May 212017
 
 May 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  No Responses »
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Alfred Buckham Tower of London and Tower Bridge c1920

 

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)
A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)
U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)
Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)
May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)
Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)
Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)
The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)
CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)
Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)
Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)
Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)
Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)
Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

 

 

Crazy. In America it is still considered OK to kill people for profit. Has been for ages.

But look at what’s not even being said: talking about Saudi Arabia without mentioning its support for Salafi religion and terrorism paints only part of the picture. To make a buck, and to create more chaos, the US supports the very terrorists it claims to be fighting.

Trump’s $115 Billion Saudi Weapons Deal Ratifies US Support For Yemen War (WE)

President Trump’s newly announced arms agreement with Saudi Arabia ratifies an Obama administration policy that has drawn criticism from a voluble, bipartisan minority of senators. Saudi Arabia, armed with American weapons, fought a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, where the government was overthrown by a rebel group tied to the Iranians. Allegations that Saudi Arabia has bombed civilians and committed other human rights abuses compromised what would otherwise tend to be unanimous U.S. support for the conflict. A $1.15 billion arms deal last year turned controversial, but that pact is dwarfed by the $110 billion pact signed Saturday. “[M]any of the armaments we’re providing to Saudi Arabia will help them be much more precise and targeted with many of their strikes, but it’s important that pressure be kept on the rebels in Yemen,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters following meetings in Riyadh.

But Saudi Arabia has attacked civilians intentionally, according to Senate critics of such agreements, rather than by mistakes borne of imprecise airstrike technology. “[T]he country is on the brink of famine in part because the Saudis have intentionally destroyed transit hubs and key bridges, and blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid into Yemen,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., wrote in a piece published by the Huffington Post. “By selling the Saudis these precision-guided weapons more — not fewer — civilians will be killed because it is Saudi Arabia’s strategy to starve Yemenis to death to increase their own leverage at the negotiating table. They couldn’t do this without the weapons we are selling them.”

Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., wanted Tillerson to make a series of demands on the Saudis designed to ease civilian suffering in Yemen, such as ending delays on humanitarian aid at a port city held by the rebels. “First, renounce any intention to conduct a military operation against the Port of Hudaydah,” Young, a former Marine who sits with Murphy on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week during a colloquy on the Senate floor with the Connecticut Democrat. “Second, redouble efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution. Third, end any delays to the delivery of humanitarian aid caused by the Saudi-led coalition. And, fourth, permit the delivery of much-needed U.S.-funded cranes to the Port of Hudaydah that would permit the quicker delivery of food and medicine. I said it before, with more than 10 million Yemenis requiring humanitarian assistance there is no time to waste.”

Read more …

Reports of poverty in America won’t stop coming in.

A Quarter Of Americans Can’t Pay All Their Monthly Bills (ZH)

There was some good news and some not so good news in the Fed’s latest annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households. First the good news. The report, based on the Board’s fourth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking conducted in October 2016, presents a “picture of improving financial well-being among Americans”, at least according to the report (read on to see if this is merited). Overall, 70% of the more than 6,600 respondents said they were either “living comfortably” or “doing okay,” up 1% from 2015 and up 8% from the first survey results in 2013. Not surprisingly, the highest percentage, or 92%, of those who responded they were “living comfortably” was among the group with more than $100,000 in family income.

For Americans making less than $40,000 the breakdown was almost evenly split with 49% saying they are “just getting by.” According to the same study, 28% of respondents said that their income in the last 12 months was less than $25,000, and 40% report that their income was less than the key $40,000 cutoff, which suggests that roughly 4 in 10 Americans are “finding it difficult to get by.” The improvements in well-being as reported by the survey respondents were concentrated among high-income adults, with at least some college education, and prompted the WSJ to write that “U.S Household financial health improved in recent years.” Even so, most of the changes reported in the survey were relatively modest, “reflecting a slowly improving economy and an unemployment level at or below 5% throughout 2016.”

Now, the not so good news. Nearly eight years into an economic recovery, nearly half of Americans didn’t have enough cash available to cover a $400 emergency. Specifically, the survey found that, in line with what the Fed had disclosed in previous years, 44% of respondents said they wouldn’t be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense like a car repair or medical bill, or would have to borrow money or sell something to meet it. Troubling as this statistic remains, the overall share of adults who would struggle to come up with $400 in a pinch has declined by 2% from the last survey conducted in 2015, and down 6% since 2013. Of the group that could not pay in cash, 45% said they would go further in debt and use a credit card to pay off the expense over time. while a quarter would borrow from friends of family, and another 27% just couldn’t pay the expense. Others would turn to selling items or using a payday loan.

The breakdown was largely by education attainment: 79% of those with at least a bachelor’s degree said they would still be able to pay all of their other bills in full if hit with a $400 charge. Just 52% of those with no more than a high school diploma said the same. Just as concerning were other findings from the study: just under one-fourth of adults, or 23%, are not able to pay all of their current month’s bills in full while 25% reported skipping medical treatments due to cost in the prior year. Additionally, 28% of adults who haven’t retired yet reported to being grossly unprepared, indicating they had no retirement savings or pension whatsoever.

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Election talk.

U.K. Threatens to Quit Brexit Talks If It Faces Massive Bill (BBG)

The U.K. will quit Brexit talks unless the EU drops its demands of a divorce payment of €100 billion ($112 billion), Brexit Secretary David Davis said. Britain’s negotiations on leaving the EU would otherwise be plunged into “chaos,” and even a £1 billion settlement would be “a lot of money,” Davis said in an interview published in the Sunday Times. The size of Britain’s exit bill, and which types of negotiations can begin before it has been agreed, has been a source of debate for weeks. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said the U.K. will have to pay about £50 billion, while Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has signaled a figure between €40 billion and €60 billion. The Financial Times estimated the cost could balloon to €100 billion, while a study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales put the cost at as little as £5 billion ($6.5 billion).

Prime Minister Theresa May’s government has said it will meet its commitments to the EU, but has questioned how the EU’s preliminary estimates have been reached. “We don’t need to just look like we can walk away, we need to be able to walk away,” Davis said. “Under the circumstances, if that was necessary, we would be in a position to do it.” In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, May said that “money paid in the past” by the U.K. into joint EU projects and the European Investment Bank ought to be taken account in the final divorce bill. “There is much debate about what the U.K.’s obligations might be or indeed what our rights might be,” she said. “We make it clear that we would look at those both rights and obligations.”

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Is there enough time left for May to alienate enough people? She certainly tries.

Tory Support Wobbles as Labour Attacks May’s Pensioner Plans (BBG)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s hopes of boosting her parliamentary majority suffered a blow on Saturday, as Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party edged closer in the polls and Conservatives faced a backlash over proposed changes to social care. Labour cut the Tories’ lead in the latest Opinium Research survey to 13 points from 15 points a week earlier, and a new YouGov survey in the Sunday Times put Corbyn’s party nine points behind. The last time Labour managed a single-digit deficit in the YouGov series was in September. The tightening polls mark a setback for May as she seeks to strengthen her position ahead of upcoming Brexit negotiations. In another blow, 47% of respondents in a Survation poll said they opposed May’s plan to require people to tap into assets above £100,000 ($130,000), excluding the value of their homes, to pay for the costs of their old-age care.

Attacking May’s social care pledge and manifesto promises to pensioners, a demographic that traditionally votes Conservative, Corbyn labeled the Tories a “nasty” party in a speech in Birmingham on Saturday. He reiterated the accusation in an emailed statement and set out five pledges for how his party would help older voters. “Theresa May and the Conservatives won’t stand up for pensioners,” Corbyn said in the statement. “Their only concern is their billionaire friends.” Labour’s pledges to older voters include preserving a so-called triple lock on pension payments for five years, under which the government guarantees pensions will rise annually by whichever is greatest: the rate of inflation, the rise in earnings, or 2.5%. The Tories say they’ll drop the 2.5% provision starting in 2020.

Corbyn’s party also says it will guarantee winter fuel subsidies for all pensioners, and will not raise the state pension age beyond 66. The Conservative manifesto, unveiled by May on Thursday, would scrap the fuel payments for well-off pensioners, and said the state pension age should reflect increases in life expectancy. In a lengthy Facebook post Saturday, May warned that a lot is “at stake” in the election and said the U.K. has “great challenges,” including the need to provide “security for older people while being fair to the young”. “If I lose just six seats I will lose this election, and Jeremy Corbyn will be sitting down to negotiate with the presidents, prime ministers and chancellors of Europe,” May wrote. Labour’s leader would “bring chaos to Britain,” she said.

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It’s plenty bad enough that it’s needed. And then scrap it? Scrapping it merely confirms that Britain is a third world country run by a cynical elite. Good thing there’s an election right ahead.

May’s Plan To End Free School Lunches ‘To Hit 900,000 Struggling Families’ (O.)

About 900,000 children from struggling families will lose their right to free school lunches under a cut unveiled in the Conservative manifesto. The total includes more than 600,000 young children recently defined as coming from “ordinary working families”, according to analysis for the Observer by the Education Policy Institute. It means that the surprise measure risks undermining Theresa May’s pledge to prioritise families that are “just about managing” – those who are in work, but struggling to make ends meet. May opted to end universal free school lunches for infants, introduced under the coalition government, and replace them with free breakfasts. The money saved will be used to see off a looming Tory rebellion over school funding.

The move risks punishing exactly the kind of families the prime minister has promised to help and will cost families about £440 for every child hit by the cut. It is likely to save about £650m a year. However, the Conservatives pointed to recent evidence that free breakfasts were more cost-effective, adding that the poorest children would still receive a free lunch. After a week in which the parties released their election manifestos, more Tory candidates expressed private reservations about their party’s plan to make people pay for their old-age home care through their estates.

With the large Tory poll lead closing slightly in recent days, some nervous candidates are urging the leadership to make another attempt to explain the policy to voters, while others are planning to lobby for concessions after the election. May has insisted it is a fair measure that ensures only those with estates worth more than £100,000 will pay. Jeremy Corbyn attempted to exploit the row by accusing the Tories of provoking a “war between generations”. He accused May of drawing up an “anti-pensioner package” that weakened protections for the state pension, removed the winter fuel allowance from many and forced thousands to pay huge amounts for home care. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, said May’s social care policy would “go down as her poll tax”.

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“Interestingly, this policy puts the Tories in direct conflict with Prince William, who has been a vocal supporter of a total ban on ivory sales. Will we see the Duke of Cambridge campaigning for Labour – which has pledged to introduce the total ban the Prince has been lobbying for?”

Theresa May’s Tory Manifesto Scraps The Ban On Elephant Ivory Sales (EP)

After heavy lobbying from wealthy antiques dealers, Theresa May has sneakily dropped the proposed outright ban on elephant ivory sales from the Tories’ 2017 manifesto. Following bans in both the US and China, David Cameron had pledged in the 2015 Conservative manifesto to put a complete ban on all ivory trading. However, after huge pressure from rich and powerful antiques dealers, Theresa May has conveniently decided to completely scrap the plans altogether. The Tories did not decide to implement the ban during the two years after it was announced by David Cameron, and even their staunch supporters in the British press were writing negative pieces about the Tories reticence in pushing through the much-needed legislation.

A quote from a Daily Mail article written in March entitled “Tories’ shame over blood ivory”, said: “A much more likely reason (for the Tories dropping the ivory ban) is that they are being swayed by the powerful antiques industry, which fears it will lose millions of pounds if antique ivory sales are stopped, and whose figurehead happens to be Victoria Borwick, Conservative MP for Kensington, and president of the British Antique Dealers’ Association.” The most powerful UK antique traders association is The British Antiques Dealers’ Association, and their President, Lady Victoria Borwick (also the Conservative MP for Kensington) can be seen shaking hands with Theresa May in the image above.

The only mention of the subject in the Conservative Party’s latest 2017 manifesto is a general pledge to work with international organisations to protect endangered species and the marine environment. Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s 2017 manifesto has specifically pledged to introduce a “total ban on ivory trading”. An elephant is killed for its ivory every 15 minutes on average, and their numbers have fallen by almost a third in Africa since 2007. So as well as being in favour of bringing back fox hunting, Theresa May also couldn’t really care about elephants being killed either. Are you seriously going to vote for a woman who bows to lobbyists over a practice as disgusting as elephant poaching?

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Should be quite the event, that Senate testimony of his.

Comey Has Changed His Mind On Trump Trying To Influence Him (ZH)

Clearly disappointed to have been left out of the headline heroics from Friday night (courtesy of The Washington Post and The New York Times), CNN has decided that anon-sourced perspectives on officials’ feelings now warrants reportage. The latest in the sad sage of mainstream media’s downward spiral, as The Hill reports, is that former FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify that he believes President Trump was deliberately trying to meddle in the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election, according to a report late Friday. Despite swearing under oath that he “had never” been influenced during an investigation, and further that if he had he would have reported it immediately… CNN now reports that, according to a source, Comey has come to believe the president intended to influence him…

Former FBI Director James Comey now believes that President Donald Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe, a person familiar with his thinking says, but whether that influence amounts to obstruction of justice remains an open question. “You have to have intent in order to obstruct justice in the criminal sense,” the source said, adding that “intent is hard to prove.” Comey will testify publicly before the Senate intelligence committee after Memorial Day, the panel’s leaders announced Friday. The central question at that blockbuster hearing will be whether Comey believed the President was trying to interfere with his investigation.

Sources say Comey had reached no conclusion about the President’s intent before he was fired. But Comey did immediately recognize that the new President was not following normal protocols during their interactions. So to clarify, a disgruntled fired employee, who previously said no effort to influence was undertaken, has now changed his mind, according to sources, and thinks his former boss was trying to influence him (according to sources).

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The west has rewritten WWII history from the start.

The Fallacy of Demonizing Russia (CN)

We entered the monument to the siege of Leningrad from the back. There is a large semi-circle with eternal flame torches at intervals and embedded sculptures of Lenin’s face, and other symbols of the Soviet era. The monument was built in the post-war period so the Soviet iconography is understandable. In the middle is a sculpture of a soldier, a half-naked woman looking forlorn into the distance, and another woman collapsed on the ground with a dead boy in her arms. There are several concentric steps that follow the semi-circle and I sat down on one of them and took in the feel of the area. Classical style music played in the background with a woman’s haunting voice singing in Russian. It was explained to me that it was a semi-circle instead of a full-circle to represent the fact the city was not completely surrounded and ultimately not defeated.

I finally got up and went through the opening in the semi-circle and came out to the front where a tall column with 1941 and 1945 on it stood with a large statue of two soldiers in front of it. There are several statues on either side of the front part of the monument of figures, from soldiers to civilians, who labored to assist in alleviating the suffering of the siege and defending the city. Soldiers and civilians helped to put out fires, retrieve un-exploded ordnance from buildings, repair damage, and built the road of life over a frozen body of water to evacuate civilians and transport supplies. The siege lasted 872 days (Sept. 8, 1941, to Jan. 27, 1944), resulting in an estimated 1.2 million deaths, mostly from starvation and freezing, and some from bombing and illness.

Most were buried in mass graves, the largest of which was Piskarevskoye Cemetery, which received around 500,000 bodies. An accurate accounting of deaths is complicated by the fact that many unregistered refugees had fled to Leningrad before the siege to escape the advancing Nazi army. According to Wikipedia, by the end of the siege: “Only 700,000 people were left alive of a 3.5 million pre-war population. Among them were soldiers, workers, surviving children and women. Of the 700,000 survivors, about 300,000 were soldiers who came from other parts of the country to help in the besieged city.”


sculpture commemorating the defense of Leningrad during World War II. (courtesy of saint-petersburg.com.)

I told Mike that I didn’t think the average American could even begin to fathom this level of suffering. With the exception of a very small percentage of the population sent to fight our myriad and senseless conflicts, war is something that happens to other people somewhere else. It’s an abstraction – or worse yet, fodder for entertainment. [..] it all made me ponder how spoiled Americans have been in this respect, with a vast ocean on either side and weak or friendly neighbors to the north and south. We have not experienced a war on our soil since the 1860’s and have not suffered an invasion since 1812. I can’t help but think that this, along with our youth, goes a long way toward explaining our lack of perspective and humility as a nation. Only those without wisdom would characterize themselves as “exceptional” and “indispensable.”

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Under Obama and Clinton.

CIA Incompetence Allowed China To Murder A Dozen CIA Assets (ZH)

You know what they say about biting the hand that feeds. The NYT just dropped its latest deep-state scoop, and boy is it a doozy. But instead of using the information as more leverage to attack President Trump, the leaks reveal allegedly extreme incompetence at the highest levels of the CIA, what NYT’s “current and former government sources” characterized as the worst intelligence breach in decades. These officials revealed that “the Chinese government systematically dismantled CIA spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward.”

The sheer number of U.S. assets lost rivaled those lost to the Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen during the 1980s and 1990s, the NYT noted. The timing of the scoop is also curious: Instead of dropping it during the market day, standard practice for anti-Trump revelations from WaPo, NYT and CNN, this story appeared at noon on a Saturday, when global markets were shuttered – almost guaranteeing it won’t dominate the cable-news cycle, which will likely be laser-focused on Trump’s first trip abroad. One possible reason: the head of the CIA from 2010 to 2013 was Mike Morell, an outspoken supporter of Hillary Clinton, who in August of 2016 penned “I Ran the C.I.A. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.”

That is explainable: after all Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State at the time when, as we now learn, China was killing CIA spies. Beginning in 2010, CIA operatives meant to collect information on the innerworkings of the Communist Party started disappearing. The NYT reports that between the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the CIA’s sources. According to three sources, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building – a grisly killing meant to send a message to any others who might have been working for U.S. intelligence. Still others were imprisoned. All told, the Communist Party killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the CIA’s sources.

Read more …

Every country is willing to break every law, domestic or international, if it suits them.

Those Exposed By WikiLeaks Should Be Investigated, Not Assange (RT)

Prominent jurist and head of Julian Assange’s legal team Baltasar Garzon told RT that the US has been secretly conducting an investigation into his client and WikiLeaks, arguing that those implicated in crimes should face legal action instead. Garzon, a renowned human rights judge who sat on Spain’s central criminal court and once indicted Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, said in an interview to RT Spanish that while Sweden dropping charges against the WikiLeaks co-founder is a welcome step, the main threat to his freedom comes from Washington. “He [Assange] is satisfied, but, in his own words, the war only begins now. We understood that Sweden was merely a tool in the fight against the freedom of speech. This [role] is the main occupation of the US,” Garzon said.

Assange’s legal team has been preparing to use all means available to gain the upper hand in a possible legal battle, including UN resolutions and international law “in the hopes that this country, despite all its power, admits that neither Julian Assange, nor WikiLeaks, nor freedom of speech advocates are to blame for its woes,” Garzon said. Those who should be held accountable are not whistleblowers and their sources, he argued, but those “ham-fisted leaders who neglected their responsibility to protect freedom and security in the society.” The ones who should be “investigated and persecuted” are “those who were exposed by WikiLeaks,” he said.

Not much is known about the clandestine proceedings allegedly underway in Virginia, Garzon said, noting that all the scant data they managed to obtain was received through information leaks and that they continue to be in the dark about the status of the proceedings. “Since 2010, the US has been carrying out a secret investigation against Julian Assange and WikiLeaks for revealing secret materials, for the fight for the freedom of speech and information,” Garzon said, adding that as far as he is aware, no charges have been brought against his client at this point.

As for the UK police warning that Assange would be arrested for failing to surrender to the British courts back in June 2012, Garzon believes it only serves as a pretext to limit his freedom of movement, barring him from leaving the embassy. “I believe that it is against the law, because he did not breach any pre-trial restrictions. He was on the embassy’s territory, because he was granted political asylum. He obtained refugee status. That is to say, this situation goes against the law,” the lawyer said. He went on to say that the British police failed to inform Assange that this sort of proceedings had been opened against him during his five-year stay in the embassy.

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A ‘secret’ I’ve only mentioned 1000 times.

Varoufakis Reveals Worst Kept Secret In Europe: EU Is A German Empire (MW)

Forget all the claims and protestations about “families of nations” and a “new Europe” and “the European project.” The European Union, and especially the eurozone, is a German empire. The new capital of Europe is not Brussels — let alone Strasbourg, the home of the European Parliament — but Berlin. The ultimate power of the EU is not the president of the European Commission, but the chancellor of Germany. That’s the takeaway from “Adults in the Room: My Battle With Europe’s Deep Establishment,” the sensational memoir by the ill-fated, but colorful, former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis. His account of his role in the Greek debt crisis of early 2015 is the talk of the town in London, where it has just been published. And it has been tossed into the middle of the Brexit war of words with the EU, and the British election, like a grenade.

Varoufakis gives a detailed and candid account of the shenanigans that went on behind the scenes as he tried, and failed, to prevent the Greek debt crisis from bringing the country to its knees. He doesn’t spare himself, and he comes across — to his own admission — as politically naive and diplomatically inept. It’s a staggering tale of endemic lying in Brussels and corruption in Athens. But what is most fascinating is how, in the end, all roads lead to Berlin. When a roadblock is thrown up to a Greek debt deal, even in a meeting in Brussels or London or elsewhere, it almost always turns out to be the work of Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s hard-line finance minister.

[..] Most astonishingly, and outrageously, Varoufakis reveals that Berlin actually went behind the scenes to scupper a rescue deal struck between Athens and Beijing. The Germans didn’t want to let the Greeks off the hook. It was late March 2015. Greece was on the rack. It had just days left before literally running out of money and shutting the banks. And then, miraculously, Beijing stepped in with the offer of help. The Chinese wanted to get their exports to the heart of Europe faster. So they were offering to make major investments in the Athenian Port of Piraeus, and in Greek railways, as part of a “new Silk Road,” or commercial route. And along with the deal, they were willing to buy short-term Greek paper to keep the country afloat.

The Chinese were awash with surplus euros and dollars that needed a home, and Greece’s entire budget shortfall was chicken feed to them anyway. But days after agreeing to the deal, they suddenly, and mysteriously, pulled back. Varoufakis was shocked when they virtually sat out two auctions of short-term Greek government debt. He then discovered that the Chinese ambassador was also surprised, and this was a decision taken secretly at the highest levels in Beijing. Varoufakis recalls: “I told Alexis [Tsipras, the prime minister] what had happened and suggested strongly that he contact the Chinese prime minister. “The next day Alexis relayed the news from Beijing. Someone had apparently called Beijing from Berlin with a blunt message: Stay out of any deals with the Greeks until we are finished with them.”

Read more …

Germany wants chaos in Greece. Breaking laws and treaties won’t stop one second.

Germany Limits Refugee Family Reunions From Greece (DW)

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has reduced the number of asylum-seeker family members allowed into the country from Greece to 70 a month, German news group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland reported on Friday. The group of local papers said the information was provided by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government following a request from the Left Party. In its response, the Interior Ministry said the decrease in numbers had to do with “limited support and accommodation capacities,” as well as the “considerable logistical coordination effort by state and federal authorities.” Left lawmaker Ulla Jelpke described the explanation as a “miserable excuse,” and accused the government of shirking its responsibilities under the EU’s Dublin regulation.

The law stipulates that separated refugee and asylum-seeking families are entitled to a legal reunion once an immediate relative arrives in a country covered by the Dublin rule. “The federal government is trampling all over EU law and child welfare,” Jelpke said, adding that the cap should be removed because there was a need for as many as 400 refugee family members per month to be reunited with their loved ones in Germany. The EU took in some 1.6 million refugees and migrants – most of them from Syria – between 2014 and 2016. The majority arrived in Germany via frontline states like Italy and Greece. But the scale of the influx prompted many countries to introduce extra controls and to close their borders, blocking the so-called Balkan route and leaving tens of thousands of people stranded in Greece’s refugee camps.

According to information published by Greek newspaper “Efimerida ton Synakton”, around 2,000 refugees are waiting in Greece to be reunited with their families in Germany. It reported that Germany received only 70 Dublin transfers from Greece in April under the new cap, compared to 540 in March and 370 in February.

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This will not stop. It’s a feature of German and therefore Troika behavior.

Schäuble: Germany Will Not Accept Any Greek Debt Cut at Present Time (GR)

“At the present time, Germany will not accept any Greek debt reduction,” said a spokesperson for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, speaking to Bild. The German official also told the German newspaper that Berlin will not accept extending the debt repayment period, neither will accept that the European Stability Mechanism acquires the International Monetary Fund loans to Greece. The representative of Schaeuble said that on Monday the euro zone finance ministers would examine in detail what the Greek government has voted. “We welcome the ratification of the measures, it is an important step. At the Eurogroup on Monday we will look in every detail of what the Greek government has voted on. The goal is to close the second evaluation, but we can not prejudge the outcome of a comprehensive agreement,=” the German official said.

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After years of ever more severe austerity, the debt only keeps going up. How is that possible? What’s the way out? The Troika makes sure there’s no way out. All exits are blocked.

Greek State Debt Rises To €326.5 Billion (GR)

Greece’s central government debt went up in 2017, from €326,258 billion in December to €326,528 billion in March, according to data released on Friday by the Public Debt Management Agency. The Greek government cash reserves stood at €2,908 billion at the end of March, compared with 2,791 billion at the end of December. Two thirds (67.6%) of the total debt has a variable interest rate. The Greek government wants to “lock” that at a fixed interest rate, in view of the new debt settlement. In this case, it will be protected in the long run from the risk of rising interest rates, but in the short term there will be a burden in relation to the very low variable rate of 1% of the bailout loans. Of the total soverign debt, €56.6 billion is in state bonds and 14.9 billion in short-term securities.

To these, must be added another €13.6 billion from public authorities’ repos. Repos increased by €2.3 billion in three months, a trend that shows that the Greek government is pumping from every source of liquidity in the public sector, but with a rather costly interest rate. A total €254.9 billion are loans, mainly from the European Stability Mechanism, received under the country’s economic rescue plans. The average duration of the Greek debt is 18.19 years, but the government seeks to restructure the debt and extend maturities. In 2017, payments for loans and bonds amount to about €8.5-9 billion. According to the medium term debt repayment plan, in 2017 and 2018 the public debt should be reduced to €319-320 billion.

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May 142017
 
 May 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Henri Matisse Sorrow of the King 1952

 

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The Rise Of Rentiers And The Destruction Of The Middle Class (Ev)
The Economic School You’ve Never Heard Of (EpT)
The Future of Work, Robotization, and Capitalism’s Useless Jobs (Bregman)
US Much Women More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than 25 Years Ago (ProP)
Africa’s New Slave Trade (G.)

 

 

A more or less subtle way of trying to drag Putin into the situation.

US Says Trump ‘Can’t Imagine Russia Pleased’ With North Korea Missile (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump “cannot imagine Russia is pleased” with North Korea’s latest missile test on Sunday, as it landed closer to Russia than to Japan, the White House said in a statement. “With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased,” the White House said in its statement. The launch served as a call for all nations to implement stronger sanctions against reclusive North Korea, the White House added.

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Macron takes office in a strange kind of void. On Monday he will appoint a prime minister, and on Tuesday a cabinet. But his party has zero seats in parliament, so what can they do? Whether they can win a majority in the June elections is very much up for grabs. They may wind up needing -and using- support from the Socialist party that was burned down in the presidential elections.

Macron Takes Office As French President (AFP)

Emmanuel Macron becomes France’s youngest ever president on Sunday, taking over from Socialist Francois Hollande in a solemn ceremony. [..] The new president faces a host of daunting challenges including tackling stubbornly high unemployment, fighting Islamist-inspired violence and uniting a deeply divided country. Socialist Hollande’s five years in power were plagued by a sluggish economy and bloody terror attacks that killed more than 230 people and he leaves office after a single term. The 64-year-old launched Macron’s political career, plucking him from the world of investment banking to be an advisor and then his economy minister. “I am not handing over power to a political opponent, it’s far simpler,” Hollande said on Thursday.

Macron’s first week will be busy. On Monday, he is expected to reveal the closely-guarded name of his prime minister, before flying to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It is virtually a rite of passage for French leaders to make their first European trip to meet the leader of the other half of the so-called “motor” of the EU. Pro-EU Macron wants to push for closer cooperation to help the bloc overcome the imminent departure of Britain, another of its most powerful members. He intends to press for the creation of a parliament and budget for the eurozone. Merkel welcomed Macron’s decisive 32-point victory over Le Pen, saying he carried “the hopes of millions of French people and also many in Germany and across Europe”. In June, Macron faces what the French media are calling a “third round of the presidential election” when the country elects a new parliament in a two-round vote. The new president needs an outright majority to be able to enact his ambitious reform agenda.

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A huge global problem.

Tech Companies Have Become Monopolies, Drag On Economic Growth (AT)

Once upon a time the US stock market had disruptive challengers changing the economic landscape – Apple, Google, Cisco, Intel and a half dozen other upstarts. The same companies are there, but they have morphed from the equivalent of Luke Skywalker to Jabba the Hut. Tech companies used to be aggressive growth stocks, the kind that young people bought for long-range gain, while retirees stuck to less-volatile instruments like utility stocks. The world officially went topsy-turvy this year, when the volatility of tech stocks fell below the volatility of utility stocks. The graph shows the implied volatility of options on the S&P tech sector ETF (ticker XLK) vs. the implied volatility of options on the S&P utilities sector (XLU). Options on volatile stocks cost more than options on stable stocks, because volatility increases the likelihood of a payout.

Implied volatility is backed out of the prices of traded options, and reflects investor expectations about future stability. Why would investors expect less volatility from tech stocks than from utilities? Because they are utilities, that is, utilities with neither debt nor regulation. Power, water and sewer companies charge a stable fee to a predictable base of customers. They borrow heavily to build facilities, and are subject to public regulation, such that changes in interest rates and public policy can affect their value. Historically, though, they were widow-and-orphan stocks, the least risky sector of the equity market. In the disruptive days of the 1990s tech boom, the volatility of the S&P technology subsector was two to three times the VIX index. Today the implied volatility of XLK, the tech sector ETF, is actually lower than the VIX. The tech companies have brought down the overall level of market volatility.

Tech companies now sit atop a virtual toll booth and impose a charge on a myriad of transactions. Like water and power companies, they have monopolies, although these monopolies are driven by the price of infrastructure and the network effect. Google has the Internet-advertising monopoly. Microsoft has the personal computer software monopoly. Amazon has the Internet sales monopoly. Facebook has the targeted advertising monopoly. And Apple has the oddest monopoly of all: it is the vehicle by which customers assert their individuality by overpaying the largest-capitalization company in the world. [..] They’re all tech companies, and each dominates its corner of the industry: Google has an 88% market share in search advertising, Facebook (and its subsidiaries Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) owns 77% of mobile social traffic and Amazon has a 74% share in the e-book market. In classic economic terms, all three are monopolies.”

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“One Brexiter said: “There is no way to unpick Brexit that doesn’t involve civil war. “

Problem 1: Rich people trying to buy seats.

Problem 2: Both left and right across Europe want to “Love Europe Not the EU”. But the EU rules.

‘We Can’t Do Brexit With Half The Brexiteers Outside The Tent’ (G.)

As an investor in a Premier League football club and a collector of steam locomotives, Jeremy Hosking is used to expensive pursuits. The multimillionaire asset manager is under no illusions that his offer to fund well in excess of 100 local campaigns to unseat pro-Remain MPs could prove to be another. “This is going to stretch the bank’s ability to send out cheque books in a timely manner,” he says. “There is going to be a lot of ink involved.” Hosking has already spent in pursuit of securing Britain’s departure from the European Union shows his dedication to the cause. He gave about £1.7m to Vote Leave and even set up his own poster campaign, Brexit Express, as the referendum approached. Now the Crystal Palace co-owner wants to safeguard the result by funding Tory candidates trying to gain seats where most voters backed Brexit. He will do so through his Brexit Express campaign.

“For me, it is a long-running issue about sovereignty and the transfer of power,” he says. “It wouldn’t matter so much if the EU was constitutionalised properly, but one of the great things about being a democracy is we can boot the government out every five years, but we couldn’t boot out the EU. “A lot of the Remainers I know were really reformers – they held their nose and voted Remain in much the same way we are suggesting that traditional Labour voters should on this occasion hold their nose and vote Tory.” Hosking’s project is testing perhaps the most pertinent question posed by this election. Will the political fissure created by the EU referendum convince voters to abandon their traditional affiliations and back a party that more closely represents their views on Brexit?

The candidates eligible for his money must meet two simple tests. They must be a Conservative candidate trying to unseat an opposition MP that backed Remain. They must also be contesting a seat where most voters are believed to have voted in favour of Brexit. His team has come up with a list of 138 constituencies that they think fit the bill. All will be eligible for donations of up to £5,000 each. While there are some Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru-held seats on the list, the campaign is aimed overwhelmingly at Tories trying to win Labour-held seats in the north and the Midlands. There is a string of such seats that the Tories have a chance of winning. They include Coventry South, Bury South, Dewsbury, Gedling, Halifax and Bishop Auckland – a seat that has returned a Labour MP since 1935.

Hosking says that while Theresa May was not his “number one choice” as leader, he believes she is handling the Brexit issue well so far. He also believes that a cohort of Tory MPs from Brexit-supporting Labour seats could be key in safeguarding the referendum result and prevent any “backsliding”. “We need all the Brexiteers on the same side,” he says. “We can’t do this Brexit thing with half the Brexiteers outside the tent. “The thinking is, it would be strange if the Conservative party was dusting off inveterate Remainers to fight these seats… the Conservative party is more Brexit-orientated than it was a year ago.” Unlike some Brexiteers, Hosking knows there could be some bumpy times ahead. “We need the best team and you need the army fully equipped and as big as possible,” he says.

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He contradicts mis own words with impunity and of course doesn’t get called on it.

Schaeuble Says Financial Transfers In Euro Zone Are Necessary (R.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told a magazine he shared French president-elect Emmanuel Macron’s view that financial transfers from richer to poorer states are necessary within the euro zone. Macron, who is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday, has promised to press ahead with closer European integration. Asked whether Macron was right in believing Europe and the euro zone need a “transfer union”, Schaeuble told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine: “You can’t build a community of states of varying strengths without a certain balance.” “That’s reflected in the European budget and bailout programmes, for example, and that’s why there are net contributors and net recipients in Europe. A union can’t exist if the stronger members don’t vouch for the weaker ones,” he added in an interview to be published Saturday.

Some conservatives around Merkel worry the euro zone could develop into a “transfer union” in which Germany is asked to pay for struggling states that resist reforms. Schaeuble, a veteran member of Merkel’s party, said if countries wanted to make Europe stronger, it was necessary for each individual country to become stronger first – including France and Italy but also Germany. Schaeuble also signaled he would not object if the European Commission gave its blessing to possible French budget deficits: “It’s up to the European Commission to design the budget rules.” He added: “The German government and I have never objected to a ruling of the Commission on how the deficits of countries like France should be judged.” The European Commission estimates France’s deficit will be 3% of GDP this year, from 2.9% previously forecast, and 3.2% in 2018 from the previous forecast of 3.1%. EU rules say countries should keep their deficits below 3% of GDP.

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Not very useful without solid China data.

Ireland Is World’s Fourth-Largest Shadow Banking Hub (ITimes)

Ireland is home to the world’s fourth-largest “shadow banking” industry, with $2.2 trillion of nonbanking financial assets based in funds, special-purpose vehicles and other little-understood entities in Dublin’s IFSC, according to a report published on Tuesday. The figure equates to almost eight times the size of the Irish economy, as measured by GDP. The US has the world’s largest shadow-banking sector, with $13.8 trillion of assets as of 2015, according to the latest annual review of the sector by the Basel-based Financial Stability Board (FSB) as it searches for potential risks in the increasingly complex world of international finance. The Cayman Islands, which has taken part in the FSB study for first time, is the second-largest, at $4.3 trillion, followed by Japan, at $3.2 trillion.

The G20 major industrialised and emerging economies gave the FSB the job in 2010 of keeping track of the expanding world of financial activities that take place outside of mainstream banks, given the role that the sector played in the 2008 global financial crisis. The key concern is that, as central banks have clamped down on excessive risk-taking in the banking sector in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, lenders might extend their use of shadow banking to escape the claws of regulators. “Market-based finance provides important diversification of the founding resources which support the real economy,” said Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England and chairman of the FSB on the release of the latest report.

[..] The FSB said China, which ranked third with Ireland in the last report, published in late 2015, didn’t file data on time to be included in its narrow definition of shadow-banking activities that pose potential risks to global finance. Luxembourg, Ireland’s main rival in nonbanking financial activities in Europe, has not yet taken part in the annual survey. Nonbank financing provides a valuable alternative to bank funding and helps support economic activity, according to the FSB, adding that it can provide a “welcome” alternative supply of credit and provides “healthy competition for banks”.

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Where would we be without bubbles?

London Home Raffled For £3.75m Bought With Right-to-Buy in 2014 For £360k (G.)

A homeowner who tried to raise £3.75m by raffling her home online bought the property three years ago using the controversial right-to-buy scheme, and paid just £360,000. Renu Qadri, who lives in the house in Hardy Road, in south east London’s Blackheath, launched an online raffle on May 7. The dedicated website offered tickets for £5 each, with payments via Paypal. The stated aim was to sell 750,000 tickets, netting her £3.75m. A ticket picked at random would then win the property, including some of the furniture and £12,000 of “lead crystal chandeliers”. The raffle was halted on Thursday after advice from the homeowner’s local council, Greenwich, over “potential” breaches of Gambling Commission rules.

The website was taken down and replaced with a statement that said: “Ticket holders, please be advised that unfortunately we have been contacted by the local council informing us we will no longer be able to continue with this draw. Therefore we will be closing the site and all tickets holders will receive a full refund within 28 days. The five-bedroom flat is still on the market, however, and listed on property portal Rightmove for £1.25m. The owner, who is believed to have lived there since 2002, bought the property under the Government’s right-to-buy scheme three years ago, according to documents lodged with the Land Registry. It is understood that at the time it was valued at £460,000. Land Registry records confirm, however, that the price paid was £360,000, indicating the buyers benefited from a £100,000 right-to-buy discount. This is just under the maximum discount available through the scheme, which in London is currently £104,900.

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The media are too busy attacking Trump.

Media Blackout On The DNC Lawsuit Proves That It Is Nuclear (Med.)

I had the privilege of interviewing my newest personal hero yesterday, attorney Elizabeth Lee Beck, about her legal team’s fraud case against the Democratic National Committee. One of the many useful insights that this straight-shooting mom on fire brought to light during our conversation was her story about a time she reached out to New York Times reporter Michael Barbaro to get some help cracking through the deep, dark media blackout on this extremely important case. Barbaro had previously interviewed Beck and featured her in a front-page story not long ago, so she had every reason to try and contact him. What happened next? “The little piss head blocks me,” Beck said. Why is a journalist for the New York Times blocking a potential source from contacting him? Why is the mainstream media refusing to go anywhere near a legal case that has heavy implications for the future of American democracy?

You already know the answer to this deep down, whether you’re the kind of person who turns and faces reality or the kind of person who dissociates from reality at all costs while watching Samantha Bee and chugging cough syrup on the sofa. The function of the mass media is not to inform the American public of important things that are happening in their country, it is to turn attention away from the important things that are happening in their country and to keep them sleepy and compliant. The DNC lawsuit is one of the greatest threats to America’s power establishment right now, but only if people know about it. If the corporate media were to advance this story with even a fraction of the intensity that they’re advancing their xenophobic anti-Russia nonsense, they’d start waking up the sleeping masses to the fact that there is nothing resembling democracy happening in America at all.

And the DNC’s own lawyers have indeed made it abundantly clear to anyone who’s been listening that there is no democracy in America. You cannot make the case that you are not required to provide real primary elections in a rigidly-enforced two-party system and still say that democracy is happening to any extent within your nation. Being forced to choose between two establishment-selected corporatists is not democracy, and this revolutionary lawsuit has been showing in no uncertain terms that this is exactly what is happening both in practice and in theory. In order to say that there is any sort of democratic process in America at all, there would have to either be a way to run viable independent and third-party candidates, or the people would have to be able to determine who the candidates will be for the two parties that they are permitted to choose from. Currently neither of those things is happening.

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I’ve said it before: in Assange, Snowden, Manning etc., America -and the west- “persecutes, prosecutes, vilifies, condemns, exiles, or murders” its finest.

Patriotism And Conscience: The Edward Snowden Affair (LibR)

Here’s the point: If the NSA were to be abolished today and if Congress were to order all of its documents and records to be released immediately to the public, nothing would happen to the United States. Nothing! The same holds true for the CIA and the military-industrial complex. If all their files and records were to be suddenly disclosed to the people of the world, America would continue to exist as a country. It would not fall into the ocean, and the federal government would continue to operate. In fact, full disclosure of all of the illegal and immoral actions that the U.S. national-security establishment has engaged in during the past 70 years of its existence would be the greatest and healthiest thing that could ever happen to the United States.

Full disclosure of such secrets would be an antiseptic that would help cleanse the federal government and the country of many of the long-lasting stains that the national-security establishment has inflicted on it — an antiseptic that might finally begin to restore trust and confidence in the federal government among the American people. To be sure, the secrecy is always alleged to be justified by “national security,” the two most important words in any nation whose government is a national-security state. But what does that term mean? It has no objective meaning at all. It’s just a bogus term designed to keep nefarious and illegal actions secret. But heaven help those who reveal those secrets to others. They will be persecuted, prosecuted, vilified, condemned, exiled, or murdered. Nothing matters more to a national-security state than the protection of its secrets.

Those who reveal them must be made examples to anyone else who contemplates doing the same thing. In the process, conscience is suspended and stultified. It has no role in a national-security state. Individual citizens are expected to place their deep and abiding trust in the national-security establishment and to unconditionally defer to its judgment and expertise. Its job is to protect “national security” and that’s all that people need to know. Sometimes that entails illegal activity, such as murder, torture, and kidnapping, but that’s just the way it is. What’s important, they say, is that the national-security establishment is on the job, a perpetual sentinel for freedom, protecting “national security.”

Imagine that Edward Snowden voluntarily returned to the United States for trial. Do you think he would be given the opportunity at trial to show why he disclosed the NSA’s illegal and nefarious surveillance schemes? Do you think he would be entitled to argue that he was simply following the dictates of his conscience when he chose to reveal that information to the American people and the world?

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“Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? ”

Worried About ‘Wannacry’? You Should Have Listened To Julian Assange (Duran)

A widespread computer virus attack known as ‘WannaCry’ has been compromising computers with obsolete operating systems across the world. This should be the opening sentence of just about every article on this subject, but unfortunately it is not. The virus does not attack modern computer operating systems, it is designed to attack the Windows XP operating system that is so old, it was likely used in offices in the World Trade Center prior to September 11 2001, when the buildings collapsed. Windows XP was first released on 25 August, 2001. A child born on the release date of Windows XP is now on the verge of his or her 17th birthday. Feeling old yet? The fact of the matter is that governments and businesses around the world should not only feel old, they should feel humiliated and disgraced.

With the amount of money governments tax individuals and private entities, it is beyond belief that government organisations ranging from some computers in the Russian Interior Ministry to virtually all computers in Britain’s National Health Service, should be using an operating system so obsolete that its manufacturer, Microsoft, no longer supports it and hasn’t done for some time. Perhaps in order to save money, governments should also use prop-planes from the 1940s to conduct recon missions? The scathing reality of this attack is that Julian Assange warned both private and public sectors to be on guard against known vulnerabilities in such systems, vulnerabilities Wikileaks helped to expose. Assange even offered to help companies to get their digital security up to date. The fact that Assange’s plea fell on deaf ears must bring further shame to all those impacted by the ‘WannaCry’ attacks who refused to listen to Assange and get with the times.

[..] if only governments and mega-corporations took precautions to ensure actual safety measures were in place, rather than engaging in bogus fear-mongering in order to conceal their own incompetence and lack of modern technology, the people that such bodies are supposed to protect would be safe rather than misled and exposed to threats. The blame for today’s attack can and should be equally shared by the hackers themselves and by those who patently ignored the warnings of Julian Assange, who advised the wider world to get clever, get secure and get modern upon the release of Vault 7 by Wikileaks. When there is a wolf at your door, it is unwise to blame the person pointing out the presence of the hungry wolf. Those who attack Julian Assange for pointing out the wolf of un-secured computer systems are doing just that.

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How many people know and understand that the economic models on which all current policies are based entirely ignore both credit and energy in our economies? How crazy is that?

Steve Keen Defines A Production Function Based On Energy (Res.)

Professor Steve Keen may be the first mainstream economist to address a fatal flaw in economic theory: omitting or minimizing the role of energy. Keen has developed a production formula incorporating energy, not as one factor of production along with capital and labor, but as the indispensable flow activating both. “Labor without energy is a corpse” says Keen; “Capital without energy is a sculpture.” Keen was one of twenty or so economists who made a credible prediction of the 2008-9 crisis, which government economists in the US and abroad declared “unpredictable” – after it blindsided them.

His work draws on contemporary economic theory and generates real-world predictions. He’s the sort of economist who financial commentators, investors and even government economists listen to; folks who haven’t heard of Daly’s steady state economy, Odum’s energy flow analysis of the ecosystem-economy, or Hall’s EROI “cheese slicer” model. Keen’s model implies that economic production is measurable in energy units, as Odum and others argued. Wealth is “nothing but the food, conveniences and pleasures of life,” as the earliest economists recognized. But it results from useful work, which can be measured in kilocalories. (To us weight watchers, just “calories.”) Here is his fundamental equation (the only one here, I promise):

To test his model against real data, Keen correlated its results with historical statistics of US GDP, and then compared correlations of GDP with the key terms individually. Over 40-odd years of data, his function correlated 0.79 with US GDP. The correlations with employment (Labor) alone and energy consumption (E) alone were much lower, at 0.60 and 0.59 respectively. His model might have correlated better if applied to a closed economic system, such as the entire world, or the US prior to 1970, if good data were available. Most of the useful work that supports Americans today is performed in the Far East or in the engines of container ships, and the energy inputs are considerable. Introducing his test data, Keen remarked that government statistics showing minimal unemployment were “just nonsense”. He presented a measure of employment instead. “They ask what Trump is complaining about- here’s what he’s complaining about..” (This was back in November.)

Presenting a chart of industrial energy consumption 1960-present, Keen remarked on the on the long decline since the 1979 peak, his latest values showing consumption comparable to 1967-8. Partly the result of increased efficiency, he said, but also “..becoming intractable because we are moving from highly efficient oil and coal to much less efficient wind and solar.” (Efficiency as energy output per unit of energy input.) I don’t think I’m overstating to say that Keen’s model marks a breakthrough in mainstream economics, though Keen describes it as merely “..the beginnings of a decent equation to explain the role of energy in production.”..demonstrating that wealth is “..fundamentally created by the exploitation of free energy, as the Physiocrats argued two centuries ago.” For those who discount any economic reasoning not expressed in calculus, Keen’s work opens an access to the wisdom of the Physiocrats. Maybe that of Daly, Odum and Hall as well.

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Time to organize. Or keep losing.

The Rise Of Rentiers And The Destruction Of The Middle Class (Ev)

The facts about the decline of the American middle class are increasingly familiar, though startling nonetheless. After growing almost continuously since World War II, U.S. median income stagnated at the end of the 1980s and then, beginning in 2000, declined 11%. Middle-class incomes today are no higher in real terms than they were in 1987. Much of the debt that caused the crisis was accumulated by the middle class as people tried to compensate for stagnant incomes by mortgaging up their homes and running up their credit cards. Then the debt bubble burst and the median family lost nearly $50,000, or 40% of its net wealth, from 2007 to 2010. For the typical middle-class family, the crisis wiped out 18 years of savings and investment. With too much debt before the crisis and their modest savings hammered by the downturn, many middle-class baby boomers are facing a major decline in living standards as they age.

On the other side of the generational divide, this will be the first cohort in modern American history whose children will quite possibly be poorer than their parents. So what do the rise of rentier capitalism and the hollowing out of America’s middle class have to do with each other? It is too simple to say that one directly caused the other. But they are more tightly linked than might be expected. The usual explanations for the woes of the American middle class point to big tectonic forces—namely globalization and technological change. At a superficial level this argument is correct—competition from low-wage countries has depressed wage growth in certain sectors, and technology has eliminated some manufacturing and middle-management jobs. But what this analysis leaves out is what we didn’t do—we didn’t make the long-term investments that would have helped us better adapt to these tectonic shifts.

One of the great historical strengths of both American capitalism and the American political system has been their adaptability. When the Industrial Revolution threatened America’s largely agricultural economy, America adapted and went one better, leapfrogging European industrial production by the early twentieth century. When industrialization then unbalanced America’s political system and strained its social fabric, Teddy Roosevelt unleashed a wave of political and social innovation, busting up trusts and introducing protections for consumers and workers. In the depths of the Depression, another Roosevelt responded with rural electrification, the creation of Social Security, and financial regulation that kept the system stable for 70 years. When the Soviet Union challenged America in the Cold War, we made massive investments in technology, education, and the National Highway System. The benefits of these innovations and investments flowed broadly in American society, not least to the middle class.

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Austrian school.

The Economic School You’ve Never Heard Of (EpT)

Economics was once tasked with describing how man manages the world’s scarce resources, a process far older than economics as a science. But it has morphed into a field that blames the individual and reality for not measuring up to its theories, and then uses the coercive power of the state in an attempt to shape individuals and reality according to its ends. The Austrian school of economics, the once dominant school of economic thought at the turn of the 19th century, focuses on the individual—and his or her actions and motivations—to explain economic life. It derives its name from the many scholars from Austria who developed 19th-century classic liberalism into a coherent explanation of economic life.

“Economics is in reality very simple. It functions in the same way that it did thousands of years ago. People come together to voluntarily engage in commerce with one another for their mutual benefit. People specialize and divide work among themselves to advance their condition,” writes modern Austrian economist Philipp Bagus in his book “Blind Robbery!” A bedrock principle of this understanding is that exchange should occur voluntarily and not under the coercion of the state or any other party. If exchange is voluntary, the individual or company must offer something of value if it wants to obtain something of value. This premise encourages innovative, creative, and productive behavior. It also forces individuals to think about what their fellow humans may appreciate or need. Every decision to allocate capital and labor needs to stand the test of reason, argument, and negotiation.

On aggregate, this decision-making process is much more elaborate and prudent than any central planning decision, which must use force to compel its subjects. “Production is directed either by profit-seeking businessmen or by the decisions of a director to whom supreme and exclusive power is entrusted. . . . The question is: Who should be master, the consumers or the director?” Austrian school economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) writes in his book “Human Action.” This approach to economics can do without the complex mathematical models of the current schools because it admits that perfection doesn’t exist. There is no equilibrium. Things aren’t perfect, but the best possible solution to economic problems will be found by private individuals acting voluntarily, each assessing new situations for themselves.

“This is precisely what the price system does under competition, and which no other system even promises to accomplish. It enables entrepreneurs, by watching the movement of comparatively few prices, as an engineer watches the hands of a few dials, to adjust their activities to those of their fellows,” Nobel laureate Friedrich von Hayek wrote in his 1944 classic “The Road to Serfdom.”

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How any people are still happy in their work? Why do they volunteer to work for others?

The Future of Work, Robotization, and Capitalism’s Useless Jobs (Bregman)

I admit, we’ve heard it all before. Employees have been worrying about the rising tide of automation for 200 years now, and for 200 years employers have been assuring them that new jobs will naturally materialize to take their place. After all, if you look at the year 1800, some 74% of all Americans were farmers, whereas by 1900 this figure was down to 31%, and by 2000 to a mere 3%. Yet this hasn’t led to mass unemployment. In 1930, the famous economist John Maynard Keynes was predicting that we’d all be working just 15-hour weeks by the year 2030. Yet, since the 1980s, work has only been taking up more of our time, bringing waves of burnouts and stress in its wake. Meanwhile, the crux of the issue isn’t even being discussed. The real question we should be asking ourselves is: what actually constitutes “work” in this day and age?

In a 2013 survey of 12,000 professionals by the Harvard Business Review, half said they felt their job had no “meaning and significance,” and an equal number were unable to relate to their company’s mission, while another poll among 230,000 employees in 142 countries showed that only 13% of workers actually like their job. A recent poll among Brits revealed that as many as 37% think they have a job that is utterly useless. They have, what anthropologist David Graeber refers to as, “bullshit jobs”. On paper, these jobs sound fantastic. And yet there are scores of successful professionals with imposing LinkedIn profiles and impressive salaries who nevertheless go home every evening grumbling that their work serves no purpose.

Let’s get one thing clear though: I’m not talking about the sanitation workers, the teachers, and the nurses of the world. If these people were to go on strike, we’d have an instant state of emergency on our hands. No, I’m talking about the growing armies of consultants, bankers, tax advisors, managers, and others who earn their money in strategic trans-sector peer-to-peer meetings to brainstorm the value-add on co-creation in the network society. Or something to that effect. So, will there still be enough jobs for everyone a few decades from now? Anybody who fears mass unemployment underestimates capitalism’s extraordinary ability to generate new bullshit jobs. If we want to really reap the rewards of the huge technological advances made in recent decades (and of the advancing robots), then we need to radically rethink our definition of “work.”

It starts with an age-old question: what is the meaning of life? Most people would say the meaning of life is to make the world a little more beautiful, or nicer, or more interesting. But how? These days, our main answer to that is: through work. Our definition of work, however, is incredibly narrow. Only the work that generates money is allowed to count toward GDP. Little wonder, then, that we have organized education around feeding as many people as possible in bite-size flexible parcels into the employment establishment. Yet what happens when a growing proportion of people deemed successful by the measure of our knowledge economy say their work is pointless? That’s one of the biggest taboos of our times. Our whole system of finding meaning could dissolve like a puff of smoke.

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Painful. 3rd world.

US Much Women More Likely To Die In Childbirth Than 25 Years Ago (ProP)

The ability to protect the health of mothers and babies in childbirth is a basic measure of a society’s development. Yet every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and some 65,000 nearly die — by many measures, the worst record in the developed world. American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), six times as likely to die as Scandinavians. In every other wealthy country, and many less affluent ones, maternal mortality rates have been falling; in Great Britain, the journal Lancet recently noted, the rate has declined so dramatically that “a man is more likely to die while his partner is pregnant than she is.”

But in the U.S., maternal deaths increased from 2000 to 2014. In a recent analysis by the CDC Foundation, nearly 60% of such deaths were preventable. While maternal mortality is significantly more common among African Americans, low-income women and in rural areas, pregnancy and childbirth complications kill women of every race and ethnicity, education and income level, in every part of the U.S. [..] The reasons for higher maternal mortality in the U.S. are manifold. New mothers are older than they used to be, with more complex medical histories. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so many women don’t address chronic health issues beforehand. Greater prevalence of C-sections leads to more life-threatening complications. The fragmented health system makes it harder for new mothers, especially those without good insurance, to get the care they need. Confusion about how to recognize worrisome symptoms and treat obstetric emergencies makes caregivers more prone to error.

Yet the worsening U.S. maternal mortality numbers contrast sharply with the impressive progress in saving babies’ lives. Infant mortality has fallen to its lowest point in history, the CDC reports, reflecting 50 years of efforts by the public health community to prevent birth defects, reduce preterm birth and improve outcomes for very premature infants. The number of babies who die annually in the U.S. — about 23,000 in 2014 — still greatly exceeds the number of expectant and new mothers who die, but the ratio is narrowing. The divergent trends for mothers and babies highlight a theme that has emerged repeatedly in ProPublica’s and NPR’s reporting. In recent decades, under the assumption that it had conquered maternal mortality, the American medical system has focused more on fetal and infant safety and survival than on the mother’s health and well-being.

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Everybody in the west is responsible for this. Our governments willfully create the chaos that generates it.

Africa’s New Slave Trade (G.)

The dangers of attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, in overcrowded, unseaworthy vessels, have been highlighted by a series of desperate rescue missions and thousands of deaths at sea in recent years. Last week, at least 245 people were killed by shipwrecks, bringing the toll for this year alone to 1,300. Less well-known are the dangers of Libya itself for migrants fleeing poverty across West Africa. The country’s slide into chaos following the 2011 death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the collapse of the government have made it a breeding ground for crime and exploitation. Two rival governments, an Isis franchise and countless local militias competing for control of a vast, sparsely populated territory awash in weapons, have allowed traffickers to flourish, checked only by the activities of their criminal rivals.

Last year, more than 180,000 refugees arrived in Italy, the vast majority of them through Libya, according to UN agency the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). That number is forecast to top 200,000 this year – and these people form a lucrative source of income for militias and mafias who control Libya’s roads and trafficking networks. Migrants who managed to reach Europe from Libya have long told of being kidnapped by smugglers, who would then torture them to extort cash as they waited for boats. But in recent years this abuse has developed into a modern-day slave trade – plied along routes once used by slaving caravans – that has engulfed tens of thousands of lives.

The new slave traders operate with such impunity that, survivors say, some victims are being sold in public markets. Most, however, see their lives and liberty auctioned off in private. “They took people and put them in the street, under a sign that said ‘for sale’,” said Shamsuddin Jibril, 27, from Cameroon, who twice saw men traded publicly in the streets of the central Libyan town of Sabha, once famous as the home of a young Gaddafi, but now known for violence and brutality. “They tied their hands just like in the former slave trade, and they drove them here in the back of a Toyota Hilux. There were maybe five or seven of them.”

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May 082017
 
 May 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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RCA TV test pattern 1939

 

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)
In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)
Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)
US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)
Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)
UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)
Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)
China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)
Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)
Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)
Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)
How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)
German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)
Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)
1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)
Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

 

 

Anyone would have won against Le Pen.

Macron Banks On De Gaulle’s ‘Majority Amplifier’ To Govern (R.)

Unknown just three years ago, and with a party only 12 months old, Emmanuel Macron has seized the presidency against all the odds. His challenge now is to govern. To do that he must build a parliamentary majority that supports his election pledges in June legislative elections, when France’s two established parties will put their huge machines to work. Macron has at least one thing in his favor: the “majority amplifier” effect of an electoral system designed by post-war leader Charles de Gaulle specifically to maximize presidential independence from parliament. Last week, the first opinion survey for the legislative elections showed Macron’s new movement “En Marche!” could win between 249 and 286 mainland France seats in the lower house. Even a figure at the bottom of that range would be a good outcome for him.

He only needs 289 for an absolute majority, and the poll excluded 42 seats in Corsica and overseas. It foresaw centrist and conservative parties winning around 200-210 mainland seats, the far-right National Front 15-25 and the Socialists 28-43. “In the lowest-case scenario, En Marche would still be the largest political grouping, which would be enough to try to constitute a majority. The question would then be how and with whom,” said OpinionWay’s Bruno Jeanbart, who directed the poll. En Marche is only a year old and has never fielded candidates before. Only 14 have been named so far, and at first glance a majority looks unlikely. But that reckons without de Gaulle’s amplifier – known as the “fait majoritaire” by French political scientists. [..] The last legislative vote in 2012 also showed the “fait majoritaire” in action.

Socialist Francois Hollande garnered less than 30% in the first rounds of both the presidentials and the legislatives, yet came away with over 40% of the second-round legislative vote and, with help from 17 Green party MPs, governed with a comfortable majority. “Macron can totally have an extremely solid majority of at least 350 MPs,” said Xavier Chinaud, an electoral expert. He added that to reach that number, the president would have to employ tactics like poaching popular MPs from other parties. The old parties will put up a fight, especially the conservative Republicans [..] Now led by Francois Baroin, they hope for enough seats to force Macron into France’s fourth “cohabitation” since 1958. Cohabitation does not have to mean paralysis, but rather that the prime minister and his camp in parliament have the upper hand over the president.

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“En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign.”

In France, The Run Of Macron’s Life Starts Monday (Pol.)

Winning the presidency now looks like the easy bit. If Emmanuel Macron makes his way to the Élysée Palace, as expected, in the second round of France’s presidential election Sunday, another bruising political battle is looming. To be able to govern and not be sidelined by a hostile parliament, Macron’s nascent political movement En Marche will have to cobble together a majority in the National Assembly in an election beginning on June 11. And unlike in the second round of the presidential ballot — in which parties from across the political spectrum have urged their supporters to vote for him over his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen — Macron’s rivals will be devoting all their energies to defeating him.

The 39-year-old former economy minister will be counting on his army of 250,000 En Marche volunteers, and a crew made up mostly of political novices. And while Macron hopes that a victory in the presidential election will draw others to his banner, for a movement that was launched a little over a year ago, winning control of parliament looks like a tall order. The stakes are high. If Macron can’t clinch a majority, he won’t be able to appoint a prime minister of his liking. He’ll spend his term largely as a figurehead, his dreams of reforming France all but sunk. Macron needs 289 deputies to be ensured of an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament. So far, En Marche, the movement he still refuses to call a party, has endorsed 14.

True to form, Macron exudes a sense of confidence that the momentum of his election will carry over to the parliamentary polls, allowing him to clinch a majority just six weeks later. This may not be out of reach. A survey conducted this week by OpinionWay, although preliminary, indicated that En Marche could well obtain more than half the seats in the National Assembly. By weaving in electoral results from past elections with a recent poll, OpinionWay estimates that the next Parliament would be dominated by En Marche and the conservative Républicains party. The ruling Socialist Party would be decimated, and Le Pen’s National Front would obtain 25 MPs at most – due to France’s electoral system.

Sill, obstacles abound. En Marche will be facing an energized right. Both the mainstream center-right Républicains party and Le Pen’s National Front will emerge from the presidential election feeling that Macron has robbed them of a victory they at some point considered theirs. François Fillon’s failed campaign has left deep wounds in the Républicains, but one way to try to heal them could be to make Macron their common target in June. [..] En Marche doesn’t have the money to finance a full-blown parliamentary run. It must ask its candidates to invest not only their time but also their money in the upcoming blitz campaign. Political parties in France are provided with public funding according to their performance in previous elections. En Marche, founded a little over a year ago, has never put up a candidate for office before.

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Not THAT much trust perhaps.

Euro Gives Up Gains As Investors Look To Post-Election France (G.)

The euro rose to a six-month high in the wake of Emmanuel Macron’s convincing victory in the French election but the upside for the single currency could be short-lived, analysts warned. In Asian trading on Monday, the euro rose as high as $1.1024 , its highest since 9 November, and also jumped to a one-year high of 124.58 yen against its Japanese counterpart. But it had slipped almost 0.3% to $1.096 against the dollar by 5.30am GMT and lost a similar amount to the yen with traders remarking that gains had already been largely priced in thanks to Macron’s strong showing in the first round of voting two weeks ago. “The market already priced in the victory of Macron,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist for Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

“We saw some additional rise of the euro this morning, but considering the difficulty for Macron’s party to get a majority in the national assembly election, he may not bring higher growth.” Looking at positioning in the euro, he said, “the market has squared its short positions, but there are no fresh reasons to take long positions, as there will likely be no new positive developments, and limited scope for upside for the euro”. The muted analysis was partly based on an acknowledgment of the problems facing Macron, a 39-year-old former banker who has never held elected office. He was economy minister under outgoing president François Hollande but failed to turn around the fortunes of the beleaguered government. He has pledged to reform the country’s rigid labour laws – long seen by pro-market economists as a hindrance to growth – but such change was beyond the Hollande administration, despite a lengthy struggle.

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Reality check.

US Economy Can’t Even Match the “Sclerotic Statism” of France (CEPR)

The Washington Post has long pushed the view that a dollar (or euro) that is in the pocket of a middle class person is a dollar that should be in the pockets of the rich. (They are okay with crumbs for the poor.) In keeping with this position, in its lead editorial today the Post complained about the “sclerotic statism” of the French economy. It then called for increasing employment, “through reforms of the labor code, not by protectionism or restriction of immigration.” It is worth bringing a little bit of data to the fact free zone of the Washington Post opinion pages. France actually has consistently had a higher employment rate for its prime age workers (ages 25 to 54) than the United States.

As can be seen, the employment rate for prime age workers in France was roughly 2 percentage points higher in 2003. The gap expanded to almost 7 percentage points following the downturn, but it has in more recent years narrowed again to just under 2 percentage points. France does have much lower employment rates among younger and older workers than the United States, but this is due to policy choices. College is largely free in France and students get stipends from the government. Therefore many fewer young people work. France also makes it much easier for people to retire in their early sixties than in the United States, with largely free health care and earlier pensions. The merits of these policies can be debated, but they are not evidence of a sclerotic economy.

It is also not clear that the Washington Post’s desire to weaken protections for workers (euphemistically described as “reforms of the labor code”) will have a significant effect in reducing unemployment or raising employment. Extensive research has shown there is little relationship between worker protections and employment. It is also worth noting that the Post denounced protectionism in this editorial, but it is fine with protectionism in the form of ever longer and stronger copyright and patent protection, which benefit people it likes.

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Expect losses.

Expect Dramatically Lower Stock Market Returns Over Next Decade (CNBC)

Enjoy the stock indexes riding at record highs for now, but get ready for much stingier markets in the years to come. That’s the message consistently conveyed these days by investment counselors and finance scholars, who argue that with today’s starting equity valuations and low interest rates, the coming decade should produce dramatically lower returns than the historical average. The leaders of Vanguard Group, overseers of some $4 trillion in client assets, have been advising investors to expect a typical 60% stocks/40% bonds portfolio to deliver two- to- three percentage points less in nominal annual returns than its long-term norm. (Since 1926, such an asset mix has returned better than 8.5% annualized.)

Other forecasts are even less generous. Research Affiliates, a quantitative and “smart beta” fund manager, projects that U.S. stocks might only offer one% a year for the next decade, after inflation. This is based largely on the so-called Shiller P/E, a ratio of the S&P 500 index to its trailing ten-year average earnings, which is now above 29 and higher than any period aside from the run-up to the 1929 and 2000 market peaks. Jeremy Grantham of institutional value manager GMO has, by his admission, been wrong for years in assuming that corporate profit margins and equity valuations would revert to their pre-1990s trend levels. Yet even accounting for some more permanent upward shift in these gauges, he sees real (after inflation) returns of 2-3% a year looking out two decades.

And a simple plot of the market’s forward P/E ratio against subsequent market returns shows that, since 1978, when starting at today’s multiple of around 17.5 forecast earnings, ensuing seven- and 15-year nominal returns (before inflation) have been clustered in the mid- to low-single digits. These forward-return calculations vary in their approach and assumptions, but all are anchored on today’s stock valuations, long-term norms in corporate-profit growth and current interest rates. Stocks, even during the depths of the last bear market, never got dramatically cheap compared to prior cycles and certainly didn’t stay inexpensive for very long. And with risk-free 10-year government debt yielding a skimpy 2.3% in the U.S. and far less elsewhere, all other financial assets have repriced for skimpier future returns as well.

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The consumer is toast.

UK Consumer Spending Weakens With Sharp Slowdown in April (BBG)

U.K. consumer-spending growth slowed in April and is forecast to remain weak in the coming months, according to a report from Visa. Its index showed spending rose an annual 0.5% in April, down from 1% in March and marking one of the slowest rates of growth in the past three years. Weaker household demand is also taking a toll on retailers. A separate report from the Institute for Chartered Accountants in England and Wales showed while there was a jump in business confidence this quarter, retailing was the laggard among nine sectors covered. “The trend of relatively modest expenditure growth is likely to extend in to the coming months, as consumers are squeezed by both rising living costs and relatively lackluster wage growth,” said Annabel Fiddes, an economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the consumer index.

Inflation was at 2.3% last month and is forecast to keep accelerating through this year, outpacing wage increases and leaving workers facing a drop in real incomes. The Bank of England may raise its forecast for consumer-price growth this week, which could indicate an even bigger squeeze on households. The overall business sentiment gauge by the ICAEW jumped the highest in almost a year this quarter. Yet despite firms being more confident, the report showed they are still reluctant to make long-term commitments. While Brexit is dominating the agenda in the buildup to the U.K. election on June 8, the institute said all parties must spell out how they will “address the problem of business investment head-on.”

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No wonder consumer spending’s down.

Brexit Boom Gives Britain More Billionaires, Inequality Than Ever (G.)

Britain has more billionaires than ever in what equality campaigners said was a clear sign the UK economy is only working for the few at the top. There are now 134 billionaires based in the UK according to this year’s Sunday Times Rich List, 14 more than the previous highest total, as the super-rich reap the benefits of a “Brexit boom”. Fifteen years ago, there were 21. The annual rich list showed that the wealthiest 1,000 individuals and families in Britain have combined wealth of £658bn, up from £575bn last year, despite fears that the Brexit vote last June would plunge the economy into a fresh turmoil. The Equality Trust said the £83bn increase in wealth among the richest 1,000 people over the past year could pay the energy bills of all UK households for two and a half years and would be enough for the grocery bills for all food bank users for 56 years.

Wanda Wyporska, the executive director of the trust, said that an elite was sitting on mountains of wealth in the fifth largest economy of the world. “The super-rich continue to streak away from the rest of us, while the poorest see their wealth shrink. This is an economy working for the few, not the many,” she said. “Record numbers of people visited food banks last year, millions are locked out of a decent home and two-thirds of children in poverty are in working households. “We know that inequality damages our economy and society, and makes it harder for ordinary people and their children to get on. With the general election fast approaching, our politicians need to decide the sort of country they want to build. One where we can all prosper or one where we’re picking crumbs from the super-rich’s table.”

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China Shadow Banking Assets Estimated at 64.5t Yuan or 87% of GDP: Moody’s.

China Tycoons Are Setting Up Shop In The US (BBG)

When a new hedge fund opened in Mountainside, New Jersey, a leafy suburb that still holds an annual little-league parade, few would have guessed where much of its funding came from: Chinese billionaire Cai Kui. The credit hedge fund, Westfield Investment, was founded by former Goldman Sachs Managing Director Renyuan Gao and managed $139 million as of January. It’s part of a new crop of asset management firms that are expanding China’s reach on Wall Street as money has poured into the U.S. from the world’s second-biggest economy. China’s marquee names are among those setting up shop in the U.S. Chen Feng, who controls the HNA Group airline and hotel conglomerate, has opened a U.S. money management firm. China Vanke, the mainland’s second-largest residential developer, has indirectly taken a major stake in a manager.

All told, about 324 firms with financial ties to the mainland and Hong Kong had registered with regulators by last year, more than double the number in 2012, filings show. They are riding the wave of capital that left China on concerns about bank debt, a real estate bubble and the yuan, which plummeted about 11% against the dollar in the last two years. The currency flight was reflected in balance of payments data where capital outflows tripled to $220 billion last year from $70 billion in 2014, according to Derek Scissors, a China economist at the American Enterprise Institute. “There is so much Chinese money floating around the U.S. now,” Scissors said. “If you’re a Chinese money manager, why wouldn’t you come here?” The migration comes amid a Chinese shopping spree for an array of U.S. companies, including financial firms like New York’s Cowen Group and the Chicago Stock Exchange.

Chongqing Casin Enterprise led the purchase of the exchange, which was founded in 1882. The deal was reviewed by a U.S. panel on national security grounds and eventually cleared in December. In another deal with political overtones, a subsidiary of Chen’s HNA Group agreed in January to buy a stake in Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge Capital, a New York fund of hedge funds firm. The announcement came after reports that Scaramucci had been tapped for a top job in the White House, stirring speculation that HNA’s motives were partly political. The registration of the China-linked firms with the SEC hasn’t drawn such scrutiny. The SEC began requiring hedge funds and buyout firms to sign up with the agency in 2012 as a result of the Dodd-Frank Act. About 30% of the Chinese firms that registered by 2016 are full-fledged money managers. The rest filed as exempt advisers that operate in the U.S. on a more limited basis.

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OPEC is fast losing what remained of its credibility.

Hedge Funds Bail Just Before OPEC-Driven Oil Rally Vanishes (BBG)

Hedge funds jumped out of the oil market just in time. Before West Texas Intermediate crude nosedived on Thursday, wiping out the rally driven by OPEC’s deal, money managers slashed bets on rising prices by 20%, according to U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data. Now they may soon be well poised to start betting on the next rally. “We are moving toward a positioning where these money managers are no longer over-invested,” Tim Evans at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said. “This opens up the potential for them to start buying again.” Oil collapsed Thursday amid concerns that OPEC has failed to ease a supply glut as U.S. shale drillers ramp up output. Shares of U.S.-based producers got crushed as investors worry they might be repeating the same pattern that led to the market crash in 2014.

Earlier this year, billionaire wildcatter Harold Hamm urged colleagues to take a “measured” approach to lifting production, or risk a new glut. In a gamble that things could get worse, about $7 million worth of options changed hands Friday that will pay off if WTI falls beneath $39 a barrel by mid-July, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Hedge funds decreased their net-long position, or the difference between bets on a price increase and wagers on a drop, to 203,104 futures and options in the week ended May 2, the CFTC data show. Longs fell about 7%, while shorts surged 37%, following a 26% jump a week earlier. [..] Oil’s tumble to a five-month low was driven purely by technical trading and supply is still getting tighter, according to Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. The current price plunge began when WTI broke through its 200-day moving average. Once that gave way, another key technical indicator called a Fibonacci retracement was breached, paving the way to the low of the year and then $45 a barrel.

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Multigenerational households are the model of the past and the future. Come look in Greece.

Warning For Boomers: Your Gen X Kids Are Coming Back Home – For Good (MW)

Remove the door knockers. Pull down the shutters. Pretend no one’s home. Your adult children are coming back – for good. One-in-nine baby boomer parents said their adult children returned home within the last year, according to a new report from financial services firm Fidelity Investments and Stanford Center on Longevity, which surveyed 9,000 employees.The adult children save money on rent and household goods, but their parents are the ones who appear to be suffering: 68% said they were more stressed, 53% said they were less happy and another 53% said they had less leisure time after the return of their “boomerang kids.” More than three-quarters (76%) said they took on higher expenses, too. Even people who are now in their 40s and 50s are considering mom and dad an option.

Older millennials are 2.7 times more likely to live in their parents’ home than people under 55 years old than in 1999, while Generation-Xers, who are now in their mid-30s to early 50s, were 2.2 times as likely to live with their parents, according to separate data released last week by real estate site Trulia. “No parent is going to want to say no to a child who needs help, but certainly being realistic about the financial situation is important,” said Katie Taylor at Fidelity. More American adults are living with their parents and grandparents than ever before — 19% of the U.S. population (or nearly 61 million people) lived in a multigenerational household, up from 17% (42 million) in 2009 and 12% (27.5 million) in 1980, according to the Pew Research Center, nonprofit think tank based in Washington, D.C.

But not all millennials are as “lazy” or “entitled,” as they are often accused of being. About one in four 25- to 34-year-olds who live at home and are not working or going to school do so because of a health-related reason or because they are acting as caregivers to their family members. And more than a third of Americans, including millennials, expect to financially help their parents within the next few years, another survey found. Some are even making efforts to help their parents save for retirement.

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Wow, great timing! We’re coming to you live from the barn, and there’s not a horse in sight.

Australia To Hold New Inquiry Into ‘Big Four’ Banks (R.)

Australia will hold an inquiry into competition in the country’s financial system, following a series of scandals in the banking sector and public allegations against the “Big Four” banks of abuse of market power. The latest inquiry is part of a number of government measures since last year aimed at alleviating public concerns about the power of the big banks, after revelations of misconduct in the industry. Australia’s four major lenders – Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank – have come under fire recently following several scams involving misleading financial advice, insurance fraud and interest-rate rigging, as well as for refusing to pass on official interest rate cuts in full. The four together control 80% of Australia’s lending market and have posted record profits for years.

Westpac, NAB and ANZ all reported a rise in half-yearly cash profits this month, taking their total to about A$8.5 billion. CBA will report limited third-quarter figures on Tuesday. “The high concentration and degree of vertical integration in some parts of the Australian financial system has the potential to limit the benefits of competition…and should be proactively monitored over time,” Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement on Monday. “The Government is committed to ensuring that Australia’s financial system is competitive and innovative. That is why I have tasked the Productivity Commission to hold an inquiry into competition in Australia’s financial system.” The inquiry will consider the degree of concentration in key segments of the financial system, examine barriers to innovation in the system and look into competition in personal deposits and mortgages for households and small businesses.

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The benefits of ZIRP.

How Zombie Companies Stop Productivity Growth (BBG)

The global economy is picking up steam, but that’s deceptive. The foundations of expansion are soft, marked by weak productivity growth and inequality. The two are related. The productivity problem confronting the world’s advanced economies predates the financial crisis more than a decade ago. When we look beyond the headline statistics, patterns emerge. Advanced economies have become less dynamic and are at risk of becoming sclerotic unless the ambition for reform is revived. It’s essential that we understand three sources of the current productivity slump in particular, and identify the key reforms necessary to address them. First, the productivity slowdown masks a widening performance gap between more productive and less productive firms, as the chart below shows (the picture for service sector firms is even worse).

This divergence is not just driven by firms at the frontiers of their industry, pushing the technological boundaries, but also by stagnating productivity growth at what can be called laggard companies that have failed to adopt the leaders’ best practices. This is also bad news for inclusiveness, since rising wage inequality can be largely traced to the growing differentials in average wages paid across companies, with high-productivity ones paying high wages and low-productivity businesses paying low wages. Second, in well-functioning markets we would expect strong incentives for productive companies to aggressively expand and drive out less productive ones. The opposite has happened. The propensity for high-productivity companies to expand and low-productivity companies to downsize or exit the market has declined over time.

This pattern is evident in the U. S. and is particularly stark in southern Europe, where scarce capital has been increasingly misallocated to low-productivity firms. Third, across the 35 countries in the OECD, we are seeing a drop in the dynamism of the business sector. Not only has the share of recent entrants into the market declined, but marginal companies, which would typically exit or be restructured in a competitive market, are more likely to remain. At the same time, the average productivity of these marginal businesses has fallen. In other words, it has become easier for weak companies that do not adopt the latest technologies to survive. The survival of weak companies drags down average productivity, but the consequences for growth are even worse. Since such firms take up scarce resources, their prolonged survival (or their delayed restructuring) inflates wages relative to productivity, depresses market prices and undermines investment – all of which deters the expansion of productive companies, particularly startups, and amplifies the mismatch of skills.

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They’ve known about this for decades.

German Army To Search All Barracks After Nazi Memorabilia Found (R.)

The head of Germany’s armed forces has called for an inspection of all army barracks after investigators discovered Nazi-era military memorabilia in a garrison, broadening a scandal about right-wing extremism among soldiers. The discovery at a barracks in Donaueschingen, in southwest Germany, was made in an investigation that began after similar Nazi-era items were found in the garrison of an army officer arrested on suspicion of planning a racially motivated attack. As a result, General Inspector Volker Wieker ordered a wider search of barracks. “The General Inspector has instructed that all properties be inspected to see whether rules on dealing with heritage with regard to the Wehrmacht and National Socialism are being observed,” a Defence Ministry spokesman said. Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the military must root out right-wing extremism.

“We must now investigate with all due rigor and with all candor in the armed forces,” the minister told broadcaster ARD on Sunday evening. “The process is starting now, and more is sure to come out. We are not through the worst of it yet.” Displaying Nazi items such as swastikas is punishable under German law, although possession of regular Wehrmacht items is not. Von der Leyen said last week, however, she would not tolerate the veneration of the Wehrmacht in today’s army, the Bundeswehr. Von der Leyen said the arrested officer – who had falsely registered as a Syrian refugee – had likely worked with others to squirrel away 1,000 rounds of ammunition, but the chief federal prosecutor was still investigating the matter. The suspect’s goal, she said, had likely been to carry out an attack and then pin the blame on migrants.

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Don’t hold your breath.

Greek PM Tsipras Rushes To Get Bailout Deal To Parliament With Eye On QE (K.)

After rallying his ministers, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras must now get coalition MPs behind him for a new multi-bill of austerity measures that is set to go to Parliament this coming week. Although some lawmakers have expressed reservations about the deal, which foresees further cuts to pensions and more tax increases, along with changes to the energy and labor markets, it is widely expected that Tsipras will get the support he needs to push the bill into law. A raft of so-called countermeasures – social welfare interventions that will come into effect in 2019 if the government meets budget targets – will be voted on separately and is sure to get the support of coalition MPs. The government has also appealed to the main political opposition New Democracy to back the offsetting measures but ND has refused to oblige.

According to government sources, Tsipras is already looking beyond the vote, expected on May 15 or 16, and beyond a scheduled Eurogroup summit on May 22 where the agreement between Greece and its creditors is expected to be rubber-stumped. Aides to the prime minister said he is considering a cabinet reshuffle to give his government a lift and inspire investors as talks on lightening Greece’s debt and the inclusion of Greek bonds in the ECB’s QE program are next on the agenda. It remains unclear whether Tsipras is considering a “cosmetic” shake-up or a radical overhaul, or whether key cabinet members such as Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos would keep their posts. But it appears that the government is keen to send out a message that it is turning a page following the completion of a tough bailout review that dragged on for months.

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Our times, and our very selves, are defined by refugees and famine more than anything else. But we don’t like to look at what defines us.

1 Million Child Refugees Flee South Sudan’s Civil War (BBG)

More than 1 million children have fled South Sudan’s civil war, two United Nations agencies said Monday, part of the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis. Another 1 million South Sudanese children are displaced within the country, having fled their homes due to the civil war, said the U.N.’s child and refugee agencies in a statement Monday. “The future of a generation is truly on the brink,” said Leila Pakkala, UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. “The horrifying fact that nearly one in five children in South Sudan has been forced to flee their home illustrates how devastating this conflict has been for the country’s most vulnerable.”

Roughly 62% of refugees from South Sudan are children, according to the U.N. statement, and more than 75,000 children are alone or without their families. Roughly 1.8 million people have fled South Sudan in total. “No refugee crisis today worries me more than South Sudan,” said Valentin Tapsoba, UNHCR’s Africa Bureau Director. “That refugee children are becoming the defining face of this emergency is incredibly troubling.” For children still living in South Sudan, the situation is still grim. Nearly three quarters of children are out of school, according to the U.N. statement, which is the highest out-of-school population in the world. An official famine was declared in two counties of South Sudan in February, and hundreds of thousands of children are at risk of starvation in the absence of food aid, according to the U.N.

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Why Russia’s safety zones make sense.

Growing Numbers of Refugees In Northern Syria in Urgent Need of Aid (Kom)

The co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), Ilham Ehmed, said that the operations to push out the Islamic State (IS) has resulted in refugee flows into the northern parts of Syria controlled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and that the displaced people are in urgent need of aid. “We have gathered the refugees that came recently in two camps,” Ehmed said to ANF. “In one of the camps, 50 thousand refugees are living. A number of aid organisations are present but there are no serious aid efforts. Many of the organisations receive funding from Europe but they still don’t help,” she said. “One can’t help wondering if they want Syrians to die, if there is a plan to kill them first with war and then with hunger. And if that fails from the heat and the cold. That’s the sad conclusion one draws from the situation.”

The SDC co-chair said they had discussed the urgent needs of food, housing and health with the US-led coalition without any results. “This is not acceptable, they should at least provide support for the refugee camps,” she said, stressing that preparations must be made as the operation to evict IS from Raqqa will give rise to many more refugees. “38 refugees coming from Raqqa have already died, some were children. It’s a tragedy. The European countries and the coalition must take their responsability.” Ehmad stressed the need of mediaction, clinics and doctors in the camps. “This is really urgent. Some will be able to return after the area has been liberated but those who lost their homes will stay, so we must make preparations.”

Ehmad also criticized Europe for giving in to what she called Turkey’s “blackmailing.” “There is an approach to the issue which goes something like this: ‘Let’s give them [Turkey] money so that no refugees will come here’. But everyone knows that the refugees are remaining in our region [Syria] at the moment.” Last year, the United Nations estimated that more than 6 million were internally displaced within Syria, and over 4,8 million were refugees outside of the country.

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May 072017
 
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Rembrandt Old Man Sitting 1631

 

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)
Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)
Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)
Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)
Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)
Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)
World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)
Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)
We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)
The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)
IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)
Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)
EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)
Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

 

 

One thing nobody seems to be able to figure out. And one more thing that everyone thinks should keep on growing.

The Great Productivity Slowdown (WSJ)

Equity markets have hit multiyear highs and consumer sentiment is buoyant. Yet economic productivity remains lackluster. The Labor Department announced Thursday that worker productivity fell 0.6% since January, a much bigger drop than expected. This is neither a statistical illusion nor a hangover from the Great Recession. The productivity slowdown began long before the financial crisis, and it has worsened markedly in the past six years. The drop-off extends to wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, construction, utilities and a host of private and public services. Industries that consume and produce information technology and communications are not immune to the slowdown. From 1950 to 1970, U.S. productivity grew on average by 2.6% annually. From 1970 to 1990 it fell to 1.5%.

The information technology boom of the ’90s interrupted the slide, but since 2010 U.S. productivity growth has been in free fall. It is now roughly 0.6% a year. No wonder Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen recently called low productivity a “significant problem.” Various estimates suggest that had U.S. productivity growth not slowed, GDP would be about $3 trillion higher than it is today. How is this happening during a technological revolution? Some think the data are wrong. Economist Joel Mokyr explained in 2014 that metrics devised for a “steel-and-wheat economy” fail to capture adequately transformative advances in information technology, communications and the biosciences. Technology has reduced the cost of information, expanded consumer choice, and provided customization and better price comparison.

This progress has been mostly missed in current statistics. GDP also does not fully capture metrics like time saved from shopping online. Nor does it include the value of leisure and the well-being that technology provides its users. Many economists contend that properly counting free digital services from companies like Google and Facebook would substantially boost productivity and GDP growth. One of the highest estimates, calculated by economists Austan Goolsbee and Peter Klenow, stands at $800 billion. That’s a big number, but not big enough to fill a $3 trillion hole.

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Talking about reasons productivity is not growing…

Take Away Finance, and Britain’s Foreign Investment Figures Collapse (Econ.)

Here is a riddle. Britain, for now at least, is loved by foreign investors. The stock of inward foreign direct investment (FDI) in Britain’s assets and shares is larger than anywhere except America and Hong Kong. In the past decade overseas investors have splurged some £600bn ($772bn), equivalent to a third of British GDP, to acquire over 2,000 British firms. The textbooks say that foreign investments make a country more productive. The new arrivals should bring with them cutting-edge capital assets and best-practice management. So why over the past decade has Britain’s productivity barely improved? The question matters for all Britons. If productivity growth is low, then wage growth will be too. Many factors determine Britain’s weak productivity growth, including creaky infrastructure. But new official data suggest that foreign investors are doing a lot less to improve the economy than commonly assumed.

The figures classify FDI flows into around 100 industries. In 2015 financial services accounted for an astonishing 95% of net inflows. This could include, for instance, foreign funding for Britain’s burgeoning financial-technology sector. Finance was unusually dominant in 2015, though even in 2012-14 the industry made up around 60% of the net figure. Remove financial services, and overall in 2015 a tiny amount of net foreign investment flowed into Britain—a few billion pounds at best. Many industries saw “negative inflows”, suggesting that foreigners were actually disinvesting, selling assets they had acquired back to British firms, for instance. In 2015 they pulled around £20bn from the oil-and-gas sector. Perhaps £1.5bn drained from manufacturing. Finance aside, investors seem to see few profitable opportunities in Britain.

What foreign investment does flow into the “real” economy may make surprisingly little difference. Much of it seems to be about one big company horizontally acquiring another, perhaps with the aim of eliminating overlapping marketing costs (such as in the Kraft-Cadbury deal of 2010) or of acquiring a trophy asset (such as the Tata-Corus steelmaker deal of 2007). A chunk of investment in Britain, meanwhile, is a statistical by-product of big firms moving headquarters for tax purposes rather than anything meaningful. As Britain begins the process of leaving the EU, interest from foreign investors is only likely to shrink. If so, the prospects for the kind of foreign investment that lifts productivity will start to look even gloomier.

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Democracy and emergency. Odd pair.

Round 2 Of French Presidential Elections Held Amid State Of Emergency (RT)

French voters are heading to the polls to choose France’s next president. The presidential runoff between centrist Emmanuel Macron and right-wing Marine le Pen is the first to take place amid an ongoing state of emergency, introduced in the country after 2015 terrorist attacks. French authorities have introduced extra security measures for the poll. This time “more than 50,000 policemen, gendarmes will be deployed [across the country] on Sunday”, French interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet told AFP on Thursday.Soldiers from Operation Sentinel will also “ensure security around polling stations and [will be able] to intervene immediately in case of any incident,” he added. Operation Sentinel was launched by the French Army in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in January of 2015 and the subsequent Paris strikes.

Paris police promised that at least 12,000 soldiers and police were to be drafted to Paris and its surrounding suburbs on Sunday, with 5,000 of securing polling stations and guaranteeing public order, as cited by AFP. People on social media have been calling for protests on May 7, regardless of the election result. The hashtags #nimacronnilepen (neither Macron, nor Le Pen) and #SansMoiLe7Mai (May 7 without me) was launched after the first round of the elections on April 23. Macron won the first round by securing 24.01 percent of the votes to le Pen’s 21.3 percent. Demonstrations have rocked France following the 1st round vote with people rallying against both candidates. “Neither fatherland, nor the boss, neither le Pen nor Macron,” banners held by protesters read. The rallies have often resulted in violence with protesters throwing stones and smoke grenades and police and officers responding with tear gas.

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“..since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power.”

Charles Gave Expects “Total Mayhem” In France Even If Macron Is Elected (ZH)

Venerable French investor Charles Gave has been managing money and researching markets for over 40 years; as such France’s elder statesman of asset allocation perhaps best captures the mood ahead of the most crucial Presidential election in a generation. In conversation with Dr. Pippa Malmgren, Charles breaks down national politics to understand why voters have rejected the establishment and the market impact of both outcomes, and what to expect from tomorrow’s election. First, Gave, who says “I’m not so sure that Macron will win”, is asked by Malmgren to walk RealVision viewers through what Macron’s agenda would look like in case of a victory. Gave is unable to do so for several simple reasons:

“Well, first, nobody knows. Because during the whole campaign, all these talks were on one hand, on the other. I’m in favor of apple pie, and motherhood, you see. Basically he has, to my knowledge, very little program. So he’s running. That is what Hollande said. That he was going to make some fundamental changes without hurting people. And so Macron is a big, empty suit. That’s what he is. You did the right curriculum vitae, he went to the right schools. And you have the feeling that the guy never had an original idea in his life. He was always a good student.

And moreover, there is a strong suspicion that he’s a kind of golem created by Hollande and all these guys. So since they knew they were going to lose the election, they created a guy in a hologram that would run for them and prevent them from losing power. So to a certain extent, the French political system has been captured by what you can call the Technocratic class. And whether from the left or the right, it didn’t make any difference. And this Technocratic class is presenting Macron as a brand new fellow. He is nothing brand new. These guys have been in power for 50 years for God’s sakes. So this is basically nothing.

If Le Pen wins, it’s pretty simple. The bond market in France, Italy, Spain cannot open on Monday morning. And I suppose the euro is dead in the following week. And then you have to buy Europe like crazy. Southern Europe. Why Southern Europe? Because it is Germany’s markets that would bear the brunt of the selloff, as the dissolution of the euro and European Union would effectively bring about the end of Germany’s economic hegemony (while at the same time benefitting France). The Germans have made a colossal mistake, which is that they have all the production in Germany. So they’re extremely efficient, well-organized, and they have developed massive current account surpluses. Half of that surplus is in cars. The margin on cars is around 4%. Imagine that the euro breaks down.

The deutschmark comes back. The deutschmark goes up 15, 20%. And the whole German industry, all the production base in Germany, becomes bankrupt in no time at all. Compare that to France. France we have magnificent big companies that have been intelligent enough to produce everywhere in the world, to operate from everywhere in the world, and be totally independent from what’s happening in France. What they have in France is their headquarters. And that’s about it. So if Europe breaks, you should be long France on the stock market, and short Germany. Big time.”

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Good cop bad cop. Or should I say: here’s how you can tell who’s the boss in Europe?!

Angry Merkel Slaps Down Juncker For Inflaming Brexit Talks (DM)

A rift emerged between Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker last night after she reportedly accused him of ‘inflaming’ Brexit talks by leaking details of his row with Theresa May. The German Chancellor’s relations with the EU Commission president are said to have ‘soured’ after Mr Juncker described Mrs May as living in ‘another galaxy’ following a recent dinner. According to German newspaper Der Spiegel, which has close links with Merkel’s government, she believes the leaking of private conversations – blamed on Juncker – ‘is not helpful in heating up the mood in this way’. The Der Spiegel article, headlined ‘Merkel angered by Juncker at Brexit dinner’, said it had made her mood ‘sour’ towards him. Juncker’s ‘another galaxy’ comment was made in a telephone call with Mrs Merkel after he clashed with Mrs May over dinner in Downing Street 11 days ago.

Juncker reportedly told Mrs Merkel: ‘It went very badly. She is in a different galaxy.’ The leak was blamed on Mr Juncker or his formidable German chief of staff, Martin Selmayr. In remarks clearly aimed at Mr Juncker, a furious Mrs May responded to the leaks last week by accusing ‘the bureaucrats of Brussels’ of trying to influence the General Election. But a defiant Mr Juncker took another swipe at Britain on Friday by claiming at a European Union summit in Italy that the English language was already ‘losing its importance in Europe’. The Der Spiegel article echoed public comments made by Mrs Merkel on Friday in which she struck a markedly more conciliatory tone towards Mrs May than outspoken Mr Juncker. She stressed that she would approach Brexit negotiations ‘fairly and constructively’. Mrs Merkel denied she aimed to cause trouble in the Brexit talks and said she wanted ‘clarity and security as quickly as possible’ for EU residents in Britain, including about 100,000 Germans.

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Germany’s much less serene than it seems.

Far-Right ‘Terror Plot’ Rocks The German Army (AFP)

The bizarre case of a racist soldier allegedly plotting an attack while posing as a Syrian refugee and several abuse scandals have sparked a war of words between Germany’s defence minister and the military. It is a dangerous political battle for Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman in charge of the armed forces, who is often mentioned as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel. The mother-of-seven has sternly criticised military “attitude and leadership problems”, highlighted by the case of the soldier and by recent sexual abuse and hazing scandals. This in turn has made her a target of chastened rank-and-file soldiers who charge she is tarring them all while dodging personal responsibility after more than three years on the job.

The escalating conflict started with the arrest a week ago of 28-year-old army lieutenant Franco Albrecht, who was stationed at a Franco-German base near Strasbourg. He came to the notice of the authorities after Austrian police caught him with a loaded handgun at the Vienna airport in February. The subsequent investigation found that, amid Germany’s 2015 mass influx of refugees, he had created a fake identity as a Damascus fruit seller called “David Benjamin”. Incredibly, the German who speaks no Arabic managed to gain political asylum, a spot in a refugee shelter and monthly state benefits for his fictitious alter ego. Prosecutors charge that Albrecht harboured far-right views and, with at least one co-conspirator, plotted an attack with the apparent aim of discrediting foreigners.

Media reports say he kept “death lists” with the names of top politicians, including former president Joachim Gauck, some cabinet ministers and left-leaning, anti-fascist MPs. It has since emerged that the lieutenant had expressed rightwing extremist views in a master’s thesis he submitted in 2014, in which he theorised about the end of Western civilisation through immigration. In the paper seen by AFP, he argued that immigration was causing a “genocide” in western Europe, adding that “this is a mathematical certainty”. However, the paper was buried, without disciplinary action – something the minister attributed to a “misunderstood esprit de corps” and superior officers who “looked the other way”.

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I’ve mentioned the power of Chinese shadow banking a thousand times. That power is still growing.

World Bank Warns Of China Debt Risk From Backdoor Local Borrowing (AFR)

The World Bank has warned that Chinese local governments remain addicted to off-budget borrowing, despite Beijing’s efforts to impose fiscal discipline on localities and curb ballooning debt. Runaway growth of local government debt is widely seen as a huge risk for China’s economy and financial system. Provinces, cities and counties borrowed heavily to spend on infrastructure to keep economic growth humming after the 2008 financial crisis. But the practice has continued and economists warn that returns on new investment are falling and white elephants are common. Many projects do not produce enough cash flow to service their debt. In 2014 China moved to eliminate borrowing through special-purpose vehicles, which local officials had used to circumvent a legal ban on direct borrowing.

Under the moniker of “close the back door, open the front door”, China’s parliament ended the legal ban, enabling localities to borrow within clear limits set by Beijing. Meanwhile, local government finance vehicles were ordered to cease disguised fiscal borrowing. To deal with legacy debt, Rmb8tn ($US1.2tn) in outstanding local government funding vehicle (LGFV) borrowing was converted into on-budget provincial debt through a bond swap. But growth of LGFV debt has actually accelerated since 2015, the World Bank warned in a confidential March presentation obtained by the Financial Times. Despite the swap programme, “LGFVs continued to borrow and increase their liabilities at a very rapid pace” in 2015-16, the bank’s lead China economist John Litwack and analyst Luan Zhao said.

Local governments and their LGFVs account for “the vast majority of public expenditures and public investment”, they noted, adding that “government and LGFV finances [are] intertwined in complicated ways, making separation difficult in practice”. Growth of LGFV liabilities accelerated from 22% in 2014 to 25% in 2015 and stayed high at 22% in the first half of 2016, the authors found. The presentation noted that Beijing’s effort to stop the use of LGFVs as quasi-fiscal entities may have unintentionally encouraged them to increase borrowing. Local fiscal authorities are now forbidden from officially monitoring LGFV finances, since to do so would imply that the government stands behind their debt. “Instructions to no longer even monitor finances of LGFVs can give a dangerous impression of ‘free money’,” the presentation warned.

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Especially in euro countries, governments need mortgage loans for money/credit creation. Their governments and central banks lost that ability.

Spain’s Government Presses Property-Bubble Rewind Button (DQ)

After spending the last few years groggily getting back onto its feet following the collapse of one of the most spectacular — and destructive — real estate bubbles of this century, Spain’s economy is once again being primed for another property boom. In the last quarter prices registered a year-on-year rise of 4.5%. Rents are also surging, though the country is still home to over half a million vacant properties. The cost of renting in Madrid and Barcelona, which between them account for 16% of those vacant properties, has reached historic highs, according to a new study by the online real estate market place Idealista. In Madrid, rents have risen on average by 27% since 2013; in Barcelona they’ve surged over 50%.

This trend is being driven by two main factors: the recent explosion in tourist rentals, as well as a general shift in consumer behavior as more and more people choose (or have little choice but) to rent rather than buy property. While rents soar, Spain’s mortgage market, the biggest source of profits for the nation’s banks, is also showing signs of life. In 2016 the number of mortgages issued rose by just over 10% to 281,328. But that’s merely a fraction of the 1,324,522 mortgages signed in 2006, just before the bubble burst. The banks would like nothing better than to issue more and bigger mortgages, but even with interest rates at their lowest point in history, most people either can’t afford the current prices or don’t want to take on more debt. Spain’s fragile coalition government is determined to change that.

In its latest budget announcement it revealed plans to set aside billions of euros in 2018 for publicly funded mortgage subsidies. Young people under the age of 35 who are earning gross incomes of less than €1,600 per month will be eligible for payments of up to €10,800 to help them buy their first home. There will also be rental subsidies for people under the age of 35, for up to half the price of the rent. [..] In Spain today there are roughly two million fewer people under the age of 40 in full-time employment than there were in 2006, due to a variety of factors: demographics (i.e. there are now fewer people under the age of 40), rampant job destruction, and the mass exodus of young Spaniards to greener pastures. Even for many of those that chose to stay behind and actually found work, the reality is still alarmingly bleak.

According to the Spanish daily ABC, of the 1.7 million job contracts signed in December last year, over 92% were for temporary jobs. Since the Financial Crisis, precarity has become the ubiquitous reality for most young Spaniards. Many end up earning so little in jobs that offer scant, if any, financial security that they have little choice but to stay at home with their parents, sometimes well into their thirties. According to data released this week by Eurostat, the average Spaniard does not move out of the family residence until they are 29 years old. If Spain’s new, dwindling generation of “workers” cannot afford to leave home, who will buy or rent the properties sitting idle on the balance sheets of the banks, “bad bank” Sareb, and the global private equity firms that piled into the market a few years ago?

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We are designed to ignore distant danger, so we can better prepare for what’s near.

We Are On The Edge Of The Abyss But We Ignore It (G.)

[..] the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system. This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale.

Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy. Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please. The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.

It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system. It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes.

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China is a major factor in this, as much as growing population is.

The End of Wild Elephants: Africa To Become One Giant Food Farm (G.)

Elephants are in big trouble. Even if we beat poaching and illegal trade, their potential doom has been sealed in projections for population growth, and has already been priced into the commonly accepted solutions to how we humans plan to feed ourselves well into the century – by looking to Africa to be our next big breadbasket. Africa is home to 1.2 billion people, but by 2050 that number is likely to double, and may well double again by the end of the century to reach well over 4 billion. Globally, we may exceed 11 billion souls. This is of course a cause for celebration and a testament to the huge strides we’ve made in public health. We’ve all but beaten polio and yellow fever, mother and child mortality has plummeted, and we’re making headway in the fight against malaria.

Another cause for celebration is the confidence, energy and entrepreneurship in many parts of the African continent – a spirit that is unmatched anywhere in the world. It’s easy to see we’re on the cusp of enormous positive change. The obvious flipside is the environmental disaster waiting to happen. This has been compounded by number crunchers who are leaving the future of our planet’s fragile ecosystems out of the equation as they try to come up with answers about how to fill billions of bellies. Several scenarios for cropland expansion – many of them focusing on Africa’s so-called “spare land” – have already effectively written off its elephants from having a future in the wild. These projections have earmarked a huge swathe of land spanning from Nigeria to South Sudan for farming, or parts of west Africa for conversion to palm oil plantations.

Economies are already being structured for the future, and are locking us into an unsustainable path to the tune of Feed the World – but with Africa providing the food. Some models suggest that 29% of the existing elephant range is affected by infrastructure development, human population growth and rapid urban and agricultural expansion; that may rise to 63% by 2050. If we continue like this, elephants will see more of their migration routes become narrow corridors before being eventually severed. Inevitably, as competitors for space, elephants will fight it out with us. But being the dominant species on this planet, we will win. And Africa will become a giant farm.

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ROund 2 of democracy and emergency.

IMF Wants Greek Opposition To Promise Not To Reverse Agreed Measures (K.)

The European Commission will bring down its 2017 growth estimate for Greece next week, a eurozone official said on Friday, adding that the IMF wants main opposition New Democracy to make a commitment not to reverse the reforms that the government has agreed to in the context of the bailout review should it come to power. “This is important for them,” the official said of the IMF’s demand, while adding that the eurozone has not asked for such a commitment, although it agrees it is always better to have consensus on the reforms applied. The same official said that the Commission will reduce its estimate for the Greek economic recovery this year from 2.7% “to around 2%” on May 11.

Sources say that a downward revision by the Commission of its forecast to 1.9% would not lead to a shift in its general estimate regarding Greece’s fiscal course, so it does not entail the risk of any new measures. The latest IMF forecast regarding the Greek economy was for a 2.2% expansion. If all goes well, the disbursement of the next bailout tranche will take place just before the July repayment deadline, when Greece must pay €7.4 billion to its creditors. As the European official said, if there is a final agreement at the May 22 Eurogroup, which is the optimum scenario, it will take four to five weeks for the tranche payment to clear the parliaments of eurozone member-states where necessary.

If one also takes into account the time needed for the approval by the IMF council, it will take up to six weeks, which means early July. The amount of the tranche will come to about 7 billion euros, plus the funds needed for the state to pay off its expired debts to suppliers and taxpayers until the next review comes up. The disbursement will be paid in a lump sum, but only after all prior actions have been ratified by Greece. The second review had no fewer than 140 prior actions required, of which 40 have been satisfied. Of the remainder there are about 80 that either require new legislation or presidential decrees.

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“..what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.”

Greece Can Never Pay Its Debts. So Why Not Admit It? (Worstall)

Peace, sweetness and light break out in the Balkans as we’re told that the EU, the eurogroup, the IMF, Greece, the ECB and Uncle Tom Cobley agree over a Greek debt deal. Except, of course, that agreement hasn’t been reached, because the major point at issue is still being glossed over. That major point being that Greece simply isn’t going to repay all of that debt. So we still need to work out who is going to lose money, and when. Debts which cannot be repaid will not be repaid. That’s why we have bankruptcy in the first place. Or, when it comes to sovereign nations, we have debt rescheduling and IMF programmes instead of bankruptcy. When the Greek crisis first blew up, what should have happened was the standard IMF programme: a haircut on the debt, devalue the currency and a bit of a loan to tide things over until growth returned.

This is similar to the approach taken by Iceland – which has already recovered while Greece languishes – and is what the IMF has been doing for decades in other places. The one thing standing between Greece and this approach was the euro. In order to protect the integrity of the single currency, debts to the private sector banks were refinanced by public money from varying combinations of the EU itself, the ECB, the eurogroup (the group of eurozone finance ministers), the IMF and so on. This is the crucial point. There are no private sector capitalists left. If there were, we could simply say “you lost your money, better luck next time”. Instead there are only official creditors, run by politicians, who have their voters wondering what has happened or will happen to their money. For it is still true that Greece cannot repay those debts, and therefore Greece will not repay them.

All that can change is who will lose money and when. Unsurprisingly, politicians are keen to delay the inevitable until they have retired and are collecting their pensions. That the Greeks have to see theirs cut in the interim is just bad luck. This may sound terribly cynical but allow me explain the thinking. There are the true federalists happy to sacrifice a country on the altar of the euro and ever closer union, as long as the losses – losses of their own voters’ money – come to light later.

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But Merkel will not, and that’s what counts.

EU’s Moscovici: Macron Will Be Greece’s Ally (Ana)

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron will support Greece and be Athens’ ally if he is elected, European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency in an exclusive statement, one day before the second round of the elections in France. “I have no doubt that with Emmanuel Macron as President, yes, Greece will continue to have a friend in France, a president friend and a government friend, and this is why these elections are also important for the Greeks,” Moscovici said, adding he has worked with Macron in the past for the Greek program.

“I know Emmanuel Macron very well. We worked together when I was finance minister, when he was deputy secretary-general next to Francois Hollande, to find positive positions concerning Greece, for Greece. France is a country who’s a friend of Greece. It will remain [a friend]” he continued. Moscovici said that being friend of Greece means, on the one hand, to encourage and follow the efforts for reforms until the end but it also means solidarity from its partners.

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Europe must find an actual response to this, or face a lot of struggle. There are too many people living in all these countries.

Bangladesh Now Single Biggest Country of Origin for EU-Bound Migrants (Ind.)

As the refugee crisis enters its fourth year, the demographics of the men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores are undergoing an unprecedented shift. Syrians have so far made up the largest group of migrants attempting treacherous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea, followed by Afghans, Iraqis, Eritreans and sub-Saharan Africans. But as smugglers in Libya continue to expand their ruthless human trade, their counterparts in Asia are seeing an opportunity. In the first three months of last year just one Bangladeshi arrived in Italy, but the number for 2017 stands at more than 2,800, making the country the largest single origin of migrants currently arriving on European shores.

Those rescued in the Mediterranean Sea have told aid workers they paid more than $10,000 each to be taken from Dhaka to Dubai or Turkey and onwards to Libya, where the violence and chaos engulfing the fractured country is fuelling powerful smuggling networks. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said the emerging route had dramatically changed the demographics of asylum seekers arriving in Italy, who until now have largely hailed from sub-Saharan Africa. “The thing that’s really changing is the main nationality of the migrants, and the number coming from Bangladesh,” IOM’s Flavio di Giacomo told The Independent.

“By the end of March last year only one Bangladeshi had arrived in Italy – and this year the number is more than 2,831 for the same period.” Some migrants taken ashore in Sicily and Apulia said their trip to Libya was organised by an “agency” that provided them with a working visa for between $3,000 and $4,000. “From Bangladesh, they first travelled to Dubai and Turkey, and finally reached Libya by plane,” an IOM spokesperson said. “At the airport, an ‘employer’ met them and took their documents.”

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May 052017
 
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Fred Stein Under the El New York 1949

 

Senate GOP to Snub House Obamacare Repeal Bill and Write Its Own (BBG)
Cost Of Interest On US Government Debt Tops Half A Trillion Dollars (ZH)
Oil Extends Slump Below $45 (BBG)
Emerging-Market Companies Binge On Dollar-Denominated Debt (BBG)
Chemchina Clinches Landmark $43 Billion Takeover of Syngenta (R.)
Brexit Talks Could Become ‘Impossible’: EU Council President Tusk (Ind.)
Italy’s Bankrupt National Airline Is Being Put Up For Sale (Ind.)
Italy’s Rescue Of Its Airline Comes At Great Cost To The Economy (BBG)
Baumol’s Cost Disease Explains A Lot About Our Economies (Vox)
Russia Set to Police Syria Safe Zones Backed by Iran, Turkey (BBG)
Syria Safe Zones To Be Shut For US, Coalition Planes (R.)
EU Wants China’s Help To Stop Boats Being Used By Migrants (R.)
EU Seeks to Ward Off New Refugee Crisis (Spiegel)
Tensions Boiling Over On Greece’s Chios Amid Absence Of Migrant Facility (K.)
Greece Paying Asylum Seekers To Reject Appeals (EUO)
Greece Says Has Done Its Bit, Now Wants Debt Relief (R.)
Greek Pensioners’ Network Lists 23 Cuts Inflicted On Benefits (K.)

 

 

This could take a while. And that’s a good thing.

Senate GOP to Snub House Obamacare Repeal Bill and Write Its Own (BBG)

Several key Senate Republicans said they will set aside the narrowly passed House health-care bill and write their own version instead, a sign of how difficult it will be to deliver on seven years of promises to repeal Obamacare. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who chairs the Senate health committee, and Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership, both described the plan, even as the House was celebrating passing its repeal after weeks of back and forth. The decision will likely delay even further the prospect of any repeal bill reaching President Donald Trump’s desk. Hospital stocks dipped on the House vote, but quickly bounced back on the news the Senate would start over with its own version, with the BI North America Hospitals Index up 0.9% at 2:39 p.m. Hospitals fear the winding-down of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will leave them with more customers who can’t afford to pay.

Trump celebrated the House vote with a news conference at the White House, standing alongside dozens of Republican lawmakers. “This has really brought the Republican Party together,” he said. But in the wake of the House’s razor-thin 217-213 vote, the Senate made clear it was going in a different direction. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who has been very critical of the House bill, said Thursday she hopes they start with “a clean slate” in the Senate. To get some kind of bill through his chamber, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will need to unite moderate and conservative wings of the party that want to pull the measure in entirely different directions. The GOP controls the chamber 52-48, meaning he can lose no more than two Republicans and still pass it, given the united Democratic opposition.

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At ZIRP.

Cost Of Interest On US Government Debt Tops Half A Trillion Dollars (ZH)

With debt ceilings, spending plans, and tax reforms focusing all eyes on Washington, we thought it notable that for the first time in US history, the cost of interest on US government debt has risen above half a trillion dollars… One wonders, given the grandiose spending plans, if we will ever get back below half a trillion dollars?

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We’ve been saying all along OPEC cuts were fantasy. US shale is a minor factor. Lack of demand is a major one.

Oil Extends Slump Below $45 (BBG)

Oil slid below $45 a barrel for the first time since OPEC agreed to cut output in November as U.S. shale confounds the producer group’s attempts to prop up prices. Futures have collapsed 11% this week, slumping to the lowest since Nov. 15 – two weeks before OPEC agreed to production curbs to boost prices and ease a global glut. The decline is being driven by expanding U.S. output that’s countering the group’s curbs. Energy companies in Asia slumped on Friday, after their American counterparts were hammered in the previous session. While news of OPEC’s cuts drove prices in early January to the highest since July 2015, that increase encouraged U.S. drillers to pump more.

The result has been 11 straight weeks of expansion in American production in the longest run of gains since 2012. Prices are still more than 50% below their peak in 2014, when surging shale output triggered crude’s biggest collapse in a generation and left rival producers such as Saudi Arabia scrambling to protect market share. “There’s disappointment that the production cuts we’ve seen from OPEC and others has not had any impact at this stage on global inventory levels,” said Ric Spooner, a chief market analyst at CMC Markets in Sydney. “The market seems to be much further away from a balanced situation than some had previously forecast. There is a possibility that oil could be headed to the low $40s range from here.”

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Expecting the dollar to fall. Doesn’t look all that wise.

Emerging-Market Companies Binge On Dollar-Denominated Debt (BBG)

Emerging-market companies are showing up to the U.S. debt market at the fastest pace ever, and finding plenty of appetite for their bonds. Sales of dollar-denominated notes have climbed to about $160 billion this year, more than double offerings at this point in 2016 and the fastest annual start on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 1999. Emerging-market assets tanked after Donald Trump’s surprise election in November, but they’ve quickly recovered, with bonds returning 4% this year and outperforming U.S. investment-grade and high-yield debt. The deluge of issuance began when companies anticipating a surge in borrowing costs amid economic stimulus from Trump rushed to sell notes before his inauguration Jan. 20.

But the expected jump never materialized, extending the window for companies like Petroleo Brasileiro SA and Petroleos Mexicanos to pursue multi-billion-dollar deals. They found plenty of demand from investors keen to buy shorter-dated debt that’s better insulated against rising U.S. interest rates. Jean-Dominique Butikofer, the head of emerging markets for fixed income at Voya Investment Management in Atlanta, said he’s seen new interest in emerging markets from investors who already own U.S. high-yield bonds or emerging market sovereign debt that’s more vulnerable to rising interest rates. “You want to be less sensitive to U.S. rates, but you still want to diversify and you still want to play the EM catch-up growth story,” said Butikofer, whose firm manages $217 billion. “You’re going to gradually add emerging-market corporates.”

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There should never be something like a pesticides and seeds group. Break them up.

Chemchina Clinches Landmark $43 Billion Takeover of Syngenta (R.)

ChemChina has won more than enough support from Syngenta shareholders to clinch its $43 billion takeover of the Swiss pesticides and seeds group, the two companies said on Friday. The deal, announced in February 2016, was prompted by China’s desire to use Syngenta’s portfolio of top-tier chemicals and patent-protected seeds to improve domestic agricultural output. It is China’s biggest foreign takeover to date. It is one of several deals that are remaking the international market for agricultural chemicals, seeds and fertilisers. The other deals in the sector are a $130 billion proposed merger of Dow Chemical and DuPont, and Bayer’s plan to merge with Monsanto. The trend toward market consolidation has triggered fears among farmers that the pipeline for new herbicides and pesticides might slow.

Regulators have required some divestments as a condition for approving the Syngenta deal. Based on preliminary numbers, around 80.7% of Syngenta shares have been tendered, above the minimum threshold of 67% support, the partners said in a joint statement. [..] The transaction is set to close on May 18 after the start of an additional acceptance period for shareholders and payment of a special 5-franc dividend to holders of Swiss-listed shares on May 16. Holders of U.S.-listed depositor receipts will get the special dividend in July. Syngenta shares will be delisted from the Swiss bourse and its depository receipts from the New York Stock Exchange. Chief Executive Erik Fyrwald played down the transition from publicly listed group to becoming part of a Chinese state enterprise, stressing that Syngenta would remain a Swiss-based global company while under Chinese ownership.

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May has nothing, election or not. “..the 30-minute slot that we are going to devote to Brexit per week, for this week it’s up.”

Brexit Talks Could Become ‘Impossible’: EU Council President Tusk (Ind.)

The President of the EU’s ruling Council has intervened to calm Brexit tensions 24 hours after Theresa May launched a vicious attack on “Brussels bureaucrats” on the steps of No 10. Donald Tusk warned that talks would become “impossible” if emotions got out of hand between the UK and EU and called for “mutual respect” between the negotiating parties. The call for calm comes after Theresa May accused the EU’s bureaucracy of trying to influence the result of Britian’s general election by maliciously leaking the content of discussions to the media. In an aggressive speech on Wenesday she tore into officials, warning that her government would not let “the bureaucrats of Brussels run over us”.

The European Commission this morning reacted indignantly to Ms May’s conspiracy theory, with a spokesperson telling reporters that the organisation was “rather busy” and preoccupied with more important matters than trying to fix the poll. But Mr Tusk, a Polish national who represents the EU states’ heads of government in Brussels, said on Thursday afternoon: “Brexit talks [are] difficult enough. If emotions get out of hand, they’ll become impossible. Discretion, moderation and mutual respect needed. “At stake are the daily lives and interests of millions of people on both sides of the Channel.”

The call for calm contrasts with that of a Commission spokesperson earlier today, who said: “We are not naive, we know that there is an election taking place in the United Kingdom. People get excited whenever we have elections. “This election in the United Kingdom is mainly about Brexit. But we here in Brussels, we are very busy, rather busy, with our policy work. “We have too much to do on our plate. So, in a nutshell, we are very busy. And we will not Brexitise our work. “To put it in the words of an EU diplomat, the 30-minute slot that we are going to devote to Brexit per week, for this week it’s up.”

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10 years too late? 20?

Italy’s Bankrupt National Airline Is Being Put Up For Sale (Ind.)

Alitalia will be put up for sale in two weeks having earlier this week fallen into administration. In a radio interview cited by the Financial Times, Carlo Calenda, the country’s economic development minister, said that the priority is for the whole company to get bought. “Within 15 days the commissioners will be open to expressions of interest,” he said. On Tuesday, Alitalia started bankruptcy proceedings for the second time in a decade after employees rejected job cuts and concessions linked to a €2bn recapitalisation plan. Shareholders voted unanimously to file for special administration. According to the Financial Times, the government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has extended a bridge loan of €600m to keep Alitalia afloat for the next six months, but has ruled out nationalisation.

This loan should give the commissioners appointed by the government time to come up with a strategy that will ensure the airline’s fleet is not grounded. Speaking to the broadcaster, Mr Calenda said the €600m loan would be the “maximum” of state aid on offer. Speaking about possible buyers, Mr Calenda said “any idea is welcome”. He stressed, however, that “Alitalia needs an alliance with a big European group”. Alitalia, whose major shareholders are Abu-Dhabi based Etihad Airways and Italian banks, has about 12,500 employees. It has been struggling ever since a previous bankruptcy in 2008.

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Somone will buy it for pennies on the buck. China?

Italy’s Rescue Of Its Airline Comes At Great Cost To The Economy (BBG)

Given its rich history, Italy is rightly attached to its relics. Unfortunately, this affection for the past does not stop at the Colosseum: It applies to failing companies too. Take Alitalia, Italy’s loss-making flag carrier, which has survived for years thanks to a string of public and private rescues. On Tuesday, the airline went into administration, prompting the government to provide a fresh loan worth €600 million ($655 million) to guarantee another six months of operation. Surely the time has come for Italy to stop losses. Unless Alitalia can find a buyer, the government should allow it to go bust. Politically, that is a tall order, of course. Politicians want to protect workers, who stand to lose their jobs if a company shuts down. But every euro used in a bailout is one that can’t be spent elsewhere; what economists call “opportunity cost.” How many more jobs could have been created had the government invested €600 million into upgrading Italy’s digital infrastructure?

Keeping Alitalia alive is also a burden on productivity, since it takes resources that might be deployed by more efficient competitors. Last year, a study for the European Commission found that the misallocation of workers and capital in Italy has steadily worsened since 1995, accounting for a large fraction of Italy’s productivity slowdown. If the government is serious about Italy returning to sustainable growth, it should stop helping losers get in the way of productive companies. There are also questions of financial stability. Between 1974 and 2014, Italian taxpayers have spent €7.4 billion propping up Alitalia, according to Mediobanca. Italy’s addiction to helping companies in trouble has contributed to its huge government debt, which now stands at nearly 133% of GDP, exposing Rome to the risk of a financial crisis.

The same problem also applies to banks. From UniCredit to Intesa Sanpaolo, many of Italy’s big lenders have granted hundreds of millions in credit lines to Alitalia, only to see their loans go up in smoke. The list also includes Monte Dei Paschi di Siena, the troubled bank which in December had to apply for a multi-billion euro government bailout. The reason? It was struggling under the weight of non-performing loans, like those it provided to Alitalia. While European rules on state aid will make it difficult for Rome to help Alitalia beyond the initial six months, one should never underestimate the ability of the Italian government to find a way to stitch together another flawed rescue. But if Italy is to finally start focusing on future growth, it will have to stop dwelling on the ruins of the past.

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A great economist died.

Baumol’s Cost Disease Explains A Lot About Our Economies (Vox)

William Baumol — an economist who just died at the age of 95 — had a famous idea, commonly known as Baumol’s cost disease, that explains a lot about our modern world. It explains why barbers make more in San Francisco than in Cleveland and why services such as health care and education keep getting more expensive. And it provides a possible explanation for why rich countries like America are devoting more and more of their workforces to low-productivity services, dragging down the economy-wide rate of productivity growth. In the 1960s, Baumol was trying to understand the economics of the arts, and he noticed something surprising: Musicians weren’t getting any more productive — playing a piece written for a string quartet took four musicians the same amount of time in 1965 as it did in 1865 — yet musicians in 1965 made a lot more money than musicians in 1865.

The explanation wasn’t too hard to figure out. Rising worker productivity in other sectors of the economy, like manufacturing, was pushing up wages. An arts institution that insisted on paying musicians 1860s wages in a 1960s economy would find their musicians were constantly quitting to take other jobs. So arts institutions — at least those that could afford it — had to raise their wages in order to attract and retain the best musicians. The consequence is that rising productivity in the manufacturing sector of the economy inevitably pushes up the cost of labor-intensive services like live musical performances. Rising productivity allows factories to cut prices and raise wages at the same time. But when wages rise, music venues have no alternative but to raise ticket prices to cover the higher costs.

This became known as Baumol’s cost disease, and Baumol realized that it had implications far beyond the arts. It implies that in a world of rapid technological progress, we should expect the cost of manufactured goods — cars, smartphones, T-shirts, bananas, and so forth — to fall, while the cost of labor-intensive services — schooling, health care, child care, haircuts, fitness coaching, legal services, and so forth — to rise. And this is exactly what the data shows. Decade after decade, health care and education have gotten more expensive while the price of clothing, cars, furniture, toys, and other manufactured goods has gone down relative to the overall inflation rate — exactly the pattern Baumol predicted a half-century ago.

Baumol’s cost disease is a powerful tool for understanding the modern economic world. It suggests, for example, that the continually rising costs of education and health care isn’t necessarily a sign that anything has gone wrong with those sectors of the economy. At least until we invent robotic professors, teachers, doctors, and nurses, we should expect these low-productivity sectors of the economy to get more expensive. While some argue that prices keep rising because the government subsidizes health care through programs like Medicare and college educations through student loans and grants, you see the same basic pattern with services like summer camps, veterinary services, and Broadway shows that aren’t hamstrung by government regulations and subsidies.

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Putin keeps his enemies close.

Russia Set to Police Syria Safe Zones Backed by Iran, Turkey (BBG)

Russia said it’s ready to send peacekeepers to Syria as it won backing from Turkey and Iran for a plan to establish safe zones inside the war-torn country in an effort to shore up a shaky cease-fire brokered by the three powers. The three countries signed a memorandum on the creation of so-called de-escalation areas on Thursday after two days of talks in Kazakhstan that also included representatives of the Syrian government and rebel groups. Opposition leaders distanced themselves from the plan, saying they can’t accept Iran as a guarantor of the truce and that they want “clear and tangible” guarantees the deal will be enforced. The U.S. also expressed doubts. “Russia is ready to send its observers” to help enforce the safe zones, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters in the Kazakh capital, Astana. “We believe the Syrian crisis can only be resolved through political methods.”

Putin said on Wednesday that he’d secured the backing of U.S. President Donald Trump for the proposal, which could include a ban on bombing raids. But State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday that the U.S. has “concerns” about the accord, “including the involvement of Iran as a so-called “guarantor,”’ and said Russia should do more to stop violence. [..] The latest initiative would establish four zones patrolled by foreign forces – possibly including Russian ones – in the northwestern Idlib province, Homs province in the west, the East Ghouta suburb of the capital Damascus and southern Syria. It will take a month to finalize the maps of the proposed safe zones, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari said. The United Nations’ Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, who also attended the Astana talks, described the agreement as a “step in the right direction.”

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That’ll go down well with Wolfowitz et al.

Syria Safe Zones To Be Shut For US, Coalition Planes (R.)

The safe zones which are being created in Syria will be closed for warplanes of the United States and those of the U.S.-led coalition, Russian news agencies quoted Russian envoy at Syria peace talks Alexander Lavrentyev as saying on Friday. Turkey and Iran agreed on Thursday to Russia’s proposal for “de-escalation zones” in Syria, a move welcomed by the United Nations but met with scepticism from the United States.

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Stop selling rubber boats, problem solved!

EU Wants China’s Help To Stop Boats Being Used By Migrants (R.)

The European Union wants China to help prevent migrants and refugees using Chinese-made inflatable boats to get into the bloc by stopping the boats reaching them, the European Commissioner for Migration said on Thursday. Dimitris Avramopoulos, speaking to reporters in Beijing after meeting Chinese Minister for Public Security Guo Shengkun, said the rubber boats used by people smugglers were made in China. “The rubber boats used by the smuggler networks in the Mediterranean are fabricated somewhere in China, they are exported to the countries in Asia and they are used by them,” Avramopoulos said.

“So I requested the support and cooperation from the Chinese authorities in order to track down this business and dismantle it, because what they produce is not serving the common good of the country. It is a very dangerous tool in the hands of ruthless smugglers.” He gave no further details, but said he and Guo had not discussed the possibility of China taking any of the refugees or migrants. More than a million people sought asylum in Europe’s rich north in 2015, mostly in Germany but also in large numbers in Sweden, straining the capacity of countries to cope. A contentious deal with Turkey to stop Syrian refugees from reaching Greece and the overland route to Germany, in return for EU funds, has reduced flows to a trickle, though thousands of migrants still try to reach Europe from Libya via sea routes.

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Who cares about the law? “..a more restrictive interpretation of asylum rights..”

EU Seeks to Ward Off New Refugee Crisis (Spiegel)

Merkel has promised that the refugee crisis seen two years ago will not be repeated: Never again will Europe see an uncontrolled inflow of millions of people. The refugee deal with Turkey is working, we are repeatedly told, and the crisis is over. That, though, could turn out to be wrong. With German voters set to go to the polls on Sept. 24, Merkel’s re-election campaign hinges on there not being a repeat of the refugee crisis, even if it’s not as substantial as the 2015 influx. But west of the closed Balkan route, a new migrant stream has been growing since the beginning of the year. From Jan. 1 to April 23, 36,851 migrants have followed the central Mediterranean route from North Africa to Italy. That represents a 45% increase over the same period last year, when a record 181,000 people crossed the Mediterranean on the route.

Even more concerning is the fact that summer hasn’t even begun. Experience has shown that most migrants only climb into the boats once the Mediterranean grows calmer. Italian authorities estimate that a quarter million people will arrive on its shores this year. “There are challenges ahead,” says a senior German security official. Berlin is particularly concerned because it’s not just Africans who are taking the Mediterranean route to Italy. An increasing number of South Asians are as well, which could mean that the route across the sea to Italy is now seen as a viable alternative to the defunct Balkan route. People from Bangladesh now represent the second largest group of migrants that have crossed over from Libya this year. From January to March 2016, by contrast, exactly one Bangladeshi was picked up on the route. Pakistanis have also chosen the Mediterranean route more often in recent months.

[..] The EU is currently working on an emergency plan in case a “serious crisis situation” develops. The discussions are focusing on a scenario under which more than 200,000 refugees would have to be redistributed each year. An unpublished report by Malta, which currently holds the rotating European Council presidency, calls for a more restrictive interpretation of asylum rights in such a case. In other words, should too many migrants begin arriving, the EU will increase efforts at deterrence. Controversial proposals for reception camps to be established in North Africa also remain under discussion. Most of those currently fleeing from countries like Nigeria, Guinea and the Ivory Coast are doing so to escape grinding poverty and in the hopes of finding better opportunities in Europe. Very few of them have much chance of being granted asylum. That reality has made redistribution within the EU even more difficult. According to current law, those with no chance at asylum are supposed to be sent back home as quickly as possible and not sent to other European countries.

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Now add a huge rise in arrival numbers.

Tensions Boiling Over On Greece’s Chios Amid Absence Of Migrant Facility (K.)

Tensions are rising on the eastern Aegean island of Chios, which is currently favored by human smugglers ferrying migrants over from neighboring Turkey, with an increasing number of brawls at overcrowded state reception centers and local residents’ tolerance wearing thin. Clashes between migrants of different ethnicities are an almost daily occurrence, residents said following a violent confrontation on Tuesday night between Afghan and Algerian nationals at the Vial reception facility. That incident started as a fight between two small groups throwing stones at each other and escalated into a full-blown brawl involving around 60 people. Riot police stationed nearby were eventually obliged to enter the facility and break up the fight.

According to sources at the Citizens’ Protection Ministry, migrants have been arriving in greater numbers on Chios as it still lacks a so-called pre-departure camp due to protests by local residents against the creation of new facilities on the island. As a result, migrants landing on Chios and deemed ineligible for asylum are not being deported to Turkey as foreseen in an agreement signed between Turkey and the EU in March last year. Around 200 migrants have arrived on Chios this week, according to government figures, compared to virtually none on other islands in the eastern Aegean. And, according to a top-ranking police official, the problem is unlikely to be resolved until a center is set up. “The message being sent to those deciding to make the journey is that if you get to Chios they won’t send you back,” he said.

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NGOs to be thrown off the islands this summer, Greek army and the Greek Red Cross to take over.

Greece Paying Asylum Seekers To Reject Appeals (EUO)

The Greek government is giving cash incentives for rejected asylum seekers on the islands to forgo their legal rights to appeal their cases. Some €1,000 and free plane tickets home are now part of a largely EU-financed package to send them packing as quickly as possible. “This is quite complicated and quite immoral,” a Greek lawyer working for Save the Children, an international NGO, told EUobserver on Tuesday (2 May). The move is part of a larger effort to return people to Turkey and free up administrative bottlenecks, but the plan has generated criticism from human rights defenders who say asylum seekers are being pushed into taking the money. People have five days to decide whether to take the cash, with reports emerging that even that short delay was not being respected by authorities. Previously, people were entitled to the assistance even if they appealed.

The scheme only applies to those in so-called eu hotspots on the Chios, Kos, Leros, Lesvos, and Samos islands, where arrivals are screened, given that Turkey does not accept people back from mainland Greece. Greek minister of migration Ioannis Mouzalas has said the financial bait was needed to prevent bogus claimants from abusing the asylum system. The new rules on excluding people who appeal their cases, imposed last month, also come after the European Commission pressured Athens into shortening its appeal process and removing administrative barriers to send more people home. The EU-Turkey deal last year was supposed to ensure that new asylum arrivals whose applications have been declared unfounded would be returned to the country. But only around 1,500 have been sent back since its launch, with the Greek appeals system consistently ruling in favour of initially rejected asylum seekers over broader concerns that Turkey was not safe.

[..] The whole appears to be part of bigger plan to squeeze asylum-seeker rights on the islands and get them out of Greece as fast as possible. It also comes on the heels of a new plan that aims to boot NGOs from the islands. “Many NGOs will longer be on the islands after July, it means there is going to be a lot less scrutiny and a lot less visibility on what is going on as well,” said Claire Whelan from the Norwegian Refugee Council, an independent humanitarian organisation. NGOs working in the medical field in the Vial hotspot in Chios island have already been replaced by the Greek army and the Greek Red Cross. All were informed earlier this year that DG ECHO, the EU Commission’s humanitarian branch, would no longer fund them. Instead, the money will be coming from the Commission’s interior and security department, DG Home. “One of the biggest gaps we see, that remains, is access to legal assistance and legal counseling. And I don’t know if that will be funded under DG Home and the government,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Whelan said.

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Europe doesn’t care what Greece wants.

Greece Says Has Done Its Bit, Now Wants Debt Relief (R.)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called on Greece’s international lenders on Thursday to reach an agreement on easing its debt burden by May 22, when eurozone finance ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the country’s bailout progress. Athens and its creditors reached a long-awaited deal at staff-level this week on a series of bailout reforms Greece needs to unlock loans from its €86 billion rescue package, the country’s third since 2010. The EU and the IMF, which has yet to announce if it will participate in the bailout, have now started negotiations over Greece’s post-bailout fiscal targets, a key element for granting it further debt relief. Greece is being firm that it has done what was asked of it and now wants to see movement from the other side. “Medium-term debt relief measures must be clearly defined by the May 22 Eurogroup meeting,” Tsipras told his cabinet on Thursday.

“Greece has done its part and all parties must now fulfill their commitments.” The creditors have been not been quite as upbeat and there is no guarantee that the May 22 meeting will actually sign off on the new tranche of loans, let alone draft up debt relief. But Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramenga did cite progress when speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Luxembourg. “We’re one step closer. They [Greece] over-performed last year, they are on track this year, we have now an agreement looming that we will hopefully agree on in Eurogroup,” he said. “Those who have been pessimistic all the time have been proved wrong. I’m very pleased about that. The worst case is not always the scenario that plays out.” Greece’s economy and budget have improved markedly recently, although major problems of poverty and unemployment persist.

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Additional 18% cuts to come.

Greek Pensioners’ Network Lists 23 Cuts Inflicted On Benefits (K.)

At least 23 cuts have been inflicted on pensioners since 2010, with losses adding up to more than €50 billion. For some, their benefits have fallen by as much as 50%. The United Pensioners network has just added a 23rd cut to its list – the reduction of up to 18% of main and supplementary pensions agreed by the government this week. Network chief Nikos Hatzopoulos says the cuts have impoverished pensioners. The other 22 cuts on the list are as follows:

– In 2010, Christmas, Easter and holiday bonuses ended.

– In 2011, all pensioners under the age of 60 took a 6-10% cut.

– In the same year, pensioners were also slapped with a solidarity levy ranging from 3 to 13% for monthly pensions over €1,400. Also cuts to supplementary pensions started, from 3 to 10%.

– Main pensions to under-60s were slashed in 2011 and supplementary pensions of more than 150 euros a month fell by 15-30%.

– From January 2012, there were fresh cuts to any “high” pensions not affected until then.

– In 2012, monthly pensions over 1,000 euros were hit with a new cut.

– Summer 2014 saw a 5.2% cut to all supplementary pensions.

– In 2015, minimum pensions fell.

– In the same year, all early retirements incurred a 10% cut.

– From last May, all new pensioners were informed they would get up to 30% less.

– Some 250,000 supplementary pensions fell by up to 40%.

– The EKAS benefit to 160,000 low-income pensioners was ended.

– Civil servants’ share fund dividends were slashed 45%.

– High pensions took a retroactive cut from late 2016 to end-2018.

– Widows’ benefits fell and stricter criteria were introduced.

– The pensions of people with employment were slashed 60%.

– Early retirees took big cuts.

– Retirement lump sums shrank 15-20%.

– New disability pensions were slashed last May.

– The healthcare levy on main pensions rose.

– A similar 6% levy was imposed on supplementary pensions.

– Since January, 650,000 farmers have had to pay a 14% income levy.

Read more …

May 042017
 
 May 4, 2017  Posted by at 9:32 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Fred Stein Americans All 1943

 

“We Have Enough Votes”: House To Vote Thursday To Repeal Obamacare (ZH)
Democrats, Not Trump, Are Driving Policy (BBG)
Corporate Insiders Are Unloading Their Stocks Like There’s No Tomorrow (Lang)
The Coming Collapse In US Auto Sales (F.)
Fed to Markets: June Rate Hike Coming Your Way (CNBC)
Rickards Says Fed Raising Into Weakness, Recession Due By Summer (BBG)
57% Of Australians Couldn’t Handle $100 A Month Rise In Mortgage Payments (G.)
Kyle Bass Warns “All Hell Is About To Break Loose” In China (ZH)
PIMCO Warns “Brace For Lower Growth” From A Less ‘Impulsive’ China (ZH)
Do Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves? (MW)
The Economics of the Future (Michael Hudson)
UK PM May Accuses EU of Brexit Threats and Election Interference (CNBC)
Le Pen Tirade Meets Logic of Macron in Brutal French TV Duel
Universal Basic Income is Not “Free Money” (Santens)
The Brothers Fighting For Indebted Greek Homeowners (AP)

 

 

The whole thing oozes cynicism.

“We Have Enough Votes”: House To Vote Thursday To Repeal Obamacare (ZH)

The Republicans are giving Obamacare repeal another try, and this time they may succeed. Just a few hours after we reported that “Obamacare repeal suddenly looks possible” when two key Republicans – Fred Upton and Billy Long – flipped and decided to support the GOP healthcare bill, leading to immediate speculation the bill has enough support, the WSJ reported that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday evening the House will vote on Thursday on the Republican bill to replace most of Obamacare: “we will be voting on the health-care bill tomorrow because we have enough votes.” When asked by a reporter about whether the bill would have to be pulled from the floor again for lack of support, McCarthy replied: “Would you have confidence? We’re going to pass it. We’re going to pass it. Let’s be optimistic about life.”

McCarthy also cited an insurer pulling out of the ObamaCare exchanges in Iowa Wednesday as a reason the law needs to be quickly repealed. “That’s why we have to make sure this passes. To save these people from ObamaCare, which continues to collapse.” And so just like at the end of March, when the GOP was confident it had whipped enough names, only to pull the vote in the last moment, the announcement once again sets up a high-stakes vote that is expected to come down to the wire. The House GOP bill, if passed, would roll back much of the 2010 health-care law, replacing its subsidies with a system of tax credits largely tied to age. Until Wednesday, Republican leaders had struggled to secure the 216 votes they need to pass the bill, which is expected to receive no Democratic support.

They pulled the bill from the floor in late March, when conservatives and centrists defected and it became clear the legislation didn’t have the support to pass. Last week, GOP leaders also opted not to vote on the bill ahead of Trump’s first 100 days in office. [..] in pulling yet another page from the Democrats’ playbook, the House will pass the vote first before finding out what’s in it: the vote will take place without waiting for a new Congressional Budget Office analysis of Upton’s changes or the amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur that won over the House Freedom Caucus. That analysis will eventually provide the details of the bill’s effects on coverage and its cost. For now however, Republicans are just scrambling to take advantage of this rare moment of agreement and get something finally done.

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What’s so cynical: trying to break Democrats’ power by pushing through a half-baked bill.

Democrats, Not Trump, Are Driving Policy (BBG)

Enough about Donald Trump’s first 100 days. On the 101st day, Congress came to a rare bipartisan agreement funding the federal government through September. This showed who really holds power in the Trump era: Democrats. After last November’s election, when Republicans had consolidated power and held both chambers of Congress as well as the White House, the question was who would be driving policy. Would it be the Trump administration, perhaps led by populist mastermind Steve Bannon? Would it be House Speaker Paul Ryan, a man with a reputation as a policy wonk with a vision for government? Would it be the ideological House Freedom Caucus, demanding that the new Republican-led government live up to the promises the party made to its base during the Obama years? All have tried to lead at some point this year, but the recently agreed-upon budget deal shows that instead, it’s Democrats who appear to be in charge.

Democrats have the leverage in Washington now because Republicans haven’t figured out how to govern on their own. The first Republican attempt at legislation was Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act. That failed in part because it didn’t repeal Obamacare as the House Freedom Caucus insisted. The Trump administration tried to influence the legislative agenda by putting forth its budget blueprint in mid-March, which included draconian cuts to various departments. Yet the only parts of that budget that made it into the final agreement were modest spending increases for defense spending and border security, without any of the corresponding cuts. This happened because Republicans couldn’t come to an agreement on the budget on their own, meaning Democratic votes were needed for passage, and Democrats wouldn’t sign on to anything with big spending cuts.

[..]The emerging view may be that Trump just wants to sign legislation that he can take credit for, regardless of the substance of the bills. After all, he’s on the verge of signing a government funding bill that’s more in line with Democratic priorities than his own. Since he hasn’t been willing to stand up for any of his or his party’s policy priorities so far, should Democrats retake the House in 2018, there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t sign legislation passed by Democrats in the House if it makes it to his desk. On policy, the author of “The Art of the Deal” doesn’t seem to have any policy deal-breakers. A president without any fixed policy vision or breaking points is no authoritarian. He makes the legislature more powerful than it’s been in decades. If Republicans can’t come to internal agreement on major legislation, and Democrats are the ones with leverage, then complete inaction might become a best-case scenario for the GOP.

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“The people who would stand to lose the most if the markets crashed [..] are all jumping ship and selling their stocks.”

Corporate Insiders Are Unloading Their Stocks Like There’s No Tomorrow (Lang)

There aren’t any surefire ways to tell if the stock market, and perhaps the rest of the economy, is about to take a nosedive. That’s because millions of people with millions of ideas are involved, so it’s an inherently unpredictable system. However, there are certain players in our economy that have a lot more influence and insider knowledge than the rest of us. So when they make a move in unison, you know there’s a good chance that something is about to go down. And that’s exactly what’s going on with the stock market right now. The people who would stand to lose the most if the markets crashed; the corporate executives and insiders, are all jumping ship and selling their stocks.

“As the investing public has continued to devour stocks, sending all three major indexes to record highs in the last few months, corporate insiders have been offloading shares to an extent not seen in seven years.”Selling totaled $10 billion in March, according to data compiled by Trim Tabs. It’s a troubling trend facing an equity market that’s already grappling with its loftiest valuations since the 2000 tech bubble. If the people with the deepest knowledge of a company are cashing out, why should investors keep buying at current prices? The groundswell of insider selling has the attention of Brad Lamensdorf, portfolio manager at Ranger Alternative Management, and he doesn’t like what he sees. “This is definitely a negative sign,” Lamensdorf wrote in his April newsletter. “They do not see value in their own companies!”

And this isn’t a recent trend. While ordinary investors were optimistically diving into the stock market after Trump was elected, these people were dumping their stocks as far back as February. “Chief executives and other corporate insiders are selling stock hand over fist now that the quarterly earnings season is over, a report from Vickers Weekly Insider shows. Transactions by insiders are restricted around a company’s report. “Insider selling has jumped again, and this time to levels rarely seen,” analyst David Coleman wrote in Monday’s note.”

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A useful term: “Pent Down Demand”

The Coming Collapse In US Auto Sales (F.)

Automobiles are not moving off the parking lot. That’s according to an industry report that showed a sharp decline in auto sales across all auto makers—see table. Meanwhile industry inventories have been climbing up from an average of 55 days back in April of 2015 to 70 days last month. Coming after months of sluggish sales and generous incentives, the big drop in April sales could be a sign of an impending collapse which could parallel that of 2008-9. There’s a compelling reason for that: pent down demand, which for years has been “stealing” sales from the future. Now the future has arrived and pent down demand is bad for auto makers, their investors and the economy as a whole.

To get an idea how “pent down demand” (my own term) works, a good place to begin with is the more familiar concept of pent up demand, the lack of current demand for discretionary items like automobiles, home appliances, etc., which depresses sales of these items in the short run. Pent up demand usually appears before a period of consumer euphoria, when consumers choose to push spending on discretionary items to a future date, due to lower price expectations, depressed consumer confidence, or a credit crunch. And it disappears together with these conditions when that future day comes, and consumers rush to buy the items they put off in the past.

In contrast, pent down demand appears after a period of consumer euphoria when consumers choose to move spending on discretionary items from a future date into the present day, due to low cost of financing — which blurs the distinction between present and future. Why wait to buy a new car or a new home appliance next year when you can have it this year, paying a small penalty for this privilege? Simply put, ultra-low interest rates help “steal” sales from the future, creating market saturation, and eventually depress spending on “high ticket” items when the future becomes present. That’s what happened in the six years that preceded the 2008-9 collapse in US auto sales. Consumers rushed to take advantage of “zero percent” financing to purchase cars they would normally buy years later.

That’s how automobile sales grew from an average of 15 million in the 1980s and the 1990s to 17 million in the first six years of 2000s, before they tumbled during the Great Recession. Nonetheless, the Federal Reserve and other central bankers around the world didn’t take notice of the impact of pent down demand on future growth. They upped their ultra-low interest rate policies, refueling pent down demand again (automobile sales are above the pre-Great Recession levels). Compounding the problem, pent down demand is exacerbated by debt – a lot of debt – amassed on top of the old debt, which fueled the bubble that preceded the Great Recession. This was documented by a McKinsey report—US auto loans have crossed $1 trillion lately.

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Locked in to their own fantasies.

Fed to Markets: June Rate Hike Coming Your Way (CNBC)

As expected, the Fed gave a nod to a temporary weakness in the economy and signaled it is still moving ahead with policy tightening. “They’re looking past the first-quarter weakness. They are laying the groundwork for a June rate hike, in my opinion,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at Lindsey Group. Fed funds futures indicated just about a 75% chance of a June interest-rate hike, up about 5 percentage points after the announcement, according to Michael Schumacher, head of rates strategy at Wells Fargo Securities. “It seems pretty optimistic. … There’s no big difference between this statement and the last one. The comment that they are ignoring weak first-quarter growth is the big thing. There’s nothing really changed in their path,” Schumacher said.

First-quarter growth grew at a weak 0.7%, but economists expect a bounce back and some see growth over 3%. The Fed acknowledged the softness in its statement. “The Committee views the slowing in growth during the first quarter as likely to be transitory and continues to expect that, with gradual adjustments in the stance of monetary policy, economic activity will expand at a moderate pace, labor market conditions will strengthen somewhat further, and inflation will stabilize around 2% over the medium term,” they wrote. [..] The statement did not mention changes to the Fed’s balance sheet, which officials were expected to have discussed at length during the two-day meeting. That discussion should be revealed in the minutes of the meeting, expected to be released May 24.

Instead, the Fed noted in its statement that it was maintaining its strategy of balance sheet reinvestment, meaning it replaces securities as they roll down. The Fed has forecast two more rate hikes this year, and many strategists expect it to tackle its balance sheet after those moves. The Fed has said it would like to begin shrinking its balance sheet as early as this year. Many market pros expect some action on the balance sheet around the December meeting or in early 2018, after it raises interest rates in June and September.

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Rickards’ been saying for a while that the Fed wouldn’t be able to help itself.

Rickards Says Fed Raising Into Weakness, Recession Due By Summer (BBG)

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A quarter are in mortgage stress already.

57% Of Australians Couldn’t Handle $100 A Month Rise In Mortgage Payments (G.)

The burden of housing costs is biting even in Australia’s wealthiest suburbs as an unprecedented one in four households nationally face mortgage stress, according to the latest in a 15-year series of analyses. Households in Toorak and Bondi, prestigious pockets of affluence in Australia’s biggest cities, have made the list of those struggling to meet repayments amid rising costs and stagnating wages, research firm Digital Finance Analytics has found. The firm’s principal, Martin North, said it was surprising new evidence showed that financial distress from property price surges reached beyond “the battlers and the mortgage belt” and was a “much broader and much more significant problem”. The survey, which analyses real cash flows against mortgage repayments, finds more than 767,000 households or 23.4% are now in mortgage stress, which means they have little or no spare cash after covering costs.

This includes 32,000 that are in severe stress, meaning they cannot cover repayments from current income. The firm predicts that almost 52,000 households will probably default on mortgages over the next year. Risk hotspots include Meadow Springs and Canning Vale in Western Australia, Derrimut and Cranbourne in Victoria, and Mackay and Pacific Pines in Queensland. Overall, New South Wales and Victoria, whose capital cities have seen a recent surge in home prices, accounted for more than half the probable defaults (270,000) and households in mortgage distress (420,000). North said the numbers were “an early indicator of risk in the system”. The underlying drivers were “flat or falling wage growth”, much faster rising living costs and the likelihood mortgage interest payments would only go up.

Widespread mortgage burdens were limiting spending elsewhere and “sucking the life out of the economy”, and the problem should be addressed to head off a housing crash and its repercussions, North said. North is not alone in highlighting household vulnerability. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s financial stability review last month observed one-third of Australian borrowers had little or no mortgage “buffer”, which North said was “the first time they’ve ever admitted it”. Finder.com last week found 57% of mortgagees could not handle a rise of $100 or more in monthly repayments. “The surprising thing is that people in Bondi in NSW, for example, or even young affluents who have bought down in Toorak in Victoria are actually on the list [of mortgage stressed],” North said.

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“As soon as liabilities have problems – meaning the depositors decide to not roll their holdings – all hell breaks loose..”

Kyle Bass Warns “All Hell Is About To Break Loose” In China (ZH)

China's credit system expanded "too recklessly and too quickly," and "it's beginning to unravel," warns Hayman Capital's Kyle Bass. Crucially, Bass notes that ballooning assets in Chinese wealth management products are another sign of a looming credit crisis in the nation.

"Some of the longer-term assets aren't doing very well," Bass said on Bloomberg TV from the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. "As soon as liabilities have problems – meaning the depositors decide to not roll their holdings – all hell breaks loose."

The wealth management products, or WMPs, have swelled to $4 trillion in assets in the last few years, he said., on a $34 trillion banking system…

"think about this – in the US, our asset-liability mismatch at the peak of our subprime greatness was around 2%! … China's mismatch is more than 10% of the system."

Must Watch simplification of the next stage of the credit cycle in China…

Timing the drop is hard, Bass notes, reminding Bloomberg's Erik Schatzker that "in the US, the first bumps in the road hit in early 2007, and we didn't start to really accelerate until mid 2008… even a large unraveling takes a while."Bass has been sounding the alarm for some time that debt-burdened Chinese banks need to be restructured…

"What you see when the liquidity dries up is people start going down… and this is the beginning of the Chinese credit crisis."

And judging by the collapse in both Chinese stocks and bonds, the deleveraging is accelerating…

 

And liquidity is getting desperate again…

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China=Debt.

PIMCO Warns “Brace For Lower Growth” From A Less ‘Impulsive’ China (ZH)

In the company’s blog, PIMCO’s Gene Fried echoes everything we have said and write that following the defeat of the new U.S. healthcare bill, investors have begun to rethink the likely time frame and extent of the Trump administration’s other top priorities, such as fiscal stimulus. Equity markets stalled and bonds rallied as investors toned down their expectations for global reflation recently. None of this is horribly surprising, but by focusing so intensely on U.S. political developments, investors risk missing a silent shift in what has arguably been the strongest driver of global reflation in the last five years: Chinese credit. This driver is now moving sharply in reverse. China’s “credit impulse,” the change in the growth rate of aggregate credit to GDP, bears close watching: It has tended to lead the Chinese manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) by a year (see Figure 1) and the U.S. Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing index by 14 months.

The relevance of the Chinese credit impulse to global reflation cannot be overstated (see Figure 2). China’s massive credit stimulus starting in 2014 initially put a floor under commodity prices and emerging market (EM) growth. Then, the unexpected acceleration in Chinese real estate investment drove both commodity prices and volume demand higher. EM growth subsequently bounced, and with it, global trade volumes. The key driver of realized global reflation, then, has been China – not the promise of fiscal stimulus and deregulation that has helped boost confidence and other soft data in the U.S.

When will China’s credit drop affect growth? The sharp downturn in the Chinese credit impulse starting in 2016 portends a material drag on Chinese growth in the year ahead. Looking back on the past three years, the Chinese credit impulse turned positive sometime between late 2014 and mid-2015. Given China’s exchange rate volatility in August 2015, it took longer than normal for credit to gain traction. The Chinese credit impulse peaked in March 2016 and slowed sharply after the second quarter. It is only now that the impact of that reduced stimulus should be felt. PIMCO has already factored credit-related drag into its Chinese growth outlook, but the decline in the credit impulse has been sharper and more extreme than many expected.

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Unanswerable question.

Do Tax Cuts Pay For Themselves? (MW)

Forty-three years after economist Arthur Laffer sketched a pictorial representation of individuals’ response to changes in income tax rates, economists still can’t agree if tax cuts pay for themselves: entirely, in part, or not at all. In a capitalist system, a tax rate of 0% or a tax rate of 100% will yield no revenue for the government: in the first instance, because there is no tax levied on labor income; in the second, because there is no labor income to tax because most of us would refuse to work without compensation. The Laffer Curve is an attempt to describe the optimal tax rate, or the rate that maximizes revenue. As with most economic theories nowadays, the idea that tax cuts pay for themselves has been politicized. Many conservatives take an oath of fealty to supply-side economics, an offshoot of the Laffer Curve: the idea that lower tax rates act as an incentive to work and produce, lifting economic growth and tax revenue.

Supply-siders don’t differentiate between the potential effect of large reductions in the top marginal tax rate — from 91% (1950s) to 70% (1960s) to 28% (1980s) — and that of President Donald Trump’s proposed modest cut from 39.6% to 35% for top earners. Liberals, on the other hand, love to quote George H.W. Bush’s assessment of supply-side theory — at least until he became Ronald Reagan’s running mate — as “voodoo economics.” “Tax cuts for the rich” is another favorite derogatory moniker, which is an accurate description but one that is taboo for believers. The basic premise underlying supply-side economics is sound: Tax something less, and you will get more of it. Tax something more, and you will get less of it. Think hefty cigarette taxes, designed to deter cancer-causing tobacco use. It’s the application that goes astray.

The income tax is a tax on labor. According to supply-siders, if you raise marginal tax rates, individuals will work less. And if you cut rates, they will work more. Who except the rich is in a position to forgo take-home pay, even if it is taxed at a higher rate? Households with both parents working, struggling to make ends meet, can’t sacrifice one salary. That’s the dirty little secret of supply-side economics that its advocates never mention. It’s the rich who are able respond to changes in marginal tax rates. And yes, they are the ones likely to start a new business and create jobs. Theory aside, why don’t we know what the effect of tax cuts is on economic output and federal revenue? Economists of both political persuasions are eager to tout their findings, both in support of and as a challenge to supply-side economics.

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Hopefully I should be getting Steve’s book today. Everyone should read it.

The Economics of the Future (Michael Hudson)

At first glance Steve Keen’s new book Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis? seems too small-sized at 147 pages. But like a well-made atom-bomb, it is compactly designed for maximum reverberation to blow up its intended target. Explaining why today’s debt residue has turned the United States, Britain and southern Europe into zombie economies, Steve Keen shows how ignoring debt is the blind spot of neoliberal economics – basically the old neoclassical just-pretend view of the world. Its glib mathiness is a gloss for its unscientific “don’t worry about debt” message. Blame for today’s U.S., British and southern European inability to achieve economic recovery thus rests on the economic mainstream and its refusal to recognize that debt matters.

Mainstream models are unable to forecast or explain a depression. That is because depressions are essentially financial in character. The business cycle itself is a financial cycle – that is, a cycle of the buildup and collapse of debt. Keen’s “Minsky” model traces this to what he has called “endogenous money creation,” that is, bank credit mainly to buyers of real estate, companies and other assets. He recently suggested a more catchy moniker: “Bank Originated Money and Debt” (BOMD). That seems easier to remember. The concept is more accessible than the dry academic terminology usually coined. It is simple enough to show that the mathematics of compound interest lead the volume of debt to exceed the rate of GDP growth, thereby diverting more and more income to the financial sector as debt service.

Keen traces this view back to Irving Fisher’s famous 1933 article on debt deflation – the residue from unpaid debt. Such payments to creditors leave less available to spend on goods and services. In explaining the mathematical dynamics underlying his “Minsky” model, Keen links financial dynamics to employment. If private debt grows faster than GDP, the debt/GDP ratio will rise. This stifles markets, and hence employment. Wages fall as a share of GDP. This is precisely what is happening. But mainstream models ignore the overgrowth of debt, as if the economy operates on a barter basis. Keen calls this “the barter illusion,” and reviews his wonderful exchange with Paul Krugman (who plays the role of an intellectual Bambi to Keen’s Godzilla), who insists that banks do not create credit but merely recycle savings – as if they are savings banks, not commercial banks. It is the old logic that debt doesn’t matter because “we” owe the debt to “ourselves.”

[..] By being so compact, this book is able to concentrate attention on the easy-to-understand mathematical principles that underlie the “junk economics” mainstream. Keen explains why, mathematically, the Great Moderation leading up to the 2008 crash was not an anomaly, but is inherent in a basic principle: Economies can prolong the debt-financed boom and delay a crash simply by providing more and more credit, Australia-style. The effect is to make the ensuing crash worse, more long-lasting and more difficult to extricate. For this, he blames mainly Margaret Thatcher and Alan Greenspan as, in effect, bank lobbyists. But behind them is the whole edifice of neoliberal economic brainwashing.

Keen attacks this “neoclassical” methodology by pointing at the logical fallacy of trying to explain society by looking only at “the individual.” That approach and its related “series of plausible but false propositions” blinds economics graduates from seeing the obvious. Their discipline is the product of ideological desire not to blame banks or creditors, wrapped in a libertarian antagonism toward government’s role as economic regulator, money creator, and financer of basic infrastructure.

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The EU really cares.

UK PM May Accuses EU of Brexit Threats and Election Interference (CNBC)

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused the EU of not wanting Brexit negotiations to be a success, as tensions between both sides escalate ahead of official talks. “The events of the last few days have shown that – whatever our wishes, and however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders – there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed,” May said Wednesday afternoon outside Downing Street. Her comments follow media reports that the EU’s Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker left London “10 times more skeptical” than he was before after a dinner with Prime Minister May last week. Their meeting has been described in the press as a disaster with both leaders clashing over key negotiating issues.

Earlier on Wednesday, Juncker described May as a “tough woman”. May has said that she will be a “bloody difficult woman” during Brexit talks. Speaking outside Downing Street, the head of the Conservative party went further and accused the European Union of wanting to interfere in the upcoming general election. “Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened.Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials. All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election that will take place on 8 June,” the prime minister said.

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I watched parts of the debate, nothing brutal about it, just politics. Le Pen’s logic seems pretty solid: “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”

Le Pen Tirade Meets Logic of Macron in Brutal French TV Duel

Marine Le Pen unleashed a barrage of attacks on her presidential rival Emmanuel Macron as she tried to close a gap of some 20 percentage points in the only head-to-head debate of the French election campaign. Le Pen, 48, said her centrist opponent was the candidate of the capitalist elite, and a friend to terrorists, who planned to shut down factories, schools and hospitals. Macron said Le Pen’s broadsides against state bodies meant she was unfit to lead the country as she struggled to defend her plans to leave the euro. “You have threatened public employees,” Macron, 39, said as his opponent chuckled on the other side of the table during the almost three-hour debate Wednesday night. “Your words show that you are not worthy to be the defender of our institutions.”

A snap survey of 1,314 likely voters by polling firm Elabe showed that 63 percent of respondents rated Macron as the winner and 34 percent picked Le Pen. With just three days to go before French voters settle the most turbulent election in the country’s modern history, Le Pen argued for new border restrictions to protect the French people from foreign competition and terrorism, and an exit from euro, reversing 60 years of European integration. The clash was brutal from the get-go, and the general consensus from commentators was that it wasn’t a particularly dignified debate. “It was like a schoolyard brawl,” said Emmanuel Riviere, managing director of pollster Kantar Public France. “The candidates went straight for the jugular. Le Pen started it. But Macron also played his part.”

Both candidates justified the nasty tone on Thursday. “It was severe, but that’s because for the first time ever the French have a real choice,” Le Pen said on RMC Radio. “Before, the candidates agreed on everything. I want to wake up the French people.” [..] She told him he’d traveled to Berlin to get the blessing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel for his policy plans, playing on French concerns that their country plays second fiddle within the European Union. “France will be run by a woman whatever happens,” Le Pen said. “Either by me or by Mrs. Merkel.”

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“..your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it.”

Universal Basic Income is Not “Free Money” (Santens)

Let’s say the cost to produce a widget is $1. What’s the cost to produce 1 million widgets? This may sound like an extremely simple word problem that even some preschoolers could solve. However, if you think the answer is $1 million, you would be entirely wrong. The cost to produce 1 million widgets is far below $1 million thanks to the savings inherent in mass production. It’s a lot cheaper per something to make a lot of something, than it is to create one of it, or even a few. A couple secondary understandings extend themselves as a result of this primary understanding. First, it’s wrong to assume that providing people with more money will necessitate rising prices. Increased demand can lead to greatly increased production, which then leads to lower prices. Just how much production can be ramped up in response to increased demand is a key factor in price determination.

Where supply cannot be increased, and therefore more money is chasing the same amount of goods, price increases can be expected. Where supply can be greatly or even infinitely increased, lower prices can be expected, especially where true competition exists. Second, and I find this point extremely compelling and the real point of this post, is a recognition of our interdependence, and the collective debt we owe each other. Take whatever device you’re reading these words on as a prime example. Whatever its cost to you, it only cost that because millions of others like you expressed their demand for the same device. Without everyone else, that device would have cost you ten times, a hundred times, or even a thousand times more than it would have to create just one, just for you. In other words, we all subsidize each other.

[..] In Alaska, Alaskans are paid on average about $1000 per year for being an Alaskan. Why? Because the oil companies didn’t make the oil in Alaska. They’re merely bringing it up out of the ground and processing it. The oil is considered owned by all Alaskans, and so they should as owners see some of the revenue generated by its sale. Now apply this logic to the rest of what was not created by humankind. Apply it to what is not created by any one human individually, but everyone together, like for example land value. Take a million dollar mansion and swap it with an empty lot in the middle of the desert. The mansion becomes worth only the sum total of what its parts can sell for. The empty lot shoots up in value. Why? Because the unimproved value of land is socially created. That value exists because YOU exist.

Do you see now that basic income is not “free money” or “money for nothing?” You are owed it. It is your just and due compensation as part of this interdependent system we call society. We are all stakeholders in it. We are all owed a dividend as investors. No investor in Apple would ever be okay with being told that in return for their investment in Apple, they merely get the privilege of purchasing Apple products. Their reward is a return on their investment in the form of cash dividends. That’s fair and just. What is true for corporate stockholders should also be true for you. Don’t accept anything less than a cash dividend for your investments in this grand organization called human civilization. Claim what you are owed and demand unconditional basic income.

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Key: “There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever..”

The Brothers Fighting For Indebted Greek Homeowners (AP)

Leonidas Papadopoulos is a doctor, his brother Ilias an economist, and once a week they take a break from ordinary life to fight the government. They go to court every Wednesday, the day homeowners in default on mortgages lose their properties at auctions – the final step of foreclosure in a country where the government and its citizens are overwhelmed by debt. Auctions are supervised by a notary public, who faces a weekly hour of crowd harassment. At a lower court in Athens one Wednesday, the Papadopoulos brothers and about 30 protesters gather menacingly around the notary’s desk, shouting insults and chanting “Vultures out!” When the atmosphere gets heated, protesters clamber onto the empty judges’ benches. In the court halls outside the chamber, demonstrators unfurl large banners and set up loudspeakers to blast music normally associated with protest movements from the 1970s.

Police look on without intervening, and another auction is cancelled. The crowd celebrates with chants of “No Homes in Bankers’ Hands!” – and goes home. “We create a list of all the auctions that are due to take place and decide which cases require our intervention. When the notary enters the chamber, we eject them with our presence, and by shouting,” the 35-year-old Leonidas Papadopoulos says. Each postponement typically delays an auction by about two months. The bearded brothers have created a nationwide protest network of several hundred volunteers to disrupt the auctions across Greece and to help illegally reconnect homes of unemployed people who have had their electricity cut off. In its fourth year, the campaign is intensifying as the country faces pressure from its international bailout creditors to deal with a mountain of bad bank loans.

Greece owes a staggering 325 billion euros ($354 billion), most of it to bailout lenders, while annual economic output – hammered by austerity, political upheaval and years of recession – has withered to below 180 billion euros ($196 billion). The country’s key assets are locked up for 99 years under the control of a fund created by the creditors. The picture for the country’s 10 million citizens is equally grim: Some 4 million are in arrears on tax payments, while 2 million households and businesses are behind on their electricity bills. Nearly half of loans given by banks for businesses and property purchases are now officially listed as soured. Ilias Papadopoulos, 33, sees the problem differently, arguing that people’s property are being seized at fire-sale prices after tax collection has been exhausted, in a desperate effort to maintain bailout debt commitments.

“There is an effort by a coalition of interests: banks, financial funds, pro-bailout governments, and the international creditors. They want to grab people’s property by using the public debt as a lever,” he said. “That includes homes, small businesses, farm land, and industry. It’s wealth that was acquired with such great effort by the Greek people. It cannot be surrendered without a fight.” Ilias says he’s never been arrested or detained by police due to his activism, and predicts the fight against foreclosures will intensify after Greece and it’s bailout creditors reached a new austerity deal this week. “This will only make things worse for poor people. So we’ll have to step things up.”

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Apr 302017
 
 April 30, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1965

 

Are Canada’s Homes and Mortgages Worth Just 50 Cents on the Dollar? (WS)
US Congress Does Bare Minimum to Keep Government Open Next Week (BBG)
All the Plenary’s Men (BestEvidence)
The National Blues (Jim Kunstler)
‘Taxation Is Theft’ Meme Goes Mainstream (TAM)
Erdogan: Turkey and US Can Wipe Out ISIL in Raqqa (AlJ)
ISIS Suffers Heavy Casualties In Kurdish Fighters’ Advances In Raqqa (FNA)
Russia Backs China Call To Stop N. Korea Nuke Tests, US-S. Korea Drills (RT)
Brazil Paralyzed by Nationwide Strike, Driven by Corruption and Impunity (GG)
Mélenchon: France To Choose Between Extreme Right And Extreme Finance (IC)
Matteo Renzi Tries The Macron Approach (Pol.)
EU Throws Down Brexit Gauntlet to Britain as Talks Edge Closer (BBG)
Merkel Talks Tough on Migrants in Election Campaign Warm-Up (BBG)
PwC: Greece Must Reform Or Forget Recovery (K.)

 

 

“On April 28, HOOPP CEO Jim Keohane told BNN in an interview that “for every $1 we lend Home Capital, they’re going to provide us with $2 of mortgages as collateral. That’s where we get our protection from.” So the C$2 billion loan would be backed by C$4 billion in mortgages. In other words, in the eyes of Keohane, these mortgages might be actually worth, when push comes to shove, 50 cents on the dollar.”

Are Canada’s Homes and Mortgages Worth Just 50 Cents on the Dollar? (WS)

Home Capital is Canada’s biggest “alternative” mortgage lender. It’s not a bank – which today is part of its problem because it cannot create money to lend out; it has to obtain it first by attracting deposits and borrowing money through other channels. Through its subsidiary, Home Trust, it specializes in high-profit mortgages to risky borrowers, with dented credit or unreliable incomes who don’t qualify for mortgage insurance and were turned down by the banks. This includes subprime borrowers. Since revelations of liar loans surfaced in 2015, things have gone to heck. Now it’s experiencing a run on its deposits. Teetering at the abyss, it obtained a $2 billion bailout loan on Thursday. The terms are onerous. And on Friday, the crux of the deal emerged – the amount of mortgages it has to post as collateral. It’s a doozie.

It sheds some light on what insiders think mortgages and the homes that back them are worth when push comes to shove. A bone-chilling wake-up call for the Canadian housing and mortgage market. This is when the whole construct started falling apart: On July 15, 2015, Home Capital announced that originations of high-margin uninsured mortgages had plunged 16% and originations of lower-margin insured mortgages had plummeted 55%, and that it had axed an unspecified number of brokers. Shares plunged 25% in two days. On July 30, 2015, it disclosed, upon the urging of the Ontario Securities Commission, the results of an investigation that had been going on secretly since September 2014 into “falsification of income information.” Liar loans. It suspended 45 mortgage brokers who’d together originated in 2014 nearly C$1 billion in residential mortgages, or 12.5% of its total.

The scandal festered. Short sellers circled in formation. On April 26, 2017, Home Capital announced that it’s experiencing a run on its deposits. As of the end of March, its subsidiary Home Trust sat on about C$2 billion in high-interest savings accounts (HISA) it is offering to regular savers. But these folks were pulling their money out, it said, and the pace of the run was accelerating. It also disclosed that it was finalizing a $2 billion bailout loan from the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) which has about $70 billion in assets. The loan would “have a material impact on earnings….” So an expensive loan.

Home Trust would pay a non-refundable commitment fee of $100 million; would be required to make an initial draw of $1 billion at an interest rate of 10%; and would pay a 2.5% standby fee on undrawn funds. So the initial $1 billion for the first 12 months would cost it $225 million in fees and interest, a juicy 22.5%! Once the credit line is fully utilized, the cost of the loan would drop to 15%. Its shares collapsed by 65%. On Friday, April 28, it announced that another C$290 million in deposits were yanked out on Thursday, after C$472 had been yanked out on Wednesday. Its HISA deposits were down to C$521 million, having plunged 75% since late March.y

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Kept the lights on for 100 days.

US Congress Does Bare Minimum to Keep Government Open Next Week (BBG)

Congress gave itself one more week to agree on a spending bill to fund the U.S. government through September, leading into President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office Saturday by keeping the lights on. The 382-30 House vote Friday was followed quickly by unanimous Senate passage of the stopgap spending bill hours before the shutdown deadline. Trump signed the bill Friday evening, according to a White House official. “We feel very good” that lawmakers will be able to pass a full spending bill next week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters earlier in the day. Leaders of both parties say they’re close to agreement on a broader spending plan after Republicans signaled they would accept Democratic demands that the Trump administration promise to continue paying Obamacare subsidies and to drop its bid for immediate funds for a wall on the Mexican border.

“You shouldn’t create artificial deadlines,” Alabama Republican Representative Gary Palmer said in support of the short-term measure. “If there are things we need to work through, we need to take the time to work through them.” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said both sides have made progress on issues including more funds for the National Institutes of Health, opioid funding for states, Pell college grants and money for transit. But he said the talks remain snagged over Republican demands for policy “riders.” “Let’s not govern by partisan manufactured crisis,” he said on the Senate floor. “Stop posturing,” he added as he called for a speedy resolution on the bill sometime next week. “This is no way to govern,” Leahy said before the Senate vote.

Sixteen House Republicans voted against Friday’s stopgap measure. The short-term fix to ward off a government shutdown – on a deadline set months ago – shows the stubborn dysfunction of Congress even with a unified Republican government. House GOP leaders on Thursday abandoned efforts to vote this week on their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare for lack of support in their party. A vote is still possible next week.

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Eye-opening to say the least. Make the coffee extra strong before viewing. Lots of ground gets covered, quickly. And don’t mothball those pitchforks and torches just yet.

All the Plenary’s Men (BestEvidence)

“The King can do no wrong.”
—William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England

“When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”
—Ex-President Richard Nixon, interview with David Frost

The question at bar is why the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to prosecute any too-big-to-fail banks or—more importantly—their bankers, even for admitted crimes. It’s a crucial question, because after eight straight years of unremitting prosecutorial failure, it looks very much as if a select group of top banks can, in fact, do no wrong. If that’s the case, then our constitutional republic isn’t merely in trouble. It’s dead. A person or group of people who satisfy Blackstone’s criterion for ultimate sovereign power—the power to commit crimes with impunity—can’t exist in a nation where the law reigns supreme. And yet here we are a decade after the financial crisis began in earnest, and not one TBTF bank executive has gone to jail.

Legally, the TBTF banks are indistinguishable from the King, since the power to commit crimes with impunity swallows all other sovereign powers; such a power isn’t even supposed to exist in the U.S., and yet it does. Moreover, since there can’t be two kings in a kingdom, the entire U.S. government, from the president on down, is just one of the King’s men under this formulation of power. The real job of the U.S. government, then, isn’t to represent the will of the people at all, it’s to do the King’s bidding. A nation that isn’t governed by law is governed by instead by a king—it’s one or the other—and the president’s inferiority to such an above-the-law sovereign was confirmed over 40 years ago with Nixon’s ouster. The president, unlike the King, answers to the law (despite Nixon’s opinion).

Now, you may say that while the TBTF banks might arguably have the de facto power of the King, that’s a far cry from wielding such power formally (i.e., having de jure criminal immunity). The reply to that objection is set forth in this film, “All the Plenary’s Men,” which is a sequel to “The Veneer of Justice in a Kingdom of Crime.” Another objection, raised by the DOJ itself, is that it HAS prosecuted TBTF bankers, citing cases like that of Raj Rajaratnam. These cases, however, in fact reveal the DOJ acting on behalf of the criminal global banking cartel. On that score, the DOJ’s abysmal track record is by now so extensive and so thorough that it’s possible to spot legal patterns in the DOJ’s protracted miscarriage of justice, and, as you’re about to see, those patterns are very deeply disturbing indeed.

What’s been going on cuts right past a garden variety constitutional crisis like Watergate straight to a crisis of sovereignty. The backdrop for all of this is HSBC’s exoneration in December of 2012 for laundering money for drug dealers and terrorists, about which the House Financial Services Committee issued a report in July of 2016. Whether it was due to the political circus in town at the time, or to the Republican authorship of that report (albeit without dissent), it didn’t get nearly the scrutiny it deserved. You see, prosecutors working on the HSBC case were actually going to indict the bank, but they got overruled, and HSBC and its team of criminals skated. The story of how exactly that reversal came about reveals, if not the King himself, then certainly many of the King’s top men.

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“It concentrates the mind, as Samuel Johnson once remarked, like waiting to be hanged.”

The National Blues (Jim Kunstler)

You can read it in the bodies of the people in the new town square, i.e. the supermarket: people prematurely old, fattened and sickened by bad food made to look and taste irresistible to con those sunk in despair, a deadly consolation for lives otherwise filled by empty hours, trash television, addictive computer games, and their own family melodramas concocted to give some narrative meaning to lives otherwise bereft of event or effort. These are people who have suffered their economic and social roles in life to be stolen from them. They do not work at things that matter. They have no prospects for a better life — and, anyway, the sheer notion of that has been reduced to absurd fantasies of Kardashian luxury, i.e. maximum comfort with no purpose other than to enable self-dramatization. And nothing dramatizes a desperate life like a drug habit. It concentrates the mind, as Samuel Johnson once remarked, like waiting to be hanged.

[..] The eerie thing about reading the landscape of despair is that you can see the ghosts of purpose and meaning in it. Before 1970, there were at least five factories in my little town, all designed originally to run on the water power (or hydro-electric) of the Battenkill River, a tributary of the nearby Hudson. The ruins of these enterprises are still there, the red brick walls with the roofs caved in, the twisted chain-link fence that no longer has anything to protect, the broken masonry mill-races. The ghosts of commerce are also plainly visible in the bones of Main Street. These were businesses owned by people who lived in town, who employed other people who lived in town, who often bought and sold things grown or made in and around town.

Every level of this activity occupied people and gave purpose and meaning to their lives, even if the work associated with it was sometimes hard. Altogether, it formed a rich network of interdependence, of networked human lives and family histories. What galls me is how casually the country accepts the forces that it has enabled to wreck these relationships. None of the news reports or “studies” done about opioid addiction will challenge or even mention the deadly logic of Wal Mart and operations like it that systematically destroyed local retail economies (and the lives entailed in them.) The news media would have you believe that we still value “bargain shopping” above all other social dynamics. In the end, we don’t know what we’re talking about.

I’ve maintained for many years that it will probably require the collapse of the current arrangements for the nation to reacquire a reality-based sense of purpose and meaning. I’m kind of glad to see national chain retail failing, one less major bad thing in American life. Trump was just a crude symptom of the sore-beset public’s longing for a new disposition of things. He’ll be swept away in the collapse of the rackets, including the real estate racket that he built his career on. Once the collapse gets underway in earnest, starting with the most toxic racket of all, contemporary finance, there will be a lot to do. The day may dawn in America when people are too busy to resort to opioids, and actually derive some satisfaction from the busy-ness that occupies them.

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Funny but true.

‘Taxation Is Theft’ Meme Goes Mainstream (TAM)

The month of April is a nightmare for anyone with a conscience, as we only have until “tax day” — which usually falls on April 15 — to give the taxman what he says he deserves. So if you pay taxes to Uncle Sam and you’re also aware you’re paying for mass murder in the Middle East and in U.S. streets due to the drug war, you should also feel sick to your stomach as you write that check. To a restaurant customer, this may have served as enough incentive to remind his server that taxation is always immoral — but he didn’t stop there. Last week, a customer at a Missouri restaurant gave the waitress a “personal gift” instead of a tip, writing the now popular line “Taxation is theft” in the tip section of the receipt. In a second note, the fiscally conscious customer added: “This is not a tip. This is a personal gift and not subject to federal or state income taxes.”

With major progressive news outlets like ATTN: reporting on this story, left-leaning reporters started to debate wages in the food and service industries, discussing the fact that tips end up being factored as wages, meaning they are always taxable. But as that discussion developed, reporters were quick to realize that when personal gifts are in the mix, the taxman can’t take part of those earnings away. After all, a gift would have to exceed $13,000 to be subject to taxation, meaning that even if the customer had spent hundreds, the “personal gift” would not amount to anything close to the requirements stipulated by the IRS.

With that, ladies and gentlemen, it becomes easier to not only tip with class, but also with substance, giving your waiter a lesson on what’s moral and how to legally go around the rules to make sure they enjoy their full tip — not just the percentage deemed to be fit by the federal government. As this story becomes part of the popular movement ignited by libertarians, expect to see more progressive news outlets becoming familiarized with the actual concept of taxation. What’s left for us to find out is if they are going to change their tune and start attacking people like this customer when the two-party pendulum swings once again and a fully Democratic slate takes over Washington. Are they going to remain consistent in discussing taxation from the point of view of the worker, or are they going to side with the leech? Only time will tell.

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From separate map picked up on Twitter: “When ISIS was winning Turkey was just watching. Now when ISIS is getting defeated by Kurds, Turkey starts attacking Kurds. Turkey = ISIS.”

Erdogan: Turkey and US Can Wipe Out ISIL in Raqqa (AlJ)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday if Ankara and Washington were to join forces they could turn the Syrian city of Raqqa into a “graveyard” for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Erdogan also suggested he could launch cross-border operations against Kurdish rebels at any time, just days after the military carried out air strikes in Syria and Iraq, drawing concern from the United States. “America, the coalition, and Turkey can join hands and turn Raqqa into a graveyard for [ISIL],” Erdogan told a business summit in Istanbul. “They [ISIL] will look for a place to hide.” Erdogan’s comments come ahead of a meeting with US President Donald Trump on May 16 – their first face-to-face summit since the real estate mogul and reality TV star took office in January.

Ankara is hopeful about a relationship with Washington under Trump after ties frayed in the final years of Barack Obama’s administration, which limited cooperation between the NATO allies. The two countries have bitterly disagreed over the role of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria. Turkey views the YPG as the Syrian extension of the Kurdish PKK group, which has waged a deadly insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984. But the US is concerned that Turkey’s military operations in Syria are more focused on preventing Syrian Kurds from forming an autonomous region in northern Syria, along Turkey’s border, that could embolden Turkey’s own Kurdish minority.


@Furiouskurd: When ISIS was winning Turkey was just watching. Now when ISIS is getting defeated by Kurds, Turkey starts attacking Kurds. Turkey = ISIS.

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As the only party involved, the Kurds fight for their own land. And they have liberated lots of prisoners, women, children.

ISIS Suffers Heavy Casualties In Kurdish Fighters’ Advances In Raqqa (FNA)

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continued the anti-ISIL Euphrates Rage Operation in Western Raqqa and managed to drive the terrorists out of more neighborhoods in al-Tabaqa city, killing over 40 of them. The SDF engaged in heavy fighting with ISIL in al-Tabaqa city and managed to take control of the neighborhoods of al-Nababeleh, al-Zahra and al-Wahab, killing 23 militants. In the meantime, the Kurdish fighters managed to push ISIL back from al-Wahabah and Radio Station in al-Tabaqa, killing 20 militants and capturing 10 others. In relevant developments in the province on Tuesday, the SDF stormed ISIL’s defense lines and took full control over the villages and settlements of Kabash al-Sharqi, Um al-Tonok, Rayan, Tishrin farm, Mosheirehe al-Shamaliyeh, Mosheirefeh al-Janoubiyeh, al-Rahiyat, Beir Jarbou, Jarwa, al-Hattash, Hazimeh, Khalwa Abideh, Holo Abd, Abareh, al-Kaleteh, Sukriyeh and Zohra, inflicting major losses on ISIL.

The Kurdish forces also won back a key neighborhood in the Southern sector of Tabaqa city following a large advance on its Western urban. In the meantime, the SDF managed to seize control over the Alexandria suburb, and now the Kurds have swept through the adjacent Wahab neighborhood. Kurdish forces also secured the island of Jazirat al-Ayd, a few kilometers North of Lake Assad. According to latest reports, around 40% of Tabaqa city has been brought under Kurdish control with just a few hundred ISIL militants left in its Northern sector and around the city center.

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‘..double suspension..’

Russia Backs China Call To Stop N. Korea Nuke Tests, US-S. Korea Drills (RT)

Russia has supported a Chinese initiative in the UNSC intended to stabilize the situation on the Korean peninsula. It calls on the North to refrain from missile and nuclear testing, while the US and South Korea should halt military drills in the area.
“Members of the [UN] Security Council have unanimously called upon DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to stop missile and nuclear tests and to fulfil UNSC resolutions,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Saturday following a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) session held in New York earlier on Friday. The UNSC called for a political and diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, the ministry added.

“In this context, the Russian Federation supported a Chinese proposal for a ‘double suspension’ (Pyongyang is to stop missile and nuclear tests and the US and South Korean militaries are to halt drills near North Korea) as a starting point for political negotiations.” However, the council was not able to agree on a common solution, the ministry added. The UNSC session was joined by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, who urged Washington and Seoul to reconsider their decision to station a THAAD anti-missile system on the Korean Peninsula, warning that it will serve as a “destabilizing factor” in the region.

Gatilov said the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) had been deployed “in line with the vicious logic of creating a global missile shield,” while warning that it is also undermining the security and deterrent capacities of adjacent states, such as China, thus threatening “the existing military balance in the region.” “It is not only we who perceived this step very negatively. We are once again urging both the United States and the Republic of Korea to reconsider its expediency, and other regional states not to yield to the temptation of joining such destabilizing efforts,” the deputy foreign minister said. Ahead of the UNSC session, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that a peaceful solution to the Korean crisis is the “only right choice.” “Peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and negotiations represents the only right choice that is practical and viable,” Wang said.

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Very few Brazil politicians are not involved in one scam or another.

Brazil Paralyzed by Nationwide Strike, Driven by Corruption and Impunity (GG)

Just over one year ago, Brazil’s elected President, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached – ostensibly due to budgetary lawbreaking – and replaced with her centrist Vice President, Michel Temer. Since then, virtually every aspect of the nation’s political and economic crisis – especially corruption – has worsened. Temer’s approval ratings have collapsed to single digits. His closest political allies – the same officials who engineered Dilma’s impeachment and installed him in the presidency – recently became the official targets of a sprawling criminal investigation. The President himself has been implicated by new revelations, saved only by the legal immunity he enjoys. It’s almost impossible to imagine a presidency imploding more completely and rapidly than the unelected one imposed by elites on the Brazilian population in the wake of Dilma’s impeachment.

The disgust validly generated by all of these failures finally exploded this week. A nationwide strike, and tumultuous protests in numerous cities, today has paralyzed much of the country, shutting roads, airports and schools. It is the largest strike to hit Brazil in at least two decades. The protests were largely peaceful, but some random violence emerged. The proximate cause of the anger is a set of “reforms” that the Temer government is ushering in that will limit the rights of workers, raise their retirement age by several years, and cut various pension and social security benefits. These austerity measures are being imposed at a time of great suffering, with the unemployment rate rising dramatically and social improvements of the last decade, which raised millions of people out of poverty, unravelling.

[..] During the past three years, Brazilians have been subjected to one revelation after the next of extreme corruption pervading the country’s political and economic class. Scores of corporate executives and long-time party leaders are imprisoned. They include the head of the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, the House Speaker who presided over Dilma’s impeachment, and the former governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. The current House Speaker, and Senate President, and nine of Temer’s ministers are now targets of criminal investigations for bribery and money laundering, as are numerous governors.

In sum, the vast bulk of the top-shelf political and economic elite have proven to be radically corrupt. Billions upon billions of dollars have been stolen from the Brazilian public. Recently released recordings from the judicial confessions of Marcelo Odebrecht, scion of one of Brazil’s richest families, depict a country ruled almost entirely through bribes and criminality, regardless of the ideology or party of political leaders. And yet, even in the wake of this oozing and incomparable elite corruption, the price that is being paid falls overwhelmingly on the victims – ordinary Brazilians – while the culprits prosper.

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Melenchon seeks to hold on to his voters for the June parliamentary elections.

Mélenchon: France To Choose Between Extreme Right And Extreme Finance (IC)

The leader of a far-left movement who won nearly 20% of the vote in the first round of France’s presidential election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, told his seven million voters in a YouTube address on Friday that he would not tell them how to vote in the final-round run-off next weekend. As for himself, Mélenchon said that he would cast a ballot, and that it would not be for Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right National Front, who courted his voters in a video of her own on Friday. But Mélenchon also refused to say, like the leaders of other parties across the political spectrum – and celebrities including the French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane – that he would vote for Le Pen’s centrist rival, the former banker Emmanuel Macron, to stop the far-right from gaining power.

Instead, Mélenchon predicted that forcing France to choose between a candidate of “the extreme right” and one of “extreme finance” would led to a political crisis, and left open the possibility that he would submit a blank ballot, a form of protest vote permitted under French electoral law. (Mélenchon’s platform included provisions for voting to be made mandatory, and for blank ballots to be recognized under law.) The appeal for unity, to construct a barrage, or dam, against the rising tide of the far-right, Mélenchon said, was, in fact, a disguised attempt to force voters like him, who profoundly disagree with Macron’s economic policies, to endorse his project. Amid fears that widespread abstention and protest votes for neither candidate could lower the threshold for Le Pen to win with 50% of the valid votes cast, Mélenchon’s refusal to join the sort of united front against Le Pen that led to her father’s defeat in 2002 caused anxiety to spike.

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Chameleons and parrots are us.

Matteo Renzi Tries The Macron Approach (Pol.)

Matteo Renzi toned down the EU-critical rhetoric of his final months as Italian prime minister during his visit to Brussels on Friday to drum up support for his bid to be restored as head of the Democratic Party (PD) in its primaries this weekend. With aides suggesting on social media that French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron’s pro-EU stance, which helped him beat Euroskeptic Marine Le Pen in the election’s first round, could be a boost for Renzi, he talked about “Angela, François and I” when referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande. Renzi even stood in front of a display showing the EU flag, and felt the need to explain why, in the run-up to his failed constitutional referendum that cost him the prime ministership last December, he had removed the EU flag from behind his desk.

“It wasn’t anger, it was calculated gesture,” Renzi told PD followers at a hotel near the European Parliament, adding that it was in response to the European Commission demanding Italian action on its budget deficit when it had been hit by an earthquake. The Italian and international media have speculated about the similarities between Renzi and Macron, with Renzi’s slogan for the PD primary this Sunday — In Cammino (“on the way”) — almost a direct translation of the name of Macron’s centrist political movement, En Marche. One close Renzi aide, Giuliano Da Empoli, wrote on Facebook the day after Macron’s first-round victory on April 23 that the French result “shows that one can be at the same time a convinced pro-European and a harsh critic of the status quo.”

That was the tone Renzi tried to strike in Brussels on Friday, repeating his line that the EU “needs radical change” and taking a dig at Germany for its trade surplus, while warning about the dangers of populism. “With the radicals you win the primary elections but then you lose the elections,” he told the audience. In the French campaign, which comes to a head with the second-round vote on May 7, the candidate closest to Renzi’s Democratic Party was Benoît Hamon, who won the ruling Socialist Party’s primaries but took only 6% of the vote on election night. That must resonate for Renzi, who wants to regain control of the PD to prepare a bid for a new term as prime minister in elections due early next year.

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“Nobody has united here against the U.K.,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters..” She’s right, all everyone’s done is side WITH Germany. Without a word.

EU Throws Down Brexit Gauntlet to Britain as Talks Edge Closer (BBG)

European Union governments threw down the gauntlet to the U.K. ahead of Brexit talks, listing demands Prime Minister Theresa May must satisfy before they will discuss the trade deal she wants and urging her to be more realistic in her expectations. Any doubts about the scale of the task facing Britain in withdrawing from the EU after four decades were laid to rest at a Brussels summit of the region’s leaders on Saturday. A tough negotiating stance was endorsed unanimously, within minutes and to applause. The U.K. responded by saying it’s bracing for a confrontation. The complexity comes down to the fact that a departure from the world’s biggest trading bloc has never been done and was never supposed to happen. The EU is striving to ensure the U.K. is worse off outside it than inside, not least to avoid setting a precedent.

After agreeing to the terms of separation, then it’s a matter of getting down to the business of what a future relationship might look like. “Nobody has united here against the U.K.,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters as she left the meeting. “The British people have made a decision, which we will have to respect. But we remaining 27 now get together in order to speak with one voice.” The Brexit discussions will begin soon after the U.K.’s June election, which May called in part to strengthen her mandate going into talks. The first orders of business will be guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in the Britain and calculating a financial settlement one leader said would be at least €40 billion euros ($44 billion). Only once “sufficient progress’’ is made on those thorny topics and reinforcing the border between the two Irelands will the EU’s attention turn to trade. That looks unlikely to happen before December.

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Merkel tries to deflect the blame for what’s gone wrong, blames local officials for sweeping things under the carpet. Yeah, she would never have had any reason to do just that herself. Plus, she blames ‘Europe’s haphazard policing of its outer borders’, something for which no-one carries more responsibility than … Merkel, the de facto boss of the EU. Mutti Merkel’s just another politician going wherever the wind blows.

Merkel Talks Tough on Migrants in Election Campaign Warm-Up (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is talking tough on migrants and crime as she hits the campaign trail for two state elections next month, giving a foretaste of her bid for a fourth term in September. Merkel’s hardened rhetoric was on display in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, where her Christian Democratic Union is seeking to end seven years of Social Democratic rule on May 14. On Friday, she’s campaigning east of Hamburg in Schleswig-Holstein, where two polls this week suggest her party has a slim lead over the SPD ahead of a regional vote on May 7. At a CDU rally in the rural Westphalian town of Beverungen, Merkel reaffirmed her push to return migrants who don’t qualify for asylum and attacked the state’s Social Democrat-led government as soft on crime.

She said local officials “tried to sweep under the carpet” lapses in policing around mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015, an incident that stoked an anti-immigration backlash. “The opportunity for improvement was there,” Merkel told the crowd on Thursday. “Things didn’t get better, so it’s time for a change.” As polls suggest that both Germany’s anti-immigration AfD party and her Social Democratic challenger Martin Schulz are in retreat for now, Merkel is using the opening to rally her CDU behind traditional themes of public safety. At a security conference this week, she said Europe’s haphazard policing of its outer borders compares unfavorably to U.S. immigration checks and must be strengthened.

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PricewaterhouseCoopers gets the first half right: as I’ve said numerous times, Greece cannot recover under present conditions imposed by the Troika. But then PwC loses the thread. Pity but predictable.

PwC: Greece Must Reform Or Forget Recovery (K.)

The extent of the destruction the Greek economy has suffered in the last few years, also undermining the effort to restructure it, becomes clear when comparing specific data, not on a quarterly or annual basis, but over the longer term. The country remains in a vicious cycle of recession, the economy will not grow by more than 1% this year, and any positive signs have proved temporary or insufficient to alter the overall picture. According to “Economic Outlook for Greece 2017-2018,” a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), investment in the country’s economy dropped from €60 billion in 2010 to €20 billion last year. Investments are showing no signs of sustainable recovery as savings remain in the red and banks continue to deleverage their financial reports.

Consumption has been in constant decline, with a small recovery last year followed by a fresh drop in recent months. The average disposable income has gone down primarily due to the increased taxation and hikes in social security contributions, while the capital controls remain and banks are dependent on emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) for their financing. PwC notes that disposable incomes are unlikely to grow significantly anytime soon. There are just a few domestic investments that could fuel a recovery and no significant funding for investments is expected from abroad. At the same time it will be hard for fiscal performance to post a significant improvement without any deep structural reforms, including in the social security system.

The banks’ lack of liquidity, the delayed repayment of the state’s dues to its suppliers and the capital controls are likely to persist. PwC further argues that despite the delays in the second bailout review, Greece could avoid any unforeseeable tension and political events and achieve some growth, but not any greater than 1%, and the same challenges will remain next year too. An exit from the vicious cycle, says PwC, will require not only a change in the Greek debt’s sustainability terms, but also a drastic acceleration of structural reforms and the boosting of competitiveness and growth.

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Apr 292017
 
 April 29, 2017  Posted by at 10:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait 1972

 

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)
Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)
Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)
Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)
EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)
These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)
Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)
US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)
Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)
California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)
Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)
US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)
Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)
‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

 

 

Consumption growth lowest since 2009.

US Q1 Growth Weakest In Three Years As Consumer Spending Falters (R.)

The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in three years in the first quarter as consumer spending almost stalled, but a surge in business investment and wage growth suggested activity would regain momentum as the year progresses. The soft patch at the start of the year is bad news for the Trump administration’s ambitions to significantly boost growth. “It marks a rough start to the administration’s high hopes of achieving 3% or better growth; this is not the kind of news it was looking for to cap its first 100 days in office,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. GDP increased at a 0.7% annual rate also as the government further cut defense spending and businesses spent less on inventories, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its advance estimate.

That was the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014. The pedestrian first-quarter growth pace is, however, not a true picture of the economy’s health. Wage growth in the first quarter was the fastest in 10 years as the labor market nears full employment and business investment on equipment was the strongest since the third quarter of 2015. Also underscoring the economy’s underlying strength, consumer and business confidence are near multi-year highs. First-quarter GDP tends to underperform because of difficulties with the calculation of data that the government has acknowledged and is working to rectify.

[..] Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 0.3% rate, the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009. That followed the fourth quarter’s robust 3.5% growth rate. A mild winter undercut demand for heating and utilities production. Higher inflation, with the personal consumption expenditures price index averaging 2.4% – the highest since the second quarter of 2011 – was also a drag.

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Anti-Trump rally?!

Don’t Show President Trump This Chart (ZH)

It's been (almost) 100 days and stocks are higher, hype is at its peak, hope remains higher-ish… there's just one problem, real economic data is collapsing…

 

As today's Q1 GDP proved, relying on 'hope' and 'soft' data to lift a 'real' economy is simply a false narrative…

 

How will that translate into Making America Great Again?

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Bubble. But their power is real. And scary.

Just Five Companies Account For 28% Of The S&P’s 2017 Returns (ZH)

On the last day of the busiest earnings week in a decade, here is a striking statistic from Goldman Sachs, showing just how dominant a handful of large cap companies have become in terms of both overall profitability and market impact: “Year to date the top 10 contributors have combined to account for 37% of the S&P 500 index return (more than double their market cap representation of 17%). The concentration among the top five is even greater, with those firms – AAPL, FB, AMZN, GOOGL, and MSFT – accounting for 28% of the return and 12% of market cap.” Some further perspective, courtesy of the WSJ, which notes that the combined market capitalization of AMZN, MSFT, INTC and GOOG makes up about 8% of the Index’s total.

Throwing in Apple and Facebook puts about 13% of the S&P 500’s combined market cap into the hands of just six companies. This wasn’t always the case. “Ten years ago, Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Intel made up just 5% of the S&P 500’s market cap, while Facebook was four years away from becoming a public company. The newfound prominence of big tech companies now can be chalked up to a few factors. One is that most big tech companies are profit machines—unlike many of their smaller peers that are still losing money. Alphabet, Microsoft, Intel and Amazon reported a combined $16.8 billion in operating income for the March quarter on Thursday. That is about 7% of the total projected for the S&P 500. ”

“Amazon looks like an outlier with a rather thin operating margin of 2.8% for the quarter, but even that is a notable gain from its average of just 1.5% over the last five years. But the other, even bigger factor is that demand for technology products and services keeps increasing, even as some market segments like PCs have declined. That has allowed several big tech companies to pivot into new segments with the help of strong cash flows generated by their original businesses. Amazon, Microsoft and Google have built large cloud services used by businesses shifting from more traditional computing setups.”

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New book, series in the Telegraph.

Germany Knew Austerity Would Destroy Greece, Says Varoufakis (Tel.)

Greece was forced to sign up to crippling austerity policies even though the German finance minister privately admitted he would not have endorsed the deal. The extraordinary admission by Wolfgang Schauble was made to Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, whose new memoir is serialised in The Telegraph all this weekend. In a frank private exchange, Mr Varoufakis asked Mr Schauble if he personally would sign up to the EU-ordered austerity plan which saw billions cut from Greek budgets and many Greeks lose their jobs. “As a patriot, no. It’s bad for your people,” the German minister replied. The Germans are also accused in the book of blocking a Chinese rescue deal for Greece and of repeatedly going back on promises and pledges made by other senior European figures as the EU battled to hold the eurozone together.

In a 500-page insider’s account of nearly six months of encounters with the leading political figures of Europe, Mr Varoufakis exposes the lengths to which Germany will go to maintain the EU and single currency. The minister secretly recorded many of his conversations with senior global figures and today exposes the gulf between private conversations and public pronouncements. In an interview today, Mr ≠Varoufakis says his experience contains dark warnings for Britain’s coming Brexit negotiations with a German-dominated EU. Angela Merkel warned this week that Britain should have no illusions about the coming talks and the EU yesterday put the ( issue of Irish reunification on the Brexit negotiating table. He warns that Theresa May must prepare an alternative deal as the EU will use dubious negotiating tactics to block reasonable discussion and potential solutions.

My advice to Theresa May is to avoid negotiation at all costs. If she doesn’t do that she will fall into the trap of [Greek prime minister] Alexis Tsipras, and it will end in capitulation, he told The Daily Telegraph. The parallel with Brexit is the tactic of stalling negotiations. They will get you on the sequencing. First there is the price of divorce to sort out before they will talk about free trade in the future, he added. In his book, Mr Varoufakis recounts how Germany used its political and financial muscle to impose austerity on Greece, despite widespread acknowledgement in other EU capitals that the policy was self-defeating and unsustainable. He reveals private encounters -many recorded secretly- with leading figures including Barack Obama, George Osborne and ( Emmanuel Macron, who polls say is almost certain to become the next president of France. In one conversation at the White House Mr Obama readily agrees that ‘austerity sucks’ but can do nothing to deflect the German agenda.

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Almost funny.

EU Deletes UK from Official Map – Two Years Before Brexit (BT)

This could be the first official map produced by the European Union to exclude the UK. But it is also an inaccurate one: the UK is still a member state of the EU. Brexit means Brexit: on 29 March, British Prime Minister Theresa May officially notified EU Council President Donald Tusk of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union. But Britain hasn’t left yet. By invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, May triggered a process that gives both sides two years to reach an agreement. Meaning that Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Until that time, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union.

It is no secret that hardline brexiteers would rather leave today than tomorrow, and ‘crash out’ of the EU, even if that means falling back on the most rudimentary of agreements for trade and cooperation with ‘EU27’ – shorthand for the EU minus the UK. Now it seems that sentiment is reciprocated in the highest circles of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. The map shows the unemployment rates of the member states – and the stark differences for those rates between member states in the north and south of the Union. But the eye is immediately drawn to the land mass of the United Kingdom: coloured not in the blues or oranges that indicate unemployment rates in the EU, but the grey of the non-member states that dot the map.

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Giving the news to you bite size.

These Americans Will Never Get Social Security Benefits (MW)

Today’s young people fear that they will never see Social Security benefits. The reality is, 3% of elderly Americans already don’t. The three main groups of people who never receive Social Security benefits include infrequent workers (44.3%) who do not have sufficient earnings to qualify for the benefits, immigrants who arrived in the US at 50 or older (37.3%) and therefore haven’t worked long enough to qualify for the benefits, and non-covered workers (11.4%), such as state and local government employees. A little less than 7% of “never beneficiaries” were individuals who were expected to get Social Security benefits, but died before receiving them, according to a 2015 Social Security Administration report.

What’s worse, most Americans may not realize how much they will – or will not – receive in Social Security benefits, said Bill Meyer, chief executive of Social Security Solutions, a software provider that strategizes how to claim Social Security. Social Security benefits are based on earnings history from the past 35 years – “The onus is on the individual retiree that the Social Security Administration has the right information,” Meyer said. Social Security benefits are hotly contested, specifically how — or even whether — those benefits will be distributed in the future. Young Americans say they’re not confident they’ll ever collect Social Security benefits (81% of millennials didn’t think so, at least, according to a recent Investopedia survey) but current near retirees may also be at risk.

In December, the House Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee introduced a bill that would “save” Social Security by cutting benefits for above-average earners, eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment for individuals who make more than $85,000 (and $170,000 for couples), and increasing the full retirement age to 69 from 66.

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Vault7 the largest ever publication?

Julian Assange Speaks Out: The War On The Truth (Ron Paul)

Wikileaks Founder and Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange joins the Liberty Report to discuss the latest push by the Trump Administration to bring charges against him and his organization for publishing US Government documents. How will they get around the First Amendment and the Espionage Act? The US government and the mainstream media – some of which gladly publish Wikileaks documents – are pushing to demonize Assange in the court of public opinion.

Tyler Durden: Having blasted the Trump administration for their hyprocritical flip-flop from “loving WikiLeaks” to “arrest Assange,” Ron Paul made his feelings very clear on what this signals: “If we allow this president to declare war on those who tell the truth, we have only ourselves to blame.” Today he sits down with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for a live interview…

“The CIA has been deeply humiliated as a result of our ongoing publications so this is a preemptive move by the CIA to try and discredit our publications and create a new category for Wikileaks and other national security reporters to strip them of First Amendment protections,” Assange said in a preview clip from the interview below…:

 

Full interview below… 

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US intelligence has gone bonkers, and it may well be too late to rein it in.

US Spy Agency Abandons Controversial Surveillance Technique (R.)

The U.S. National Security Agency said on Friday it had stopped a form of surveillance that allowed it to collect without a warrant the digital communications of Americans who mentioned a foreign intelligence target in their messages, marking an unexpected triumph for privacy advocates long critical of the practice. The decision to stop the once-secret activity, which involved messages sent to or received from people believed to be living overseas, came despite the insistence of U.S. officials in recent years that it was both lawful and vital to national security. The halt is among the most substantial changes to U.S. surveillance policy in years and comes as digital privacy remains a contentious issue across the globe following the 2013 disclosures of broad NSA spying activity by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

“NSA will no longer collect certain internet communications that merely mention a foreign intelligence target,” the agency said in a statement. “Instead, NSA will limit such collection to internet communications that are sent directly to or from a foreign target.” NSA also said it would delete the “vast majority” of internet data collected under the surveillance program “to further protect the privacy of U.S. person communications.” The decision is an effort to remedy privacy compliance issues raised in 2011 by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, a secret tribunal that rules on the legality of intelligence operations. [..] The NSA is not permitted to conduct surveillance within the United States. The so-called “about” collection went after messages that mentioned a surveillance target, even if the message was neither to nor from that person. That type of collection sometimes resulted in surveillance of emails, texts and other communications that were wholly domestic.

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Unintended consequences.

Russian Economy Has Grown Immune to Western Sanctions – UN (Sp.)

Maintaining the sanctions imposed by Western states will not negatively affect Russia’s economy, which has adapted to these restrictive measures, UN Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures Idriss Jazairy said Thursday. Jazairy stressed that the economy is adaptive to sanctions and the policies of its main trade partners, and thus the introduction of sanctions mostly harms the effectiveness of international trade, but not the country itself for which the sanctions were aimed against. Jazairy expressed his view on the anti-Russian sanctions during a meeting with the Russian upper house Council of the Federation Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State-Building chairman Andrei Klishas in Moscow.

Since 2014, relations between Russia and the European Union and the United States, deteriorated amid the crisis in Ukraine. Brussels, Washington and their allies introduced several rounds of sanctions against Russia on the pretext of its alleged involvement in the Ukrainian conflict, which Moscow has repeatedly denied. In response to the restrictive measures, Russia has imposed a food embargo on some products originating in countries that have targeted it with sanctions. On April 18, the IMF said in its World Economic Outlook report that Russian economic growth is expected to pick up in 2017 – 2018 and will reach 1.4% for both years.

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There are too many cars. That’s the only real problem. But no-one dares touch it.

California Enacts $52 Billion Fuel Tax Hike For Road, Bridge Repairs (R.)

California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law on Friday a bill to raise gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees for the first time in decades in an ambitious $52 billion plan to repair the state’s long-neglected roads and bridges. The measure, increasing excise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon, from the current rate of $0.28 a gallon, and on diesel fuel by 20 cents per gallon over the next 10 years, goes into effect in November. It cleared the state legislature three weeks ago, on the strength of a two-thirds super-majority the Democrats wield in both houses that allows them to pass new taxes with little or no Republican support. Republicans condemned the increases, saying the state’s transportation taxes and fees are already among the highest in the nation. They call the newly enacted measure the largest gasoline tax in California’s history.

The average motorist in California, a state renowned for its car culture, will see transportation costs rise by about $10 a month under the measure, according to Brown, a Democrat who has governed largely as a fiscal moderate. He has refused to back any transportation overall plans that involved borrowing money. Supporters say the measure is needed to address a mounting backlog of crumbling infrastructure projects, including more than 500 bridges statewide requiring major repair, most of them considered structurally deficient. The fuel tax increases, together with higher vehicle licensing fees and a new $100 annual fee on owners of electric-only vehicles, would raise $5.2 billion a year, all earmarked for road, highway and bridge repairs and anti-congestion projects.

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Too many people are too sure Le Pen has no chance.

Melenchon Attacks Macron as Le Pen Fights to Win His Supporters (BBG)

The left-wing populist Jean-Luc Melenchon, who was eliminated from France’s presidential election this week, declined to endorse centrist front-runner Emmanuel Macron as he looked to keep hold of his 7.1 million voters ahead of a parliamentary ballot in June. Melenchon, who came fourth in Sunday’s first-round vote, said he won’t vote for the anti-euro nationalist Marine Le Pen in the runoff on the May 7 in a 32-minute video posted on his official YouTube channel late Friday. But he also aimed criticism at the centrist Macron who has won endorsements from most of his mainstream rivals, as well as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “We can’t really call this a choice,” Melenchon said. “The nature of the two candidates makes it impossible to come out of this with stability.”

“One because he’s the extreme of finance, the other because she’s the extreme right,” he added, saying his party, France Unbowed, will reach the second round in 450 of the 577 constituencies up for grabs in the lower chamber of parliament in June and Macron sees him as a “threat.” Politicians and observers across the European Union have been transfixed by the French election with Le Pen promising to pull out of the euro and erect barriers to trade with the rest of the bloc while Macron has vowed to revive the Franco-German partnership to begin a new era of continental cooperation. Le Pen is fighting to win over Melenchon’s supporters as she seeks to close a gap of some 20 %age points on her rival.

Despite the personal antipathy between Melenchon and Le Pen, their protectionist, anti-European platforms had lots in common. In a speech in Arras on Wednesday, Macron praised Melenchon’s “panache” and the wave of support he created in the campaign. Le Pen said on France 2 television on Monday that they had “very similar” economic ideas and her team acclaimed his “noble” act to hold back an endorsement. Surveys show that Melenchon voters are increasingly likely to abstain rather than back Macron on May 7. An OpinionWay polled Friday showed that 45% of Melenchon supporters plan to abstain in the second round, up from 23% at the start of the week. Macron’s support among that group fell to 40% from 55%, while Le Pen’s dropped to 15% from 22%.

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Looks like a positive development.

US Troops Deploy Along Syria-Turkish Border (AP)

US armoured vehicles are deploying in areas in northern Syria along the tense border with Turkey, a few days after a Turkish airstrike that killed 20 US-backed Kurdish fighters, a Syrian war monitor and Kurdish activists said Friday. Footage posted by Syrian activists online showed a convoy of US armoured vehicles driving on a rural road in the village of Darbasiyah, a few hundred meters from the Turkish border. Clashes in the area were reported between Turkish and Kurdish forces Wednesday a day after the Turkish airstrike which also destroyed a Kurdish command headquarters. The Turkish airstrikes, which also wounded 18 members of the US-backed People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria were criticized by both the US and Russia.

The YPG is a close US ally in the fight against Daesh, also known as ISIS and ISIL, but is seen by Ankara as a terrorist group because of its ties to Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Further clashes between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria could potentially undermine the US-led war on Daesh. A senior Kurdish official, Ilham Ahmad told AP that American forces began carrying out patrols along the border Thursday along with reconnaissance flights in the area. She said the deployment was in principle temporary, but may become more permanent. A Kurdish activist in the area, Mustafa Bali, said the deployment began Friday afternoon and is ongoing. He said deployment stretches from the Iraqi border to areas past Darbasiyah in the largely Kurdish part of eastern Syria.

“The US role has now become more like a buffer force between us and the Turks on all front lines,” he said. He said US forces will also deploy as a separation force in areas where the Turkish-backed Syrian fighting forces and the Kurdish forces meet. It is a message of reassurance for the Kurds and almost a “warning message” to the Turks, he said. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, did not dispute that U.S. troops are operating with elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) along the Turkish border, but he would not get into specifics. The SDF is a Kurdish-dominated alliance fighting Daesh that includes Arab fighters. “We have U.S. forces that are there throughout the entirety of northern Syria that operate with our Syrian Democratic Force partners,” Davis said. “The border is among the areas where they operate.”

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Here’s why there are US tropps in the region.

Tensions Escalate Between Kurdish Forces, Turkish Troops in North Syria (ARA)

Clashes continued for the third consecutive day between Kurdish fighters of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Turkey’s military in several areas in northern Syria, military sources reported on Friday. The Turkish Army bombed several villages in the Kurdish Afrin district, including Panerak, Shankila, Midan Akbas and Rajo. “The Turkish artillery bombarded YPG security checkpoints and residential buildings in Afrin countryside, killing and wounding dozens, most of them civilians,” a spokesperson for the YPG told ARA News. The bombardment led to clashes between the Kurdish units and Turkish military forces in the sub-districts of Rajo and Shiya. “Our units responded to the Turkish offensive by hitting the positions of the Turkish troops near Susk hill in Afrin. At least three military vehicles were destroyed by YPG fire,” the Kurdish official said.

The YPG also released a video showing the destruction of a Turkish base in northwestern Aleppo. “At least 17 Turkish soldiers were killed and three others were wounded under heavy bombardment by the YPG,” a member of the YPG media office in Afrin told ARA News. The source added that the clashes between the YPG and Turkey’s military are still ongoing in the Shiya and Rajo sub-districts. Clashes broke out on Wednesday between the Syrian Kurdish forces and Turkish troops after the latter targeted the Kurdish town of Derbassiye in Syria’s northeastern Hasakah province with heavy artillery, shutting down the road between Derbassiye and Serikaniye. This coincided with similar clashes between the YPG and Turkish troops in Afrin. This comes after the Turkish jets killed over 25 Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria on Tuesday.

The US-led coalition expressed concerns over the Turkish attacks against the Kurdish fighters who are in war with ISIS in northern Syria. “We call on all forces to remain focused on the fight to defeat ISIS, which is the greatest threat to regional and worldwide peace, security,” said Air Force Col John L. Dorrian, Spokesman for the US-led coalition against ISIS. “Turkish strikes were conducted without proper coordination with the Coalition or the Government of Iraq,” he said. “Our partner forces have been killed by Turkey strike, they have made many sacrifices to defeat ISIS,” the American Colonel said. “We are troubled by Turkey airstrikes on SDF and Kurdish forces,” he added.

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This will not go quiet for much longer.

‘Europe’s Dirty Secret’: Officials On Chios Scramble To Cope With Rising Tensions (G.)

On a clear day the channel dividing Chios from the Turkish coast does not look like a channel at all. The nooks and crevices of Turkey’s western shores, its wind turbines and summer homes could, to the naked eye, be a promontory of the Greek island itself. For the men, women and children who almost daily make the crossing in dinghies and other smuggler craft, it is a God-given proximity, the gateway to Europe that continues to lure. Samuel Aneke crossed the sea almost a year ago on 1 June. Like those before him, and doubtless those who will follow, he saw the five-mile stretch as the last hurdle to freedom. “You could say geography brought me here,” said the Nigerian, a broad smile momentarily dousing his otherwise dour demeanour. “But it was not supposed to keep me prisoner.”

Refugee flows via Greece were meant to stop when the EU and Turkey announced what was seen as a pioneering agreement to stem the influx in March 2016. In Chios, like other Aegean isles, residents initially welcomed the accord. It was short-lived. The influx – one that saw more than 850,000 refugees arrive into the country in 2015 – was soon replaced by a steady flow, with asylum seekers arriving in groups that were sometimes small, sometimes large, but always propelled by the same ambition: to reach Europe by way of its southern shores. On Chios, more than 825 asylum seekers, the vast majority Syrians, arrived from Turkey in March. This month almost 600 have come. With at least 3,000, according to authorities, housed in two overcrowded camps – one makeshift, the other a razor-wire topped detention centre in a former factory known as Vial – it is anger that hangs in the air.

Greece’s Aegean isles have become de facto detention facilities – a dumpling ground for nearly 14,000 stranded souls, unable to move until permits are processed and fearful of what lies ahead. “Anything could happen because everything is hanging by a thread,” says Makis Mylonas, a policy adviser at the town hall. “Chios, Samos, Lesvos, Kos, Leros were sacrificed in the name of Europe’s fixation to keep immigrants out,” he claims, listing the isles that continue to bear the brunt of the flows.

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Apr 262017
 
 April 26, 2017  Posted by at 2:02 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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EdgarDegas A la mer 1863

 

Something hit me this week. The maps which came out on Monday and detailed the outcome of the French elections, were telling a story, and a familiar one by now. A story of deep division. There are a number of such maps now depicting the Brexit vote in the UK, the US presidential elections, and its French counterpart.

In all three cases they leave me wondering something along the lines of: ‘Are you guys sure you want to remain in the same country with each other?’ Because to me that is not all that obvious, and I think it’ll get less so as time passes. For instance in the case of France, the ‘ideological’ differences between Macron and Le Pen are substantial to say the least, they’re worlds apart.

And if you’re worlds apart, why live in the same country? Here’s that French map:

 

 

As you see, the country is sharply divided between west (Macron) and east (Le Pen). So much so that you wonder what these people still have in common, other than their language. There’s no doubt it’s also a dividing line between the richer part of the country, and the poorer.

Thing is, that same dividing line is visible in a similar map of the November 8, 2016 US election results, in a slightly different way.

 

 

In the US it’s not east versus west, it’s coast versus interior (flyover land). But the difference is equally clear and sharp. In fact, probably what we’re looking at is that France has only one coastline, while the US has two, and in both countries people living close to the ocean are on average richer than those who live more inland.

And in both cases there is no doubt that wealth is a deciding factor in dividing the nations to the extent that they are. We see that in an ‘urban versus rural area’ comparison as well. Cities like New York, LA and Paris are strongholds for the incumbent and establishment, the parties that represent the rich.

There can be no doubt that we’ll see more of that going forward. It won’t be there in smaller countries, Holland for instance is not nearly large enough for such dynamics. But Italy very well might. It’s always had a strong north-south-divide, and its present crisis has undoubtedly deepened that chasm.

Looking at things that way, it’s also glaringly obvious that Macron is Obama (and is Renzi is Cameron etc.). A well-trained good looking mediagenic puppet with a gift of teleprompter gab, fabricated and cultivated by the ruling financial and industrial world to do their bidding. Macron, to me, looks the most artificial of the crop so far, the Obama, Rutte, Cameron, Renzi crop. There will be more, and they will get more artificial. Edward Bernays is just getting started.

Of course there is also a strong move away from established parties. It is more pronounced in France -where they were eradicated at least in the presidential elections- than in the US or UK, but that may be more of a superficial thing. Trump and Bernie Sanders are simply America’s version of France’s ‘ultra’ right wing Le Pen and ‘ultra’ left wing Melenchon. And Trump is running into problems with the remnants of the established parties as much as Macron will if he’s elected president.

Anglo countries seem to take longer diversifying away from tradition than others, but they too will get there. The various deteriorating economies will make sure of that.

 

A third map is of the UK Brexit vote. Once again, a sharp division, and once again with a ‘character’ of its own. If you ignore Scotland for a moment, what you see is blue=poor and yellow=rich. Broad strokes, I know, but I’ve been doing that with the first two maps too. There are only a few pockets of yellow=rich=remain. But yeah, fewer people live there. Same thing as in the US and France.

That the whole Brexit thing should now be negotiated by the Tories is a cynical irony the country owes to its adherence to tradition. That is how that backfires, too little flexibility. How the UK will solve its many ignored issues is anyone’s guess. Will Scotland leave the no-longer-very United Kingdom? Will voters wake up in time to not present the Tories with a free hand to make the rich-poor divide even worse?

 

 

There’s one more, and more detailed, map of France, which shows even better to what extent ‘Le Pen country’ is eerily similar to America’s flyover land. It’s almost poetic, a poem about how countries fall apart, about centers that cannot hold. It also makes me think of a locust invasion, by the way.

 

 

Every French and European body and their pet hamster is presently telling voters in France to please please not vote for Le Pen, in a move that resembles similar calls against Trump and Brexit. And who knows, it might work this time around. The anti-Le Pen frenzy is even stronger than the others, and it has Marine’s crazy father to use as a warning sign.

But as these maps show, it’s not about Le Pen, or Trump, or Nigel Farage. It’s about people being left behind in ever larger numbers, susceptible to voices other than the ones they’ve known for a long time and who never listened to them. And nothing is being done to address these people’s claims; on the contrary, things are only getting worse for them.

I saw a headline today that said ECB president Mario Draghi’s “Stimulus Could Blunt Populism as Unemployment Declines”. There’s only one possible reaction to that: what happens when he stops his stimulus?

The growing divides that all these maps bear witness to will keep growing, unless someone decides that neo-liberalism has gone too far. But the only person who could make such a decision would have to be one who neo-liberalism itself has made rich and powerful. So don’t count on that happening.

Count instead on more Trumps and Le Pens and Sanders’s. And also on more Obama’s and Macrons for the rich to deploy to protect their power and hold on to their riches. Increasingly it would seem they have to limit democracy -even further- to remain in power. So count on that happening too.

But don’t count on all these countries surviving as sovereign nations. The chasms are widening too fast and too much.

Apr 212017
 
 April 21, 2017  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Fred Stein Nadinola 1944

 

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)
Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)
Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)
Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)
China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)
Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)
Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)
Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)
German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)
Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)
EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)
Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)
Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

 

 

The system closes ranks.

Trump Signals Provide Comfort to Central Bankers, Finance Ministers (WSJ)

The Trump administration appears unlikely to upend seven decades of global financial cooperation by scorning the IMF and World Bank, a source of comfort to central bankers and finance ministers gathering this week in Washington. In recent days, the new administration has shown signs the U.S. is taking a more traditional approach to economic diplomacy and the use of “soft power” than early administration rhetoric suggested. President Donald Trump, after meeting with NATO’s chief earlier this month, praised the alliance and reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to it. Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been leveraging the institution to advance Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy agenda. Other signals of the shift that are being seen by some officials at the meetings included the administration’s relatively modest proposed changes to NAFTA and its about-face last week on censuring China for its currency policy.

Meantime, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has reaffirmed the role of the IMF in promoting global economic growth and stability, saying at a gathering of global-finance chiefs last month that multilateral institutions can be “very important” to projecting U.S. interests abroad. Indeed, the U.S. signed off on an official communiqué by the Group of 20 largest economies that reaffirmed commitment to an international financial system “with a strong…and adequately resourced IMF at its center.” “There’re a number of things that global institutions can do to help strengthen global growth for all,” a senior Treasury official said ahead of the semiannual meetings in Washington this week of the World Bank and IMF’s member countries.

[..] The IMF has been criticized in the past for being too lax on China, especially when its exchange rate was estimated to have been up to 40% undervalued and its trade surplus topping 10% of GDP. The IMF has since stepped up its public censure of some Beijing policies, such as a bank lending boom that could endanger financial stability in the world’s second largest economy. The IMF is also planning to ramp up its warnings toward another Washington target—Germany—which maintains the world’s largest trade surplus. In particular. “Germany, with its aging population, should have, and can legitimately aim to have, a degree of surplus,” Ms. Lagarde said this week in a briefing with European press. “But not to the extent we see at the moment: 4% would perhaps be justified, but 8% is not.”

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France, Italy and Greece: Europe’s risk spots. US Treasuries and the dollar look inviting.

Protectionism Is More Than a Political Statement (Grant)

Yet again, Greece is another crisis in progress, as the nation has a $7 billion debt payment to make in July and nowhere near the cash on hand to pay it. The official debt-to-GDP figure is 183%, according to EU data, but it is a nonsensical number. The ECB lends money to the Greek banks and the banks lend money to the country. This is the epicenter of the rigged scheme. If you take the total public debt and add in the debt of Greek banks, then the total debt to GDP ratio is 302%, based on my calculations. One more time bomb ticking as the International Monetary Fund will not lend any new money to Greece, in my opinion, with the U.S. representatives on the IMF now reporting to the Trump administration.

It is not the size of the country that matters but the size of the debt, and a $560 billion public and bank debt load is no small figure. Since it is virtually impossible in many European countries to forgive the debt, given their political constraints, the “breakpoint” may finally be arriving. This means Greece will be leaving the EU, one way or another, and defaulting on its debts. Now, you can hold whatever view you like on these situations. You can ascribe to the “muddle through” theory or the “kick the can” theory. But what you cannot do is pretend that there are not significant risks facing the EU. We have these three “risk situations” in progress, and then we have Brexit under way, and it is my opinion that the EU is coming apart at the seams.

Many large financial institutions are looking aghast at the U.S. Treasury market. Virtually every leading bank has been predicting a return to a 3.00% yield for the benchmark 10-year note, and they have all been wrong – again. In fact, this is probably the biggest “pain trade” so far this year. Many people blame a “short squeeze” for the recent drop in yields on Treasuries. That is only part of the reason. The other has been the flow of capital, which is headed out of Europe and into the United States. “Protectionism” is more than a political statement. Asian money managers are exiting Europe, and the European money managers are exiting Europe, and the relative safety of the U.S. bond markets is providing a haven from European risk. This is a sound strategy, in my opinion. “Buy American, Sell American and Trade American” is where I want to be at the present time.

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The same market players who live off, and are propped up by, Fed largesse. Insane.

Fed Intensifies Balance-Sheet Discussions With Market Players (BBG)

Federal Reserve staff, widening their outreach to investors in anticipation of a critical turning point in monetary policy, are seeking bond fund manager feedback on how the central bank should tailor and communicate its exit from record holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities. Fed officials are intent on shrinking their crisis-era $4.48 trillion balance sheet in a way that isn’t disruptive and doesn’t usurp the federal funds rate as the main policy tool. To do that, they need to find the right communication and assess market expectations on the size of shrinkage, which is why conversations with fund managers have picked up recently. “All indications suggest that conversations around the balance sheet have accelerated,” said Carl Tannenbaum at Northern Trust Company. “The consideration of everything from design of the program to communication seems to have intensified.”

Most U.S. central bankers agreed that they would begin phasing out their reinvestment of maturing Treasury and MBS securities in their portfolio “later this year,” according to minutes of the March meeting. They also agreed the strategy should be “gradual and predictable,” according to the minutes.Fed staff routinely seek feedback from investors and bond dealers to get a fix on sentiment and expectations. The New York Fed confirmed the discussions and said it is part of regular market monitoring. The Fed is getting closer to disclosing its plan, and conversations have become more intense. “They are gauging what’s the extent of weak hands in the market that will dump these assets,” said Ed Al-Hussainy, a senior analyst on the Columbia Threadneedle Investment’s global rates and currency team. “They are calling all the asset managers. It is not part of the regular survey.”

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“..years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000..”

Paul Tudor Jones Says U.S. Stocks Should ‘Terrify’ Janet Yellen (BBG)

Billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones has a message for Janet Yellen and investors: Be very afraid. The legendary macro trader says that years of low interest rates have bloated stock valuations to a level not seen since 2000, right before the Nasdaq tumbled 75% over two-plus years. That measure – the value of the stock market relative to the size of the economy – should be “terrifying” to a central banker, Jones said earlier this month at a closed-door Goldman Sachs Asset Management conference, according to people who heard him. Jones is voicing what many hedge fund and other money managers are privately warning investors: Stocks are trading at unsustainable levels. A few traders are more explicit, predicting a sizable market tumble by the end of the year.

Last week, Guggenheim Partner’s Scott Minerd said he expected a “significant correction” this summer or early fall. Philip Yang, a macro manager who has run Willowbridge Associates since 1988, sees a stock plunge of between 20 and 40%, according to people familiar with his thinking. Even Larry Fink, whose BlackRock oversees $5.4 trillion mostly betting on rising markets, acknowledged this week that stocks could fall between 5 and 10% if corporate earnings disappoint. Their views aren’t widespread. They’ve seen the carnage suffered by a few money managers who have been waving caution flags for awhile now, as the eight-year equity rally marched on.

But the nervousness feels a bit more urgent now. U.S. stocks sit about 2% below the all-time high set on March 1. The S&P 500 index is trading at about 22 times earnings, the highest multiple in almost a decade, goosed by a post-election surge. Managers expecting the worst each have a pet harbinger of doom. Seth Klarman, who runs the $30 billion Baupost Group, told investors in a letter last week that corporate insiders have been heavy sellers of their company shares. To him, that’s “a sign that those who know their companies the best believe valuations have become full or excessive.”

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Market vs government.

China’s Stocks Refuse to Drop More Than 1% (BBG)

In a Chinese stock market where superstition and government intervention often count for more than economic fundamentals, unusual trading patterns are par for the course. But even by China’s standards, the latest market anomaly to grab the attention of local investors stands out. The Shanghai Composite Index, notorious for its wild swings over the past two years, has gone 85 trading days without a loss of more than 1% on a closing basis, the longest stretch since the market’s infancy in 1992. On 13 days during the streak, the index recovered from intraday declines exceeding 1% to close above that threshold. The phenomenon has been especially stark recently, with the gauge erasing about half of its 1.6% drop in the final 90 minutes of trading on Wednesday.

For some investors, it’s a sign that state-directed funds are putting a floor under daily market swings – a development that presents short-term buying opportunities when the Shanghai Composite dips more than 1% during intraday trading. The theory may have merit: China’s securities regulator has this year sought to stabilize the stock market by limiting the extent of declines in the Shanghai Composite, according to people familiar with the strategy, who asked not to be identified discussing a matter that hasn’t been disclosed publicly. “There is room for arbitrage in the short term,” said Zhang Haidong, a money manager at Jinkuang Investment Management in Shanghai. The Shanghai Composite rose less than 0.1% on Thursday, rebounding from an intraday loss of as much as 0.7%.

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And no imagination either. Just copying others.

Toronto To Impose 15% Tax On Foreign Home Buyers (G.)

Foreigners who buy homes in Toronto and its surrounding area now face an additional 15% tax – echoing a recent measure adopted in Vancouver – as part of a slew of measures aimed at tempering a heated housing market that ranks as one of Canada’s most expensive. The tax – part of proposed legislation unveiled on Thursday by the Ontario provincial government – will be levied on houses purchased in the Golden Horseshoe, an area that stretches from the Niagara region and the Greater Toronto Area to Peterborough. It will apply to all residential purchases made by those who are not citizens or permanent residents of Canada, as well as foreign corporations. Once the legislation passes, the tax would be applied retroactively to purchases made as of 21 April. “When young people can’t afford their own apartment or can’t imagine ever owning their own home, we know we have a problem,” said Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario premier.

“And when the rising cost of housing is making more and more people insecure about their future, and about their quality of life in Ontario, we know we have to act.” Amid two years of double-digit gains and mounting fears of a housing bubble, her government has consistently fended off calls to intervene. The pressure ramped up earlier this month, after figures showed the average price of homes in the Greater Toronto Area soared 33% in the past year, pushing the cost of a detached home to an average of C$1.21m. “There is a need for interventions right now in order to calm what’s going on,” said Wynne. The tax would be revenue neutral, she added, aimed squarely at tempering demand. “In some ways, we have to realise this is a good problem to have … [It] is the unwanted consequences of a strong economy with a promising future.”

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“..many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.”

Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’? (Robert Parry)

The other day, I asked a longtime Democratic Party insider who is working on the Russia-gate investigation which country interfered more in U.S. politics, Russia or Israel. Without a moment’s hesitation, he replied, “Israel, of course.” Which underscores my concern about the hysteria raging across Official Washington about “Russian meddling” in the 2016 presidential campaign: There is no proportionality applied to the question of foreign interference in U.S. politics. If there were, we would have a far more substantive investigation of Israel-gate. The problem is that if anyone mentions the truth about Israel’s clout, the person is immediately smeared as “anti-Semitic” and targeted by Israel’s extraordinarily sophisticated lobby and its many media/political allies for vilification and marginalization.

So, the open secret of Israeli influence is studiously ignored, even as presidential candidates prostrate themselves before the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both appeared before AIPAC in 2016, with Clinton promising to take the U.S.-Israeli relationship “to the next level” – whatever that meant – and Trump vowing not to “pander” and then pandering like crazy. Congress is no different. It has given Israel’s controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a record-tying three invitations to address joint sessions of Congress (matching the number of times British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared). We then witnessed the Republicans and Democrats competing to see how often their members could bounce up and down and who could cheer Netanyahu the loudest, even when the Israeli prime minister was instructing the Congress to follow his position on Iran rather than President Obama’s.

Israeli officials and AIPAC also coordinate their strategies to maximize political influence, which is derived in large part by who gets the lobby’s largesse and who doesn’t. On the rare occasion when members of Congress step out of line – and take a stand that offends Israeli leaders – they can expect a well-funded opponent in their next race, a tactic that dates back decades. [..] .. there have been fewer and fewer members of Congress or other American politicians who have dared to speak out, judging that – when it comes to the Israeli lobby – discretion is the better part of valor. Today, many U.S. pols grovel before the Israeli government seeking a sign of favor from Prime Minister Netanyahu, almost like Medieval kings courting the blessings of the Pope at the Vatican.

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This comes two days after the Intercept published an interview with Assange, who among other things said:“In fact, the reason Pompeo is launching this attack is because he understands we are exposing in this series all sorts of illegal actions by the CIA, so he’s trying to get ahead of the publicity curve and create a pre-emptive defense..”

Arresting Julian Assange Is A Priority, Says US Attorney General (G.)

The arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is now a “priority” for the US, attorney general Jeff Sessions has said. Hours later it was reported by CNN that authorities have prepared charges against Assange, who is currently holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Donald Trump lavished praise on the anti-secrecy website during the presidential election campaign – “I love WikiLeaks,” he once told a rally – but his administration has struck a different tone. Asked whether it was a priority for the justice department to arrest Assange “once and for all”, Sessions told a press conference in El Paso, Texas on Thursday: “We are going to step up our effort and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks. This is a matter that’s gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals that have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks and some of them are quite serious.”

He added: “So yes, it is a priority. We’ve already begun to step up our efforts and whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail.” Citing unnamed officials, CNN reported that prosecutors have struggled with whether the Australian is protected from prosecution from the first amendment, but now believe they have found a path forward. A spokesman for the justice department declined to comment. Barry Pollack, Assange’s lawyer, denied any knowledge of imminent prosecution. “We’ve had no communication with the Department of Justice and they have not indicated to me that they have brought any charges against Mr Assange,” he told CNN. “They’ve been unwilling to have any discussion at all, despite our repeated requests, that they let us know what Mr Assange’s status is in any pending investigations. There’s no reason why Wikileaks should be treated differently from any other publisher.”

US authorities has been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010 when it released, in cooperation with publications including the Guardian, more than a quarter of a million classified cables from US embassies leaked by US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

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And no protest from Berlin?

German Chancellery Investigated In Probe Into WikiLeaks Sources (R.)

Berlin’s chief public prosecutor has extended an investigation into the release of a trove of documents by WikiLeaks to include the chancellery as well as the Bundestag lower house of parliament, broadcaster NDR said on Thursday. Last December, WikiLeaks released the confidential documents, which German security agencies had submitted to a parliamentary committee investigating the extent to which German spies helped the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to spy in Europe. The extension of the investigation to include the chancellery did not necessarily mean the Berlin public prosecutor had firm suspicions that individuals at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office were involved in the leak, NDR said.

Government sources told Reuters that the chancellery had agreed several weeks ago to the investigation “against unknown” persons, to allow the inquiry to proceed. There were no firm suspicions against chancellery officials, the sources added. Surveillance is a sensitive issue in Germany where East Germany’s Stasi secret police and the Nazi era Gestapo kept a close watch on the population. Merkel told the parliamentary committee in February that she did not know how closely Germany’s spies cooperated with their U.S. counterparts until 2015, well after an uproar over reports of U.S. bugging of her cellphone.

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Plenty nerves on Monday morning. And that’s just for round 1.

Coffee and Thin Liquidity on Traders’ Menus for French Vote (BBG)

It may not be cafe au lait, but traders are likely to need plenty of coffee to sustain them through the first round of the French election. Ten thousand miles away in Melbourne, IG’s trading crew are due at their desks before dawn on Monday to deal with any fallout, while back in Europe, Societe Generale will be staffed overnight, according to a person familiar with their plans who asked not to be named because they aren’t authorized to speak publicly. Staff at HSBC will work extended hours, a spokeswoman said, Tradition is asking more voice brokers to come in on Sunday, while London-based Caxton FX is providing its night owls with pizzas. Other analysts and investors will be nervously watching from home, ready to dash to the office should French voters spring a surprise.

With the first predictions from France due at 8 p.m. Sunday in Paris, currency markets – which open one hour later – will give traders an early chance to react. At IG in Australia a “fully-manned” team will be on deck as the results roll in, according to Chris Weston, the firm’s chief market strategist. “Political events have a significant ability to alter volatility, more than any other event,” he said. Shifts in opinion polls have bolstered the focus on Sunday’s first round, which decides which of the top candidates progress to the run-off vote. The campaign has turned into a four-way race, with anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen and independent Emmanuel Macron running just ahead of Republican Francois Fillon and the Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon.

While polls show that either Macron or Fillon – considered the more market-friendly candidates – would be favored against the less-centrist opponents in a run-off, it’s the outside prospect of a Le Pen-Melenchon one-two that will keep traders sweating on Sunday. That’s reflected in the options market, which reflects the first round of French elections as posing the greater risk.

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UK democracy couldn’t take a Brexit overturn.

EU leader: UK Would Be Welcomed Back If Voters Overturn Brexit (G.)

The president of the European parliament has said Britain would be welcomed back with open arms if voters changed their minds about Brexit on 8 June, challenging Theresa May’s claim that “there is no turning back” after article 50. Speaking after a meeting with the prime minister in Downing Street, Antonio Tajani insisted that her triggering of the departure process last month could be reversed easily by the remaining EU members if there was a change of UK government after the general election, and that it would not even require a court case. “If the UK, after the election, wants to withdraw [article 50], then the procedure is very clear,” he said in an interview. “If the UK wanted to stay, everybody would be in favour. I would be very happy.”

He also threatened to veto any Brexit deal if it did not guarantee in full the existing rights of EU citizens in Britain and said this protection would forever be subject to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice (ECJ). Both are potential sticking points for May, who has promised to end free movement of EU citizens and rid Britain forever of interference by the ECJ, but the European parliament must ratify any Brexit deal agreed by negotiators before it can be completed. Lawyers are divided on whether the UK can unilaterally change its mind about leaving and are bringing a test case to establish the legal reversibility of article 50, but the parliament president spelled out a process by which a simple political decision by other member states would be sufficient. “If tomorrow, the new UK government decides to change its position, it is possible to do,” said Tajani. “The final decision is for the 27 member states, but everybody will be in favour if the UK [decides to reverse article 50].”

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Says who?

Britain Must Pay EU Divorce Bill In Euros (AFP)

Britain may be leaving the EU but it will still have to settle the divorce bill in euros, not pounds, according to an EU document on the upcoming negotiations Thursday. “An orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the Union requires settling the financial obligations undertaken before the withdrawal date,” said the European Commission document seen by AFP. “The agreement should define the precise way in which these obligations will be calculated … the obligations should be defined in euro,” it added. The document did not say how much the Brexit settlement might cost but EU officials have previously said it could be as much as €60 billion, sparking howls of outrage in London which puts the figure nearer €20 billion.

Titled “Non Paper on key elements likely to feature in the draft negotiating directives,” the document was drawn up for the European Commission which will conduct the Brexit negotiations with Britain. It covers in more detail the same ground outlined last month by EU president Donald Tusk in response to Prime Minister Theresa May’s official March 29 notification that Britain was leaving the bloc.

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A sea route. And a landlocked country. Nuff said.

Austria Calls For Closure Of Mediterranean Migrant Route (Pol.)

Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka has called for the immediate closure of the Mediterranean route used by refugees seeking asylum in Western European countries, local media reported Wednesday. Closing the route “is the only way to end the tragic and senseless dying in the Mediterranean,” Sobotka said. Asked about the potential of a barrier being erected at the Brenner Pass on the border between Italy and Austria, Sobotka said: “In the event of a sudden influx, we are equipped and able to ramp up border management within hours.” According to U.N. aid agencies, nearly 9,000 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean over the Easter weekend.

As weather conditions improve, more migrants are expected to make their way to Europe. “A rescue in the open sea cannot be a ticket to Europe, because it gives organized crime every argument to persuade people to escape for economic reasons,” Sobotka said. Last summer, Austria advocated for the closure of the Western Balkan route used by migrants coming from the Middle East seeking their way to Western European countries. Austrian Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil last February said Vienna planned to increase cooperation with 15 countries along the Balkan route to keep migrants from reaching northern Europe, claiming the EU is not adequately protecting its external borders.

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