforts to cool the market. And in Alberta, not even a recession and a 9% unemployment rate did much damage to house prices in Calgary and Edmonton. “It’s surprising how well it has held up, given the severity of two years of contraction,” says Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial.

[..] “Tight supply starts to become a justification for all outcomes,” says Beata Caranci, chief economist at TD Bank Group. If buyers are convinced supply is low, then the big price increases will seem logical, exacerbating their fear of missing out and pushing them to act irrationally. Toronto’s price surge did indeed coincide with a significant drop in listings, but that could be a result of psychology on the seller’s part. Some homeowners could be holding on to their properties in anticipation of prices rising even further. Families that would otherwise sell their homes to upsize could also be staying put simply because prices are so high, and competition is so fierce, that the hassle isn’t worth it. An influx of deep-pocketed foreign investors could also be taking properties off the market, especially since Vancouver implemented a 15% tax last year for foreign nationals. “I do believe that at least some investors went directly from Vancouver to Toronto,” Porter says. “That has played a role in launching Toronto, and some surrounding cities, into the stratosphere.”

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Way too late: “…the Bank of Canada needs to pay more attention to the housing issue because it is a huge threat to the entire economy.”

The Bank of Canada Should ‘Cease and Desist’ (Mises)


“Beneath the symbol
We’ll all assemble
Oh how we’ll fly
Oh how we’ll tremble”

– Captain Beefheart, “Ice Cream for Crow”

If interest rates are the symbol beneath which we all assemble, then there are some bad times ahead. But Canada’s “leading economists,” say interest rates are “too blunt a tool” to cool the housing market.This week, Governor Stephen Poloz as expected did not raise rates, but continues to face tough questions about the connection between low rates and the “hot” housing market. Of course, he deserves every hard question thrown at him. And it’s nice that journalists are actually starting to question the obvious connection between low-interest rates and the housing bubble. With Canadians across the country locked out of their local housing markets, and with foreign buyers using Canadian property to protect their wealth from destructive communist dictatorships, frustration needs an outlet and it looks as if Poloz and the BoC are, finally, in the crosshairs.

But that doesn’t mean Poloz will listen. After all, the central bank is supposed to remain “independent” from democratic government and popular opinion. Poloz is making his decisions based on his misunderstanding of the economy, not the will of the mob. As Avery Shenfeld, CIBC Capital Markets’ chief economist, told BNN in an email, “The Bank of Canada will likely stick to its view that house prices are best dealt with through macro-prudential policies particular to that market, with the interest rate setting used to steer the economy overall.” Meaning, let the banks and federal government deal with the issue. The BoC will do what it can, but it will not include raising rates. Raising interest rates will certainly “cool” the housing market, but it will also lead to some unintended consequences that would “hurt” the overall economy.

Remember, the BoC is stacked with Keynesians, who regard the “hangover theory” as implausible as the irrefutable Say’s Law. So if the Bank can’t or won’t raise rates, and leaving the price of interest to the free market isn’t even on the table, then what about a rate cut? Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO Capital Markets, also told BNN, “The BoC should cease and desist with talk of possible further rate cuts, which simply fuel the sense that rates are never going higher, and instead start warning that rates will someday rise.” That would be smart, we’ll have to see what tomorrow brings. So far, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz has left real estate to the experts, meaning, not him. Capital Economics Senior Canada Economist David Madani told BNN that the “Bank of Canada needs to pay more attention to the housing issue because it is a huge threat to the entire economy.” But Poloz, like his predecessor before him, prefers “moral suasion.” Madani thinks the Bank should be using “much stronger language.”

Oh, how we’ll fly, oh how we’ll tremble.

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“67% of the US economy is dependent upon Americans spending money they don’t have on shit they don’t need.”

Will Trump Accept Responsibility When This Shitshow Implodes? (Quinn)

Donald J. Trump has taken credit for making America’s economy great again. He’s been crowing about all the jobs being created, the soaring consumer confidence and record highs in the stock market. It’s all because the Donald has inspired Americans about our glorious future. But, a funny thing has been happening in the real world. The economy has gone into the shitter and GDP will be lucky to reach 1% in the first quarter of his presidency.

The bullshit consumer confidence surveys mean absolutely nothing. Feelings don’t mean shit.

What consumers do is what matters.

 

67% of the US economy is dependent upon Americans spending money they don’t have on shit they don’t need.

And they’ve dramatically reduced that spending. If consumers are so confident, why are a record number of major retailers going bankrupt and closing 3,500 stores in 2017? Mom and pop retailers have been shuttering for years.

If the narrative about a dramatically improving housing market was true, why would furniture store sales and building material store sales be falling?

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That’s a NO. Steve’s new book is out and available on Amazon. Valentin Schmid feels the need to insert his own opinion and veers way out of his depth by questioning Minsky’s instability theory.

Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? (ET)

Keen answers the $1 trillion dollar question with a resounding “no.” This is because too many countries rode a wave of private debt explosion during the last boom, and are now in the equivalent of economic purgatory. Keen identifies China as the biggest threat. “They face the junkie’s dilemma, a choice between going ‘Cold Turkey’ now, or continue to shoot up (on credit) and experience a bigger bust later. China is undoubtedly the biggest country facing the debt junkie’s dilemma now. But it doesn’t lack for company,” he writes. Other countries with a high level of private debt and a reliance on debt to fuel economic demand -Keen calls them “debt zombies”- are Australia, Belgium, Canada, South Korea, Norway, and Sweden.

In total, the influence of China and these smaller economies is simply too great for the world to avoid a financial crisis. According to Keen, the solution within this layer of economic theory is more government regulation of the banking system and government deficits to counter a fall in private demand – which is essentially the policy response to the 2008 financial crisis. More aggressive options are quantitative easing in the form of ‘helicopter money’, where the central bank monetizes government debt, and the government then writes a check to households to either pay down debt or spend it in case there isn’t any debt to pay down. There could also be a more official debt jubilee where debt is simply forgiven.

“On its own, a Modern Debt Jubilee would not be enough: all it would do is reset the clock to allow another speculative debt bubble to take off. Currently, private money creation is a by product of the activities of a casino (Keynes, 1936, p. 159), rather than what it primarily should be: the consequence of the funding of corporate investment and entrepreneurial activity,” writes Keen. The ultimate objective would be for the government to counter excessive private debt bonanzas. Being an agnostic thinker, Keen also entertains concepts of government issued money and cryptocurrencies, although he doesn’t think they can eventually replace the banking system, partly because of scale, partly because of political resistance. “As long as that model holds sway over politicians and the general public, sensible reforms will face an uphill battle—even without the resistance of the finance sector to the proposals, which of course will be enormous.”

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China strangles itself to save its economy.

China Finally Halts Outflows. Now What? (Balding)

Is China finally making headway in its battle against currency outflows? On the surface, yes: People’s Bank of China foreign exchange reserves are effectively unchanged since December at $3 trillion, and data for February released by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange showed a significant narrowing of net outflows of capital based on international bank settlements and sales. That’s a major accomplishment, given that yuan had been leaving the country at an average rate of almost $60 billion per month in the middle of last year. But how this turnaround was achieved raises some serious long-term questions for China. For one thing, it wasn’t driven by economic strength. Officially recorded payments and receipts are both down significantly across all categories.

Total foreign bank inflows are flat, while payments abroad were down by 15% through the first two months of the year. With total outflow payments from banks of $3.1 trillion in 2016, a 15% drop represents a large decline in absolute terms. In other words, balance wasn’t achieved by increasing exports or investment into China, but rather by preventing Chinese from buying from and investing in the rest of the world. Some of the government’s restrictions on currency-exchange transactions – such as cracking down on fake trade data and overpayments for imports – were justified and sensible. But others were more dubious and have led to significant distortions. Most banks, for instance, now can only pay for international transactions if they’ve balanced their books with a corresponding level of inflows.

Beijing-based banks are under particular pressure, required to bring in 100 yuan for every 80 they use to pay for overseas transactions. Unsurprisingly, given these regulations, official bank payments and receipts are now almost perfectly balanced. But accomplishing this has required major declines in foreign investment as well as triple-checking what used to be routine transactions of virtually any size. Foreign firms don’t have it much easier. Although China still officially permits foreign companies to move capital for standard operating transactions, such as dividend payments, more than a few firms have complained about not getting permission to do even that.

The risk is that foreign investment in China, which has declined, will fall even further if investors worry about not being able to bring profits back home. Similarly, stepped-up capital controls on Chinese looking to move cash abroad has increased the attractiveness of gray-market money changers in Hong Kong, who have little difficulty finding firms in China hoping to move large sums. Although their volumes have dropped somewhat, the money changers still do a thriving business selling U.S. dollars at a typical discount of 2% to 5% from the official rate.

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Where’s John McCain when you need him?

Russia Could Soon Take Over A Chunk Of US Oil Infrastructure (Vice)

Russia may soon take control of American oil and gasoline infrastructure in a deal U.S. lawmakers warn represents a threat to energy security. Rosneft, Russia’s state-controlled oil company, could end up with a majority stake in Texas-based Citgo after the entity that owns Citgo, Venezuela’s state-owned oil and natural gas company PDVSA, used almost half of Citgo’s shares as collateral for a loan from Rosneft. In the midst of Venezuela’s ongoing economic crisis, PDVSA is reportedly in danger of defaulting on that loan. That means Rosneft, a company specifically named in U.S. sanctions levied against Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea, is poised to become one of the biggest foreign owners of American oil refining capacity. Rosneft is headed by Igor Sechin, a powerful crony of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and is often seen as a proxy for the Kremlin’s energy policies.

PDVSA put up as collateral about 49.9% of Citgo shares in exchange for a $1.5 billion loan from Rosneft in December. It had used the other half of Citgo as collateral for a bond deal two months before that. Should PDVSA default on its Russian loan, the Russians could relatively easily end up with a majority stake in Citgo by acquiring more PDVSA bonds on the open market. While the exact details and time-frame of the Rosneft loan remain murky, PDVSA successfully made $2.2 billion in payments on notes that matured April 12, sending ripples of relief through financial markets. Still, the possibility of default has set off alarm bells in Congress, where Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate told Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin they see Russia’s potential acquisition of Citgo as a threat to the country.

“We are extremely concerned that Rosneft’s control of a major U.S. energy supplier could pose a grave threat to American energy security, impact the flow and price of gasoline for American consumers, and expose critical U.S. infrastructure to security threats,” six senators wrote in a letter to Mnuchin dated April 10. Those senators include Democrat Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas. [..] Citgo owns three large U.S. oil refineries in Louisiana, Illinois, and Texas with a combined capacity of almost 749,000 barrels a day, or a bit more than 4% of the total U.S. refining capacity of 18.6 million barrels a day. Citgo-branded fuel is available at more than 5,000 locally owned retail gas stations in 29 states. The company also controls pipeline networks and 48 oil product terminals.

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What Britain need is an election.

Britain Set To Lose EU ‘Crown Jewels’ Of Banking And Medicine Agencies (G.)

The EU is set to inflict a double humiliation on Theresa May, stripping Britain of its European agencies within weeks, while formally rejecting the prime minister’s calls for early trade talks. The Observer has learned that EU diplomats agreed their uncompromising position at a crunch meeting on Tuesday, held to set out the union’s strategy in the talks due to start next month. A beauty contest between member states who want the European banking and medicine agencies, currently located in London, will begin within two weeks, with selection criteria to be unveiled by the president of the European council, Donald Tusk. The European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency employ about 1,000 people, many of them British, and provide a hub for businesses in the UK.

It is understood that the EU’s chief negotiator hopes the agencies will know their new locations by June, although the process may take longer. Cities such as Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam and Paris are competing to take the agencies, which are regarded as among the EU’s crown jewels. Meanwhile, it has emerged that Britain failed to secure the backing of any of the 27 countries for its case that trade talks should start early in the two years of negotiations allowed by article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. The position will be announced at a Brussels summit on 29 April. Despite a recent whistlestop tour of EU capitals by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, diplomats concluded unanimously that the European commission was right to block any talks about a future comprehensive trade deal until the UK agrees to settle its divorce bill – which some estimate could be as high as €60bn – and comes to a settlement on the rights of EU citizens.

[..] The European commission said earlier this month that talks about a potential trade deal would occur only once “sufficient progress” had been made on Britain’s €60bn divorce bill and the position of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens on the continent. It is understood diplomats representing the EU27 did discuss a definition of “sufficient progress”, but ultimately left it to the leaders to decide. An EU source said it was hoped that “scoping” talks on a deal, and a transitional arrangement on access to the single market, could start in the autumn. The EU’s negotiating position detailed in the European council’s so-called draft guidelines will also be redrafted to include mention of the European parliament’s role, in a sign that MEPs are angling to play a greater part in shaping the talks. Tusk’s team will “fine-tune” the guidelines ahead of a final meeting of diplomats on 24 April, an EU source said. A one-day summit of leaders will take place on 29 April in Brussels to sign off on the document.

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Not to worry though. Australia already has a new bubble going to replace it.

The Dream Is Officially Over For Iron Ore (SMH)

Nev Power, the man who runs Andrew Forrest’s third force in iron ore, Fortescue, is something of an optimist. As the company’s share price was in freefall on Thursday he fronted up to media and investors putting a relatively positive spin on the outlook for prices of the commodity most pivotal to the health of the Australian economy. In previous periods Power has underestimated price falls and price gains and he now thinks it will settle at about $US60 ($79) to $US65 per tonne. Having ridden price rises in iron ore for more than a year, the big producers like Fortescue now need to reassure investors they are match fit to cope with the wild downward gyration in price. For the sake of the broader economy – and Fortescue shareholders – let’s hope he is right and we don’t reach the $US45 that the previous federal treasurer, Joe Hockey, predicted less than two years ago.

The trouble is that the myriad professional analysts and forecasters that follow this market have a significantly less rosy view of where the price will bottom out – more like $US50 a tonne. As prices have spiralled down over the past few weeks and the decline momentum has moved into full swing this week, the I-told-you-so cries have been louder than ever. As the price of iron ore irrationally moved up to more than US$94 in February – it was these bearish experts that were red faced. Today their predictions have been, at least in part, vindicated. It is now below $US70 and falling – a whopping 28% drop in a matter of weeks. To be fair the big producers including BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto have not been in denial about the iron ore price bubble – warning investors for more than a month that the recent prices have been something of a mirage.

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Is there anyone left in government who is not on the take?

Brazil’s Odebrecht Paid $3.3 Billion In Bribes Over A Decade (R.)

Odebrecht, the Brazilian engineering company at the center of a historic corruption scandal, paid out a total of about $3.3 billion in bribes in the nine years through 2014, according to testimony cited by local media on Saturday. Through a department specifically established to pay politicians and other recipients for public works contracts, Odebrecht paid as much as $730 million annually in both 2012 and 2013, the years when bribe payments peaked, according to a spreadsheet that a former executive reportedly gave investigators as part of a plea deal. The $3.3 billion figure, and related annual tallies as laid out in the spreadsheet, were reported on Saturday by the G1 news site of the Globo media group and the Estado de S. Paulo, a leading newspaper.

A trove of plea deal testimony unsealed this week by a Supreme Court justice is shedding light on the extent and manner in which Odebrecht, once Latin America’s most successful engineering firm, routinely paid officials in Brazil and other countries in exchange for winning contracts. The testimony was unsealed as the justice, Edson Fachin, authorized investigations of eight government ministers, 12 governors and dozens of federal lawmakers implicated in the scandal, uncovered three years ago because of a kickback investigation at the state-run oil company Petrobras. Odebrecht, whose former chief executive has been jailed since 2015 because of the probe, negotiated a far-reaching plea agreement with Brazilian investigators last year, leading to testimony by about 80 company executives and employees.

Along with an affiliate, Odebrecht also agreed last year to pay at least $3.5 billion to U.S. and Swiss investigators for international charges related to the scandal. Earlier on Saturday, Estado de S. Paulo also reported that Brazilian authorities were investigating if any of the foreign kickbacks the company has already admitted to violated Brazilian law. The company made those payments in countries including Mexico, Ecuador, Peru and Angola.

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A whole new form of cashless society…

Zimbabwe Cash Crisis: ‘Coins May Also Disappear’ (AllA)

Coins used to be for the piggy banks used by kids to save money given by their parents for break-time snacks at school. The adults normally kept a few of them when they got them from the grocery store as change. One normally didn’t have to keep lots of these because they broke pockets in the case of men, or made the handbag heavy for women. When the piggy bank became full, a way was always sought to turn the coins into “real cash” – crispy bank notes the parents would use to buy items of choice for the saving kids. Banks did not normally accept large amounts of coins, and these coins were often changed for notes in grocery shops or other retailers who had use for them for change.

In crisis-torn Zimbabwe, things have changed; coins are no longer for children’s piggy banks, they are now treasure items for adults who are failing to get cash from banks due to a worsening liquidity crunch in the economy. Banks are now dispensing large amounts of coins to depositors because they have run out of notes to honour their obligations to the banking public. At a bank in the capital last week, depositors waited in long queues to withdraw US$50 apiece in coins. “I’m at least relieved,” one depositor said, holding a plastic full of coins after a long wait in a bank queue. Bank notes have become a scarce commodity and coins have taken their place as a medium of exchange in the country. The $0,25 and $0,50 bond coins, which were introduced to ease a change problem that had been brought by use of hard currencies in 2009, have become choice monetary instruments in a liquidity-challenged economy.

[..] Economist, Christopher Mugaga, who is also the chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce, said the situation in the country was increasingly getting desperate. He warned that even the coins could soon become scarce on the market. He blamed the crisis on an erosion of confidence in the banking sector, which has resulted in people avoiding depositing their money with banks because of failure to withdraw it on demand. “When the bond notes were introduced, pressure was on the notes. People are also not banking hence for a every dollar, only $0,05 goes back into the banking system. So when you go back to the bank, you will not find the notes,” Mugaga said. “If the problem persists, coins may also disappear,” he warned.

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A very convenient blunder.

Marine Le Pen Faces Wipe Out In French Election After Computer Blunder (E.)

A monumental computer blunder could cost Marine Le Pen the French general election as 500,000 citizens living outside of France have the chance to vote twice. Half a million people received duplicate polling cards in the post, which would allow them to cast two votes at the first round of the election, held on April 23. French authorities confirmed they would not be investigating the potential electoral fraud until AFTER the election, when retrospective prosecution may take place. This could crush Ms Le Pen’s dreams of surging to power, as most French nationals living outside of their country are not right wing – demonstrated by the fact many feel they depend on the EU to guarantee their stay in foreign countries.

Voting twice is a crime, but police will only find out if they run a check on the individual through their computer systems. The punishment can be up to two years in prison and a fine of about £13,500. France’s Interior Ministry has said it will not be invalidating the election because of the duplicate voting glitch, but with Bloomberg’s latest poll currently showing Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen polling at 22.8%, and far left Mr Melenchon at 18.3%, it is possible an extra 500,000 votes either way could swing the balance of power.

Read more …

The New York Times is way late and doesn’t even care to ask where all the money went.

The Refugee King of Greece (NYT)

According to aid experts, more has been spent on the humanitarian response in Greece than on any refugee crisis in history. “Every year, Greece hosts 25 million tourists,” a frustrated aid worker told me, “and to date we have been given 800 million euros in funding for this crisis — but we can’t find proper accommodation for 50,000 people?” The crisis is, instead, the result of deliberate political choices. According to Louise Roland-Gosselin, the advocacy manager of Doctors Without Borders, “Europe has said: ‘We have had enough of this. It’s no longer our problem.’ There are too many elections in too many countries. Politicians are pandering to the right and saving their skins at the price of the refugees.”

As part of the deal with Turkey, the European Union agreed to relocate the refugees who were already stuck in Greece. But only 10% have been settled elsewhere, and member states are trying to weasel out of taking more. A family reunification program is supposed to be more effective, but the number of people being resettled under that program is shrinking, too. [..] The family, like thousands of others, arrived traumatized by war. Now they are being traumatized again, this time by European politics. Europe is doing this on purpose. It wants to dissuade other refugees from making the journey. But desperate people will keep coming, and will simply take greater risks than ever before. [..] By refusing to resettle refugees, Europe is whittling away at its commitment to human rights.

But Europe promised to protect those rights in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in other treaties, charters and national laws. “These states are undermining their obligations — and these are the same states that created the human rights laws and ratified conventions,” says Sari Nissi, who heads up the International Committee of the Red Cross mission in Greece.

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The EU has lost its legitimacy. “Efforts by the European Union and its border agency FRONTEX to prevent loss of life at sea [..] have only resulted in more people drowning..”

EU ‘Leaving Migrants To Drown’ Say Rescuers (Ind.)

More than 2,000 migrants trying to reach Europe were rescued from the Mediterranean on Friday, while at least one person was found dead, the Italian coastguard confirmed. A spokesperson for the service said 19 rescue operations by coastguards or non-governmental organisations had saved a total of 2,074 migrants on 16 rubber dinghies and three small wooden boats. The coastguard also confirmed that one person had died when the boats sank, but gave no details. The rescues come just days after a boat sank off the coast of Libya on Thursday. Ninety-seven refugees are missing, presumed drowned. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), nearly 32,000 migrants have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. More than 650 have died or are missing.

The number of migrants increased to a high of 5,079 for 2016, according the the IOM – despite a huge decline in numbers of migrant arrivals since 2014. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), a medical charity which has carried out hundreds of rescue operations in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the migrant crisis, has criticised Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard agency, who operate official EU patrols on migration routes. MSF said in a series of tweets that NGOs were being forced to fill gaps in service provision left by the EU coastguard. “Frontex Director says it’s a paradox that a third of rescues are done by NGOs. We agree. Where are Frontex boats in a day like this?” MSF tweeted. “Many more people could have died in a day like this if we arrived a few hours later. We are where we’re needed, what’s the EU doing meanwhile?”

Friday’s rescue operations were performed entirely by NGOs. Mary Jo Frawley, a nurse who was involved in MSF’s patrols this week, said: “Efforts by the European Union and its border agency FRONTEX to prevent loss of life at sea through strengthened border control, increasing militarisation and a focus on disrupting smuggling networks has only resulted in more people drowning not fewer and has had little impact on the flows of arrivals. “This, combined with the lack of adequate EU search and rescue operations has meant that MSF and other humanitarian organisations have – in an unprecedented move – been forced to step in to avoid further loss of life.

Read more …

Mar 122017
 
 March 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC Newsstand with Out-of-Town Papers, Washington DC 1925

 

Individual Investors Wade In as Stocks Soar (WSJ)
Stock Market Valuations Are Totally Unprecedented (Felder)
US Subprime Auto Loan Losses At Highest Level Since Financial Crisis (BBG)
US Government Revenues Suffer Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis (ZH)
Trump Fires US Attorney Preet Bharara After He Refuses To Quit (ZH)
A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Boomers Betrayed America (MW)
Netherlands Bars Turkish Ministers As Rally Dispute Escalates (R.)
Flynn Attended Intel Briefings While Taking Money To Lobby for Turkey (NBC)
Turkish Diaspora In Germany Divided On Powers For Erdogan (G.)
Greek Activists Target Sales Of Homes Seized Over Bad Debts (G.)

 

 

Mom and pop get squeezed again.

Individual Investors Wade In as Stocks Soar (WSJ)

The stock-market rally presents a difficult choice for some individual investors: Miss out or risk getting in at the top. The scars of the financial crisis have left many wary, even as the second-longest bull run in S&P 500 history has added more than $14 trillion in value to the index since it bottomed in March 2009, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices. Yet there are signs that caution is dissipating. Investors have poured money into stocks through mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in 2017, with global equity funds posting record net inflows in the week ended March 1 based on data going back to 2000, according to fund tracker EPFR Global. Inflows continued the following week, even as the rally slowed. The S&P 500 shed 0.4% in the week ended Friday.

The investors’ positioning suggests burgeoning optimism, with TD Ameritrade clients increasing their net exposure to stocks in February, buying bank shares and popular stocks such as Amazon.com and sending the retail brokerage’s Investor Movement Index to a fresh high in data going back to 2010. The index tracks investors’ exposure to stocks and bonds to gauge their sentiment. “People went toe in the water, knee in the water and now many are probably above the waist for the first time,” said JJ Kinahan at TD Ameritrade. That brings individual investors increasingly in line with Wall Street professionals. A February survey of fund managers by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found optimism about the global economy improving while investors were holding above-average levels of cash, leaving room for them to drive stocks still higher.

Bullishness among Wall Street newsletter writers reached 63.1%—the highest level since 1987—a week ago in a survey by Investors Intelligence, before falling to 57.7% this past week. Overall investor sentiment is strong right now for the U.S. stock market, said Ann Gugle, principal at Alpha Financial Advisors. She pointed to a typical growth-and-income portfolio with 70% in stocks and 30% in bonds and alternatives. The 70% allocation to stocks, she said, would ordinarily be evenly split between U.S. and international stocks, but for the past three years it has shifted about 40% to U.S. stocks and 30% international.

Read more …

“The Most Broadly Overvalued Moment in Market History”.

Stock Market Valuations Are Totally Unprecedented (Felder)

Last week I updated the Warren Buffett yardstick, market cap-to-GNP. The only time it was ever higher than it is today was for a few months at the top of the dotcom mania.

However, when you look under the surface of the market-cap-weighted indexes at median valuations they are currently far more extreme than they were back then. As my friend John Hussman puts it, this is now “the most broadly overvalued moment in market history.”

Another way to look at stock prices is in relation to monetary velocity and here, too, we see something totally unprecedented.

Read more …

Time for public transport investments, Donald.

US Subprime Auto Loan Losses At Highest Level Since The Financial Crisis (BBG)

U.S. subprime auto lenders are losing money on car loans at the highest rate since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis as more borrowers fall behind on payments, according to S&P Global Ratings. Losses for the loans, annualized, were 9.1% in January from 8.5% in December and 7.9% in the first month of last year, S&P data released on Thursday show, based on car loans bundled into bonds. The rate is the worst since January 2010 and is largely driven by worsening recoveries after borrowers default, S&P said. Those losses are rising in part because when lenders repossess cars from defaulted borrowers and sell them, they are getting back less money. A flood of used cars has hit the market after manufacturers offered generous lease terms.

Recoveries on subprime loans fell to 34.8% in January, the worst since early 2010, S&P data show. With losses increasing, investors in bonds backed by car loans are demanding higher returns, as reflected by yields, on their securities. That increases borrowing costs for finance companies, with those that depend on asset-backed securities the most getting hit hardest. American Credit Acceptance, one of nearly two dozen subprime lenders to securitize their loans in recent years, had one of the highest cost of funds last year with yields on its securitizations as high as 4.6%, even as the two-year swap rate benchmark hovered around 1%, according to a report from Wells Fargo. The company relies heavily on asset-backed securities for funding.

Read more …

2nd article in a row that ends with “Since The Financial Crisis”.

US Government Revenues Suffer Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis (ZH)

[..] something more concerning emerges when looking at the annual change in the rolling 12 month total. It is here that we find that, like last month, in the LTM period ended Feb 28, total federal revenues, tracked as government receipts on the Treasury’s statement, were $3.275 trillion. This amount was 1.1% lower than the $3.31 trillion reported one year ago, and is the third consecutive month of annual receipt declines. This was the biggest drop since the summer of 2008. At the same time, government spending rose 3.8%. Why is this important? Because as the chart below shows, every time since at least 1970 when government receipts have turned negative on an annual basis, the US was on the cusp of, or already in, a recession. Indicatively, the last time government receipts turned negative was in July of 2008.

One potential mitigating factor this time is that much of the collapse in receipts is due to a double digit % plunge in corporate income tax, which begs the question what are real corporate earnings? While we hear that EPS are rising, at least for IRS purposes, corporate America is in a recession. How about that far more important indicator of overall US economic health, and biggest contributor to government revenue, individual income taxes? As of February, the YTD number was $611bn fractionally higher than the same period a year ago, and declining. Finally should Trump proceed to cut tax rates without offsetting sources of government revenue, a recession – at least based on this indicator – is assured.

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Why did he refuse?

Trump Fires US Attorney Preet Bharara After He Refuses To Quit (ZH)

The speculation over whether Trump would or would not fire the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, who earlier reportedly said he would not resign on his own, came to a close a 2:29pm ET when Preet Bharara, tweeting from his private Twitter account, announced he had been fired. “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life.” Bharara’s dismissal ended an “extraordinary” showdown in which a political appointee who was named by Mr. Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, declined an order to submit a resignation. “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired. Being the US Attorney in SDNY will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life,” Mr. Bharara wrote on his personal Twitter feed, which he set up in the last two weeks.

Bharara was among 46 holdover Obama appointees who were called by the acting deputy attorney general on Friday and told to immediately submit resignations and plan to clear out of their offices. But Bharara, who was called to Trump Tower for a meeting with the incoming president in late November 2016, declined to do so. As reported previously, Bharara said he was asked by Trump to remain in his current post at the meeting. Bharara met with Trump at Trump Tower, and then addressed reporters afterward. Before the firing, one of New York’s top elected Republicans voiced support for Bharara on Saturday.

The Southern District of New York, which Bharara has overseen since 2009, encompasses Manhattan, Trump’s home before he was elected president, as well as the Bronx, Westchester, and other counties north of New York City. Last weekend, Trump accused Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in Manhattan, an allegation which various Congressmen have said they will launch a probe into. And now the speculation will begin in earnest why just three months after Bharara, who at the time was conducting a corruption investigation into NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio as well as into aides of NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo, told the press that Trump had asked him to “stay on” he is being fired and whether this may indicate that the NYSD has perhaps opened a probe into Trump himself as some have speculated.

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Don’t look at me, I didn’t write the book.

A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Boomers Betrayed America (MW)

Millennials have a reputation for being entitled, self-absorbed and lazy, but a new book argues that their parents are actually a bigger danger to society. In “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Boomers Betrayed America,” Bruce Cannon Gibney traces many of our nation’s most pressing issues, including climate change and the rising cost of education, back to baby boomers’ idiosyncrasies and enormous political power. Raised in an era of seemingly unending economic prosperity with relatively permissive parents, and the first generation to grow up with a television, baby boomers developed an appetite for consumption and a lack of empathy for future generations that has resulted in unfortunate policy decisions, argues Gibney, who is in his early 40s. (That makes him Generation X.) “These things conditioned the boomers into some pretty unhelpful behaviors and the behaviors as a whole seem sociopathic,” he said.

The book comes as Americans of all ages are sorting through a new political reality, which Gibney argues that boomers delivered to us through years of grooming candidates to focus on their political priorities such as, preferential tax treatment and entitlement programs, and then voting for them in overwhelming numbers. Though these circumstances are new, making the argument that a generation – particularly boomers – are to blame for society’s ills is part of a storied tradition, said Jennifer Deal, the senior research scientist at the Center for Creative Leadership. “There are a lot of people who like to blame the baby boomers for stuff and this has been going on for as far as I can tell since the late 60s,” Deal said. Indeed, a 1969 article in Fortune magazine warned that the group of then-20-somethings taking over the workplace were prone to job-hopping and having their egos bruised.

If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is. There’s no shortage of articles describing millennials similarly. Both are indicative of a natural human tendency to want to explain the world and other people through the lens of group mentalities, said Deal. “Everybody can think of someone older or someone younger who has done something annoying,” she said. “Everybody likes a good scapegoat.” Still, Gibney, a venture capitalist, argues there is something inherently different about the boomers from the generations that preceded them and those that followed: a sense of entitlement that comes from growing up in a time of economic prosperity.

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Rotterdam was absolutely flattened by Nazi bombers.

Netherlands Bars Turkish Ministers As Rally Dispute Escalates (R.)

Turkey told the Netherlands on Sunday that it would retaliate in the “harshest ways” after Turkish ministers were barred from speaking in Rotterdam in a row over Ankara’s political campaigning among Turkish emigres. President Tayyip Erdogan had branded its fellow NATO member a “Nazi remnant” and the dispute escalated into a diplomatic incident on Saturday evening, when Turkey’s family minister was prevented by police from entering the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam. Hundreds of protesters waving Turkish flags gathered outside, demanding to see the minister. Dutch police used dogs and water cannon early on Sunday to disperse the crowd, which threw bottles and stones. Several demonstrators were beaten by police with batons, a Reuters witness said. They carried out charges on horseback, while officers advanced on foot with shields and armored vans.

Less than a day after Dutch authorities prevented Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu from flying to Rotterdam, Turkey’s family minister, Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, said on Twitter she was being escorted back to Germany. “The world must take a stance in the name of democracy against this fascist act! This behavior against a female minister can never be accepted,” she said. The Rotterdam mayor confirmed she was being escorted by police to the German border. Kaya later boarded a private plane from the German town of Cologne to return to Istanbul, mass-circulating newspaper Hurriyet said on Sunday. The Dutch government, which stands to lose heavily to the anti-Islam party of Geert Wilders in elections next week, said it considered the visits undesirable and “the Netherlands could not cooperate in the public political campaigning of Turkish ministers in the Netherlands.”

The government said it saw the potential to import divisions into its own Turkish minority, which has both pro- and anti-Erdogan camps. Dutch politicians across the spectrum said they supported Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s decision to ban the visits. In a statement issued early on Sunday, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Turkey had told Dutch authorities it would retaliate in the “harshest ways” and “respond in kind to this unacceptable behavior”. Turkey’s foreign ministry said it did not want the Dutch ambassador to Ankara to return from leave “for some time”. Turkish authorities sealed off the Dutch embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul in apparent retaliation and hundreds gathered there for protests at the Dutch action.

Read more …

The curious story of Mr. Flynn.

Flynn Attended Intel Briefings While Taking Money To Lobby for Turkey (NBC)

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was attending secret intelligence briefings with then-candidate Donald Trump while he was being paid more than half a million dollars to lobby on behalf of the Turkish government, federal records show. Flynn stopped lobbying after he became national security advisor, but he then played a role in formulating policy toward Turkey, working for a president who has promised to curb the role of lobbyists in Washington. White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Friday defended the Trump administration’s handling of the matter, even as he acknowledged to reporters that the White House was aware of the potential that Flynn might need to register as a foreign agent.

When his firm was hired by a Turkish businessman last year, Flynn did not register as a foreign lobbyist, and only did so a few days ago under pressure from the Justice Department, the businessman told The Associated Press this week. [..] Flynn was fired last month after it was determined he misled Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. His security clearance was suspended. When NBC News spoke to Alptekin in November, he said he had no affiliation with the Turkish government and that his hiring of Flynn’s company, the Flynn Intel Group, had nothing to do with the Turkish government. But documents filed this week by Flynn with the Department of Justice paint a different picture. The documents say Alptekin “introduced officials of the Republic of Turkey to Flynn Intel Group officials at a meeting on September 19, 2016, in New York.”

In the documents, the Flynn Intel Group asserts that it changed its filings to register as a foreign lobbyist “to eliminate any potential doubt.” “Although the Flynn Intel Group was engaged by a private firm, Inovo BV, and not by a foreign government, because of the subject matter of the engagement, Flynn Intel Group’s work for Inovo could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey,” the filing said. The firm was paid a total of $530,000 as part of a $600,000 contract that ended the day after the election, when Flynn stepped away from his private work, the documents say. During the summer and fall, Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was sitting in on classified intelligence briefings given to Trump.

Read more …

Funniest movie review in a while.

Turkish Diaspora In Germany Divided On Powers For Erdogan (G.)

Only 38 people turned up at screen 7 of Berlin s Alhambra cinema on Thursday night to watch a powerful Turkish president make a pitch for why he deserves even more power. But those who came were impressed. Reis (the Turkish word for chief), a biopic in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan is played by soap opera star Reha Beyoglu, premiered in Istanbul last month. It is now touring cinemas among Europe s Turkish diaspora communities in the run-up to the constitutional referendum on 16 April, a vote that could boost Erdogan’s powers and allow him to remain president until 2029. The film shows the co-founder of Turkey s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) growing up in Istanbul’s working class Kasimpasa neighbourhood to become a man of prodigal talent and saintly self-denial, scoring the last-minute winner in a five-a-side football match with an overhead kick and getting up in the middle of the night to rescue a puppy that has fallen down a well.

His supporters are willing to use blunter means to defend their chief against Turkey s cosmopolitan elite. In the film s final scene, showing one of Erdogan’s guards punching an assailant in the face, the Berlin audience watching the film with German subtitles broke into spontaneous applause. The dialogue was widely understood to be a reference to last July s averted coup: Who are you? asks the assailant. The people, the guard replies. Smoking cigarettes on the pavement outside the cinema, a group of four Turkish-Germans in their late teens said Reis had only affirmed their decision to vote yes in the referendum. A strong Erdogan is good for a strong Turkey, said Ahmet, 19.

Tensions between the German and Turkish governments, triggered by the arrest of Die Welt s correspondent Deniz Yucel and culminating in Erdogan accusing Germany of Nazi practices over banned rallies in German cities, had merely strengthened his allegiance, said 20-year-old Mehmet. To be honest, when America, Germany and France tell me to vote no in the referendum, then I am going to vote yes. Both said no German party represented their interests: We are just foreigners to them. The heightened fervour of support for Erdogan even among younger members of Germany s population with Turkish roots, a community of about 3 million, of which roughly half are entitled to vote in April has scandalised the country’s public and media.

German politicians allege that the AKP is trying to influence the diaspora vote not just through public rallies but by covertly pressurising and threatening its opponents in Germany via religious and business networks. In January, Turkish-German footballer Hakan Calhanoglu was publicly criticised by his club Bayer Leverkusen for posting a video on social media in which he declared his allegiance with the evet (yes) camp. You are part of our country, Angela Merkel, the chancellor, appealed to the Turkish-speaking community on Thursday. We want to do everything to make sure that domestic Turkish conflicts aren’t brought into our coexistence. This is a matter of the heart for us.

Read more …

“They will have to evict people from their homes and that won’t be easy. The people will react in unforeseeable ways.”

Greek Activists Target Sales Of Homes Seized Over Bad Debts (G.)

The cavernous halls of Athens’ central civil court are usually silent and sombre. But every Wednesday, between 4pm and 5pm, they are anything but. For it is then that activists converge on the building, bent on stopping the auctions of properties seized by banks to settle bad debts. They do this with rowdy conviction, chanting “not a single home in the hands of a banker,” unfurling banners deploring “vulture crows”, and often physically preventing notaries and other court officials from sitting at the judge’s presiding bench. “Poor people can’t afford lawyers, rich people can,” says Ilias Papadopoulos, a 33-year-old tax accountant who feels so strongly that he has been turning up at the court to orchestrate the protests with his eye surgeon brother, Leonidas, for the past three years.

“We are here to protect the little man who has been hit by unemployment, hit by poverty and cannot keep up with mortgage payments. Banks have already been recapitalised. Now they want to suck the blood of the people.” The tall, bearded brothers were founding members of Den Plirono, an activist group that emerged in the early years of Greece’s economic crisis in opposition over road tolls. The organisation, which sees itself as a people’s movement, then moved into the power business – restoring the disconnected electricity supplies of more than 5,000 Greeks who could not afford to pay their bills. Auctions are their latest cause. “Solidarity is the only answer,” Papadopoulos insists. “Rich people have political influence. They can negotiate their loans and are never in danger of actually losing the roof over their heads.”

The protests have been highly effective. In law courts across Greece, similar scenes have ensured that auctions have been thwarted. Activists estimate that only a fraction of auctions of 800 homes and small business enterprises due to go under the hammer since January have actually taken place. Under pressure to strengthen the country’s fragile banking system, Athens’ leftist-led government has agreed to move ahead with around 25,000 auctions this year and next. In recent weeks they have more than doubled, testimony, activists say, to the relaxation of laws protecting defaulters. “There is not a Greek who does not owe to the banks, social security funds or tax office,” says Evangelia Haralambus, a lawyer representing several debtors.

“Do you know what it is like to wake up every morning knowing that you can’t make ends meet, that you might lose your home? It makes you sick.” [..] “We see our country as a country under occupation. It is inadmissible what has happened to Greece,” she splutters. “These vulture crows, homing in on the properties of the poor, are all part of the larger plan to control us.” [..] Fears are mounting that if the banks fail to recover losses, a Cypriot-style bail-in could follow and the government has announced that it will pushed ahead with electronic auctions. But the prospect of mass auctions at a click of a button has only incensed critics further. “It will create huge tensions and destabilise Greek society,” said Papadopoulos, claiming that laws protecting the poor had been increasingly whittled down. “They will have to evict people from their homes and that won’t be easy. The people will react in unforeseeable ways.”

Read more …

Sep 272016
 
 September 27, 2016  Posted by at 8:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Arnold Genthe “Chinatown, San Francisco. The street of the gamblers at night” 1900

Why I Switched My Endorsement from Clinton to Trump (Scott Adams)
When America Was Great, Taxes Were High, Unions Strong, and Government Big (A.)
Global Debt Reaches Fresh High As Companies And Countries Keep Borrowing (Tel.)
When Small Is Evil (DQ)
Structural Growth and Dope Dealers on Speed-Dial (Hussman)
Treasury Market’s Biggest Buyers Are Selling as Never Before (BBG)
Deutsche Bank Crisis Could Take Angela Merkel Down – And The Euro (Tel.)
China’s Runaway Housing Market Poses Latest Challenge for Yuan (BBG)
Sydney Home Prices Need To Drop 25% To Help First Time Buyers (Abc)
Don’t Blame “Baby Boomers” For Not Retiring – They Can’t Afford To (Roberts)
Saudi Lobbyists Plot New Push Against 9/11 Bill As Veto Override Looms (Pol.)
Over 90% Of World Breathing Bad Air-WHO (AFP)
Canadians Are Embracing Syrian Refugees. Why Can’t We? (G.)

 

 

The most interesting and thought-provoking thing I’ve read about the election amidst a river of blubber.

Why I Switched My Endorsement from Clinton to Trump (Scott Adams)

5. Pacing and Leading: Trump always takes the extreme position on matters of safety and security for the country, even if those positions are unconstitutional, impractical, evil, or something that the military would refuse to do. Normal people see this as a dangerous situation. Trained persuaders like me see this as something called pacing and leading. Trump “paces” the public – meaning he matches them in their emotional state, and then some. He does that with his extreme responses on immigration, fighting ISIS, stop-and-frisk, etc. Once Trump has established himself as the biggest bad-ass on the topic, he is free to “lead,” which we see him do by softening his deportation stand, limiting his stop-and-frisk comment to Chicago, reversing his first answer on penalties for abortion, and so on.

If you are not trained in persuasion, Trump looks scary. If you understand pacing and leading, you might see him as the safest candidate who has ever gotten this close to the presidency. That’s how I see him. So when Clinton supporters ask me how I could support a “fascist,” the answer is that he isn’t one. Clinton’s team, with the help of Godzilla, have effectively persuaded the public to see Trump as scary. The persuasion works because Trump’s “pacing” system is not obvious to the public. They see his “first offers” as evidence of evil. They are not. They are technique. And being chummy with Putin is more likely to keep us safe, whether you find that distasteful or not. Clinton wants to insult Putin into doing what we want. That approach seems dangerous as hell to me.

6. Persuasion: Economies are driven by psychology. If you expect things to go well tomorrow, you invest today, which causes things to go well tomorrow, as long as others are doing the same. The best kind of president for managing the psychology of citizens – and therefore the economy – is a trained persuader. You can call that persuader a con man, a snake oil salesman, a carnival barker, or full of shit. It’s all persuasion. And Trump simply does it better than I have ever seen anyone do it. The battle with ISIS is also a persuasion problem. The entire purpose of military action against ISIS is to persuade them to stop, not to kill every single one of them. We need military-grade persuasion to get at the root of the problem. Trump understands persuasion, so he is likely to put more emphasis in that area.

Most of the job of president is persuasion. Presidents don’t need to understand policy minutia. They need to listen to experts and then help sell the best expert solutions to the public. Trump sells better than anyone you have ever seen, even if you haven’t personally bought into him yet. You can’t deny his persuasion talents that have gotten him this far. In summary, I don’t understand the policy details and implications of most of either Trump’s or Clinton’s proposed ideas. Neither do you. But I do understand persuasion. I also understand when the government is planning to confiscate the majority of my assets. And I can also distinguish between a deeply unhealthy person and a healthy person, even though I have no medical training. (So can you.)

Read more …

The Dream ended decades ago, it’s just a matter of picking which decade.

When America Was Great, Taxes Were High, Unions Strong, and Government Big (A.)

There is plenty about GOP hopeful Donald Trump to which potential primary voters respond. He’s successful. He’s plainspoken. At a time when politicians are historically unpopular, he’s not a politician. And he has a great slogan. That slogan resonates with his supporters, according to Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who ran a recent focus group, the results of which were written about in Time. “I used to sleep on my front porch with the door wide open, and now everyone has deadbolts,” one man told Luntz. “I believe the best days of the country are behind us.” Luntz concluded that people see Trump as a “real-deal fixer-upper,” able to make repairs that others have bungled. “We know his goal is to make America great again,” one woman astutely observed. “It’s on his hat.”

It could be on your hat too—Trump has begun selling “Make America Great Again” merchandise—if you can find one, that is. They have a tendency to sell out. As Russell Berman pointed out in The Atlantic earlier this month, many white Americans these days are pessimistic to the point of despair: “White Americans—and in particular those under 30 or nearing retirement age—have all but given up on the American Dream. More than four out of five younger whites, and more than four out of five respondents between the ages of 51 and 64 said The Dream is suffering.” No wonder Trump’s message is so powerful—it’s a sugar pill coated with nostalgia. He is not promising to make America great, he’s promising to make it great again. But to what era does he intend to take the nation back?

And what would that look like, practically speaking? The boundaries of America’s “golden age” are clear on one end and fuzzy on the other. Everyone agrees that the midcentury boom times began after Allied soldiers returned in triumph from World War II. But when did they wane? The economist Joe Stiglitz, in an article in Politico Magazine titled “The Myth Of The American Golden Age,” sets the endpoint at 1980, a year until which “the fortunes of the wealthy and the middle class rose together.” Others put the cut-off earlier, at the economic collapse of 1971 and the ensuring malaise. Regardless of when it ended, it would not be unfair to use the ’50s as shorthand for this now glamorized period of plenty, peace, and the kind of optimism only plenty and peace can produce.

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Ever more debt is the only way to keep the facade upright enough that people believe in it.

Global Debt Reaches Fresh High As Companies And Countries Keep Borrowing (Tel.)

Global debt issuance is on course to hit a record high in 2016 as figures showed sales this year topped $5 trillion (£3.9 trillion) at the end of September. Debt issuance rose to $5.02 trillion in the nine months to September 22, according to Dealogic, putting 2016 on course to beat the all-time high of $6.6 trillion recorded in 2006. Record low interest rates have encouraged countries and companies to issue debt as central banks around the world try to stimulate growth. The data also showed corporate issuance of investment-grade debt reached a record high of $1.54 trillion since the start of the year, up from $1.41 trillion in the same period a year earlier. Dealogic’s figures also highlighted the impact of the Brexit vote.

Sterling-denominated investment grade debt rose to $21.3bn in the first nine months of the year, up slightly from $20.9bn raised in the same period of 2015. Volumes in July fell to their lowest since 2000 as the referendum result slowed issuance, with just $564m issued, according to Dealogic. However, issuance is expected to pick up later this year following the Bank of England’s decision to buy £10bn of corporate debt as part of its revamped bond-buying programme. Sterling issuance in August jumped to six times the average following the Bank’s announcement. Green bonds – which raise money for environmentally friendly projects and often carry tax exemptions – are also rising in popularity.

Activity surpassed full-year 2015 levels in September as volumes reached a record high, worth $48.2bn. Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, has spoken out in favour of green finance, describing it as a “major opportunity” for investors. In a speech last week, he said long-term financing of green projects in emerging markets could help to promote financial stability. “By ensuring that capital flows finance long-term projects in countries where growth is most carbon intensive, financial stability can be promoted,” he said. More than $13 trillion of global sovereign and corporate debt trades at negative yields, highlighting the influence of central banks.

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Draghi’s comments on small banks remind me of Ken Rogoff’s war on cash.

When Small Is Evil (DQ)

There are plenty of reasons to be worried about the state of Europe these days, but if one had to choose one thing above all others, it would be the gaping disconnect between reality and senior European policy makers’ willful misperception of reality. A perfect case in point was a speech given in Frankfurt by ECB president Mario Draghi. He was addressing a conference of the European Systemic Risk Board (ERSB), an organization created in 2010 by the European Commission to warn about and mitigate systemic financial risks in Europe. During his address Draghi discussed what he saw as the biggest threats to Europe’s financial system.

Just as you’d expect from any senior central banker worth his or her salt, he did not point to the most obvious risk: the zombifying banks at the very top of the financial food chain — the same banks that coincidentally constitute the ECB’s number-one constituency and whose balance sheets are still filled to the rafters with toxic assets dating back to even before the last major crisis, in 2008. By now, virtually all of these banks are fully dependent on the never-ending and ever-growing welfare assistance provided by the ECB. Nor did Draghi mention the excessive complexity and interconnectedness of the banking system, routinely fingered as potential causes of the next global financial crisis.

Nor for that matter did he mention the destructive side effects of the ECB’s negative interest rate policy (NIRP), which – besides sacrificing millions of savers and retirees via their pension funds on the altar of rampant debt creation and completely undermining the crucial micro-economic role played by capital formation – is making it difficult for Europe’s largest banks to turn a meaningful profit. No, for Draghi, the biggest financial problem in Europe these days is that it is over-banked. “Over-capacity in some national banking sectors, and the ensuing intensity of competition, exacerbates this squeeze on margins,” he said. Put simply, there’s just too much competition from the thousands of smaller banks that are crowding out the profits for the big banks.

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“The weakness in real GDP growth is of greatest concern, because it’s largely the consequence of policies that encourage repeated cycles of bubbles and collapses..”

Structural Growth and Dope Dealers on Speed-Dial (Hussman)

In recent years, the U.S. equity market has scaled the third steepest cliff in history, eclipsed only by the 1929 and 2000 peaks, as investors rest their full confidence and weight on the protrusions of a structurally deteriorating economy, imagining that they are instead the footholds of a robust investment environment. The first of these is the current environment of low interest rates. While investors take this as quite a positive factor, it’s largely a reflection of a steep downturn in U.S. structural economic growth, magnified by reckless monetary policy. Over the past decade, the average annual nominal growth rate of GDP has dropped to just 2.9%, while real GDP growth has plunged to just 1.3%; both the lowest growth rates in history, outside of the Depression (see the chart below).

Indeed, probably the most interesting piece of information from last week’s FOMC meeting was that the Federal Reserve downgraded its estimate for the central tendency of long-run GDP growth to less than 2% annually. The weakness in real GDP growth is of greatest concern, because it’s largely the consequence of policies that encourage repeated cycles of bubbles and collapses, and chase debt-financed consumption instead of encouraging productive real investment. Indeed, growth in real U.S. gross domestic investment has collapsed since 2000 to just one-fifth of the rate it enjoyed in the preceding half-century, and has averaged zero growth over the past decade. While labor force growth has slowed, it’s really the self-inflicted collapse of U.S. productivity growth, enabled by misguided policy, that’s at the root of the problem.

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This is some investing tactic anymore. It’s about parties needing cash.

Treasury Market’s Biggest Buyers Are Selling as Never Before (BBG)

They’ve long been one of the most reliable sources of demand for U.S. government debt. But these days, foreign central banks have become yet another worry for investors in the world’s most important bond market. Holders like China and Japan have culled their stakes in Treasuries for three consecutive quarters, the most sustained pullback on record, based on the Federal Reserve’s official custodial holdings. The decline has accelerated in the past three months, coinciding with the recent backup in U.S. bond yields. For Jim Leaviss at M&G Investments in London, that’s cause for concern. A continued retreat could lead to painful losses in a market that some say is already too expensive.

But perhaps more important are the consequences for America’s finances. With the U.S. facing deficits that are poised to swell the public debt burden by $10 trillion over the next decade, foreign demand will be crucial in keeping a lid on borrowing costs, especially as the Fed continues to suggest higher interest rates are on the horizon. The selling pressure from central banks is “something you have to bear in mind,” said Leaviss, whose firm oversees about $374 billion. “This, as well as the Fed, all means we are nearer to the end of the low-yield environment.” Overseas creditors have played a key role in financing America’s debt as the U.S. borrowed heavily in the aftermath of the financial crisis to revive the economy.

Since 2008, foreigners have more than doubled their investments in Treasuries and now own about $6.25 trillion. Central banks have led the way. China, the biggest foreign holder of Treasuries, funneled hundreds of billions of dollars back into the U.S. as its export-based economy boomed. Now, that’s all starting to change. The amount of U.S. government debt held in custody at the Fed has decreased by $78 billion this quarter, following a decline of almost $100 billion over the first six months of the year. The drop is the biggest on a year-to-date basis since at least 2002 and quadruple the amount of any full year on record, Fed data show.

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“No one really knows where the losses would end up, or what the knock-on impact would be. It would almost certainly land a fatal blow to the Italian banking system, and the French and Spanish banks would be next.”

Deutsche Bank Crisis Could Take Angela Merkel Down – And The Euro (Tel.)

True, Merkel’s position is understandable. The politics of a Deutsche rescue are terrible. Germany, with is Chancellor taking the lead, has set itself up as the guardian of financial responsibility within the euro-zone. Two years ago, it casually let the Greek bank system go to the wall, allowing the cash machines to be closed down as a way of whipping the rebellious Syriza government back into line. This year, there has been an unfolding Italian crisis, as bad debts mount, and yet Germany has insisted on enforcing euro-zone rules that say depositors – that is, ordinary people – have to shoulder some of the losses when a bank is in trouble. For Germany to then turn around and say, actually we are bailing out our own bank, while letting everyone else’s fail, looks, to put it mildly, just a little inconsistent.

Heck, a few people might even start to wonder if there was one rule for Germany, and another one for the rest. In truth, it would become impossible to maintain a hard-line in Italy, and probably in Greece as well. And yet, if Deutsche Bank went down, and the German Government didn’t step in with a rescue, that would be a huge blow to Europe’s largest economy – and the global financial system. No one really knows where the losses would end up, or what the knock-on impact would be. It would almost certainly land a fatal blow to the Italian banking system, and the French and Spanish banks would be next. Even worse, the euro-zone economy, with France and Italy already back at zero growth, and still struggling with the impact of Brexit, is hardly in any shape to withstand a shock of that magnitude.

A rock and a hard place are hardly adequate to describe the options Merkel may soon find herself facing. The politics of a rescue are terrible, but the economics of a collapse are even worse. By ruling out a rescue, she may well have solved the immediate political problem. Yet when the crisis gets worse, as it may do at any moment, it is impossible to believe she will stick to that line. A bailout of some sort will be cobbled together – even if the damage to Merkel’s already fraying reputation for competence will be catastrophic. In fact, Merkel is playing a very dangerous game with Deutsche – and one that could easily go badly wrong. If her refusal to sanction a bail-out is responsible for a Deutsche collapse that could easily end her Chancellorship. But if she rescues it, the euro might start to unravel.

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Beijing purposely blows a giant bubble with money people don’t have.

China’s Runaway Housing Market Poses Latest Challenge for Yuan (BBG)

Here’s the latest uncertainty facing China’s currency: sky high house prices. A runaway boom in the largest cities will push investors to look for cheaper alternatives overseas, draining money out of China and putting downward pressure on the yuan in the process, according to analysis by Harrison Hu at Royal Bank of Scotland in Singapore. An “enlarged differential between domestic and foreign asset prices will lead to capital outflows and depreciation, until parity is restored,” Hu wrote in a note. He said that the 30% year-on-year price gain in Tier 1 and leading Tier 2 cities implies a 25% rise in dollar terms, which far outpaces the 5% gain in major U.S. cities. That ratio is here in red:

“It’s commonly believed that China’s policymakers will sacrifice the yuan exchange rate to avoid a sharp correction in domestic property prices, as the latter will more significantly derail China’s economy and the financial system,” Hu wrote. That’s because the importance of the property market in the world’s second largest economy far outweighs many sectors, including the stock market. Hu compares property as a percentage of economic output to the far lighter footprint of stocks. A real estate crash in China could have far reaching consequences and it would be a long time before investors regained their confidence, according to Hu.

That will put policy makers in a very difficult position. While the government has some cards in its hand, such as an ability to control land supply and enforce curbs on new home-buying, history shows that some tightening measures risk backfiring and only stoking speculative behavior such as “panic buying” like that seen in Shanghai earlier this year. Besides, the regulator’s handling of last year’s stock market turmoil did little to inspire confidence in the government’s ability to oversee the bubbly housing market. “No bubble has a happy ending,” Hu wrote.

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Someone should calculate the losses at a 25% price drop. And do 50% too. Losses for ‘owners’ and for lenders.

Sydney Home Prices Need To Drop 25% To Help First Time Buyers (Abc)

First home buyers are facing the biggest barrier in recent history to entering the housing market, with deposits at record high levels relative to incomes in the Sydney market. Research by Deutsche Bank’s chief Australian economist Adam Boyton shows it would take a 25% drop in Sydney home prices to bring the size of deposit required back to average levels over the past 20 years. Mr Boyton studied the Sydney market because it is the biggest, has seen rapid recent price growth and has the highest housing costs in the nation. In contrast to the record deposit needed – now estimated to be almost twice the typical annual earnings of a Sydney household – rising incomes over the early 2000s and falling interest rates since the global financial crisis have seen the burden of mortgage repayments remain comparatively stable relative to income.

Mr Boyton expresses this as “borrowing power”, which has broadly increased in line with Sydney home prices, albeit with prices jumping ahead somewhat during the most recent boom. At the low point in 2003, a Sydney household with a typical income could only borrow half what a typical house cost if their repayments were to be 30% of their gross incomes. At the best points for affordability, households could comfortably afford to borrow between 60-68% of the typical Sydney house price. Currently that figure is just over 50%.

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An epic clash unfolds before our eyes.

Don’t Blame “Baby Boomers” For Not Retiring – They Can’t Afford To (Roberts)

In business, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers. In an economy where more than 2/3rds of the growth rate is driven by consumption, an even bigger imbalance of the “have” and “have not’s” presents a major headwind. I have often written about the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. As shown in the chart below, while asset prices were inflated by continued interventions of monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, it only benefited the small portion of the population with assets invested in the market.

Cheap debt, excess liquidity and a buyback spree, led to soaring Wall Street and corporate profits, surging executive compensation and rising incomes for those in the top 10%. Unfortunately, the other 90% known as “Main Street” did not receive many benefits. This divide is clearly seen in various data and survey statistics such as the recent survey from National Institute On Retirement Security which showed the typical working-age household has only $2500 in retirement account assets. Importantly, “baby boomers” who are nearing retirement had an average of just $14,500 saved for their “golden years.”

[..] The gap between the young and elderly population has shrunk dramatically in recent years as the demographic trends have shifted. Old people are living longer and young people are delaying marriage and children. This means fewer people paying into a social welfare system, while more or taking out. Of course, the burden on the social safety net remains the 800-lb gorilla in the room no one wants to talk about. But with the insolvency of the welfare system looming in less than a decade, I am sure it will become a priority soon enough.

Of course, as we will discuss in a moment, the problem is that while the “baby boom” generation may be heading towards retirement years, there is little indication a large majority of them will be actually retiring. With a large majority of individuals being dependent on the welfare system in retirement, the burden will fall on those next in line. Welcome to the “sandwich generation” when more individuals will be “sandwiched” between supporting both parents and children in the same household. It should be no surprise multi-generational households in the U.S. are at their highest levels since the “Great Depression.”

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Obama’s fist veto override?

Saudi Lobbyists Plot New Push Against 9/11 Bill As Veto Override Looms (Pol.)

Saudi Arabia is mounting a last-ditch campaign to scuttle legislation allowing families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue the kingdom — and they’re enlisting major American companies to make an economic case against the bill. General Electric, Dow Chemical, Boeing and Chevron are among the corporate titans that have weighed in against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, which passed both chambers unanimously and was vetoed on Friday, according to people familiar with the effort. The companies are acting quietly to avoid the perception of opposing victims of terrorism, but they’re responding to Saudi arguments that their own corporate assets in the kingdom could be at risk if the law takes effect.

Meanwhile, Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader who now co-leads Squire Patton Boggs’ lobbying group, e-mailed Senate legislative directors on Monday warning that the bill could lead other countries to withdraw their assets from the United States and retaliate with laws allowing claims against American government actions. “Many foreign entities have long-standing, intimate relations with U.S. financial institutions that they would undoubtedly unwind, to the further detriment of the U.S. economy,” reads one of the attachments, obtained by POLITICO. “American corporations with interests abroad may be at risk of retaliation, a possibility recently expressed by GE and Dow.” Still, the Saudis and their agents face a significant uphill battle, with lawmakers loath to take a vote against victims of the 9/11 attacks right before an election.

There was little public opposition to the bill as it made its way through the Capitol, and even now, efforts to tweak the bill haven’t caught much traction. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced Monday that the Senate will vote Wednesday on a motion to override President Barack Obama’s veto, and if override advocates are successful there, the House will take the same vote Thursday or Friday, a House Republican leadership aide said. But even if Obama receives the first veto override of his presidency, the story won’t end there: the Saudis will seek a new bill to scale back the law in the lame-duck session or in the next session, after lawmakers are relieved from the heat of the campaign, people familiar with the plans said. “It’s Washington at its finest,” one of the people said.

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How to kill off your own species.

Over 90% Of World Breathing Bad Air-WHO (AFP)

Nine out of 10 people globally are breathing poor quality air, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, calling for dramatic action against pollution that is blamed for more than six million deaths a year. New data in a report from the UN’s global health body “is enough to make all of us extremely concerned,” Maria Neira, the head of the WHO’s department of public health and environment, told reporters. The problem is most acute in cities, but air in rural areas is worse than many think, WHO experts said. Poorer countries have much dirtier air than the developed world, according to the report, but pollution “affects practically all countries in the world and all parts of society”, Neira said in a statement. “It is a public health emergency,” she said.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” she added, urging governments to cut the number of vehicles on the road, improve waste management and promote clean cooking fuel. Tuesday’s report was based on data collected from more than 3,000 sites across the globe. It found that “92% of the world’s population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHO limits”. The data focuses on dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, or PM2.5. PM2.5 includes toxins like sulfate and black carbon, which can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system. Air with more than 10 microgrammes per cubic metre of PM2.5 on an annual average basis is considered substandard.

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Funny little story against a very serious backdrop.

Canadians Are Embracing Syrian Refugees. Why Can’t We? (G.)

Nobody warned the Hendawis about Canadian girls. Wadah and Raghdaa Hendawi survived the civil war in Syria, fleeing the devastation of Aleppo with their children for the relative safety of Lebanon. For three years their teenage sons missed out on an education while they worked to support the family. Then they hit the immigration jackpot – Canada. They were greeted at Halifax airport not by immigration officials or social workers, but by their sponsors – a bunch of well-meaning locals whose fundraising efforts would support the family for the next 12 months. And so the Hendawis arrived in the small fishing town of Shelburne, Nova Scotia, swaddled in new ski jackets, blinded by the winter sunshine bouncing off fresh February snow.

They were the only Syrians in the village, and had no idea what was in store for them. The Rev. Joanne McFadden knew the names and ages of the family she was helping to sponsor, but apart from that she too didn’t know what to expect. She certainly wasn’t prepared for the phone call that came three days after Saed (18), Mohamad (16) and Ahmed (15) started attending Shelburne Regional High School. I get a phone call from the principal. ‘Uhhh, Joanne, we have a problem.’ ‘What’s the problem, Mary?’ ‘Well, all the girls in the school are chasing the boys.’ This hadn’t even crossed our mind, right, that this was even a possibility. It was like, pardon me, we’ve got some things to figure out.

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Feb 132016
 
 February 13, 2016  Posted by at 10:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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DPC New Orleans milk cart1903

Abenomics Is In Poor Health After Nikkei Slide, And It May Be Terminal (G.)
Yen’s Best Two-Week Run Since 1998 Just the Start (BBG)
The World’s Hottest Trade Has Suddenly Turned Ice-Cold (CNBC)
Credit Default Swaps Are Back As Investors Look For Panic Button (BBG)
‘Austrians Need Constitutional Right to Pay in Cash’ (BBG)
The Shipping Industry Is Suffering From China’s Trade Slowdown (BBG)
China Central Bank: Speculators Should Not Dominate Sentiment (Reuters)
America’s Big Banks Are Fleeing The Mortgage Market (MW)
Large Increase in Debts Held by Americans Over Age 50 (WSJ)
The Eurozone Crisis Is Back On The Boil (Guardian)
Schäuble Says Portugal Debt Woes Trump ‘Strong’ Deutsche Bank (BBG)
European Banks Are In The Eye Of A New Financial Storm (Economist)
150,000 Penguins Die After Giant Iceberg Renders Colony Landlocked (Guardian)
Four Billion People Face Severe Water Scarcity (Guardian)
Merkel Turns to ‘Coalition of Willing’ to Tackle Refugee Crisis (BBG)
EU Is Poised To Restrict Passport-Free Travel (AP)
80,000 Refugees Arrive In Europe In First Six Weeks Of 2016 (UNHCR)

It was terminal when it began.

Abenomics Is In Poor Health After Nikkei Slide, And It May Be Terminal (G.)

Not long ago, Shinzo Abe was being heralded for the early success of his grand design to bring Japan out of a deflationary spiral that had haunted the world’s third-biggest economy for two decades. Soon after Abe became prime minister in December 2012, the first two of the three tenets of his ‘Abenomics’ programme – monetary easing and fiscal stimulus – were having the desired effect. In the first year of the programme, the Nikkei index jumped nearly 60%, and the strong yen, the scourge of the country’s exporters, finally ceded ground to the US dollar. And in April 2013 came the appointment of Haruhiko Kuroda, a Bank of Japan governor who shared Abe’s zeal for deflation busting through ever looser monetary policy.

But by Friday, at the end of a dismal week for the Nikkei share index, market volatility caused by renewed fears over the health of the global economy has left Abe’s prescription for economic recovery in jeopardy. While, as some suggest, it is too early to read the last rites for Abenomics, few would disagree that its symptoms are in danger of becoming terminal. There is damning evidence for that claim; enough, in fact, for Abe to reportedly summon key economic advisers on Friday to discuss a way out of the impasse. Japanese shares registered their biggest weekly drop for more than seven years after shedding 4.8% for the Nikkei s lowest close since October 2014. That took the index below the 15,000 level investors regard as a psychological watershed, and erased all the gains made since the Bank of Japan made the shock decision in October 2014 to inject 80tn yen into the economy.

To compound the problem, another pillar of Abenomics – a weak yen – is also crumbling, with the Japanese currency rising to its strongest level for more than a year on Friday. The intention was for a weak yen to push up corporate earnings and help generate inflation by raising import prices; instead, companies are now cutting earnings forecasts as speculation mounts that Japan will again intervene to rein in the yen’s surge. In recent weeks, slumping oil costs and soft consumer spending – the driving force behind 60% of Japan’s economic activity – have brought inflation to a halt. Official data released last month showed that Japan’s inflation rate came in at 0.5% in 2015, way below the Bank of Japan’s 2% target, as the government struggled to convince cautious firms to usher in big wage rises to stir spending and drive up prices.

In response, the Bank of Japan extended the deadline for achieving its 2% inflation target to the first half of the fiscal year 2017, from its previous estimate of the second half of fiscal 2016. In fairness, Abe is partly the victim of factors beyond his control, namely China’s slowdown, weak overseas demand and plunging oil prices. The problem for Abe and Kuroda is that they are quickly running out of options: witness how the market boost from last week’s surprise decision to adopt negative interest rates ended after a couple of days with barely a whimper. By the time Japan hosts G7 leaders this summer, Abe could be forced to concede defeat in his principal aim of dragging Japan out of deflation and boosting growth.

But higher share prices and a weaker yen were only part of the scheme. He has barely started to address the structural reforms comprising the “third arrow” of Abenomics: a shrinking and ageing workforce and the urgent need to boost the role of women in the economy. Next year, he is expected to introduce a highly controversial increase in the consumption tax – a move that will help Japan tackle its public debt and pay for rising health and social security costs, but which could also dampen consumer spending, the driving force behind 60% of the economy. He may be inclined to disagree after a month of upheaval that also saw the resignation of his economics minister, but Abe’s troubles may be only just beginning.

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When you lose the currency war.

Yen’s Best Two-Week Run Since 1998 Just the Start (BBG)

When the going gets tough, foreign-exchange traders turn to the yen. Japan’s currency may extend its biggest two-week rally since 1998 as investors continue to seek out refuge assets amid market turmoil, according Citigroup Inc. State Street Global Advisors Inc., which oversees about $2.4 trillion, says it’s buying yen and selling dollars as the tumult gripping financial markets bolsters the Japanese currency’s appeal. “We’re not counting on the market mood shifting any time soon,” said Steven Englander at Citigroup. Citigroup, world’s biggest foreign-exchange trader according to Euromoney magazine, expects haven currencies including the yen, euro and Swiss franc to appreciate in the near term, even though it said investors are being overly pessimistic about the prospects for economic growth in the U.S. and monetary stimulus elsewhere.

The yen has defied predictions to weaken this year while its biggest counterpart, the dollar, has upended forecasts for gains. Currency traders are questioning the idea that the U.S. economy is strong enough for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates while central bankers in Tokyo and Frankfurt consider adding to stimulus. Japan’s currency rose 3.2% this week to 113.25 per dollar, adding to last week’s 3.7% gain. Its strength contrasts with a median forecast for the currency to drop to 123 against the dollar by the end of the year. Global equities fell into a bear market this week, and commodities declined, amid growing signs that central-bank policy tools were losing their stimulative effects. Fed Chair Janet Yellen signaled financial-market volatility may delay rate increases as the central bank assesses the impact of recent turmoil on domestic growth.

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“In 2009, the ETF enjoyed average daily volume of just 10,000 to 20,000 shares. By 2012, about 200,000 shares were being traded each day. The DXJ rallied tremendously in the next half a year, and by mid-2013 was seeing about 7 million to 8 million shares trade daily..”

The World’s Hottest Trade Has Suddenly Turned Ice-Cold (CNBC)

An international trade that once looked like a no-brainer has turned into a major headache. The WisdomTree Japan Hedged Equity Fund (DXJ), which combines a long position on Japanese stocks with a short position on the Japanese yen, sounds like a niche product. But as that trade played out beautifully over the past few years, with Japanese stocks soaring as the yen tanked, the ETF has become downright mainstream. In 2009, the ETF enjoyed average daily volume of just 10,000 to 20,000 shares. By 2012, about 200,000 shares were being traded each day. The DXJ rallied tremendously in the next half a year, and by mid-2013 was seeing about 7 million to 8 million shares trade daily, a pace it has maintained up to the present.

The product plays into a popular macro thesis: Expansive policies from the Bank of Japan should help Japanese stocks and hurt the yen. This trend indeed played out powerfully for a time, leading the DXJ to nearly double from November 2012 to June 2015. But the good times didn’t last. In the eight months after hitting that June peak, the ETF lost nearly all of its gain, falling back to its lowest level in more than three years. This as both legs of the trade failed, with Japanese stocks sliding and the yen strengthening amid a global sell-off in risk assets. What may make this especially frustrating is that Japanese monetary authorities haven’t exactly given up on their plan to send the yen lower in order to foster long-dormant inflation and to boost exports.

To the contrary, the BOJ has introduced a negative interest rate policy — which utterly failed in halting the yen’s rise. In fact, the currency is enjoying its best week in years.

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Omen.

Credit Default Swaps Are Back As Investors Look For Panic Button (BBG)

As markets plunge globally, investors are seeking refuge in an all-but-forgotten place. Trading volumes in the credit-default swaps market — where banks and fund managers go to hedge against losses on corporate and government debt — have surged. Transactions tied to individual entities doubled in the four weeks ended Feb. 5 to a daily average of $12 billion, according to a JPMorgan analysis of trade repository data. The volume of contracts on benchmark indexes in the market increased two-fold during that period to an average of $87 billion a day. The growth could represent a shift. The credit derivatives market has contracted for almost a decade, after loose monetary policies triggered a big rally in assets including corporate bonds, which made investors less eager to protect against the worst.

Regulators have also urged banks to curb their risk taking, reducing the appetite for at least some dealers to trade the instruments. Now, stock markets are selling off and junk bond prices are plunging, increasing investor demand for protection. “The surge we’ve seen in trading is likely to stay with us for the foreseeable future,” said Geraud Charpin at BlueBay Asset Management, which has traded more credit-default swaps on individual credits in the past three months. “The credit cycle has turned, so there’s more appetite to go short and buy protection.” Risk measures fell on Friday after soaring this week to the highest levels since at least 2012 in the U.S., and 2013 in Europe. The cost of insuring Deutsche Bank’s subordinated debt dropped from a record after the German lender said it planned to buy back about $5.4 billion of bonds to allay investor concerns about its finances. The bank’s shares have lost about a third of their value this year.

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The EU just gets crazier by the day. But currency in circulation is way up.

‘Austrians Need Constitutional Right to Pay in Cash’ (BBG)

Austrians should have the constitutional right to use cash to protect their privacy, Deputy Economy Minister Harald Mahrer said, as the EU considers curbing the use of banknotes and coins. “We don’t want someone to be able to track digitally what we buy, eat and drink, what books we read and what movies we watch,” Mahrer said on Austrian public radio station Oe1. “We will fight everywhere against rules” including caps on cash purchases, he said. EU finance ministers vowed at a meeting in Brussels on Friday to crack down on “illicit cash movements.” They urged the European Commission to “explore the need for appropriate restrictions on cash payments exceeding certain thresholds and to engage with the ECB to consider appropriate measures regarding high denomination notes, in particular the €500 note.” Ministers told the commission to report on its findings by May 1.

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“..orders for new vessels dropped 40% in 2015 [..] The demolition rate for unwanted vessels jumped 15%.”

The Shipping Industry Is Suffering From China’s Trade Slowdown (BBG)

When business slows and owners of ships and offshore oil rigs need a place to store their unneeded vessels, Saravanan Krishna suddenly becomes one of the industry’s most popular executives. Krishna is the operation director of International Shipcare, a Malaysian company that mothballs ships and rigs, and these days he’s busy taking calls from beleaguered operators with excess capacity. There are 102 vessels laid up at the company’s berths off the Malaysian island of Labuan, more than double the number a year ago. More are on the way. “There’s a huge demand,” he says. “People are calling us not to lay up one ship but 15 or 20.” Shipbuilders, container lines, and port operators feasted on China’s rise and the global resources boom.

Now they’re among the biggest victims of the country’s slowdown and the worldwide decline in demand for oil rigs and other gear amid the oil price plunge. China’s exports fell 1.8% in 2015, while its imports tumbled 13.2%. The Baltic Dry Index, which measures the cost of shipping coal, iron ore, grain, and other non-oil commodities, has fallen 76% since August and is now at a record low. Shipping rates for Asia-originated routes have dropped, too, and traffic at some of the region’s major ports is falling. In Singapore, the world’s second-largest port, container traffic fell 8.7% in 2015, the first decline in six years. Volumes at the port of Hong Kong, the fourth-busiest, slid 9.5% last year. Beyond Asia, the giant port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands recorded a dip in containerized traffic for the year. Globally, orders for new vessels dropped 40% in 2015, to $69 billion, according to Clarksons Research. The demolition rate for unwanted vessels jumped 15%.

Just a few years ago, as the global economy improved and oil prices rose, many companies ordered more fuel-efficient ships. There were more than 1,200 orders for bulk carriers that transport iron ore, coal, and grain in 2013, compared with just 250 last year, according to Clarksons. Many of the ships ordered are now in operation, says Tim Huxley, chief executive officer of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings, a Hong Kong-based owner of bulk carriers and tankers. “You have a massive oversupply,” he says. The damage is especially severe in China, the world’s leading producer of ships. New orders for Chinese shipbuilders fell by nearly half last year, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. In December, Zhoushan Wuzhou Ship Repairing & Building became the first state-owned shipbuilder to go bankrupt in a decade.

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Beijing wants monopoly on sentiment.

China Central Bank: Speculators Should Not Dominate Sentiment (Reuters)

Speculators should not be allowed to dominate market sentiment regarding China’s foreign exchange reserves and it was quite normal for reserves to fall as well as rise, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan was quoted as saying on Saturday. China’s foreign reserves fell for a third straight month in January, as the central bank dumped dollars to defend the yuan and prevent an increase in capital outflows. In an interview carried in the Chinese financial magazine Caixin, Zhou said yuan exchange reform would help the market be more flexible in dealing with speculative forces. There was a need to distinguish capital outflows from capital flight, and tight capital controls would not be effective for China, he said. China has not fully liberalized its capital account.

Zhou added that there was no basis for the yuan to keep depreciating, and China would keep the yuan basically stable versus a basket of currencies while allowing greater volatility against the U.S. dollar. The government also needed to prevent systemic risks in the economy, and prevent “cross infection” between the stock, debt and currency markets, he said. The comments come after China reported economic growth of 6.9% for 2015, its weakest in 25 years, while depreciation pressure on the yuan adds to the case for the central bank to take more economic stimulus measures over the near-term. A slew of economic indicators has sent mixed signals to markets at the start of 2016 over the health of China’s economy. Activity in the services sector expanded at its fastest pace in six months in January, a private survey showed on Feb. 3, while manufacturing activity fell to the lowest since August 2012.

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“..the four largest commercial banks will “downsize or exit entirely from the business of originating and servicing residential mortgages.”

America’s Big Banks Are Fleeing The Mortgage Market (MW)

When it comes to residential mortgages, big banks are waving the white flag. Banks originated 74% of all mortgages in 2007, but their share fell to 52% in 2014, the most recent data available from the Mortgage Bankers Association. And it could go even lower. But even at these levels, the big bank backtrack is reshaping a lending landscape that’s already undergone seismic shifts since the housing bubble burst. While there’s widespread agreement that banks should have been reined in — and perhaps punished — after playing a major role in the housing bubble that helped tank the economy, the past few years have been tough for banks’ mortgage businesses. They now face a regulatory environment so strict that many are afraid to lend, even to customers with the most pristine credit.

They’re still paying up for misdeeds done during the bubble. There’s essentially no private bond market to whom to sell mortgages. And fighting those battles on behalf of their least-profitable divisions means residential lending just isn’t worth it for many banks. “We can’t make money in the business,” BankUnited CEO John Kanas said when he announced a mortgage retreat on a January earnings call. “We realized that this was the lowest-margin, most volatile business we had and we decided that we should exit.” Of the top 10 originators in 2015, banks lent 28.6% of all mortgages, according to data from Inside Mortgage Finance. That’s about half their share in 2012, when banks among the top 10 originators accounted for 54.4% of all mortgages.

For many analysts, that step is only natural. “The fact is that the cost of capital and compliance has convinced many bankers that making home loans to American families is not worth the risk,” said Chris Whalen, a long-time bank analyst now with Kroll Bond Rating Agency, in a speech early in February. Whalen expects the four largest commercial banks will “downsize or exit entirely from the business of originating and servicing residential mortgages.”

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Boomers. They’re supposed to be the richest Americans. “..the aggregate debt of the average Baby Boomer has soared 169% since 2003..”

Large Increase in Debts Held by Americans Over Age 50 (WSJ)

Americans in their 50s, 60s and 70s are carrying unprecedented amounts of debt, a shift that reflects both the aging of the baby boomer generation and their greater likelihood of retaining mortgage, auto and student debt at much later ages than previous generations. The average 65-year-old borrower has 47% more mortgage debt and 29% more auto debt than 65-year-olds had in 2003, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released Friday. The result: U.S. household debt is vastly different than it was before the financial crisis, when many younger households had taken on large debts they could no longer afford when the bottom fell out of the economy.

The shift represents a “reallocation of debt from young [people], with historically weak repayment, to retirement- aged consumers, with historically strong repayment,” according to New York Fed economist Meta Brown in a presentation of the findings. Older borrowers have historically been less likely to default on loans and have typically been successful at shrinking their debt balances. But greater borrowing among this age group could become alarming if evidence mounted that large numbers of people were entering retirement with debts they couldn’t manage. So far, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Most of the households with debt also have higher credit scores and more assets than in the past.

“Retirement-aged consumers’ repayment has shown little sign of developing weakness as their balances have grown,” according to Ms. Brown. The data were released in conjunction with the New York Fed’s quarterly report on household debt, that aggregates millions of credit reports from the credit-rating agency Equifax. The report was launched in 2010 to track the changing debt behaviors of U.S. households after the financial crisis. For the last two years, household debts have been slowly rising, although they remain well below where they were in 2008. That trend continued in the final quarter of 2015, with overall household indebtedness rising by $51 billion to $ 12.1 trillion.

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Timber!

The Eurozone Crisis Is Back On The Boil (Guardian)

Greece is back in recession. Italy is barely growing. Portugal expanded but only at half the expected rate. The message could hardly be clearer: the next phase of the eurozone crisis is about to begin. On the face of it, the performance of the eurozone economy in the final three months of 2015 looks solid if unspectacular, with growth as measured by GDP up by 0.3%. But scratch beneath the surface and the picture looks far less rosy. The beneficial impacts of the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme have started to wear off, as has the effect of the big drop in oil prices in the second half of 2014. The eurozone peaked in the second quarter of 2015 and the trend was starting to weaken even before the recent turbulence on the financial markets.

Three individual countries bear closer examination. The first is Germany, for which growth of 0.3% in the fourth quarter of 2015 and 1.4% for the year as a whole is as good as it gets. Exports – the mainstay of the German economy – are going to face a much more challenging international climate in 2016, particularly with the euro strengthening on the foreign exchanges. Finland is noteworthy, not just because it is officially back in recession after two successive quarters of negative growth and still has a smaller economy than it did when the financial crisis erupted in 2008, but because its performance is worse than that of Denmark and Sweden, two Scandinavian EU members not in the single currency.

But by far the most worrying country is Greece, where a crumbling economy and the attempts to impose even more draconian austerity is leading, unsurprisingly, to violent protests on the streets. A contraction in growth makes it even harder for Greece to achieve the already ridiculously ambitious deficit and debt reduction targets set for it by its creditors, and on past form that will lead sooner or later (sooner in this case) to a fresh financial crisis and the imposition of further austerity measures. After six months out of the headlines, Greece is coming back to the boil. The danger is that other weak countries on the eurozone’s periphery – most notably Italy and Portugal – suffer from contagion effects.

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He’s trying so hard to boost Deutsche confidence it’ll backfire. People are going to say: ‘let’s see what you got’.

Schäuble Says Portugal Debt Woes Trump ‘Strong’ Deutsche Bank (BBG)

The volatile Portuguese bond market is more alarming than plunging confidence in Deutsche Bank AG, Europe’s largest lender, according to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble. Even as a global rout in stocks has driven down European bank shares by 27% this year, Schaeuble warned on Friday after a meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels that Portugal doesn’t have enough “resilience.” “Portugal must do everything to counter uncertainty in financial markets,” he said. The German finance minister’s comments come after the yield on Portugal’s 10-year bond fluctuated in a range of 143 basis points this week, the largest five-day swing since July 2013. Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who was sworn in at the end of November, has rolled back reform measures introduced during the nation’s bailout program that ended in 2014.

Deutsche Bank, which issued a statement Friday reassuring investors it has enough reserves to service debt obligations, “has sufficient capital and is well positioned,” Schaeuble said. In an effort to allay anxieties, the Frankfurt-based lender announced plans to buy back about $5.4 billion of bonds in euros and dollars Friday. The move comes after the cost of insuring its senior debt via credit-default swaps rose to the highest since 2011. Deutsche Bank isn’t alone as confidence in banks’ abilities to return profits in a low interest rate environment is waning. Global banks including Citigroup, Bank of America, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank have all plunged more than 32%. European finance ministers, when asked about the negative sentiment around European banks, remained upbeat, citing confidence in the safeguards put in place after Lehman Brothers went under in 2008. “We have taken precautions to make banks more resilient after the lessons from the financial and banking crisis,” Schaeuble said.

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The chain is as strong as…

European Banks Are In The Eye Of A New Financial Storm (Economist)

If the start of the year has been desperate for the world’s stockmarkets, it has been downright disastrous for shares in banks. Financial stocks are down by 19% in America. The declines have been even steeper elsewhere. Japanese banks’ shares have plunged by 36% since January 1st; Italian banks’ by 31% and Greek banks’ by a horrifying 60%. The fall in the overall European banking index of 24% has brought it close to the lows it plumbed in the summer of 2012, when the euro zone seemed on the verge of disintegration until Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, promised to do “whatever it takes” to save it. The distress in Europe encompasses big banks as well as smaller ones. It has affected behemoths within the euro area such as Société Générale and Deutsche Bank – both of which saw their shares fall by 10% in hours this week – as well as giants outside it such as Barclays (based in Britain) and Credit Suisse (Switzerland).

The apparent frailty of European banks is especially disappointing given the efforts made in recent years to make them more robust, both through capital-raising and tougher regulation. Euro-zone banks issued over €250 billion ($280 billion) of new equity between 2007, when the global financial crisis began, and 2014, when the ECB took charge of supervising them. Before taking on the job, it combed through the books of 130 of the euro zone’s most important banks and found only modest shortfalls in capital. Some of the recent weakness in European banking shares arises from wider worries about the world economy that have also driven down financial stocks elsewhere. A slowdown in global growth is one threat. Another is that the negative interest rates being pursued by central banks to try to prod more life into economies will further sap banks’ profits.

A retreat in Japanese bank shares turned into a rout following such a decision in late January. Investors in European banks fret not just about lacklustre growth but also a possible move deeper into negative territory by the ECB in March. On February 11th Sweden’s central bank cut its benchmark rate from -0.35% to -0.5%, prompting shares in Swedish banks to tumble. But the malaise of European banking stocks has deeper roots. The fundamental problem is both that there are too many banks in Europe and that many are not profitable enough because they have clung to flawed business models. European investment banks lack the deep domestic capital markets that give their American competitors an edge. Deutsche, for instance, has only just resolved to hack back its investment bank in the face of a less hospitable regulatory environment following the financial crisis.

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What to say?

150,000 Penguins Die After Giant Iceberg Renders Colony Landlocked (Guardian)

An estimated 150,000 Adelie penguins living in Antarctica have died after an iceberg the size of Rome became grounded near their colony, forcing them to trek 60km to the sea for food. The penguins of Cape Denison in Commonwealth Bay used to live close to a large body of open water. However, in 2010 a colossal iceberg measuring 2900sq km became trapped in the bay, rendering the colony effectively landlocked.Penguins seeking food must now waddle 60km to the coast to fish. Over the years, the arduous journey has had a devastating effect on the size of the colony. Since 2011 the colony of 160,000 penguins has shrunk to just 10,000, according to research carried out by the Climate Change Research Centre at Australia’s University of New South Wales. Scientists predict the colony will be gone in 20 years unless the sea ice breaks up or the giant iceberg, dubbed B09B, is dislodged.

Penguins have been recorded in the area for more than 100 years. But the outlook for the penguins remaining at Cape Denison is dire. “The arrival of iceberg B09B in Commonwealth Bay, East Antarctica, and subsequent fast ice expansion has dramatically increased the distance Adélie penguins breeding at Cape Denison must travel in search of food,” said the researchers in an article in Antarctic Science. “The Cape Denison population could be extirpated within 20 years unless B09B relocates or the now perennial fast ice within the bay breaks out” “This has provided a natural experiment to investigate the impact of iceberg stranding events and sea ice expansion along the East Antarctic coast.” In contrast, a colony located just 8km from the coast of Commonwealth Bay is thriving, the researchers said. The iceberg had apparently been floating close to the coast for 20 years before crashing into a glacier and becoming stuck.

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The next trigger for mass migrations.

Four Billion People Face Severe Water Scarcity (Guardian)

At least two-thirds of the global population, over 4 billion people, live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year, according to a major new analysis. The revelation shows water shortages, one of the most dangerous challenges the world faces, is far worse previously than thought. The new research also reveals that 500m people live in places where water consumption is double the amount replenished by rain for the entire year, leaving them extremely vulnerable as underground aquifers run down. Many of those living with fragile water resources are in India and China, but other regions highlighted are the central and western US, Australia and even the city of London. These water problems are set to worsen, according to the researchers, as population growth and increasing water use – particularly through eating meat – continues to rise.

In January, water crises were rated as one of three greatest risks of harm to people and economies in the next decade by the World Economic Forum, alongside climate change and mass migration. In places, such as Syria, the three risks come together: a recent study found that climate change made the severe 2007-2010 drought much more likely and the drought led to mass migration of farming families into cities. “If you look at environmental problems, [water scarcity] is certainly the top problem,” said Prof Arjen Hoekstra, at the University of Twente in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “One place where it is very, very acute is in Yemen.” Yemen could run out of water within a few years, but many other places are living on borrowed time as aquifers are continuously depleted, including Pakistan, Iran, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Hoekstra also highlights the Murray-Darling basin in Australia and the midwest of the US. “There you have the huge Ogallala acquifer, which is being depleted.”

He said even rich cities like London in the UK were living unsustainably: “You don’t have the water in the surrounding area to sustain the water flows” to London in the long term. The new study, published in the journal Science Advances on Friday, is the first to examine global water scarcity on a monthly basis and at a resolution of 31 miles or less. It analysed data from 1996-2005 and found severe water scarcity – defined as water use being more than twice the amount being replenished – affected 4 billion people for at least one month a year. “The results imply the global water situation is much worse than suggested by previous studies, which estimated such scarcity impacts between 1.7 billion and 3.1 billion people,” the researchers concluded. The new work also showed 1.8 billion people suffer severe water scarcity for at least half of every year.

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Making deals with Turkey while blaming Greece is just plain wrong on many different levels.

Merkel Turns to ‘Coalition of Willing’ to Tackle Refugee Crisis (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is turning to a subgroup of European Union members to tackle the region’s refugee crisis as the bloc as a whole bickers over how to handle the biggest influx of migrants into Europe since World War II. Merkel plans to meet again with a “coalition of the willing” in Brussels ahead of an EU summit in the city next week. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will attend the talks, which have taken place at previous EU gatherings. Turkey is the main country from which migrants enter the EU. “This doesn’t have to do with a permanent distribution mechanism but rather a group of countries that are willing to consider” taking refugees once the illegal trafficking has been stopped, Merkel said Friday at a Berlin press conference with her Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo.

“We will then report quite transparently to all 28 member states where things stand.” Merkel traveled earlier this week to Turkey to discuss the crisis with Davutoglu. Merkel said on Monday the only way to end the flood of illegal migration across the Aegean Sea from Turkey into Greece was to replace it with a legal avenue. That would involve the EU resettling allotments of mostly Syrian refugees directly from Turkey in return for Turkey halting the flow of migrants, she said. The chancellor has thus far failed to secure a wider EU deal to share in housing and caring for those who have already reached the bloc.

Germany, which took in more than 1 million refugees last year, has pushed to implement a quota system to distribute migrants among EU members – something that a number of the bloc’s states, in particular in the east, argue should only be done on a voluntary basis. “For Poland, a permanent mechanism of relocating migrants is currently not acceptable,” Szydlo said at the press conference with Merkel. “I think we will continue talking about this. But I want to stress that Poland wants to actively participate in solving the migrant crisis because it’s very important for the EU as a whole.”

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They’re too thick to see that this means the end of the union.

EU Is Poised To Restrict Passport-Free Travel (AP)

EU countries are poised to restrict passport-free travel by invoking an emergency rule to keep some border controls for two more years because of the migration crisis and Greece’s troubles in controlling its border, according to EU documents seen by AP. The switch would reverse a decades-old trend of expanding passport-free travel in Europe. Since 1995, people have been able to cross borders among Schengen Area member countries without document checks. Each of the current 26 countries in the Schengen Area is allowed to unilaterally put up border controls for a maximum of six months, but that time limit can be extended for up to two years if a member is found to be failing to protect its borders.

The documents show that EU policy makers are preparing to make unprecedented use of an emergency provision by declaring that Greece is failing to sufficiently protect it border. Some 2,000 people are still arriving daily on Greek islands in smugglers’ boats from Turkey, most of them keen to move deeper into Europe to wealthier countries like Germany and Sweden. A European official showed the documents to the AP on condition of anonymity because the documents are confidential. Greek government officials declined to comment on the content of documents not made public. In Brussels on Friday, EU nations acknowledged that the overall functioning of Schengen “is at serious risk” and said Greece must make further efforts to address “serious deficiencies” within the next three months.

European inspectors visited Greek border sites in November and gave Athens until early May to upgrade the border management on its islands. Two draft assessments forwarded to the Greek government in early January indicated Athens was making progress, although they noted “important shortcomings” in handling migrant flows. But with asylum-seekers still coming at a pace ten times that of January 2015, European countries are reluctant to dismantle their emergency border controls. And if they keep them in place without authorization, EU officials fear the entire concept of the open-travel zone could be brought down. A summary written by an official in the EU’s Dutch presidency for a meeting of EU justice and home affairs ministers last month showed they decided that declaring Greece to have failed in its upgrade was “the only way” for Europe to extend the time for border checks.

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“..more than in the first four months of 2015..”

80,000 Refugees Arrive In Europe In First Six Weeks Of 2016 (UNHCR)

Despite rough seas and harsh winter weather, more than 80,000 refugees and migrants arrived in Europe by boat during the first six weeks of 2016, more than in the first four months of 2015, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, announced today. In addition it said more than 400 people had lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean. However, despite the dangers over 2,000 people a day continue to risk their lives and the lives of their children attempting to reach Europe. Comparable figures for 2015 show such numbers only began arriving in July. “The majority of those arriving in January 2016, nearly 58%, were women and children; one in three people arriving to Greece were children as compared to just 1 in 10 in September 2015,” UNHCR’s Chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming told a press briefing in Geneva.

Fleming added that over 91% of those arriving in Greece come from the world’s top ten refugee producing countries, including Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. “Winter weather and rough seas have not deterred those desperate enough to make the journey, resulting in near daily shipwrecks,” she added. When surveyed upon arrival, most of them cite they had to leave their homeland due to conflict. More than 56% of January arrivals to Greece were from Syria. However, UNHCR stressed that solutions to Europe’s situation were not only eminently possible, but had already been agreed by States and now urgently needed to be implemented. Stabilization is essential and something for which there is also strong public demand.

“Within the context of the necessary reduction of dangerous sea arrivals, safe access to seek asylum, including through resettlement and humanitarian admission, is a fundamental human right that must be protected and respected,” Fleming added. She said that regular pathways to Europe and elsewhere were important for allowing refugees to reach safety without putting their lives in the hands of smugglers and making dangerous sea crossings. “Avenues, such as enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification, private sponsorship, and humanitarian and refugee student/work visas, should be established to ensure that movements are manageable, controlled and coordinated for countries receiving these refugees,” Fleming added.

Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR’s Director Bureau for Europe, added that faced with this situation, UNHCR hoped that EU Member States would implement at a faster pace all EU-wide measures agreed upon in 2015, including the implementation of hotspots and the relocation process for 160,000 people already in Greece and Italy and the EU-Turkey Joint-Action Plan. “If Europe wants to avoid the mess of 2015, it must take action. There is no plan B,” he also told the briefing.

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