Jan 212018
 
 January 21, 2018  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Francisco Goya The Dog 1819-23

 

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)
Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)
Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)
China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)
China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)
Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)
Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)
Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)
In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)
Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)
Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)
15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

 

 

Let it go down; why maintain the illusion that the system functions?

US Senate In Weekend Bid To End Shutdown Impasse (BBC)

The US Senate is due back in session to try to end a budget impasse before the start of the working week when the shutdown of many federal services will be felt around the country. Hundreds of thousands of federal staff face the prospect of unpaid leave. On Saturday, recriminations flew around over the Senate’s failure to pass a new budget and prevent the shutdown. A bill to fund the federal government for the coming weeks did not receive the required 60 votes by Friday. The Republican leader of the US Senate, Mitch McConnell, has said there will be a vote at 01:00 in the early hours of Monday (06:00 GMT) on a bill to fund the government until 8 February. The last government shutdown was in 2013, and lasted for 16 days.

This is the first time a government shutdown has happened while one party, the Republicans, controls both Congress and the White House. The vote on Friday was 50-49, falling far short of the 60 needed to advance the bill. With a 51-seat majority in the Senate, the Republicans do not have enough votes to pass the bill without some support from the Democrats. They want funding for border security – including the border wall – and immigration reforms, as well as increased military spending. The Democrats have demanded protection from deportation of more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children.

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No gloating.

Trump’s Trip To Davos Is Up In The Air Because Of The Shutdown (CNBC)

Donald Trump was set to be the first U.S. president to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in nearly two decades, but the government shutdown might have scrambled those plans. White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney said Saturday that Trump’s plans to travel to Davos next week are up in the air while Congress scrambles to strike a deal to fund the federal government. “We’re taking Davos, from the president’s perspective and the Cabinet’s perspective, on a day-by-day basis,” Mulvaney told reporters during an impromptu briefing. The government shut down at midnight Friday, after congressional negotiators failed to pass a budget.

Earlier in the day, Trump cancelled a planned trip to Florida, where he was scheduled to host a party at his private Mar-a-Lago club to mark the one year anniversary of his inauguration. Tickets for the Mar-a-Lago party begin at $100,000 per couple, and proceeds will benefit the Trump reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. On Saturday, RNC staffers were busy setting up TV screens in the private club, so Trump could address the guests via satellite, according to CNN. The budget impasse showed no signs of letting up on Saturday, as both Democrats and Republicans dug their heels in, and each party blamed the other. The president is scheduled to depart for Switzerland on Wednesday, along with a delegation of more than a dozen Cabinet members, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and top White House aides.

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They have to release it, no choice.

Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo – and the Evidence (GG)

One of the gravest and most damaging abuses of state power is to misuse surveillance authorities for political purposes. For that reason, The Intercept, from its inception, has focused extensively on these issues. We therefore regard as inherently serious strident warnings from public officials alleging that the FBI and Department of Justice have abused their spying power for political purposes. Social media last night and today have been flooded with inflammatory and quite dramatic claims now being made by congressional Republicans about a four-page memo alleging abuses of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act spying processes during the 2016 election.

This memo, which remains secret, was reportedly written under the direction of the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, GOP Rep. Devin Nunes, and has been read by dozens of members of Congress after the committee voted to make the memo available to all members of the House of Representatives to examine in a room specially designated for reviewing classified material. The rhetoric issuing from GOP members who read the memo is notably extreme. North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, chair of the House Freedom Caucus, called the memo “troubling” and “shocking” and said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania stated: “You think about, ‘Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?’ That’s how alarming it is.” This has led to a ferocious outcry on the right to “release the memo” – and presumably thereby prove that the Obama administration conducted unlawful surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition. On Thursday night, Fox News host and stalwart Trump ally Sean Hannity claimed that the memo described “the systematic abuse of power, the weaponizing of those powerful tools of intelligence and the shredding of our Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.” Given the significance of this issue, it is absolutely true that the memo should be declassified and released to the public — and not just the memo itself.

The House Intelligence Committee generally and Nunes specifically have a history of making unreliable and untrue claims (its report about Edward Snowden was full of falsehoods, and prior claims from Nunes about “unmasking” have been discredited). Thus, mere assertions from Nunes — or anyone else — are largely worthless; Republicans should provide American citizens not merely with the memo they claim reveals pervasive criminality and abuse of power, but also with all of the evidence underlying its conclusions.

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Don’t worry, the shadow banks will.

China Orders Banks To Stop Financing Cryptocurrencies (SCMP)

The People’s Bank of China has ordered financial institutions to stop providing banking or funding to any activity related to cryptocurrencies, further tightening the noose since its shutdown of crypto exchanges last September sent digital currency enthusiasts fleeing overseas. “Every bank and branch must carry out self-inspection and rectification, starting from today,” according to a document issued by the central bank on Wednesday. “Service for cryptocurrency trading is strictly prohibited. Effective measures should be adopted to prevent payment channels from being used for cryptocurrency settlement.” The Chinese-language document, as seen by the South China Morning Post, was distributed as an internal document among banks, and not published on the central bank’s official website.

“Banks should enhance their daily transaction monitoring, and the timely shut down of the payment channel once they discover any suspected trading of cryptocurrencies,” the document said, adding that the deadline for disclosing the measures is on January 20. The emphasis was on handling any capital settlement to avoid any financial losses by cryptocurrency investors from escalating into public protests – known as “group events” in China – and preserve social stability, the central bank said. [..] Chinese cryptocurrency traders, who once dominated 90 per cent of the world’s trading volume of bitcoin, the most popular and oldest form of cryptocurrency, have moved to the underground market, or overseas to Japan. Bitcoin is considered legal tender in Japan.

“Most of the trading is taking place via US dollar now, as some big accounts active in digital currency trading are already on China’s official watch list and payment channel already blocked,” said Zhao Dong, an individual bitcoin investor who spends most of his time in Japan now. “This move by the PBOC is further pushing capital and innovation out of China.” Still, a person no less than Zhou Xiaochuan, the longest-serving governor in the Chinese central bank, has himself announced that the People’s Bank of China itself is studying the feasibility of developing its own digital currency.

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As does Russia.

China Urges U.S. to Abandon ‘Cold War’ Mindset (BBG)

China’s National Defense Ministry said the U.S. should abandon a “Cold War” mindset and view Chinese national security and military efforts “rationally and objectively.” The instigators of militarization of the South China Sea are “other countries” that don’t seem to want to see peace in the region and are using the banner of “navigational freedom” to undertake military activities in a tyrannical manner, ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said in a statement released late Saturday. The statement was in response to a U.S. Defense Department strategy report, released last week, that singled out China’s military modernization and expansion in the South China Sea as key threats to U.S. power.

China has undertaken massive land reclamation in the contested waterway that hosts $5 trillion in trade a year, to strengthen its claim to more than 80 percent of the area. That has strained ties with other claimant states, such as Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as the U.S. The National Defence ministry’s statement on Saturday came shortly after China’s Foreign Ministry vowed to take “necessary measures” to safeguard its sovereignty after a U.S. warship entered waters surrounding the Huangyan Island in the South China Sea. China’s activities in the South China Sea is “a matter within China’s sovereign rights,” Ren said, adding that the country is committed to a path of peaceful development and a harmonious world order.

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A good point not particularly well made.

Britain’s Tired Old Economy Isn’t Strong Enough For Brexit (G.)

Brexit, at its heart, is a recognition that Britain has become steadily weaker since it spent much of its empire wealth fighting two world wars – too feeble in the years before the 2016 referendum to sustain an exchange rate of $1.60 and €1.40, just as it was too poor to cope with $4 to the pound in the 1950s and $2 to the pound in 1992. Manufacturers were unable to make things cheaply, reliably or efficiently enough against the headwind of a high-value currency, forcing many to give up. An economy that boasted 20% of its income coming from manufacturing in the 1980s found it was the source of barely 10% at the beginning of this decade.

Surges in GDP growth in the 70 years since the war can be attributed (and this short list makes the point crudely) to periods when there were cheap raw materials and energy costs; or a growing population; or foreign ownership and management of key industries; or the offloading of vast amounts of state and mutually owned assets; or cheap borrowing. Without these in operation to improve the UK’s performance, a lower exchange rate became inevitable. Some Brexit campaigners made a cheaper currency their explicit aim, arguing that while Britain’s wealth and standing in the world would be diminished in the short term, the breathing space given to manufacturers would allow them to sell abroad at cheaper prices, then use the funds to invest and gain the efficiencies needed to cope with a return to a higher exchange rate sometime in the next decade.

There is a good deal of logic to the argument, but it rests, like so many revolutionary aims, on the many and competing forces in the economy doing exactly what its proponents want them to. For instance, manufacturers, with a few honourable exceptions, have refused to invest more than the bare minimum for decades, even when the exchange rate has helped them. There are windfall profits to be made when currencies fall: but these windfalls have been trousered by shareholders, not invested.

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Little emperor.

Macron: Bespoke Brexit Deal Possible If UK Accepts ‘Preconditions’ (G.)

Emmanuel Macron has said it would be possible for Britain to secure a bespoke trade deal but only if the UK accepts certain “preconditions”. The French president said that while a special solution could be secured, full access to the single market without accepting its rules was “not feasible”. The comments were made during an interview recorded for BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. Macron has been in the UK for his first visit since taking office. On Thursday, at the end of a joint press conference with Theresa May at Sandhurst military training college, he rejected the idea of a tailored Brexit deal for Britain’s financial services sector. Macron said full access to EU markets would not be possible unless the UK paid into the EU budget and accepted all its rules.

In the interview with Marr, he said there was “a competition between different countries” to attract financial services companies in the future and that France wanted “to attract the maximum activity”. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has said he is seeking a “Canada plus plus plus” arrangement, based on the EU-Canada trade treaty, but with additional access for services. However, EU negotiators have stressed that Britain would not be allowed to “cherry-pick” sectors. Pressed on whether there would be a bespoke special solution for the UK, Macron said: “Sure, but … this special way should be consistent with the preservation of the single market and our collective interests. “And you should understand that you cannot, by definition, have the full access to the single market if you don’t tick the box.” He added: “So it’s something perhaps between this full access and a trade agreement.”

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It’s starting to feel like Stockholm Syndrome.

Athens Hopeful For Eurogroup Decisions Despite Problems (K.)

Eurozone finance ministers are to meet in Brussels on Monday to assess Greece’s progress in enforcing economic reforms, decide whether to disburse 6.7 billion euros in bailout loans and, Athens hopes, signal talks on debt relief. It was unclear if the loan tranche would be disbursed in its entirety, as some prior actions are pending. However, Greek officials sounded upbeat following a decision late on Friday by Standard & Poor’s to raise Greece’s sovereign credit rating from B- to B with a positive outlook. “Greece’s growth and fiscal outlooks have improved alongside a labor market recovery and amid a period of relative policy certainty,” S&P said.

“These positive developments boost the sense that the trust of the markets and investors in the Greek economy is being restored with steady steps,” the Finance Ministry said on Saturday. “With the conclusion of the program in August 2018 and the securing of steady access to the markets, the Greek economy is definitely moving away from a long period of crisis.” Despite the upbeat rhetoric, there are divisions within SYRIZA over government policies, particularly in the radical Group of 53 faction. In comments to SYRIZA’s central committee on Saturday, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos conceded that there are “many short-term problems” and underlined two major risks. “One is the banks and the other is the IMF,” he said.

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Nice. Kiwis believe in fairy tales.

In New Zealand, 100% Pure Is 100% Propaganda (Stuff)

Ask Tourism New Zealand what 100% Pure means and they’ll tell you: it’s not a ‘clean, green’ campaign, but a campaign that delivers a “100% Pure New Zealand experience”. What it is is 100% pure advertising, and a slogan fit to replace the fertiliser used in the country’s intensive farming. But while Kiwis do seem to be realising there’s something murky about our clean-green image, there is one area we are still fooling ourselves about – the state of our native creatures. Stuff has just wrapped up its Forgotten Species series, a five-part series looking at a handful of the estimated 3700 native species which are either approaching extinction or at risk. Despite having one of the highest proportions of threatened or endangered species of anywhere on the planet, 70% of the public feel the state of our country’s natives is adequate or doing well, according to a recent Lincoln University study.

Ask study co-author Ross Cullen and he will tell you – 70% of the public is “totally wrong”. All countries advertise, and everyone accepts it with a pinch of salt. If we didn’t we would all be jetting off to England expecting a village in the Cotswolds and end up at a sleazy pub in Plumstead, east London. Advertising is advertising, and good advertising brings in tourism money. However, when the public believes its own advertising, it’s no longer advertising, it’s propaganda –and that’s a problem. It’s a problem because if the populace think something’s going well, they ignore it, the political hot-potato cools, and the decline continues. Case in point – the National Government’s Minister for Conservation, Maggie Barry, paraded the new Threatened Species Strategy in front of voters just as the 2017 general election was heating up.

It promised to increase the number of at-risk species directly managed by 40%. On the face of it, this seems great, but when the Budget was released a couple of weeks later, almost all of DOC’s extra funding was ring-fenced for upgrading tourism infrastructure and developing new Great Walks. It was a great ad delivered by a great ex-garden show host. Kiwis might have kicked up a fuss – if the majority didn’t think we were doing a bang up job on protecting native species already. I remember a telling moment after ex-Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright’s launched her report finding 80% of native birds were threatened. I was present to hear why Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts didn’t fancy this was a problem. “The people come here for our scenery, not our wildlife,” he said. Roberts didn’t disagree with any of the report’s findings, he just thought a visitor levy would do more harm to the country than the rapid die-off of our native birds.

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Depression zone. I went from Athens to Amsterdam 5 weeks ago, lost 2 hours of daylight to begin with, and been dead tired ever since. Vitamin D doesn’t do it either.

Ain’t No Sunshine: Winter Is One Of Darkest Ever For Parts Of Europe (G.)

Sunshine is in short supply across a swathe of north-west Europe, shrouded in heavy cloud from a seemingly never-ending series of low pressure systems since late November and suffering one of its darkest winters since records began. If you live in Brussels, 10 hours and 31 minutes was your lot for the entire month of December. The all but benighted inhabitants of Lille in France got just two hours, 42 minutes through the first half of January. “Sound the alarm and announce the disappearance,” read a despairing headline in photon-deprived northern France’s regional paper, La Voix du Nord. “A star has been kidnapped. We still have no sign of life from the sun.”

Belgium’s Royal Meteorological Institute has declared December 2017 “the second darkest month since 1887”, when it began measuring, after the 10.5 hours of sun recorded at its Uccle weather station last month were beaten only by a bare 9.3 hours in 1934. France’s northern Hauts-de-France region did better with 26 hours of sunshine in December, but that was against a norm of 48. But Météo France described the paltry 2.7 hours of sun recorded from 1 to 13 January in Lille, the region’s biggest city, as “exceptional”. The January average stands at 61.4 hours, according to the agency – meaning Lille and its unfortunate residents were deprived of perhaps 30 hours’ worth of rays in the first part of the month.

[..] Even southern French sun-traps such as Bordeaux and Marseille fell a very long way short of their usual ray quota in the first half of the month, basking in just 10.3 and 26.9 hours respectively against monthly averages of 96 and 92.5. Health experts say a shortage of sunshine can lead to seasonal depression, whose symptoms include a lack of energy, a desire to sleep and a perceived need to consume greater quantities of sugar and fat. “Exposure to morning light inhibits the secretion of melatonin that promotes sleep and favours the production of hormones that will stimulate the body,” Matthieu Hein, a psychiatrist at the Erasmus Hospital in Brussels, said. In the absence of light, we are “rather slow, tired, which is characteristic of SAD, or seasonal affective disorder”. Florent Durand, who runs a massage studio in Lille, told France 3 TV that his €39 light therapy sessions were booked out.

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As Turkey bombs US supported Kurds, Erdogan feels like a god.

Turkey Threatens Refugee Deal With EU (K.)

Turkey’s agreement with the European Union to curb human trafficking across the Aegean appears to be in jeopardy again after a top Turkish official warned that a current impasse with the EU gives Ankara no reason to honor the deal. A collapse of the deal would put more pressure on Greek islands where thousands of migrants are cooped up in overcrowded reception centers. The comments on Friday by Turkey’s minister for EU affairs, Omer Celik, essentially rejected a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron for a partnership rather than full EU membership for Turkey. “A privileged partnership or similar approaches, we don’t take any of these seriously. Turkey cannot be offered such a thing,” Celik told Reuters.

Celik said the EU was not fully honoring its part of the migration deal, noting that financial aid was “not working well” and that no new chapters have been opened in Turkey’s EU accession bid. “Technically there’s no reason for Turkey to maintain this deal,” he said. The minister’s words echoed those of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who, during a landmark visit to Greece in December, hit out at the EU for giving Turkey just a portion of the aid it had pledged as part of the 2016 migrant deal. During Erdogan’s visit, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed that Turkey take back migrants from facilities on the Greek mainland to free up space for migrants from overcrowded camps on the islands. Erdogan did not publicly respond to the suggestion.

After Celik’s comments on Friday, a spokesman for the Greek Migration Ministry said the government’s position, that all sides must honor the Turkey-EU deal, remained “fixed and firm.” Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas visited Lesvos on Friday, together with Valentin Radev, the interior minister of Bulgaria, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. Mouzalas reassured local residents, who had gathered at the Moria facility, that measures would be taken to ensure that migrants alleged to have been involved in thefts or other offenses will no longer be allowed to leave the premises. Lesvos Mayor Spyros Galinos said the minister was not doing enough to adequately inform residents and was shifting the blame for the situation on the islands on to local authorities.

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New year, same old lack of humanity.

15 Syrian Refugees Found Frozen To Death On Lebanon Border (BBC)

Fifteen Syrian refugees – some of them children – have been found frozen to death while trying to cross the mountainous border into Lebanon. Thirteen bodies were found on Friday and two more were discovered on Saturday after the area was hit by a fierce snowstorm. Lebanese civil defence officials found the bodies after being told a group of refugees were in trouble near Masnaa. Local reports say the group had been abandoned by smugglers. Two smugglers have reportedly been arrested.

Several refugees were rescued, including a young boy who was found wandering by himself. The group were taking the same route hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken before them trying to flee the conflict at home. Lebanon, with a population of four million, has taken in nearly one million Syrians since the war began in 2011. The Lebanese authorities brought in new restrictions in 2015 to try to restrict the number of refugees arriving in the country.

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Jan 202018
 
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Vincent van Gogh Lane near Arles 1888

 

US Government Shutdown Begins As Spending Bill Fails In Senate (R.)
Trump To Tout US Economy, Urge Fair Trade At Elite Davos Forum (R.)
What Will Rising Mortgage Rates Do to Housing Bubble 2? (WS)
Fever Pitch (Jim Kunstler)
NSA Deleted Surveillance Data Court Had Ordered It To Preserve (Pol.)
Russia Accuses US Of “Carving Out Alternative Government” In Syria (ZH)
Europe Must Wake Up To Drastic Consequences Of A Hard Brexit (Joris Luyendijk)
UK Banks Turn Off Lending Taps To Households (G.)
The Carillion Whitewash (Coppola)
Hundreds Of UK MPs Call On Supermarkets To Scrap Plastic Packaging (G.)
The Untreatable: The Centenary of Spanish Flu (LRB)

 

 

Maybe it’s better this way: expose the failing systems. Bring out your dead.

US Government Shutdown Begins As Spending Bill Fails In Senate (R.)

The U.S. government shut down at midnight on Friday after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a last-minute deal to fund its operations, divided in a bitter dispute over immigration and border security. In a dramatic late-night session, senators blocked a bill to extend government funding through Feb. 16. The bill needed 60 votes in the 100-member Senate but fell short, with only 50 supporting it. Most Democrats opposed the bill because their efforts to include protections for hundreds of thousands of mostly young immigrants known as Dreamers failed. Huddled negotiations by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in the last minutes before midnight were unsuccessful, and the U.S. government technically ran out of money at midnight.

The shutdown formally began on Saturday, the first anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump immediately sought to blame Democrats. “Tonight, they put politics above our national security, military families, vulnerable children, and our country’s ability to serve all Americans,” the White House said in a statement. It also said it would not discuss immigration until the government is up and running again. “We will not negotiate the status of unlawful immigrants while Democrats hold our lawful citizens hostage over their reckless demands. This is the behavior of obstructionist losers, not legislators.” In return, Schumer pointed the finger directly at Trump. “It’s almost as if you were rooting for a shutdown and now we’ll have one and the blame should crash entirely on President Trump’s shoulders,” he said.

Until a funding deal is worked out, scores of federal agencies across the country will be unable to operate, and hundreds of thousands of “non-essential” federal workers will be put on temporary unpaid leave. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding measure on Thursday. But Republicans then needed the support of at least 10 Democrats to pass the bill in the Senate. While five Democrats ended up voting for the measure, five Republicans voted against it. Democratic leaders demanded that the measure include protections from deportation for about 700,000 undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers who arrived in the United States as children.

Despite bipartisan negotiations, Republican leaders refused to include those protections, and neither side was willing to back down. McConnell and Schumer insisted they were still committed to finding an agreement that restores government funding as soon as possible. Trump, who had made strict measures on immigration a cornerstone of his presidential campaign, last week rejected a bipartisan proposal, saying he wanted to include any deal for Dreamers in a bigger legislative package that also boosts funding for a border wall and tighter security at the U.S. border with Mexico.

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A lion’s den indeed.

Trump To Tout US Economy, Urge Fair Trade At Elite Davos Forum (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump will be entering something of a lion’s den when he visits the elitist enclave of Davos next week, rubbing shoulders with the same “globalists” that he campaigned against in winning the 2016 election. Aides said some of Trump’s advisers had argued against him attending the World Economic Forum in order to steer clear of the event, which brings together political leaders, CEOs and top bankers. But in the end, they said, Trump, the first sitting U.S. president to attend the forum since Bill Clinton in 2000, wanted to go to call attention to growth in the U.S. economy and the soaring stock market. A senior administration official said Trump is expected to take a double-edged message to the forum in Switzerland, where he is to deliver a speech and meet some world leaders.

In his speech, Trump is expected to urge the world to invest in the United States to take advantage of his deregulatory and tax cut policies, stress his “America First” agenda and call for fairer, more reciprocal trade, the official said. During his 2016 election campaign, Trump blamed globalization for ravaging American manufacturing jobs as companies sought to reduce labor costs by relocating to Mexico and elsewhere. “Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache,” he said on June 28, 2016, in Pennsylvania. Trump retains the same anti-globalist beliefs but has struggled to rewrite trade deals that he sees as benefiting other countries.

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This is going to hurt.

What Will Rising Mortgage Rates Do to Housing Bubble 2? (WS)

The US government bond market has further soured this week, with Treasuries selling off across the spectrum. When bond prices fall, yields rise. For example, the two-year Treasury yield rose to 2.06% on Friday, the highest since September 2008. In the chart, note the determined spike of 79 basis points since September 8, 2017. That was the month when the Fed announced the highly telegraphed details of its QE Unwind. September as month of the QE-Unwind announcement keeps cropping up. All kinds of things began to happen, at first quietly, without drawing much attention. But then the trajectory just kept going.

The three-year yield, which had gone nowhere for the first eight months of 2017, rose to 2.20% on Friday, the highest since October 1, 2008. It has spiked 82 basis points since September 8:

The ten-year yield – the benchmark for financial markets that most influences US mortgage rates – jumped to 2.66% late Friday. This is particularly interesting because the 10-year yield had declined from March 2017 into August despite the Fed’s three rate hikes last year, and rising short-term yields. At 2.66%, the 10-year yield has reached its highest level since April 2014, when the “Taper Tantrum” was winding down. That Taper Tantrum was the bond market’s way of saying “we’re shocked and appalled,” when Chairman Bernanke dropped hints the Fed might eventually begin tapering what the market had called “QE Infinity.” The 10-year yield has now doubled since the historic intraday low on July 7, 2016 of 1.32% (it closed that day at 1.37%, a historic closing low):

Friday capped four weeks of pain in the Treasury market. But it has not impacted yet the corporate bond market, and the spread in yields between Treasuries and corporate bonds, and particularly junk bonds, has further narrowed. And it has not yet impacted the stock market, and there has been no adjustment in the market’s risk pricing yet. But it has impacted the mortgage market. On Friday, the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) for top-tier borrowers, according to Mortgage News Daily, ended at 4.23%, the highest in nine months. But historically, 4.25% is still very low. And likely just the beginning of a long, uneven climb higher. And the impact on mortgage payments can be sizable. When rates rise for example from 3.5% to 4.5%, the payment for a $250,000 mortgage jumps by $144 to $1,267 a month. This can move the payment out of reach for households that have trouble making ends meet.

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Rising markets and fever as flu symptoms.

Fever Pitch (Jim Kunstler)

In case you’re worked up about the looming federal government shut-down, this is exactly how we’re supposed to roll in the long emergency: everything organized at the gigantic scale is going to wobble and fail. It’s nature’s way of saying, “get smaller, get realer, scale down, and get local.” The catch is, we probably won’t listen to nature. Instead, we’ll just behave like bystanders and do nothing until the full force of failure is upon us, just as we’re doing with climate change — the tragedy of the commons at planetary scale. The failure of national party politics is deep and systemic, as you would expect from activities nurtured in a shit-hole called Washington, corruption being the manifestation of sepsis. The lethal vector of this illness is money.

There’s the money flowing into the “campaign funds” (so-called) of congressmen and senators, of course, but there’s also the “money” that is flowing in and out of the leviathan government — a whole lot of it is not really there. It’s a figment of promises to pay back loans on top of a monumental heap of past promises that will never be kept. The threatened government shutdown is just a symptom of the illness: a society doing things out of scale, trying to run its excessive activities by check-kiting and accounting fraud. What could go wrong? Not the stock and bond markets, I’m sure. Though… wait a minute… that hockey-stick surge in equities looks a little bit like the action of a thermometer measuring the rising body temperature of a very sick patient.

From 25,000 to 26,000 on the Dow — in what? seven days? — is kind of like the flu victim going from 98.6 to 105 after onset. And we know what happens to humans up around the 105 Fahrenheit body temperature level: the brain starts to sputter and smoke. Soon, it’s lights out and don’t let your karma smack you on the butt going through the exit.

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State within the state. F*ck the courts.

NSA Deleted Surveillance Data Court Had Ordered It To Preserve (Pol.)

The National Security Agency destroyed surveillance data it pledged to preserve in connection with pending lawsuits and apparently never took some of the steps it told a federal court it had taken to make sure the information wasn’t destroyed, according to recent court filings. Word of the NSA’s foul-up is emerging just as Congress has extended for six years the legal authority the agency uses for much of its surveillance work conducted through U.S. internet providers and tech firms. President Donald Trump signed that measure into law Friday. Since 2007, the NSA has been under court orders to preserve data about certain of its surveillance efforts that came under legal attack following disclosures that President George W. Bush ordered warrantless wiretapping of international communications after the 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

In addition, the agency has made a series of representations in court over the years about how it is complying with its duties. However, the NSA told U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White in a filing on Thursday night and another little-noticed submission last year that the agency did not preserve the content of internet communications intercepted between 2001 and 2007 under the program Bush ordered. To make matters worse, backup tapes that might have mitigated the failure were erased in 2009, 2011 and 2016, the NSA said. “The NSA sincerely regrets its failure to prevent the deletion of this data,” NSA’s deputy director of capabilities, identified publicly as “Elizabeth B.,” wrote in a declaration filed in October. “NSA senior management is fully aware of this failure, and the Agency is committed to taking swift action to respond to the loss of this data.”

In the update Thursday, another NSA official said the data were deleted during a broad, housecleaning effort aimed at making space for incoming information. “The NSA’s review to date reveals that this [Presidential Surveillance Program] Internet content data was not specifically targeted for deletion,” wrote the official, identified as “Dr. Mark O,” “but rather the PSP Internet content data matched criteria that were broadly used to delete data of a certain type … in response to mission requirements to free-up space and improve performance of the [redacted] back-up system. The NSA is still investigating how these deletions came about given the preservation obligations extant at the time. The NSA, however, has no reason to believe at this time that PSP Internet content data was specifically targeted for deletion.”

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With Turkey starting an extensive bombing campaign, Syria could explode once again.

Russia Accuses US Of “Carving Out Alternative Government” In Syria (ZH)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has accused the United States of working to carve out “an alternative government” on Syrian soil in statements made at a UN press briefing related to the recent Turkish military build-up poised to assault Syrian Kurdish areas of Northern Syria. Lavrov’s words come after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged in a speech on Wednesday that US military forces would remain in Syria indefinitely until various objectives are met, which include Syrian government transition and the curtailing of Iran’s influence. Lavrov said “It’s a fact that US forces are seriously involved in creating alternative government bodies on vast part of the Syrian territory. And this, of course, absolutely contradicts their own obligations, which they committed to on numerous occasions, including at the UN Security Council, on maintaining the sovereignty and the territorial integrity on Syria.”

The Russian FM further accused the US of contradicting its previous claim that US troops – which number at least 2,000 according to recent Pentagon statements – were only in Syria to fight the Islamic State and not wage a proxy war against the Syrian government and its allies. The prior US policy of regime change in Syria, which began under the Obama administration and intensified under a CIA program, was something many analysts perceived that President Trump had abandoned – consistent with earlier campaign promises. In the summer of last year Trump shut down the CIA program – widely reported to be the agency’s largest covert program – even while boosting support for the Pentagon program to arm and train the predominately Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“Rex Tillerson told me many times that the only reason for their presence there [in Syria] is defeating Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISL). Now they have some much more long-standing plans,” Lavrov said further of the inconsistency in US policy. “We will have to take this into account and look for solutions that won’t allow the destruction of Syrian sovereignty.”

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Bit late, perhaps?

Europe Must Wake Up To Drastic Consequences Of A Hard Brexit (Joris Luyendijk)

Because it is such a riveting clown show with new crazy episodes almost every day, Europeans can be forgiven for ignoring the fact that Brexit is going to hurt them too. But as the date of Britain’s departure comes closer and Theresa May’s government continues its kamikaze policy of demanding the politically unthinkable from the EU, it is time for Europeans to wake and begin preparing for the worst. On Thursday the Dutch government published a report drawn up by the consultancy firm KPMG analysing the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit in which the UK leaves the EU without an agreement on 29 March 2019.

Here are the practical implications and cold numbers behind the hot-headed rhetoric about no deal with the EU being “better than a bad deal” for Britain: should the UK “crash” out of the EU by late March 2019 the Dutch companies trading with the UK will have to secure a total of no less than 4.2m exporting and 750,000 importing licences. If by this time both states have a functioning customs system in place – a big if for this consistently incompetent UK government – costs for companies are between €80 and €130. That is per licence. The price tag for all this new red tape is €600m for the Dutch side alone. This excludes the costs of new export and import tariffs, VAT and other new “sector-specific” barriers for trading with the UK.

The 35,000 small and medium-sized businesses unused to trading with non-EU countries also face an estimated cost of €20,000-€50,000 to adapt their IT systems. Added to this, warns the report, must be the likely effects of the inevitable economic slowdown, or worse, in Britain. When the country leaves without a deal it must “fall back” on the minimal WTO rules for trade. But financial services and aviation fall outside the WTO regime, meaning that after a British no-deal departure both sectors must stop trading with the EU overnight. Between Amsterdam Schiphol airport and London alone there are currently 60 flights a day – one every 15 minutes.

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“The richest 10% spent more on wine per week (£9.40) than the poorest 10% spent on water..”

UK Banks Turn Off Lending Taps To Households (G.)

There is little for the average household to cheer these days as inflation crushes paltry earnings increases. Inflation is running at 3% while wage rises can manage no more than 2.5%. Worse for the average household, the banks are beginning to turn off the lending taps that have allowed them to boost their incomes with cheap debt. Things were better in the year to April 2017, according to the number crunchers at the Office for National Statistics, who have lifted the lid on Britain’s spending habits in their annual family spending report. It shows that average weekly household spending clawed its way back from the depths of the 2009 recession to exceed the pre-crisis level for the first time.

This slice of good news, albeit five or six years later than many economists thought it would happen, disguises how the better off have thrived compared to those on the bottom rung of the income ladder. For instance the richest 10% spent more on wine per week (£9.40) than the poorest 10% spent on water (£7.30). In the same vein, the richest 10% spent £59.40 on “furniture and furnishings, carpets and other floor coverings” to almost match how much the poorest 10% spent on rent (£62.70). Challenging the idea that the poorest waste their money on booze and cigarettes, the survey found that the richest 10% devote twice as much of the weekly shop (£17.50) to “alcoholic drinks, tobacco and narcotics” as the poorest. But it is the new rich, the 65- to 74-year-olds that really catch the eye.

Their spending might not match that of the top 10%, yet it significantly powers ahead of anything the average 20-something can muster on areas like entertainment and recreation. The figures show that people in the 10 years from their 65th birthday go on a spending binge that means devoting nearly a fifth of their total expenditure on recreation and culture, double the 10% spent by the under-30s. This is the final salary pension bonanza that can only be described as a once in a generation spending boost. The same applies to those of all ages on below average incomes. They increased their spending by a startling 7% on the previous year, far more than the 1% increase across the richest half of households. Unfortunately they managed this largely by running down savings and taking on extra debt.

As banks, under instruction from the financial regulator, rein in their lending, debt-fuelled spending should be considered a one-off boon, just like the final salary payout. However, that seems unlikely. Banks remain dependent for profit on lending.

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Another bunch of lies that will go unpunished.

The Carillion Whitewash (Coppola)

The Carillion whitewash has begun. Carillion’s interim CEO, Keith Cochrane, is spinning the line that had banks not pulled funding, its collapse could have been averted. And the Financial Times has released details of a letter Carillion sent to the Government at the beginning of January, in which it asked for short-term advances to tide it over while it underwent restructuring. Labour MP Pat McFadden has written to the Treasury Secretary asking whether it would have been more cost-effective for the U.K. Government to support Carillion, rather than allowing it to collapse. This looks to me like a campaign to deflect blame from Carillion’s management to its lenders and customers. We are being led to believe that it wasn’t insolvent, it was just illiquid, and depriving it of short-term funds caused a completely unnecessary collapse.

Deliciously, the bank Cochrane principally accuses of precipitating Carillion’s collapse by depriving it of funds is RBS, which was rescued at taxpayer expense in the 2008 financial crisis. Something tells me Cochrane’s fingering of RBS is no accident. For a bailed-out bank to refuse to provide a major Government contractor with short-term funds looks at best ungrateful and at worst insulting. Of course, RBS is itself a past master at playing the “we’re not insolvent, we are just illiquid” game. On the day that RBS failed, in September 2008, RBS’s CEO, Fred Goodwin, insisted that the bank was solvent. “We don’t have a capital problem,” he said. “We have a liquidity problem. All we need is short-term cash”.* But in fact, RBS was deeply insolvent. Rescuing it cost the U.K. Government £45bn, and RBS has lost a further £58bn since. Nearly ten years after the crisis, it is still in majority public ownership.

The similarity to RBS’s collapse is striking. Less than a week after Carillion’s failure, we now know that it is deeply insolvent. A couple of days after it filed for compulsory liquidation, Carillion’s unsecured bonds were trading at only 2.4% of par: This is an extraordinary writedown. It implies that bondholders expect to get back almost none of their investment. And this is senior unsecured debt, not subordinated debt or equity. The holders of anything more junior have already been wiped.

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All of a sudden everyone wakes up at the same time. But why have supermarkets and Coca Cola never done anything about it? And what are the odds they will once the atttention dies down?

Hundreds Of UK MPs Call On Supermarkets To Scrap Plastic Packaging (G.)

Two hundred cross-party MPs are calling on heads of the major supermarkets to eliminate plastic packaging from their products by 2023. The MPs, who are from seven political parties, have written to Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl, Budgens and Marks & Spencer urging them to scrap plastic packaging. They wrote after the Guardian revealed this week the major supermarkets in the UK create more than 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste – well over half the household plastic waste – each year. Six of the major supermarkets refused to reveal the amount of plastic packaging they put on to the market, saying the information was commercially sensitive. Analysis by Eunomia environmental consultants used figures provided by Aldi and the Co-op – the only chains to release public figures on their plastic tonnage – and the market share of each supermarket to estimate how much plastic packaging the chains produce each year.

This week, Iceland announced it would stop plastic packaging on its own brand products by 2023. Catherine West, Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, who is behind the letter, said: “Vast amounts of plastic are ‘used’ for merely a few seconds before being discarded. “We have a moral duty to tackle this disposable culture. As such, I welcome the recent announcement from Iceland supermarkets … and I’m delighted that MPs from all parties are supporting my call for other retailers to follow suit.” Waitrose announced on Friday it would no longer use black plastic for its meat, fish, fruit and vegetables by the end of this year, and that all Waitrose products would be free of black plastic by the end of 2019. Black plastic cannot be recycled under current UK systems.

Each year it is estimated that more than 300m tonnes of plastic are produced globally. The Guardian revealed recently that plastic production is set to soar over the next 10 years. On Friday Coca-Cola announced a new goal to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of the packaging it sells globally by 2030. Coca-Cola said: “Given the size and scope of this challenge, we expect to invest in new packaging innovations and local collection and recycling systems, as well as consumer education and awareness programs.”

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Good to know your history. Society would be at least as helpless now as 100 years ago, Better medicine, but also 100 times more mobility. And that’s what kills.

The Untreatable: The Centenary of Spanish Flu (LRB)

This year marks the centenary of Spanish flu, the most deadly pandemic in human history. It is estimated that five hundred million people contracted it – a third of the global population in 1918 – and that between fifty and a hundred million of them died. Asians were thirty times more likely to die than Europeans. The pandemic had some influence on the lives of everyone alive today. Donald Trump’s grandfather Friedrich died from it in New York City. He was 49. His early death meant that his fortune passed to his son Fred, who used it to start a New York property empire. My wife’s great-grandmother died from it in Verona; her grandfather, aged eight, had to leave school and find work to support the family. Emilio died in 2011 aged 101.

When I told a friend, the writer Andrew Greig, that I was writing this piece, he told me that his father, born in 1899, came down with Spanish flu while on leave from the war in France. ‘His convalescence delayed his return to the front, where his battalion was all but wiped out,’ Andrew said. ‘He always insisted Spanish flu saved his life, and without it, I suppose I wouldn’t be alive either.’ Laura Spinney’s book attempts to collate what is known about the pandemic, and takes a stab at examining its legacy: ‘The flu resculpted human populations more radically than anything since the Black Death,’ she writes. ‘It influenced the course of the First World War and, arguably, contributed to the second. It pushed India closer to independence, South Africa closer to apartheid, and Switzerland to the brink of civil war. It ushered in universal healthcare and alternative medicine, our love of fresh air and our passion for sport.’

The majority of deaths came in the three months between September and December 1918. The war probably didn’t spawn it, but certainly helped it spread: the US lost more soldiers to flu than to the war in part because so many of them spent weeks coughing together in barracks and transports on their way to Europe. Britain and Italy suffered between two and three times more deaths from the war than from the flu, while Germany’s war deaths outnumbered flu deaths six to one. Spinney quotes historians who claim that flu struck Germany harder than Britain or France; Erich Ludendorff was convinced it had robbed Germany of victory. The spread of Spanish flu was quickened by the railway and steamer lines that girdled the planet, starkly illuminating global inequalities in security, nutrition and access to medical care.

In India 6% of the population died; in Fiji 5%; in Tonga 10%. In Western Samoa, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, more than 20% of the population died. Even harder hit were the Alaskan Inuit, with a death rate between 25 and 50%: in some small Alaskan communities everybody died. Koreans and Japanese were infected at the same rate, but the Koreans, subject to chronic malnutrition, were twice as likely to die. In the US, Italian immigrants died at twice the background rate (the Italian neighbourhoods of New York had a density of five hundred per acre, ten to a room), while black populations were the least affected. ‘As far as the “Flu” is concerned the whites have the whole big show to themselves,’ J. Franklin Johnson wrote to the Baltimore Afro-American.

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Jan 172018
 
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Eugene de Salignac Painters suspended on cables of the Brooklyn Bridge Oct 7 1914

 

If Bull Market For Stocks Ends In 2018, Blame The Credit Market Bubble (MW)
Dramatic Stock Market Reversal Signals More Volatility Ahead (CNBC)
Bitcoin, Ethereum Suffer Massive Drops, Many Crypto’s Fare Even Worse (CNBC)
South Koreans Sign Petition To Stop Crackdown On Bitcoin ‘Happy Dream’ (CNBC)
‘Black Swan’ Event Could Threaten China’s Financial Stability (R.)
US and China Brace For Trade War That Could Rattle Global Economy (ZH/WSJ)
The New Cold War In 2018 (Stephen Cohen)
The One Fact Which Disproves Russiagate (CJ)
Carillion’s Failure: The Many Questions That Need Answers (Coppola)
After Carillion How Many Firms Can UK Pensions Lifeboat Rescue? (G.)
No Way Around Sorry Shape Social Security Is In (Newsmax)
Britain Is Being Stalked By A Zombie Elite (G.)
Dutch Say Nations Hit By Brexit Shouldn’t Plug EU Budget Hole (BBG)
Nomi Prins’ New Book: Central Banks Have Become the Markets (Martens)
New Zealand Fisheries Want Images Of Dead Penguins Caught In Nets Censored (G.)

 

 

Blame the Everything Bubble.

If Bull Market For Stocks Ends In 2018, Blame The Credit Market Bubble (MW)

Will 2018 be the year the stock market rally screeches to a halt? It may be, if those analysts who are cautioning that a bubble is forming in credit markets are right and companies are overextending themselves to a degree that could spell trouble ahead. Most analysts agree that the credit market has been speeding ahead at a bubble-like pace. Companies have been piling on debt in recent years to take advantage of low interest rates, or more recently, to get ahead of a series of well-telegraphed interest-rate hikes. If their borrowing is simply to refinance existing debt at lower interest rates, it’s a positive for balance sheets. But many companies have borrowed to raise funds for shareholder rewards, and that may come back to bite them if rates were to spike.

For example, Apple debt may be highly rated, just two notches below triple-A at AA+ at S&P Global Ratings, but the technology giant continues to ride the borrowing bandwagon as it looks to fund its massive share buyback program. Apple issued $7 billion of debt in November, two months after selling $5 billion worth of corporate bonds and several months after adding more debt. The U.S. primary corporate bond market is currently at record levels. The investment-grade market saw $1.44 trillion of issuance in 2,127 deals through December 26, topping the record $1.34 trillion recorded in 2016, according to data analytics company Dealogic. The high-yield market has chalked up $266.3 billion of debt in 469 deals, making it the fourth-biggest year for issuance, according to Dealogic. The high-yield record goes to 2012 when issuers sold $321 billion of debt in 604 deals.

Combined investment-grade, high-yield and FIG issuance—FIG is financial institutions group—is a record $1.71 trillion, topping the previous record of $1.57 billion set in 2015. What’s starting to worry some analysts is that despite the fact that the Federal Reserve and other central banks are draining liquidity from the marketplace and the yield curve is flattening, near-record credit market valuations suggest investors haven’t prepared for any potential speed bumps. One sign of this complacency, is how narrow the spread is between yields on speculative grade, or “junk” bonds, and corresponding risk-free Treasury notes. S&P Global Ratings said Tuesday its speculative-grade composite spread tightened by three basis points (0.03 percentage points) to 399 basis points, well below the five-year moving average of a 528 basis-point spread.

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How much longer can volatility remain ultra low?

Dramatic Stock Market Reversal Signals More Volatility Ahead (CNBC)

After a mostly one-way trade higher for weeks, Tuesdays’ dramatic stock market reversal signals the potential for more choppy trading ahead. The Dow rocketed 283 points Tuesday, before erasing those gains and heading down 100 points. It later recovered and closed just 10 points lower at 25,792 after its most volatile day since Dec. 1 and on the first day it traded above 26,000. Traders blamed Washington for some of the selling as lawmakers appeared to be having difficulty agreeing to a spending resolution and on reports that former White House advisor Steve Bannon will testify in the Russia investigation. But while the focus was on Washington, traders also looked at the morning market surge Tuesday as another sign that the market was getting too frothy and overbought.

“The healthiest thing would be some downward action for the next two or three sessions. Today you did have a somewhat bearish, outside reversal,” said Scott Redler, partner with T3Live.com, who follows the market’s short-term technicals. A reversal is when the market opens above a prior high and then closes below a prior low. “That happened in some sectors like small-caps. … You can’t get too bearish if you’re still above the 8- and 21-day moving average,” Redler said. Strategist Laszlo Birinyi on Tuesday said he expects a possible six weeks of consolidation and sideways trade, but he is not bearish on stocks. “Right now, the market is at the upper end of the trading range. It’s 5% over its 50-day moving average, and those are areas where the market tends to digest, consolidate, take a breather but not go down,” he said, as the market gyrated Tuesday.

Steve Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Securities, said the market has clearly become fatigued after its sharp move higher. The S&P 500 is up 4% since the beginning of the year and crossed above 2,800 for the first time Tuesday before closing down 9 at 2,776. “We’ve had a pretty significant move. It’s quite natural that this would be exhausted at some point. … A potential government shutdown is a handy excuse,” he said. But a government shutdown Friday is not likely, said Dan Clifton, head of policy research for Strategas. “My overall view on this is they’re preparing a temporary stop-gap measure. I just don’t think we’re going to shut down, but we’re trying to buy time until there could be a larger spending package. It was very much companies that were influenced by government spending that were selling off. The market is saying there is some risk of a government shutdown,” Clifton said.

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Closing in on $10,000 as we speak. Is that a psychological barrier?

Bitcoin, Ethereum Suffer Massive Drops, Many Crypto’s Fare Even Worse (CNBC)

Most major digital currencies sold off sharply on Tuesday, but the declines in bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin prices weren’t as bad as much of the rest of the market. All of the top 20 digital currencies — by market value — suffered double digit losses over the last 24 hours, according to data from industry website CoinMarketCap. For example, ripple was down 26%, bitcoin cash was down 24%, iota was down 27% and monero was down 22% as of 8:51 a.m. HK/SIN. In fact, at their low point on the day, many cryptocurrencies with large market caps saw their prices essentially halved. On the other hand, bitcoin was down 17% at that time, ethereum was down 19% and litecoin was down 19%, according to the same site.

The declines followed speculation in the market about what regulators in Asia may be planning for digital tokens. On Monday, a report from Bloomberg, citing unnamed sources, said Beijing plans to block domestic access to Chinese and offshore cryptocurrency platforms that allow centralized trading. Last week, South Korean Justice Minister Park Sang-ki said his ministry was preparing a bill that, if passed, could ban trading via cryptocurrency exchanges. His comments roiled the market and subsequently the justice ministry and other sections of South Korea’s government have softened their stance.

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Just perfect.

South Koreans Sign Petition To Stop Crackdown On Bitcoin ‘Happy Dream’ (CNBC)

A petition in South Korea against cryptocurrency regulation has reached the number of signatures that would induce a government response. As of Tuesday morning, ET, more than 212,700 had signed a petition launched Dec. 28 on the website of the South Korean presidential office. A Google translation of the website states that if more than 200,000 people support a petition within 30 days, officials will respond. “Our people have been able to make a happy dream that they have never had in Korea because of virtual money,” the anonymous author of the petition wrote, according to a Google translation. “People are not stupid. … virtual money is invested because it is judged to be the fourth revolution.” The petition did support South Korea’s recent actions on cryptocurrencies, such as banning anonymous trading accounts.

“However, I wish that the economy will not decline due to unjustifiable regulations in the present situation,” the Google translation of the petition said. Unemployment among South Korean youth, or those ages 15 to 29, is around 9%, nearly three times the national average, according to Statistics Korea. Young people are generally more interested in buying and selling digital currencies than their elders. In the last several months, South Korea has accounted for a significant portion of the trading volume in digital currencies such as bitcoin, ethereum and ripple. Earlier this month, ripple prices appeared to plunge in U.S. dollar terms after CoinMarketCap said it was excluding price information from some Korean exchanges due to “extreme divergences in price from the rest of the world.”

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No kidding.

‘Black Swan’ Event Could Threaten China’s Financial Stability (R.)

China’s banking regulator chief warned that a “black swan,” or an unforeseen event could threaten the country’s financial stability, official People’s Daily reported on Wednesday. In an interview with the paper, Guo Shuqing said that while risks in the financial system are manageable, they are still “complex and serious.” Since his appointment as the head of the China Banking Regulatory Commission early last year, Guo has introduced a flurry of new rules to reign in lender risks including from curbs on shadow banking activities to the crackdown on loan fraud. Guo said the dangers stem from the pressure of rising bad debt, imperfect internal risk systems at financial institutions, the relatively high levels of shadow banking activities and rule violations.

All of these risks could upend financial stability through a “black swan” event, Guo told the People’s Daily, referring to major, unexpected occurrences. “We need to focus on reducing the debt ratio of companies, restrict household leverage, strictly control cross-financial sector products, continue to dismantle shadow banking,” said Guo. China will step up oversight of the banking sector this year to reduce financial risks, the CBRC said on Monday, stressing that long-term efforts would be needed to control banking sector chaos.

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A trade war wouldn’t qualify as a black swan.

US and China Brace For Trade War That Could Rattle Global Economy (ZH/WSJ)

Once under way, the repercussions of a trade war would be felt well beyond the combatants themselves. US friends and allies along Asian supply chains would be early collateral damage. China is still to a large extent the final assembly point for imported high-tech components from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Navigating increasingly complex global supply chains in a constant state of disruption would be hugely problematic for businesses across industries. Furthermore, if it escalated far enough, a trade war could take down the entire global trading architecture. That could be Trump’s goal. Many in his administration, including trade representative Robert Lightizer, believe the biggest mistake the US ever made was to usher China into the World Trade Organization in 2001. Aides say Trump regularly threatens to pull out of the rules-setting body.

Trump has in the past suggested that Chinese help on North Korea could head off US trade action. In a phone call with the US president on Tuesday, Xi suggested that trade issues should be resolved by “making the cake of cooperation bigger.” Meanwhile, Trump expressed disappointment that the US trade deficit with China has continued to grow” and made clear that “the situation is not sustainable.” In private, however, senior Chinese officials believe Beijing has many tactical advantages: Some are cultural – the Chinese people, one says, are more prepared to endure economic hardship. [..] Many US trade experts don’t mince words: They believe China would prevail in a trade war with the US, and that the US economy would suffer lasting damage.

Nicholas Lardy, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, thinks China would win. Among his reasons: China’s ability to concentrate pain, and the outcry from affected businesses in America’s more open political system. He argues that “the political costs to the Trump administration of maintaining new protectionist measures will be much higher than the costs of retaliation to the Xi regime.” Derek Scissors, a trade expert at the American Enterprise Institute argues that the major US advantage is that China is far more dependent on trade for its financial health. “A shorter, smaller-scale trade conflict favors China due to its comparative agility,” he says. “The more serious it gets, the worse China would fare because it’s badly outmatched monetarily.”

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Part of a podcast with America’s no.1 Russia scholar Stephen Cohen at TFMetalsReport.com.

The New Cold War In 2018 (Stephen Cohen)

I’m not a Trump supporter and I didn’t vote for him. However, we can actually support Donald Trump’s campaign promise which I think he’s tried to act on since he’s been president that it’s necessary to cooperate with Russia. This is what was called detente in the 20th century. I don’t know why Trump doesn’t make this point. I don’t think he has very good advisors in regard to Russia either in terms of what’s going on in Russia or in terms of his own policy making but Trump might say in his own defense because they’re indicting him for simply saying I want to cooperate with Russia and with Putin in particular. He could say look, every Republican president of consequence in the 20th century pursued detente with Russia.

First Eisenhower, the first detente the spirit of Camp David with Khrushchev, then the Nixon Kissinger attempt at a grand detente with Brezhnev and finally above all Ronald Reagan a detente with Gorbachev the last Soviet leader Soviet Russian leader so great that Reagan and Gorbachev ended the cold war. Trump could put himself in that tradition and say “I’m the traditional Republican. This is what Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan did. They did it wisely. They avoided nuclear war with Russia. We’re in a new Cold War. The dangers are grave. It’s not only my duty as the American president to pursue cooperation to ward off a catastrophe but I commend the honorable tradition of the Republican Party”. He doesn’t say that. I don’t know why as I say it because he doesn’t know what or because he wants to be the one and only I have no idea what he needs to say.

And if he said it it would compel a conversation in Washington that we’re not having. What’s happened to detente and what’s happened is we have if we ignore his own idiom and put it in again I speak as a story in the historical language of 20th century diplomacy. We have a pro-detente President who for the first time in history is not permitted to at least try because every time he has a sensible conversation with Putin, no matter whether it’s face to face or on the telephone, he’s accused not only by the traditionally crazies in American politics but by the New York Times of treason. So what we could do and it will be hard for a lot of people because of the loathing for Trump. Is so pervasive just and I didn’t vote for Trump is the fifth amendment I didn’t vote for Trump and I didn’t support President Trump. But about this he is not only right. He’s our only hope at the moment.

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Caitlin Johnstone is a delight to read. Summary here: Putin is supposed to have paid out many billions when no-one believed Trump was a viable candidate. Was he psychic?

The One Fact Which Disproves Russiagate (CJ)

Just a few days ago Russiagaters were having yet another “BOOM! We got him!” social media parade about an article from the Clinton-directed Daily Beast, claiming that a senior national security aide within the Trump administration had suggested scaling down the US troop presence along Russia’s border, a dangerous escalation which all peace advocates support eliminating. In the first sentence of the article’s second paragraph, the author Spencer Ackerman acknowledges that “the proposal was ultimately not adopted.” Huh? So President Trump, alleged to have been groomed early and at great expense by the Kremlin in anticipation of a presidential victory nobody else imagined possible at that time, was pitched a recommendation to scale down new cold war escalations with Russia… and he refused? That’s how you’re starting your article about the “return on Russia’s election-time investment in President Trump”?

Russiagate is so weird. You need to plug yourself into Louise Mensch and Rachel Maddow ramblings so extensively that you can contort your sense of reason to the point where it looks perfectly rational to believe that Putin was omniscient enough to know that Trump could defeat all primary opponents and take the fight to the heir apparent Hillary Clinton back when virtually no one else imagined such a thing was possible, recruited his team reportedly at the cost of billions of dollars, poured all kinds of intel and resources into ensuring Trump’s election using hackers and bots to influence American opinion, only to get a US president who is, when it comes to facts in evidence, already just a year into his administration demonstrably more hawkish towards Russia than his predecessor was. Again: huh?

Nobody wants to think about this because it doesn’t fit in with America’s stale partisan models; Democrats would have to admit that their best shot at getting a rival president impeached is pure gibberish, and Trump supporters would have to acknowledge that their swamp-draining populist hero is actually just one more corrupt globalist neocon like his predecessors.

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The next Carillion is already in sight: Interserve. The British privatization model is failing spectacularly. That will cost a lot of jobs.

Carillion’s Failure: The Many Questions That Need Answers (Coppola)

Britain is reeling from the shock collapse of one of its largest corporations, the giant construction and services company Carillion Group plc. In talks over the weekend, Carillion’s management was unable to persuade its lenders to provide any more funds, and the U.K. government refused to help. Carillion was left with no options. On Monday morning, Carillion filed for compulsory liquidation. This was a completely unexpected move. Discussions about Carillion’s fate over the previous week had centered around restructuring, bail-in of creditors and perhaps placing the company into administration, the U.K.’s equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. No one expected the company to be wound up. But that is what will now happen to it.

As Carillion has extensive U.K. Government construction and services contracts, the U.K.’s High Court appointed the Government’s Official Receiver to manage the liquidation. Among other things, the Official Receiver will be responsible for ensuring that public sector services currently provided by Carillion continue to run, and the staff providing them continue to be paid. Without this assurance, meals to hospital patients and schoolchildren might not be delivered, and prisons might not be staffed. But the future of Carillion’s 19,000 employees in the U.K. (43,000 worldwide) is still highly uncertain. Staff working on U.K. public sector service contracts are protected for the moment, but those working on other projects could lose their jobs within days.

The Official Receiver will be supported by six insolvency specialists from the accountancy firm PWC, who will act as “special managers”. PWC’s message to Carillion’s shareholders was blunt and immediate: Unfortunately, as a result of the liquidation appointments, there is no prospect of any return to shareholders. At least shareholders know where they stand. They have been wiped. Trading in Carillion’s shares has been suspended, of course.

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I see trouble in your future.

After Carillion How Many Firms Can UK Pensions Lifeboat Rescue? (G.)

The pensions lifeboat that comes to the rescue when firms go bust is about to get a lot more crowded following the collapse of Carillion. The sprawling construction and outsourcing firm had a pension deficit of £580m but is now likely to rise to at least £800m because it no longer has a solvent business standing alongside it. The company’s crash into liquidation has thrown the spotlight on other firms with huge pension scheme deficits such as IAG, BT and BAE. It has also raised questions about how many more big company failures the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) can absorb, and why companies with big deficits are allowed to pump out bumper dividend payouts to shareholders.

It is almost certain that the fund will now have to step in and bail out workers at Carillion, which has more than 28,000 defined-benefit – in this case, final salary – pension scheme members. Those already taking pensions will be protected, but those members below retirement age will face cuts of 10-20% because there is a cap on payouts to higher earners. It’s been a busy time for the PPF: in the spring, roughly 20,000 members of the British Steel pension scheme will start moving into the fund. They will eventually be joined by about 2,000 former BHS workers (the vast majority of the retailer’s staff chose to move their retirement funds into a new pension scheme).

Carillion’s liquidation has fuelled concern about the financial stability of other big companies. Last year a report by JLT Employee Benefits put the total deficit in FTSE 100 pension schemes at the end of 2016 at £87bn – £17bn worse than a year earlier, even though firms paid in around £11bn. 66 companies had deficits – ie their liabilities to pension scheme members were greater than their assets. Booming stock markets in 2017 helped narrow the gap. Mercer, the leading pensions consultancy, said deficits at the biggest 350 firms fell to £76bn from £84bn the year before. But even with the FTSE at a new peak, the deficits remain alarmingly high.

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Pensions, Social Security, it’s all stupidly overpromised. And that will remain so until it’s too late.

No Way Around Sorry Shape Social Security Is In (Newsmax)

If you want to know what makes people worry, here are four facts to make you lose your sleep whatever your age:

1. The Social Security Shortfall Is Growing Three Times Faster Than the US Economy. The imbalance of Social Security is measured by its shortfall, or the amount of money, that with interest earned, would enable the program to pay benefits over the next 75 years. That hole in the program’s finances is growing at three times the rate of our ability to fill it. Here are the numbers. Over the past 15 years, the system’s liabilities have grown at 9.6% compounded annually, while the trustees expect that even in a robust year real economic growth will not break 3%. Moreover, the trustees believe that the long-term growth rate of the economy is 2.1%. At the end of 2001, the Social Security shortfall was $3.157 trillion. At the end of 2016, it was $12.5 trillion. With the passage of yet another year of inaction on the program’s finances, the figure is more than $13 trillion.

2. People Turning 70 Today expect to Be Alive When Benefits are Reduced. If you think the problems of Social Security are limited to people under the age of 40 —think again. That assessment has not been a realistic concern in nearly two decades. The Social Security Administration believes that more than half of the people turning 70 today will be alive and well when the trust fund is exhausted. The exhaustion of the trust fund means that benefits will be reduced to the level of revenue collected. At this point, the trustees of the Social Security Trust Funds believe that benefits will fall by 23% in 2034, with cuts rising over time. The CBO believes that the reductions will rise to 30% over time.

3. In 2016, the Program Lost More Money than It Collected. Over the course of 2016, the program’s unfunded liabilities rose by nearly $1.2 trillion. That is a breathtaking jump considering that the program only collected about $950 billion in revenue. Mechanically, Social Security takes in money in exchange for the promise of future benefits. In the case of 2016, for every $1 that the program took in, the system generated more than $1.20 of promises that no one expects it to keep. In English, we could have reduced benefits to zero for the entire year of 2016, and the program would have finished the year in worse shape than it started.

4. Dependency on Social Security Rises with Age. Typically, worriers about Social Security say that Social Security accounts for 90% of the income of more than one-third of seniors. Politifact has largely confirmed this statistic.

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It’s a zombie nation.

Britain Is Being Stalked By A Zombie Elite (G.)

Britain in 2018 is stalked by zombie ideas, zombie politicians, zombie institutions – stripped of credibility and authority, yet somehow still presiding over our lives. Nowhere is this more true than in the way we run our economy. This September marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Lehman Brothers. In autumn 2008, the banks broke, the governments stepped in – and the cast-iron premises that underpin our economic system were exposed as fiction for all to see on the Ten O’Clock News. Yet a decade later, those dead ideas still walk among us. They form what John Quiggin at the University of Queensland terms zombie economics – dogmas now cracked beyond repair, but which continue to shape British society.

Austerity – the policy that more than any other will define this decade – was lifted by George Osborne straight out of Margaret Thatcher’s handbag. He justified it with zombie rhetoric about how business was being “crowded out” by childcare centres and the rest of the public sector, and how 21st-century sovereign countries could be run just like household budgets. Tax cuts for “wealth creators” and privatisations of the few remaining national assets: all utter zombie-ism. And this was no one-party game. Labour frontbenchers from Andy Burnham to Chuka Umunna spent the first half of this decade pleading guilty to the trumped-up charge of creating a debt crisis.

Labour councils are among those pursuing outrageous privatisations. And over the past four decades both sides have adopted as an article of faith the idea that politics is about What Works – and that What Works is a mix of Potemkin markets and crude managerialism. From Tony Blair to David Cameron and Nick Clegg, politics was no longer about left battling right – but technocrats and open-necked Oxford philosophy, politics and economics graduate special advisers who “got it” versus the dinosaurs and well-meaning naifs. In this way, a broken economy has been force-fed more of the same ideas that helped to break it. The outcome has been almost predictably dire.

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Yeah, let’s get Greece to pay up for that. Show us some solidarity!

Dutch Say Nations Hit By Brexit Shouldn’t Plug EU Budget Hole (BBG)

Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said European Union countries that are set to suffer the most from Brexit shouldn’t also have to help plug the hole it will tear in the bloc’s budget. “A small group of countries on the west coast of Europe is hit very hard in the economy by Brexit, which applies primarily to Ireland, but also to the Netherlands, Denmark, Spain and a number of other countries,” Hoekstra said in interview with Dutch TV station RTL Z. “It cannot be the intention that those who already experience the damage of Brexit will also pay the bill.” While the remaining 27 EU countries are maintaining a united front in Brexit talks, national interests diverge when it comes to the future trading relationship and splits are starting to emerge.

The Netherlands is one of the EU countries keenest on securing a trade deal with the U.K. that doesn’t harm crucial commercial trade ties between the two countries, whose ports face each other across the North Sea. Hoekstra met his Spanish counterpart Luis de Guindos last week and the pair agreed they both wanted a Brexit deal that keeps the U.K. as close to the EU as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. A Spanish economy ministry official said last week the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. The U.K. will continue to pay into the current budget until the end of 2020; after that a new seven-year budget cycle comes into effect. The U.K. is a net contributor to the current budget, which redistributes funds across the bloc.

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The real collusion.

Nomi Prins’ New Book: Central Banks Have Become the Markets (Martens)

Nomi Prins’ latest book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, ensures her place as one of this century’s most informed Wall Street historians. It’s the perfect segue from Prins’ earlier “It Takes a Pillage,” and her 2014 book All the Presidents’ Bankers. If you are serious about understanding the corrupting influences that have left the U.S. vulnerable to another epic financial crash, buy all three books and read them as one. Prins is a veteran of Wall Street who has now written six books and dozens of articles to help Americans navigate the snake pit that has replaced the financial system of the United States. It all started with her first book in 2004, Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America, where she explained her motivation as follows:

“When I left Wall Street, at the height of a wave of scandals uncovering scores of massively destructive deceptions, my choice was based on a very personal sense of right and wrong…So, when people who didn’t know me very well asked me why I left the banking industry after a fifteen-year climb up the corporate ladder, I answered, ‘Goldman Sachs.’ “For it was not until I reached the inner sanctum of this autocratic and hypocritical organization – one too conceited to have its name or logo visible from the sidewalk of its 85 Broad Street headquarters [now relocated to 200 West Street] that I realized I had to get out…The fact that my decision coincided with corporate malfeasance of epic proportions made me realize that it was far more important to use my knowledge to be part of the solution than to continue being part of the problem.”

In Collusion, Prins walks us through the critically-important events occurring during the 2007-2009 financial crash, many of which would have been relegated to the dust bin of history if not for this book. Prins makes the case that the U.S. is headed toward another epic financial crash as a result of the unchecked powers of the U.S. central bank (the Federal Reserve) and its global counterparts who are creating dangerous new asset bubbles in an effort to paper over the last ones. Prins convincingly shows that colluding central bankers have effectively become the markets through a never-ending flow of cheap money to the mega banks which have deployed that cheap money to buy back and inflate their own stock – with a green light from their own regulator and money pimp (our term, not hers) – the U.S. Federal Reserve.

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The new PM should jump on this. She cannot afford to let this stand.

New Zealand Fisheries Want Images Of Dead Penguins Caught In Nets Censored (G.)

The seafood industry in New Zealand has asked the government to withhold graphic video of dead sea life caught in trawler nets as they are potentially damaging to fisheries and to brand New Zealand. A letter from five seafood industry leaders to the Ministry of Primary Industries highlights the fisheries’ growing unease with the government’s proposal to install video cameras on all commercial fishing vessels to monitor bycatch of other species and illegal fish dumping. The letter requests an amendment to the Fisheries Act, so video captured onboard cannot be released to the general public through a freedom of information request, frequently used by the media, campaign groups and opposition parties.

“They [the proposed videos] also raise significant risks for MPI and for ‘New Zealand Inc'”, the letter reads, also citing concerns about invading the privacy of employees onboard, and protecting commercial and trade secrets. There are no reliable figures on the numbers of penguins, sea lions, dolphins and seals that die in fishing nets or longlines in New Zealand, but according to some researchers and environmental groups the commercial fishing industry is the main culprit for declining populations of endangered sea lions and yellow-eyed penguins. Only 25% of deepwater trawlers in New Zealand have government observers onboard to record bycatch and discards, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [Niwa], which relies on statistical modelling techniques to generate bycatch estimates for the 75% of boats that work unobserved.

Niwa estimates for every kilogram of reported target catch (what the fishing boat aims to catch ) there is 0.2 kg of bycatch. “These are the images the fishing industry doesn’t want you to see”, said Forest & Bird’s chief executive Kevin Hague. “What they [the seafood industry] are saying is catching endangered penguins, dumping entire hauls of fish overboard and killing Hector s dolphins looks really bad on TV. Well, the solution is to stop doing it, not to hide the evidence. It’s hard to think of a more credibility damaging activity than trying to change the law so the rest of us can’t see what’s really happening out there.” Deepwater fishing vessels account for 80% of New Zealand’s annual catch and earn NZ$650m per annum in export dollars.

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Jan 142018
 
 January 14, 2018  Posted by at 11:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Carl Mydans Pearl Harbor 1940

 

Hawaii Panics After False Alert Of Incoming Missile (AFP)
Rising Rental Rates Suppress Consumer Demand (Roberts)
The Chinese Are Now Spending As Much As Americans (ZH)
China To Step Up Banking Oversight In ‘Arduous’ Fight On Financial Risks (R.)
EU Set To Target UK’s Overseas Tax Havens (Ind.)
Historic Brexit Vote Could Be Reversed, Admits Nigel Farage (O.)
Globalization Is Stuck In A Trap. What When It Breaks Free? (Varoufakis)
The Trump-Russia Dossier Rehab Campaign (WSJ)
Chelsea Manning Seeks US Senate Seat (AFP)
Greeks Avoid Seeing A Doctor When Ill Due To Cost (K.)

 

 

Orson Welles strikes again.

Hawaii Panics After False Alert Of Incoming Missile (AFP)

An alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile aimed at Hawaii was sent in error Saturday, sowing panic and confusion across the US state – which is already on edge over the risk of attack – before officials dubbed it a “false alarm.” Emergency management officials eventually determined the notification was sent just after 8:00 am during a shift change and a drill after “the wrong button was pushed” – a mistake that lit up phones across the archipelago with a disturbing alert urging people to “seek immediate shelter.” There were frenzied scenes of people rushing to safety – a bathtub, a basement, a manhole, cowering under mattresses. Adventurer Alison Teal called it “the worst moment of my life.”

The erroneous message came after months of soaring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, with North Korea saying it has successfully tested ballistic missiles that could deliver atomic warheads to the United States, including the chain of volcanic islands. “I deeply apologize for the trouble and heartbreak that we caused today,” said Vern Miyagi, administrator of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency. “We’ve spent the last few months trying to get ahead of this whole threat, so that we could provide as much notification and preparation to the public. “We made a mistake,” he acknowledged in a press conference. “We’re going to take processes and study this so that this doesn’t happen again. “The governor has directed that we hold off any more tests until we get this squared away.”

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And lead to recessions. Still lots of people out there saying price increases equal inflation. They don’t.

Rising Rental Rates Suppress Consumer Demand (Roberts)

[..] the cost of Housing, Medical Care, and Transportation have all risen sharply over the past 5-months with those three components comprising 67% of the inflation calculation. Clearly, the surge in “health care” related costs, due to the surging premiums of insurance due to the “Un-affordable Care Act,” pushed both consumer-related spending measures and inflationary pressures higher. Unfortunately, higher health care premiums do not provide a boost to production but drain consumptive spending capabilities. Housing costs, a very large portion of overall CPI, is also boosting inflationary pressures. But like “health care” costs, rising housing costs and rental rates also suppress consumptive spending ability.

Importantly, while households may be receiving a modest “tax cut” over the coming year, given the rise in three of the biggest expenditures in most households, whatever increase in incomes maybe received has likely already been absorbed by higher costs and debt service payments. “For the middle-class and working poor, which is roughly 80% of households, rent, energy, medical and food comprise 80-90% of the aggregate consumption basket.” – Research Affiliates. The problem for the Fed is that by pushing interest rates higher, under the belief there is a broad increase in inflation, the suppression of demand will only be exacerbated as the costs of variable rate interest payments also rise. With households already ramping up debt just to make ends meet, another increased expense will only serve to further suppress “consumer demand.”

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Brought to you as a success story.

The Chinese Are Now Spending As Much As Americans (ZH)

In the US, the latest batch of data, released this week, showed retail sales climbed in December for the sixth straight month – though they missed expectations, with growth slowing to 0.3% MoM. With the personal savings rate at a 10 year low, the US consumer is now fully tapped out: This latest uptick in spending has presumably been fueled by debt, as credit-card borrowing has reached an all-time high. But another milestone in the history of global consumerism passed last month: As the Washington Post points out, China tied the US in 2018 in terms of domestic retail sales – according to data compiled by Mizuho. In some important categories, China has overtaken the US: With 17.6 million vehicles sold in the US in 2016, for example, but that was far below the 24 million passenger cars sold in China.

US automakers account for about one out of every five cars sold in China, even though the communist party placed a 10% tax on luxury cars and trucks imported from the United States. This economic heft has made the problem of confronting China intractable: China is now responsible for 20% of sales for some of the largest US corporations. This is making it difficult for Trump to confront Xi Jinping. Any restrictions on Chinese access to the US market would be met with barriers to American companies selling in China. One area where there’s a lot of agreement across the political spectrum is to go after China’s theft of US intellectual property. Over the summer, Trump ordered an investigation by the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to examine China’s IP policies.

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Xi’s knee jerk is to increase central control. But the bubble couldn’t have happened without the shadow system, i.e. decentralization.

China To Step Up Banking Oversight In ‘Arduous’ Fight On Financial Risks (R.)

China will step up oversight in the banking sector this year to reduce financial risks, the country’s banking regulator said, stressing that long-term efforts would be needed to control banking sector chaos. The China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC) said late on Saturday in a statement that its priorities included increasing supervision over shadow banking and interbank activities. “Banking shareholder management, corporate governance and risk control mechanisms are still relatively weak, and root causes creating market chaos have not fundamentally changed,” the CBRC said. “Bringing the banking sector under control will be long-term, arduous, and complex,” it said. The regulator said violations in corporate governance, property loans, and disposal of non-performing assets will be punished more strictly, and that it would strengthen risk control in interbank activities, financial products and off-balance sheet business.

China has repeatedly vowed to clean up disorder in its banking system. In recent months, regulators have introduced a series of new measures aimed at controlling risk and leverage in the financial system, with everything from lending practices to shadow banking under the microscope. Already in January, the CBRC has published regulations that put limits on the number of commercial banks that single investors can have major holdings in. President Xi Jinping has declared that financial security is vital to national security. The government is particularly concerned about the massive shadow banking industry, lending conducted outside of the regulated formal banking system. It fears that a big default or series of loan losses could cascade through the world’s second-biggest economy, leading to a sudden halt in bank lending.

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And not its own.

EU Set To Target UK’s Overseas Tax Havens (Ind.)

Demands to open up Britain’s shady network of overseas tax havens are set to be used by the EU as leverage to force concessions during Brexit trade talks, The Independent understands. The European Commission will soon review whether British territories previously left off a Brussels tax haven blacklist should now be added – just as negotiations move on to the all-important future trade deal. Publicly EU officials say the blacklisting process has nothing to do with Brexit, but separate sources in Brussels told The Independent British territories where billions of pounds are stashed will come into play. One official made clear the EU would “go after” them, while another said the UK Government must ask itself if it wants to fly in the face of British public opinion on tax avoidance.

EU commissioners in December produced a blacklist of uncooperative tax jurisdictions, in a bid to clamp down on evasion and avoidance, tackle “threats” to members states’ tax bases and take on “third countries that consistently refuse to play fair”. But the 17 jurisdictions listed included no British Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies, despite them being named in earlier EU lists and some being implicated in the Paradise Papers scandal. The EU had agreed the blacklisting screening process would be put on hold for territories caught in Hurricane Irma, meanwhile the UK is said to have pushed back against tougher sanctions for blacklisted territories. But officials confirmed that the screening process will now restart in “early spring” for British territories including Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Other British territories – Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and Jersey – promised to try and address EU concerns to stay off the list, which will now be reviewed annually.

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Covering his tracks?

Historic Brexit Vote Could Be Reversed, Admits Nigel Farage (O.)

Nigel Farage today makes a dramatic admission that the vote for Brexit could be overturned because Remainers have seized control of the argument over Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The former Ukip leader told the Observer that he was becoming increasingly worried that the Leave camp had stopped fighting their corner, leaving a well-funded and organised Remain operation free to influence the political and public debate without challenge. “The Remain side are making all the running,” said Farage. “They have a majority in parliament, and unless we get ourselves organised we could lose the historic victory that was Brexit.” On Thursday Farage angered many Brexiters, and many in Ukip, when he said he was coming round to the view that the country might need to hold a second referendum in order to close down the EU argument for good.

He said then that he believed such a vote would see the Brexit side win with a bigger majority than the one it achieved on 23 June 2016, when it triumphed by 52% to 48%. But, speaking on Friday, Farage appeared to change his tune, making clear that he was seriously worried that Brexit could be undone and reversed. The case for a complete break from the EU was no longer being made, even by pro-Brexit MPs in parliament, he said. Instead, the Remain camp was relentlessly putting out its message that a hard Brexit would be ruinous to the British economy and bad for the country, without people hearing the counter-argument that had secured Brexiters victory in the 2016 referendum campaign.

His latest intervention comes ahead of another vital week for the Brexit process in the House of Commons and as peers in the overwhelmingly pro-Remain House of Lords prepare to argue for retaining the closest possible links with the EU – and in some cases for a second referendum – when legislation reaches peers at the end of this month. Farage said he now had a similar feeling to the one he had 20 years ago when Tony Blair appeared to be preparing the country for an eventual entry into the euro. “I think the Leave side is in danger of not even making the argument,” he said. “The Leave groups need to regather and regroup, because Remain is making all the arguments. After we won the referendum, we closed the doors and stopped making the argument.”

Last Monday Farage held a meeting in Brussels with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, which, he said, left him convinced that the UK would not be offered the kind of deal that would be easy to sell as beneficial to the UK economy unless Leavers upped their game. “We no longer have a majority in parliament. I think we would lose the vote in parliament,” Farage said.

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Decentralize.

Globalization Is Stuck In A Trap. What When It Breaks Free? (Varoufakis)

Humanity has been globalizing since our ancestors left Africa, the earliest economic migrants on record. Moreover, capitalism has been operating for two centuries like “heavy artillery,” in Marx and Engels’ words, using the “cheap prices of commodities” to batter “down all Chinese walls,” “constantly expanding market for its products” and replacing “the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency” with “intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.” It wasn’t until the 1990s, when we noticed the unleashing of momentous forces, that we required a new term to describe the emancipation of capital from all fetters, which led to a global economy whose growth and equilibrium relied on increasingly unbalanced trade and money movements. It is this relatively recent phenomenon – globalization, we called it – that is now in crisis and in retreat.

Only an ambitious new internationalism can help reinvigorate the spirit of humanism on a planetary scale. But before arguing in favour of that antidote, it is worthwhile recounting globalization’s origins and internal contradictions. In 1944, the New Deal administration in Washington understood that the only way to avoid the Great Depression’s return at war’s end was to transfer America’s surpluses to Europe (the Marshall Plan was but one example of this) and Japan, effectively recycling them to generate foreign demand for all the gleaming new products – washing machines, cars, television sets, passenger jets – that American industry would switch to from military hardware. Thus began the project of dollarizing Europe, founding the EU as a cartel of heavy industry, and building up Japan within the context of a global currency union based on the U.S. dollar.

This would equilibrate a global system featuring fixed exchange rates, almost-constant interest rates and boring banks (operating under severe capital controls). This dazzling design, also known as the Bretton Woods system, brought us a golden age of low unemployment and inflation, high growth and impressively diminished inequality. Alas, by the late 1960s, it was dead in the water. Why? Because the United States lost its surpluses and slipped into a burgeoning twin deficit (trade and federal budget), rendering it no longer able to stabilize the global system. Never too slow to confront reality, Washington killed off its finest creation: On Aug. 15, 1971, then-president Richard Nixon announced the ejection of Europe and Japan from the dollar zone. Unnoticed by almost everyone, globalization was born on that summer day.

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The Wal Street Journal doesn’t mince its words.

The Trump-Russia Dossier Rehab Campaign (WSJ)

There’s no such thing as a coincidence in Washington, so why the sudden, furious effort by Democrats and the media to give cover to the Steele dossier? As in, the sudden, furious effort that happens to coincide with congressional investigators’ finally being given access to FBI records about the Trump-Russia probe. This scandal’s pivotal day was Jan. 3. That’s the deadline House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation to turn over documents it had been holding for months. Speaker Paul Ryan backed Mr. Nunes’s threat to cite officials for contempt of Congress. Everyone who played a part in encouraging the FBI’s colonoscopy of the Trump campaign – congressional Democrats, FBI and Justice Department senior career staff, the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama political mobs, dossier commissioner Fusion GPS, the press corps – knew about the deadline and clearly had been tipped to the likelihood that the FBI would have to comply.

Thus the dossier rehabilitation campaign. Weeks before, the same crew had taken a desperate shot at running away from the dossier, with a New York Times special that attempted to play down its significance in the FBI probe. You can see why. In the year since BuzzFeed published the salacious dossier, we’ve discovered it was a work product of the Clinton campaign, commissioned by an oppo-research firm (Fusion), compiled by a British ex-spook on the basis of anonymous sources, and rolled out to the media in the runup to the election. Oh, and it appears to continue to be almost entirely false. When the best you’ve got is that a campaign orbiter made a public trip to Russia, you haven’t got much. But with Congress about to obtain documents that show the dossier did matter, it was time for a new line.

And so the day before the Nunes deadline, Fusion co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch broke their public silence to explain in a New York Times op-ed that what really matters was their noble intention – to highlight Donald Trump’s misdeeds. The duo took credit for alerting the “national security community” to a Russian “attack.” Meanwhile, Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, decided it was suddenly a matter of urgency that the nation see Mr. Simpson’s testimony, which he gave back in August. That move provided the cable news channels with more than 300 pages of self-serving material. Mr. Simpson extols his journalistic chops, praises the integrity of dossier author Christopher Steele (a “Boy Scout”), professes his love of country and his distaste for Russians (other than those paying him), and ladles on more disinformation about Mr. Trump.

Democrats and the media have spun this into a new contention: What mattered were the motives and credentials of the dossier’s creators, which were sufficient to give the FBI good cause to run with the document. Which you have to admit sounds a lot better than “Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Conjured Up an Opposition-Research Document That Was Fed to the Obama FBI, Which Then Used It to Spy on the Trump Campaign.” Even if that’s a more accurate headline.

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Very smart, brave and strong.

Chelsea Manning Seeks US Senate Seat (AFP)

Whistleblower Chelsea Manning, jailed for leaking classified information, is seeking election in the US state of Maryland, a document seen on Saturday says. The Federal Election Commission document, filed Thursday, lists Chelsea Elizabeth Manning of North Bethesda, Maryland, as a Democratic candidate for the United States senate. Manning, now 30, was an army intelligence analyst sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 for leaking more than 700,000 classified documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The revelations by Manning, who is transgender and was then known as Bradley Manning, exposed covered-up misdeeds and possible crimes by US troops and allies.

Her actions made Manning a hero to anti-war and anti-secrecy activists but US establishment figures branded her a traitor. Then-president Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence, leading to her release in May. During her incarceration, Manning battled for, and won, the right to start hormone treatment. On Twitter, she identifies herself as a “trans woman,” and carries the slogan: “Make powerful people angry.”

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A great health care sytem has fallen victim to Brussels. Unforgiveable.

Greeks Avoid Seeing A Doctor When Ill Due To Cost (K.)

30% of people who fell ill in Greece in 2016 did not see a doctor, according to a new survey which found that 35.8% of those people who did not seek treatment did so due to the financial cost. The nationwide survey, based on a sample of 2,000 adults, was carried out in January 2017 by the National School of Public Health in Athens. The results, which highlight the impact of the financial crisis on access to medical care, were made available only recently. The study showed that the main reason Greeks consulted a health professional in 2016 was because they were experiencing a symptom or pain, with 47.4% giving that as a reason. In 2006 only 21% gave that as a main reason as most people visited doctors to receive medical prescriptions or routine checkups. Meanwhile, 26.4% of Greeks who needed healthcare in 2016 received it for free, compared to 52.6% in 2006.

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Jan 132018
 
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Rembrandt van Rijn The flight into Egypt – a night piece 1651

 

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)
The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)
Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)
Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)
Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)
The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)
Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)
Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)
Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)
Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)
The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

 

 

It’s your borrowing that will do you in.

The Household Debt Ticking Time Bomb (IRD)

I fully expect the Government’s Census Bureau to post a mind-blowing headline retail sales number for December. Hyperbolic headline economic statistics derived from mysterious “seasonal adjustments” based on questionable sampling methodology is part of the official propaganda policy mandated by the Executive Branch of Government. But I also believe that retail sales were likely more robust than saner minds were expecting because it appears that households have become accustomed to the easy credit provided by the banking system to make ends meet. Borrow money to “spend and pretend.” The Fed reported that consumer credit hit an all-time record in November. The primary driver was credit card debt, which hit a new all-time high (previous record was in 2008). Credit debt also increased a record monthly amount in November.

“Speaking of signposts, households have grown increasingly comfortable with leverage to maintain their living standards, which of course economists cheer. That’s worked for 24 straight months as credit card spending growth has outrun that of income growth” – Danielle DiMartino Booth, who was an advisor for nine years to former Dallas Fed President, Richard Fisher. The graph above shows the year over year monthly percentage change in revolving credit – which is primarily credit card debt – and real disposable personal income. Real disposable personal income is after-tax income adjusted for CPI inflation. As you can see, the growth in the use of credit card debt has indeed outstripped the growth in after-tax household income. The credit metric above would not include home equity lines of credit.

At some point, assuming the relationship between the two variables above continues along the same trend, and we have no reason to believe that it won’t, credit card debt will collide with reality and there will be a horrifying number of credit card defaults. Worse than 2008-2010. [The next] chart shows household debt service payments as a percentage of after-tax income: “Debt service” is interest + principal payments. With auto loan and credit card debt, most of the debt service payment is interest. This metric climbed to a 5-year high during a period of time when interest rates hit all-time record lows. Currently the average household is unable to make more than the minimum principle payment per the information conveyed by the first graphic. What happens to the debt service:income ratio metric as households continue to pile on debt to make ends meet while interest rates rise?

Household debt service includes mortgage debt service payments. Household mortgage debt outstanding is not quite at the all-time high recorded in Q2 2008. The current number from the Fed is through Q3 2017. At the current quarterly rate of increase, an new all-time high in mortgage debt outstanding should occur during Q2 2018. However, it should be noted that the number of homes sold per quarter during this current housing bubble is below the number of units sold per quarter at the peak of the previous housing bubble. This means that the average size of mortgage per home sold is higher now than during the earlier housing bubble. This is a fact that overlooked by every housing and credit market analyst, either intentionally or from ignorance (I’ll let you decide).

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Until it does.

The Stock Market Never Goes Down Anymore (BBG)

The New Year’s rally has pushed the S&P 500 Index to its best start since the administration of George W. Bush. Now it’s bumping against speed barriers that marked the upper limits of bull markets for decades. Up eight times in the first nine days of 2018, the S&P 500 has broken away from a trend line, its 200-day moving average, with a velocity unseen since 2013, the best year for equities in a generation. The benchmark now sits more than 11% above the level, putting it in the 92nd percentile of momentum, data going back 20 years show. Something has changed in equities. If 2017 was a slow but steady slog, 2018 has been off to the races, with shares rising at four times last year’s daily rate on the back of Donald Trump’s tax package and gathering signs of economic strength.

Forty seven companies in the S&P 500 are already up at least 10% this year, compared with just two down as much. “Even if you were the bullest of the bulls, this crazy rally start to the year took you off guard,” said Michael Antonelli at Robert W. Baird & Co. “We’ve completely run out of ways to describe what’s happening. We get asked a lot, are you seeing anything different that could explain the rally? The answer is no.” Fear of missing out is rampant not just on Wall Street but worldwide. Globally, stock funds saw a $24 billion inflow in the five days through Thursday, the sixth largest weekly total ever. Concern the U.S. stocks have jumped too much too fast prompted Morgan Stanley’s Andrew Sheets to cut the U.S. stocks’s exposure in favor of European equities this week.

Sheets isn’t the only one having a hard time keeping up. The average of 23 strategists predictions is for the S&P 500 to reach 2,914 at year-end. If stocks were to maintain the same upward trajectory they’ve exhibited in the last nine days, it would take roughly two more weeks to reach the strategists’ target. At 3.4 times its book value, the S&P 500 trades at the most expensive level since 2002, while its 14-day relative strength index reached a level unseen since 1996. The S&P 500 rose 1.6% to 2,786 this week, pushing the spread between the gauge and its 200-day moving average to 11.5%, the widest in five years.

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Because it can.

Fed Pays Banks $30 Billion on “Excess Reserves” for 2017 (WS)

The Federal Reserve’s income from operations in 2017 dropped by $11.7 billion to $80.7 billion, the Fed announced today. Its $4.45-trillion of assets – including $2.45 trillion of US Treasury securities and $1.76 trillion of mortgage-backed securities that it acquired during years of QE – produce a lot of interest income. How much interest income? $113.6 billion. It also made $1.9 billion in foreign currency gains, resulting “from the daily revaluation of foreign currency denominated investments at current exchange rates.” For a total income of about $115.5 billion. Those are just “estimates,” the Fed said. Final “audited” results of the Federal Reserve Banks are due in March. This “audit” is of course the annual financial audit executed by KPMG that the Fed hires to do this.

It’s not the kind of audit that some members in Congress have been clamoring for – an audit that would try to find out what actually is going on at the Fed. No, this is just a financial audit. As the Fed points out in its 2016 audited “Combined Financial Statements,” the audit attempts to make sure that the accounting is in conformity with the accounting principles in the Financial Accounting Manual for Federal Reserve Banks. Given that the Fed prints its own money to invest or manipulate markets with – which makes for some crazy accounting issues – the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that apply to US businesses to do not apply to the Fed. This annual audit by KPMG reveals nothing except that the Fed’s accounting is in conformity with the Fed’s own accounting manual.

The Fed pays the banks interest on their “Required Reserves” and on their “Excess Reserves” at the Fed. Excess Reserves are the biggie: As a result of QE, they jumped from $1.7 billion in July 2008, to $2.7 trillion at the peak in September 2014. They’ve since dwindled, if that’s the right word, to $2.2 trillion:

When the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) meets to hash out its monetary policy, it also considers what to do with the interest rates that it pays the banks on “Required Reserves” and on “Excess Reserves.” In this cycle so far, every time the Fed has raised its target range for the federal funds rate (now between 1.25% and 1.50%) it also raised the interest rates it pays the banks on “required reserves” and on “excess reserves,” which went from 0.25% since the Financial Crisis to 1.5% now:

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They’ve been working to achieve it for a decade, and now they manage to fool themselves into thinking they got it, it’s not what they want.

Fed’s Rosengren Faults Inflation Target, Warns Of Harm (R.)

“I‘m disagreeing with that framework,” Rosengren said at the Global Interdependence Center in San Diego, referring to the Fed’s “balanced” approach to achieving a 2% inflation target and full employment. The Fed adopted this framework six years ago and has reaffirmed it each year since. Now, as Fed Governor Jerome Powell prepares to take the reins as Fed chief from Janet Yellen when her term ends early next month, a growing number of Fed policymakers want to rethink that framework. Rosengren’s comments Friday put the sharpest point to date on the debate, suggesting that a strict 2-percent inflation target could force the Fed to slam the brakes on the economy with aggressive rate hikes if the unemployment rate, now at 4.1%, continues to sink. It is already below the level that many economists think can be sustained without putting upward pressure on inflation.

While inflation running stubbornly below 2% has so far allowed the Fed to lift rates only gradually, that may change, Rosengren warned. “My concern is if we get too far away from where we want to be on a sustainable unemployment rate, and we use this current framework, then we will get to a situation where we have to raise rates fast enough that we will actually find it very difficult to get back to full employment without causing a recession,” Rosengren said. Rosengren suggested replacing the 2% inflation target with a target range for inflation of between 1.5% and 3%, in line with actual experience over the last 20 years. Under current conditions of low productivity and labor force growth, he said, the Fed would target inflation at the upper end of that range, and would be more patient with rate hikes.

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“Marketable borrowings..”

Goldman Warns Treasury Issuance To More Than Double In 2019 (ZH)

During yesterday’s surprisingly candid remarks by Bill Dudley, the second most important person in the Federal Reserve – the organization that is responsible for the third consecutive and largest ever yet asset bubble in history – said that one risk he was increasingly worried about was, drumroll, elevated asset prices. Because, supposedly, the Fed has little to input in how asset prices came to be where they are… Just as ominous was Dudley’s admission that the second risk he was concerned about is “the long-term fiscal position of the United States” i.e. US debt. Specifically, Dudley said that the Trump tax cut “will increase the nation’s longer-term fiscal burden, which is already facing other pressures, such as higher debt service costs and entitlement spending as the baby-boom generation retires.”

Oddly there was no mention of which administration doubled US debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in under a decade, and which organization enabled this to happen by keeping rates at record low levels, while crushing savers, and bailing out habitual gamblers. In any case, now that the narrative has shifted, and Donald Trump will be scapegoated not only for the upcoming “tremendous” market crash – something he has made especially easy by taking credit for every single uptick in the S&P – but also for the inevitable fiscal collapse of the United States, it is time to provide the backing for this particular strawman, and to do that, this morning Dudley’s former employer, Goldman Sachs released a report in which the bank’s chief economist said the he is updating his Treasury issuance forecast to account for recent revised deficit projections.

As a result, US marketable borrowings will more than double from below $500 billion in 2018 to over $1 trillion in 2019 as the debt tsunami finally get going. To build up the strawman, Goldman explains that US borrowing needs will rise for three reasons: First, recently enacted tax reform legislation is estimated to raise the deficit by more than $200bn, on average, each of the next four years, and Congress looks likely approve substantial new spending as well. Second, Fed portfolio runoff will increase the amount of debt the Treasury must issue to the public. Third, the Treasury’s cash balance is likely to rise by around $200bn once a longer-term debt limit suspension is enacted, which will also necessitate additional borrowing.

Goldman expects that the “substantial increase” in borrowing needs will be announced by the Treasury when it lays out its plans at the February quarterly refunding. What Goldman has left unsaid is what happens to interest rates at a time when on one hand US debt supply is set to double and on the other the Fed is set to continue shrinking its balance sheets, the ECB and BOJ are set to accelerate (and begin) tapering their own QEs and when global inflation is expected to keep rising. What is also unsaid is just who will be the marginal buyer of this debt tsunami when central banks increasingly shift away from debt monetization.

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2018 will show us just what bad shape Britain is in.

The Company That Runs Britain Is Near To Collapse. Watch And Worry (G.)

You may never have heard of Carillion. There’s no reason you should have. Its lack of glamour is neatly summed up by the name it sported in the 90s: Tarmac. But since then it has grown and grown to become the UK’s second-largest building firm – and one of the biggest contractors to the British government. Name an infrastructure pie in the UK and the chances are Carillion has its fingers in it: the HS2 rail link, broadband rollout, the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, the Library of Birmingham. It maintains army barracks, builds PFI schools, lays down roads in Aberdeen. The lot. There’s just one snag. For over a year now, Carillion has been in meltdown. Its shares have dropped 90%, it’s issued profit warnings, and it’s on to its third chief executive within six months. And this week, the government moved into emergency mode.

A group of ministers held a crisis meeting on Thursday to discuss the firm. Around the table, reports the FT, were business secretary Greg Clark, as well as ministers from the Cabinet Office, health, transport, justice, education and local government. Even the Foreign Office sent a representative. Why did Chris Grayling give the HS2 contract to a company that was already in existential difficulties? That roll call says all you need to know about the public significance of what happens next at Carillion. This is a firm that employs just under 20,000 workers in Britain – and the same again abroad. It has a huge chain of suppliers – and its habit of going in for joint ventures with other construction businesses means that a collapse at Carillion would send shockwaves through the industry and through the government’s public works programme.

To see what this means, take the HS2 rail link, where Carillion this summer was part of a consortium that won a £1.4bn contract to knock tunnels through the Chilterns. If Carillion goes under, what happens to the largest infrastructure project in Europe? What happens to its partners on the deal, British firm Kier, and France’s Eiffage? The project will need to be put back and the taxpayer will almost certainly have to step in. Imagine that same catastrophe befalling dozens of other projects across the UK and you get a sense of what’s at stake. Jobs will be cut, schools will go unbuilt (just a couple of months ago, Oxfordshire county council pulled the plug on a 10-year schools project) – and the government’s entire private finance initiative (PFI) model for building this country’s essential services will be shaken to the core.

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Good cop bad cop.

Spanish and Dutch Agree to Seek Soft Brexit Deal (BBG)

Spanish and Dutch finance ministers have agreed to push for a Brexit deal that keeps Britain as close to the European Union as possible, according to a person familiar with the situation. Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos and his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra met earlier this week and discussed their common interests in Brexit, according to the person, who declined to be identified. Both have close trade and investment ties and are concerned about the impact of tariffs. They are also worried about losing U.K. contributions to the EU budget, the person said. The pound jumped to the strongest level since the referendum in 2016, trading 1.2% higher at $1.3690.

A spokeswoman for the Spanish Economy Ministry stressed that both ministers support chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s efforts, and said they’re not working together toward a soft Brexit deal. Earlier, a Spanish economy ministry official said that the two finance chiefs had underlined the importance of U.K. ties for both countries, and agreed to keep track of their common interests. A spokesman for Hoekstra declined to comment. The 27 remaining EU nations maintained a united front in the first phase of divorce talks, though the solidarity is already showing signs of strain as national interests diverge in the face of future trade discussions. French President Emmanuel Macron has warned countries to be disciplined and stick together to protect all their interests, in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma. EU countries have delegated the job of negotiations to Barnier.

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Steve reply to the one-dimensional Oxford Review of Economic Policy’s latest issue.

Economics Is Too Important To Be Left To The -Academic- Economists (Steve Keen)

Modern Economics is as conformist, and bland, as country and western music. This leaves radical thinkers singing the Blues as their voices go unheard. I’ve had an epiphany about my place in the Universe, and I owe it to the Oxford Review of Economic Policy and its special issue on “Rebuilding Macroeconomic Theory.” I am Elwood Blues, and the Universe (the part I inhabit anyway) is Bob’s Country Bunker. Halfway through the classic movie The Blues Brothers, Jake Blues cons the band into performing at a bar called Bob’s Country Bunker. When his incredulous brother Elwood asks the bar owner’s wife “What kind of music do you usually have here?” she cheerily replies “Oh, we got both kinds. We got Country and Western”.

So that’s it. I’m a Blues singer, and I’m surrounded by Country and Western fans—otherwise known as Mainstream Economists. Their musical spectrum ranges from Hank Williams to Dolly Parton, and if I play anything outside it — say, some Otis Redding or Muddy Waters — they’ll throw beer bottles at me. Sometimes, even full ones. Suddenly, it all makes sense. This epiphany arrived, not as a Divine revelation, but as a tweet (as they would, were Moses alive today; so much more convenient than stone tablets) on January 1, as the Review touted its soon-to-be-released special issue.

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“..how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?”

Who Moved My Xanax? (Jim Kunstler)

The moral panic of “the Resistance” is back in DefCon 1 mode overnight just as the righteousness orgasm of the Golden Globe Awards was wearing off. Mr. Trump’s casual question to a couple of Senators vis-à-vis immigration policy — “Why do we want all these people from ‘shithole countries’ coming here?” — pushed the “racism” button at Resistance Central and CNN staged yet another of the orchestrated anxiety attacks it has perfected over the past year. The spotlight in this three-ring circus of perpetual offense, indignation, and alarm shifts back from the alleged sufferings of movie actresses to another intersectional victim group from the Dem/Prog pantheon of oppressed minorities: would-be immigrants-of-color. The President’s vulgar animus proves the charge that at least half the country is a lynch mob.

Of course, the most interesting feature of this neurotic zeitgeist is the displacement dynamic among the political Left as its frantic virtue-signaling attempts to distract everybody else in the room from its own dark and shameful emotions about the composition of American culture. As a born-and-bred Boomer (ex-)liberal from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, I can assure you from direct experience that this group has, at best, ambiguous feelings about the lower orders of mankind — my Gawd, did he actually say that? — and, at worst, a certain unmanageable contempt that stirs deep fears of moral failure. Mr. Trump’s remark raises another interesting question that has not received much analysis amidst the latest panic: namely, how much of a “shithole” is our own country these days?

I would avouch, contrary to the limp narrative of boom times, that the USA is visibly whirling around the drain in just about every way that matters. Except for the centers of financialization — New York, Washington, San Francisco — most of our cities are hollowed-out wrecks, and visitors to San Francisco will tell you that the place is literally a shithole, from the army of homeless people who, by definition, have no bathrooms. Our ghastly suburbs, where so many formerly middle-class Americans are now marooned in debt, despair, and civic alienation, have no prospects for serving as a plausible living arrangement anymore, and were so badly built in the first place that their journey to ruin is destined to be an epically short leap that will amaze historians of the future roasting ‘possums around their campfires.

All of the important activities in this land have been converted into odious rackets, by which I mean nakedly dishonest money-grubbing scams, especially the two sectors that used to be characterized by first, doing no harm (medicine), and seeking the truth (education). But everything else we do is infected by engineered falsehood and mendacity, including the news media, the law, banking, government, retail commerce, you name it. We’re living in a culture of pervasive control fraud, in which authorities set up looting and asset-stripping operations without any restraint.

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They should be testing us, not the other way around.

Dolphins Show Self-Recognition Earlier Than Human Children (NYT)

Humans, chimpanzees, elephants, magpies and bottle-nosed dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror, according to scientific reports, although as any human past age 50 knows, that first glance in the morning may yield ambiguous results. Not to worry. Scientists are talking about species-wide abilities, not the fact that one’s father or mother makes unpredictable appearances in the looking glass. Mirror self-recognition, at least after noon, is often taken as a measure of a kind of intelligence and self-awareness, although not all scientists agree. And researchers have wondered not only about which species display this ability, but about when it emerges during early development. Children start showing signs of self-recognition at about 12 months at the earliest and chimpanzees at two years old.

But dolphins, researchers reported Wednesday, start mugging for the mirror as early as seven months, earlier than humans. Diana Reiss a psychologist at Hunter College, and Rachel Morrison, then a graduate student working with Reiss, studied two young dolphins over three years at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Dr. Reiss first reported self-recognition in dolphins in 2001 with Lori Marino, now the head of The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy. She and Dr. Morrison, now an assistant professor in the psychology department at the University of North Carolina Pembroke collaborated on the study and published their findings in the journal PLoS One. Dr. Reiss said the timing of the emergence of self-recognition is significant, because in human children the ability has been tied to other milestones of physical and social development.

Since dolphins develop earlier than humans in those areas, the researchers predicted that dolphins should show self-awareness earlier. Seven months was when Bayley, a female, started showing self-directed behavior, like twirling and taking unusual poses. Dr. Reiss said dolphins “may put their eye right up against the mirror and look in silence. They may look at the insides of their mouths and wiggle their tongues.” Foster, the male, was almost 14 months when the study started. He had a particular fondness for turning upside down and blowing bubbles in front of the one-way mirror in the aquarium wall through which the researchers observed and recorded what the dolphins were doing.

The animals also passed a test in which the researchers drew a mark on some part of the dolphin’s body it could not see without a mirror. In this so-called mark test, the animal must notice and pay attention to the mark. Animals with hands point at the mark and may touch it. The dolphins passed that test at 24 months, which was the earliest researchers were allowed to draw on the young animals. Rules for animal care prohibited the test at an earlier age because of a desire to have the animals develop unimpeded. During testing, the young animals were always with the group of adults they live with, and only approached a one-way mirror in the aquarium wall when they felt like it.

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A loss of 2% oxygen is all it takes.

The Ocean Is Suffocating—But Not For The First Time (Atlantic)

The ocean is losing its oxygen. Last week, in a sweeping analysis in the journal Science, scientists put it starkly: Over the past 50 years, the volume of the ocean with no oxygen at all has quadrupled, while oxygen-deprived swaths of the open seas have expanded by the size of the European Union. The culprits are familiar: global warming and pollution. Warmer seawater both holds less oxygen and turbocharges the worldwide consumption of oxygen by microorganisms. Meanwhile, agricultural runoff and sewage drives suffocating algae blooms. The analysis builds on a growing body of research pointing to increasingly sick seas pummeled by the effluent of civilization. In one landmark paper published last year, a research team led by the German oceanographer Sunke Schmidtko quantified for the first time just how much oxygen human civilization has already drained from the oceans.

Compiling more than 50 years of disparate data, gathered on research cruises, from floating palaces of ice in the arctic to twilit coral reefs in the South Pacific, Schmidtko’s team calculated that the Earth’s oceans had lost 2% of their oxygen since 1960. Two% might not sound that dramatic, but small changes in the oxygen content of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere in the ancient past are thought to be responsible for some of the most profound events in the history of life. Some paleontologists have pointed to rising oxygen as the fuse for the supernova of biology at the Cambrian explosion 543 million years ago. Similarly, the fever-dream world of the later Carboniferous period is thought to be the product of an oxygen spike, which subsidized the lifestyles of preposterous animals, like dragonflies the size of seagulls.

On the other hand, dramatically declining oxygen in the oceans like we see today is a feature of many of the worst mass extinctions in earth history. “[Two%] is pretty significant,” says Sune Nielsen, a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “That’s actually pretty scary.” Nielsen is one of a group of scientists probing a series of strange ancient catastrophes when the ocean lost much of its oxygen for insight into our possible future in a suffocating world. He has studied one such biotic crisis in particular that might yet prove drearily relevant. Though little known outside the halls of university labs, it was one of the most severe crises of the past 100 million years. It’s known as Oceanic Anoxic Event 2.

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Jan 092018
 
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Thomas Abercrombie Beirut 1957

 

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)
US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)
Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)
The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)
Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)
iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)
‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)
The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)
Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)
Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)
US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)
Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)
Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)
Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

 

 

A nation of expendables. To think how hard earlier generations fought for health care.

Americans Wait For Tax Refunds Before Seeing A Doctor (BBG)

As tax season approaches, some consumers are waiting for their refund checks to spend on a long-delayed purchase – a visit to the doctor or dentist. U.S. consumers boosted their out-of-pocket health spending by 60% in the week after they got a tax refund, according to new research from JPMorgan Chase, based on data from Chase customer accounts. Spending stayed high for about 2 1/2 months, with about two-thirds of the extra spending money going to in-person payments to doctors and dentists. Much of the rest was used to pay down past bills. Health insurers and employers have raised copays and deductibles for consumers, making them bear a larger portion of the cost of care when they go see a health-care provider.

As a result, patients sometimes lack the cash to get the care they may need, according to the report. “Cash-flow dynamics are a significant driver of out-of-pocket spending for health care,” the study found. “Even when consumers knew with near-certainty the size and source of a major cash infusion, they still waited until the infusion arrived before spending.” The researchers found that availability of cash had far less of an impact on health-spending decisions among those with credit cards, or who had higher bank-account balances.

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Until about 1970, the US had the lowest child mortality rates. Then something happened.

US Has The Worst Rate of Child Mortality Among 20 Rich Nations (CNBC)

The United States has the worst child mortality rate among a group of 20 wealthy democracies, an analysis released Monday found. And despite overall improvement in the child mortality rate in the U.S. and those 19 other countries, the U.S. has persistently outpaced those nations in that grim metric for decades, the Health Affairs report said. “From 2001 to 2010, the risk of death in the US was 76% greater for infants and 57% greater for children age 1-19,” the report said. And during the same decade, children between the ages of 15 and 19 were 82 times more likely to die from gun-related homicide in the U.S. than in the comparison countries.

The authors of the Health Affairs report said that in the full 50-year period their study looked at, the U.S. had more than “600,000 excess deaths” among kids because of the country’s lagging performance in curbing child mortality. Those excess deaths have occurred even as the U.S. spends more money on health care for kids than the other countries. Among the countries looked at, “there has never been a better time to be born in any of these 20 countries,” the Health Affairs report said. “Despite this generalized trend, children are less likely to survive and transition into adulthood in the US than in other [countries examined],” the report said. “Persistently high poverty rates, poor educational outcomes, and a relatively weak social safety net have made the US the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.”

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Due to the tax law.

Chapter 11 Bankruptcies Spike 107% from a Year Ago (WS)

New Chapter 11 bankruptcies in the US more than doubled in December 2017 from a year ago to 699 filings. That jump of 362 filings from December 2016 was the largest year-over-year jump since the Financial Crisis. This chart shows Chapter 11 filings back to 2011, based on data from the American Bankruptcy Institute. I marked the prior five Decembers with red dots. Note how they’re near the low point of the seasonal swings. That makes the spike in December 2017 even more spectacular. A spike like this in Chapter 11 filings in a month of December is unheard of in normal times. Normally, bankruptcies jump during tax season, the first four or five months of the year, but not at the end of the year. But these are not normal times.

In December, Chapter 11 filings soared 61% from November. This is also highly unusual, as over the prior five years, presumably the “normal times,” the number of filings from November to December has fallen by an average 8.7%. The chart below shows the year-over-year change in Chapter 11 filings. I marked the prior Decembers in yellow. I circled the oil bust and the brick-and-mortar meltdown. But December 2017 was special.

I think companies and their owners and creditors know one thing: They can write off losses in 2017 under the old corporate tax rates, at 35%, thus getting the government to pick up 35% of the tab of their losses via lower taxes. In 2018, the new tax law applies and all kinds of uncertainties have yet to be ironed out, and these companies – the owners and creditors – are thinking (I assume) that it’s better to try to recognize the loss in 2017, support it with a Chapter 11 filing, and pull the write-off into 2017 against a tax rate of 35%, rather than 21% in 2018. A tax-law change of this drastic nature motivates people jump through all kinds of hoops to save some money – including waiting in line for hours to pay property taxes early, a hitherto unthinkable strategy. And I think this is the likely suspect for the spike.

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Wonderful history lesson about the robber barons. Go read.

The New Gilded Age: First Time Arrogance, the Second Time Vengeance (Rosen)

The U.S. is now living through a second Gilded Age. Where once the robber barons were millionaires, today they’ve added a few zeros to their wealth and became billionaires. However, they act with no-less impunity, but a greater sense of entitlement. The Trump administration, together with the Republican-controlled Congress, are functional shills for the current generation of robber barons. As evident from the recently-passed tax bill, legislators jump when their big-money donors order them to deliver the goods — and they did. The U.S. economy has rebounded from the 2007-2009 “great recession,” with the stock market hitting new highs, unemployment the lowest in a generation and home prices recovering. But Americans still haven’t regained the wealth they lost, with incomes remaining stagnant and, on the whole, working Americans worse off than since the late-1990s.

The Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances finds that median net worth for all families (measured in 2016 dollars) dropped 8% since 1998. Most sobering, the poorer you are, the worst your fate – and this is compounded by race, education level, gender and age factors. America’s poorest, the bottom fifth, saw their net worth fall 22%; the broad working class, the second-lowest income tier, were the hardest hit with their net worth shrinking by more than a third (34%); and those dubbed “middle class,” with incomes from $43,501 to $69,500, were barely treading water, with their worth gaining a whopping 3.5%. Since 1998, the top 10% saw their worth rise 146%. The share of the nation’s wealth held by the top 1% rose to 38.6% while that portion controlled by the bottom 90% fell 22.8% (from 33.2% in ’89).

Looking at the nation’s income for the period of 2013 to 2016, the same phenomenon is evident: income going to the top 1% climbed to 23.8% (from 20.3%) while the share going to the bottom 90% slipped to about 50% (from 54%). And then there is debt, the lubricant of the U.S. post-WW-II “consumer revolution.” During the 2013 to 2016 period, those with the lowest income (below $25,300), saw their debt rise by 57%; for the lower-middle class (incomes between $25,301 and $43,500), debt increased 58%; and for the middle class (incomes from $43,501 to $69,500), debt rose by a modest 12.5%.

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What beaking points are made of.

Retail Investors Are Finally True Believers with Record Exposure (WS)

As far as the stock market is concerned, it took a while – in fact, it took eight years, but retail investors are finally all in, bristling with enthusiasm. TD Ameritrade’s Investor Movement Index rose to 8.59 in December, a new record. TDA’s clients were net buyers for the 11th month in a row, one of the longest buying streaks and ended up with more exposure to the stock market than ever before in the history of the index. This came after a blistering November, when the index had jumped 15%, “its largest single-month increase ever,” as TDA reported at the time, to 8.53, also a record:

Note how retail investors had been to varying degrees among the naysayers from the end of the Financial Crisis till the end of 2016, before they suddenly became true believers in February 2017. “I don’t think the investors who are engaging regularly are doing so in a dangerous fashion,” said TDA Chief Market Strategist JJ Kinahan in an interview. But he added, clients at the beginning of 2017 were “up to their knees in it and then up to their thighs, and now up to their chests.” The implication is that they could get in a little deeper before they’d drown. “As the year went on, people got more confident,” he said. And despite major geopolitical issues, “the market was never tested at all” last year. There was this “buy-the-dip mentality” every time the market dipped 1% or 2%.

But one of his “bigger fears” this year is this very buy-the-dip mentality, he said. People buy when the market goes down 1% or 2%, and “it goes down 5%, then it goes down 8% — and they turn into sellers, and then they get an exponential move to the downside.” In addition to some of the big names in the US – Amazon, Microsoft, Bank of America, etc. – TDA’s clients were “believers” in Chinese online retail and were big buyers of Alibaba and Tencent. But they were sellers of dividend stocks AT&T and Verizon as the yield of two-year Treasuries rose to nearly 2%, and offered a risk-free alternative at comparable yields. And he added, with an eye out for this year: “It’s hard to believe that the market can go up unchallenged.” This enthusiasm by retail investors confirms the surge in margin debt – a measure of stock market leverage and risk – which has been jumping from record to record, and hit a new high of $581 billion, up 16% from a year earlier.

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Duh!

iPhone Addiction May Be A Virtue, Not A Vice For Investors (R.)

Apple investors are shrugging off concerns raised by two shareholders about kids getting hooked on iPhones, saying that for now a little addiction might not be a bad thing for profits. Hedge fund JANA Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) pension fund said on Saturday that iPhone overuse could be hurting children’s developing brains, an issue that may harm the company’s long-term market value. But some investors said the habit-forming nature of gadgets and social media are one reason why companies like Apple, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook Inc added $630 billion to their market value in 2017. “We invest in things that are addictive,” said Apple shareholder Ross Gerber, chief executive of Gerber Kawasaki Wealth and Investment Management.

He also owns stock in coffee retailer Starbucks Corp, casino operator MGM Resorts International and alcohol maker Constellation Brands Inc. “Addictive things are very profitable,” Gerber said. Still, the investment community is increasingly holding companies to higher social standards, and there is some concern that market-leading tech companies could draw attention from regulators much like alcohol, tobacco and gambling companies have in the past. Alphabet and Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. Facebook has said social media can be beneficial if used appropriately. In a statement to Reuters, Apple said it has offered a range of controls on iPhones since 2008 that allow parents to restrict content, including apps, movies, websites, songs and books, as well as cellular data, password settings and other features.

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This leaves many questions about what the industry knew and what they did not. Hard to believe they were all entirely ignorant for 20 years.

‘It Can’t Be True.’ Inside the Semiconductor Industry’s Meltdown (BBG)

It was late November and former Intel Corp. engineer Thomas Prescher was enjoying beers and burgers with friends in Dresden, Germany, when the conversation turned, ominously, to semiconductors. Months earlier, cybersecurity researcher Anders Fogh had posted a blog suggesting a possible way to hack into chips powering most of the world’s computers, and the friends spent part of the evening trying to make sense of it. The idea nagged at Prescher, so when he got home he fired up his desktop computer and set about putting the theory into practice. At 2 a.m., a breakthrough: he’d strung together code that reinforced Fogh’s idea and suggested there was something seriously wrong. “My immediate reaction was, ‘It can’t be true, it can’t be true,’” Prescher said.

Last week, his worst fears were proved right when Intel, one of the world’s largest chipmakers, said all modern processors can be attacked by techniques dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, exposing crucial data, such as passwords and encryption keys. The biggest technology companies, including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Amazon.com are rushing out fixes for PCs, smartphones and the servers that power the internet, and some have warned that their solutions may dent performance in some cases. Prescher was one of at least 10 researchers and engineers working around the globe – sometimes independently, sometimes together – who uncovered Meltdown and Spectre. Interviews with several of these experts reveal a chip industry that, while talking up efforts to secure computers, failed to spot that a common feature of their products had made machines so vulnerable.

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David Brooks exposes everything his paper -NYT- has done for well over a year: make it all up. A mea culpa between the lines.

The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks)

Let me start with three inconvenient observations, based on dozens of conversations around Washington over the past year: First, people who go into the White House to have a meeting with President Trump usually leave pleasantly surprised. They find that Trump is not the raving madman they expected from his tweetstorms or the media coverage. They generally say that he is affable, if repetitive. He runs a normal, good meeting and seems well-informed enough to get by. Second, people who work in the Trump administration have wildly divergent views about their boss. Some think he is a deranged child, as Michael Wolff reported. But some think he is merely a distraction they can work around. Some think he is strange, but not impossible. Some genuinely admire Trump. Many filter out his crazy stuff and pretend it doesn’t exist.

My impression is that the Trump administration is an unhappy place to work, because there is a lot of infighting and often no direction from the top. But this is not an administration full of people itching to invoke the 25th Amendment. Third, the White House is getting more professional. Imagine if Trump didn’t tweet. The craziness of the past weeks would be out of the way, and we’d see a White House that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade. It’s almost as if there are two White Houses. There’s the Potemkin White House, which we tend to focus on: Trump berserk in front of the TV, the lawyers working the Russian investigation and the press operation.

Then there is the Invisible White House that you never hear about, which is getting more effective at managing around the distracted boss. I sometimes wonder if the Invisible White House has learned to use the Potemkin White House to deke us while it changes the country. I mention these inconvenient observations because the anti-Trump movement, of which I’m a proud member, seems to be getting dumber. It seems to be settling into a smug, fairy tale version of reality that filters out discordant information. More anti-Trumpers seem to be telling themselves a “Madness of King George” narrative: Trump is a semiliterate madman surrounded by sycophants who are morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to people like us. I’d like to think it’s possible to be fervently anti-Trump while also not reducing everything to a fairy tale.

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Still up and down, but that will be a big problem at some point, not some quaint feature..

Cryptocurrencies Are Selling Off (BBG)

Bitcoin slumped, dragging down smaller rivals such as ether and litecoin, as concerns that regulators will tighten their grip on the market weigh on the the world’s largest cryptocurrency. Regulators in China and South Korea are increasing oversight on cryptocurrency trading and mining, while the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission late last year started cracking down on some digital token sales, known as ICOs. Coinmarketcap.com’s decision to exclude Korean pricing data for coins helped create the appearance of a large drop in prices, which some traders attributed as playing a part in the selloff. “News on the regulatory front is dragging down cryptos,” said Gabor Gurbacs at VanEck Associates.

“South Korea and China tightening is weighing on bitcoin and in the ICO market, things started slowing down, with the SEC cracking down on illegal offerings.” Bitcoin slumped as much as 17% to $14,820, the most in more than two weeks. The rout in bitcoin is part of a broader selloff in the cryptocurrency realm, with all of the top 10 by market cap falling, and most tumbling by at least 10%, according to Coinmarketcap.com. Cardano fell 16%, while litecoin slumped as much as 16% to as low as $230. Bitcoin is little changed this year after surging about 1,400% in 2017.

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Liquidity concerns.

Fund Managers Say US Regulator Told Them To Suspend Bitcoin ETF Bids (R.)

Two U.S. companies shelved proposals to launch bitcoin exchange-traded funds, citing ongoing concerns by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), filings showed on Monday. Staff at the regulatory agency “expressed concerns regarding the liquidity and valuation” of futures contracts based on the digital asset, according to one of the filings. The move adds a new hurdle to the bid by Wall Street firms to capitalize on investor interest in cryptocurrencies, and it opens a rare public divergence between two financial regulatory agencies over how to regulate them. Trusts controlled by Rafferty Asset Management and Exchange Traded Concepts each canceled plans to launch three bitcoin funds that could be traded by retail investors as easily as stocks. Neither firm could be reached for comment.

Fund managers thought the proposals had a chance at winning approval given the launch last month of futures contracts based on bitcoin on both the CME and the CBOE exchanges. Regulators have been scrambling to figure out how to deal with this relatively new asset, and no single one has control. The SEC has dominion over funds, while the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) governs futures contracts. The CFTC has been under pressure to address concerns it did not fully assess the potential risks that bitcoin poses to the financial system. [..] The SEC’s decisions also face close scrutiny given its power to clear the way for products that could be among the more volatile traded in U.S. equity markets.

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It was always nonsense, and they know it.

US Energy Watchdog Terminates Plan To Subsidize Coal, Nuclear Sectors (AFP)

The US energy watchdog terminated Monday a key proposal by President Donald Trump’s administration to subsidize coal and nuclear plants, finding it neither justified nor reasonable. The decision by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was handed down in a unanimous verdict by its five members, a majority of whom belong to the president’s Republican Party. Energy Secretary Rick Perry had in September proposed providing federal aid to nuclear and coal power plants with at least 90 days’ worth of production capacity, arguing the move was necessary to make the national grid more resilient in case of extreme events.

Both sectors have seen their share of the energy market diminish in recent years, losing out to oil, natural gas and renewables – which had all opposed Perry’s plan. There are currently only two nuclear reactors under construction in the US, in addition to the 99 in service. Coal is also facing a crisis, and Trump made reversing its decline a major campaign pledge. In announcing its decision, FERC cited an existing department study’s findings that “changes in the generation mix, including the retirement of coal and nuclear generators, have not diminished the grid’s reliability or otherwise posed a significant and immediate threat to the resilience of the electric grid.”

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Of the Oprah kind.

Fairy Tale (Jim Kunstler)

Oprah might be the Democratic Party’s last best hope before it collapses into the mausoleum of US political history, where the Whigs, Free Soilers, and Anti-Federalists lie a’moldering. Politics in this land has failed in its effort to become show business, while show business is succeeding wildly in its attempt to replace politics. All Washington can produce these days is a succession of tedious irresolvable soap operas. Hollywood is enacting a grand moral drama of clear-cut heroines and villains, victims and oppressors, sticking to archetypal story-line of our lifetime: the campaign for freedom, equality, and decency. Show business loves the desert sunshine; politics is mired in the Potomac swamp. Oprah even has better hair than the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Oprah herself is an object lesson in the social and political themes that America dares not talk about: a person of humble origins who succeeded wildly in American life by signing onto a once-sturdy and now-fading common culture. In fact, Oprah probably embodies all that remains of American common culture, and the multitudes adore her for it. They are reassured to know that the binding verities still exist. She moves in a realm where blackness and whiteness are emphatically irrelevant — which is surely a relief to people of good will who are sick of race-hustling from all quarters. Though she has credibly acted plenty of sharecropper roles in the movies, Oprah speaks English beautifully and doesn’t apologize for moving up from the ghetto patois of her rough childhood. She may not write all her own material — such as Sunday’s Golden Globes speech that may live on like MLK’s I Have a Dream oration — but she delivers her message with conviction.

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Stumbling from failure to failure.

Theresa May’s Cabinet Reboot Descends Into Chaos (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempt to give her government a 2018 reboot was marred by a chaotic cabinet reshuffle as senior ministers refused to follow her orders. It’s a development that bodes ill for her ability to successfully navigate the next, even trickier stage of Brexit talks. May’s office flagged Monday’s events as “a refresh” of her top team. But instead of the usual parade of lawmakers arriving at her office in quick succession to accept their new roles, things went off script. First Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, then Education Secretary Justine Greening were locked in discussions with her after rejecting proposed moves. Hunt eventually won his argument to stay on, but Greening, who spent more than two hours in 10 Downing Street, quit rather than accept another job.

May was said to be “disappointed” at losing Greening, who opposed Brexit, and could now vote with pro-European Union rebels in the House of Commons. It was not the restart she wanted. There were echoes of her botched decision to call an election in her announcement of a reshuffle she didn’t have to carry out. In both instances May seemed to dissipate any political goodwill she recouped. She had begun the new year in a position of relative strength, having concluded a problematic first phase of talks over Brexit – still the issue that will define her political legacy and will only get more complicated this year. “She can’t have the government she would choose and has to select from a small group of people,” said Matt Beech, director of the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull. “Even with a majority she’d be facing tough decisions because her party’s completely divided on Brexit.”

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Want to know when you’re being had? Look no further. The reasoning here is that the German economy is doing so well that climate targets can’t be met. But that’s an impossible contradiction. Because it tries to make you believe that the investments needed to meet the targets will be made when the economy is not doing so well. But they won’t, because by then the story will be that the money is needed to support the economy.

Merkel, Coalition Negotiators Agree To Scrap 2020 Climate Target (R.)

Germany’s would-be coalition partners have agreed to drop plans to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020, sources familiar with negotiations said on Monday – a potential embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Due to strong economic growth and higher-than-expected immigration, Germany is likely to miss its national emissions target for 2020 without any additional measures. Negotiators for Merkel’s conservative bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) told Reuters the parties had agreed in exploratory talks on forming a government that the targeted cut in emissions could no longer be achieved by 2020. Instead, they would aim to hit the 40% target in the early 2020s, the sources said, adding that both parties are still sticking to their goal of achieving a 55% cut in emissions by 2030.

The deal would represent something of a U-turn for Merkel, who has long presented herself as an advocate of climate protection policies on the international stage. Sources said both parties had also agreed that the share of renewable energy in Germany’s electricity consumption should rise to 65% by 2030 from roughly a third last year. Currently, the government plans to raise the renewable energy quota to between 45 and 55% by 2025. Negotiators also agreed to cut the tax on electricity in order to reduce energy costs, according to a document seen by Reuters. They also plan to tender an extra 4 gigawatts of solar energy as well as onshore and offshore wind-generating capacity.

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Jan 042018
 
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Jean-Michel Basquiat Irony of the Negro Policeman 1981

 

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Investors Should ‘Brace For Near-Term Melt-Up – Grantham (MW)
Top Bosses Earn More In 3 Days Than Average Worker In Entire Year (G.)
Security Flaws Put Virtually All Phones, Computers At Risk (R.)
The Microprocessor Security Flaw Explained (BBG)
The CEO of Wells Fargo Might Be in Big, Big Trouble (Dayen)
NYC Apartment Sales Collapse 25% In Q4 As Trump Tax Plan Takes Its Toll (ZH)
Tesla Falls Far Short On Model 3 Deliveries (CNBC)
US Auto Sales Fall for 2nd Year (WS)
UK Thinks EU is Bluffing on No Brexit Deal for Banks (BBG)
UK Opposition Party Grassroots Support Second Brexit Vote (R.)
China Communist Party Paper Bashes Bitcoin (SCMP)
China to Curb Power Supply for Some Bitcoin Miners (BBG)

 

 

Over 50% chance of melt up, with over 90% chance of subsequent melt down of 50% (or more).

Investors Should ‘Brace For Near-Term Melt-Up – Grantham (MW)

Jeremy Grantham, who is credited with calling the 2000 and 2008 downturns, warned investors Wednesday to be prepared for the possibility of a near-term “melt-up” that would likely set the stage for a burst bubble and a stock-market meltdown. In a 13-page note that he emphasized reflected “a very personal view,” the value investor and co-founder and chief investment strategist of Boston-based asset manager GMO compared the present market setup with the run-up to past bubbles, including the 2000 tech boom and the precursor to the 1929 crash. “I recognize on one hand that this is one of the highest-priced markets in U.S. history. On the other hand, as a historian of the great equity bubbles, I also recognize that we are currently showing signs of entering the blow-off or melt-up phase of this very long bull market,” Grantham said.

He terms the current market run-up the “possible/probable bubble of 2018-19.” In the note, Grantham emphasizes that bubble calls shouldn’t necessarily rely on price alone. Instead, he puts emphasis on price acceleration, which captures “the importance of a true psychological event of momentum increasing to a frenzy.” Read the note here. Grantham favorably cited an academic paper published last year that concluded that the strongest indicator of a bubble in U.S. and almost all global markets was price acceleration. As for the S&P 500 SPX, +0.64% Grantham says that “just recently, say the last six months, we have been showing a modest acceleration, the base camp, perhaps, for a final possible assault on the peak.

“Exhibit 4 (shown below) represents our quick effort at showing what level of acceleration it might take to make 2018 (and possibly 2019) look like a classic bubble,” he wrote. “A range of nine to 18 months from today and a price rise to around 3,400 to 3,700 on the S&P 500 would show the same 60% gain over 21 months as the least of the other classic bubble events.” [..] • “A melt-up or end-phase of a bubble within the next six months to two years is likely, i.e., over 50%.” • ”If there is a melt-up, then the odds of a subsequent bubble break or meltdown are very, very high, i.e., over 90%. • “If there is a market decline following a melt-up, it is quite likely to be a decline of some 50%.”

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‘Fat Cat Thursday’. Bad idea if you want a functioning economy.

Top Bosses Earn More In 3 Days Than Average Worker In Entire Year (G.)

Bosses of top British companies will have made more money by lunchtime on Thursday than the average UK worker will earn in the entire year, according to an independent analysis of the vast gap in pay between chief executives and everyone else. The chief executives of FTSE 100 companies are paid a median average of £3.45m a year, which works out at 120 times the £28,758 collected by full-time UK workers on average. On an hourly basis the bosses will have earned more in less than three working days than the average employee will pick up this year, leading campaigners to dub the day “Fat Cat Thursday”. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said it was outrageous that bosses were picking up “salaries that look like telephone numbers” while workers were “suffering the longest pay squeeze since Napoleonic times”.

The analysis by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the High Pay Centre shows chief executives of FTSE 100 companies are paid an average of £898 per hour – 256 times what apprentices earn on the minimum wage. Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union, said the pay gap between bosses and workers was “simply obscene”. “Does anyone really think these fat cats deserve 100 times more than the hard-working people who prop up their business empires?” he said. “Workers who have to scrimp and save to feed their families and put a roof over their head – and like most of Britain’s working population will now be feeling the pinch after the festive period?”

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And it’s not just phones and computers either.

Security Flaws Put Virtually All Phones, Computers At Risk (R.)

One of the bugs is specific to Intel but another affects laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, tablets and internet servers alike. Intel and ARM insisted that the issue was not a design flaw, but it will require users to download a patch and update their operating system to fix. “Phones, PCs, everything are going to have some impact, but it’ll vary from product to product,” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said in an interview with CNBC Wednesday afternoon. Researchers with Alphabet Inc’s Google Project Zero, in conjunction with academic and industry researchers from several countries, discovered two flaws. The first, called Meltdown, affects Intel chips and lets hackers bypass the hardware barrier between applications run by users and the computer’s memory, potentially letting hackers read a computer’s memory and steal passwords.

The second, called Spectre, affects chips from Intel, AMD and ARM and lets hackers potentially trick otherwise error-free applications into giving up secret information. The researchers said Apple Inc and Microsoft Corp had patches ready for users for desktop computers affected by Meltdown. Microsoft declined to comment and Apple did not immediately return requests for comment. Daniel Gruss, one of the researchers at Graz University of Technology who discovered Meltdown, called it “probably one of the worst CPU bugs ever found” in an interview with Reuters. Gruss said Meltdown was the more serious problem in the short term but could be decisively stopped with software patches. Spectre, the broader bug that applies to nearly all computing devices, is harder for hackers to take advantage of but less easily patched and will be a bigger problem in the long term, he said.

Speaking on CNBC, Intel’s Krzanich said Google researchers told Intel of the flaws “a while ago” and that Intel had been testing fixes that device makers who use its chips will push out next week. Before the problems became public, Google on its blog said Intel and others planned to disclose the issues on Jan. 9. Google said it informed the affected companies about the “Spectre” flaw on June 1, 2017 and reported the “Meltdown” flaw after the first flaw but before July 28, 2017. The flaws were first reported by tech publication The Register. It also reported that the updates to fix the problems could causes Intel chips to operate 5% to 30% more slowly.

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They all use these features. They’re not actually flaws. That makes it hard to repair.

The Microprocessor Security Flaw Explained (BBG)

The weakness uncovered by Google [..] underscores the potential damage wreaked by vulnerabilities in hardware. Complex components, such as microprocessors, can be harder to fix and take longer to design from scratch if flawed. “It’s a big one and it’s a severe one. This gives an attacker capabilities that bypass the common operating system security controls that we’ve relied on for 20 years,” said Jeff Pollard, an analyst at Forrester Research. “There’s big impact on both the consumer and enterprise.” Intel’s stock remained under pressure even after its statement. “We struggle to believe that Intel won’t face some sort of financial liability,” analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein wrote in a note.

[..] Applying the operating system upgrades designed to remedy the flaw could hamper performance, security experts said. The Register reported that slowdowns could be as much as 30% – something Intel said would occur only in extremely unusual circumstances. Computer slowdowns will vary based on the task being performed and for the average user “should not be significant and will be mitigated over time,” Intel said, adding that it has begun providing software to help limit potential exploits. Intel’s efforts to play down the impact resulted in a war of words with AMD. Intel said it’s working with chipmakers including AMD and ARM Holdings, as well as operating system makers to develop an industrywide approach to resolving the issue. AMD was quick to retort, saying, “there is near-zero risk” to its processors because of differences in the way they are designed and built.

The vulnerability doesn’t just affect PCs. All modern microprocessors, including those that run smartphones, are built to essentially guess what functions they’re likely to be asked to run next. By queuing up possible executions in advance, they’re able to crunch data and run software much faster. The problem in this case is that this predictive loading of instructions allows access to data that’s normally cordoned off securely, Intel Vice President Stephen Smith said on a conference call. That means, in theory, that malicious code could find a way to access information that would otherwise be out of reach, such as passwords. “The techniques used to accelerate processors are common to the industry,” said Ian Batten at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. who specializes in computer security. The fix being proposed will definitely result in slower operating times, but reports of slowdowns of 25% to 30% are “worst-case” scenarios, he said.

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Foot meet mouth.

The CEO of Wells Fargo Might Be in Big, Big Trouble (Dayen)

Late last year, Congress scrapped Obama-era rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that would have banned forced-arbitration clauses in financial contracts. This bill, which President Trump quickly signed, was self-evidently bad for consumers at the time—and if anyone needs further proof of how ridiculous and harmful these clauses are, just look at what Wells Fargo has been up to over the past several months. The mega-bank famously issued at least 3.5 million fake accounts without consumer consent, triggering a $185 million fine to state and federal regulators. The bank aimed to demonstrate sales growth to investors and boost the stock price with bogus numbers, but millions of customers got caught up in the exchange, paying unnecessary fees and taking hits to their credit scores. Scores of defrauded customers sued Wells Fargo in a series of class-action lawsuits.

Wells Fargo then tried to defy metaphysical reality: It moved to block one class-action case in Utah by claiming that the arbitration clause in customer contracts on the real accounts they held at the bank also applied to the fake accounts. By this theory, Wells Fargo customers signed away their legal rights when it came to accounts they didn’t even sign. The Utah plaintiffs fought Wells’s motion to compel arbitration, and rejected a $142 million settlement offer from the bank. While the two sides tangled in court, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan appeared before the Senate Banking Committee on October 3. And when Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) asked Sloan point-blank if Wells Fargo was using arbitration clauses from real accounts and applying them to fake accounts, Sloan said, “There were instances [of that] historically. We’re not doing that today.”

He also committed to not forcing arbitration in fake-accounts cases moving forward. When Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) brought up the Utah case, where Wells Fargo had made motions to compel arbitration just two weeks earlier, Sloan said he wasn’t familiar with it. But lawyers in Utah get C-SPAN. The plaintiffs in the case immediately appealed to the judge and argued that, with his remarks before Congress, Sloan had effectively waived Wells Fargo’s right to compel arbitration. Judge Clark Waddoups promptly scheduled a two-day trial for January 22 on the question. He also allowed the plaintiffs to depose Sloan in conjunction with the trial; that deposition is scheduled for Friday.

This put Sloan in a tight spot. Steven Christensen, attorney for the plaintiffs, told me he had only one question for Sloan: Did he state to Congress that Wells Fargo would waive arbitration claims on fake accounts? If Sloan said yes, the Utah case would go forward; if he said no, Christensen would appeal to Congress to hold him in contempt for lying to the Senate Banking Committee.

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End of an era?!

NYC Apartment Sales Collapse 25% In Q4 As Trump Tax Plan Takes Its Toll (ZH)

Apparently the combination of a massive flood of excess supply in the form of new luxury developments and a Trump tax plan that penalizes people living in expensive cities by capping SALT, mortgage interest and property tax deductions was simply too much for the Manhattan real estate market to ignore in 4Q 2017. As Douglas Elliman points out in their new Q4 2017 Manhattan Market Report, both prices (-9.4%) and volumes (-25.4%) of New York City apartments collapsed sequentially in Q4 as potential buyers took a pause amid the growing uncertainty.

“Sales activity for the Manhattan housing market was at the lowest fourth quarter total in six years. The pace of the fall market noticeably cooled as market participants awaited the housing-related terms of the new federal tax bill. This translated into a decline in year over year closings for the final quarter of the year, although contract volume showed an uptick. There were 2,514 sales to close in the final quarter of the year, down 12.3% from the prior-year quarter. The decline in sales allowed listing inventory to rise after declining year over year for the past few quarters. There were 5,451 listings at the end of the quarter, up 1.1% from the same period a year ago. As a result, the absorption rate, the number of months to sell all inventory at the current rate of sales slowed, rising to 6.5 months from 5.6 months in the year-ago quarter.

Listing discount, the%age difference between the list price at the date of sale and the sales price, was 5.4% up nominally from 5.3% in the prior year quarter as sellers continued to travel farther to meet the buyer on price. Buyers continued to hold firm, forcing sellers to meet them on price. Days on market, the average number of days to sell all apartments that closed during the quarter rose 3.2% to 97 days from 94 days in than the same period last year. New development active listings and resale listings were up 0.7% and 1.2% respectively over the same period. With the nominal rise in supply, there was also a nominal decline in bidding wars, still accounting for 11.7% of all sales in the quarter, down 0.9% from the same period last year.”

 

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Musk keeps hoping people will forget the last batch of bad data when the newest comes in.

Tesla Falls Far Short On Model 3 Deliveries (CNBC)

Tesla is apparently still deep in the circles of production hell. On Wednesday, the electric car maker released delivery numbers for the fourth quarter of 2017 that fell short of many expectations on Wall Street, and once again pushed back production targets on its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan. Tesla shares fell roughly 2% in after-hours trading. “As we continue to focus on quality and efficiency rather than simply pushing for the highest possible volume in the shortest period of time, we expect to have a slightly more gradual ramp through Q1, likely ending the quarter at a weekly rate of about 2,500 Model 3 vehicles,” Tesla said in a release. “We intend to achieve the 5,000 per week milestone by the end of Q2.” In 2017, the company had said it planned to reach a production rate of 5,000 cars per week for the Model 3, but later revised back that target to the end of the first quarter.

Now, Tesla expects to reach the target by the end of the second quarter. Tesla said it made “major progress” toward addressing the “production bottlenecks” the company has blamed for falling so far short of its Model 3 targets. The company said that in the last few days of the quarter it reached a production rate that “extrapolates to over 1,000 Model 3’s per week.” CEO Elon Musk had previously said he expected weekly Model 3 production to be “in the thousands” by the end of 2017. Tesla said it delivered 29,870 vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2017, including 1,550 of its anticipated Model 3 sedan. The electric-car maker also delivered 15,200 Model S sedans, and 13,120 Model X SUVs. That represents a 27% increase over the same quarter in 2016 for both models combined, and a 9% increase over Q3 2017, Tesla’s previous best quarter, the company said.

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The US has enough cars anyway.

US Auto Sales Fall for 2nd Year (WS)

Total new-vehicle sales in the US fell 5.2% year-over-year in December to 1.6 million units. For all of 2017, sales declined by 320,000 vehicles, or 1.8%, to 17.23 million units. It was the first overall decline since the Financial Crisis. Compared to 2015, sales fell by 249,033 vehicles, or 1.4%. These sales are vehicles delivered by dealers to their customers, or delivered by automakers directly to large fleet customers, as reported by Autodata.

For the big three US automakers and some import brands it was the second year in a row of sales declines (two-year percent change from 2015):
GM -2.7%
Ford -1.1%
Fiat Chrysler (FCA) -8.6%
Toyota -2.6%
Hyundai -10.0%
Kia -5.8%
Daimler -1.4%
BMW -12.6%
Mazda -9.3%

The table below shows new-vehicle sales by automaker, sorted by total sales in 2017 (gray column). Automakers with declining sales in 2017 are marked in red. The green column shows the two-year %age change from 2015. Turns out that replacement demand for new vehicles after Hurricane Harvey was strong, but not nearly strong enough to pull out the year for total US auto sales, and what demand there has been will peter out going forward. Car sales plunged 17% year-over-year in December, 10.9% in all of 2017, and 18.1% from 2015. They’ve been left behind by consumers who’re switching to crossovers and SUVs which the industry considers trucks. So truck sales – pickups, SUVs, crossovers, and vans – rose 1.7% in December, 4.3% for the year, and 11.8% compared to 2015.

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They’re not.

UK Thinks EU is Bluffing on No Brexit Deal for Banks (BBG)

Prime Minister Theresa May believes Michel Barnier is bluffing when he says there will be no special deal for financial services, officials said, as the U.K. prepares to negotiate its post-Brexit ties with the European Union. Two senior officials familiar with the matter privately think the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator is faking a hard-line stance in ruling out a deal that would allow banks to continue operating freely across the bloc. Talks have yet to start on Britain’s future trade agreement with the EU but Barnier said last month there was no chance of a deal that replicated the easy access that U.K.-based financial services currently enjoy to the single market. The U.K. officials said the French former commissioner was simply setting out an opening position that did not have backing from the 27 other EU member countries.

They said banks based in London will be fine because businesses operating in the EU will need to maintain access to finance after Brexit. The fate of London’s financial district is urgent for May, who last month agreed to pay a £39 billion ($53 billion) bill to start talks on the nuts and bolts of a transition. With Britain’s departure from the bloc just 14 months away, businesses are counting on a two-year adjustment period. [..] Last month, May said U.K. financial services should be optimistic about Britain’s trade talks, which are due to start in March. She cited Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni as evidence that other EU leaders are open to Britain carving out a custom-made trading relationship with the bloc that covers services. Yet Barnier insists the U.K. will not be offered anything more than a Canada-style deal, which keeps tariffs to a minimum on goods but does not include trade in services.

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Big 2018 story. But it can’t be spoken out loud.

UK Opposition Party Grassroots Support Second Brexit Vote (R.)

Eight out of 10 grassroots members of Britain’s opposition Labour Party want a referendum on the terms of the country’s exit from the European Union, according to a survey published on Thursday. That is at odds with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s official policy which calls for parliament, not the public, to have the final say on the terms of the deal. It indicates a strong desire among the party’s rank and file members for a chance to demand a rethink on Brexit, or even overturn the outcome of the June 2016 vote to leave the EU. Eighteen months after voting 52 to 48% to withdraw from the EU, Britons remain deeply divided over leaving a bloc which has defined much of the country’s laws, trade policy and international outlook over more than four decades of membership. Theresa May’s Conservative minority government has dismissed the idea of a second referendum.

But ministers have already been forced to give parliament a greater say in the Brexit process than they initially wanted to after members of May’s own party rebelled on the issue in December. Thursday’s survey of attitudes within Britain’s main political parties showed 49% of Labour members definitely wanted a second referendum on the exit deal and a further 29% said they were more in favor of the idea than against it. The poll of more than 4,000 members of political parties was conducted shortly after last June’s national election as part of a three-year academic project by the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London to discover more about people who belong to political parties. It showed even higher demand for a second vote on Brexit among members of the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. By contrast, only 14% of Conservative Party members wanted a referendum on the exit deal.

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Bitcoin is a bad fit in a super-centralized society

China Communist Party Paper Bashes Bitcoin (SCMP)

China’s ruling Communist Party mouthpiece lashed out at bitcoin on Wednesday, labelling the volatile cryptocurrency a bubble and a modern-day tulip mania. A People’s Daily commentary written under the name “Wei Liang” said it was an established fact that bitcoin was a bubble. “Irrespective of whether it is assessed on price or value, bitcoin is flooded with froth,” it said. “Its so-called advantages – scarcity, authenticity, strong liquidity, transparency and decentralisation – are only covers for speculation and cannot support its volatile price.” It said bitcoin’s bubbles were created by a combination of hype, mystery, decentralisation and possible insider trading, suggesting that a small group of bitcoin owners were speculating on its price and manipulating general investors.

The commentary compared bitcoin to the seventeenth century mania in which prices for tulip bulbs skyrocketed and then collapsed. It also said there would be more “bubble breaking” in bitcoin after governments around the world tightened regulation. The central government sees bitcoin as a source of risk. It banned domestic cryptocurrency exchanges last year after failing to regulate the fast growth of initial coin offerings, the virtual currency equivalent of an initial public offering. [..] Bitcoin investors are on alert to see whether Beijing will take further action against cryptocurrencies, such as shutting down bitcoin “mines”, the energy-hungry operations that create bitcoin by solving mathematical problems using vast banks of computers.

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Easy to trace.

China to Curb Power Supply for Some Bitcoin Miners (BBG)

China plans to limit power use by some bitcoin miners, people familiar with the matter said, a potential challenge to an industry whose energy-intensive computer networks enable transactions in the cryptocurrency. The People’s Bank of China outlined the plan Wednesday at a closed-door meeting, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because it wasn’t public. They didn’t detail how authorities plan to enact the curbs. Chinese officials are concerned that bitcoin miners have taken advantage of low power prices in some areas and affected normal electricity use in some cases, the people said. Local officials have been asked to investigate the high consumption associated with the industry, they said. The curbs will also involve other regulators such as the National Development and Reform Commission, which oversees the power supply.

While the proposed restrictions are unlikely to have a noticeable effect on transaction speeds, they highlight global concerns over the growing energy consumption of bitcoin miners. The industry now uses as much electricity as 3.4 million U.S. households, according to the Digiconomist Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index. China is home to many of the world’s largest miners, some of whom have set up around hydroelectric facilities in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. “This may have contributed to bitcoin coming off its daily highs,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at online trading firm Oanda in London. “Electricity usage certainly appears to be a significant challenge for the cryptocurrency in the years ahead.” Bitcoin, which surged 15-fold last year, pared gains on Wednesday and traded around $14,900 on Thursday.

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Dec 312017
 
 December 31, 2017  Posted by at 10:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Paul Klee Dancing Under the Empire of Fear 1938

 

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2017 Sets A Record (Roberts)
The Greatest Bubble Ever: Why You Better Believe It, Part 2 (Stockman)
China To Cap Overseas Withdrawals Using Domestic Bank Cards (R.)
Bitcoin Tensions Rise As Australia Investors Claim Banks Freeze Accounts (SMH)
South Korea’s “Bitcoin Zombies” (ZH)
Merkel Reclaims Role of EU Anchor in Outline of Her 2018 Agenda (BBG)
May Says 2018 Brexit Progress Will Renew British Confidence And Pride (AFP)
Ex-Catalan Leader Demands Regional Government Be Reinstated (AFP)
Facebook Deletes Accounts at the Direction of US and Israeli Governments (GG)
One Of Eight Turkish Servicemen Granted Asylum By Greece (K.)
Greek Gov’t Applies For Cancellation Of Asylum Granted To Turkish Soldier (R.)
Calgary Zoo Moves Penguins Indoors Because Of The Cold (Ind.)

 

 

Let’s not forget that 2017 was exceptional in many ways. Record debt and record tranquillity. What are the odds that 2018 will continue along that path?

2017 Sets A Record (Roberts)

In just the past year, the markets set a record by going 12-straight months without a loss. That liquidity driven surge was accompanied by extremely low volatility as noted last week by Dana Lyons: “Specifically, the average daily closing price of the VIX in 2017 was 11.10 (through 12/26/17). That is the lowest of any year — by more than one and a half points — since the VIX inception in 1986 (by comparison, the ‘average yearly average’ is over 20).”

Of course, with very little volatility, there were very few draw downs along the way as markets continued their advance higher. “Accordingly, we took a look at the amount of losses incurred by the stock market during the year as a measure of adversity faced along the way to its solid full-year gains. Specifically, we tabulated the amount of losses incurred during every down day in the market. We used the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) as it has a longer history than the S&P 500. And based on these calculations, the stock market enjoyed less adversity in 2017 than any other year in history going back over 100 years (our daily DJIA data begins in 1915).”

All that exuberance has got Wall Street already prognosticating that next year could be as good, or better, than 2017. “‘I would expect 2018 to be an almost repeat of 2017,’ said Saut, chief investment strategist at Raymond James. ‘People are still way underinvested. Earnings are starting to come in better than expected. And with the tax reform, and especially the corporate tax cuts, I think earnings are going to continue to surprise on the upside. The professional investors are all in for the most part but the individual investor is not all in.’” Maybe. But there is more than sufficient evidence that not only professional investors, but individuals, are “all in.”

And, not only are they “all in,” they are all in with leverage as I noted previously: “While investors have been chasing returns in the “can’t lose” market, they have also been piling on leverage in order to increase their return.”

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In a 2-part article, Stockman doesn’t see 2018 as being quiet.

The Greatest Bubble Ever: Why You Better Believe It, Part 2 (Stockman)

During the 40 months after Alan Greenspan’s infamous “irrational exuberance” speech in December 1996, the NASDAQ 100 index rose from 830 to 4585 or by 450%. But the perma-bulls said not to worry: This time is different – it’s a new age of technology miracles that will change the laws of finance. It wasn’t. The market cracked in April 2000 and did not stop plunging until the NASDAQ 100 index hit 815 in early October 2002. During those a heart-stopping 30 months of free-fall, all the gains of the tech boom were wiped out in an 84% collapse of the index. Overall, the market value of household equities sank from $10.0 trillion to $4.8 trillion – a wipeout from which millions of baby boom households have never recovered. Likewise, the second Greenspan housing and credit boom generated a similar round trip of bubble inflation and collapse.

During the 57 months after the October 2002 bottom, the Russell 2000 (RUT) climbed the proverbial wall-of-worry – rising from 340 to 850 or by 2.5X. And this time was also held to be different because, purportedly, the art of central banking had been perfected in what Bernanke was pleased to call the “Great Moderation”. Taking the cue, Wall Street dubbed it the Goldilocks Economy – meaning a macroeconomic environment so stable, productive and balanced that it would never again be vulnerable to a recessionary contraction and the resulting plunge in corporate profits and stock prices. Wrong again! During the 20 months from the July 2007 peak to the March 2009 bottom, the RUT gave it all back. And we mean every bit of it – as the index bottomed 60% lower at 340.

This time the value of household equities plunged by $6 trillion, and still millions more baby-boomers were carried out of the casino on their shields never to return. Now has come the greatest central bank fueled bubble ever. During nine years of radical monetary experimentation under ZIRP and QE, the value of equities owned by US households exploded still higher – this time by $12.5 trillion. Yet this eruption, like the prior two, was not a reflection of main street growth and prosperity, but Wall Street speculation fostered by massive central bank liquidity and price-keeping operations. Nevertheless, this time is, actually, very different. This time the central banks are out of dry powder and belatedly recognize that they have stranded themselves on or near the zero bound where they are saddled with massively bloated balance sheets.

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Are card withdrawals an actual issue, or is this a show?

China To Cap Overseas Withdrawals Using Domestic Bank Cards (R.)

China’s foreign exchange regulator will cap overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards at 100,000 yuan ($15,370) per year in an effort to target money laundering, terrorist financing and tax evasion, it said on Saturday. Individuals who exceed the annual quota will be suspended from overseas transactions for the remainder of the year and an additional year, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (SAFE) said in a notice posted on its website. Under the new rules SAFE will submit a daily list of individuals banned from making overseas bank card withdrawals, and banks must suspend the users by no later than 5 p.m. the same day, the notice said.

Domestic card users will also be barred from withdrawing more than 10,000 yuan a day overseas, it said. The new rules come into effect on Jan. 1, and reporting adjustments must be adopted by banks by April 1, 2018, it said. China has strengthened regulatory oversight of overseas card transactions in the past year, targeting illegal cross-border transfers and money laundering. In September SAFE brought in regulations requiring Chinese banks to report daily their bank card holders’ overseas withdrawals as well as every transaction exceeding 1,000 yuan. China’s foreign exchange reserves rose for the 10th straight month in November due to tighter regulation and a stronger yuan, which continue to discourage capital outflows.

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Banks targeting crypto. They’ve talked to each other beforehand, and presumably also with the government.

Bitcoin Tensions Rise As Australia Investors Claim Banks Freeze Accounts (SMH)

Bitcoin investors are claiming Australia’s banks are freezing their accounts and transfers to cryptocurrency exchanges, with a viral tweet slamming the big four and an exchange platform putting a restriction on Australian deposits. Cryptocurrency trader and Youtuber Alex Saunders called out National Australia Bank, ANZ, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Westpac Banking Corporation on Twitter for freezing customer accounts and transfers to four different bitcoin exchanges – CoinJar, CoinSpot, CoinBase and BTC Markets. Bitcoin, a currency once known for its use by criminals trading online through a ‘Silk Road’ for drugs and weapons, has become a popular investment option.

After hundreds of shares and responses to the social media posts calling the banks’ alleged behaviour “disgusting” and “appalling” with some threatening to move their accounts, some users said their activities with the cryptocurrency had still been described as a “security risk” by their financial institutions. Banks were remaining tight-lipped on whether bitcoin activity was causing specific accounts to be closed or frozen, though its understood none had company-wide policies banning cryptocurrency investment activity. Yet the terms and conditions in some cases do reference Bitcoin. Commonwealth Bank’s June 2017 terms and conditions for CommBiz accounts specifically excludes this activity, saying it can refuse to process an international money transfer or an international cash management transaction “because the destination account previously has been connected to a fraud or an attempted fraudulent transaction or is an account used to facilitate payments to Bitcoins or similar virtual currency payment services”.

A Commonwealth Bank spokesman said it was receptive to innovation in alternative currencies and payment systems “however, we do not currently use or recommend any existing virtual currencies as we do not believe they have yet met a minimum standard of regulation, reliability, and reputation compared to other currencies that we offer to our customers”. “Our customers can interact with these currencies as long as they comply with our terms and conditions and all relevant legal obligations,” he said.

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This doesn’t ooze a healthy feeling.

South Korea’s “Bitcoin Zombies” (ZH)

[..] what happens in South Korean crypto trading, does not stay in South Korea: the country is the world’s third-largest market in bitcoin trading after Japan and the US, with roughly 2 million digital-currency investors by one estimate – one in every 25 citizens. The country is also home to one of the world’s biggest cryptocurrency trading exchanges, Bithumb. The country’s crypto-trading craze is so pervasive that the country has developed the term “bitcoin zombie” referring to people who check the cryptocurrency’s price around the clock. Even the country’s prime minister Lee Nak-yeon expressed concerns over Korea’s bitcoin craze, warning that “young people and students are rushing into virtual currency trading to earn huge profits in just a short period of time,” and that “it is time for the government to take action as it could lead to serious pathological phenomena if left unchecked” forcing young people into illegal activities like drug dealing.

For now, the “bitcoin zombies” are winning. As an example, as Reuters details in its just released deep dive in South Korea’s crypto-community, on a recent weeknight at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, more than a dozen students crammed into a classroom not to study, but to share tips on investing in so-called cryptocurrencies, which have driven tales of fantastic returns for savvy investors. “The group sat in rapt silence – broken only by a sudden shout of “there was just a big jump!” from someone monitoring his virtual currencies – as one student gave a presentation on how to read financial data and predict future trends.” Make no mistake: it’s a countrywide craze: “I no longer want to become a math teacher,” said 23-year-old Eoh Kyong-hoon, who founded the club, Cryptofactor.

“I’ve studied this industry for more than 10 hours a day over months, and I became pretty sure that this is my future.” [..] Eoh said the talk of more regulation had not dented his plans, especially after making what he said was a 20-fold gain on his investments over the past six months. He added that many students were bringing laptops to class to track the movements of their investments and participate in actual trading. “Even when professors are giving lectures right in front of them,” he said. Meanwhile, with Bitcoin soaring to record levels, younger investors have gravitated toward “altcoins” which often trade at much lower values, analysts say. Today’s surge in Ripple is just one such example. Another is Iota, which traded at $0.82 in late November and now stands at $3.89, a gain of 375%. Energo gained 400% during the same period.

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Her own people don’t even want a full term from her anymore. Hard to accept you lost power, Angela? You have though.

Merkel Reclaims Role of EU Anchor in Outline of Her 2018 Agenda (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’ll team up with France to hold the European Union together and pledged to her form next government “without delay.” In a New Year’s Eve speech to the nation, Merkel outlined a vision for her fourth term that includes an alliance with French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen Europe’s economic clout and control migration, while upholding values of tolerance and pluralism within the EU and abroad. “Twenty-seven countries in Europe must be impelled more strongly than ever to remain a community,” Merkel said in a copy of the speech provided by her office in advance of the televised address on Sunday.

“That will be the decisive question of the next few years. Germany and France want to work together to make it succeed.” Merkel’s effort to combine the strengths of the euro area’s two biggest economies has been hamstrung by Germany’s longest post-election party deadlock since World War II, which has left her a caretaker chancellor since September. Exploratory talks on renewing her coalition with the Social Democrats are due to start on Jan. 7. After a poll this week suggested that Germans increasingly don’t want Merkel, 63, to serve another full term, the chancellor sought to put her stamp on the political debate. Merkel said she’s committed to forming “a stable government for Germany without delay in the new year.”

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Straight faced lies. Or is it Python?

May Says 2018 Brexit Progress Will Renew British Confidence And Pride (AFP)

Prime Minister Theresa May said 2018 would be a year of “renewed confidence and pride” for Britain as it confronts the challenges of negotiating Brexit, in her New Year message out Sunday. Divorce talks between London and Brussels are set to move on to transition arrangements, trade and security next year as Britain prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019. May said 2017 had been a year of progress for Britain as it struck agreement on its departure bill, Northern Ireland and the rights of EU citizens, in the first phase of Brexit negotiations. “I believe 2018 can be a year of renewed confidence and pride in our country,” the premier said. “A year in which we continue to make good progress towards a successful Brexit deal, an economy that’s fit for the future, and a stronger and fairer society for everyone.

“And whatever challenges we may face, I know we will overcome them by standing united as one proud union of nations and people.” However, the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents thousands of firms across the country, warned that business was losing patience waiting for clarity on what will happen once Britain leaves the EU. “That patience is now wearing thin. Businesses want answers,” director general Adam Marshall told The Observer newspaper. “Getting the twin challenges of Brexit and the economic fundamentals right will require leadership, consistency and clarity – after a year in which business has been dismayed by what it sees as division and disorganisation.”

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Once again we’ll see how the EU and democracy don’t go well together.

Ex-Catalan Leader Demands Regional Government Be Reinstated (AFP)

Ousted Catalan president Carles Puigdemont on Saturday demanded Madrid reinstate his regional government, which was deposed after an independence referendum that Spanish courts judged illegal, as part of a political settlement. “As president, I demand the Spanish government and those who support it… restore all they have expropriated from the Catalans without their say-so,” Puigdemont said from Brussels as he called on Madrid to “negotiate politically.” Puigdemont’s administration followed up the October 1 referendum by declaring independence but Madrid promptly sacked him and his team and, facing arrest, he fled into Belgian exile while colleagues were arrested and jailed. Puigdemont campaigned for the region’s December 21 snap election from his Brussels exile after a Spanish court charged him with rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.

But a solid showing by pro-independence parties in the poll strengthened the hand of the secessionists, albeit they did not capture a majority of votes cast. In a seven-minute recorded message Puigdemont insisted he was still Catalonia’s “legitimate” leader and that the electorate had shown themselves to be “democratically mature, winning the right to constitute a republic of free men and women.” After the divisive regional elections, how the independence camp intends to rule remains a mystery, with other secessionist leaders, including Puigdemont’s former deputy Oriol Junqueras, behind bars pending trial. “The ballot box has spoken,” said Puigdemont, who said he hoped the election outcome could kickstart moves towards “dialogue and negotiation.” “So what is (Prime Minister Mariano) Rajoy waiting for to accept the results?”

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Facebook will be a big story next year.

Facebook Deletes Accounts at the Direction of US and Israeli Governments (GG)

IN September of last year, we noted that Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground that they constituted “incitement.” The meetings — called for and presided over by one of the most extremist and authoritarian Israeli officials, pro-settlement Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked — came after Israel threatened Facebook that its failure to voluntarily comply with Israeli deletion orders would result in the enactment of laws requiring Facebook to do so, upon pain of being severely fined or even blocked in the country. The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials.

[..] Facebook now seems to be explicitly admitting that it also intends to follow the censorship orders of the U.S. government. Earlier this week, the company deleted the Facebook and Instagram accounts of Ramzan Kadyrov, the repressive, brutal, and authoritarian leader of the Chechen Republic, who had a combined 4 million followers on those accounts. To put it mildly, Kadyrov — who is given free rein to rule the province in exchange for ultimate loyalty to Moscow — is the opposite of a sympathetic figure: He has been credibly accused of a wide range of horrific human rights violations, from the imprisonment and torture of LGBTs to the kidnapping and killing of dissidents. But none of that dilutes how disturbing and dangerous Facebook’s rationale for its deletion of his accounts is.

A Facebook spokesperson told the New York Times that the company deleted these accounts not because Kadyrov is a mass murderer and tyrant, but that “Mr. Kadyrov’s accounts were deactivated because he had just been added to a United States sanctions list and that the company was legally obligated to act.” As the Times notes, this rationale appears dubious or at least inconsistently applied: Others who are on the same sanctions list, such as Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, remain active on both Facebook and Instagram. But just consider the incredibly menacing implications of Facebook’s claims. What this means is obvious: that the U.S. government — meaning, at the moment, the Trump administration — has the unilateral and unchecked power to force the removal of anyone it wants from Facebook and Instagram by simply including them on a sanctions list. Does anyone think this is a good outcome? Does anyone trust the Trump administration — or any other government — to compel social media platforms to delete and block anyone it wants to be silenced?

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It took almost a year and a half to decide this. In custody.

One Of Eight Turkish Servicemen Granted Asylum By Greece (K.)

One of eight Turkish servicemen who sought protection in Greece in the wake of a botched coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016 was granted asylum on Saturday. The Asylum Appeals Committee that examines applications in the second degree approved a request for protection from the copilot of the helicopter that flew the eight servicemen into the northern Greek town of Alexandroupoli on July 16, 2016, a day after the attempted takeover by the military in Turkey.

According to the ANA-MPA news agency, the committee upheld an opinion from human rights groups, the Council of Europe and other international agencies decrying human rights violations in Turkey in the aftermath of the failed coup. The panel said that there is no evidence to suggest that the copilot was involved in the coup attempt, yet is nevertheless, being sought by Turkey for “political crimes” and on these grounds may not receive a fair trail if extradited. The other seven Turkish officers remain in custody until a decision is reached on their respective applications.

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At the exact same time that Athens lauds the independence of its courts, it seeks to interfere with their decisions.

Greek Gov’t Applies For Cancellation Of Asylum Granted To Turkish Soldier (R.)

The Greek government said on Saturday that it had filed a request for the cancellation of the asylum granted to a Turkish soldier accused of involvement in last year’s coup attempt. Greece’s administrative court of appeal will now look into the case. Eight Turkish soldiers fled to Greece following Turkey’s abortive July 2016 coup. Seven of them applied for asylum and were rejected, but have been kept in preventive custody. Angered by a decision to grant asylum to the eighth soldier by the Greek asylum service committee, a panel of judges and experts, Turkey said earlier in the day that the move would affect bilateral relations and cooperation. Athens said it was following its standing position regarding the eight soldiers, “as it has been repeatedly expressed, also in public”, a government official said.

The Greek government has said that it does not support coup plotters and that the country’s justice system is independent. A Greek police official said the soldier who was granted asylum would be released from custody. “By granting asylum to one of eight coup plotters involved in the July 15 coup, Greece has once again showed that it is a country that protects and embraces coup plotters with this decision,” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Turkish authorities, drawing an angry rebuke from Ankara and highlighting the tense relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over various issues. During his visit to Greece earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara did not want Greece to turn into a safe haven for coup plotters.

Read more …

But the people still come to watch them.

Calgary Zoo Moves Penguins Indoors Because Of The Cold (Ind.)

Temperatures have dropped so low in Canada that Calgary Zoo has had to move its penguins indoors. As an extreme-cold warning was in effect for the country – temperatures hit a frosty -25C late this week – zookeepers thought it safer to move the penguins to their indoor enclosure. Larissa Mark, manager of communications at Calgary Zoo told Global News that: “On cold days like this, we have to make that choice for them because it is so cold, but on other days, we do give them the option of coming in and out as they please.” Ms Mark explained that king penguins, like the ones at Calgary zoo, are not as accustomed to sub-zero temperatures as their cousins, the emperor penguins.

King penguins, characterised by the bright orange spots on the sides of their heads and feathers at the nape of their necks, are generally found in sub-Antarctic regions in Chile and Argentina and temperate places like the Falklands, Macquarie and the Sandwich islands. However, the cold snap has not stopped people from going to the zoo. “Calgarians are a hardy bunch. A cup of hot chocolate and a warm fire and they are still coming out and enjoying Zoolights. Our attendance is doing well, it is on par with where we were last year,” said Ms Mark of the annual holiday-lights display event put on by the zoo.

Read more …

Dec 302017
 
 December 30, 2017  Posted by at 10:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Ansel Adams Evening at McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park 1942

 

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Global Markets End On Record High After Adding $9 Triilion In 2017 (G.)
Value Of US Housing Market Climbs To Record $31.8 Trillion (HW)
Return of Volatility Foreshadowed In Economic Data (BBG)
Trump’s Tax Changes To Blow A $5 Billion Hole In Goldman Sachs Profits (G.)
Doug Casey on the Coming Financial Crisis (CR)
The Year in Trump (Jim Kunstler)
The New Poverty (Alt)
Theresa May’s Infrastructure Czar Quits, Lashing Out at Brexit (BBG)
Rajoy Says Spain Won’t Yield to Blackmail by Catalan Separatists (BBG)
Putin Tells Assad Russia Will Help Defend Syrian Sovereignty (R.)
Greek Banks Offer Borrowers Haircuts Of Up To 90% (K.)
How Did Half Of The Great Florida Coral Reef System Disappear? (G.)

 

 

No, this is not actual value, this is just another bubble in a system built exclusively on bubbles.

Global Markets End On Record High After Adding $9 Triilion In 2017 (G.)

Global stock markets have ended 2017 on record highs, gaining $9tn in value over the year due to a strong worldwide economy, President Donald Trump’s tax cuts and central banks’ go-slow approach to easing financial support. The FTSE 100 hit a new peak in London, with an all-time closing high of 7687.77, having earlier hit a new all-time peak of 7697.62. The leading UK index was boosted by a late surge in mining stocks as commodity prices rose against a weaker dollar and optimism grew about the Chinese economy, leaving the index up 7.6% over the year. In global terms, the MSCI all-country world index gained 22% or $9tn on the year to an all-time high of 514.53.

Even the rival attractions of bitcoin, up nearly 14 times over the year, and concerns about war with North Korea, political upheaval in Europe with the Catalan separatist movement in Spain and an inconclusive German election failed to dampen the party mood. Craig James, chief economist at Sydney-based fund manager CommSec, said that of the 73 bourses it tracks globally, all but nine have recorded gains in local currency terms this year. The key for 2018 will be whether central banks maintain a benign approach to reducing their financial support, he added, with the Federal Reserve and Bank of England raising borrowing costs only gradually this year. Low interest rates and quantitative easing, where central banks buy bonds from financial institutions, have been a major support for investors and asset prices in recent years.

“For the outlook, the key issue is whether the low growth rates of prices and wages will continue, thus prompting central banks to remain on the monetary policy sidelines,” said James. “Globalisation and technological change have been influential in keeping inflation low. In short, consumers can buy goods whenever they want and wherever they are.”

Read more …

And here’s your next bubble. Now, remember, the Fed is set to tighten, taking the fuel for the bubble away with it.

Value Of US Housing Market Climbs To Record $31.8 Trillion (HW)

The total value of all homes in the U.S. increased in 2017 to a total $31.8 trillion, according to the latest report from Zillow. This is up from last year’s record high of $29.6 trillion, data from 2016 shows. This is so high, that total homes in Los Angeles and New York City metro areas are worth $2.7 trillion and $2.6 trillion, respectively, the size of the U.K. and French economies. To put it in perspective, the total value of the housing market is 1.5 times greater than the GDP of the U.S., and nearly three times that of China. This is an increase of $1.95 trillion over the past year, more than all of Canada’s GDP or two companies the size of Apple, Zillow’s report showed. And renters are also now spending more money than ever before on housing, spending a record $485.6 billion in 2017.

This is an increase of $4.9 billion from 2016. Renting in San Francisco is especially expensive as renters collectively paid $616 million more than renters in Chicago, despite having 467,000 fewer renters in San Francisco. Of the 35 largest U.S. markets, most home value growth occurred in Columbus, Ohio, which saw an increase of 15.1% to $152.3 billion in 2017. But home prices continue to increase, fueling the housing market’s value growth. Home prices recently increased in October, and experts are beginning to fear 2018 could lock many potential buyers out of the housing market, forcing them to rent, according to the latest report released by S&P Dow Jones Indices and CoreLogic.

Read more …

Stating the obvious.

Return of Volatility Foreshadowed In Economic Data (BBG)

If financial market volatility was given up for dead in 2017, then get ready for a resurrection. To understand why, take a look at the incoming economic data. When the underlying dynamics of the economy change, the data tend to become more volatile before markets react. Economic volatility as expressed by the standard deviation of changes in the monthly data has been on the rise since the summer as the global economy gained strength. Financial market volatility, though, has fallen amid a lack a surprises in central bank policies, receding geopolitical tensions and upbeat corporate earnings. But as history shows, such divergences between economic and financial market volatility only last for brief periods. As such, a rebound in market volatility has the potential to be a key driver of risk premiums, bond yields and valuations in 2018.

Volatility is also linked to “financial vulnerability,” which is an aggregate of indicators such as fiscal and current-account balances, the share of local currency bonds held by nonresidents, and short-term external debt as a percentage of currency reserves. Such vulnerabilities picked up in 2017 as portfolio flows into local emerging-market bond and currency funds swelled by $7.5 billion to 15% of local GDP with the growing popularity of exchange-traded funds. And although the data coming from emerging-market economies have been solid, it’s become more volatile, which contrasts with the drop in financial market volatility brought on by large portfolio flows. Countries such as South Africa and Turkey that are political hot spots have seen portfolio flows increase even though their current-account balances have deteriorated. Historically, market volatility has closely tracked economic volatility in emerging markets.

Read more …

$2.5 trillion coming back home?

Trump’s Tax Changes To Blow A $5 Billion Hole In Goldman Sachs Profits (G.)

Goldman Sachs has said Donald Trump’s radical US tax changes will knock about $5bn (£3.7bn) off its profits this year. The investment bank said most of the cost would come from Trump’s “repatriation tax” designed to encourage multinationals to bring back the trillions of dollars they hold overseas to avoid tax. Goldman, which made profits of $7.4bn last year, said: “The enactment of the tax legislation will result in a reduction of approximately $5bn in the firm’s earnings for the fourth quarter and year ending 31 December 2017, approximately two-thirds of which is due to the repatriation tax. “The remainder includes the effects of the implementation of the territorial tax system and the remeasurement of US deferred tax assets at lower enacted corporate tax rates,” the bank said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

Last week Congress approved the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years, which includes big tax cuts for companies and wealthy people. The reduction in corporation tax – from 35% to 21% – is designed in part to encourage multinational to repatriate cash from overseas. US companies were estimated, by Citigroup, to hold $2.5tn of capital overseas. Companies had previously explained that they had a duty to shareholders to keep the money abroad, rather than bring it back to the US and pay large tax bills. The tax overhaul will allow Apple to bring back its $252.3bn foreign cash mountain without a major tax hit. The huge amount of untaxed profits Apple holds overseas has become a major political football and a headache for the world’s most valuable company. Drugmaker Amgen said last week that it expected to pay $6bn to $6.5bn repatriating its cash to the US.

Read more …

More of the obvious, in a long article: “I don’t care that some university gave her a Ph.D., and some politicians made her Fed Chair ..”

Doug Casey on the Coming Financial Crisis (CR)

Justin’s note: Earlier this year, Fed Chair Janet Yellen explained how she doesn’t think we’ll have another financial crisis “in our lifetimes.” It’s a crazy idea. After all, it feels like the U.S. is long overdue for a major crisis. Below, Doug Casey shares his take on this. It’s one of the most important discussions we’ve had all year. Justin: Doug, I know you disagree with Yellen. But I’m wondering why she would even say this? Has she lost her mind?

Doug: Listening to the silly woman say that made me think we’re truly living in Bizarro World. It’s identical in tone to what stock junkies said in 1999 just before the tech bubble burst. She’s going to go down in history as the modern equivalent of Irving Fisher, who said “we’ve reached a permanent plateau of prosperity,” in 1929, just before the Great Depression started. I don’t care that some university gave her a Ph.D., and some politicians made her Fed Chair, possibly the second most powerful person in the world. She’s ignorant of economics, ignorant of history, and clearly has no judgment about what she says for the record. Why would she say such a thing? I guess because since she really believes throwing trillions of dollars at the banking system will create prosperity.

It started with the $750 billion bailout at the beginning of the last crisis. They’ve since thrown another $4 trillion at the financial system. All of that money has flowed into the banking system. So, the banking system has a lot of liquidity at the moment, and she thinks that means the economy is going to be fine. [..] The whole banking system is screwed-up and unstable. It’s a gigantic accident waiting to happen. People forgot that we now have a fractional reserve banking system. It’s very different from a classical banking system. I suspect not one person in 1,000 understands the difference… Modern banking emerged from the goldsmithing trade of the Middle Ages. Being a goldsmith required a working inventory of precious metal, and managing that inventory profitably required expertise in buying and selling metal and storing it securely.

Those capacities segued easily into the business of lending and borrowing gold, which is to say the business of lending and borrowing money. Most people today are only dimly aware that until the early 1930s, gold coins were used in everyday commerce by the general public. In addition, gold backed most national currencies at a fixed rate of convertibility. Banks were just another business—nothing special. They were distinguished from other enterprises only by the fact they stored, lent, and borrowed gold coins, not as a sideline but as a primary business. Bankers had become goldsmiths without the hammers.

Read more …

“..we’re more likely to land in a return to something more like 1834, with scant central heating, and a lot of suspense about getting a hot meal at sundown. I want a mule…”

The Year in Trump (Jim Kunstler)

There he is, our president, both immovable object and irresistible force, unsmiling with slitty eyes beneath that car-hood of a hair-doo, lumbering from one presidential prerogative to the next through squalls of opprobrium, perplexing leaders from foreign lands, punking congressmen and senators, inducing swoons of un-safeness among the zhes, theys, and thems on campus, provoking the op-ed bards of The Times to mouth-foaming hysterics, tweeting any old thing that flies through the interstices of his brain-pan, our Golden Golem of Greatness, MAGA sword in smallish hand against a swirling red sky. Well, he made it through the year. I thought the fucker would be sandbagged by a claque of Pentagon patriots inside of three months, but I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

What seems to be forgotten is that Donald Trump brought his own swamp to Washington, as in a history of hinky real-estate wheelings-and-dealings, stiffed vendors, bankruptcies, lowbrow TV hijinks, and dark adventures in the Manhattan nightlife of the late 20th century. So, it’s swamp versus swamp. You may detect that I’m not exactly a fan of the president, but I rather admire his standing up to the permanent bureaucracy that we call the Deep State, and especially its elite poobahs, who have driven this polity into a deeper ditch than the voters realize. The Mueller investigation hangs over Trump’s head like a piñata filled with dog-shit, but he soldiers on.

After more than a year, the RussiaGate narrative is looking like something fished out of the Goodwill Industries dumpster, its chief sponsor, the FBI, riddled with conflicts-of-interest, suspicious political motivations, and flat-out partisan animosity. Right now, there’s more reason to suppose Mueller will have to start asking some hard questions about Russia collusion among the Hillary cohort —and don’t forget, there’s that stinky business featuring ex-DNC-Chief Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and her mysterious Pakistani IT go-fer, Imran Awan, waiting in the wings.

[..] I’m skeptical of Trump’s MAGA program. We’re not going to replay the industrial age in North America, and we’re for sure not going to return to the life-ways of 1962. I also doubt that we are heading into a Silicon Valley inspired robotic A-I nirvana of “creative” weenies in flying, pilotless Ubers. Rather, I think we’re more likely to land in a return to something more like 1834, with scant central heating, and a lot of suspense about getting a hot meal at sundown. I want a mule.

Read more …

Pay people for work in non-profit-oriented jobs. Education, health care etc. Good for society, and the only way to save these fields.

The New Poverty (Alt)

We define poverty, I suppose, as that living condition which is unable to acquire enough dollars to purchase some, or most, of the basic necessities of life. It also seems to be an accepted notion that a certain amount of “poverty” is a necessary condition of our modern market economy—that a certain segment of the population will always be “unemployable” by the profit-oriented business community, either because they lack skills or because the business community simply does not need their services in order to generate its profits. Nobody really knows what to do with these “unneeded” people. We talk about “retraining” them—but there is no guarantee the profit-seeking business community will need them even with their newly acquired skills. In the meantime, these “unneeded” people don’t know what do with themselves either.

This is, perhaps, the biggest problem of all—though I will not, in this short essay, go into the details of that (except to say that it is contributing to a tragedy that is now disrupting the lives of too many of us). The point is this: It is time to begin imagining specific, concrete solutions to what is becoming a fundamental dilemma of our time. Imagine, for example, that every American citizen over the age of 16 can choose to earn a living-wage in exchange for providing a useful service to their local or regional community. Imagine that every local community has a free health and pharmacy clinic (in conjunction with a free methadone and counseling center)—where some of the employees are the living-wage earners. Imagine further that every local community has a housing co-op system (built in part by some of the living-wage earners) that makes available—to every family that needs it—a basic dwelling unit that is warm, dry, well-ventilated, and which provides for cooking, bathing, sleeping, and family gathering.

Imagine that every local community has at least one community garden and rookery (managed by some of the living-wage earners) which grows, harvests, and processes vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheese—and perhaps fish—for local consumption. Imagine that every local community has at least one pre-school day-care (manned at least in part by some of the living-wage earners) which provides, free of charge, a safe, early child-hood learning environment between the hours of 6 A.M. and 6 P.M. Imagine that every local community has a system of retirement co-housing villages (built and staffed, in part, by the living-wage earners). Imagine, in other words, replacing what we now define as “poverty” with another kind of living condition—we might call it “community subsistence.”

Read more …

If he feels so strongly anti-Brexit, why did he agree to be part of May’s government?

Theresa May’s Infrastructure Czar Quits, Lashing Out at Brexit (BBG)

Andrew Adonis quit as Theresa May’s infrastructure czar, but not before delivering a blistering verdict on the Brexit policy being pursued by the U.K. prime minister and her Conservative Party. The Labour peer and former transport secretary described Brexit as a “populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump” in a resignation letter published by the Guardian that he confirmed as “accurate” on Twitter. As for May’s flagship piece of Brexit legislation, which cleared the House of Commons in December, Adonis described it as “the worst legislation of my lifetime,” and indicated he’ll oppose it when the House of Lords debates it. “I feel duty bound to oppose it relentlessly from the Labour benches,” Adonis wrote.

“You are pursuing a course fraught with danger…If Brexit happens, taking us back into Europe will become the mission of our children’s generation, who will marvel at your acts of destruction.” Adonis was appointed to the National Infrastructure Commission in 2015 by then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, to push cross-party consensus over long-term decisions to invest in infrastructure. His departure and pledge to oppose May’s Brexit strategy is another sign that even as Britain leaves the EU, divisions permeate throughout the political establishment.

His departure means 2017 is bookended by resignations for May. Three days into the year, her EU envoy Ivan Rogers unexpectedly quit, depriving her of a key figure in dealing with EU negotiators. And now, days from the end of the year, Adonis is departing with an excoriating verdict on the country’s direction. “Brexit is causing a nervous breakdown across Whitehall,” Adonis wrote. “The government is hurtling towards the EU’s emergency exit with no credible plan for the future of British trade and European cooperation, all the while ignoring – beyond sound-bites and inadequate programs – the crises of housing, education, the NHS and social and regional inequality which are undermining the fabric of our nation and feeding a populist surge.”

Read more …

Rajoy calls an election, tries to influence it be jailing some opponents and making sure others remain in exile, then loses anayway and starts blabbing about extortion. Who’s blackmailing who?

Rajoy Says Spain Won’t Yield to Blackmail by Catalan Separatists (BBG)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy set in motion the process for convening a new Catalan parliament and said he wouldn’t allow a new separatist administration to blackmail his government. A session to swear in lawmakers in Barcelona will take place on Jan. 17 before a vote days later to appoint a new regional president if there is a candidate, Rajoy said in an end-of-year news conference in Madrid. Rajoy dissolved the Catalan parliament in October after drawing on emergency constitutional powers to respond to a unilateral declaration of independence from Spain. Elections held last week in the region produced a majority for parties that support independence in a result that threatens to prolong a secession crisis that is damaging Spain’s economy.

“I hope that very soon in Catalonia we can count on a government dedicated to reversing the grave social and economic effects of the crisis of recent months,” Rajoy said. “There’s no room for more appeals for rupture or illegality because the law will not allow it.” Choosing a president for Catalonia won’t be easy for the pro-independence parties with former President Carles Puigdemont in Brussels avoiding arrest and his former deputy, Oriol Junqueras, already in jail. A Supreme Court judge is investigating whether the campaign to split from Spain amounted to a rebellion against the government. Rajoy said his most pressing task for the start of the year would be the need to build consensus for his minority government to pass a budget for 2018.

Read more …

Syria is no-go for the US and its allies. Leave it alone. Let them rebuild.

Putin Tells Assad Russia Will Help Defend Syrian Sovereignty (R.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in a new year’s greeting that Russia will continue supporting Syria’s efforts to defend its sovereignty, the Kremlin said on Saturday. Earlier this month Putin ordered the Russian forces in Syria to start withdrawing from the country, but said Russia would keep its Hmeymim air base in Syria’s Latakia Province as well as its naval facility at Tartous “on a permanent basis”.

Read more …

The Troika will use this to come up with additional demands.

Greek Banks Offer Borrowers Haircuts Of Up To 90% (K.)

Greek lenders are proposing huge haircuts, ranging from 70% to 90%, for borrowers with debts from consumer loans, credit cards or small business loans without collateral. In the context of the sale of a €2.5 billion bad-loan portfolio named Venus, Alpha Bank is using the incentive of major haircuts in letters it has sent to some 156,000 debtors. The fact that this concerns some 240,000 bad loans means that some debtors may have two or three overdue loans. Eurobank is employing the same strategy for a set of loans adding up to €350 million. Most of them range between €5,000 and €7,000 each and have been overdue for over a decade. This means that the banks are expecting to collect a small amount of those debts, coming to €250 million for Alpha and €35 million for Eurobank – in effect accepting that the rest of the debt is uncollectible.

Read more …

Man happened.

How Did Half Of The Great Florida Coral Reef System Disappear? (G.)

The great Florida coral reef system stretches hundreds of miles down the eastern seaboard of the US. It is the world’s third largest, and nearly 1,400 species of plants and animals and 500 species of fish have been recorded there. But last year marine scientists found nearly half the reef was missing. They took the latest satellite images, compared them with precisely drawn 250-year-old British admiralty charts and found them nearly identical. But where the historic charts showed there had been extensive coral reefs close to the shore in the 1760s, the satellite maps revealed just sea grasses and mud. Only those reefs far from the shore were still intact and alive with fish and plants. So when and why did so much of the world’s third largest reef system just disappear?

Natural forces like spells of extreme rainfall and heatwaves may have played some part, but it is more likely that man was responsible. In those 250 years, fishing off the Florida Keys intensified, causeways and cities were built, pollution increased and the flow of freshwater, sediments and nutrients from the land all changed. Any of these factors could have led to the stress and decline of the reef, but it probably took a combination to kill off half the corals. Something similar to what took place over 250 years off the Florida coast is now accelerating across reefs around the world as natural and new anthropogenic threats emerge and combine with deadly effect.

Corals are intolerant both of temperature and salinity change and it just takes a rise of 1C for a few weeks or extreme rainfall for them to begin to die. In the past 20 years, extreme weather linked to El Niño events and climate change has hit the world’s shallow reefs hard. Abnormally warm water caused the world’s first recorded widespread coral bleaching in 1998. Stretches of the Great Barrier Reef off Australia, and other reefs off Madagascar, Belize and the Maldives, were left white and seemingly dead. Most recovered because corals survive if conditions return to normal. But since then, widespread bleaching and other events have occurred nearly every year, leaving many of the world’s reefs stressed and vulnerable to disease.

Read more …

Dec 222017
 
 December 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Bill Watterson is God

 

He Died For Our Debts, Not Our Sins – Michael Hudson (Ren.)
Bitcoin Tumbles Below $13,000, Down Almost 40% From Record Peak (BBG)
Crypto Carnage Continues, Bitcoin Falls Back To $13,000 Handle (ZH)
Gold Only Safe Asset Left – David Stockman (USAW)
What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America? (WS)
Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and Private Equity Has No Way Out (BBG)
The Ghost of Gann: Another Crash is Coming (Ren.)
Catalan Separatists Win Election In Rebuke To Spain and EU (R.)
China’s Creditor Imperialism (PS)
China Uses Cheap Debt To ‘Bend Other Countries To Its Will’ (CNBC)
Fannie And Freddie Are Here To Stay – There Is No Alternative (ZH)
UK’s Secret Brexit Studies Reveal That Airbus Makes Planes (BBG)
Eco-Terrorists Threaten To Inject Acid In Greek Supermarket Products (WaPo)
New Zealand Gives Mount Taranaki Same Legal Rights As A Person (G.)

 

 

Got to love this angle.

He Died For Our Debts, Not Our Sins – Michael Hudson (Ren.)

As many people turn towards their Christian and Jewish faiths this Christmas and Hanukkah in an attempt to make sense of the year that was, at least one economist says we have been reading the bible in an anachronistic way. In fact he has written an entire book on the topic. In ‘…And Forgive them their Debts: Credit and Redemption’ (available this spring on Amazon), Professor Michael Hudson makes the argument that far from being about sex, the bible is actually about economics, and debt in particular. “The Christianity we know today is not the Christianity of Jesus,” says Professor Hudson. Indeed the Judaism that we know today is not the Judaism of Jesus either. The economist told Renegade the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our sins even as we forgive all who are indebted to us’, refers specifically to debt.

“Most religious leaders say that Christianity is all about sin, not debt,” he says. “But actually, the word for sin and debt is the same in almost every language.” “‘Schuld’, in German, means ‘debt’ as well as ‘offense’ or, ‘sin’. It’s ‘devoir’ in French. It had the same duality in meaning in the Babylonian language of Akkadian.” Professor Michael Hudson has achieved near complete consensus with the assyriologists & biblical scholars that the Bible is preoccupied with debt, not sin. The idea harks back to the concept of ‘wergeld’, which existed in parts of Europe and Babylonia, and set the value of a human life based on their rank, paid as compensation to the family of someone who has been injured or killed. “The payment – the Schuld or obligation – expiates you of the injury caused by the offense,” Dr Hudson said.

People tend to think of the Commandment ‘do not covet your neighbour’s wife’ in purely sexual terms but actually, the economist says it refers specifically to creditors who would force the wives and daughters of debtors into sex slavery as collateral for unpaid debt. “This goes all the way back to Sumer in the third millennium,” he said. Similarly, the Commandment ‘thou shalt not steal’ refers to usury and exploitation by threat for debts owing. The economist says Jesus was crucified for his views on debt. Crucifixion being a punishment reserved especially for political dissidents. “To understand the crucifixion of Jesus is to understand it was his punishment for his economic views,” says Professor Hudson. “He was a threat to the creditors.”

Read more …

That’s still some serious losses.

Bitcoin Tumbles Below $13,000, Down Almost 40% From Record Peak (BBG)

Bitcoin sank as much as 21% on Friday, extending its loss from its intraday high this month toward 40%. The digital currency dropped to as low as $12,191.80 before trading at $12,601.75 as of 3:29 p.m. in Hong Kong. Bitcoin, which is down 38% from its peak of $19,511, is still up more than 1,100% this year. Investors are having a “reality check,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda. “At the heart of the matter was a frenzied demand for coins with limited supply has now led to unsophisticated investors holding the bag at the top.” Bitcoin’s drop comes amid concern that an offshoot is becoming a stronger rival to the more well-known cryptocurrency. Bitcoin cash, which emerged earlier this year amid a split between factions over proposed software upgrades, was added to Coinbase offerings this week.


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Zero Hedge overnight. It’s hard to keep up.

Crypto Carnage Continues, Bitcoin Falls Back To $13,000 Handle (ZH)

The carnage across cyrptocurrencies has escalated with Bitcoin back to a $13K handle, Ethereum back below $700, and Bitcoin Cash below $2,600… Bitcoin is now almost $6,000 off its record high…

ETH and BCH in trouble too…

The question is – which happens first – Bitcoin $10,000 or Gold $1,300?

[..] renowned analyst Peter Schiff issued a foreboding warning to investors buying Bitcoin at current prices. Even with a shaky week, Bitcoin is hovering around the $15,000 mark, after a two-month bull run that saw the price rise by more than 200%. Schiff says those trying to ride the bubble are too late: “People who got it years ago, even people who got it at the beginning of the year have the opportunity to cash out and make a lot of money. But people who are buying it at these prices or higher prices are going to lose practically everything.” The old adage, “buy on the rumor and sell on the news,” seems to be the perfect way to sum up Schiff’s sentiments: “These currencies are going to trade to zero or pretty close to it when the bubble pops. Right now, the only reason why people are buying Bitcoin is because the price is going up. When it turns around, they are not going to sell it for the same reason.”

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Fed flying blind.

Gold Only Safe Asset Left – David Stockman (USAW)

Record high stock and bond prices are flashing danger signs to former Reagan White House Budget Director David Stockman. Stockman contends, “I don’t think we are going to have a liquidity crisis. I think it’s going to be a value reset. I think there is going to be a jarring downward price adjustment both in the stock market and in the bond market. This phantom or phony wealth that has been created since the last crisis is going to basically evaporate.” So, what asset is safe? Stockman says gold and goes onto explain, “I think the time to buy (gold and silver) is ideal. Gold is the ultimate and only real money. Gold is the only safe asset when push comes to shove. They tell you to buy the government bond, that’s a safe asset. It’s not a safe asset at its current price. I am not saying the federal government is going to default in the next two or three years.

I am saying the yield on a 10-year bond of 2.4% is way below of where it’s going to end up. So, the only safe asset left is gold. This crazy Bitcoin mania has drained off what would otherwise be a demand for gold. . . . When Bitcoin collapses, spectacularly, which it will because it’s sheer mania in the markets right now. When it collapses, I think a lot of that demand will come back into gold, as well as people fleeing the standard stock and bond markets for the first time in 9 or 10 years.” What about the so-called Trump tax cuts? Stockman predicts, “I think it’s going to be a fiscal calamity of Biblical proportions. I want to be clear. I am always for tax cuts and shrinking the size of government, but you have to earn it. You have to cut spending and entitlements and this massive defense budget. Obviously, they didn’t do that.

If you look at honest accounting . . this bill will add $2.5 trillion to the public debt which, and this is a key point, is already going to rise by $10 trillion over the next decade based on the current law and taxes that is still in.” “More importantly,” Stockman says, “The central banks realize they cannot keep printing money at these crazy rates, and by that I mean the bond buying. Now, they are going to begin to normalize and shrink their balance sheet . . By the fall (of 2018), they (the Federal Reserve) will be shrinking their balance sheet by $600 billion a year. What that means in plain simple English is that they (the Fed) are dumping $600 billion a year of existing bonds into the market just as Uncle Sam will be attempting to borrow $1.25 trillion more. Now, if you don’t think that is a financial collision waiting to happen, then I am not sure what would be.

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The tax bill is not one-dimensional.

What Will the Tax Law Do to Over-Indebted Corporate America? (WS)

The new tax law is larded with goodies for Corporate America, but there is one shift – a much needed shift – in this debt-obsessed world that will punish over-indebted companies, discourage companies from taking on too much leverage, and perhaps, just maybe, make these companies less risky: The new law sharply limits the deductibility of corporate interest expense. Starting in 2018, a company can only deduct interest expense of up to 30% of its Ebitda (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). Any amount in interest expense beyond it will no longer be deductible. This will tighten further in 2022, when the deductibility of corporate debt will be capped at 30% of earnings before interest and taxes but after depreciation and amortization expenses.

This is a much smaller number than Ebitda. And interest expense deduction is capped at 30% of that much smaller amount. This will raise the tax bill further. Most impacted will be highly indebted companies, which often have a junk credit rating. And due to this junk credit rating, they also pay higher interest rates. This made the interest expense deduction very valuable. But now it is getting partially gutted. Businesses have long been incentivized to borrow, not only by the extraordinarily low interest rates even for junk-rated companies, but also by the full deductibility of interest expense. And thus encouraged by the tax code, corporate debt has surged. Mergers & acquisitions, share buybacks, leveraged buyouts, and dividends have often been funded at least partially with debt. And over the years, companies have piled on an enormous amount of debt.

According to estimates by the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, cited by The Wall Street Journal, the first phase of curtailing interest-expense deductibility – the phase that kicks in next year – would raise $171 billion in tax revenues over 10 years. The second phase that commences in 2022 would raise $307 billion over 10 years. This would be the billions of dollars that highly indebted companies would pay more in taxes because they’re losing the deductible of some of their debts. It will be a significant hit to their after-tax income. It won’t kill them, but it will lower the incentive to borrow.

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It’ll get messier than subprime housing.

Subprime Auto Defaults Are Soaring, and Private Equity Has No Way Out (BBG)

Private-equity firms that plunged headlong into subprime auto lending are discovering just how hard it might be to get out. A Perella Weinberg Partners fund has been sitting on an IPO of Flagship Credit Acceptance for two years as bad loan write-offs push it into the red. Blackstone has struggled to make Exeter Finance profitable, despite sinking almost a half-billion dollars into the lender since 2011 and shaking up the C-suite multiple times. And Wall Street bankers in private say others would love to cash out too, but there’s currently no market for such exits. In the years after the financial crisis, buyout firms poured billions into auto finance, angling for the big profits that come with offering high-interest loans to buyers with the weakest credit.

At rates of 11% or more, there was plenty to be made as sales boomed. But now, with new car demand waning, they’ve found the intense competition – and the lax underwriting standards it fostered – are taking a toll on profits. Delinquencies on subprime loans made by non-bank lenders are soaring toward crisis levels. Fresh investment has dried up and some of the big banks, long seen as potential suitors, have pulled back from the auto lending business. To top it off, state regulators are circling the industry, asking whether it preyed on borrowers and put them in cars they couldn’t afford. “The PE guys sailed into this thing with stars in their eyes. Some of the businesses have done fine and some haven’t,” said Chris Gillock at Colonnade Advisors, a boutique investment bank. But right now, “it’s about as out-of-favor a sector as I can think of.”

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Two more years to go? I don’t know about that. But then, I didn’t predict the ’29 crash either.

The Ghost of Gann: Another Crash is Coming (Ren.)

While the metrics noted above can accurately indicate the peak of an equities bubbles several months in advance, they cannot tell us anything years ahead of time. For this, we must turn to the research of the original wizard of Wall Street, W.D. Gann. He was a finance trader who developed technical analysis tools and forecasting methods based on geometry, astronomy, astrology and ancient mathematics. He was a successful and wealthy speculator, spending decades investigating patterns in equities markets. He concluded that equities exhibited a cyclical trend over decades and thus prices could be predicted long in advance. In 1908, Gann constructed his financial timetable, which tabulated the booms and busts, peaks and troughs of the US equities market.

Just like the Geoist land market cycle, there is a repeating 18-year average between every major cycle. Gann managed to predict the crash of 1929 years in advance. He realised that the timetable would have to be recalibrated on the 25th December 1989. The updated timetable is amazingly accurate from that date onward, predicting the Dot-Com bubble peak in 2000 and its collapse. The GFC peak was off by one year; 2007 instead of one year earlier in 2006. The trough was in 2009, followed by a minor panic in 2015, when the S&P500 dipped but has since boomed. According to the timetable, 2020 will be the peak of the equities bubble, followed by a major crash similar to that of the Dot-Com bubble.

To the economists we’ve spoken to, the peak could range between 2019M09 to 2020M03. Given how large the S&P500 bubble has become, it is worth treading very carefully during this period for those exposed to US equities. Gann is famous for saying: “Every movement in the market is the result of a natural law and of a Cause which exists long before the effect takes place and can be determined years in advance. The future is but a repetition of the past, as the Bible plainly states…”

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How hard will they come down on Catalunya this time? Neither Rajoy nor Brussels can afford to lose face.

Catalan Separatists Win Election In Rebuke To Spain and EU (R.)

Catalonia’s separatists look set to regain power in the wealthy Spanish region after local elections on Thursday, deepening the nation’s political crisis in a sharp rebuke to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and European Union leaders who backed him. With nearly all votes counted, separatist parties won a slim majority in Catalan parliament, a result that promises to prolong political tensions which have damaged Spain’s economy and prompted a business exodus from the region. Rajoy, who called the elections after sacking the previous secessionist government, had hoped Catalonia’s “silent majority” would deal separatism a decisive blow in what was a de facto independence referendum, but his hard line backfired.

The unexpected result sets the stage for the return to power of deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont who campaigned from self-exile in Brussels. State prosecutors accuse him of sedition, and he faces arrest if he were to return home. “Either Rajoy changes his recipe or we change the country,” Puigdemont, said in a televised speech. He was flanked by four former cabinet members that fled with him. At jubilant pro-independence rallies around Barcelona, supporters chanted “President Puigdemont” and unfurled giant red-and-yellow Catalan flags as the results came in. Puigdemont’s spokesman told Reuters in a text message: “We are the comeback kids.” The result unnerved global markets, contributing to a softer euro and subdued sentiment in stock markets.

Opinion polls had predicted secessionists to fall short of a majority. More than 3,100 firms have moved their legal headquarters outside Catalonia, concerned that the indebted region, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, could split from Spain and tumble out of the EU and the euro zone by default. Spain has trimmed its growth forecasts for next year, and official data shows foreign direct investment in Catalonia fell 75% in the third quarter from a year earlier, dragging down national investment. The EU’s major powers, Germany and France, have backed Rajoy’s stance despite some criticism of his methods at times.

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China exports Ponzi and overcapacity.

China’s Creditor Imperialism (PS)

Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will. As Sri Lanka’s handover of the strategic Hambantota port shows, states caught in debt bondage to the new imperial giant risk losing both natural assets and their very sovereignty. This month, Sri Lanka, unable to pay the onerous debt to China it has accumulated, formally handed over its strategically located Hambantota port to the Asian giant. It was a major acquisition for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – which President Xi Jinping calls the “project of the century” – and proof of just how effective China’s debt-trap diplomacy can be.

Unlike International Monetary Fund and World Bank lending, Chinese loans are collateralized by strategically important natural assets with high long-term value (even if they lack short-term commercial viability). Hambantota, for example, straddles Indian Ocean trade routes linking Europe, Africa, and the Middle East to Asia. In exchange for financing and building the infrastructure that poorer countries need, China demands favorable access to their natural assets, from mineral resources to ports. Moreover, as Sri Lanka’s experience starkly illustrates, Chinese financing can shackle its “partner” countries. Rather than offering grants or concessionary loans, China provides huge project-related loans at market-based rates, without transparency, much less environmental- or social-impact assessments.

As US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson put it recently, with the BRI, China is aiming to define “its own rules and norms.” To strengthen its position further, China has encouraged its companies to bid for outright purchase of strategic ports, where possible. The Mediterranean port of Piraeus, which a Chinese firm acquired for $436 million from cash-strapped Greece last year, will serve as the BRI’s “dragon head” in Europe. By wielding its financial clout in this manner, China seeks to kill two birds with one stone. First, it wants to address overcapacity at home by boosting exports. And, second, it hopes to advance its strategic interests, including expanding its diplomatic influence, securing natural resources, promoting the international use of its currency, and gaining a relative advantage over other powers.

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Same story. I’ve said a thousand times that China is buying the world with Monopoly money. It is.

China Uses Cheap Debt To ‘Bend Other Countries To Its Will’ (CNBC)

China’s continents-spanning Belt and Road network threatens to “shackle” partner countries and deprive them of valuable natural assets, according to one critic. Beijing is financing and executing massive infrastructure projects across the 68 nations participating in the ambitious scheme, which snakes along Europe, the Middle East and Asia. These recipient countries, many of them emerging economies in dire need of investment, obtain funding in various forms such as sovereign loans from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s administration and credit from Chinese state-owned banks. But concerns of developing countries taking on unrealistic financial obligations have sparked allegations of what’s being called ‘dept-trap diplomacy.’

Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration released a statement warning of unsustainable debt burdens being created by Belt and Road. “Just as European imperial powers employed gunboat diplomacy, China is using sovereign debt to bend other states to its will,” according to Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, who described Beijing’s policies as “creditor imperialism.” In a stinging editorial published on Project Syndicate, Chellaney — a former adviser to India’s National Security Council — pointed to Sri Lanka as an example. The South Asian state, unable to pay back onerous bills to China, recently handed over its Hambantota port to state owned China Merchants Port Holdings in a $1.1 billion deal that was widely viewed as an erosion of sovereignty.

“As Hambantota shows, China is now establishing its own Hong Kong-style neocolonial arrangements,” Chellaney said. “Like the opium the British exported to China, the easy loans China offers are addictive. And, because China chooses its projects according to their long-term strategic value, they may yield short-term returns that are insufficient for countries to repay their debts,” he explained. As a result, the world’s second-largest economy holds political leverage over governments and can “force borrowers to swap debt for equity, thereby expanding China’s global footprint by trapping a growing number of countries in debt servitude.”

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The government in charge of the bubble.

Fannie And Freddie Are Here To Stay – There Is No Alternative (ZH)

Since the US government nationalized the two GSEs in 2008 in a $187 billion bailout of the mortgage giants, there have been consistent calls for them to be wound down and for the private sector to fill the void. As we discussed, this view is, or was, shared by new Fed Chairman, Jay Powell. Mr. Powell has called on Congress to overhaul the housing finance system, saying he’d like to see the country’s two large mortgage-finance firms, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, move out from under government conservatorship. More private capital in those firms would reduce the risk of a taxpayer-funded bailout in the event of a downturn, he said in a speech in July. Although the Fed isn’t responsible for housing finance, it supervises some of the country’s largest lenders who frequently sell their loan to the two agencies. “No single housing finance institution should be too big to fail,” he said.

In August this year, Fannie and Freddie’s regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), published the results of its latest annual stress tests on the two GSE’s. The FHFA outlined a “severely adverse” scenario in which US real GDP decline 6.5%, the unemployment rate rises to 10.0%, equity prices decline almost 50%, home prices decline 25% and commercial real estate prices by 35%. Under these conditions, it estimates Fannie and Freddie would need a bailout of up to $100 billion in the form of a draw on the Treasury (depending on how they treat assets to offset tax). Sadly, after almost a decade of federal ownership, the hope that Fannie and Freddie could be wound down has evaporated. Senators on both sides of the political divide have concluded that they are too big and too risky to replace. Proposed legislation in 2018 will see them retained at the centre of the US mortgage industry, rather than replacing them as a previous senate proposal tried and failed four years ago.


Mortgages guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie amount to about $4 trillion and account for about 40% of the total US market.

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The incompetence is painful.

UK’s Secret Brexit Studies Reveal That Airbus Makes Planes (BBG)

For months, journalists tried to get their hands on government papers setting out how leaving the European Union will affect different parts of the British economy. They contained, according to Brexit Secretary David Davis, “excruciating detail.” But despite boasting about their contents, ministers were reluctant to let anyone else see the documents. In November, after being forced to give way by a vote in Parliament, the government allowed lawmakers to read them under controlled conditions. Their phones were confiscated, and they were only permitted to make notes with pen and paper, lest too much information leak into the public domain. “These documents in aggregate represent the most comprehensive picture of our economy on this issue to date,” Davis wrote this month, explaining why he was being cautious about publication.

On Thursday, the documents were released online. There was detail, as promised. “The parts of an aircraft can be simplistically split into three areas,” began the first, on aerospace. It was explained what the industry makes: “structures which include the nose, fuselage, wings, engine nacelles (which encase the engines) and tail; propulsion system which includes engines and propellers, or fan blades; and systems which include the electronics used in the flight system.” It went on to reveal that there are two companies in the world that make large passenger aircraft. Now that the documents are public, these firms can be named as Boeing and Airbus. The paper covering the insurance and pensions sector, which employs one in every 100 British workers, is 2,732 words long. “Insurance business operates by firms writing insurance policies for clients, intermediated by brokers,” it reveals.

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You sure that you want to victimize the victims?

Eco-Terrorists Threaten To Inject Acid In Greek Supermarket Products (WaPo)

Greek supermarkets were forced to withdraw several food and beverage products from their shelves this week, after a group threatened to contaminate them with acid as part of an environmentally influenced protest of Christmas consumerism. Authorities urged residents in Athens and the city of Thessaloniki not to buy or consume certain types of Coca-Cola, a Greek milk brand and packages of meat. Thessaloniki and Athens combined have about 1 million residents who were affected by the precautionary measures. The “Blackgreen Arsonists” — whose name suggests an eco-anarchist outlook — threatened to inject the products with hydrochloric acid, a powerful, colorless corrosive used in research and industry.

They said it was because the thousands of people doing their Christmas shopping meant “the sacrifice of millions of living creatures, slaughtered and drained to the last drop to satisfy consumers’ needs.” To protest this need every year for people to fill their empty lives with “consumer garbage with beautiful and glittering wrappings,” the sabotaged products would be placed on supermarket shelves in the run-up to Christmas. Authorities said they have no information on the identities of the group members. Similar threats have emerged in the past and nothing has happened, though in this case the group included photos of its members injecting something into the products as part of their online threat.

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Real values.

New Zealand Gives Mount Taranaki Same Legal Rights As A Person (G.)

Mount Taranaki in New Zealand is to be granted the same legal rights as a person, becoming the third geographic feature in the country to be granted a “legal personality”. Eight local Maori tribes and the government will share guardianship of the sacred mountain on the east coast of the North Island, in a long-awaited acknowledgement of the indigenous people’s relationship to the mountain, who view it as an ancestor and whanau, or family member. The new status of the mountain means if someone abuses or harms it, it is the same legally as harming the tribe. In the record of understanding signed this week, Mount Taranaki will become “a legal personality, in its own right”, said the minister for treaty negotiations, Andrew Little, gaining similar rights to the Whanganui river, which was granted legal personhood earlier this year.

Little said the agreement offered the best possible protection for the landmark, which is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction after Lonely Planet named the Taranaki region the second best place to visit in the world last year. “As a New Plymouth local I grew up under the gaze of the maunga [mountain] so I’m particularly pleased with the respect accorded to local tangata whenua [local people] and the legal protection and personality given to the mountain,” Little said. “Today’s agreements are a major milestone in acknowledging the grievances and hurt from the past as the Taranaki iwi experienced some of the worst examples of Crown behaviour in the 19th century.” As part of the agreement the New Zealand government will apologise to local Maori for historical breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi against the mountain, although local tribes will receive no financial or commercial redress.

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