Aug 212018
 
 August 21, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse The painter and his model 1916-17

 

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)
Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)
Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)
Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)
Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)
UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)
‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)
UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)
NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)
Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)
Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)
What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)
The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)
The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

 

 

“Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets..”

China’s Biggest Risk May Be Its Property Market – Not The Trade War (CNBC)

China’s hot real estate market remains a challenge for authorities trying to maintain stable economic growth in the face of trade tensions with the U.S. In fact, property is the country’s biggest risk in the next 12 months, much greater than the trade war, according to Larry Hu, head of greater China economics at Macquarie. He said he is especially watching whether the real estate market in lower-tier, or smaller, cities will see a downturn in prices or housing starts after recent sharp increases. Real estate investment accounts for about two-thirds of Chinese household assets, according to wealth manager Noah Holdings. The property market also plays a significant role in local government revenues, bank loans and corporate investment.

As a result, a sharp slowdown in the real estate market’s growth and drop in prices would have a negative affect on overall economic growth. So far, the market has been hot: The average selling price for newly built non-governmental housing in 60 tier-three and tier-four cities tracked by Tospur Real Estate Consulting rose 28.1 percent from January 2016 to May 2018. [..] Last week, Nanjing, a tier-two city, announced a ban on corporate purchases of residential properties, following similar moves to limit speculation by Shanghai and some other cities. That’s a good move for controlling risk, according to Joe Zhou, real estate and investment management firm JLL’s regional director for China capital markets. He said the government is not likely to loosen its policy soon and that prices could decline on average.

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“The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow..”

Why Do American CEOs Get Paid So Much? (Galbraith)

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute calls attention to the hardy perennial of how much America’s corporate titans make: bosses of the top 350 firms made an average of $18.9m in 2017. That’s a ratio of 312-1 over the median worker in their industries. Big bucks to be sure. And a big change since 1965, when the ratio was just 20-1. But what does it mean? And if there’s a problem, what is it, exactly? What it means, as the EPI economists carefully document, is that the top US corporate chiefs are paid overwhelmingly with stock options, and their income fluctuates with the market. About 80% of the pay packet is in stocks, and the rise of 17% in 2017 after two flat years surely suggests that the top CEOs (not unreasonably) sensed the market peaked last year.

So they cashed in. On the other 20% of the pay packets, no gains occurred. The US numbers have shock value. But bear in mind that they reflect not only the way companies are run, but also changes over decades in the structure of the US economy and tax law, specifically the rise of market valuations in technology and finance at the expense of the major industrial corporations, and a corresponding decline in unions, which held down the ratios in the sectors the industrial firms dominated a half century back. Plus, there is the radical decline in top marginal tax rates on income and capital gains, beginning in 1978, which gave executives strong reasons to restructure their pay away from inside-the-corporation perks (the penthouses and country clubs of yore) and toward cash and capital assets.

The reliance of tech firms on venture capital and bubble psychology, rather than cash flow, deepened this trend. Note also that there is something a bit artificial about the resulting “wealth.” Jeff Bezos may have a net worth of over $150bn, mostly in Amazon stock, but he couldn’t convert it into cash if he wanted to, neither by selling nor by borrowing. Any effort to sell would demolish Amazon’s valuation and hence his own fortune. The rich aren’t like us – they have more money, true, but some of it isn’t really money and it can disappear, by the billions, pretty fast.

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As I wrote yesterday, this will have to change.

Trump Says It Is ‘Dangerous’ For Twitter, Facebook To Ban Accounts (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday that it is “very dangerous” for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook to silence voices on their services. Trump’s comments in an interview with Reuters come as the social media industry faces mounting scrutiny from Congress to police foreign propaganda. Trump has made his Twitter account – with more than 53 million followers – an integral and controversial part of his presidency, using it to promote his agenda, announce policy and attack critics. Trump previously criticized the social media industry on Aug. 18, claiming without evidence in a series of tweets that unnamed companies were “totally discriminating against Republican/Conservative voices.”

In the same post, Trump said “too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad.” Those tweets followed actions taken by Apple, Alphabet, YouTube and Facebook to remove some content posted by Infowars, a website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Jones’ own Twitter account was temporarily suspended on Aug. 15. “I won’t mention names but when they take certain people off of Twitter or Facebook and they’re making that decision, that is really a dangerous thing because that could be you tomorrow,” said Trump.

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Also mentioned yesterday. Chances of a sitdown in the next 10 days don’t look good.

Trump Worries That Mueller Interview Could Be A ‘Perjury Trap’ (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was worried that any statements under oath he provides to Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be used to bring perjury charges against him as part of the probe into Russia’s electoral interference. In an interview with Reuters, Trump echoed the concerns of his top lawyer in the probe, Rudy Giuliani, who has warned that any sit-down with Mueller could be a “perjury trap.” The president expressed fears that investigators could compare his statements with that of others who have testified in the probe, such as former FBI Director James Comey, and that any discrepancies could be used against him.

“So if I say something and he (Comey) says something, and it’s my word against his, and he’s best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say: ‘Well, I believe Comey,’ and even if I’m telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That’s no good.” Despite his concerns, Trump did not comment on whether he would ultimately agree to an interview with Mueller, who is, among other things, investigating whether Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians during the 2016 election and whether Trump has obstructed justice in the probe. Trump also declined to say whether he might strip Mueller of his security clearance, as he did last week to former CIA Director John Brennan, who had repeatedly criticized Trump’s handling of foreign policy and national security issues.

“I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” he said. [..] Trump asserted that he retained the power to intervene in the probe, but that he had chosen not to do so for the moment. His administration, Trump said, was “a smooth-running machine, except in that world. And I’ve decided to stay out. Now I don’t have to stay out. “I can go in, and I could do whatever — I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out,” he said. “I’m totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be. So far, I haven’t chosen to be involved. I’ll stay out.”

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Whatever the predictable comments on this, what he really does is confirm the Fed’s independence.

Trump Demands Fed Help On Economy, Complains About Interest Rate Rises (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he was “not thrilled” with the Federal Reserve under his own appointee, Chairman Jerome Powell, for raising interest rates and said the U.S. central bank should do more to help him to boost the economy. In the middle of international trade disputes, Trump in an interview with Reuters also accused China and Europe of manipulating their respective currencies. American presidents have rarely criticized the Fed in recent decades because its independence has been seen as important for economic stability.

Trump has departed from this past practice and said he would not shy from future criticism should the Fed keep lifting rates. The president spooked investors in July when he criticized the U.S. central bank’s over tightening monetary policy. On Monday he said the Fed should be more accommodating on interest rates. “I’m not thrilled with his raising of interest rates, no. I’m not thrilled,” Trump said, referring to Powell.

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Nobody Hunt goes to Washington with veiled criticism of Trump. Good luck with that.

UK’s Hunt To Call On Trump To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia (G.)

The British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is to urge Donald Trump to face down Moscow’s threat to western values by imposing wider economic sanctions against Russia and agreeing new rules to protect the legitimacy of democratic elections. In a speech in Washington on Tuesday during his first visit since taking over from Boris Johnson as the UK’s most senior diplomat, Hunt will specifically call for tighter regulation of online political advertising and new measures to prevent cyber attacks on electoral machinery. Hunt will also throw out a challenge to Trump’s protectionist policies by warning a weakening of free trade will only damage western economies, and ultimately western political power.

He will say the emergence of an international order based on the application of law rather than might had led to an exponential growth in trade, leading to extraordinary advances in economic and social prosperity across the globe. He will also call for Nato to set clearer red lines about Russia’s use of chemical weapons and incursions into foreign territory such as the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Without directly challenging the legitimacy of Trump’s election as president in 2016, he will point to the drawbacks in many recent democratic outcomes, saying: “The heart of any democracy is freedom of expression, which allows citizens to access independent information to help decide who to vote for. But the ubiquity of fake news, social media targeting and foreign attempts to manipulate elections have undermined confidence that this can actually happen.”

Any tarnishing of Trump’s electoral mandate is highly perilous territory for a foreign politician, and Hunt will temper his criticism by saying western leaders should not deceive themselves that populism is merely a byproduct of social media spreading fake news.

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Rebuilding Syria can solve a large part of Europe’s refugee problem, and US and UN are holding it back?

‘Secret Directive’ Bans UN Agencies From Helping Rebuild Syria – Lavrov (RT)

Washington’s “absolutely deconstructive” stance is hampering the rebuilding of Syria and constricts the UN in aiding the country until a so called ‘political transition’ takes place, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, said.
“We addressed UNESCO on how they plan to implement the longtime talks, the longtime understanding on attracting the potential of this organization to rebuilding Palmyra,” an ancient city, regarded by the agency as a World Heritage Site, Lavrov said. “From the explanations of why UNESCO has still been unable to get involved in this process actively, we took that there was some kind of a directive from the United Nations headquarters in New York.”

He said that the UN Secretariat, which is the organizations’ executive arms, has “actually issued and distributed a secret directive throughout the UN system in October last year that prohibited the agencies included in this system from participating in any kind of projects aimed at restoring the Syrian economy.” Only humanitarian aid and nothing more” was allowed, the minister told the journalists after talks with Lebanese counterpart, Gebran Bassil, in Moscow. “A term was put forward that restoration of Syria would only be on the agenda after a certain progress is made in the so-called political transition” in the country, he added. The Russian Foreign Ministry also said that due to the “absolutely deconstructive” stance of the US one also shouldn’t expect any positive decisions on rebuilding Syria and return of refugees to the country from the UN Security Council.

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“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax..”

A country moving backwards.

UK Household Debt Balloons To £19bn As Bailiff Problems Multiply (Ind.)

UK households have fallen behind on essential bills such as council tax and electricity by as much as £18.9bn, according to Citizens Advice, which says it helps someone with bailiff-related problems every three minutes. The total outstanding debt includes almost £7.5bn in tax credit overpayments, £2.84bn owed in council tax and £2.2bn owed to water companies. Household debt has now overtaken consumer credit as the main money problem people contact Citizens Advice about, and the charity said that falling behind on household bills “has more severe consequences than missing consumer credit repayments”, such as overdrafts and personal loans.

“People can face having their essential services cut off, be kicked out of their home due to rent arrears or even face prison if they get behind on their council tax,” Citizens Advice warned. The charity said it had seen a 24 per cent increase in bailiff problems since the government introduced reforms in 2014 that were meant to protect people from unfair bailiff practices. Under the reforms, bailiffs are no longer allowed to make late-night visits to collect debts, and are prevented from using force against people who owe money, amongst other rules.

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Since there is no progress on many essential Brexit elements, this is not some doom fantasy.

NHS Leak Warns Of Brexit Drug Shortages And Disease Risk (G.)

Hospitals face running out of drugs in a chaotic no-deal Brexit, the group that represents NHS hospital and ambulance service has privately warned. Poor co-ordination by ministers and health service bosses means there has been a failure to prepare for the UK to be left without a Brexit deal, a leaked letter from NHS Providers said. “Public health and disease control co-ordination could suffer,” said NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, setting out how a hard Brexit or no deal could negatively effect “the entire supply chain of pharmaceuticals” and “jeopardise” the EU citizens making up the “workforce on which the NHS relies”. Hopson’s letter, sent to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens and NHS Improvement chief Ian Dalton on Friday, was leaked to the Times.

Hopson said the possibility of a no-deal or hard Brexit “with minimal regulatory alignment appears to be growing … For as long as that risk remains it is important that detailed operation planning is undertaken across the NHS. “Yet trusts tell us that their work in this area is being hampered by the lack of visible and appropriate communication. “Our members have begun planning … but they have hit a problem, in that some activities are clearly best done at a national level and, in the view of trusts, are best co-ordinated by NHS England and NHS Improvement. “However there has been no formal communication to trusts from either of your organisations on this issue.”

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Always risky to cut your immediate colleagues, but makes a ton of sense.

Jacinda Ardern Freezes New Zealand MPs’ Pay To Tackle Rich-Poor Divide (G.)

Jacinda Ardern has frozen the salaries of New Zealand’s MPs, saying the pay rises were out of step with the wider workforce and were adding to the rich-poor divide. The radical move has cross-party support from Ardern’s coalition partners, as well as the opposition National party. MPs’ salaries and allowances would be frozen till July 2019, Ardern said, while “a fairer formula for future pay increases” is developed for those in politics, who earn between NZ$163,000 ($108,000) to more than NZ$450,000 ($300,000). Ardern said the freeze was “the right thing to do” and was not about cost-cutting, but making New Zealand a more equitable nation.

The PM was prompted to take action after the Remuneration Authority recommended MPs receive a 3% pay rise, in a year that is seeing widespread strike action by teachers, nurses and other workers across New Zealand. Ardern earns more than NZ$450,000 a year, making her the fifth-highest paid leader in the OECD, and better paid than Canada’s Justin Trudeau and the UK’s Theresa May. According to a survey by Stuff, 62% of New Zealanders think the country’s prime ministers are paid too much. Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull earns the largest salary of any leader in the OECD. “It’s about whether or not it’s right that we receive a 3% pay increase that continues to extend that gap between those on the highest incomes and those on lower and more modest incomes,” Ardern told Radio NZ today.

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The EU MUST come up with a plan.

Salvini Refuses To Let In Refugees After Coastguard Ship Docks (G.)

An Italian coastguard ship with 177 people on board has docked in the Sicilian seaport of Catania, but Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has not given authorisation for the refugees and migrants to disembark. The passengers, who have been stuck on the coastguard boat Ubaldo Diciotti for five days will not be allowed on land until “Europe steps in to help’’, Salvini said. The Diciotti picked up 190 refugees and migrants last Wednesday from an overcrowded boat about 17 sea miles from the island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment. Since then, Rome has insisted that Malta should take the group because their boat first passed through its search-and-rescue area.

But Malta has refused, claiming that the migrants wanted to reach Italy. Questioned by the Italian authorities, the 13 evacuated migrants claimed that the Maltese had escorted them outside its search-and-rescue zone. On Monday afternoon, after three days of negotiations, Italy’s transport minister Danilo Toninelli announced finally on Twitter that “The Diciotti ship will dock in Catania.” But shortly afterwards, sources close to Salvini said he had not given the authorisation to disembark, suggesting the boat was granted permission to dock but the migrants will have to remain on board. Salvini said on Italian TV: “The ship may land in Italy, as long as the 177 migrants are distributed, in a spirit of solidarity by the EU.”

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What does it mean? More debt.

What Being Back in the Markets Actually Means for Greece (TPP)

The devil, as they say in English, lies in the details. Being ‘back in the markets’, ‘turning a page,’ even declaring ‘the end of the Greek Crisis’ have all become commonplace expressions over the past few weeks. But what does this substantively mean? It means that an economy that has shrunk by around 25% saw, due to that shrinkage, its debts go up by about the same amount, despite near 100 billion Euro in debt being wiped off in 2012. Current outstanding Greek debt stands at 343 billion Euro. It now needs to pay a large chunk of that back to get back to where it was in 2008, with 109% debt to GDP.

The years of the Greek crisis (2010-2018) were the years that former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis famously described as the years of ‘extend and pretend.’ The EU would extend more credit (debt) to Greece that Greece would pretend to pay back. While most of the bailout cash prior to 2013 went through Greece back to Northern Banks, after 2013 most of the Debt was held by an opaqueprivate financial institution housed in Luxemburg called the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). It’s the debts held by the ESM, and the loans disbursed by the ESM, that have been the focus of the new game of extend and pretend that is called variously ‘debt-relief’ and Greece ‘being back in the markets.’

Consider the following. The ESM lent 86 Billion Euro to Greece between August 2015 and July 2018. The final tranche of these loans will not be paid back until 2060, with payments beginning in 2034. This ten year deferral of payments along with an interest rate reduction to an average of 1.62% across issues is the much heralded debt relief agreement of June 21st 2018. All things considered, and given real ‘go to the market’ alternatives if you have Greece’s bond rating, this is not a bad deal – on paper. These measures, plus the final bailout cash being added to cash reserves, means that Greece will actually not have to return to the markets for funding for almost two years. Given this, the ‘return to the markets’ comes with some pretty large airbags, all of which makes buying Greek debt more attractive, hence recent bond rating upgrades. So, we are extending, but what are we still pretending?

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“..Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case!”

The Winners Will Lose and the Losers Will Win (Kunstler)

What a revoltin’ development, as Chester A. Riley used to say on “The Life of Riley” TV show back in 1955, when America was great (at least that’s the theory). Riley was an original deplorable before the concept even emerged from the murk of early pop culture. He worked in an aircraft factory somewhere in southern California, which only a few decades prior was the mecca of an earlier generations of losers: the Oakies and other Dust Bowl refugees who went west to pick fruit or get into the movies. Chester A. Riley supported a family on that job as a wing-riveter. All the male characters in the series had been through the Second World War, but were so far removed from the horror that the audience never heard about it.

That was the point: to forget all that gore and get down with the new crazes for backyard barbeque, seeing the USA in your Chevrolet, enjoying that healthful pack of Lucky Strikes in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant… double your pleasure, double your fun… and away go troubles down the drain…. As Tom Wolfe pointed out eons ago, the most overlooked feature of post-war American life was the way that the old US peasantry found themselves living higher on the hog than Louis the XVI and his court at Versailles. Hot and cold running water, all the deliciously engineered Betty Crocker cake you could eat, painless dentistry, and Yankees away games on Channel 11, with Pabst Blue Ribbon by the case! By 1960 or so, along came color TV and air-conditioning, and in places like Atlanta, St. Louis, and Little Rock, you barely had to go outside anymore, thank God! No more heat stroke, hookworm, or chiggers.

It was a helluva lot better than earlier peasant classes had it, for sure, but let’s face it: it was kind of a low-grade nirvana. And a couple of generations beyond “The Life of Riley” the whole thing has fallen apart. There are few hands-on jobs that allow a man to support a family. And what would we even mean by that? Stick the women back in kitchen and the laundry room? What a waste of human capital (even for socialists who oppose capital). The odd thing is that there is increasingly little for this class of people to do besides stand near the door of the WalMart, and if the vaunted tech entrepreneurs of this land have their way with robotics, you can be sure there would be less than nothing for them to do… except crawl off and die quietly, without leaving an odoriferous mess.

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Long read. Steve Keen comments: This will doom the USA to stagnation: a generation with too much debt and no prospect of using credit like the previous generation.

The Inescapable Weight Of My $100,000 Student Debt (G.)

On Halloween in 2008, about six weeks after Lehman Brothers collapsed, my mother called me from Michigan to tell me that my father had lost his job in the sales department of Visteon, an auto parts supplier for Ford. Two months later, my mother lost her job working for the city of Troy, a suburb about half an hour from Detroit. From there our lives seemed to accelerate, the terrible events compounding fast enough to elude immediate understanding. By June, my parents, unable to find any work in the state where they spent their entire lives, moved to New York, where my sister and I were both in school. A month later, the mortgage on my childhood home went into default.

After several months of unemployment, my mother got a job in New York City, fundraising for a children’s choir. In the summer of 2010, I completed my studies at New York University, where I received a BA and an MA in English literature, with more than $100,000 of debt, for which my father was a guarantor. My father was still unemployed and my mother had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. She continued working, though her employer was clearly perturbed that she would have to take off every Friday for chemotherapy. To compensate for the lost time, on Mondays she rode early buses into the city from the Bronx, where, after months of harrowing uncertainty, my parents had settled. She wanted to be in the office first thing.

In January 2011, Chase Bank took full possession of the house in Michigan. Our last ties were severed by an email my father received from the realtor, who had tried and failed to sell the property, telling him he could now cancel the utilities. In May, I got a freelance contract with a newspaper that within a year would hire me full-time – paying me, after taxes, roughly $900 every two weeks. In September 2011, my parents were approved for bankruptcy, and in October, due to a paperwork error, their car was repossessed in the middle of the night by creditors. Meanwhile, the payments for my debt – which had been borrowed from a variety of federal and private lenders, most prominently Citibank – totalled about $1,100 a month.

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Aug 202018
 
 August 20, 2018  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Henry Bacon General View of the Acropolis at Sunset 1927(?)

 

It’s Not Turkey, It’s The Debt Cycle (Steen Jakobsen)
Turkish Firms, Government Face $3.8 Billion Bond Crunch In October: SocGen (R.)
David Stockman: ‘Unhinged White House’ To Cause Stock Market Crash (CNBC)
Trump Is The Unsung Hero Of The World Economy (CNBC)
Greece’s Bailout Is Finally At An End – But Has Been A Failure (G.)
End Of Greek Bailouts Offers Little Hope To Young (BBC)
Varoufakis Says Biggest Mistake Was Trusting Tsipras (K.)
First No-Deal Brexit Advisory Notices To Be Released On Thursday (Ind.)
Britain’s Low-Earning Parents ‘Can’t Afford Basic Lifestyle’ (BBC)
In US, UK, People Die Early Due To ‘Shit-Life Syndrome’ (G.)

 

 

Deleveraging and shrinking liquidity.

It’s Not Turkey, It’s The Debt Cycle (Steen Jakobsen)

There is currently a lot of focus on Turkey, and for good reason, but Turkey is really only a second or third derivative of the global macro story. Turkey represents the catalyst for a new theme, which is “too much debt and current account deficits equals crisis”. In that sense, we have come full cycle from deficits and debt mattering in the 1980s and ‘90s but not in the ‘00s and ‘10s post- the Nasdaq crash and great financial crisis under the biggest monetary experiment of all time. In our view, the order of sequence for this crisis is as follows: 1. The debt cycle is on pause as first China and now the US have deleveraged and ‘normalised’.

2. The stock of credit or the ‘credit cake’ has collapsed. First it was the ‘change of the change of credit’, or the credit impulse, which tanked in late 2017 and into 2018. Now it is also the stock of credit. Right now, global M2 over global growth is less than one, meaning the world is trying to achieve 6% global growth with less than 2.5% growth in its monetary base… the exact opposite of the 00’s and ‘10s central bank- and politician-driven model. 3. This smaller credit cake is spilling over to a stronger USD (as US growth increases versus the rest of the world) and a higher marginal cost of funding (as the amount of dollars available in the credit system shrinks), leading to a mini-emerging market crisis.

4. Finally, the Turkish situation was really created by the aforementioned factors but it was made worse by President Erdogan’s autocratic and naive monetary and fiscal response. The reason this mini-crisis is not idiosyncratic is points one through three, but the market is still treating Turkey as the starting point of the current EM mini-crisis. Where do we go from here? More and more investors seem to believe that we are on the brink of an ‘Asian crisis 2.0’ or a liquidity crisis.

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It costs Turks 25% more to pay off debt than it did in June.

Turkish Firms, Government Face $3.8 Billion Bond Crunch In October: SocGen (R.)

Turkey and its firms face repayments of nearly $3.8 billion on foreign currency bonds in October as the country struggles with a plunging lira that has lost more than a third of its value since the start of the year. Emerging market (EM) investors have been worried about Turkey’s external debt burden and the ability of its firms and banks to repay after a boom in hard currency issuance to help finance a rapidly growing economy. For companies, the cost of servicing foreign debt has risen by a quarter in lira terms in the past two months alone. “Turkey’s external financing requirements are large,” Jason Daw at Societe General wrote in a note to clients. “It has the highest FX-denominated debt in EM and short-term external debt of $180 billion and total external debt of $460 billion.”

Calculations by Societe General show that Turkish firms will face $1.8 billion of hard-currency denominated bonds maturing by the year-end while $1.25 billion of government bonds will come due. Additionally, a total of $2.3 billion in interest must be paid. The heaviest month for repayments is October, when $3 billion in principal and $762 million interest are due. “Principal and interest payments should be closely watched to year end – it is 25 percent more costly for the corporate sector to repay their obligations compared to June given FX depreciation,” Daw wrote.

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When will stocks implode?

David Stockman: ‘Unhinged White House’ To Cause Stock Market Crash (CNBC)

Just days before the anniversary of what’s expected to be the longest bull market in U.S. history, David Stockman is warning investors a crash is inevitable. Stockman, who served as the Office of Management and Budget director in the Reagan administration, puts a large part of the blame on Washington’s decision to place tariffs on China and the ballooning budget deficit. “This economy isn’t strong, and it can’t take the punishment that’s coming out of an unhinged White House and a Washington policy environment where they all have their heads in the sand,” Stockman said Thursday on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” According to Stockman, the China trade war is the primary catalyst that could finally pushes stocks over the edge.

“We’re not going to have a happy solution to this. We’re in a trade war big time. It’s going to keep getting worse because Donald Trump is unhinged. He is an economic ignoramus on trade,” Stockman added. “This is not caused by bad trade deals. Our big trade deficits are the result of bad monetary policy for decades. We priced [ourselves] out of the world market, and what he’s trying to do is going to cause a train wreck.” Stockman is relentlessly bearish, and his previous dire warnings have yet to materialize. Right now, Stockman isn’t ruling out another all-time high in what he’s been calling the “biggest stock market bubble in recorded history.” However, he warned a 20 to 40% shock could “easily” wipe out gains in the days that follow.

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Who profits from the tax cuts?

Trump Is The Unsung Hero Of The World Economy (CNBC)

Washington’s huge fiscal and monetary stimuli will give the world economy an estimated $600 billion shot in the arm this year. That amount represents the difference between the expected U.S. purchases and sales of goods and services in world trade. Technically, you can call it the U.S. current account deficit. Some people may recall that this is exactly the opposite of what President Donald Trump promised in 2015 and has repeated ever since. The data published earlier this month show that Trump is nowhere close to delivering on that promise. In fact, China, Japan and Europe are getting a big piece of his tax cut in their combined trade surplus of $297.8 billion during the first six months of this year. That is an 8.2 percent increase from what they got out of a more sluggish American economy a year ago.

In spite of that, China, Japan and the European Union keep complaining about U.S. protectionism, accusing Trump of allegedly destroying the multilateral trading system. And they don’t even have the courtesy to recycle some of their surplus dollars in purchases of American IOUs that are fueling their economic growth. In the first half of this year, Japan, China and Germany reduced their Treasury holdings by $31.1 billion, $6.2 billion and $1.1 billion respectively. Washington — and the national security strategists, in particular — may wish to think about what those countries did with all the dollars they got from dumping their goods and services on U.S. markets. In fact, Trump is playing nice with those trading partners. Unfortunately, while doing that, he is also saddling generations of Americans with the soaring and debilitating public debt that will inevitably lead to slowing growth of jobs and incomes at home.

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It’s a sad day. By far the highest tax burden and by far the lowest incomes in the EU. That’s not a viable model.

Greece’s Bailout Is Finally At An End – But Has Been A Failure (G.)

After eight years, Greece will on Monday be deemed strong enough to stand on its own feet. The international bailout programme that has provided Athens with emergency financial support will come to an end. Aside from the tough budget rules in place for the next decade or more, Greeks can wave goodbye to the troika – the officials from the IMF, the ECB and the EU – that has in effect been running the country since 2010. Beware the hype that trumpets this as a great success story, a tribute to solidarity and a commonsense approach that has restored economic stability and prevented Greece from being the first country to leave the euro. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Greece has been a colossal failure. It is a tale of incompetence, of dogma, of needless delay and of the interests of banks being put before the needs of people. And there will be long-term consequences. When Greece first received help in 2010, the plan was for it to have access to the financial markets within two years. It has taken two further rescue packages and six years for that to happen. The Greek economy has recently been growing, but it has a vast amount of ground to make up, following a peak-to-trough contraction that saw GDP shrink by almost a third. The loss of so much output could have been avoided, but Greece – like the rest of Europe – was subjected to the idea that the priority in the wake of the most serious financial crisis in a century was for governments to balance the books through deflation.

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The only young Greeks who have a future have left.

End Of Greek Bailouts Offers Little Hope To Young (BBC)

The crisis hit all parts of Greek society – but it was particularly hard on the young. Between 2008 and 2016 the country lost almost 4% of its citizens to emigration – more than 400,000 people. And while Greece didn’t record the ages of those emigrating, the country is getting older. The average (median) age has jumped by more than four years since 2008; and while those aged 20 to 39 used to make up 29% of the population, that’s fallen to just 24%. Giorgios Christides is a Greek journalist covering his country for German news magazine Der Spiegel. Back in 2012 he wrote a piece for the BBC about his friends “fleeing Greece one by one”. He says the economic improvements since the peak of the crisis in 2012 are not enough to have changed that.

Greeks love their country, and many “would return the second they thought they could find a worthwhile job and good prospects back home”, he says. Low wages and high taxes for the self-employed make those good prospects rare. Even a “best-case scenario” of a permanent job presents difficulties “if you want to leave your parents’ home, have children, lead a full and meaningful life,” he said. Part of the reason for the exodus is a lack of job opportunities. Greece’s unemployment rate peaked at 27.5% in 2013 – but for those under 25, it was more than double that, at 58%. Last year, more than four in every 10 young Greeks were still jobless.

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“They are doing me a great honor by trying to pass on their sins to me.”

Varoufakis Says Biggest Mistake Was Trusting Tsipras (K.)

Almost three years after the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government signed the third bailout program and two days before Greece is set to complete it, former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said his biggest mistake during his tumultuous tenure was “trusting Tsipras.” “My mistake was trusting Mr. Tsipras – [trusting] that we had been elected with a clear mandate not to extend the country’s debt colony status with a new memorandum and that we would fight until the end to link the total debt and the repayment rate with the GDP and its growth rate – what we call the growth clause,” he told SKAI television on Saturday. Asked to comment on the estimation made by the head of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Klaus Regling that the first six months of 2015, when Varoufakis was at the helm of the finance ministry, cost the country €86-200 billion, the former minister was dismissive.

“The cost was huge since 2010 and it is entirely due to the troika’s wrong program,” he said, referring to the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF who supervised Greece’s three adjustment programs. “They are doing me a great honor by trying to pass on their sins to me. A finance minister is judged by the debt levels he leaves behind, in relation to what he found, the cash reserves and the GDP. You will see that I mostly delivered what I had received,” he added. Varoufakis described the ESM as a “a sinful mechanism of alleged stability, which in essence destabilised the Greek economy and Europe.”

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They’re nowhere.

First No-Deal Brexit Advisory Notices To Be Released On Thursday (Ind.)

The government is to begin publishing its Brexit technical notices, setting out the consequences of crashing out of the EU without a deal, on Thursday, the prime minister’s office has said. The first of the explanatory documents are expected from the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) within days and are designed to inform citizens and businesses how to cope with a no-deal scenario. All 84 of the notices are due to be published before the end of September. Some are thought to be broad in scope, covering issues like financial services, company law and climate change, while others will focus on specific problems including travelling abroad with pets.

Two days before the first publication, Brexit secretary Dominic Raab will travel to Brussels in a bid to pick up the pace of talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Theresa May’s office added on Saturday. “On the agenda will be resolving the few remaining withdrawal issues related to the UK leaving the EU and pressing ahead with discussions on the future relationship,” Downing Street said of Tuesday’s planned summit.

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The perks of austerity. You see it in Greece, you see it in the UK.

Britain’s Low-Earning Parents ‘Can’t Afford Basic Lifestyle’ (BBC)

Low-earning parents working full-time are still unable to earn enough to provide their family with a basic, no-frills lifestyle, research suggests. A single parent on the National Living Wage is £74 a week short of the minimum income needed, according to the Child Poverty Action Group. A couple with two children would be £49 a week short of the income needed, the charity said. But this was better than last year, when couples were £59 a week short. The National Living Wage is currently £7.83 an hour for those aged over 25. A government spokesperson said fewer families were living in absolute poverty.

“The employment rate is at a near-record high and the National Living Wage has delivered the highest pay increase for the lowest paid in 20 years, worth £2,000 extra per year for a full-time worker,” the spokesperson added. But the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said gains from modest increases in wages had been “clawed back” through the freezing of tax credits. Rising prices and changes to various benefit schemes had also “hit family budgets hard”, it said. The CPAG’s definition of a “no-frills” lifestyle is based on the Minimum Income Standard, a set of criteria drawn up by the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University. It calculates the income required for a minimum standard of living based on essentials such as food, clothes and accommodation, as well as “other costs required to take part in society”.

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More consequences of austerity.

In US, UK, People Die Early Due To ‘Shit-Life Syndrome’ (G.)

Britain and America are in the midst of a barely reported public health crisis. They are experiencing not merely a slowdown in life expectancy, which in many other rich countries is continuing to lengthen, but the start of an alarming increase in death rates across all our populations, men and women alike. We are needlessly allowing our people to die early. In Britain, life expectancy, which increased steadily for a century, slowed dramatically between 2010 and 2016. The rate of increase dropped by 90% for women and 76% for men, to 82.8 years and 79.1 years respectively.

Now, death rates among older people have so much increased over the last two years – with expectations that this will continue – that two major insurance companies, Aviva and Legal and General, are releasing hundreds of millions of pounds they had been holding as reserves to pay annuities to pay to shareholders instead. Society, once again, affecting the citadels of high finance. Trends in the US are more serious and foretell what is likely to happen in Britain without an urgent change in course. Death rates of people in midlife (between 25 and 64) are increasing across the racial and ethnic divide. It has long been known that the mortality rates of midlife American black and Hispanic people have been worse than the non-Hispanic white population, but last week the British Medical Journal published an important study re-examining the trends for all racial groups between 1999 and 2016 .

The malaises that have plagued the black population are extending to the non-Hispanic, midlife white population. As the report states: “All cause mortality increased… among non-Hispanic whites.” Why? “Drug overdoses were the leading cause of increased mortality in midlife, but mortality also increased for alcohol-related conditions, suicides and organ diseases involving multiple body systems” (notably liver, heart diseases and cancers). US doctors coined a phrase for this condition: “shit-life syndrome”.

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Aug 192018
 
 August 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Portrait of Ambroise Vollard 1910

 

Anatomy of a Crisis: A Strong Dollar and Disappearing Liquidity (Palisade)
Speculators Will Make Hay From Great Australian Economic Crash (Steve Keen)
Judge Rules FBI Must Address Measures Taken To Verify Steele Dossier (ZH)
White House Counsel “Cooperating Extensively” With Obstruction Probe (ZH)
Erdogan Says US Has Launched ‘Attempted Economic Coup’ (Ind.)
No-Deal Brexit May Force Rethink Of Vote – Ex-Civil Service Head (PA)
Putin Urges Europe To Help Rebuild Syria So Refugees Can Return (AFP)
Ecuador Slams Door On Venezuelans (BBC)
The Un-Celebrity President (WaPo)
Britain Has One Last Chance To Save Endangered Species (G.)

 

 

When liquidity vanishes the dollar rises.

Anatomy of a Crisis: A Strong Dollar and Disappearing Liquidity (Palisade)

Since March – the dollar’s rallied over 7%. And it’s caused the Emerging Markets to implode. But the bigger problem is what lies ahead. And that’s a global dollar shortage – which the mainstream continues to ignore. . . I’ve touched on this a couple months back. Wondering when the mainstream would start to realize that the stronger the dollar gets – the more pressure global economies will feel. I wrote. . . “This is going to cause an evaporation of dollar liquidity – making the markets extremely fragile. Putting it simply – the soaring U.S. deficit requires an even greater amount dollars from foreigners to fund the U.S. Treasury. But if the Fed is shrinking their balance sheet, that means the bonds they’re selling to banks are sucking dollars out of the economy (the reverse of Quantitative Easing which was injecting dollars into the economy). This is creating a shortage of U.S. dollars – the world’s reserve currency – therefore affecting every global economy.”

Since then, things have only gotten worse. . . First: Jerome Powell – the Fed Chairman – issued a statement at the end of June that they would actually increase the amount of rate hikes over the next two years. This means they’re tightening even faster. Second: the U.S. Treasury increased their debt-borrowing needs to the highest since the financial crisis – which was over a decade ago. Therefore, they will need even more dollars to fund their spending. “The department expects to issue $329 billion in net marketable debt from July through September, the fourth-largest total for that quarter on record and higher than the $273 billion estimated in April [a 17% increase], the Treasury said in a report Monday. The department’s forecast for the October-December quarter is $440 billion, bringing the second-half borrowing estimate to $769 billion, the highest since $1.1 trillion in July-December 2008…”

And third: China’s growth is slowing down. Meanwhile the Emerging Markets are draining their U.S. dollar reserves even faster because of the strengthening dollar. So, in summary: as global dollar liquidity continues drying up, there will be a wave of ‘risky’ positions being dumped and ‘dollar disease’ (selling assets to raise dollars to pay back debts) worldwide. . . What we know is true from Economics-101 is that the lower the supply and the greater the demand equals a higher price. And as the pool of USD keeps drying up – then the price of the dollars must rise. This translates into higher offshore dollar funding (higher interest rates). Which is killing dollar indebted countries and corporations – like Turkey today.

[..] I think future financial historians will scratch their heads wondering why markets today continued discounting this serious dollar-shortage problem. The easy money years post-2008 fueled a massive debt bubble – causing asset prices all over to rise. But the market isn’t expecting the tight money years today to cause asset prices to fall. It’s like they think that drinking alcohol today will make them feel good – but don’t believe they’ll be hungover tomorrow. So, what’s next? I believe the U.S. dollar will continue rallying because of all that I mentioned above. As Hedge Funds, institutions, and investors continue unloading their Emerging Market positions – things will only get worse.

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Housing bubble vs stock market bubble. Pick your fave toxin.

Speculators Will Make Hay From Great Australian Economic Crash (Steve Keen)

For years, Australia has been seen as the goose which laid the golden egg for workers, migrants and investors. Ironically, as America’s casino closes, it will eventually end up as a speculator’s paradise.\ The performance of the Australian stock market relative to its American equivalent since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) shows the difference between a country where Quantitative Easing (QE) – the buying of bonds by the central bank to drive bond prices up and interest rates down, and thus encourage firms to invest and financial institutions to buy shares – was practiced and one where it was not. It’s both a warning about what could happen when the Fed starts to unwind QE, and a perverse opportunity to profit when Australia’s central bank, the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) inevitably starts its own QE program.

Since Australia avoided the GFC, and its rate of economic growth has been twice as fast as America’s post-crisis (an average 2.7 percent per year, versus 1.3 percent for the US), you might expect Australia’s stock market to have done better than America’s. In fact, it’s performed much worse: the main Australian index, the ASX, still hasn’t returned to its mid-2000s peak, while the US S&P500 has more than doubled its pre-crash level, and it’s almost four times as high as it was in the deepest depths of 2009. The timing of the US stock market recovery is instructive: it began in February 2009, just three months after the Federal Reserve began “QE1” (the first of three episodes of Quantitative Easing), when it promised to net buy bonds from the financial sector to the tune of $1 trillion per year ($80 billion per month).

With the Fed buying a trillion bucks worth of bonds every year, thus giving the financial sector one trillion in cash per year in place of its interest-earning bonds, the only place the financial sector could stash that dough in search of a return was the stock market. This was the intention of the policy of course: to drive share prices higher in order to stimulate the economy. Aside from the fact it’s made the wealthier even wealthier as a direct effect of government policy, and cost far more than a direct boost to the poor would have done, it’s worked a treat: according to Robert Shiller’s “Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings Ratio,” it’s driven America’s stock market to its second-highest peak in history, higher than the 1929 bubble, second only to the DotCom maximum in 2000, and more than twice its long-term average.

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Can’t hide behind declassified docs.

Judge Rules FBI Must Address Measures Taken To Verify Steele Dossier (ZH)

The FBI has been dealt a major blow after a Washington DC judge ruled that the agency must respond to a FOIA request for documents concerning the bureau’s efforts to verify the controversial Steele Dossier, before it was used as the foundation of a FISA surveillance warrant application and subsequent renewals. US District Court Judge Amit Mehta – who in January sided with the FBI’s decision to ignore the FOIA request, said that President Trump’s release of two House Intelligence Committee documents (the “Nunes” and “Schiff” memos) changed everything.

Considering that the FBI offered Steele $50,000 to verify the Dossier’s claims yet never paid him, BuzzFeed has unsuccessfully tried to do the same to defend themselves in a dossier-related lawsuit, and a $50 million Soros-funded investigation to continue the hunt have turned up nothing that we know of – whatever documents the FBI may be forced to cough up regarding their attempts to verify the Dossier could prove highly embarrassing for the agency. “[I]f Mr. Steele could get solid corroboration of his reports, the F.B.I. would pay him $50,000 for his efforts, according to two people familiar with the offer. Ultimately, he was not paid.” -NYT

What’s more, forcing the FBI to prove they had an empty hand will likely embolden calls to disband the special counsel investigation – as the agency’s mercenary and politicized approach to “investigations” will be laid all the more bare for the world to see. Then again, who knows – maybe the FBI verified everything in the dossier and it simply hasn’t leaked. That said, while the FBI will likely be forced to acknowledge the documents thanks to the Thursday ruling, the agency will still be able to try and convince the judge that there are other grounds to withhold the records.

In January, Mehta blessed the FBI’s decision not to disclose the existence of any records containing the agency’s efforts to verify the dossier – ruling that Trump’s tweets about the dossier didn’t require the FBI and other intelligence agencies to act on records requests. “But then the ground shifted,” writes Mehta of Trump declassifying the House memos. “As a result of the Nunes and Schiff Memos, there is now in the public domain meaningful information about how the FBI acquired the Dossier and how the agency used it to investigate Russian meddling.” [..] “It remains no longer logical nor plausible for the FBI to maintain that it cannot confirm nor deny the existence of documents,” Mehta wrote.

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Doesn’t feel like McGahn has tons of dirt.

White House Counsel “Cooperating Extensively” With Obstruction Probe (ZH)

Update: Trump has commented on the story, saying he allowed McGahn “and all other requested members of the White House Staff” to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel. He also notes that the White House has given over one million pages of documents adding “No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”

White House counsel Donald McGahn II, has been quietly cooperating “extensively” with special counsel Robert Mueller in his probe of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to an explosive New York Times report published Saturday afternoon. Sources told the Times that McGahn has had at least three voluntary interviews with Mueller’s team totaling 30 hours, in which he discussed accounts of multiple episodes at the center of Mueller’s probe into whether President Trump obstructed justice, as well as the president’s furor toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which he urged McGahn to respond to it. For a lawyer to share so much with investigators scrutinizing his client is unusual.

Lawyers are rarely so open with investigators, not only because they are advocating on behalf of their clients but also because their conversations with clients are potentially shielded by attorney-client privilege, and in the case of presidents, executive privilege. Among the episodes McGahn reprotedly discussed with investigators is Trump’s firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey and the president’s repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of the special counsel despite his recusal from Russia probes. McGahn was also centrally involved in Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, himself which investigators might not have discovered without him.

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Downgrades add to the downfall.

Erdogan Says US Has Launched ‘Attempted Economic Coup’ (Ind.)

Turkey’s president has accused America of launching an “attempted economic coup” as the country’s currency continues to reel following US economic sanctions. Recep Tayyip Erdogan told thousands of supporters in Ankara: “Today some people are trying to threaten us through the economy, through interest rates, foreign exchange, investment and inflation. “We are telling them: we’ve seen your games, and we are challenging you.” And, in a clear swipe at US president Donald Trump he added: “We did not and will not surrender to those who act like a strategic partner but make us a strategic target.”

[..] As the two countries have clashed, the lira’s value has plummeted: it has now dropped 38 per cent against the dollar since the beginning of the year. On Friday, ratings agencies Standard & Poor and Moody’s downgraded Turkey’s credit rating closer to “junk” status, pointing to currency fluctuations and concerns over central bank independence. A spokesman for Standard & Poor said: “The downgrade reflects our expectation that the extreme volatility of the Turkish lira and the resulting projected sharp balance of payments adjustment will undermine Turkey’s economy. We forecast a recession next year.” He added the agency was predicting that the country’s inflation will hit a potential 22 per cent over the next four months.

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When temperatures start dropping, reality will loom.

No-Deal Brexit May Force Rethink Of Vote – Ex-Civil Service Head (PA)

Britain may have to rethink the decision to leave the EU if the government is unable to strike a Brexit deal with Brussels, a former head of the civil service has said. Bob Kerslake said the consequences of a no-deal exit would be so serious that the UK parliament would have to consider whether it could allow it to go ahead. Lord Kerslake, who has been advising Labour on preparing for government, said that at the very least the article 50 process – under which the UK is set to leave the bloc on 29 March next year – would have to be paused. In those circumstances, the European commission would almost certainly insist on some “re-examination” of the original decision to leave, he said.

His comments came as the government prepares to publish a series of technical notes on preparations for a no-deal Brexit across dozens of areas of British life, from farming to financial services. Kerslake said the measures were “too little, too late” and that the government had not allowed itself enough time to prepare for such an outcome. He told the the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The consequences of a no deal would be so serious as I think parliament would have to seriously consider whether it could contemplate this. “The question people need to ask themselves is, is this a risk that they think we should be taking?

“If the government can negotiate a good deal, then so be it. But if they can’t and we end up in this position, then we have to reopen the question of whether we go forward with Brexit at all. It is not too late to do that. “A pause to reflect would certainly be necessary. I think that is a pretty high probability now. “But I think that pause would need to include – and I suspect this would be insisted on by the commission – some re-examination of the decision itself.”

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The only thing that makes sense.

Putin Urges Europe To Help Rebuild Syria So Refugees Can Return (AFP)

Russian president Vladimir Putin has called on Europe to contribute to the reconstruction of Syria to allow millions of refugees to return home. “We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort in the Syrian conflict,” he said on Saturday, ahead of a meeting with his German counterpart Angela Merkel at the government retreat of Meseberg Palace, north of Berlin. “By that, I mean above all humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to.” There were 1 million refugees in Jordan, the same number in Lebanon, and 3 million in Turkey, Putin said.

Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015 – the height of the migration crisis – which has weakened Angela Merkel politically and split the European Union. “This is potentially a huge burden for Europe,” Putin said. “That’s why we have to do everything to get these people back home,” he added, emphasising the need to restore basic services such as water supplies and healthcare.

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More refugees. Great.

Ecuador Slams Door On Venezuelans (BBC)

Ecuador has brought in new rules to stop Venezuelan migrants entering the country without a passport, leaving many stranded in neighbouring Colombia. Thousands of Venezuelans fleeing their country’s economic and political crisis have been crossing into Ecuador from Colombia using only identity cards. Most are heading south to join family members in Peru and Chile. Colombia has protested against the move, saying vulnerable people will be trapped on its side of the border. In a separate incident, residents of a Brazilian town attacked a Venezuelan migrant camp on Saturday and drove the occupants back across the border. Venezuela has suffered for years from high inflation and the chronic shortage of food and medicines.

More than a million Venezuelan migrants have entered Colombia in the past 15 months, according to official estimates, and more than 4,000 have been arriving at Ecuador’s border every day. Many have been walking or hitching rides for weeks and are exhausted by the time they reach the frontier. [..] With the flow of Venezuelan migrants causing tensions across the region, Peru’s government announced immigration measures similar to Ecuador’s on Friday. Passport requirements for Venezuelans will begin on 25 August. In February, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced a tightening of border controls, resulting in thousands of Venezuelans rushing to crossing points. Brazil, which neighbours Venezuela, has also expressed concerns and temporarily closed the border earlier this month. Violence has flared in the border state of Roraima where thousands of Venezuelans live in precarious accommodation.

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“Carter has been an ex-president for 37 years, longer than anyone else in history.”He used those years to redeem himself.

The Un-Celebrity President (WaPo)

Jimmy Carter finishes his Saturday night dinner, salmon and broccoli casserole on a paper plate, flashes his famous toothy grin and calls playfully to his wife of 72 years, Rosalynn: “C’mon, kid.” She laughs and takes his hand, and they walk carefully through a neighbor’s kitchen filled with 1976 campaign buttons, photos of world leaders and a couple of unopened cans of Billy Beer, then out the back door, where three Secret Service agents wait. They do this just about every weekend in this tiny town where they were born — he almost 94 years ago, she almost 91. Dinner at their friend Jill Stuckey’s house, with plastic Solo cups of ice water and one glass each of bargain-brand chardonnay, then the half-mile walk home to the ranch house they built in 1961.

On this south Georgia summer evening, still close to 90 degrees, they dab their faces with a little plastic bottle of No Natz to repel the swirling clouds of tiny bugs. Then they catch each other’s hands again and start walking, the former president in jeans and clunky black shoes, the former first lady using a walking stick for the first time. The 39th president of the United States lives modestly, a sharp contrast to his successors, who have left the White House to embrace power of another kind: wealth. Even those who didn’t start out rich, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, have made tens of millions of dollars on the private-sector opportunities that flow so easily to ex-presidents.

When Carter left the White House after one tumultuous term, trounced by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, he returned to Plains, a speck of peanut and cotton farmland that to this day has a nearly 40 percent poverty rate. The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.” Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Gerald Ford, Carter’s predecessor and close friend, was the first to fully take advantage of those high-paid post-presidential opportunities, but that “Carter did the opposite.” Since Ford, other former presidents, and sometimes their spouses, routinely earn hundreds of thousands of dollars per speech. “I don’t see anything wrong with it; I don’t blame other people for doing it,” Carter says over dinner. “It just never had been my ambition to be rich.”

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One field where EU regulation is very harmful.

Britain Has One Last Chance To Save Endangered Species (G.)

Ministers may have only 12 months to rescue Britain’s degraded environment and to save its endangered birds and animals. That is the stark conclusion of Michael Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB, who has warned that parliamentary bills – to be published over the next year – will have to make crucial changes to the way our farms and fisheries are run if the wildlife and landscape of the nation are to be rescued from their dangerously depleted condition. “We are on a cusp, and if we fail to act decisively we will pay the price in coming years,” Clarke told the Observer last week. The three forthcoming bills – on agriculture, on fisheries and on the environment – will replace the EU legislation that currently controls our farming, fishing industry and the quality of our air, water and wildlife.

The government has yet to announce what these bills will contain. However, conservationists such as Clarke now fear there is a real risk that one or all of these new pieces of legislation will fail to provide the necessary powers to restore our crisis-hit environment. “Since 1980, across Europe 420 million individual birds have disappeared from the countryside thanks to the practices of modern agriculture,” said Clarke. And that staggering drop is matched by an even more catastrophic decline in insect life over the same period of time, he added. “For years, we could see the lack of insects on our windscreens on summer evenings. It was a smoking gun but there was no hard data – until recent research in Germany showed there had been a 75% decline in its flying insects, figures since matched by Dutch and some UK data. The insects have gone – and so have 420 million birds.”

[..] As to the causes of these declines, the intensification and spread of agriculture and changes in land use take most of the blame – with the EU common agricultural policy (CAP) being considered a particularly destructive agent in this process. The CAP stresses the importance of agricultural output above all else and has helped destroy the homes and food sources of countless birds, animals and insects, said Clarke. Crucially, as Britain prepares to withdraw from the CAP and the EU, the nation has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put right this damage, said Clarke. About £3bn a year is spent on British farming through CAP, he pointed out.

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Aug 182018
 
 August 18, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Portrait of Doctor Félix Rey, Arles. Rey disliked his portrait and gave it away 1889

 

Furor Over Revoked Security Clearance Grows As Trump Said To Threaten More (G.)
What Was Bruce Ohr Doing? (Strassel)
US Special Counsel Recommends Six Months In Prison For Papadopoulos (R.)
CNN Sues Government To Get Names, Addresses Of Manafort Jurors (TF)
The Three-headed Monster (Kunstler)
Trump Pushes For SEC To End Quarterly Earnings Reports (G.)
You Should Fear the Emerging Market Debt Bubble (Nomi Prins)
Denmark Says Time Is Running Out To Avoid No-Deal Brexit (G.)
In The Country Of The Colosseum, Why Are 40-Year Old Structures Crumbling? (G.)
Censoring Alex Jones (Dmitry Orlov)
New Pesticides May Harm Bees As Much As Existing Ones (G.)
Glyphosate Found In Over 80% of Breast Milk Samples in Brazil (TeleSur)

 

 

Yeah, they’re not liking this one bit. But as I wrote yesterday, these people will be subjects in a 2nd special counsel. That doesn’t rhyme with security clearance.

Furor Over Revoked Security Clearance Grows As Trump Said To Threaten More (G.)

Amid mounting criticism after he revoked the former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance, Donald Trump threatened to similarly punish a current official and is reportedly preparing to do the same to others who have criticized him. The president’s remarks and the report from the Washington Post escalated worsening tensions between the White House and the intelligence community. Trump discussed his intention to revoke security clearances while speaking to reporters Friday before he left the White House for a fundraiser on Long Island. The president suggested that his first target would be Bruce Ohr, a largely unknown justice department official who has become a frequent target of criticism by Trump and the rightwing media.

“I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace,” Trump said. “I suspect I’ll be taking it away very quickly.” Ohr’s wife, Nellie, was employed during the 2016 campaign by Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned an infamous dossier on Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that was authored by Christopher Steele, a former British spy. Also on Friday, the Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that the the White House had already drafted documents to strip a number of other prominent intelligence community figures of their clearances.

The Post’s list of targets includes the former director of national intelligence James Clapper, the former FBI directors Michael Hayden and James Comey, the former national security adviser Susan Rice, the former acting attorney general Sally Yates, the former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, and the former FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. [..] Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, announced Friday on Twitter that he planned to introduce an amendment “to block the president from punishing and intimidating his critics by arbitrarily revoking security clearances”.

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The Guardian, above, calls Ohr “a largely unknown justice department official who has become a frequent target of criticism by Trump and the rightwing media.”. Well, this is the Wall Street Journal. And Ohr and his wife have some explaining to do.

What Was Bruce Ohr Doing? (Strassel)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department have continued to insist they did nothing wrong in their Trump-Russia investigation. This week should finally bring an end to that claim, given the clear evidence of malfeasance via the use of Bruce Ohr. Mr. Ohr was until last year associate deputy attorney general. He began feeding information to the FBI from dossier author Christopher Steele in late 2016 – after the FBI had terminated Mr. Steele as a confidential informant for violating the bureau’s rules. He also collected dirt from Glenn Simpson, cofounder of Fusion GPS, the opposition-research firm that worked for Hillary Clinton’s campaign and employed Mr. Steele.

Altogether, the FBI pumped Mr. Ohr for information at least a dozen times, debriefs that remain in classified 302 forms. All the while, Mr. Ohr failed to disclose on financial forms that his wife, Nellie, worked alongside Mr. Steele in 2016, getting paid by Mr. Simpson for anti-Trump research. The Justice Department has now turned over Ohr documents to Congress that show how deeply tied up he was with the Clinton crew – with dozens of emails, calls, meetings and notes that describe his interactions and what he collected. Mr. Ohr’s conduct is itself deeply troubling. He was acting as a witness (via FBI interviews) in a case being overseen by a Justice Department in which he held a very senior position.

He appears to have concealed this role from at least some superiors, since Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified that he’d been unaware of Mr. Ohr’s intermediary status. Lawyers meanwhile note that it is a crime for a federal official to participate in any government matter in which he has a financial interest. Fusion’s bank records presumably show Nellie Ohr, and by extension her husband, benefiting from the Trump opposition research that Mr. Ohr continued to pass to the FBI. The Justice Department declined to comment. But for all Mr. Ohr’s misdeeds, the worse misconduct is by the FBI and Justice Department.

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Unlike Ohr, Papadopoulos is an absolute nobody. But he once when he was drunk mentioned Russians. So Mueller wants his ass. He has to keep the collusion meme alive.

US Special Counsel Recommends Six Months In Prison For Papadopoulos (R.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller recommended in a court filing on Friday that a judge sentence former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos to up to six months in prison for lying to federal agents investigating whether Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to FBI agents and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 7. According to Mueller’s sentencing memorandum to the judge, Papadopoulos lied about his contacts with people who claimed to have ties to top Russian officials, including his meeting with a professor who said Russia had “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

“The defendant’s crime was serious and caused damage to the government’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” Mueller’s memo said. “The defendant lied in order to conceal his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries during the campaign and made his false statements to investigators on January 27, 2017, early in the investigation, when key investigative decisions, including who to interview and when, were being made,” Mueller said. Mueller said the government believed a sentence of up to six months in prison was “appropriate and warranted” along with a fine of $9,500.

Papadopoulos unwittingly played a key role in triggering the FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign in Russia, which the president repeatedly has denounced as a “witch hunt.” While drinking at a London bar in May 2016, he told the Australian ambassador to Great Britain that the Russians had hacked thousands of emails that could damage Clinton’s presidential campaign. When the emails began appearing publicly two months later, the envoy, Alexander Downer, told U.S. diplomats about what Papadopoulos had said, according to U.S. officials familiar with the events.

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Mueller has Papadopoulos and Manafort. That’s all he has. By the way, the judge in this case says he’s been threatened and is under police protection. He doesn’t want that for the jurors. Neither should CNN, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, POLITICO, New York Times, NBC Universal, and the Associated Press.

CNN Sues Government To Get Names, Addresses Of Manafort Jurors (TF)

In a motion filed in federal court on Thursday, CNN and several other media outlets requested that the court release the names and home addresses of all jurors in the Paul Manafort fraud case. Jurors haven not yet rendered a verdict on any of the 18 charges against Manafort, who briefly served as President Donald Trump’s campaign manager in 2016. The motion — filed on behalf of CNN, Washington Post, BuzzFeed, POLITICO, New York Times, NBC Universal, and the Associated Press — asks the court to provide to the media organizations the full names and home addresses of the men and women who were summoned and selected by the federal government to serve as jurors in Manafort’s fraud case.

The media request for the names and home addresses of jurors comes a day after the jury began deliberating about the verdicts on 18 fraud and conspiracy counts against Manafort. [..] Early Thursday evening, members of the jury asked the judge a series of questions about the case and the legal threshold for proving guilt, including a definition of what “reasonable doubt” meant. Many outside legal experts interpreted the question as being good news for Manafort’s defense team and bad news for the prosecution.

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“Robert Mueller, is left looking ridiculous — and perhaps subject to malpractice charges — for trying to remove an appendix-like organ called the Manifort from the body politic instead of attending to the cancerous mess all around him. ”

The Three-headed Monster (Kunstler)

The faction that used to be the Democratic party can be described with some precision these days as a three-headed monster driving the nation toward danger, darkness, and incoherence. Anyone interested in defending what remains of the sane center of American politics take heed: The first head is the one infected with the toxic shock of losing the 2016 election. The illness took hold during the campaign that year when the bureaucracy under President Obama sent its lymphocytes and microphages in the “intel community” — especially the leadership of the FBI — to attack the perceived disease that the election of Donald Trump represented. The “doctors” of this Deep State diagnosed the condition as “Russian collusion.”

An overdue second opinion by doctors outside the Deep State adduced later that the malady was actually an auto-immune disease. The agents actually threatening the health of the state came from the intel community itself: Mr. Brennan, Mr. Clapper, Mr. Comey, Mr. Strzok, Mr. McCabe, Mr. Ohr, Ms. Yates. Ms. Page, et. al. who colluded with pathogens in the DNC, the Hillary campaign, and the British intel service to chew up and spit out Mr. Trump as expeditiously as possible. With the disease now revealed by hard evidence, the chief surgeon called into the case, Robert Mueller, is left looking ridiculous — and perhaps subject to malpractice charges — for trying to remove an appendix-like organ called the Manifort from the body politic instead of attending to the cancerous mess all around him.

Meanwhile, the Deep State can’t stop running its mouth — The New York Times, CNN, WashPo, et al — in an evermore hysterical reaction to the truth of the matter: the Deep State itself colluded with Russia (and perhaps hates itself for it, a sure recipe for mental illness).

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Let the SEC study it.

Trump Pushes For SEC To End Quarterly Earnings Reports (G.)

Donald Trump has told the US securities regulator to consider abandoning quarterly reporting – a practice criticised as too short-term by some businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. Trump said a leading company boss told him switching to twice-yearly disclosure of accounts would reduce costs and be good for business. If enacted by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the change could allow more UK companies to join a trend away from quarterly reports. The US president tweeted: “In speaking with some of the world’s top business leaders I asked what it is that would make business (jobs) even better in the U.S. “Stop quarterly reporting & go to a six month system,” said one. That would allow greater flexibility & save money. I have asked the SEC to study!”

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, has criticised the short-term thinking of analysts and investors. Explaining earlier this month why he was considering taking the electric carmaker private, he told employees: “Being public … subjects us to the quarterly earnings cycle that puts enormous pressure on Tesla to make decisions that may be right for a given quarter but not necessarily right for the long-term.” JP Morgan’s boss, Jamie Dimon, and Warren Buffett, the world’s richest investor, argued earlier this year that companies should stop publishing quarterly earnings guidance that puts too much weight on hitting short-term targets. However, they said quarterly reporting should stay because it made companies accountable to the public.

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Oh, we do.

You Should Fear the Emerging Market Debt Bubble (Nomi Prins)

[..] what’s happening in Turkey right now shouldn’t be terribly surprising, given Fed chairman Jerome Powell’s attitudes towards emerging markets. Going back to last October, his words offer a glimpse of what was coming. Powell was then just the number two guy at the Fed when he publicly articulated his outlook on tightening interest rates, the rising dollar and the impact of both on emerging markets. He conceded that higher U.S. interest rates and weakening EM currencies “could cause capital to return to advanced economies.” But, unlike those that actually pay attention, Powell was not worried. He believed that the “most likely outcome” of that policy shift for emerging markets “will be manageable.”

Powell’s statement matters. He now commands the central bank with the largest influence on assets in the world. Powell seemed to deny that the Fed is, as Zero Hedge sums it up, the “major determinant of flows of capital into developing economies.” Later on as Fed chairman, Powell reemphasized that position at an IMF and Swiss National Bank gathering in Zurich. According to Powell: “There is good reason to think that the normalization of monetary policy in advanced economies should continue to prove manageable for EMEs. Markets should not be surprised by our actions if the economy evolves in line with expectations.” But Powell’s argument misses a central point. What he left out was that it was the Fed’s low interest rate policy to begin with that enabled countries to borrow as much as they did.

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Time is running out fast.

Denmark Says Time Is Running Out To Avoid No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Time is running out to strike a Brexit deal, according to the Danish finance minister, who has echoed warnings that there is a 50-50 chance of Britain crashing out of the European Union without an agreement in place. Kristian Jensen said the window of opportunity for striking a deal that was positive for both Britain and the EU was closing. Earlier, Latvia’s foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics, claimed the chance of a no-deal Brexit was “50-50”. He said it was a “very considerable risk” but stressed he remained optimistic an agreement with Britain could be reached. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Jensen was asked about Rinkevics’s remarks.

He said: “I also believe that 50-50 is a very good assessment because time is running out and we need to move really fast if we’ve got to strike a deal that is positive both for the UK and EU.” He said that everyone who wanted there to be a good deal “needs to put in some effort in the months to come, otherwise I’m afraid that time will run out”. He went on to describe Theresa May’s Chequers plan – which includes a pledge that the UK would apply domestic tariffs on goods intended for the UK, but charge EU tariffs on goods heading into the EU – as a “realistic proposal for good negotiations”. “We need to go into a lot of details but I think it’s a very positive step forward and a necessary step,” he said.

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Mafia.

In The Country Of The Colosseum, Why Are 40-Year Old Structures Crumbling? (G.)

The collapse of a bridge in Genoa on Tuesday, which killed 39 people, is the latest symptom of Italy’s infrastructure woes. More than 2m homes across the country are unstable, according to figures from the national statistics agency, Istat, and more than 156 school ceilings have fallen in over the last five years. The Morandi Bridge, considered an engineering jewel when it was inaugurated in 1967, was the 12th bridge to have collapsed in Italy since 2004. Five of those were in the last five years. Many of the problems can be traced back to the construction boom of the 1960s, when bridges, roads, buildings and schools were being built, often with weak or cheap material to increase profits, and ending up in the hands of the mafia.

“There’s no doubt that the building boom of the 1960s contributed to exacerbating the situation because so much was built then – everywhere and not always with adequate standards,” said Maurizio Carta, a professor of city planning at the University of Palermo. “We built in fragile areas, along riverbeds, in areas prone to landslides, along cliffs, and in high-risk hydrogeological and seismic areas, not to mention near heavy infrastructure, which increases the risk for people living there – in essence, where they shouldn’t be living in the first place.” [..] In the country of the Colosseum, Roman aqueducts and 1,000-year-old churches, it seems paradoxical that 40-year-old structures are crumbling.

“We have used materials which are destined to deteriorate quickly, like those of the bridge in Genoa,” said Prof Antonio Bercich, of the University of Genoa, who warned of the risks associated with the Morandi Bridge two years ago. “Engineering experts in previous decades believed that reinforced concrete would have permitted the construction of miniature colosseums that would have lasted forever. But that’s not the way it turned out. There are structures from those years that should now be demolished.” The Temple of Concordia, built in around 440BC, is considered one of the world’s best-preserved Greek temples. Located in Agrigento, western Sicily, it is just a few kilometres from a 4km bridge which was closed last year because it was at risk of collapse. The bridge was completed in 1970 by the engineer Riccardo Morandi.

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“Trump is a bull in a China shop while Clinton would have been a deer in the headlights.”

Censoring Alex Jones (Dmitry Orlov)

Something happened recently that made me feel like a bit of an endangered species. A set of transnational internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple and several others, all synchronously removed content belonging to infowars.com, which is run by Alex Jones. Such synchronicity is a sure sign of conspiracy—something that Alex Jones harps on a lot. I once appeared on a radio show run by Alex Jones, and he did manage to boil down what I had to say to “the USA is going to collapse like the USSR did,” which is pretty good, considering how poorly we managed to connect, having so little in common. He is a conservative and a libertarian whereas I think that conservatives don’t exist in the US.What have they “conserved” lately—other than the right to bear small arms?

As far as libertarianism, I consider proper historical libertarianism as a strain of socialism while its American cooptation is just plain funny: these ones remain libertarian only until they need the services of an ambulance or a fire engine, at which point they turn socialist. To boot, American libertarians like Ayn Rand, who to me was a relentlessly bad writer full of faulty thinking. However, I find her useful as a litmus test for mediocre minds. Moreover, Jones is political while I remain convinced that national politics in the US is a waste of time. It has been statistically proven that the US is not a democracy: popular will has precisely zero effect on public policy. It doesn’t matter who is president; the difference is a matter of style.

Trump is a bull in a China shop while Clinton would have been a deer in the headlights. The result is the same: the US is bankrupt and its empire is over. There is also the mismatch of genre between Jones and me. I am first of all an experimenter and an essayist, and to me personal experience and literary form are vitally important, while Jones is light on research and happy to work with hearsay, and is rather hackneyed and repetitive, but has the right instincts for a rabble-rouser.

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Just stop poisoning everything.

New Pesticides May Harm Bees As Much As Existing Ones (G.)

A new class of pesticides positioned to replace neonicotinoids may be just as harmful to crop-pollinating bees, researchers have warned. In experiments, the ability of bumblebees to reproduce, and the rate at which their colonies grow, were both compromised by the new sulfoximine-based insecticides, they reported in the journal Nature. Colonies exposed to low doses of the pesticide in the lab yielded significantly less workers and half as many reproductive males after the bees were transferred to a field setting. “Our results show that sulfoxaflor” – one of the new class of insecticide – “can have a negative impact on the reproductive output of bumblebee colonies,” said lead author Harry Siviter, a researcher at Royal Holloway University of London.

As with neonicotinoids, sulfoxaflor does not directly kill bees, but appears to affect the immune system or the ability to reproduce. Foraging behaviour, and the amount of pollen collected by individual bees remained unchanged in the experiment. The study has been published amid legal challenges and shifting national policies on neonicotinoids, among the most commonly used insecticides in the world. In April, European Union countries voted to ban three neonicotinoid-based products in open fields, restricting use to covered greenhouses. Earlier this month Canada followed suit, announcing the phase-out of two of the pesticides widely applied to canola, corn and soybean crops.

Neonicotinoids are based on the chemical structure of nicotine and attack insect nervous systems. Sulfoximine insecticides, while in a different class, act in a similar way. Unlike contact pesticides – which remain on the surface of foliage – neonicotinoids are absorbed by the plant from the seed phase and transported to leaves, flowers, roots and stems.

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“Brazil has become the primary consumer of pesticides on the planet..”

Glyphosate Found In Over 80% of Breast Milk Samples in Brazil (TeleSur)

Over 80 percent of breast milk samples examined in a recent study in Urucui, Brazil were found to contain agro-toxins. According to the study undertaken by Inacio Pereira Lima, a master’s student in Women’s Health at the Federal University of Piaui’s (UFPI) Center of Health and Sciences, 83.4 percent of the breast milk samples were found to contain glyphosate or aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA) or both substances. “The presence of glyphosate in breast milk indicates direct contamination by this agro-toxin or that the quantities utilized in agricultural activity in the region must be so high that the plant metabolism or microbiology did not degrade the excess,” Pereira Lima explained. “Nearby regions where agricultural activity is not present, we suspect that agro-toxins have contaminated the water.”

The samples were obtained from the maternity ward at the Dirceu Arcoverde Regional Hospital (HRDA) in the municipality of Urucui, located 450 kilometers from the capital city Teresina. It is the largest producer of soya in the state, and its crops are sprayed with large quantities of agro-toxins, according to Pragmatismo Politico In 2016, a total of 10.1 million kilos were consumed in the state. It is the equivalent of 3.18 kilos per person, a percentage that is comparable to the national average. Surprisingly, the same contamination level was detected in the municipality of Oeiras, roughly 750 kilometers from the Urucui, where agricultural activity is the least in the state. With a 20 percent stake in world’s total consumption since 2008, Brazil has become the primary consumer of pesticides on the planet, a new study has revealed.

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To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

– “To make a prairie”, Emily Dickinson

Aug 122018
 
 August 12, 2018  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali Elephants 1948

 

Rand Paul Against the World (AC)
Saudi Arabia’s PIF and SoftBank Not Interested in Tesla Buyout (WS)
China Scrambles to Cool Overheated Real Estate Market (ET)
Beijing Struggles To Defuse Anger Over China’s P2P Lending Crisis (R.)
DNC Serves WikiLeaks With Lawsuit Via Twitter (CBS)
More Than 100 Constituencies That Backed Brexit Now Want To Stay In EU (G.)
Russia Defense Minister Warns Germany Against ‘Strength & Unity’ Strategy (RT)
New Zealand To Ban Foreigners From Buying Homes (SMH)
Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (Varoufakis)
Gene-Editing Startups Ignite The Next ‘Frankenfood’ Fight (R.)
UK Outlets Review Sale Of Monsanto’s Roundup After US Cancer Verdict (G.)
The Oceans’ Last Chance (G.)

 

 

’Rand Paul has persuaded the president that we are not for regime change in Iran..’

Rand Paul Against the World (AC)

President Trump has been known to be hawkish on Iran. Politico observed Wednesday: “Trump has drawn praise from the right-wing establishment for hammering the mullahs in Tehran, junking the Iran nuclear deal and responding to the regime’s saber rattling with aggressive rhetoric of his own….” There are also powerful factions in Congress and Washington with inroads to the president that have been itching for regime change for years. “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” says Senator Tom Cotton, once rumored to be Trump’s pick to head the CIA. So what, or who, is stopping the hawks?

Politico revealed Wednesday some interesting aspects of the relationship between Senator Rand Paul and the president, particularly on foreign policy: “While Trump tolerates his hawkish advisers, the [Trump] aide added, he shares a real bond with Paul: ‘He actually at gut level has the same instincts as Rand Paul…’.” On Iran, Politico notes, “Trump has stopped short of calling for regime change even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Bolton support it, aligning with Paul instead, according to a GOP foreign policy expert in frequent contact with the White House.”

But this part of the story was the most revelatory: “’Rand Paul has persuaded the president that we are not for regime change in Iran,’ this person said, because adopting that position would instigate another war in the Middle East.” This is significant, not because Trump couldn’t have arrived at the same position without Paul’s counsel, but because it’s easy to imagine him embracing regime change, what with virtually every major foreign policy advisor in his cabinet supporting something close to war with Iran. “Personnel is policy” is more than a cliché.

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Musk will have to clarify his ‘Funding Secured’, either to his board or the SEC. Preferably both.

Saudi Arabia’s PIF and SoftBank Not Interested in Tesla Buyout (WS)

The whole scheme kicked off when Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted during trading hours that he was “considering” taking Tesla private, “Funding secured,” which caused the already ludicrously overvalued shares to spike. Later he added, “Investor support is confirmed.” But no details, no names, no tidbits, not even a tease. Two days earlier, he’d tweeted that “even Hitler was shorting Tesla stock.” We can brush off the Hitler tweet as just one more Musk idiocy gone awry, but “Funding secured” and “Investor support is confirmed” are big-ass phrases for a public-company CEO discussing a buyout that would be valued at $72 billion. Now some folks, including those at the SEC’s San Francisco office, are wanting to know where exactly this money is going to come from – and if funding was even remotely “secured.”

The Tesla true believers instantly figured that a deal had already been worked out, either with SoftBank or with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), or with both, or whatever. Turns out, it’s not going to be SoftBank, and it’s not going to be the Saudis, either. They’re not interested in creating the magic to pull this off. Reuters reported today that a source “familiar with PIF’s strategy,” said that the fund was not, as Reuters put it, “currently getting involved in any funding process for Tesla’s take-private deal.” PIF had made headlines recently when it came out that it had acquired a stake in Tesla of just below 5% by buying its shares (TSLA) in the market. None of this money went to Tesla. It went to Tesla shareholders that wanted to get out.

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They don’t seem to be getting it done.

China Scrambles to Cool Overheated Real Estate Market (ET)

The Chinese government went all out during the first half of 2018 to cool an overheated real estate market. Major cities in China have issued regulations for their local real estate markets more than 260 times through July of this year, according to data from Centaline Property Agency, one of the largest property agencies in Hong Kong. That’s an all-time high and marks an 80 percent increase in frequency compared to the same period in 2017. In July alone, more than 60 cities announced more than 70 revised sets of real estate regulatory policies. Chinese cities have sought to keep housing prices from skyrocketing by limiting the number of properties one can purchase and sell, raising the minimum down-payment ratio for homebuyers, and boosting the time period between a purchase and when a unit can be then listed on the market for resale.

The Chinese Communist Party has made it a political priority to “resolutely contain the rise of housing prices,” as discussed during a meeting of the Party’s powerful 25-member Politburo on July 31, according to state-run media Xinhua. While prices in the real estate markets of some first- and second-tier cities appear to have leveled off, prices in most third- and fourth-tier cities continue to soar. In June, among China’s designated 70 large and medium-sized cities, 63 experienced a price increase for newly built commodity housing units, or privately developed housing on leased land, compared with last year, according to official data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices for new commodity housing and “second-hand housing”—units previously owned that are now on the market for sale—in 31 second-tier cities also increased, by 6.3 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, in June.

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Shadow banks and P2P -there’s overlap- have been instrumental in China’s runaway growth.

Beijing Struggles To Defuse Anger Over China’s P2P Lending Crisis (R.)

Peter Wang was asleep at his home in Beijing last Monday when police officers arrived before dawn to detain him, saying he had helped organize a protest planned for later that day. Across the city, others who had lost money investing in China’s online peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms – including some who had traveled from as far away as Shandong and Shanxi provinces – got similar visits from police. By the time they were released, the demonstration they had planned using social media chat groups had fizzled amid a massive security response around the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) headquarters in the heart of Beijing’s financial district.

[..] The size of China’s P2P industry is far bigger than in the rest of the world combined, with outstanding loans of 1.49 trillion yuan ($217.96 billion), according to data tracker p2p001.com, run by the Shenzhen Qiancheng Internet Finance Research Institute. P2P, in which platforms gather funds from retail investors and loan the money to small corporate and individual borrowers, promising high returns, started flourishing nearly unregulated in China in 2011. At its peak in 2015, there were about 3,500 such businesses. But after Beijing began a campaign to defuse debt bubbles and reduce risks in the economy, including the country’s enormous non-bank lending sector, cracks began to appear as investors pulled their funds.

Since June, 243 online lending platforms have gone bust, according to wdzj.com, another P2P industry data provider. In that period, the industry saw its first monthly net fund outflows since at least 2014, the data provider said. The latest burst of anger, which led to the planned protests, flared up ahead of a June 30 deadline for companies to comply with new business practice standards, which are still being finalised but could include bank custodianship of investor funds and tougher disclosure requirements. Many of them shut down rather than do so, Zane Wang, chief executive of online micro-loan provider China Rapid Finance, told Reuters. That caused panic in the broader market. Investors tried to pull funds from P2P companies, causing liquidity problems for many smaller operators, Wang said, although larger ones are faring better.

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But who exactly has been served? Assange can’t read Twitter.

DNC Serves WikiLeaks With Lawsuit Via Twitter (CBS)

The Democratic National Committee on Friday officially served its lawsuit to WikiLeaks via Twitter, employing a rare method to serve its suit to the elusive group that has thus far been unresponsive. As CBS News first reported last month, the DNC filed a motion with a federal court in Manhattan requesting permission to serve its complaint to WikiLeaks on Twitter, a platform the DNC argued the website uses regularly. The DNC filed a lawsuit in April against the Trump campaign, Russian government and WikiLeaks, alleging a massive conspiracy to tilt the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor. All of the DNC’s attempts to serve the lawsuit via email failed, the DNC said in last month’s motion to the judge, which was ultimately approved.

The lawsuit was served through a tweet from a Twitter account established Friday by Cohen Milstein, the law firm representing the DNC in the suit, with the intent of serving the lawsuit. The DNC argued the unusual method of serving a lawsuit over Twitter was feasible because WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, frequently uses Twitter and had even suggested it had read the DNC’s lawsuit. On April 21, the WikiLeaks Twitter account tweeted, “Democrats have gone all Scientology against @WikiLeaks. We read the DNC lawsuit. Its primary claim against @WikiLeaks is that we published their ‘trade secrets.’ Scientology infamously tried this trick when we published their secret bibles. Didn’t work out well for them.'”

The DNC also noted last month that there is some legal precedent for serving the lawsuit on Twitter. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the DNC notes, decided service by Twitter was a reasonable way to alert the defendant, who had an active Twitter account. “WikiLeaks seems to tweet daily,” the DNC said in the motion made to the judge last month.

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Cats in a sack.

More Than 100 Constituencies That Backed Brexit Now Want To Stay In EU (G.)

More than 100 Westminster constituencies that voted to leave the EU have now switched their support to Remain, according to a stark new analysis seen by the Observer. In findings that could have a significant impact on the parliamentary battle of Brexit later this year, the study concludes that most seats in Britain now contain a majority of voters who want to stay in the EU. The analysis, one of the most comprehensive assessments of Brexit sentiment since the referendum, suggests the shift has been driven by doubts among Labour voters who backed Leave. As a result, the trend is starkest in the north of England and Wales – Labour heartlands in which Brexit sentiment appears to be changing.

The development will heap further pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to soften the party’s opposition to reconsidering Britain’s EU departure. Researchers at the Focaldata consumer analytics company compiled the breakdown by modelling two YouGov polls of more than 15,000 people in total, conducted before and after Theresa May published her proposed Brexit deal on 6 July. It combined the polling with detailed census information and data from the Office for National Statistics. The study was jointly commissioned by Best for Britain, which is campaigning against Brexit, and the anti-racist Hope Not Hate group. The 632 seats in England, Scotland and Wales were examined for the study. It found that 112 had switched from Leave to Remain. The new analysis suggests there are now 341 seats with majority Remain support, up from 229 seats at the referendum.

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Russia remembers Germany 70 years ago.

Russia Defense Minister Warns Germany Against ‘Strength & Unity’ Strategy (RT)

The Russian defense minister has reminded his German counterpart that approaching Moscow from a “position of unity and strength” is not the wisest idea, citing the bitter history of WWII that should’ve made Berlin more prudent. “We are open for dialogue. We are ready for a normal cooperation, but not at all from a position of strength,” Sergey Shoigu told Rossiya 24 TV station. “I certainly hope that the time when we could be talked to, as someone once said, as a second- or third-class country has now irretrievably passed.”

Referring to the original question from the host, Yevgeniy Popov, who noted the recent call by the German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to engage in dialogue with Moscow only from a “position of unity and strength,” Shoigu reminded his counterpart that, while Russia seeks peace, it will not tolerate being coerced. “After everything Germany has done to our country, I think, they should not talk on the issue for another two hundred years,” Shoigu said. “Ask your grandparents about their experience of talking to Russia from the position of strength. They will probably be able to tell you.” Shoigu explained that NATO, including Germany, cannot come to grips with the reality of seeing Russia return to the world stage as an independent actor with a strong and powerful military force.

“We are not going to threaten anyone. We’re not going to start a war with anyone,” Shoigu said, noting, however, that Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking unprecedented measures to make sure the military is fully ready for any untoward surprises. “We’re doing a massive job to restore our army. Yes, the time has passed when we had no funds or time for the army.” “We now have a totally different army. And if that frightens someone, do come visit to see how we live,” he added, in an interview recorded after the wrap-up of the Army Games in Russia, extending an invitation to the NATO militaries so far missing out on the biggest annual international military competition.

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But there are exceptions.

New Zealand To Ban Foreigners From Buying Homes (SMH)

Foreigners face a ban on buying homes in New Zealand after a spending splurge by millionaires seeking doomsday bolt-holes crowded out local buyers and pushed up property prices. Home purchases by tycoons such as tech billionaire Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder, and Matt Lauer, the former NBC host who lost his job after allegations of sexual misconduct, have led the New Zealand government to crack down on the trend. The country’s allure for the mega-rich planning a safe space to ride out the apocalypse has become almost a cliché in recent years. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, told The New Yorker last year: “Saying you’re buying a house in New Zealand is kind of a wink, wink, say no more”.

But the country’s centre-Left government, led by prime minister Jacinda Ardern, is blaming the apocalypse preppers for a major housing crisis, with rates of homelessness among the highest in the developed world. Ms Ardern’s Labour Party is adamant that a law change banning foreigners from buying most types of homes in the country – due to pass through parliament next week – will help damp down property prices. It also plans to build 100,000 affordable properties in a decade, resolve New Zealand’s zoning and infrastructure woes, and bolster its ailing construction industry. The bill will still allow foreigners to buy new apartments in large developments and multi-storey blocks. Existing homes remain off limits to non-residents, but people from Australia and Singapore will be exempt from the ban, due to free-trade rules.

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Yanis reviews a book by Adam Tooze.

Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World (Varoufakis)

Every so often, humanity manages genuinely to surprise itself. Events to which we had previously assigned zero probability push us into what the ancient Greeks referred to as aporia: intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The financial crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom – even McDonald’s, for goodness sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America!

Moments of aporia produce collective efforts to respond to our bewilderment. In the late 18th century, the pains of the Industrial Revolution begat free-market economics. The crisis of 1848 brought us the Marxist tradition. The great depression produced both Keynes’s General Theory and Friedman’s monetarism. Over the past decade, the 2008 crash has given rise to a cottage industry of books, articles, documentaries, even films but not, so far, an overarching theory. Now, a compelling new book has arrived which deserves to be at the top of the reading list of anyone interested in the events of 2008 and eager to make sense of the aftermath .

Written by Adam Tooze, an English economic historian at Columbia University (and, in the interest of full disclosure, a colleague), Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crisis Changed the World combines simple explanations of complex financial concepts with a majestic narrative tracing the prehistory and destructive path of the crisis across the planet (including long, apt and erudite chapters on Russia, the former Soviet satellites, China and south-east Asia). It also offers original insights into the nature of the wounded beast (financialised capitalism). Of the myriad unacknowledged truths that Tooze illuminates, some examples follow.

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Nowhere is mankind’s insanity more on display than here. If you can’t oversee the consequences of your actions, the precautionary principle applies. Not the profit principle.

Gene-Editing Startups Ignite The Next ‘Frankenfood’ Fight (R.)

In a suburban Minneapolis laboratory, a tiny company that has never turned a profit is poised to beat the world’s biggest agriculture firms to market with the next potential breakthrough in genetic engineering – a crop with “edited” DNA. Calyxt Inc, an eight-year-old firm co-founded by a genetics professor, altered the genes of a soybean plant to produce healthier oil using the cutting-edge editing technique rather than conventional genetic modification. Seventy-eight farmers planted those soybeans this spring across 17,000 acres in South Dakota and Minnesota, a crop expected to be the first gene-edited crop to sell commercially, beating out Fortune 500 companies.

Seed development giants such as Monsanto, Syngenta and DowDuPont have dominated genetically modified crop technology that emerged in the 1990s. But they face a wider field of competition from start-ups and other smaller competitors because gene-edited crops have drastically lower development costs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided not to regulate them. Relatively unknown firms including Calyxt, Cibus, and Benson Hill Biosystems are already advancing their own gene-edited projects in a race against Big Ag for dominance of the potentially transformational technology. “It’s a very exciting time for such a young company,” said Calyxt CEO Federico Tripodi, who oversees 45 people. “The fact a company so small and nimble can accomplish those things has picked up interest in the industry.”

Gene-editing technology involves targeting specific genes in a single organism and disrupting those linked to undesirable characteristics or altering them to make a positive change. Traditional genetic modification, by contrast, involves transferring a gene from one kind of organism to another, a process that still does not have full consumer acceptance. Gene-editing could mean bigger harvests of crops with a wide array of desirable traits – better-tasting tomatoes, low-gluten wheat, apples that don’t turn brown, drought-resistant soybeans or potatoes better suited for cold storage. The advances could also double the $15 billion global biotechnology seed market within a decade, said analyst Nick Anderson of investment bank Berenberg.

[..] Biotech firms hope the technology can avoid the “Frankenfood” label that critics have pinned on traditional genetically modified crops. But acceptance by regulators and the public globally remains uncertain. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on July 25 that gene-editing techniques are subject to regulations governing genetically modified crops. The ruling will limit gene-editing in Europe to research and make it illegal to grow commercial crops. The German chemical industry association called the decision “hostile to progress.”

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Afraid they’ll be sued too?

UK Outlets Review Sale Of Monsanto’s Roundup After US Cancer Verdict (G.)

One of the UK’s largest DIY retailers is reviewing the sale of Roundup weedkiller products amid mounting concerns about their use, after a US jury found that the herbicide had caused a terminally ill man’s cancer. The manufacturer of the weedkiller, Monsanto, has insisted that British consumers are safe to continue using Roundup products, which are widely sold at DIY stores and used by British farmers. But a spokesperson for Homebase said it would be reviewing its product range after the ruling in California. A spokesperson for B&Q said it had already been undertaking a broader review of all garden products in an attempt to manage the range responsibly.

[..] Monsanto’s vice-president, Scott Partridge, said on Friday that hundreds of studies had shown that glyphosate, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides and a key ingredient of Roundup, does not cause cancer. Monsanto would be appealing against the jury’s verdict, he added. “It is completely and totally safe, and the public should not be concerned about this verdict. It is one that we will work through the legal process to see if we can get the right result. The science is crystal-clear,” he said. “The jury made a decision, but the decision that a jury or a judge makes has to be based on the weight of the evidence, and the overwhelming weight of the evidence that went in the trial was that science demonstrates glyphosate is safe; there’s no credible evidence to the contrary.”

[..] The scientific world, however, has raised doubts about glyphosate. A ruling in 2015 by the World Health Organization’s international agency for research on cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Campaigners are now calling for a review of pesticide regulations in the UK after the case, saying that glyphosate poses a risk to public health, soils and the environment. More than 2m hectares (5m acres) of farmland across Britain are treated with glyphosate annually, according to a study of government data by Oxford Economics. Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, described the ruling as a “dramatic blow” to the pesticide industry. “This is a landmark case, which highlights not only the problems caused by glyphosate, but also the whole system of pesticide use. We need to urgently change our systems of weed control to stop relying on herbicides,” she said.

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“It has taken years of negotiations to set up this conference. If we miss this opportunity, we will probably not get another opportunity to save the high seas for another 40 years. By then, there will probably not be much left that is worth protecting.”

The Oceans’ Last Chance (G.)

The leatherback turtle is one of our planet’s most distinctive creatures. It can live for decades and grow to weigh up to two tonnes. It is the largest living reptile on Earth and its evolutionary roots reach back more than 100 million years. “Leatherbacks are living fossils,” says oceanographer Professor Callum Roberts, of York University. “But they are not flourishing. In fact, they are being wiped out at an extraordinary rate, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, where their numbers have declined by 97% over the past three decades. They are now critically endangered there.” Leatherbacks are suffering for several reasons. They have been hunted for their meat for centuries and the spread of tourist resorts disrupts turtles when they come ashore to lay their eggs on sandy beaches.

But the cause of the most recent, most massive decline in numbers of Dermochelys coriacea has a far more pernicious cause: long-line fishing in the high seas. Some trawlers now drag fishing lines that are more than 75 miles long, each bristling with hooks. Tens of thousands of sea turtles get snagged on these and drown every year. “It is tragic,” says Roberts. And this carnage goes unchecked – for the simple reason that there is no protection at all for species, endangered or otherwise, on seas outside national waters. The list includes fish and seabirds, plus fragile ecosystems such as deep-sea corals. “Outside national waters, in the high seas, it is essentially a no man’s land when it comes to protecting sensitive environments and their inhabitants,” says Paul Snelgrove, a deep-sea biologist at Memorial University in St John’s, Canada. “It is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.”

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Aug 092018
 
 August 9, 2018  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Eugène-Louis Boudin Laundresses on the Beach at Étretat 1892

 

Behold The ‘Scariest Chart’ For The Stock Market (MW)
US Senate Calls On Julian Assange To Testify (ZH)
Senate Democrats Circulate Plans for Government Takeover of Internet (Reason)
US To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia Over Salisbury Attack (Ind.)
Russia Calls New US Sanctions Draconian, Rejects Poisoning Allegations (R.)
Trump’s Sanctions Admit the End of US Military Dominance (Luongo)
Saudi Arabia Is Selling Off Its Canadian Assets As Row Intensifies (CNBC)
‘Dark Cloud’ Of Trade War Hovers Over Chinese Yuan’s Globalization (CNBC)
Trump Is Giving Protectionism a Bad Name (Moseley)
SEC Questions Tesla Over Elon Musk’s Tweets (WSJ)
Brexit And Housing Crisis Combining To Cause Exodus From London (Ind.)

 

 

Cycles, but distorted.

Behold The ‘Scariest Chart’ For The Stock Market (MW)

A lot has changed since the stock market crash of 2000. Apple Inc. has gone from being just another computer brand to becoming the most valuable company in the world, Amazon.com Inc. went from being an e-book retailer to a byword for online shopping and Tesla’s Elon Musk has risen from obscurity to Twitter stardom. Yet some things never change and Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at Leuthold Group, has been on a mini-campaign highlighting the parallels between 2000 and 2018. Among the numerous similarities is the elevated valuation of the S&P 500 then and now, which Ramsey illustrates in a chart that he has dubbed as the “scariest chart in our database.”

“Recall that the initial visit to present levels was followed by the S&P 500’s first-ever negative total return decade,” he said in a recent blog post. Price-to-sales ratio is one measure of a stocks value. It isn’t as popular as the price-to-earnings ratio, or P/E, but is viewed as less susceptible to manipulation since it is based on revenue. He also shared a chart which he claims is “unfit for a family-friendly publication” that shows how in terms of median price to sales ratio, the S&P 500 is twice as expensive as it was in 2000.

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Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) pops up all over the place. Involved in killing off talks with Assange in spring 2017, a year later calls for Assange’s asylum to be revoked, then weeks later wants him to testify.

US Senate Calls On Julian Assange To Testify (ZH)

Julian Assange has been asked to testify before the US Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their Russia investigation, according to a letter signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA) posted by the official WikiLeaks Twitter account. The letter, delivered to Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, reads in part “As part of the inquiry, the Committee requests that you make yourself available for a closed interview with bipartisan Committee staff at a mutually agreeable time and location.” Wikileaks’ says their legal team is “considering the offer but testimony must conform to a high ethical standard,” after which the whistleblower organization added a tweet linking to a list of 10 Democratic Senators who demanded in late June that Assange’s asylum be revoked in violation of international law:

[..] Last August, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher travelled to London with journalist Charles Johnson for a meeting with Assange, after which Rohrabacher said the WikiLeaks founder offered “firsthand” information proving that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, and which would refute the Russian hacking theory. After Trump denied knowledge of the potential deal, Rohrabacher raged at Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, for constructing a “wall” around President Trump by “people who do not want to expose this fraud.” And in January of 2017, Julian Assange’s legal team approached Clinton-linked D.C. lobbyist Adam Waldman to reach out and see if anyone in the Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder – only to have James Comey kill the deal.

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More from Sen. Mark Warner. h/t Tyler

Senate Democrats Circulate Plans for Government Takeover of Internet (Reason)

A leaked memo circulating among Senate Democrats contains a host of bonkers authoritarian proposals for regulating digital platforms, purportedly as a way to get tough on Russian bots and fake news. To save American trust in “our institutions, democracy, free press, and markets,” it suggests, we need unprecedented and undemocratic government intervention into online press and markets, including “comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation” of the sort enacted in the E.U.

Titled “Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms,” the draft policy paper—penned by Sen. Mark Warner and leaked by an unknown source to Axios—the paper starts out by noting that Russians have long spread disinformation, including when “the Soviets tried to spread ‘fake news’ denigrating Martin Luther King” (here he fails to mention that the Americans in charge at the time did the same). But NOW IT’S DIFFERENT, because technology. “Today’s tools seem almost built for Russian disinformation techniques,” Warner opines. And the ones to come, he assures us, will be even worse.

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Evidence is so last century.

US To Impose Fresh Sanctions On Russia Over Salisbury Attack (Ind.)

The US government has said it will impose fresh sanctions on Russia after determining it used a nerve agent in the attack against a former Russian spy in Salisbury. The State Department said the sanctions will be imposed on Moscow because it used a chemical weapon in violation of international law in the attack on former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, 67, and his daughter Yulia, 33. The pair were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent called novichok in Salisbury, UK, in March. Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, the new US sanctions will take effect on or around 22 August, according to a statement.

[..] State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said it had been determined Russia had “used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law, or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.” “Following the use of a Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on 6 August, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals,” a statement said.

The sanctions will cover sensitive national security goods, a senior State Department official said. There would, however, be exemptions for space flight activities and areas covering commercial passenger aviation safety, which would be allowed on a case by case basis, the official added. A second batch of “more draconian” sanctions would be imposed after 90 days unless Russia gives “reliable assurances” that it will no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations.

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Russia should stop trying to deny anything, it makes no difference anyway.

Russia Calls New US Sanctions Draconian, Rejects Poisoning Allegations (R.)

Russia’s embassy in the United States on Thursday called new U.S. sanctions draconian and said the reason for the new restrictions — allegations it poisoned a former spy and his daughter in Britain — were far-fetched. The United States on Wednesday announced it would impose fresh sanctions on Russia after Washington determined Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain. Russia has repeatedly denied responsibility for the attack, and Russia’s embassy in Washington said in a statement that Washington’s findings against it in the case were not backed by evidence.

“On August 8, 2018 our Deputy Chief of Mission was informed in the State Department of new ‘draconian’ sanctions against Russia for far-fetched accusations of using the ‘Novichok’ nerve agent against a UK citizen,” the embassy said in a statement. “We grew accustomed to not hearing any facts or evidence.” The U.S. announcement fueled already worsening investor sentiment about the possible effect of more U.S. sanctions on Russian assets and the rouble slid by over 1 percent on Thursday against the dollar, a day after falling toward its lowest level in nearly two years. The Russian embassy said Moscow continued to advocate for an open and transparent investigation into the poisoning.

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Talked about this a while ago. Unwinnable wars.

Trump’s Sanctions Admit the End of US Military Dominance (Luongo)

On March 1st Russian President Vladimir Putin changed the geopolitical game. During his speech he unveiled new weapons which instantly made obsolete much of the U.S military’s physical arsenal. And the panic in Washington was palpable. Since that speech everything geopolitical has accelerated. The US government under Trump has shifted its strategies in response to this. No longer were we threatening North Korea with military invasion. No, Trump sat down with Kim Jong-un to negotiate peace. On Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, Venezuela and even Europe Trump’s war rhetoric has intensified. Trump is only talking about economic sanctions and tariffs, however, leveraging the dollar as his primary weapon to bring countries to heel.

There’s no hint of US invasion, no matter how much John Bolton whispers in his ear or Bibi Netanyahu bangs his shoe on the table. Why? Because US military dominance has always been enforced not by technology but by logistics. Those bases, while expensive, are also the real strength of the US military. They are a financial albatross which the ‘Axis of Resistance’ is using to win a war of attrition against US hegemony. And now, Putin’s new weapons rendered them obsolete in a moment’s time. Once fully deployed there will be no going back to the old world order. So, that’s why Trump talked to North Korea yesterday and why he will talk with Iran tomorrow.

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Friends no more. There are large Jewish communities in Canada. Wonder what they think.

Saudi Arabia Is Selling Off Its Canadian Assets As Row Intensifies (CNBC)

Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic spat with Canada looks set to escalate following a report that the Middle Eastern country has instructed its brokers to sell Canadian assets. Anger between the two countries erupted last week when Canadian officials urged Riyadh to “immediately release” women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah. Now the Financial Times has reported that the Saudi central bank and state pension funds have instructed third party asset managers to sell Canadian bonds, stocks and cash. The selling is said to have begun on Tuesday. In a sign of its rage, Saudi Arabia has already expelled the Canadian ambassador, frozen trade and investment between Riyadh and Ottawa and halted flights to and from Canada.

Saudi rulers have also stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada and are coordinating for the transfer of all Saudi patients currently receiving care in Canadian hospitals to be moved outside of the country. Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that “Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women’s rights are human rights.” But on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said there was nothing to mediate between the two countries and that Canada knew what it needed to do to “fix its big mistake.”

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Long as it doesn’t trade freely, forget it.

‘Dark Cloud’ Of Trade War Hovers Over Chinese Yuan’s Globalization (CNBC)

The Chinese yuan’s slide is creating challenging headwinds for Beijing’s push to promote its currency globally — a key element in the broader liberalization of the world’s second-largest economy. China wants its currency, also known as the renminbi, to play a leading role in global trade and finance in line with its economic clout. While Beijing has scored some significant milestones, the yuan has been declining, assailed by a weakening economy and a trade war with the United States. One major achievement was in 2016 when it joined the ranks of the dollar, euro, yen and British pound as part of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR), an international reserve asset.

But there have been bumps as well, most notably in 2015 when authorities suddenly devalued the currency after steadily nudging it higher for years, triggering a sell-off in global markets. The renminbi, or literally “people’s currency,” is now being buffeted by a new challenge as China’s economy is under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff assault. Analysts say its push to become a global currency is likely to suffer a setback. “Renminbi internationalization could be slowing down temporarily in the second half of this year,” Ken Cheung, senior Asia foreign exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong, told CNBC, citing the disruption caused by the trade war.

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This is much more about Africa, and the US pre-Trump, than it is about Trump himself.

Trump Is Giving Protectionism a Bad Name (Moseley)

While it might not seem like it now, President Donald Trump is a gift to free market-oriented economists and policymakers. His clumsy approach to protectionism has ignited a trade war that inevitably will harm the U.S. economy. When the pendulum inexorably swings the other way after the Trump fiasco, free trade ideology will return with a vengeance. This is a potential tragedy for left-leaning policy analysts who have long been concerned about the excesses of neoliberalism and argued for a more measured use of tariffs to foster local economic development. As such, it critical that we distinguish between Trump’s right-wing nationalist embrace of tariffs and the more nuanced use of this tool to support infant industries.

As a development geographer and an Africanist scholar, I have long been critical of unfettered free trade because of its deleterious economic impacts on African countries. At the behest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the majority of African countries were essentially forced, because of conditional loan and debt-refinancing requirements, to undergo free market–oriented economic reforms from the early 1980s through the mid-2000s. One by one, these countries reduced tariff barriers, eliminated subsidies, cut back on government expenditures, and emphasized commodity exports. With the possible exception of Ghana, the economy of nearly every African country undertaking these reforms was devastated.

This is not to say that there was no economic growth for African countries during this period, as there certainly was during cyclical commodity booms. The problem is that the economies of these countries were essentially underdeveloped as they returned to a colonial model focused on producing a limited number of commodities such as oil, minerals, cotton, cacao, palm oil, and timber. Economic reforms destroyed the value-added activities that helped diversify these economies and provided higher wage employment, such as the textile, milling, and food processing industries. Worse yet, millions of African farmers and workers are now increasingly ensnared in a global commodity boom-and-bust cycle. Beyond that cycle, they are experiencing an even more worrying long-term trend of declining prices for commodities.

One of the consequences of the hollowing out of African economies has been the European migration crisis. While some of this migration is clearly connected to politics, war, and insecurity in the Middle East and Africa, a nontrivial portion is related to grim economic prospects in many African countries.

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Predicted and predictable. It’s like if Trump can do stuff via twitter, can Musk do the same?

SEC Questions Tesla Over Elon Musk’s Tweets (WSJ)

Securities regulators have inquired with Tesla Inc. about Chief Executive Elon Musk’s surprise announcement that he may take the company private and whether his claim was factual, people familiar with the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked whether Musk’s unusual announcement on Tuesday was factual, the people said. The regulator also asked Tesla TSLA, -2.43% about why the disclosure was made on Twitter rather than in a regulatory filing, and whether the company believes the announcement complies with investor-protection rules, the people said. Musk on Tuesday proposed taking Tesla private at $420 a share, about 11% higher than the day’s closing stock price.

He called the funding “secured” for what would be the biggest-ever corporate buyout, but he hasn’t disclosed details. A group of Tesla board members on Wednesday said Musk spoke to them last week about taking the company private. The SEC’s inquiries, which originated from its San Francisco office, suggest Tesla could come under an enforcement investigation if regulators develop evidence that Musk’s statement was misleading or false. It wasn’t immediately clear on Wednesday whether the regulator had opened a formal enforcement investigation based on the answers it received from the company.

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This is going to get so much worse. It’s only 7 months away, but no-one has actually woken up yet.

Brexit And Housing Crisis Combining To Cause Exodus From London (Ind.)

A combination of unaffordable housing and Brexit has led to an “exodus” from London, with an increasing number of young people moving elsewhere to live and work, according to new research. Analysis by think tank Centre for London showed that job numbers in the capital reached 5.9 million at the end of June this year, up 1.9 per cent compared with the same month in 2017 – and the highest level since records began in 1996. However, the group warned that this was driven by a “significant growth” in the number of people moving away from London to rest of the UK, and a slowdown in international migration, suggesting that the city is become a less desirable place to live and work.

London recorded the slowest rate of population growth in over a decade, at almost half the rate of the previous year, the research revealed. A spokesperson for Centre for London said: “The continuing affordability crisis and the prospect of Brexit are dampening the city’s appeal, with the former seen as driving the rise in the number of people in their mid-twenties to thirties leaving the capital.” In July the average rent for London rose above £1,600 for the first time on record, according to the latest Homelet Rental Index, and while house price growth in London has slowed in recent months, the average price in the second quarter of this year was £468,845 – more than double the national average of £214,578.

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Aug 072018
 
 August 7, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Eugène-Louis Boudin Beach at Étretat 1890

 

Petition To Trump: Pardon Julian Assange (Infowars)
Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship (CJ)
The Myths Of Stocks For The Long Run – Part X (Roberts)
Germany’s Huge Trade Surpluses Are A Burden On Its EU Partners (CNBC)
EU Acts To Protect Firms From Donald Trump’s Sanctions Against Iran (G.)
Mattress Firm Considers Bankruptcy to Get Out of its Real Estate Scams
UK To Run Out Of Food A Year From Now With No-Deal Brexit – Farmers (G.)
Record Number Of UK Police Officers Forced To Take Second Job (Ind.)
Chinese Newspaper: Trump’s Claim Of Winning Trade War ‘Wishful Thinking’ (R.)
China Bans Winnie The Pooh Film After Comparisons To President Xi (G.)
US Coalition Cooperates With Al-Qaeda In Yemen, AP Confirms (ZH)
Brazil Closes, Then Reopens Border To Venezuelan Migrants (AFP)
Humans Are About to Unleash an Irreversible “Hothouse Earth” (Science Alert)

 

 

Yes, Infowars, and I know. But this is about Julian Assange, and about Alex Jones getting thrown out of social media the moment he launched this petition. Please go to Infowars for once and sign!

Petition To Trump: Pardon Julian Assange (Infowars)

Whereas Journalist Julian Assange and his media organization, Wikileaks has, in the respected tradition of American journalism obtained and published information that is classified and newsworthy, a practice shared with the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and others and

Whereas in the eleven years of its existence the authenticity and accuracy of materials published by Wikileaks has ever been questioned or in dispute and

Whereas the material regarding Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee published by Wikileaks served the national interest by exposing the corruption of the Clintons, the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton campaign and the Obama Justice Department and

Whereas assertion by the American Intelligence Services that Julian Assange is the agent of a ‘Hostile Foreign State” or the Russian government are politically suspect and completely unproven and denied by Assange and

Whereas Julian Assange has consistently denied that material obtained from the Democratic National Committee and published by Wikileaks came from the Russian State and has repeatedly offered to prove this for US authorities and

Whereas Assange, now in failing health, has been a veritable prisoner in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for six years, with the media now reporting Equador is preparing to hand Assange over to British authorities who will presumably extradite Assange to the United States for trial and

Whereas Julian Assange is an impeccably-honest, incredibly-brave, humanitarian journalist, who provides an invaluable platform for whistleblowers exposing corruption and criminality infesting governments, nullifying democracy and obliterating human rights, around the world and

Whereas there are absolutely no legitimate legal grounds to prosecute Assange and, as the U.S. DOJ admitted in 2013, that doing so would expose ALL U.S. journalistic and news outlets to similar criminal jeopardy.

Therefore- we the undersigned urge President Donald J. Trump to issue a full and unconditional pardon to the journalist Julian Assange in the interests of both justice and mercy.

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“Assange’s mother also reports that this mass removal of Infowars’ audience occurred less than 48 hours after she was approached to do an interview by an Infowars producer.”

Corporate Censorship Is State Censorship (CJ)

Last year, representatives of Facebook, Twitter, and Google were instructed on the US Senate floor that it is their responsibility to “quell information rebellions” and adopt a “mission statement” expressing their commitment to “prevent the fomenting of discord.” “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words,” the representatives were told. “America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.” Yes, this really happened.

Today Twitter has silenced three important anti-war voices on its platform: it has suspended Daniel McAdams, the executive director of the Ron Paul Institute, suspended Scott Horton of the Scott Horton Show, and completely removed the account of prominent Antiwar.com writer Peter Van Buren. I’m about to talk about the censorship of Alex Jones and Infowars now, so let me get the “blah blah I don’t like Alex Jones” thing out of the way so that my social media notifications aren’t inundated with people saying “Caitlin didn’t say the ‘blah blah I don’t like Alex Jones’ thing!” I shouldn’t have to, because this isn’t actually about Alex Jones, but here it is:

I don’t like Alex Jones. He’s made millions saying the things disgruntled right-wingers want to hear instead of telling the truth; he throws in disinfo with his info, which is the same as lying all the time. He’s made countless false predictions and his sudden sycophantic support for a US president has helped lull the populist right into complacency when they should be holding Trump to his non-interventionist campaign pledges, making him even more worthless than he was prior to 2016. But this isn’t about defending Alex Jones. He just happens to be the thinnest edge of the wedge.

As of this writing, Infowars has been censored from Facebook, Youtube (which is part of Google), Apple, Spotify, and now even Pinterest, all within hours of each other. This happens to have occurred at the same time Infowars was circulating a petition with tens of thousands of signatures calling on President Trump to pardon WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange, who poses a much greater threat to establishment narratives than Alex Jones ever has. Assange’s mother also reports that this mass removal of Infowars’ audience occurred less than 48 hours after she was approached to do an interview by an Infowars producer.

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At some point we’ll have to acknowledge that there is no market.

The Myths Of Stocks For The Long Run – Part X (Roberts)

In early 2017, Byron Wien was asked the question of where we are in terms of the economy and the market to a group of high-end investors. To wit: “The one issue that dominated the discussion at all four of the lunches was whether or not we were in the late stages of the business cycle as well as the bull market. This recovery began in June 2009 and the bull market began in March of that year. So we are more than 100 months into the period of equity appreciation and close to that in terms of economic expansion.“ His point is that markets rotate between bullish and bearish phases. When he made that statement he was simply saying the current economic recovery and the bull market are very long in the tooth. As shown below why shouldn’t we expect a market decline to follow, it has every other time?

[..] There are two problems facing investor outcomes. First, you don’t have 100+ years to invest in the market to get the “average” long-term returns. Second, your “long-term” investment horizon is simply the time you have between today and when you retire. As I stated above, for most people that is about 15 years. So, for argument sake, let’s be generous and assume you have 20-years from today until retirement. As we discussed previously, we know that based on current valuations in the market, forward real total returns in the market will likely be, on average, fairly low to negative.

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Germany and Holland live off the labor of their neighbors. There is no bigger threat to the EU.

Germany’s Huge Trade Surpluses Are A Burden On Its EU Partners (CNBC)

While few European states can pretend to share Germany’s distinction of being a “country of poets and thinkers,” none can rival German abilities to extract so much wealth from the rest of the European Union. Last year, Germany posted a 159.3 billion euro surplus on its goods trade with other countries in the EU — one of the world’s largest free-trade areas and a region with privileged access to German goods and services. That’s the way it’s been since 1958, when Europe’s common market opened up. Germany’s enormous EU bounty consistently accounts for two-thirds of its net foreign trade income in a market structure where Berlin remains an undisputed leader and a principal regulator.

This year looks set to mark another record-high EU trade income for Germany. The surplus during the January-April period was running at an annual rate of 175 billion euro — a 10 percent increase on the country’s EU trades in 2017 — according to statistics from Germany’s Bundesbank. A country representing 28 percent of the monetary union’s economy and living so grandly off the rest of its partners is a structurally destabilizing factor. To this day, economists pointing out that fundamental problem have been ridiculed as hopelessly naive because, as the mantra goes, the European project has always been, and always will be, a political construct to keep the Europeans off each other’s throats.

That charge is not only false, but it also bears the seeds of its own destruction. Taking hundreds of billions of euros of purchasing power out of the monetary union, Germany makes it virtually impossible for other euro area economies to grow and create jobs as they struggle to bring down their public debts and deficits. Instead of accumulating enormous wealth on the back of its euro partners, Germany should stimulate its domestic spending to buy more goods and services from them. [..] Recycling some of last year’s roughly $300 billion trade surplus — through direct investments in the rest of the EU — Germany would boost economic growth and employment in other countries in the bloc, solve the problem of its shrinking manpower and adjust its overflowing external accounts.

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The only choice firms have is who they want to be sanctioned by.

EU Acts To Protect Firms From Donald Trump’s Sanctions Against Iran (G.)

The EU has launched an attempt to protect European businesses from Donald Trump’s sanctions against Iran as the US administration voiced its intent to apply maximum pressure on Tehran by vigorously applying its punitive measures. The sanctions are to enter into force at midnight (US east coast time). At the same time, a blocking statute – last used to protect EU firms from US sanctions against Cuba – will be brought into force in an attempt to insulate firms and keep alive a deal designed to limit the Iranian government’s nuclear aspirations. European firms have been instructed that they should not comply with demands from the White House for them to drop all business with Iran.

Those who decide to pull out because of US sanctions will need to be granted authorisation from the European commission, without which they face the risk of being sued by EU member states. A mechanism has also been opened to allow EU businesses affected by the sanctions to sue the US administration in the national courts of member states. Trump announced his intention to hit firms doing business with Iran when he reneged on a deal struck in 2015 designed to help curtail Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for limited sanctions relief.

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Sharing a laugh with Wolf Richter.

Mattress Firm Considers Bankruptcy to Get Out of its Real Estate Scams

This is so thick it’s hard to believe. It’s far beyond just a Brick & Mortar Meltdown. “I recently sold a small strip center with my last Mattress Firm,” a relieved real estate developer told me earlier this year. “It traded at a 7.1% cap rate, which is just astonishing to me. During due diligence, the buyer’s lawyers focused on every minute risk and mentioned nothing about their parent company once. So crazy.” Mattress Firm’s parent company is Steinhoff, now a familiar name in the Enron lexicon. “Mattress Firm’s strategy is to have multiple stores on the same intersection in every town,” this developer had told me last fall.

“This was accomplished by design and not just mergers. As a developer, I was literally asked to find sites across the street from existing stores in almost every town. Mattress Firm was able to get these sites because they would overpay market rent by up to $10 per square foot in every market that I was focused in, but it is the same all over,” he said. To get out of these leases, and for other reasons, Mattress Firm, the largest mattress retailer in the US, is now considering a bankruptcy filing, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Restructuring in bankruptcy court would allow Mattress Firm to shut down unprofitable and excess stores and get out from under their over-priced leases. Mattress Firm, which was founded in 1986, is a classic example of a private-equity pump-and-dump that has turned into an alleged real estate scam by insiders. Here is the turn of events:

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Better plant some more tomatoes in your gardens.

UK To Run Out Of Food A Year From Now With No-Deal Brexit – Farmers (G.)

Britain would run out of food on this date next year if it cannot continue to easily import from the EU and elsewhere after Brexit, the National Farmers’ Union has warned. Minette Batters, the NFU president, urged the government to put food security at the top of the political agenda after the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was talked up this week. “The UK farming sector has the potential to be one of the most impacted sectors from a bad Brexit – a frictionless free trade deal with the EU and access to a reliable and competent workforce for farm businesses is critical to the future of the sector,” she said. Batters’ warning comes a fortnight after the Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, said Britain would have “adequate food supplies” after Brexit.

While Downing Street has insisted it is confident an agreement can be made in time, the international trade secretary, Liam Fox, warned over the weekend that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was now at “60-40”, fuelling fears at the NFU and among food importers. Food security in Britain is in long-term decline, with the country producing 60% of what it needs to feed itself, compared with 74% 30 years ago, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In a statement issued by the NFU, Batters expressed concern that Britain would not be able to meet its food needs if Brexit was mismanaged. Research showed 7 August 2019 would be the nominal day that Britain would run out of food if it were asked to be wholly self-sufficient based on seasonal growth, the NFU said.

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The blessings of austerity.

Record Number Of UK Police Officers Forced To Take Second Job (Ind.)

A record number of police officers are being forced to take on second jobs because they cannot afford essentials on their wages, a survey has found amid warnings the service is “in crisis”. The Police Federation said some officers were resorting to food vouchers and welfare schemes, while dealing with “unprecedented” demand, rising violent crime and terrorism. Almost 8 per cent of the 27,000 members who responded to the association’s annual pay and morale survey said they had taken up a second job, compared with 6 per cent the previous year. The roles included becoming driving instructors, personal trainers or leasing properties.

A further 45 per cent of officers said they worry about finances on a daily basis, 12 per cent said they do not have enough money to cover essentials and 88 per cent do not feel fairly paid. John Apter, the new chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, warned that some officers were in “dire straits”. “Our members are under immense pressure to deliver, with dwindling resources and rising crime, particularly violent crime, leading to a demand for our services that has never been higher,” he said. “All they want is to be adequately paid for the job that they do. “We know officers are struggling and some have had to resort to food vouchers and other welfare schemes. This clearly cannot be right or acceptable that those employed to keep the public safe cannot make ends meet or put food on tables for their families.

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These kinds of things show that China is nervous.

Chinese Newspaper: Trump’s Claim Of Winning Trade War ‘Wishful Thinking’ (R.)

Chinese state media kept up their criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies, with a newspaper on Tuesday describing as “wishful thinking” Trump’s belief that a fall in Chinese stocks was a sign of his winning the trade war. As the world’s two biggest economies remained locked in a heated tariff dispute, Beijing and Washington have kept up a blistering rhetoric with threats and counter-threats of more punitive trade measures. The editorial in the official China Daily underscored an increasingly aggressive stance adopted by Chinese state media against Trump, a shift from their previous approach of tempering any direct criticism against the U.S. president.

On Monday, the overseas edition of the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper singled out Trump, saying he was starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”. [..] The China Daily referred to a Saturday Tweet by Trump which said “Tariffs are working far better than anyone anticipated. China market has dropped 27 percent in last four months.” China’s stock market was performing poorly before the U.S. administration imposed tariffs, said the English-language newspaper, asserting that the downturn was partly due to Beijing’s attempts to cut corporate debt. The paper said Trump’s claim that “tariffs are working big time” was undermined by data showing the U.S. trade deficit climbed $3 billion to $46.3 billion in June, the first increase in four months.

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Catchy, but not too likely. So you get the whole build-up and then towards the end: “China only allows 34 foreign films to be released in cinemas each year..”

China Bans Winnie The Pooh Film After Comparisons To President Xi (G.)

Who’s afraid of Winnie the Pooh? The Chinese government, apparently. Chinese censors have banned the release of Christopher Robin, a new film adaptation of AA Milne’s beloved story about Winnie the Pooh, according to the Hollywood Reporter. The Winnie the Pooh character has become a lighthearted way for people across China to mock their president, Xi Jinping, but it seems the government doesn’t find the joke very funny. It started when Xi visited the US in 2013, and an image of Xi and then president Barack Obama walking together spurred comparisons to Winnie – a portly Xi – walking with Tigger, a lanky Obama. Xi was again compared to the fictional bear in 2014 during a meeting with Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who took on the part of the pessimistic, gloomy donkey, Eeyore.

As comparisons grew and the meme spread online, censors began erasing the images which mocked Xi. The website of US television station HBO was blocked last month after comedian John Oliver repeatedly made fun of the Chinese president’s apparent sensitivity over comparisons of his figure with that of Winnie. The segment also focused on China’s dismal human rights record. Another comparison between Xi and Winnie during a military parade in 2015 became that year’s most censored image, according to Global Risk Insights. The firm said the Chinese government viewed the meme as “a serious effort to undermine the dignity of the presidential office and Xi himself”.

[..] Another reason for the film’s rejection by the authorities may be that China only allows 34 foreign films to be released in cinemas each year. That leaves Hollywood summer blockbusters, family films and contenders from across the world jockeying for a tiny number of spots.

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Like we didn’t know already.

US Coalition Cooperates With Al-Qaeda In Yemen, AP Confirms (ZH)

Perhaps we could simply shrug our shoulders and say it’s better late than never for the mainstream media. A new Associated Press report confirms what was long ago detailed by a number of independent investigative journalists, and even in some instances buried deep within sporadic mainstream reports of past years: the US-coalition in Yemen is actually cooperating with al-Qaeda terrorists in the campaign to dislodge Shia Houthi militants. The AP report begins dramatically as follows:

“Again and again over the past two years, a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has claimed it won decisive victories that drove al-Qaida militants from their strongholds across Yemen and shattered their ability to attack the West. Here’s what the victors did not disclose: many of their conquests came without firing a shot. That’s because the coalition cut secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, paying some to leave key cities and towns and letting others retreat with weapons, equipment and wads of looted cash, an investigation by The Associated Press has found. Hundreds more were recruited to join the coalition itself.”

And contrary to the normative response of US officials to such allegations, which as in the case of US support to jihadists in Syria typically runs something like “we didn’t know” while hiding behind a system of ‘plausible deniability’ — in the case of Yemen officials involved have now admitted to the AP that coalition allies knowingly allowed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to survive and flourish. Somewhat surprising for the AP, its report underscores this with zero ambiguity, even illustrating for the reader the terrorists’ linkage to 9/11:

“These compromises and alliances have allowed al-Qaida militants to survive to fight another day — and risk strengthening the most dangerous branch of the terror network that carried out the 9/11 attacks. Key participants in the pacts said the U.S. was aware of the arrangements and held off on any drone strikes.” Similar to the US role in Syria, American officials are now apparently quite comfortable admitting they are willing to utilize designated terrorist groups ultimately as a weapon against pro-Iran interests.

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“It is not justified to take the easy path to ‘close the doors’ because of difficulties in hosting refugees,” Supreme Court justice Rosa Weber said..”

Brazil Closes, Then Reopens Border To Venezuelan Migrants (AFP)

Brazil briefly closed then reopened its northern border to Venezuelans on Monday as it struggled to contain mass migration from the South American country saddled with a crippling political and economic crisis, police said. A Supreme Court justice overturned a lower court judge’s decision that had suspended for a few hours the entry of more Venezuelans until other immigrants from the country were transferred elsewhere in Brazil. “It is not justified to take the easy path to ‘close the doors’ because of difficulties in hosting refugees,” Supreme Court justice Rosa Weber said in her ruling issued shortly before midnight.

The border had remained open to Brazilians and other nationalities, as well as to Venezuelans seeking to return to their home country. It’s a main crossing point for tens of thousands of Venezuelan migrants, an influx that has increased dramatically over the past two years. President Michel Temer was opposed in a “non-negotiable” way to the border closure, Human Rights Minister Gustavo Rocha was quoted as saying by state-run Agencia Brasil. Roraima state’s capital Boa Vista has hosted the largest number of Venezuelan immigrants in the country — around 25,000 out of a total of 330,000 city dwellers. An estimated 500 Venezuelans cross the land border into Brazil each day.

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Feedback loops. Methane is becoming a bigger factor all the time.

Humans Are About to Unleash an Irreversible “Hothouse Earth” (Science Alert)

The coasts are gone. The waves crash high into what were once mountains. Many have perished, for food is scarce, and the deadly heat is inescapable. This bleak future scenario – called a “Hothouse Earth” – could be realised sooner than we think, scientists warn, if the planet breaches a pivotal climate threshold from which there may ultimately be no coming back. The worst part? Scientists say we could exceed this threshold even if we meet the carbon emission reductions called for in the Paris Agreement – and manage to keep global temperatures to 2°C above pre-Industrial levels. Achieving that goal would be a global success story. But it might not be the end of the story.

“Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on Earth,” says Earth system scientist Will Steffen from the Australian National University. “Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks’, that can drive further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases.” In a new perspective study, Steffen and an international team of researchers outline a number of these ‘positive feedback’ systems that exist on Earth and can “amplify a perturbation and drive a transition to a different state”. One example is permafrost thaw. As the world gets hotter due to heat-trapping carbon emissions, there’s worrying evidence that melting permafrost soils are releasing even more carbon into the atmosphere – making a bad situation potentially catastrophic.

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Aug 062018
 
 August 6, 2018  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vasily Polenov Étretat 1874

 

Stock Market Manias of the Past vs the Echo Bubble (Tenebrarum)
US Bond Market Takes Looming Treasuries Deluge In Stride (R.)
America 10 Years After The Financial Crisis (NYMag)
Nassim Taleb: ‘No One Who Caused The Crisis Paid Any Price’ (ST)
Fears Of A ‘Car-Crash Brexit’ Make Life Difficult For Mark Carney (G.)
Rich, Reckless Brexit Zealots Are Fighting A New Class War (G.)
Saudi Expels Canadian Envoy, Recalls Its Own Over ‘Interference’ (AFP)
Chinese State Media Slams Trump For ‘Extortion’ In Trade Dispute (R.)
Wells Fargo Blames Computer Glitch For Customers Losing Homes (Hill)
Russian Gas Is A Problem For Germany (R.)

 

 

Buybacks prop up ever weaker stocks.

Stock Market Manias of the Past vs the Echo Bubble (Tenebrarum)

The diverging performance of major US stock market indexes which has been in place since the late January peak in DJIA and SPX has become even more extreme in recent months. In terms of duration and extent it is one of the most pronounced such divergences in history. It also happens to be accompanied by weakening market internals, some of the most extreme sentiment and positioning readings ever seen and an ever more hostile monetary backdrop. The above combination is consistent with a market close to a major peak – although one must always keep in mind that divergences can become even more pronounced – as was for instance demonstrated on occasion of the technology sector blow-off in late 1999 – 2000.

Along similar lines, extremes in valuations can persist for a very long time as well and reach previously unimaginable levels. The Nikkei of the late 1980s is a pertinent example for this. Incidentally, the current stock buyback craze is highly reminiscent of the 1980s Japanese financial engineering method known as keiretsu or zaibatsu, as it invites the very same rationalizations. We recall vividly that it was argued in the 1980s that despite their obscene overvaluation, Japanese stocks could “never decline” because Japanese companies would prop up each other’s stocks. Today we often read or hear that overvalued US stocks cannot possibly decline because companies will keep propping up their own stocks with buybacks.

Of course this propping up of stock prices occurs amid a rather concerning deterioration in median corporate balance sheet strength, as corporate debt has exploded into the blue yonder (just as it did in Japan in the late 1980s). The fact that an unprecedented number of companies is a single notch downgrade away from a junk rating should give sleepless nights to fixed income and stock market investors alike – as should the oncoming “wall of maturities”. A giant wall of junk bond maturities is looming in the not to distant future. Unless investors remain in a mood to refinance all comers, this threatens to provide us with a spot of “interesting times”. Something tells us that “QT” could turn into a bit of a party pooper as the “Great Wall” approaches.

It should also be mentioned that past stock market peaks as a rule coincided with record highs in buybacks. This indicates that record highs in buybacks are mainly a contrarian indicator rather than a datum providing comfort at extreme points. Of course, what actually represents an “extreme point” can only ever be known with certainty in hindsight, as extremes tend to shift over time – particularly in a fiat money system in which the supply of money and credit can be expanded willy-nilly. What can be stated with certainty is only whether the markets are entering what we would call dangerous territory.

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But the Fed is retreating.

US Bond Market Takes Looming Treasuries Deluge In Stride (R.)

U.S. government debt supply will likely continue to boom, but bond market investors seem to be taking it in stride. The Treasury Department is having to sell more debt to finance the government’s ballooning deficit, stemming from the massive federal tax overhaul in December and the spending deal passed in February. Still, bond yields have remained in a narrow range, suggesting investors may not be fretting about the swelling debt supply. “There will be no relief from supply especially from bills going into October,” said Tom Simons, money market strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York. Supply is expected to run high at least until the Treasury provides updated forecasts on its borrowing needs, next due in November – and might even accelerate further.

This week, the Treasury will sell $34 billion in three-year notes, with $26 billion in 10-year debt on Wednesday and $18 billion in 30-year bonds on Thursday. It will also auction $51 billion in three-month bills and $45 billion in six-month bills, together with an expected $65 billion in one-month bills. The supply will fall short of a record week of $294 billion set in March but continues a trend higher since February. Analysts, who said the market would have no trouble digesting this week’s offerings, see the government as becoming increasingly dependent on private investors for cash as the Fed further reduces its bond holdings. The goal is to shrink a balance sheet that had grown to more than $4 trillion from three massive rounds of asset purchases to combat the previous recession.

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“That loose civic concept known as the American Dream [..] has been shattered.”

America 10 Years After The Financial Crisis (NYMag)

If you were standing in the smoldering ashes of 9/11 trying to peer into the future, you might have been overjoyed to discover this happy snapshot of 2018: There has been no subsequent major terrorist attack on America from Al Qaeda or its heirs. American troops are not committed en masse to any ground war. American workers are enjoying a blissful 4 percent unemployment rate. The investment class and humble 401(k) holders alike are beneficiaries of a rising GDP and booming stock market that, as measured by the Dow, is up some 250 percent since its September 10, 2001, close. The most admired person in America, according to Gallup, is the nation’s first African-American president, a man no one had heard of and a phenomenon no one could have imagined at the century’s dawn. Comedy, the one art whose currency is laughter, is the culture’s greatest growth industry. What’s not to like?

Plenty, as it turns out. The mood in America is arguably as dark as it has ever been in the modern era. The birthrate is at a record low, and the suicide rate is at a 30-year high; mass shootings and opioid overdoses are ubiquitous. In the aftermath of 9/11, the initial shock and horror soon gave way to a semblance of national unity in support of a president whose electoral legitimacy had been bitterly contested only a year earlier. Today’s America is instead marked by fear and despair more akin to what followed the crash of 1929, when unprecedented millions of Americans lost their jobs and homes after the implosion of businesses ranging in scale from big banks to family farms.

It’s not hard to pinpoint the dawn of this deep gloom: It arrived in September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it).

That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.

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“If anything, banks today are even more on government support.”

Nassim Taleb: ‘No One Who Caused The Crisis Paid Any Price’ (ST)

A year or so after the 2008 crisis, Nassim Taleb, a financial trader turned bestselling author, was called to Washington to talk to a commission that was compiling a report on what went wrong. Taleb, after all, had predicted the crisis with eerie prescience in his 2007 book The Black Swan, which talked about the underappreciated “tail risks” faced by the global economy. “They heckled me for about two or three hours on technicalities,” he recalls. “But not a single one of my points was in the report. Bunch of f****** bureaucrats. No wonder people voted for Donald Trump.” Taleb believes we have learnt nothing from the crisis. “Not only did people not get why it happened,” he says, “but the moral hazard in the system actually increased.”

The problem, in Taleb’s view, is what he calls a “Bob Rubin trade”. In the build-up to the crash, Robert Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, spent years advising the investment bank Citigroup, eventually becoming its chairman. After the crash happened, he resigned and walked away having made tens of millions. “What’s most depressing is that nobody who was involved in causing the crisis paid any price for it,” Taleb says. “America’s debt is now trillions higher because people transferred risk to the state, owing to mistakes made by individuals.” The crisis highlighted the licence to take risk that banks had, knowing the government would step in if things went wrong.

“People realised that, hey, you can do that with impunity,” Taleb says. “If anything, banks today are even more on government support.” He does identify one bright spot. “Some people have realised there was a problem,” he says. “There is an immense amount of disgruntlement by people who see this point, on the left in Europe and on the right in America. “So you have what is mislabelled ‘populism’ as a first-order reaction, which may be correct or incorrect. But at least some people are starting to see these methods are bullshit.”

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Yet another variation of Brexit.

Fears Of A ‘Car-Crash Brexit’ Make Life Difficult For Mark Carney (G.)

There may be times when Mark Carney regrets extending his stint at the Bank of England by an extra year. Had things gone as originally planned, Carney would have handed over the keys to Threadneedle Street a month ago and someone else would have had the task of steering the economy through what is certain to be a fiendishly tricky period. That would be the case even without Brexit. The UK economy has recovered more slowly and more unevenly than Carney envisaged when he took over at the Bank from Mervyn King in 2013. It was only last week that the Bank’s monetary policy committee felt confident enough to raise interest rates above the 0.5% emergency level that they reached in March 2009.

But Brexit is taking up half the governor’s time and it is clear that he is starting to get concerned. Certainly, his remarks when questioned on the BBC Today programme on Friday were blunt. With just eight months to go before Britain leaves the European Union, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high”. There was a time when such plain speaking from the governor of the Bank of England would have raised a few eyebrows in Downing Street. Not now. The line since the cabinet signed up to Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan is that the government has made all the concessions it can, and that means unless Brussels gives something in return there is a danger of chaos next March.

So the prime minister would not have been troubled when Carney said that a no-deal Brexit would be “highly undesirable” and something all parties should seek to avoid, because that’s the official Whitehall line. There will be no complaints if the governor continues to stress the importance of London as a source of low-cost capital for European governments and companies.

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Britain reveals what it really is.

Rich, Reckless Brexit Zealots Are Fighting A New Class War (G.)

We now know it beyond doubt: however we leave the European Union, the result is likely to be damage that Britain is in no position to absorb. Job losses are certain. A stack of Brexit impact reports from local authorities obtained last week by Sky News identified a catalogue of dire consequences, from farms in Shetland that could be plunged into impossible losses, through social care services in East Sussex already being hit by labour shortages, to the M26 being turned into a giant lorry park. With his characteristic emollience, the trade secretary, Liam Fox, says a no-deal Brexit is now more likely than a negotiated deal; Jeremy Hunt reckons we could fall off the came cliff-edge “by accident”, and reports about stockpiled food and medicines attest to the awfulness of any such prospect.

March 2019, then, could well mark a watershed point in a drawn-out disaster. But so, in a different way, could somehow nullifying the result of the referendum and staying put. It would be comforting to think that what George Orwell called “the gentleness of the English civilisation” would mean that an overturning of 2016’s outcome would be grudgingly swallowed by the vast majority of leave voters, but I would not be so sure. Ukip is back in the polls, and has newly strengthened links to the far right. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Boston in Lincolnshire, the town whose 75.6% vote for Brexit made it the most leave-supporting place in the UK. Many of the people I spoke to were already convinced that Brexit was doomed, and full of talk of betrayal.

Some of what I heard was undeniably ugly, though much of it was based on an undeniable set of facts. People were asked to make a decision, and they did. The referendum was the one meaningful political event in millions of voters’ lifetimes, and we were all assured that its result would be respected. Whatever the noise about a second referendum, this is the fundamental reason why the likelihood of Brexit interrupted remains dim.

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Our best friends.

Saudi Expels Canadian Envoy, Recalls Its Own Over ‘Interference’ (AFP)

Saudi Arabia said Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa’s vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists. The kingdom gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs. The move, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes after Canada demanded the immediate release of human rights campaigners swept up in a new crackdown. “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted.

“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours.” The ministry also announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action”. Canada last week said it was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi. Samar was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah last week, the latest victims of what Human Rights Watch called an “unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement”.

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“street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”.

Chinese State Media Slams Trump For ‘Extortion’ In Trade Dispute (R.)

Chinese state media on Monday lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies in an unusually personal attack, even as they sought to reassure investors about the health of China’s economy as growth concerns roiled its financial markets. China’s strictly controlled news outlets have frequently rebuked the United States and the Trump administration as the trade conflict has escalated, but they have largely refrained from specifically targeting Trump.

The latest criticism from the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper singled out Trump, saying he was starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”. Trump’s desire for others to play along with his drama is “wishful thinking”, a commentary on the paper’s front page said, arguing that the United States had escalated trade friction with China and turned international trade into a “zero-sum game”. “Governing a country is not like doing business,” the paper said, adding that Trump’s actions imperiled the national credibility of the United States.

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So buy them new ones. But seriously, can anyone explain how Wells Fargo is still in business?

Wells Fargo Blames Computer Glitch For Customers Losing Homes (Hill)

Wells Fargo is blaming a computer glitch for more than 400 customers losing their homes between 2010 and 2015. The bank revealed in regulatory filings last week that the technological error resulted in 625 customers being denied loan modifications, and about 400 costumers having their houses foreclosed on, CNN Money reported on Friday. The filing says the bank has set aside $8 million to compensate the affected customers, it added. Wells Fargo apologized for the error and said in a statement that it is “providing remediation” to customers whose mortgages were affected, according to CNN.

The Treasury Department set up a program in 2009 to help Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, offering them the opportunity to apply for loan modifications, the network noted, adding that the computer error rejected applications from 625 Wells Fargo customers. A bank spokesperson told CNN that there is “not a clear, direct cause and effect relationship” between the error and foreclosures, but said some customers who were denied loan modifications lost their homes. Multiple government agencies are also probing Wells Fargo for its financing of low-income housing developments, Reuters reported. The embattled bank last week agreed to pay more than $2 billion to settle allegations related to offering subprime mortgages in the years before the 2008 financial crisis.

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Russia hysteria all over.

Russian Gas Is A Problem For Germany (R.)

For decades, the Friendship pipeline has delivered oil from Russia to Europe, heating German homes even in the darkest days of the Cold War. But a new pipeline that will carry gas direct from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany is doing rather less for friendship, driving a wedge between Germany and its allies and giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a headache. For U.S. President Donald Trump, Nord Stream 2 is a “horrific” pipeline that will increase Germany’s dependence on Russian energy. Ukraine, fighting Russian-backed separatists, fears the new pipeline will allow Moscow to cut it out of the lucrative and strategically crucial gas transit business.

It comes at an awkward time for Merkel. With the fraying of the transatlantic alliance and an assertive Russia and China, she has acknowledged that Germany must take more of a political leadership role in Europe. “The global order is under pressure,” Merkel said last month. “That’s a challenge for us … Germany’s responsibility is growing; Germany has more work to do.” In April she accepted for the first time that there were “political considerations” to Nord Stream 2, a project she had until then described as a commercial venture. Most European countries want Germany to do more to project European influence and protect eastern neighbors that are nervous of Russian encroachment.

But letting Russia sell gas to Germany while avoiding Ukraine does the opposite, depriving Kiev of transit revenues and making it, Poland and the Baltic states more vulnerable to cuts in gas supplies. “The price would be an even greater loss of trust from the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine,” said Roderich Kiesewetter, a Merkel ally on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. “We Germans always say that holding the West together is our ‘center of gravity’, but the Russian approach has succeeded in dragging Germany, at least in terms of energy policy, out of this western solidarity.”

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Aug 052018
 
 August 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Claude Monet Hollowed Cliff near Étretat 1883

 

The Real Threat To The Fed’s Independence Is Wall Street, Not Trump (WM)
The Trillion-Dollar Question: Can The Tech Giants Keep Growing? (G.)
Light It Up (Kunstler)
IMF Option Looms Larger For Turkey Amid Row With US (AL M.)
Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship (Matt Taibbi)
Why Theresa May Must Stop The Brexit Clock (O.)
UK Trade Minister Fox Says EU Is Pushing Britain To No-Deal Brexit (R.)
Separating Children From Their Parents Puts UK Government To Shame, Too (O.)
Britain’s Economics Students Are Dangerously Poorly Educated (G.)
How Reality Is Being Redefined (Slog)
Greece’s Unemployment Highest in Developed World (GR)
Greece: An Economy That Has Shrunk So Much It Looks War-Torn (WaPo)

 

 

But we’ve given them all the power…

The Real Threat To The Fed’s Independence Is Wall Street, Not Trump (WM)

[..] the real threat to the Fed’s independence isn’t coming from Trump—it’s coming from Wall Street. The Fed’s structural flaws have led to regulatory capture, which compromises its ability to set monetary and regulatory policy in a manner that isn’t tilted to favor those at the very top of the economic ladder. Trump may have broken a norm by commenting on monetary policy, but the Fed’s status quo is unaccountable, opaque decision-making shaped by deep conflicts of interest with the very financial institutions the Fed is ostensibly supposed to supervise. Consider, for instance, the abrupt resignation in March of David Cote from the New York Fed’s board of directors—a move that came as a shock to many Fed watchers.

Cote was one of just a couple people responsible for choosing the next president of the New York Fed, the most powerful economic policymaking position in the country that Trump doesn’t control. Yet before the search for New York Fed President Bill Dudley’s successor had formally concluded, Cote left the board to pursue “new business opportunities that could affect his eligibility to serve”—later revealed to be helping Goldman Sachs undertake an ambitious corporate acquisition strategy. The New York Fed claims that Cote and his fellow board members had already decided on former San Francisco Fed President John Williams to succeed Dudley by the time that Cote announced his resignation, but that means that Cote was simultaneously negotiating a new gig at Goldman Sachs while selecting one of Goldman’s top regulators.

The entire ordeal served as an unsettling reminder of the cozy relationship between the Federal Reserve and the biggest behemoth on Wall Street. Prior to being selected as New York Fed president in 2009, Dudley was Goldman Sachs’s chief economist. In 2008, Goldman Sachs Director Stephen Friedman chaired the New York Fed’s board of the directors at the same moment that it was reviewing Goldman’s application to become a bank holding company. In 2014, leaked tapes exposed New York Fed regulators pressuring one of their examiners to back off of a finding that would have imperiled Goldman Sachs’s ability to engage in a deal with Banco Santander. And in 2015, the Fed chose three consecutive men with strong ties to Goldman Sachs to be new Federal Reserve Bank presidents.

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Only if we let them.

The Trillion-Dollar Question: Can The Tech Giants Keep Growing? (G.)

It has been a tumultuous couple of weeks for America’s high-flying technology stocks, even by their own unique standards. Their shares have been soaring since the start of the year, despite being buffeted by trade war fears as President Trump talked of limiting Chinese investments in the US and restricting American technology imports to China. But now there are signs that cracks may be starting to appear in some of the biggest firms in the sector. Facebook suffered the biggest ever one-day drop in a company’s market value – losing more than £90bn – after its growth slowed in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Twitter lost 20%, or $5bn, as it reported a surprise fall in active monthly users, while streaming service Netflix missed its targets for subscriber numbers.

On the other hand, electric car specialist Tesla managed to head in the right direction despite making a $717m second-quarter loss, as its controversial chief executive, Elon Musk, regained investor confidence after apologising for previous outbursts. That was in marked contrast to a conference call for the company’s previous set of figures, when he accused a Wall Street analyst of “boring bonehead questions” and ignored queries from investors. But the pick of the bunch remains Apple, which beat Amazon and Google to reach the landmark $1 trillion valuation on Thursday.

Despite the recent rollercoaster ride, the five key tech stocks, known as the “Faangs” – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and Alphabet-owned Google – have reached breathtaking heights. The total value of the five companies amounts to a staggering 19% of total US GDP. But their surge in value has prompted fears of a re-run of the dotcom boom of the late 1990s, when technology businesses dominated the stock market before coming crashing to earth. Russ Mould at investment group AJ Bell says: “That [19%] compares to the 15.5% of US GDP reached by the five biggest companies by value at the US stock market’s peak in the fourth quarter of 1999, just before the technology, media and telecoms bubble burst and that particular mania came to grief.”

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“That’s my theory about what Russia is up to. If you have a better one, let’s hear it?”

Light It Up (Kunstler)

The Guardians of the Galaxy at National Public Radio were beside themselves Wednesday night reporting that “the lights are blinking red for a 2018 election attack by Russia.” Well, isn’t that an interesting set-up? In effect, NPR is preparing its listeners in advance to reject and dispute the coming midterm election if they’re not happy with the results. Thus continues America’s institutional self-sabotage, with the help of a news media that’s become the errand boy of the Deep State.

What do I mean by the Deep State? The vested permanent bureaucracy of Washington DC, and especially its vastly overgrown and redundant “Intel Community,” which has achieved critical mass to take on a life of its own within the larger government, makes up its own rules of conduct, not necessarily within the rule of law, and devotes too much of its budget and influence defending its own prerogatives rather than the interests of the nation.

Personally, I doubt that President Putin of Russia is dumb enough to allow, let alone direct, his intel services to lift a finger “meddling” in the coming US midterm election, with this American intel behemoth vacuuming every digital electron on earth into the NSA’s bottomless maw of intercepted secrets. Mr. Putin must have also observed by now that the US Intel Community is capable of generating mass public hallucinations, to the beat of war-drums, and determined not to give it anything to work with. That’s my theory about what Russia is up to. If you have a better one, let’s hear it?

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Turkey double-crossed the US in a prisoner swap deal. Bad idea of course. Erdogan wants Gulen, but this is not the way.

IMF Option Looms Larger For Turkey Amid Row With US (AL M.)

While the climate of uncertainty is discouraging investments, inflation is eroding real incomes and curbing domestic consumption. As a result, the shrinking demand is bearing on economic growth, which has relied largely on the domestic market. The Turkish economy, which grew 7.4% in 2017, is expected to slow in the third quarter before beginning to contract.

The growing uncertainties are discouraging also the inflow of hot money from abroad, which Turkey desperately needs. Moreover, existing foreign investors have been fleeing the Turkish stock market, albeit slowly — a trend that contributes to sustaining the high prices of foreign exchange, especially the dollar. Accordingly, Turkey’s risk premium — reflected in credit default swaps (CDS) — is on the rise. Turkey’s CDS, which had stood at 166 basis points Feb. 1 and 199 basis points May 1, hit a record high of 334 basis points on the evening of Aug. 1 — up from 321 points in the morning. The increasing risk premium means that Turkey will now face higher interest rates when it tries to borrow from foreign creditors.

The country’s external financing needs for the next 12 months amount to $230 billion, including $180 billion to roll over external debts and $50 billion to cover its gaping current account deficit. Hence, the question of how the required funds will be secured and at what cost is crucial. The tensions with Washington came amid this already serious crunch, exacerbating the woes of Erdogan’s regime. The row over Brunson had flared last week, as both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened sanctions unless Ankara took “immediate action” to release the pastor, who is being held on what Washington sees as bogus charges of espionage and collaboration with terrorist groups.

The warnings had an immediate economic effect, pushing up Turkey’s risk premium, as pundits sought to predict the scope of the upcoming sanctions. Some suggested that Washington’s hardening stance would bear on the flow of foreign capital to Turkey and the support it might seek from the IMF, while others saw trouble looming over Halkbank, the Turkish public lender embroiled in a scheme to evade US sanctions against Iran. Ultimately, Washington announced sanctions on Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul under the 2016 Magnitsky Act, which targets individuals and entities involved in human rights abuses. According to Bloomberg, this “could be just the start of what would look like a US assault on Turkey’s vulnerable economy,” including a potentially hefty fine on Halkbank.

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There’s Mark Warner again, the guy who with Comey screwed up the Assange deal with the DOJ.

Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship (Matt Taibbi)

You may have seen a story this week detailing how Facebook shut down a series of accounts. As noted by Politico, Facebook claimed these accounts “sought to inflame social and political tensions in the United States, and said their activity was similar — and in some cases connected — to that of Russian accounts during the 2016 election.” Similar? What does “similar” mean? The death-pit for civil liberties is usually found in a combination of fringe/unpopular people or ideas and a national security emergency. This is where we are with this unsettling new confab of Facebook, Congress and the Trump administration.

Read this jarring quote from Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) about the shutting down of the “inauthentic” accounts: “Today’s disclosure is further evidence that the Kremlin continues to exploit platforms like Facebook to sow division and spread disinformation… I also expect Facebook, along with other platform companies, will continue to identify Russian troll activity and to work with Congress…” This was in a story in which Facebook stated that it did not know the source of all the pages. They might be Russian, or they might just be Warner’s idea of “sowing division.” Are we comfortable with that range of possibilities?

[..] Facebook was “helped” in its efforts to wipe out these dangerous memes by the Atlantic Council, on whose board you’ll find confidence-inspiring names like Henry Kissinger, former CIA chief Michael Hayden, former acting CIA head Michael Morell and former Bush-era Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. (The latter is the guy who used to bring you the insane color-coded terror threat level system.) These people now have their hands on what is essentially a direct lever over nationwide news distribution. It’s hard to understate the potential mischief that lurks behind this union of Internet platforms and would-be government censors. As noted in Rolling Stone earlier this year, 70 percent of Americans get their news from just two sources, Facebook and Google. As that number rises, the power of just a few people to decide what information does and does not reach the public will amplify significantly.

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Makes sense. But too much of the whole thing doesn’t.

Why Theresa May Must Stop The Brexit Clock (O.)

May’s cabinet colleagues, fanning out across the continent like Patton’s Third Army to advance her Chequers compromise, do not appear to have fared any better. Especially embarrassing are the efforts of Jeremy Hunt, the new foreign secretary. He gravely warned puzzled Europeans last week that Britain was heading for “no-deal by accident” by pushing itself off a cliff. The UK would not “blink first”, he added. Perhaps Hunt thinks he is Clint Eastwood. It matters not. On Brexit, this government has its eyes tight shut. It is blind to the consequences – and the waiting chasm. Blinking does not come into it. What part of the EU’s unchanging position on the principles governing Britain’s future relationship with Europe does May’s government not understand?

For two years or more, Barnier, the chief negotiator, firmly backed by 27 governments, has been telling London there can be no compromise and no fudge that weakens the integrity of the single market, pan-European customs and legal regulations and Europe’s borders. Yet May’s Chequers plan, seeking exceptional (and unworkable) arrangements, blithely ignores all that. In case the European public did not appreciate what was at stake, or was taken in by chauvinistic Tory claims of EU vindictiveness and dogmatism, Barnier published an op-ed in 20 European newspapers last week. Amid Brexit’s baffling complexities, his concision and clarity were refreshing. He explained the EU’s justified fears about the impact of Brexit on Europe and why it cannot reasonably be expected to bow to May’s demands for special treatment:

“The UK knows well the benefits of the single market. It has contributed to shaping our rules over the last 45 years. And yet some UK proposals would undermine our single market, which is one of the EU’s biggest achievements. The UK wants to keep free movement of goods between us, but not of people and services. And it proposes to apply EU customs rules without being part of the EU’s legal order. The UK wants to take back sovereignty and control of its own laws, which we respect, but it cannot ask the EU to lose control of its borders and laws,” Barnier wrote.

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Oh, yeah, they’re going to blame it on the EU.

UK Trade Minister Fox Says EU Is Pushing Britain To No-Deal Brexit (R.)

British trade minister Liam Fox said “intransigence” from the European Union was pushing Britain toward a no-deal Brexit, in an interview published on Saturday by the Sunday Times. With less than eight months until Britain quits the EU, the government has yet to agree a divorce deal with Brussels and has stepped up planning for the possibility of leaving the bloc without any formal agreement. Fox, a prominent Brexit supporter in Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet, put the odds of Britain leaving the European Union without agreeing a deal over their future relationship at 60-40. “I think the intransigence of the commission is pushing us toward no deal,” Fox told the Sunday Times after a trade mission in Japan.

“We have set out the basis in which a deal can happen but if the EU decides that the theological obsession of the unelected is to take priority over the economic wellbeing of the people of Europe then it’s a bureaucrats’ Brexit — not a people’s Brexit — (and) then there is only going to be one outcome.” It was up to the EU whether it wanted to put “ideological purity” ahead of the real economy, Fox said. If Britain fails to agree the terms of its divorce with the EU and leaves without even a transition agreement to smooth its exit, it would revert to trading under World Trade Organization rules in March 2019.

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All sociopaths do it. They are defined by their lack of empathy.

Separating Children From Their Parents Puts UK Government To Shame, Too (O.)

Donald Trump’s policy of forcibly separating immigrant parents and children at the US border has been greeted with shock and abhorrence. Around the world, people have listened to audio of young children sobbing for their parents while federal agents crack jokes and heard the stories of children locked up in cages in the richest country in the world. Even the prime minister broke with her usual timidity about Trump’s transgressions to call his family separation policy “deeply disturbing”. What hypocrisy. Less noticed – although no less inhumane – is the British government’s policy of separating parents from their young children as part of immigration detention, all conducted on Theresa May’s watch, first as home secretary, then as prime minister.

Charities such as Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) have for years been raising the cases of children, many of whom are British citizens, taken into care because their parents have been detained, or even deported, without them. In recent months, a long list of cruelties meted out in the name of the government’s “hostile environment” policy has come to the public’s attention: people who’ve lived in Britain legally for decades, paying their taxes, suddenly denied life-saving NHS care; young people who’ve grown up in Britain facing many thousands of pounds in fees and a multi-year slog to get permanent residency; children raised in care facing the risk of deportation as an adult to a country they don’t know. Any sense of basic justice or human compassion seems to have eluded the Home Office.

But separating tiny children from their parents is cruelty of a whole different order. Today, we report on the case of Kishi, a young mother who dropped her two-year-old off at nursery in order to attend an appointment at an immigration reporting centre. There, she was restrained by immigration security officials and taken to an immigration removals centre. No arrangements were made for her toddler, who was put into emergency foster care when no one came to pick her up, and Kishi was not told where her daughter was for two days. It was another month before she saw her. Kishi and her child are not alone. BID says more than 300 children were removed from their parents in the last 12 months, an increase of 16% on the previous year. Many of those will have been taken into care as a result. The Home Office does not keep records on this; perhaps because it contravenes its own guidance, which says children must not be separated from their parents for immigration purposes if it means they will be taken into care.

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Sometimes I think in Britain it’s not only the economists.

Britain’s Economics Students Are Dangerously Poorly Educated (G.)

This month, the pressure group Rethinking Economics said Britain’s universities were failing to equip economics students with the skills that businesses and the government say they need. Following extensive interviews with employers, including organisations such as the Bank of England, it found that universities were producing “a cohort of economic practitioners who struggle to provide innovative ideas to overcome economic challenges or use economic tools on real-world problems”. Moreover, the group said, “when political decisions are backed by economics reasoning, as they so often are, economists are unable to communicate ideas to the public, resulting in a large democratic deficit.”

You could easily level that criticism at the economists forecasting the impact of AI. What are people supposed to think when those who study the field come up with such wildly varying predictions? More importantly, what will politicians think they should do? Nothing, probably, given the confusion. The Rethinking group is concerned that university departments only train, rather than educate, huge numbers of graduates for econometrics jobs across the banking, insurance and consulting sectors. In our increasingly student-led system, these young people don’t want to mess around with history or modules on inequality. They are on a mission to make money for themselves in the private sector.

If they were diverted into discussions of economic history, they might find out we are about to repeat the mistakes of the past and trigger another financial crisis. Even more inhibiting, their course might show that higher inequality dampens workers’ incentives to increase productivity, and might prompt them to ask why young economists in the City are paid colossal amounts of money to analyse bond yields or forecast oil prices. Pay them less, share the money around, and productivity might improve. Failing that, let a robot do their job.

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John put something like dictatorship in the title. Bit much.

How Reality Is Being Redefined (Slog)

The last burgeoning growth sector on the Planet is the pursuit of redefinition. The idea is first to confuse, then create a climate of acceptance, and finally do away with every form of liberty that stands in the way of power. Both Capital and Labour are actively following the same road. It will be the end of the road for citizen freedom unless they’re both stopped. John Williams at Shadowstats.com reckons that the real unemployment rate in the US is 21.4%. Unimpressed by the US State’s insane assumption that all those no longer able to claim unemployment welfare “have found a job”, Mr Williams provides further fuel for my longstanding thesis that no real recovery can occur – if more and more mass-market consumers work fewer and fewer hours for less and less money or have no job at all – because their personal disposable income is disappearing out of sight. The term ‘in employment’ has been redefined.

When he arrived at the UK Treasury as Chancellor, George Osborne immediately gave notice that he’d be switching from the higher RPI measure of inflation (then at 5.2%) to the lower CPI at 4.5%. That doesn’t sound like much, but one has to remember two things: first, that is a 14% difference in levels that makes inflation look much lower; and second, over time the different impression given is huge: from 1996 to 2011, under the RPI system prices rose 53.6%….but using the CPI method, it only came to 35.6%. Significantly, the CPI system excludes financial services costs and government charges to the consumer. Just fancy that. So the term ‘inflation’ has been redefined.

Within two years of taking office, the Conservative-led coalition’s leader David Cameron started claiming that “the Government’s long-term economic plan is working to create more jobs”. Government Party Political Broadcasts showed the statistics, and yes, it certainly looked that way. But “a job” to most people over the last half century meant 38-40 hours a week with a month’s notice. When analysed, these new jobs were averaging 20 hours a week, often at unsocial hours and frequently on no contracts at all. They typically demand, for example, that the “employee” be ready to come into the workplace without notice. When using the weasel term ‘job’, Cameron was comparing meat and two veg with bread and dripping. So the term ‘job’ has been redefined.

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One thing: people earning a low income ‘rate’ is much higher than 10.6%, and up by much more than 2% in 10 years. Lost in translation?

Greece’s Unemployment Highest in Developed World (GR)

Greece tops all countries in the developed world in unemployment according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) Employment Outlook 2018. Greece has suffered a dramatic spike in unemployment, with the 2017 total climbing to 21.7% of the working population, more than double the 2006 figure.

Large increases in unemployment and an underutilized workforce were accompanied by falling output, very high debt, a serious GDP deficit and deflation, the report says. Along with its impact on employment levels, the financial crisis caused a reduction in wage growth in a lot of countries, leading to a drop in living standards for many.

The proportion of working-age people earning the “low-income” rate jumped to 10.6%, up from 9.56% a decade earlier. Although Korea, Mexico, and Chile have seen a decrease in the number of low-income households, most of the countries hit hardest by the euro crisis, such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Slovenia, have suffered a 2% rise.

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Thank you Brussels and Berlin.

Greece: An Economy That Has Shrunk So Much It Looks War-Torn (WaPo)

The point is that this kind of economic collapse is usually the symptom of a broader state collapse. Which is why it almost never happens in rich countries. That’s clear enough if you look at the late Angus Maddison’s historical GDP per capita numbers. Going back to 1900, there have been only three general times when European economies have shrunk over a 10-year period as much as Greece’s has since 2008: after World War I, after World War II and after the fall of communism. Most of the exceptions to this involve other wars – in particular, the Balkan wars of the 1910s, the Spanish Civil War, the Greek Civil War and the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s — but there is one that largely took place during peacetime. That was Weimar Germany’s hyperinflation.

It’s worth pointing out what isn’t here: the Great Depression. That wasn’t quite as bad in Europe as it was in the United States — at its nadir in 1933, the U.S. 10-year decline was actually comparable to Greece’s today — partly due to the fact that most European countries were quicker to leave the gold standard when things did start to get more dire. That allowed them to inject enough monetary stimulus into their economies to jump-start almost immediate recoveries. The problem, of course, is that it’s a lot harder for Greece to do the equivalent of that right now. The gold standard and the euro are similar in that they are both fixed-exchange rate systems that can get countries into trouble if they are hit by a big enough shock that their economy “needs” a cheaper currency than it has under the system.

But they’re different in that it’s a lot simpler to say your currency won’t be worth as much gold as it used to than to replace all of your currency with a new one. So instead of stimulus, Greece has gotten austerity — and a lot of it. Under the terms of its just-about-to-be-completed bailout agreement, Greece is actually supposed to keep running primary budget surpluses of at least 2.2 percent of GDP until 2060. That’s right: four more decades of austerity. It’s no wonder, then, that Greece’s economy might not get back to where it was in 2008 until 2030. This is what Europe calls a success: an economy that has shrunk so much it looks war-torn.

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Aug 042018
 
 August 4, 2018  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan Spring rain 1912

 

The Everything Bubble Has Found Its Pin. The Pin’s Name is Jerome Powell. (PC)
The Fed Accelerates its QE Unwind (WS)
US Gains Only 157,000 Jobs In July As Unemployment Falls To 3.9% (MW)
US Government Has No Idea How Many Gig Workers There Are (MW)
Mark Carney Says Risk Of A No-Deal Brexit Is ‘Uncomfortably High’ (G.)
The Conservatives Are In Crisis Over Austerity, Not Just Brexit (NS)
US Secret Service And The Guardian Face Off Over ‘Russian Spy’ (RT)
Russia Seeks US Help To Rebuild Syria (R.)
Judge Calls US Efforts To Reunite Deported Parents ‘Unacceptable’ (R.)
US Court Orders Trump Administration To Fully Reinstate DACA Program (R.)
Trump Administration Lifts GMO Crop Ban For US Wildlife Refuges (R.)

 

 

Error? Powell obviously wants a strong dollar. And yes, that has consequences.

The Everything Bubble Has Found Its Pin. The Pin’s Name is Jerome Powell. (PC)

The Powell Fed is playing with matches next to over $60 trillion in $USD-denominated debt. The $USD is the reserve currency of the world. As such it is the currency of choice if you are going to issue debt. As a result of this, entities around the globe, whether they be corporations or countries, will often choose to issue debt denominated in the $USD, even if the $USD is not a currency used in their economy. When you borrow money in the $USD… you are effectively SHORTING the $USD. You are betting/hopingthat the $USD will weaken, making your debt servicing/ future debt repayment, cheaper on a relative basis. In this environment, when the $USD strengthens, it becomes MORE DIFFICULT to service your debt.

This is true even for the US itself. The $20 trillion we owe in public debt is effectively one gigantic $20 trillion $USD short. Enter Jerome Powell. For whatever reason, the Powell Fed has decided to embark on the most aggressively hawkish monetary policy in Fed history. And the currency markets have taken note. The $USD is breaking out of downtrends in Every. Single. Currency. Pair. The day Jerome Powell became Fed chair is annotated buy the vertical blue line. Assuming Jerome Powell DOESN’T want to blow up the $60 trillion $USD-denominated debt bubble… the above chart SCREAMS “policy error.”

I’m not being dramatic here… the last time the $USD rallied like this against every major currency was in 2014. At that time the entire commodity complex imploded by over 60% and the Emerging Market came within a hair’s breadth of systemic collapse. Again, I’m not being dramatic here… within six months of the $USD’s rally in 2014, Brazil’s stock market was down nearly 70%. China’s was down nearly 50%. Emerging Markets across the board dropped over 30%. Oil fell from $105 to $30 and change. Etc. I don’t see any indication Powell is aware of this… which means… BUCKLE UP. THE EVERYTHING BUBBLE HAS FOUND ITS PIN. AND THE PIN’S NAME IS JEROME POWELL.

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And Powell is very clear on “balance sheet normalization” too.

The Fed Accelerates its QE Unwind (WS)

The Fed’s QE Unwind – “balance sheet normalization,” as it calls this – is accelerating toward cruising speed. The first 12 months of the QE unwind, which started in October 2017, are the ramp-up period – just like there was the “Taper” during the final 12 months of QE. The plan calls for shedding up to $420 billion in securities in 2018 and up to $600 billion a year in each of the following years until the balance sheet is sufficiently “normalized” – or until something big breaks. In July, the QE Unwind accelerated sharply. According to the plan, the Fed was supposed to shed up to $24 billion in Treasury Securities in July, up from $18 billion a month in the prior three months. And? The Fed released its weekly balance sheet Thursday afternoon. Over the four weeks ending August 1, the balance of Treasury securities fell by $23.5 billion to $2,337 billion, the lowest since April 16, 2014.

Since the beginning of the QE-Unwind, the Fed has shed $129 billion in Treasuries. The step-pattern in the chart is a result of how the Fed sheds Treasury securities. It doesn’t sell them outright but allows them to “roll off” when they mature. Treasuries only mature mid-month or at the end of the month. Hence the stair-steps. In mid-July, no Treasuries matured. But on July 31, $28.4 billion matured. The Fed replaced about $4 billion of them with new Treasury securities directly via its arrangement with the Treasury Department that cuts out Walls Street (its “primary dealers”) with which the Fed normally does business. Those $4 billion in securities, to use the jargon, were “rolled over.” But it did not replace about $24 billion of maturing Treasuries. They “rolled off.”

Total assets on the Fed’s balance sheet for the four weeks ending August 1 dropped by $34.1 billion. This brought the drop since October, when the QE unwind began, to $205 billion. At $4,256 billion, total assets are now at the lowest level since April 9, 2014, during the middle of the “taper.” It took the Fed about six years to pile on these securities, and now it’s going to take years to shed them:

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Trend is towards lower paid jobs.

US Gains Only 157,000 Jobs In July As Unemployment Falls To 3.9% (MW)

The U.S. posted another solid spurt in hiring in July, showing that companies are still able to find enough workers to meet the growing needs of a rapidly expanding U.S. economy. Some 157,000 new jobs were created last month despite widespread complaints among businesses about a shortage of skilled labor, the Labor Department said Friday. The increase in hiring fell below the 195,000 MarketWatch forecast, but job gains in May and June was stronger than previously reported. The smaller gain in employment was also a result of governments cutting jobs in education during the summer break and the closure of Toys R Us. Otherwise hiring may have topped 200,000.

Unemployment, meanwhile, slipped below 4% again, to 3.9%, as more people found work.The jobless rate is at a nearly two-decade low. Far-flung complaints about how hard it is to find good workers still aren’t inducing companies to jack up salaries and wages, however. Hourly pay rose 7 cents in July to $25.07, but the 12-month rate of wage gains was unchanged at 2.7%. And even those increases have been largely eaten up by rising inflation. Wages usually rise 3% to 4% a year when the labor market is as tight as it is now.

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Much more interesting than the jobs report. 75 million gig workers? And they’re all counted as ’employed’?

US Government Has No Idea How Many Gig Workers There Are (MW)

The BLS does not have an explicit definition for a gig worker, or a formal way of tracking them. It comes closest in a survey called the Contingent Worker Supplement, which studies “contingent workers” in temporary working arrangements that they don’t expect to last more than a year. But prior to last month, the BLS had not released the Contingent Worker Supplement since 2005 due in large part to a lack of funding. The most recent report found that 5.9 million people or 3.8% of all workers are contingent workers. “It’s not that the BLS doesn’t care about secondary work, they do,” said Demetra Nightingale at the Urban Institute, a think tank. But without adequate funding it is difficult for the BLS to study those workers, she said.

These workers come in many forms. They include side hustlers with regular jobs and freelancers who take on extra clients on their off-hours, according to Freelancing in America, a 2017 survey conducted in part by Freelancers Union. That survey estimated that 57.3 million Americans are freelancing, or 36% of the workforce. Other estimates say the gig economy is even larger than that. The Federal Reserve has a very broad definition of people working in the gig economy. The Fed says gig workers could be anyone from a babysitter to an Uber driver. According to that definition, there are as many as 75 million gig workers.

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My first thought when reading this: he’s trying to get himself fired. Brexit Britain doesn’t need some Canadian opinion.

Mark Carney Says Risk Of A No-Deal Brexit Is ‘Uncomfortably High’ (G.)

Mark Carney has warned that the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high” and will lead to higher prices, as Theresa May prepares to meet the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for talks. The Bank of England governor said both the UK and EU should “do all things to avoid” a no-deal scenario. He added that the banks had done the “stockpiling” and the country’s financial system was in a position to be able to withstand a shock that could result from the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. His remarks led to sterling falling sharply to just under $1.30. Carney told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the possibility of a no-deal is uncomfortably high at this point.” Asked if no deal would be a disaster, he said: “It is highly undesirable. Parties should do all things to avoid it.”

Pushed on what no deal would mean, he said “disruption to trade as we know it”, before adding: “As a consequence of that, a disruption to the level of economic activity, higher prices for a period of time. “Our job at the Bank of England is to make sure those issues don’t happen in the financial system, so that people will have things to worry about in a no-deal Brexit, which is still a relatively unlikely possibility but it is a possibility, but what we don’t want to have is people worrying about their money in the bank, whether or not they can get a loan from the bank – whether for a mortgage or for a business idea – and we have put the banks through the wringer well in advance of this to make sure they have the capital.”

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An already completely gutted society. More to come. Local councils are being cut to the bone.

The Conservatives Are In Crisis Over Austerity, Not Just Brexit (NS)

The Conservative party is engaged in the bloodiest incarnation yet of its 30-year Europe war. After Theresa May’s Chequers deal succeeded in alienating almost everyone, Remainers are backing a “people’s vote”, while Leavers are embracing no deal. There is no obvious means by which the parliamentary deadlock can be broken. But the Brexit crisis is masking another one: over austerity. The Leave vote in 2016 and the loss of the Tories’ majority in 2017 were symptoms of voter discontent over spending cuts (a new study published this week suggested that austerity may have directly caused Brexit). As the New Statesman’s Crumbling Britain series has charted, eight years of austerity have enfeebled the public realm.

Rough sleeping, which fell by three-quarters under the last Labour government, has risen by 169 per cent since 2010. The NHS has been forced to cancel operations and even urgent surgery as it struggles to meet ever greater demand. Relative child poverty has increased for three consecutive years and now stands at 4.1 million, or 30 per cent of children. Nearly 1,000 Sure Start children’s centres and 478 libraries are estimated to have closed since 2010. Potholed roads and uncollected bins are evidence of the scale of austerity borne by councils (real-terms funding for local authorities has been cut by 49 per cent since David Cameron took office as prime minister). Northamptonshire Council, a Conservative flagship, has declared itself effectively bankrupt – and others may follow.

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The Guardian is up to some strange things.

US Secret Service And The Guardian Face Off Over ‘Russian Spy’ (RT)

US Secret Service has scolded the Guardian for “irresponsible and inaccurate” reporting on an alleged Russian spy at the US embassy in Moscow. Unfazed, the newspaper continued to spin the story calling it the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ The British newspaper, never one to pass up a good Russia scare story, published a fresh one on Friday, citing multiple intelligence analysts to reinforce the idea that its own anonymously-sourced revelations of a suspected spy with high-level security clearance having been embedded for a decade in the US embassy in Moscow,”could be just the tip of the iceberg.” The Secret Service, meanwhile, has been issuing repeated rebuttals to the Guardian’s reporting.

The security officials were quite emphatic in bashing the article as “wrought with irresponsible and inaccurate reporting based on the claims of “anonymous sources’.” In its press release on Thursday, the Secret Service specifically points out that before the publication came out, it had provided the Guardian with background to the story “clearly refuting unfounded information” in its statement to the editor. The Guardian did mention the agency’s response, bundling it in the middle of its article, while citing its unnamed “intelligence source” profusely, claiming that the Russian woman, the suspected mole, “had access to the most damaging database, which is the US Secret Service official mail system.”

This allegedly included “schedules of the president – current and past, vice-president and their spouses, including Hillary Clinton.” According to the Secret Service, the allegations that a mysterious foreign ‘femme fatale’ could have access to such sensitive information, are unfounded. “FSNs [Foreign Service Nationals] working under the direction of the U.S. Secret Service have never been provided or placed in a position to obtain, secret or classified information as erroneously reported.”

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You break it, you bought it.

Russia Seeks US Help To Rebuild Syria (R.)

Russia has used a closely guarded communications channel with America’s top general to propose the two former Cold War foes cooperate to rebuild Syria and repatriate refugees to the war-torn country, according to a U.S. government memo. The proposal was sent in a July 19 letter by Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian military’s General Staff, to U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the memo which was seen by Reuters. The Russian plan, which has not been previously reported, has received an icy reception in Washington. The memo said the U.S. policy was only to support such efforts if there were a political solution to end Syria’s seven-year-old civil war, including steps like U.N.-supervised elections.

The proposal illustrates how Russia, having helped turn the tide of the war in favor of President Bashar al-Assad, is now pressing Washington and others to aid the reconstruction of areas under his control. Such an effort would likely further cement Assad’s hold on power. “The proposal argues that the Syrian regime lacks the equipment, fuel, other material, and funding needed to rebuild the country in order to accept refugee returns,” according to the memo, which specified that the proposal related to Syrian government-held areas of the country. The United States in 2011 adopted a policy that Assad must leave power but then watched as his forces, backed by Iran and then Russia, clawed back territory and secure Assad’s position. The United States has drawn a line on reconstruction assistance, saying it should be tied to a process that includes U.N.-supervised elections and a political transition in Syria. It blames Assad for Syria’s devastation.

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But what can Sabraw do?

Judge Calls US Efforts To Reunite Deported Parents ‘Unacceptable’ (R.)

A federal judge on Friday described as “unacceptable” the U.S. government’s progress in reuniting immigrant children in the United States with deported parents and ordered the government to appoint a person to take charge of its efforts. “This is going to be a significant undertaking and it’s clear there has to be one person in charge,” said U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw at a hearing in San Diego. Sabraw in June ordered the government to begin reuniting some 2,500 children that officials separated from their parents after they crossed the U.S.-Mexican border. The families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” U.S. government policy toward illegal immigration that began in early May.

Many of them had crossed the border illegally, while others had sought asylum. About 1,900 children have since been reconnected with their parents or a sponsor. On Thursday, the government proposed that non-profit groups should take the lead in locating as many as 500 parents deported or removed from the United States without their children. At Friday’s hearing, Sabraw said it was it was “100 percent the responsibility of the administration” to reunite those families. Sabraw also noted that as few as 12 of the 500 parents in question have been located. “That is just unacceptable at this point,” he said. “The reality is that for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child.”

The government’s lawyer, Scott Stewart, said that the agencies involved would consider appointing a point person or persons. Stewart said the government had proposed a plan with non-profit groups in a prominent role because it believed that was the quickest way to locate parents.

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Different judge. Legal opinions are sorely need in the US.

US Court Orders Trump Administration To Fully Reinstate DACA Program (R.)

A federal judge on Friday ruled that the Trump administration must fully restore a program that protects from deportation some young immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children, including accepting new applications for the program. U.S. District Judge John Bates in Washington, D.C., said he would stay Friday’s order, however, until August 23 to give the administration time to decide whether to appeal. Bates first issued a ruling in April ordering the federal government to continue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, including taking applications. He stayed that ruling for 90 days to give the government time to better explain why the program should be ended.

On Friday Bates, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, said he would not revise his previous ruling because the arguments of President Donald Trump’s administration did not override his concerns. Under DACA, roughly 700,000 young adults, often referred to as “Dreamers”, were protected from deportation and given work permits for two-year periods, after which they must re-apply to the program.

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Better put this before a judge as well. But no surprise that Monsanto is powerful stateside.

Trump Administration Lifts GMO Crop Ban For US Wildlife Refuges (R.)

The Trump administration has rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified crops in dozens of national wildlife refuges where farming is permitted. Environmentalists, who had sued to bring about the 2-year-old ban, said on Friday that lifting the restriction poses a grave threat to pollinating insects and other sensitive creatures relying on toxic-free habitats afforded by wildlife refuges. “Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species,” said Jenny Keating, federal lands policy analyst for the group Defenders of Wildlife.

Limited agricultural activity is authorized on some refuges by law, including cooperative agreements in which farmers are permitted to grow certain crops to produce more food or improve habitat for the wildlife there. The rollback, spelled out in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memo, ends a policy that had prohibited farmers on refuges from planting biotech crops – such as soybeans and corn – engineered to resist insect pests and weed-controlling herbicides. That policy also had barred the use on wildlife refuges of neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, in conjunction with GMO crops. Neonics are a class of insecticides tied by research to declining populations of wild bees and other pollinating insects around the world.

Rather than continuing to impose a blanket ban on GMO crops and neonics on refuges, Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan said in Thursday’s memo that decisions about their use would be made on a case-by-case basis.

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