Aug 242018
 
 August 24, 2018  Posted by at 7:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Café, le soir, Arles 1888

 

Thoughts On The ‘Longest Bull Market Ever’ (Black)
New Reality of China’s Failing Economy Is Coming Soon (Rickards)
UK Tells Drug Companies To Stockpile Medicine In Case Of No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)
Big Oil Asks Government To Protect It From Climate Change (AP)
Scott Morrison New Australian PM As Turnbull Denounces ‘Insurgency’ (G.)
Saudi Modernisation Drive Is Reflected In Aramco’s Faltering Sale (G.)
Libya Refuses To Take Migrants Rejected By Italy (AFP)
Italy Threatens To Stop EU Funding Unless Other States Accept Refugees (ZH)
Inflation Adjusted Gold Is At Historical Lows (von Greyerz)
Monsanto Faces A Surge In Lawsuits Following Cancer Ruling (BBC)
‘Monsanto’s History Is One Full of Vast Lies’ (Spiegel)
After 70 Years, Korean Father, Son Share A Drink For First, Last? Time (H.)

 

 

“..a full SIXTY PERCENT of corporate debt issued by companies in the Russell 2000 is rated as JUNK..”

Thoughts On The ‘Longest Bull Market Ever’ (Black)

Well, it happened. Yesterday the US stock market broke the all-time record for the longest bull market ever. This means that the US stock market has been generally rising for nearly a decade straight… or even more specifically, that the market has gone 3,453 days without a 20% correction. That’s a pretty big milestone. And there’s no end in sight. So it’s possible this market continues marching higher for the foreseeable future. But if you step back and really look at the big picture, there are a lot of things that might make a rational person scratch his/her head. For example– the Russell 2000 index (which is comprised of smaller companies whose shares are listed on various US stock exchanges) is currently right at its all-time high.

Yet simultaneously, according to the Wall Street Journal, a full SIXTY PERCENT of corporate debt issued by companies in the Russell 2000 is rated as JUNK. How is that even possible– a junk debt rating coupled with an all-time high? It’s as if investors are saying, “Well, there’s very little chance these companies will be able to pay their debts… but screw it, I’ll pay a record high price to buy the stock anyhow.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Looking at the larger companies in the Land of the Free (which make up the S&P 500 index), the current ‘CAPE ratio’ is now the second highest on record. ‘CAPE’ stands for ‘cyclically-adjusted price/earnings ratio’. Essentially it refers to how much investors are willing to pay for shares of a company, relative to the company’s long-term average earnings.

And right now investors are willing to pay 33x long-term average earnings for the typical company in the S&P 500. The median CAPE ratio based on data that goes back to the 1800s is about 15.6. So at 33, investors are literally paying more than TWICE as much for every dollar of a company’s long-term average earnings than they have throughout all of US market history. And it’s only been higher ONE other time– just before the 2000 stock market crash (when the dot-com bubble burst). 33 is higher than right before the 2008 crisis. It’s even higher than it was before the Great Depression.

Read more …

Building zombies for the future.

New Reality of China’s Failing Economy Is Coming Soon (Rickards)

There’s no denying China’s remarkable economic progress over the past thirty years. Hundreds of millions have escaped poverty and found useful employment in manufacturing or services in the major cities. Infrastructure gains have been historic, including some of the best trains in the world, state-of-the-art transportation hubs, cutting edge telecommunications systems, and a rapidly improving military. Yet, that’s only half the story. The other half is pure waste, fraud and theft. About 45% of Chinese GDP is in the category of “investment.” A developed economy GDP such as the U.S. is about 70% consumption and 20% investment. There’s nothing wrong with 45% investment in a fast-growing developing economy assuming the investment is highly productive and intelligently allocated.

That’s not the case in China. At least half of the investment there is pure waste. It takes the form of “ghost cities” that are fully-built with skyscrapers, apartments, hotels, clubs, and transportation networks – and are completely empty. This is not just western propaganda; I’ve seen the ghost cities first hand and walked around the empty offices and hotels. Chinese officials try to defend the ghost cities by claiming they are built for the future. That’s nonsense. Modern construction is impressive, but it’s also high maintenance. Those shiny new buildings require occupants, rents and continual maintenance to remain shiny and functional. The ghost cities will be obsolete long before they are ever occupied.

Other examples of investment waste include over-the-top white elephant public structures such as train stations with marble facades, 128 escalators (mostly empty), 100-foot ceilings, digital advertising and few passengers. The list can be extended to include airports, canals, highways, and ports, some of which are needed and many of which are pure waste. Communist party leaders endorse these wasteful projects because they have positive effects in terms of job creation, steel fabrication, glass installation, and construction. However, those effects are purely temporary until the project is completed. The costs are paid with borrowed money that can never be repaid. China might report 6.8% growth in GDP, but when the waste is stripped out the actual growth is closer to 4.5%. Meanwhile, China’s debts grow faster than the economy and its debt-to-GDP ratio is even worse than the U.S.

Read more …

It’s beginning to hit home that time has run out. Wait till the days shorten for real.

UK Tells Drug Companies To Stockpile Medicine In Case Of No-Deal Brexit (Ind.)

Health secretary Matt Hancock has told drug companies to ensure they have six weeks additional supplies of medicines on top of their normal stockpiles to avoid disruption caused by a possible no-deal Brexit. The remarks from Mr Hancock came as Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, released the first tranche of technical notes outlining the government’s preparations and warnings to businesses if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal. Among the 24 detailed papers it was also revealed that credit card users could be hit with a new “Brexit tax” amounting to £166m, UK citizens living in Europe face the prospect of losing access to pension income and new red tape could delay foreign sperm donations arriving in Britain.

In one of the most stark warnings, Mr Hancock told NHS staff and service providers that the move to increase pharmaceutical companies’ stockpiles was necessary “in case imports from the EU through certain routes” are affected if Theresa May fails to strike a deal with negotiators in Brussels. The request, according to the chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, Steve Bates, would be a “massive challenge” for the industry to deliver in less than 200 days. But Mr Hancock also warned that hospitals, GPs and community pharmacies should not hoard or stockpile additional drugs “beyond their business” as usual levels.

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Priceless.

Big Oil Asks Government To Protect It From Climate Change (AP)

As the nation plans new defenses against the more powerful storms and higher tides expected from climate change, one project stands out: an ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast. Like other oceanfront projects, this one would protect homes, delicate ecosystems and vital infrastructure, but it also has another priority — to shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and now wants the federal government to build safeguards against the consequences of it.

The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline that runs from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston that are home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas’ 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.

That followed Hurricane Harvey, which roared ashore last Aug. 25 and swamped Houston and parts of the coast, temporarily knocking out a quarter of the area’s oil refining capacity and causing average gasoline prices to jump 28 cents a gallon nationwide. Many Republicans argue that the Texas oil projects belong at the top of Washington’s spending list. “Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge,” said Matt Sebesta, a Republican who as Brazoria County judge oversees a swath of Gulf Coast. But the idea of taxpayers around the country paying to protect refineries worth billions, and in a state where top politicians still dispute climate change’s validity, doesn’t sit well with some.

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Another rightwing anti-immigrant yokel. That’s all they have down under.

Scott Morrison New Australian PM As Turnbull Denounces ‘Insurgency’ (G.)

Australia will have a new prime minister in Scott Morrison – the socially conservative architect of Australia’s hardline anti-asylum seeker policies – after he mounted a late challenge during a drawn-out struggle for power in the governing Liberal party. On Friday, incumbent Malcolm Turnbull failed in his attempt to stare down a challenge from hard right MP Peter Dutton, with insurgents in his party gathering enough signatures to call for a “spill” of the leadership. It led to a three-way challenge that included Morrison, Turnbull’s treasurer, and Julie Bishop, the foreign minister. Turnbull himself stood aside from the contest.

In a party room ballot, Bishop was eliminated in the first round, and Morrison won against former home affairs minister Dutton in a subsequent run-off, 45 votes to 40, suggesting the party is still deeply divided. There appears no end in sight to the civil war consuming the ruling Liberal-led coalition government. The country may be headed to an election, with Turnbull saying he will not stay in parliament. His resignation in between general elections would erase the government’s single-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Australia has now had five prime ministers in just over five years. Since 2010 four prime ministers have lost office not at the ballot box, but torn down by their own parties, earning Canberra the unhappy appellation “the coup capital of the Pacific”.

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Selling 5% of Aramco was supposed to finance ‘diversification’.

Saudi Modernisation Drive Is Reflected In Aramco’s Faltering Sale (G.)

For the Saudis, the implications of the Paris agreement were obvious: the drive to decarbonise the world economy would mean that a considerable part of their oil reserves would have to stay in the ground. This made a warning at the turn of the millennium by the former Saudi energy minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, seem suddenly urgent. “Thirty years from now, there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers”, Yamani said. “Oil will be left in the ground. The stone age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”

It was not long before Saudi’s rulers responded to this twin challenge. In the short term, they sought to persuade fellow oil producing nations to agree production curbs that would limit supply, drive up crude prices and so ease the pressures on the public finances. At the current oil price of around $70 a barrel, the Saudis can make their budget arithmetic stack up. In the longer term, there was a plan to diversify the economy away from oil. Saudi Vision 2030 was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April 2016, shortly after the oil price reached its trough. The idea was to make Saudi Arabia a global investment giant, to turn the country into a hub linking the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and to be the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The proposed sale of part of the state-owned oil company – Saudi Aramco – was a key part of this attempt to transform and modernise the economy. Proceeds were earmarked for the country’s sovereign wealth fund so it could continue investing in companies such as the electric car company Tesla and the ride-hailing app Uber.

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Thank you Barack and Hillary.

Libya Refuses To Take Migrants Rejected By Italy (AFP)

Libya has refused to take in a group of 177 migrants stranded on an Italian coastguard boat off a Sicilian port after Rome insisted they would not be allowed to disembark. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini threatened earlier this week to return the migrants to the North African country unless other European governments offered to take some of them in. But Mohamed Siala, foreign minister of the UN-backed Libyan unity government, said that “Libya does not accept this unjust and illegal measure because it already has more than 700,000 migrants” on its territory.

In a statement late Wednesday, he called on the international community “to put pressure on the countries of departure to repatriate their nationals”, adding that Libya had only served as a transit point. The Italian boat “Diciotti” arrived on Monday night off the Sicilian port of Catania. Plunged into chaos following the fall and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Libya has become a prime transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants making dangerous clandestine bids to reach Europe. The country takes in migrants whose boats are intercepted in its waters by the Libyan coastguard, but it has repeatedly rejected those rescued by foreign navies or by humanitarian organisations off its coast.

Read more …

Who’s going to blame them?

Italy Threatens To Stop EU Funding Unless Other States Accept Refugees (ZH)

On Thursday, out of the blue, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio threatened to stop financial contributions to the European Union next year unless other states agreed to take in migrants being held on a coastguard ship in Sicily. The Italian’s ultimatum comes less two months after Europe triumphantly announced a “vaguely worded” deal on how to resolve the continent’s migrant influx. “If tomorrow at the meeting of the European Commission nothing is decided on the redistribution of migrants and the Diciotti ship, I and the entire Five Star Movement are not willing to give 20 billion to the European Union,” Di Maio said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

He echoed statements by Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who has refused to allow 177 migrants to leave the Italian coastguard ship Ubaldo Diciotti, which is docked in the Sicilian port of Catania. While Italian prosecutors opened an investigation into the detention of the migrants and 29 children were allowed to disembark, Salvini still won’t allow the rest of the people to come ashore and has attacked the EU for its “cowardly silence.” Salvini described those aboard as “illegal immigrants,” and said they won’t be allowed to step foot on Italian soil. Instead, he insisted fellow European Union nations take in some of the asylum-seekers. “Italy’s no longer Europe’s refugee camp,” he tweeted. “Upon my authorization, no one is disembarking from the Diciotti.”

Salvini, who is also interior minister, was defiant in the face of a criminal probe into possible kidnapping charges for forcing the migrants to remain on the vessel. The chief prosecutor from the Agrigento court, Luigi Patronaggio, on Wednesday boarded the Diciotti and said afterwards he had opened a probe against “unknown” persons for holding the migrants against their will. “There’s a court that is investigating whether those illegally on board the ship have been kidnapped,” Salvini said in a radio interview. “I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini… I’m the Interior Minister and I think it is my duty to defend the security of this country’s borders.”

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Just liked the graph, don’t want to tell anyone to buy anything.

Inflation Adjusted Gold Is At Historical Lows (von Greyerz)

Gold at $1,220, adjusted for real inflation, is almost as cheap as it was in 1999 at the $250 low. More importantly, inflation adjusted gold is now very near the 300 year low of 1999. So right now gold is again unloved and undervalued and therefore a bargain. On an inflation adjusted basis, the 1980 high of $850 would today be $16,650. Long before we get hyperinflationary gold prices, that $16,600 level should be easily reached. Owning physical gold for wealth protection purposes is the best preserved secret in the West. In this part of the world, virtually nobody holds gold. At the same time, the wise people in the East continue to buy all the gold that is produced annually. China, India, Iran, Turkey, Russia and many more Eastern nations understand history and economics. That is why they are accumulating major gold reserves at these levels.

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Bayer really didn’t see this coming.

Monsanto Faces A Surge In Lawsuits Following Cancer Ruling (BBC)

American agro-chemicals company Monsanto is facing a surge in lawsuits that may cost its new owners, Bayer, billions in damages. Monsanto manufactures glyphosate-based weedkillers which some believe are carcinogenic. Last month it lost a $289m (£225m) court case that alleged its products Roundup and RangerPro had led to a Californian man’s terminal cancer. Bayer said the number of outstanding cases had risen from 5,200 to 8,000. The German firm’s shares have lost 11% of their value since it lost the case in a California court to groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who claimed Monsanto herbicides containing glyphosate, had caused his non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Bayer shares fell another 1.7% on Thursday. Chief executive Werner Baumann said that when it bought Monsanto, Bayer “could not foresee the scope of the current lawsuits.” The $63bn deal was completed earlier this month. “In the course of the acquisition, we carried out due diligence as is standard practice when taking over a listed company. In doing so, we of course also considered the legal risks,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper. In a conference call on Thursday, Mr Baumann added: “Our view is that the number is not indicative of the merits of the plaintiffs’ cases”.

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“..Another program is called “Freedom to Operate.” Its purpose is to eliminate everything that might disrupt sales of their products – laws, scientific articles, they go after everything.”

‘Monsanto’s History Is One Full of Vast Lies’ (Spiegel)

On Aug. 10, lawyer Brent Wisner, 34, scored a landmark verdict on behalf of his client, cancer patient Dewayne Johnson. A court in San Francisco ruled that Monsanto was guilty of concealing the potential health risks associated with its weed killer glyphosate, which is sold in the United States under the brand name Round Up. The jury ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages to the plaintiff, who had used Round Up at his job as a janitor for a school district. The court said Monsanto should have labeled the product’s possible dangers for consumers. Monsanto, which was recently acquired by German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has denied any link between the product and the disease. Wisner spoke to DER SPIEGEL about the case in an interview.

[..] DER SPIEGEL: How much does Monsanto have to do with the fact that a verdict was reached only now? Wisner: A lot! Monsanto has an internal program called “Let Nothing Go.” The aim of this program is to attack scientists who are critical of Monsanto products. They go after people directly and discredit them. They also pay others to do so. DER SPIEGEL: Are there other such PR strategies? Wisner: Another program is called “Freedom to Operate.” Its purpose is to eliminate everything that might disrupt sales of their products – laws, scientific articles, they go after everything. As part of that effort, they also engage lobbyists – scientists who Monsanto pays for their opportunism. Such programs reflect a corporate culture that shows no interest whatsoever in public health, only in profits.

DER SPIEGEL: Monsanto continues to dispute that it tried to influence scientific research. What was the critical factor for jurors in reaching the verdict? Wisner: I believe it was the scientific findings themselves. The 12 jurors were not lightweights after all. There was a molecular biologist, an environmental engineer, a lawyer. Some colleagues told me: “Be careful Brent, so much intelligence can be an impediment.” But I was certain that the arguments in the critical studies, parts of which were suppressed, were the strongest evidence we had.

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Sad and joyful. Why Korea’s really want peace.

After 70 Years, Korean Father, Son Share A Drink For First, Last? Time (H.)

As soon as 91-year-old Lee Gi-sun got up on the morning of Aug. 22, he pulled out one of the bottles of soju, a potent distilled liquor, that he’d stashed in the bottom of his suitcase. He’d brought this precious liquor to accompany a ceremony for which he’d waited his entire life – a daytime drink with his son! At 10 am on Aug. 22, the final day of the three-day reunion for families divided by the Korean War, family members met in the banquet hall on the second floor of the Mt. Kumgang Hotel to say their goodbyes. A few hours hence, they would return to their respective homes in South and North Korea, with no guarantee of seeing each other again. The father filled a cup with the soju he’d brought.

After taking a sip himself, he silently passed the cup to his son. Gi-sun’s North Korean son, Gang-son (69 years old himself), was also silent as he took the cup and brought it to his lips. This was the first drink shared by the white-haired father and son, and it very well might be their last. It was a heartrending moment when the father’s lifelong dream came true. “We were separated when he was two years old. Two years old,” the father said, letting the last phrase linger in the air. In Jan. 1951, he and his older brother had left their families behind in their home of Yonbaek County, Hwanghae Province, fleeing south with UN troops beaten back by the Chinese onslaught. Gi-sun had assumed he would soon be able to return.

Read more …

Aug 232018
 
 August 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pablo Picasso Seated woman 1903

 

 

 

The Weaponization of the Dollar (Lebowitz)
Turkey’s Lira Crisis Was Written In Istanbul’s Skyline (G.)
U.S.-China Trade War Escalates As New Tariffs Kick In (R.)
Shooting War With China More Likely Than You Think (Rickards)
Wall Street Marks Longest-Ever ‘Bull Market’ (AFP)
Saudi Energy Minister Denies Aramco IPO Will Be Called Off (R.)
Australia In Crisis As Prime Minister Faces Down Political Coup Attempt (G.)
Trump Says He’s Considering Pardon For Manafort (R.)
Making Plans For A New World Order (Heiko Maas)
Italian Prosecutors Investigate Salvini’s Bar On Ship Arrivals (G.)

 

 

“..the true all-in cost of borrowing was not 5% but 54%.”

The Weaponization of the Dollar (Lebowitz)

China, Turkey, and Iran are all classified as emerging markets. While the classification is broad and includes a diverse group of countries, these countries have many things in common. One is that their currencies, for the most part, are not liquid or highly valued. Thus, they heavily rely on the world’s reserve currency, the U.S. dollar, to conduct international trade. As an example, when Pakistan buys oil from Qatar, they transact in U.S. dollars, not rupees or riyals. To facilitate trade efficiently, these countries must hold excess dollars in reserve. In almost all cases, emerging market nations rely on U.S. dollar-denominated debt for their transactional needs.

Dollar-denominated debt is currently the cause of much economic pain for Turkey. To understand why, we present a simplified example. Suppose on January 1, 2018, a Turkish corporation borrowed $100 million U.S. dollars with an agreement to pay it back with interest of 5% on August 15th, 2018. The company, as is typical, converts the loaned dollars to Turkish Lira. On August 15, 2018, the company will convert the Lira back to dollars in order to pay the principal and interest due on the loan. The following graph charts the Turkish Lira versus the Dollar over the life of the loan.

On January 1, 2018, one U.S. Dollar was worth 3.79 Lira. Over the next eight months, the U.S dollar appreciated significantly versus the Lira such that one U.S. dollar was worth approximately 5.81 Lira. As such, the company will now need 5.81 Lira to purchase each dollar it needs to repay the loan. Due to the strengthening of the U.S. dollar versus the Lira over the time period of the outstanding loan, the company would need 584,282,000 Lira to pay back what was originally a 378,750,000 Lira loan. In other words, the true all-in cost of borrowing was not 5% but 54%.

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“90% of the credit in Turkish real estate companies came from loans in foreign currencies.”

Turkey’s Lira Crisis Was Written In Istanbul’s Skyline (G.)

From a distance, Esenyurt, a newly built up neighbourhood on the edges of Istanbul, looks a bit like Hong Kong or Dubai, with a bustling downtown of shiny skyscrapers. Upon closer examination, however, you notice that tower after tower stands incomplete, lacking windows or furnishings; others are only half-occupied, their windows dark after nightfall. “In the residential areas, 100% of the construction has stopped,” says Mohamed Karman, a local estate agent, from his small office in the central square of Esenyurt. “Do you know why? The materials. Everything is in dollars, you pay in dollars.” The crash of the Turkish lira last week after two years of steady decline spooked global markets – but anyone looking at Istanbul’s skyline would have been far from surprised.

Everywhere you look in the city, evidence of a debt-fuelled construction boom abounds: new skyscrapers frame the horizon, huge shopping malls dot the streets and among several megaprojects is a new airport, set to be the world’s largest. Funding for this construction frenzy has been at the heart of Turkey’s economy, accounting for up to 20% of the country’s GDP growth in recent years, and employing around two million people. In a parallel to the 2008 financial crash, the boom was funded by low-interest loans and ballooning debt. Property developers funded their buildings with cheap loans in foreign currencies – and will be struck particularly hard by the lira’s collapse, as those loans grow harder to repay every day. According to government statistics, at the end of 2016 nearly 90% of the credit in Turkish real estate companies came from loans in foreign currencies.

[..] The Istanbul Sapphire – one of the tallest buildings in Europe when completed in 2011 – was financed through loans worth 164m lira in 2013, 154m of which was in US dollars. That loan would now cost around 539m lira.

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Is this the best they can do?

U.S.-China Trade War Escalates As New Tariffs Kick In (R.)

The United States and China escalated their acrimonious trade war on Thursday, implementing punitive 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods, even as mid-level officials from both sides resumed talks in Washington. The world’s two largest economies have now slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on a combined $100 billion of products since early July, with more in the pipeline, adding to risks to global economic growth. China’s Commerce Ministry said Washington was “remaining obstinate” by implementing the latest tariffs, which kicked-in on both sides as scheduled at 12:01 p.m. in Beijing (0401 GMT). “China resolutely opposes this, and will continue to take necessary countermeasures,” it said in a brief statement.

“At the same time, to safeguard free trade and multilateral systems, and defend its own lawful interests, China will file suit regarding these tariff measures under the WTO dispute resolution mechanism,” it said. President Donald Trump has threatened to put duties on almost all of the more than $500 billion of Chinese goods exported to the United States annually unless Beijing agrees to sweeping changes to its intellectual property practices, industrial subsidy programs and tariff structures, and buys more U.S. goods. That figure would be far more than China imports from the United States, raising concerns that Beijing could consider other forms of retaliation, such as making life more difficult for American firms in China or allowing its yuan currency to weaken further to support its exporters.

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“The U.S. will win this trade war because Xi does not want to lose his throne.”

Shooting War With China More Likely Than You Think (Rickards)

The mainstream media narrative about the U.S.-China trade war implies that Trump is on a highly damaging ego trip and China holds all the cards. The exact opposite is true. Trump has ample financial warfare weapons including tariffs, penalties, bans on direct investment, improved cybersecurity, forced divestiture and freezing of assets. Meanwhile, China has almost run out of room to impose tariffs. Further, they will invite retribution if they try to devalue their currency further. China’s vulnerabilities run deeper than that. The U.S.-China trade war comes in the aftermath of a Chinese Communist Party conference that made Xi Jinping dictator for life and enshrined his doctrines on the same level as Mao Zedong.

Once Xi got these powers, he proceeded on a disastrous policy course that has resulted in a slowdown of the Chinese economy, higher debt defaults, lost investment opportunities in the U.S. and declining hard currency reserves. The knives are now out in Beijing. Reports are circulating that Xi’s opponents are questioning his judgment and the wisdom of expanding his powers at such a critical time. Many are starting to blame Xi for the trade war almost as much as they blame Trump. Xi still has torture, firing squads and concentration camps at his disposal, but the notion of a unified, coherent leadership structure in Beijing is now seen to be a myth. Trump will keep up the pressure; he never backs off and always doubles down.

It will be up to Xi to blink and acquiesce in many U.S. demands. The U.S. will win this trade war because Xi does not want to lose his throne. Yet there will still be material damage to the global economy and lasting animosity between Xi and Trump.

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Party.

Wall Street Marks Longest-Ever ‘Bull Market’ (AFP)

Wall Street graduated to the longest-ever “bull market” Wednesday, a run that began amid extraordinary crisis-era monetary policy and which experts think could persist at least a while longer. US President Donald Trump cheered the news after the S&P 500 closed for the 3,453rd straight time without a drop of 20 percent over the more than nine-year stretch. “Longest bull run in the history of the stock market. congratulations America!” Trump said on Twitter shortly after the closing bell. The marathon run comes amid signs the US economy has accelerated this year after a long period of slow but steady growth. Experts say trade wars and higher interest rates are among potential threats to the persistence of the bull run.

Market watchers liken the landmark to other stock market records, such as when the Dow hit 25,000 points for the first time. Investing in stocks remains concentrated among the wealthiest, with many Americans still hesitant to buy stocks following the 2008 financial crisis. While financial experts are well aware of the durability of the current stock market cycle, the record is “news more to Main Street than to Wall Street,” according to Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR. The S&P 500 finished the day down less than 0.1 percent at 2,861.82. When stocks fall at least 20 percent below their previous record, they enter a “bear market.”

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But several people insist it is. it’s just that it can’t be announced right now.

Saudi Energy Minister Denies Aramco IPO Will Be Called Off (R.)

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister denied a Reuters report that state oil giant Aramco’s initial public offering will be called off, in a statement issued early on Thursday. “The government remains committed to the initial public offering of Saudi Aramco, in accordance with the appropriate circumstances and appropriate time chosen by the Government,” Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement released on Saudi Press Agency. Reuters reported on Wednesday that four senior industry sources said Saudi Arabia has called off both the domestic and international stock listing of Aramco.

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Oz politics is so bad it’s not even funny.

Australia In Crisis As Prime Minister Faces Down Political Coup Attempt (G.)

Australia is on the brink of having its sixth prime minister in a decade after a chaotic, internecine coup attempted, but failed, to topple the incumbent Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday. In a media conference during which he refused to resign, Turnbull called on his challengers to prove he had lost the confidence of his own party, and made a thinly veiled swipe at influences “outside the parliament”. The reference was widely interpreted as an attack on the power of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation newspapers and TV channels, which have consistently campaigned against him. “The reality is that a minority in the party room supported by others outside the parliament have sought to bully, intimidate others into making this change of leadership that they’re seeking,” Turnbull said.

The leadership brawl stalled political business on Thursday morning when the government voted to shut down the House of Representatives until 10 September, unsure it would be able to command a majority on the floor of the House, and unwilling to face questions from the opposition after at least 13 ministers tendered their resignations. Since 2007, no Australian prime minister has served a full term in office, with four cut down by their own parties while in office, earning Canberra the title of “coup capital of the Pacific”. Turnbull survived Thursday, but appears almost certain to lose the prime ministership to a party room vote, likely as soon as Friday.

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But not today, for sure.

Trump Says He’s Considering Pardon For Manafort (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would consider pardoning his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was convicted on Tuesday of bank and tax fraud, according to a Fox News reporter who interviewed Trump. Fox News reporter Ainsley Earhardt said Trump told her in an interview on Wednesday that “he would consider” pardoning Manafort.“I think he feels bad for Manafort. They were friends,” Earhardt said in an appearance on Fox News’ “Hannity” program on Wednesday night.

Fox News has been airing excerpts of the interview with Trump, which is scheduled to be shown in its entirety on Thursday morning. The excerpts have not included a clip of Trump saying he would consider pardoning Manafort. Manafort was convicted on Tuesday of two counts of bank fraud, five counts of tax fraud and one charge of failing to disclose foreign bank accounts. In a tweet on Wednesday about the verdict, Trump called Manafort a “brave man” and said, “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family.”

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Maas is the new German foreign minister. His proposal for an alternative SWIFT system launched a debate. But really, “new world order”?

Making Plans For A New World Order (Heiko Maas)

It starts with us exposing fake news. Like this: If the current account balance of Europe and the US includes more than just trade in goods, then it is not the US that has a deficit, it’s Europe. One reason is the billions in profits that European subsidiaries of Internet giants such as Apple, Facebook and Google transfer to the US every year. So when we talk about fair rules, we must also talk about the fair taxation of profits like that. It is also important to correct fake news because it can quickly result in the wrong policies. As Europeans, we have made it clear to the Americans that we consider the withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran to be a mistake. Meanwhile, the first US sanctions have come back into force.

In this situation, it is of strategic importance that we make it clear to Washington that we want to work together. But also: That we will not allow you to go over our heads, and at our expense. That is why it was right to protect European companies legally from sanctions. It is therefore essential that we strengthen European autonomy by establishing payment channels independent of the US, a European monetary fund and an independent SWIFT [payments] system. The devil is in thousands of details. But every day that the Iran agreement lasts, is better than the potentially explosive crisis that threatens the Middle East otherwise.

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Let the courts decide.

Italian Prosecutors Investigate Salvini’s Bar On Ship Arrivals (G.)

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into the illegal detention of 177 migrants onboard a coastguard vessel that the minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, refuses to allow to land. The Ubaldo Diciotti has been docked for 48 hours at the port of Catania, Sicily, but the migrants have not been allowed to disembark without having certainties from Brussels on their distribution to other countries. The investigation, conducted by the prosecutor of the city of Agrigento, was launched against “unknowns” but it is clear that if the magistrates were to go ahead with a judicial proceeding, Salvini would end up under investigation, being the only one responsible for the landing ban.

“I heard that the prosecutor’s office in Agrigento has opened an investigation,” said Salvini in a recent video on Facebook Live. “I also heard that the suspects are ‘unknown’ at the moment. But I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini, I’m the minister of the interior. Come on, try me too, I’m here.” The Ubaldo Diciotti docked on Monday night in the port of Catania but the migrants, including 29 unaccompanied minors, were refused authorisation to disembark. The ship picked up 190 people on 15 August from an overcrowded boat about 17 nautical miles from the Italian island of Lampedusa. Thirteen of them were evacuated for emergency medical treatment.

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Mar 122018
 
 March 12, 2018  Posted by at 10:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Lewis Wickes Hine Labourer on connector, Empire State Building, New York 1930-31

 

On The Bull Market’s Ninth Birthday (CNBC)
‘No Response’ Yet From North Korea On Trump Talks (BBC)
Kim Jong Un Wants a Peace Treaty From Trump (BBG)
China Banking Crisis Warning Signal Still Flashing – BIS (BBG)
Don’t Count On Beijing To Resolve Fallout From Any Debt Blowup (CNBC)
Asia’s Big Developers ‘More Vulnerable’ to Shocks – BIS (BBG)
Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Political Future On Cronyism Scandal (G.)
Trade Wars, Diminished Credibility and Gary Cohn (Nomi Prins)
London Property Prices Fall 15% (G.)
European Commissioner Tusk Double-Crossed Poland (GEFIRA)
Half Of US Arms Exports Go To The Middle East (G.)
Tim Berners-Lee: Regulate Tech Firms To Prevent ‘Weaponised’ Web (G.)
America’s Troll Farm Media (CP)
Winston Churchill, Mass Murderer (WaPo)

 

 

John Rubino’s comment: “Emigrate while you still can..”

On The Bull Market’s Ninth Birthday (CNBC)

The bullish run in the Dow Jones industrial average — which celebrates its ninth birthday Friday — is the longest ever and the greatest percentage gain since World War II, according to Leuthold Group. The corresponding run by the S&P 500, notes LPL Financial, is that benchmark’s second-largest and second-longest bull market ever, with only the 1990s stock market run led by technology stocks in the way. Despite a more than 10% correction in equities last month following a burst of bullish activity, Leuthold’s Doug Ramsey doesn’t think the bull is done yet. “Assuming the Dow Jones industrial average can exceed its late-January high on March 9th or thereafter, this cyclical bull market will become the first one ever to last nine years,” said Ramsey, his firm’s chief investment officer.

“Historically, cycle momentum highs are usually followed by a push to even higher price highs over the next several months.” The Dow hit an all-time high of 26,616.71 on Jan. 26, the same day the S&P 500 clinched its own record of 2,872.87. The major indexes are off their record highs 6.4% and 4.6% respectively. This chart from Leuthold Group shows where the Dow bull market stacks up since 1900. It’s far and away the longest in modern financial times. In terms of percentage gains, it’s third behind two bull markets pre-WWII.

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I’d guess Kim didn’t expect the answer he got, as fast as he got it, and now isn’t quite sure what to say.

‘No Response’ Yet From North Korea On Trump Talks (BBC)

South Korea says it has not received a response from Pyongyang on a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. In a surprise development, Mr Trump on Friday accepted North Korea’s invitation to direct talks. South Korean officials said Mr Kim was prepared to give up his nuclear weapons. Details on the planned talks remain vague, with no agreement yet on the location or agenda. Analysts are sceptical about what can be achieved through talks given the complexity of the issues involved. “We have not seen nor received an official response from the North Korean regime regarding the North Korea-US summit,” a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Unification said on Monday. “I feel they’re approaching this matter with caution and they need time to organise their stance.” South Korean officials who spoke to Trump are now on the way to China and Japan to brief the leaders of each country on the upcoming talks.

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He’s telling his people that’s what his father wanted. They also want to reunite with the south.

Kim Jong Un Wants a Peace Treaty From Trump (BBG)

Kim Jong Un wants to sign a peace treaty after meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, South Korean media reported, reviving a long-held goal of the North Korean regime. Kim is likely to raise the possibility of a peace treaty, along with establishing diplomatic relations and nuclear disarmament, during a meeting with the U.S. leader, the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said Monday, citing an unidentified senior official in South Korea’s presidential office. Trump last week agreed to meet Kim, although key details of the summit have yet to be decided. Koh Yu-hwan, who teaches North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said the regime has long sought a peace treaty to end the more than 60-year-old ceasefire between the two sides and help guarantee its safety.

“There were agreements between the U.S. and North Korea to open up discussion on a peace treaty, but they never materialized,” Koh said, saying the conditions were key. “The U.S. wants a peace treaty at the end of the denuclearization process, while for the North, it’s the precondition for its denuclearization.” Signing a peace treaty would require addressing issues regarding the U.S. military’s presence in South Korea and its transfer of wartime operational control to South Korea and United Nations forces in South Korea, Koh said.

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China, Canada and Hong Kong are among the economies most at risk of a banking crisis, according to BIS

China Banking Crisis Warning Signal Still Flashing – BIS (BBG)

China, Canada and Hong Kong are among the economies most at risk of a banking crisis, according to early-warning indicators compiled by the Bank for International Settlements. Canada – whose economy grew last year at the fastest pace since 2011 – was flagged thanks to its households’ maxed-out credit cards and high debt levels in the wider economy. Household borrowing is also seen as a risk factor for China and Hong Kong, according to the study. “The indicators currently point to the build-up of risks in several economies,” analysts Inaki Aldasoro, Claudio Borio and Mathias Drehmann wrote in the BIS’s latest Quarterly Review published on Sunday. The study offered some surprising results: for example, Italy wasn’t shown as being at risk, despite its struggles with a slow-growing economy and banks that are mired in bad debts.

While China was flagged, a key warning indicator known as the credit-to-gross domestic product “gap” showed an improvement, said the BIS, known as the central bank for central banks. This may suggest the government is making progress in its push to reduce financial-sector risk. The gap is the difference between the credit-to-GDP ratio and its long-term trend. A blow-out in the number can signal that credit growth is excessive and a financial bust may be looming. In China, the gap fell to 16.7% in the third quarter of 2017, down from a peak of 28.9% in March 2016 and the lowest since 2012, the study showed.

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How does Xi tell his people he doesn’t have their backs? Oh well, he’s president for life.

Don’t Count On Beijing To Resolve Fallout From Any Debt Blowup (CNBC)

The belief in an “implicit guarantee” from the Chinese government on debt is a big problem, said a finance professor on Monday. “I’m concerned with what a lot of people believe, [that] the government is going to take care of investment losses. Under that impression, they are going to take up lot of leverage because they believe they will be bailed out if something does not work out,” said Zhu Ning, a professor of finance at Tsinghua University in Beijing. China has been battling high debt levels for years, but debt-to-GDP ratio is still about 260%, according to the Bank of International Settlements. While that absolute number is not alarming in itself, it is eyebrow-raising for the speed in rising to such levels, particularly in the last five years, Zhu said.

Since China’s economy is far bigger than two decades ago, the country has the size and resilience to overcome issues in the financial system, but Beijing is concerned about systemic risks that may roil the world’s second-largest economy. The key to solving any potential fallout from the ballooning debt is to remove the perception that Beijing will help solve any problems from a debt blowup, said Zhu. “This is a mentality that has taken decades to form so the government would have to do something aggressive and persistent to gradually remove this sense of implicit guarantee,” Zhu said. The Chinese government has been coming down hard on reining in systemic risks, using strong-arm tactics such as the recent state takeover of Anbang Insurance, which was aggressively expanding internationally.

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There’s the shadow banks again.

Asia’s Big Developers ‘More Vulnerable’ to Shocks – BIS (BBG)

Asia’s big developers are “more vulnerable” to shocks after their profitability waned from the boom years at the start of the decade, the Bank for International Settlements warned. The “sector’s deteriorating fundamentals give reason for concern,” said the Basel, Switzerland-based institution, which watches over global financial stability. Many firms’ returns on assets are below their costs of debt, the BIS said in a quarterly review, citing a study of developers in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Higher interest rates, sinking property prices or falling currencies are shocks that could worsen developers’ financial health, with the potential for significant economic repercussions, according to the organization known as the central banks’ central bank. Even without external jolts, falling returns on assets and declining interest coverage ratios “could pose problems” for the firms, it said. While easy money drove property booms worldwide after the global financial crisis, the BIS argues a tightening in the years ahead could force developers to sell off inventory – driving down prices – and lay off workers.

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“Shinzo Abe has previously said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to be involved in heavily cutting the price of public land sold to a right-wing school operator in Osaka..”

Japan PM Shinzo Abe’s Political Future On Cronyism Scandal (G.)

A spiralling cronyism scandal linked to the Japanese prime minister and his wife has reached fever pitch after the finance ministry admitted to tampering with records to remove references to the first lady. Shinzo Abe has previously said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to be involved in heavily cutting the price of public land sold to a right-wing school operator in Osaka. The finance ministry admitted on Monday that it had altered official documents surrounding the decision to provide an 85% discount on the appraised value of the land. One document originally quoted the educational group Moritomo Gakuen as saying that Abe’s wife Akie had recommended the primary school project “move forward because it is a good plot of land”. However, this was removed in a version submitted to lawmakers investigating the sale. Kyodo News reported that the submitted papers also omitted an article in which Akie described being “moved to tears by the school’s education policy”.

Moritomo Gakuen’s existing kindergarten attracted attention for requiring its young pupils to bow before portraits of the imperial family, sing the national anthem daily, and learn the 1890 imperial rescript on education, which emphasises sacrifice for country. Akie was set to serve as honorary principal for the new primary school, but stepped down in February last year when questions were raised over the land deal. The government has previously denied claims that the first lady gave the school operator an envelope containing 1m yen (£6,775) on behalf of the prime minister during a visit she made to the existing kindergarten. The controversy fuelled a steep decline in Abe’s popularity last year but heappeared to ride out the scandal and won a snap lower house election in October. However, the forgery revelations have intensified political pressure on Abe and his long-serving finance minister, Taro Aso.

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Excellent piece by Nomi, which has two topics: Gary Cohn and steel tariffs. The latter a bit much on short term effects, but good read.

Trade Wars, Diminished Credibility and Gary Cohn (Nomi Prins)

[..] my former boss from my Goldman Sachs days—Gary Cohn—just resigned from his White House post as chief economic adviser to the Chaos Producer in Chief. This was ostensibly in protest against the president’s announcement about imposing steel and aluminum tariffs. The next day, Trump signed the order sealing that deal, citing his actions as a “matter of necessity for our security.” Along the way, he said there would be no exemptions to the tariffs, then said there would be—for Canada and Mexico. Trump glowed in the light of his new-found power grab over trade agreements, leaving himself room to decide which countries would be “in” and “out” with respect to these and other tariffs in the future. And that was the week that was in Trump World.

The timing of Cohn’s departure certainly put a wrench in his plans to convene executives dependent on steel and present their case against steel tariffs to Trump. Instead, Trump signed the tariffs order flanked by steel and aluminum workers supporting it. Speaking of steel, Cohn’s nerves were seemingly made of that metal. At Goldman, he was the man who regularly waded through deals without losing his cool (unlike Trump). On 9/11, I witnessed him directing traders to keep trading oil as shreds of debris and billows of smoke engulfed the windows of the Goldman trading floor, only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. He became president (or number two) at Goldman, continually handling the less “cool” behavior of chairman and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who remained above him in the pecking order for decades.

Cohn commanded daily activities at Goldman that led to the firm’s creation of shady financial instruments that were later at the core of the financial crisis. Under Cohn, Goldman was bailed out by U.S. taxpayers. The firm morphed, for government subsidy purposes, into a bank holding company, though it handled scant deposits from regular people. It did this to retain access to Federal Reserve support, as it has done, over the past decade. Cohn was also at Goldman when it reached a $5 billion settlement with the Department of Justice over its consistent misconduct regarding mortgage-related securities from 2005 to 2007. That type of conflict-meets-crisis readied him for his government service. When Cohn came up against Trump, the president’s flavor-of-the-minute trade policy hawk, Peter Navarro, met “Globalist Gary” head on. Then Cohn’s Trump administration career was over.

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Just peeping over the edge for now.

London Property Prices Fall 15% (G.)

House prices in parts of London that were once at the epicentre of the UK property boom have fallen as much as 15% over the past year in fresh evidence of the impact of the EU referendum. Figures from Your Move, one of the UK’s biggest estate agency chains, reveal that the average home in Wandsworth – which includes much of Clapham, Balham and Putney – fell by more than £100,000 in value over the last 12 months. But property prices have surged in the north-west of England, with Blackburn recording the highest growth rates in the UK. Homes in the London borough of Wandsworth were fetching an average of £805,000 in January 2017 but this has now fallen to £685,000.

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Selling out his country and Putin bashing. That’s Tusk. That’s how he got his EU job.

European Commissioner Tusk Double-Crossed Poland (GEFIRA)

The current President of the EU Council has a good reputation in the EU circles, but not in Poland: he had to flee from his home country to Brussels, completely compromised. After all, his government was a catastrophe: mass emigration of young Poles, tampering with the coffers of future pensioners, corruption and benefit scandals, the Amber Gold affair, the all-pervasive nepotism in his Civic Platform (PO) party, numerous sins of omission crowned by Nord Stream. Young unemployed people can light the torch of a revolution. If you want to secure your position in politics, you leave salaries low and open the borders. The discontented young unemployed emigrate and only those who have less motivation to take to the streets remain. In 2005 Donald Tusk made this trick, this intervention on his nation. He threw Poland into the arms of the EU: since then the population has fallen significantly due to the emigration of many young Poles.

Nigel Farage aptly commented on this when he turned to Tusk in the European Parliament: “Your debate is about emigration, and time and again you’ve promised the Polish voters that young poles would return to Poland, and at the same time Mr Cameron has promised the British people that fewer Poles would come to us. Well, it turns out that you’ve both been wrong and your country has been depopulated by 2 million people since you joined the European Union and the reason is obvious: it’s money, isn’t it? And you yourself prove the point. You are the newest Polish emigre and you’ve gone from a salary of 6,000 euros a year to a salary of 30,000 euros a year. So congratulations! You’ve hit the EU jackpot!”

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A picture of the world’s sickest people. Many of them are in your governments.

Half Of US Arms Exports Go To The Middle East (G.)

Nearly half of US arms exports over the past five years have gone to the war-stricken Middle East, with Saudi Arabia consolidating its place as the world’s second biggest importer, a report has shown. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) said on Monday that global transfer of major weapons systems between 2013 and 2017 rose by 10% compared with the five-year period before that, in a continuation of an upward trend that began two decades ago. The US, which is the world’s biggest exporter, increased its sales between those two periods by 25%. It supplied arms to as many as 98 states worldwide, accounting for more than a third of global exports. Russia, the world’s second biggest exporter, saw a decrease of 7.1% in its overall volume of arms exports; US exports were 58% higher than those of Russia. France, Germany and China were also among the top five exporters. The UK is the sixth biggest weapons exporter.

“Based on deals signed during the Obama administration, US arms deliveries in 2013–17 reached their highest level since the late 1990s,” said Dr Aude Fleurant, the director of the Sipri’s arms and military expenditure programme. “These deals and further major contracts signed in 2017 will ensure that the USA remains the largest arms exporter in the coming years.” The Middle East, a region where in the past five years most countries have been involved in conflict, accounted for 32% of global imports of weapons. Arms imports to the region doubled between 2013 and 2017 and in the five-year period before that. The US, the UK, and France were the main supplier of arms to the region, while Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE were the main recipient countries.

The UK, which rolled out a red carpet for the Saudi crown prince on his visit to London last week, exported nearly half of its arms to the Saudi Arabia, which has increased its imports by 225%. Sipri’s report noted that Saudi Arabia uses its imported weapons in large-scale combat operations, particularly in Yemen. The Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, which has cost hundreds of civilian lives, was launched in 2015, aiming to counter the advances of Iran-backed Houthi rebels controlling the capital, Sana’a. Saudi Arabia’s shopping list included 78 combat aircraft, 72 combat helicopters and 328 tanks. “Widespread violent conflict in the Middle East and concerns about human rights have led to political debate in western Europe and North America about restricting arms sales,” said Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at Sipri. Yet the USA and European states remain the main arms exporters to the region and supplied over 98% of weapons imported by Saudi Arabia.”

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How do you regulate global forces? That are part of secret intelligence services?

Tim Berners-Lee: Regulate Tech Firms To Prevent ‘Weaponised’ Web (G.)

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, has called for large technology firms to be regulated to prevent the web from being “weaponised at scale”. “In recent years, we’ve seen conspiracy theories trend on social media platforms, fake Twitter and Facebook accounts stoke social tensions, external actors interfere in elections, and criminals steal troves of personal data,” Berners-Lee wrote in an open letter marking the 29th anniversary of his invention. These problems have proliferated because of the concentration of power in the hands of a few platforms – including Facebook, Google, and Twitter – which “control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared”. “What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms,” said the 62-year-old British computer scientist.

These online gatekeepers can lock in their power by acquiring smaller rivals, buying up new innovations and hiring the industry’s top talent, making it harder for others to compete, he said. Google now accounts for about 87% of online searches worldwide. Facebook has more than 2.2 billion monthly active users – more than 20 times more than MySpace at its peak. Together, the two companies (including their subsidiaries Instagram and YouTube) slurp up more than 60% of digital advertising spend worldwide. Although the companies are aware of the problems and have made efforts to fix them – developing systems to tackle fake news, bots and influence operations – they have been built to “maximise profit more than maximise social good”. “A legal or regulatory framework that accounts for social objectives may help ease those tensions,” he said.

Aligning the incentives of the technology sector with those of users and society at large, he argued, will require consulting a diverse group of people from business, government, civil society, academia and the arts. Berners-Lee warned of “two myths” that “limit our collective imagination” when looking for solutions to the problems facing the web: “The myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points we need to be a little more creative,” he said. “I want the web to reflect our hopes and fulfil our dreams, rather than magnify our fears and deepen our divisions,” he said.

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Too many people still believe far too much of what they read and watch.

America’s Troll Farm Media (CP)

Despite all the smoke and mirrors, most Americans seem to see where the stenographers of corporate capitalism are taking us. A recent Gallup poll found that while 84% of Americans see media as “critical” or “very important” to democracy, only 28% see the corporatist mainstream news media (MSM) as actually supporting democracy. They’re right on both counts of course. The quality of a democracy is only as good as the information people have to make informed judgements about public policy and politicians. Even as the mainstream news media continue to lose street cred, they persist in a rumor-saturated full court press against the “Trump-Putin presidency,” which only further exposes their lack of professionalism and increasing vulgarity.

MSM management and their boardroom bosses have long understood that as long as they spice up their “nothing burger” news, ratings and advertising rates will keep them in business and please their commercial and government clients. Tabloid journalism, which can describe most American mainstream media these days, even when wrapped up as “all the news that’s fit to print,” is in constant search of sensation, scandal, gossip, and profit – and only occasionally in public-oriented investigative integrity. [..] 65% of Americans consider the so-called “free press” biased, obsessed with scandal, and full of “fake news” and therefore cannot be trusted. [..] trust in American institutions in general, that is, the government, business, NGOs, and the MSM, is going through the worst crisis in recorded history, according to the marketing firm Edelman in 2018.

[..] On January 27, 2018, the Washington Post editorial board issued this statement: “A foreign power interfered in the 2016 presidential election. U.S. law enforcement is trying to get to the bottom of that story. Congress should be doing everything possible to make sure the investigation can take place.” Obviously referring to Russia, the Post’s declaration, as the late investigative journalist Robert Parry and many other independent and respected writers have pointed out, was and remains without a shred of evidence. It’s WMD time all over again, only this time the propaganda is being trumpeted mainly by the Democrats. It would better serve the cause of democracy to investigate the Post for its covert coalition and collusion with the deep state and the Clinton (right) wing of the Democratic Party. The Post and the rest of their pack have constructed a wicked Russia foil in order to undermine Moscow’s presumed ally Trump and boost bigger Pentagon budgets.

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Britain is not strong on history. Surprising that this comes from the WaPo.

Winston Churchill, Mass Murderer (WaPo)

“History,” Winston Churchill said, “will be kind to me, for I intend to write it myself.” He needn’t have bothered. He was one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century, yet is the only one, unlike Hitler and Stalin, to have escaped historical odium in the West. He has been crowned with a Nobel Prize (for literature, no less), and now, an actor portraying him (Gary Oldman) has been awarded an Oscar. As Hollywood confirms, Churchill’s reputation (as what Harold Evans has called “the British Lionheart on the ramparts of civilization”) rests almost entirely on his stirring rhetoric and his talent for a fine phrase during World War II. “We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. … We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. … We shall never surrender.” (The revisionist British historian John Charmley dismissed this as “sublime nonsense.”)

Words, in the end, are all that Churchill admirers can point to. His actions are another matter altogether. During World War II, Churchill declared himself in favor of “terror bombing.” He wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers.” Horrors such as the firebombing of Dresden were the result. In the fight for Irish independence, Churchill, in his capacity as secretary of state for war and air, was one of the few British officials in favor of bombing Irish protesters, suggesting in 1920 that airplanes should use “machine-gun fire or bombs” to scatter them. Dealing with unrest in Mesopotamia in 1921, as secretary of state for the colonies, Churchill acted as a war criminal: “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against the uncivilised tribes; it would spread a lively terror.” He ordered large-scale bombing of Mesopotamia, with an entire village wiped out in 45 minutes.

In Afghanistan, Churchill declared that the Pashtuns “needed to recognise the superiority of [the British] race” and that “all who resist will be killed without quarter.” He wrote: “We proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. … Every tribesman caught was speared or cut down at once.” In Kenya, Churchill either directed or was complicit in policies involving the forced relocation of local people from the fertile highlands to make way for white colonial settlers and the forcing of more than 150,000 people into concentration camps. Rape, castration, lit cigarettes on tender spots, and electric shocks were all used by the British authorities to torture Kenyans under Churchill’s rule.

But the principal victims of Winston Churchill were the Indians — “a beastly people with a beastly religion,” as he charmingly called them. He wanted to use chemical weapons in India but was shot down by his cabinet colleagues, whom he criticized for their “squeamishness,” declaring that “the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable.” [..] Thanks to Churchill, some 4 million Bengalis starved to death in a 1943 famine. Churchill ordered the diversion of food from starving Indian civilians to well-supplied British soldiers and even to top up European stockpiles in Greece and elsewhere. When reminded of the suffering of his Indian victims, his response was that the famine was their own fault, he said, for “breeding like rabbits.”

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Jan 162018
 
 January 16, 2018  Posted by at 10:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jean-Francois Millet The flight into Egypt 1864

 

Crytocurrencies Crashing Fast On South Korea Regulation Plans (Ind.)
PBOC Official Says China’s Centralized Cryptocurrency Trade Must End (R.)
China’s Shutdown Of Bitcoin Miners Isn’t Just About Electricity (F.)
China Is Heaping Debt on Its Least Productive Companies (CFR)
Xi Jinping’s Debt Clampdown Has Left a Trail of Dead Projects (BW)
Here’s What Historically Happens to Stocks When Bull Markets End (GoldSilver)
UK’s Carillion Crisis Deepens Amid Scramble To Save Jobs After Collapse (G.)
Quarter Of UK’s Poorest Households Are Getting Deeper In Debt (G.)
Greek Parliament Votes Through Raft Of Tough Reforms (K.)
Australia Offers Cash For Great Barrier Reef Rescue Ideas (AFP)
UK Supermarket Iceland To Eliminate Plastic On All Own-Label Products (G.)

 

 

As I’m writing this, I’m seeing bitcoin being obliterated. Other crypto’s were even worse off earlier. BTC down some 16% today at 5 AM ET, at $11,400. It was over $17,000 10 days ago.

Crytocurrencies Crashing Fast On South Korea Regulation Plans (Ind.)

Cryptocurrencies across the market are in the middle of a huge crash. All cryptocurrencies are falling amid a major selloff. Most have fallen more than 10% over the morning, and the price of bitcoin has dropped below $12,000. Just days ago, bitcoin was marching towards $20,000. But just today it has fallen more than 10% – taking it down almost 40% over the last month, but still having risen more than 1,300% over the year. Bitcoin is the best performing of the various cryptocurrencies over the morning. Ripple, the third largest cryptocurrency, had dropped by as much as 25% amid major volatility. Ethereum fell by more than 15%.

The price of cryptocurrencies tends to fluctuate wildly, and far more quickly than other more traditional assets and currencies. But the plunge on Tuesday morning is extreme even in that market. The drop came amid increasing suggestions in South Korea that officials might look to impose new regulations on the currency. Finance minister Kim Dong-yeon suggested that the country might ban trading in the currencies entirely, pending a government review. The government has said that the plans are only a suggestion and that more talks are needed. But another government minister said that trading could be banned last week, triggering another instant sell-off, and the plans have already led 200,000 people to petition the government asking to keep bitcoin trading legal.

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Little hope left for crypto in China. Korea shaky at best.

PBOC Official Says China’s Centralized Cryptocurrency Trade Must End (R.)

A senior Chinese central banker says authorities should ban centralized trading of virtual currencies as well as individuals and businesses that provide related services, an internal memo from a government meeting seen by Reuters showed. In the memo outlining details of discussions at a meeting of internet regulators and other policymakers last week, PBOC Vice Governor Pan Gongsheng said the government would continue to apply pressure to the virtual currency trade and prevent the build up of risks in that market. National and local authorities should ban venues that provide centralized trading of virtual currencies, of which bitcoin is the biggest, Pan said. They also need to ban individuals or institutions that provide market-making activities, guarantees, or settlement services for centralized trading of the currencies, such as online “wallet” service providers.

Chinese regulators last year banned initial coin offerings, shut down local cryptocurrency trading exchanges and limited bitcoin mining – but activity in the cryptocurrency and bitcoin space has continued through alternative channels in China despite the crackdown. “The financial work conference clearly called for limiting ‘innovations’ that deviate from the need of the real economy and escape regulation,” Pan said, according to the memo, referring to last week’s meeting. Authorities should also block domestic and foreign websites and close mobile apps that provide centralized virtual currency trading services to Chinese users, and sanction platforms that provide virtual currency payment services, Pan said. He also called for local authorities to investigate services that help people move funds overseas.

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It’s a power game.

China’s Shutdown Of Bitcoin Miners Isn’t Just About Electricity (F.)

China is planning to limit electricity to Bitcoin miners, and government bodies have expressed concern about energy usage. Bitcoin mining is estimated to use up to 4 gigawatts of electricity, equivalent to three nuclear reactors’ production levels. However, this move isn’t just about the electricity. In fact, it is telling that it was China’s central bank that met on the issue of Bitcoin mining, underscoring the fact that the issue is not only, or even primarily, an energy issue. It’s about clamping down on perceived risks of the cryptocurrency, which regulators have associated with malicious acts like fraud and money laundering. Authorities have already cracked down on thousands of criminal cases associated with alternative cryptocurrencies, including Onecoin and Ticcoin. These cryptocurrencies were viewed as Ponzi schemes used to raise illicit funds.

Later, officials shut down cryptocurrency exchanges and banned fundraising through initial coin offerings (ICOs). On Monday, it was reported that Chinese authorities would block cryptocurrency platforms that permit centralized trading. Cracking down on fraud and money laundering alone does not appear to be the way China is addressing risks associated with Bitcoin, however. Authorities are going after the industry more broadly. This may be because China has enough financial risks to regulate at the moment, and it is at capacity, or it could be that officials really do view Bitcoin as insufficiently transparent to represent an appropriate means of exchange or store of value.

Chinese Bitcoin mining companies may be out of luck doing business in a favorable environment. To combat this, some companies have already moved operations overseas. Most recently, Bitmain Technologies set up a subsidiary in Switzerland, which will extend its branches, currently in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, Qingdao, Chengdu, Shanghai and Shenzhen. Bitcoin miners have also been attracted to the Canadian province of Québec for its advertised cheap electricity. However, other companies may be forced to shut down. Moving abroad is likely to result in higher energy costs, which can dramatically reduce profit margins gained from mining.

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“By some estimates, China’s real growth rate, accounting for bad debt, is roughly half the official one of about 6.9%..”

China Is Heaping Debt on Its Least Productive Companies (CFR)

When Chinese President Xi Jinping failed to mention the word “deleveraging” in his long-awaited new economic blueprint in December it was clear that the political tug of war between the advocates of “reform” and “growth” had been won by the latter. In the short-run, growth, as defined by changes in GDP, can be increased by more lending and investing. In the longer-term, however, lending and investing can’t boost GDP if it results in bad debt that is properly written down. The big question is how much bad debt China currently has, and how much more it will be producing in the years ahead. By some estimates, China’s real growth rate, accounting for bad debt, is roughly half the official one of about 6.9%. To gauge whether China has been creating good debt—debt that will produce positive returns—or bad, we’ve examined who the beneficiaries of corporate lending are.

As shown in the left-hand figure below, profits at private-sector enterprises rose 18% between 2011 and 2016, while profits at state-owned enterprises (SOEs) plunged by 33%. As shown in the right-hand figure, however, the share of corporate liability growth accounted for by SOEs soared from 59% in 2010 to 80% by 2016. This is the opposite of what one would expect in a market economy. As we highlighted last year, China’s non-performing loans (NPLs) have been growing. Given the evidence that Xi has abandoned any pretense of concern with NPLs, and our evidence that China is shoveling new loans to companies with the least ability to pay them back, we think China is heading towards a debt crisis.

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Xi plays a high stakes game.

Xi Jinping’s Debt Clampdown Has Left a Trail of Dead Projects (BW)

A pile of rusty pipes and materials are all that remain of Lanzhou New Area’s tram project. Only a year ago it was a flagship public-private partnership for the planned city in Central China, before it fell victim to President Xi Jinping’s debt clampdown. “The project is dead,” said a guard at the office, who gave only his surname, Le. Nearby, the tram tracks are paved over, the mismatched lines of asphalt scarring a six-lane road that leads to a dead end on the edge of one of China’s most ambitious urban developments. The size of New York City, the zone is a satellite of Lanzhou, capital of China’s poorest province, Gansu, and a place where Xi’s efforts to wean the country off debt and onto services and consumer spending can be seen in stark relief.

In most of China, the economy is powering through Xi’s borrowing bottleneck, with economists surveyed by Bloomberg projecting the nation’s GDP grew 6.8% last year, the first annual acceleration in seven years. But for less-developed areas like Gansu the story is not so simple. Away from the industrial centers along the coast, Gansu came late to the nation’s debt-fueled investment party. During the nation’s economic ascent in the 1990s and 2000s, it became infamous for having the most polluted air in the country, a cocktail of chemicals from petroleum plants and heavy industry mixed with desert dust storms. Lanzhou New Area was only approved in 2012, just before Xi took office, driven by a central government investment spree designed to spread wealth to western regions.

Now, Xi wants to neutralize the risk of soaring debt derailing growth that accounts for more than a third of the global economic expansion. He reinforced that aim at a twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress in October and at the annual Central Economic Work Conference in December, where elite cadres set goals for 2018. From the yuan and bitcoin to banking and housing, taming potential threats is the new priority. Economists and policy makers see the restraints on borrowing as a necessary step toward choking off some of the nation’s construction and investment excesses and building a more sustainable economy. But there are casualties, including Lanzhou New Area’s tram, a network of tunnels for underground utility lines in the city, and more than 200 other public-private projects — almost half the total in Gansu.

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Average last year of bull market: +16%. Average first year of bear market: -16%.

Here’s What Historically Happens to Stocks When Bull Markets End (GoldSilver)

You undoubtedly know that 2017 was a record-setting year for the broad stock markets. And while gold was up last year despite numerous headwinds, most mainstream investors aren’t paying much attention to gold since they keep seeing so much green in their stock portfolios. Even I was taken back by some of the data from the bull market in stocks… • The Dow hit a record high 71 times last year. On average, a new high was hit more frequently than once a week. • For the first time ever in its almost 90-year history, the S&P 500 rose every month in 2017. And historically there have only been four years with gains in 11 months of the year. • The S&P’s largest pullback in 2017 was 2.8%, the smallest since 1995. • To start 2018, the S&P 500 has risen in each of the five trading sessions, hitting a new record high every day. The last time the index opened the year with at least five straight record highs was 1964.

And as Mike pointed out in his 2018 predictions, the CAPE (Cyclically Adjusted Price-Earnings) ratio has now matched its 1999 level, the second highest reading in over 100 years of data. The CAPE now has a higher reading only in 1929. This all begs the question: is the bull market about to come to an end? This is exactly the kind of frothy behavior a market sees near its apex, so it’s definitely a prudent question to ask. If last year ends up being the top of this bull market, what does history say could happen to stocks this year? We dug up the data for all bull markets in the S&P since the year 1900, and then examined what happened in the very first year after each of those bull markets ended. In other words, what did the first year of the bear market look like after the last full year of the bull market? This could be useful data, if 2017 ends up being the peak of the bull market. Here’s what history shows.

First Year Performance of Bear Market After Bull Market Ends

While the declines for the first year of the bear market varied greatly, you can see that on average, the S&P lost 16% the year immediately following the last year of the bull market. Also notice that in only four cases was the decline measured in single digits—all others were double digit losses. Mike Maloney believes this is the year overvalued stocks begin their descent. If he’s right, the decline could be higher than the historical average, since this is the second longest bull market in history.

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The fruits of privatization.

UK’s Carillion Crisis Deepens Amid Scramble To Save Jobs After Collapse (G.)

Thousands of staff who worked for the collapsed construction firm Carillion inside private sector companies will have their wages stopped on Wednesday unless their jobs are rescued by other firms, the government has said. Experts also said up to 30,000 small firms were owed money by Carillion, which crashed into liquidation on Monday morning, with insolvency practitioners reporting an immediate rush of calls from worried business owners. Ministers gathered for an emergency meeting on Monday night in an effort to limit the damage caused by the collapse of the sprawling construction and support services business. As the fallout spread, the Cabinet Office minister, David Lidington, faced mounting pressure over the government’s oversight of the firm’s increasingly precarious finances in the months leading up to its failure.

Lidington told parliament the government would continue to pay those among Carillion’s 19,500 UK staff who work in public sector jobs, such as NHS cleaners and school catering. But he admitted thousands of Carillion’s private sector workers – who perform jobs ranging from cleaning to catering, security and postroom services for organisations such as the Nationwide building society and BT Openreach – would be cut loose after 48 hours. “The position of private sector employees is that they will not be getting the same protection that we’re offering to public sector employees, beyond a 48-hour period of grace,” Lidington said. He added that this would give time for Carillion’s private clients to decide if they wanted to terminate the contracts or step in to cover wages themselves. “I think that is a reasonable gesture towards private sector employees,” he said, adding that a Jobcentre Plus helpline had been set up.

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Only debt leaves the country standing.

Quarter Of UK’s Poorest Households Are Getting Deeper In Debt (G.)

One in four of Britain’s poorest households are falling behind with debt payments or spending more than a quarter of their monthly income on repayments, according to a study. The latest evidence of mounting debt problems for some of the most vulnerable in society is shown in a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, at a time when borrowing on credit cards, loans and car finance deals returns to levels unseen since before the 2008 financial crisis. The poorest tenth of households are also more likely to be in net debt, owing more on plastic or on overdrafts and loans than they hold in savings. About a third of the poorest homes are in net debt, compared with only 10% of the highest-income tenth.

For a household of two adults and two children aged between 30 and 44 to be in the poorest tenth, they would have a net annual income of up to £23,200. Young adults are much more likely to be in households in arrears or paying large chunks of their income to banks or credit card providers, the study found. David Sturrock, a research economist at the IFS, said: “Debt looks like a real problem for a significant minority of those on low incomes.” [..] Debt problems for the poorest households can prove persistent, and are of growing concern to the Financial Conduct Authority. Of the poorest fifth of households who were in arrears or spending more than a quarter of their income on debt repayments and charges in 2010, more than 40% were found to be stuck in a similar position two years later.

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Tsipras has become the oppressor. Credibility of the entire Greek political system is gone for many years to come. That does not bode well.

Greek Parliament Votes Through Raft Of Tough Reforms (K.)

As thousands of protesters rallied in Athens and Thessaloniki on Monday, Parliament approved the prior actions included in an all-inclusive bill which the leftist-led coalition government hopes will be the last significant batch of spending cuts and reforms the country has to implement before its bailout program ends in August. The 1,500-page austerity bill, which includes the demands by Greece’s international creditors to expedite auctions of foreclosed properties and changes to labor law that will make it harder for unions to call strikes, was approved by 154 lawmakers in the 300-seat Parliament. Some 141 lawmakers from main opposition New Democracy, Democratic Alignment, Golden Dawn and the Union of Centrists voted against all the provisions included in the bill. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told lawmakers that the approval of the multi-bill brings Greece “just one step from the end of the bailout.”

“In the summer, we will… leave behind a tough, unfair and harmful period,” he said, adding that the conclusion of the third review “gives hope to millions of our fellow citizens” but has caused agitation to others, referring to the parties of the opposition. Tsipras rejected claims by the opposition that the new bill will ban the right to strike. “The right to strike is a sacred conquest of the working class. It is not being scrapped and it is not under threat from this government,” he said. For his part, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis denounced Tsipras for “ransoming the country’s future” and damaging its economy. “You are legislating articles that even you don’t agree with,” Mitsotakis said, addressing Tsipras in Parliament, adding that the leftist leader was pushing through measures he was elected to oppose and that he “turned lying into a profession and cynicism into an art.”

Mitsotakis also accused Tsipras and his SYRIZA party of “threatening” investors while they were in the opposition and refuted the government’s narrative that the country is heading for a clean bailout exit in August. The vote in Parliament took place as around a total of 20,000 people in Athens and Thessaloniki marched in protest. Police used pepper spray to disperse rock-throwing protesters outside Parliament. Some demonstrators also sprayed police with red paint. Meanwhile, Monday’s public transport strike – bus, tram, trolley and metro services – in opposition to the bill caused problems for commuters in the Greek capital. The disruption also impacted state-run schools and public hospitals, with teachers and doctors holding work stoppages, while a three-hour walkout by air traffic controllers led to the rescheduling or cancellation of flights.

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Obvious suggestion: stop pumping mining sludge into the reef system. Did I just make $1 million? Didn’t think so. Don’t be fooled by this sort of crap.

Australia Offers Cash For Great Barrier Reef Rescue Ideas (AFP)

Australia is calling on the world’s top scientific minds to help save the Great Barrier Reef, offering hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund research into protecting the world’s largest living structure. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed reef is reeling from significant coral bleaching due to warming sea temperatures linked to climate change. The 2,300-kilometre (1,400-mile) site is also under pressure from farming runoff, development and predatory crown-of-thorns starfish, with experts warning it could be suffering irreparable damage. On Tuesday, the Australian government announced a Aus$2.0 million (US$1.6 million) funding pot available to people with bright ideas on how to save the reef.

“The scale of the problem is big and big thinking is needed, but it’s important to remember that solutions can come from anywhere,” said Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg. He said the money would be available to the world’s “greatest scientific minds, industry and business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs”. “Solutions could focus on anything from reducing the exposure of corals to physical stressors, to boosting coral regeneration rates by cultivating reef-building coral larvae that attract other important marine species,” Frydenberg added. Up to Aus$250,000 is available for an initial feasibility stage, where researchers can test the technical and commercial viability of their proposals for up to six months.

More than one proposal is expected to be accepted at this stage, the government said. A further Aus$1 million will then be made available to the best solutions at the proof of concept stage, where applicants develop and test their prototypes for up to 12 months. Those that are successful will retain intellectual property rights and will be able to try to commercialise their innovation.

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No force suppliers to do the same.

UK Supermarket Iceland To Eliminate Plastic On All Own-Label Products (G.)

Iceland has become the first major retailer to commit to eliminate plastic packaging for all its own-brand products. The supermarket chain, which specialises in frozen food, said it would go plastic-free within five years to help end the “scourge” of plastic pollution. The current plastic packaging would be replaced with paper and pulp trays and paper bags, which would be recyclable through domestic waste collections or in-store recycling facilities. The supermarket recently carried out a survey in which 80% of 5,000 people polled said they would endorse the move to go plastic-free. Iceland managing director, Richard Walker, said: “The world has woken up to the scourge of plastics. A truckload is entering our oceans every minute, causing untold damage to our marine environment and ultimately humanity – since we all depend on the oceans for our survival.

“The onus is on retailers, as leading contributors to plastic packaging pollution and waste, to take a stand and deliver meaningful change.” He also said Iceland would ensure all packaging was fully recyclable and would be recycled, through support for initiatives such as a bottle deposit return scheme for plastic bottles. As it was technologically and practically possible to create less environmentally harmful alternatives, “there really is no excuse any more for excessive packaging that creates needless waste and damages our environment”, Walker added. Iceland has already removed plastic disposable straws from its own label range and new food ranges in the next few months will use paper-based food trays. The move, which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, comes amid growing concern over plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, where it can harm and kill wildlife such as turtles and seabirds.

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Oct 262017
 
 October 26, 2017  Posted by at 9:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dalí Living still life 1956

 

The Current Bond Bull Market Is The Longest In More Than 500 Years (BI)
Get Ready For A ‘Substantial’ Slowdown In The US Economy – Natixis (CNBC)
America is in Worse Financial Shape than Russia or China – Kotlikoff (SMN)
Xi Has Built Chinese Economy On ‘Foundation Of Sand’ – Kyle Bass (BBG)
China US Buying Spree Prompts Move to Toughen Deal Reviews (BBG)
S&P: Britain’s £200 Billion Consumer Debt Boom Is ‘Unsustainable’ (BI)
Mario Draghi Is Preparing For His Final Act As ECB President (BBG)
Sydney Apartment Market Has Cracked (Aus.)
New Zealand To Ban Foreign Buyers Snapping Up Existing Homes (G.)
Almost 1,400 Companies Have Left Catalonia Since October 2 (ZH)
‘Schauble Has Reduced Europe To Rubble’ – German Foreign Minister (Tel)

 

 

Enough to make you nervous?!

The Current Bond Bull Market Is The Longest In More Than 500 Years (BI)

We’re currently living through the second longest bond bull market in recorded history, and the longest since the 16th century, according to a new research paper from the Bank of England. Written by Paul Schmelzing, a Harvard PhD candidate currently working with the bank, the paper, titled “Eight centuries of the risk-free rate: bond market reversals from the Venetians to the ‘VaR shock’” — explores hundreds of years of data around real rates and bonds. “This paper presents a new dataset for the annual risk-free rate in both nominal and real terms going back to the 13th century. On this basis, we establish for the first time a long-term comparative investigation of ‘bond bull markets’,” Schmelzing writes.

The paper — which started out as an entry on the Bank of England’s staff blog, Bank Underground — argues that the current bull market in bonds is only surpassed by one longer period of growth in recorded history. “The average length of bond bull markets stands at 25.8 years, and the range falls between 61 years (1451-1511) and 12 years (1718-1729). Our present real rate bond bull market, at 34 years, is already the second longest ever recorded,” Schmelzing writes. Here’s the chart (note that blue shaded areas represent periods of bull markets):

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“If US growth slows down markedly … equity valuation and share prices will start falling.”

Get Ready For A ‘Substantial’ Slowdown In The US Economy – Natixis (CNBC)

One investment bank is urging investors to prepare for the U.S. economy to roll over as early as 2018. “The US economy will in all likelihood slow down substantially: there is a limit to the rise in the participation rate and the employment rate; real wages are slowing down,” wrote Patrick Artus, chief economist at Natixis, on Tuesday. “Investors should therefore prepare for the consequences.” Consequences of this slowdown, notes Artus, include a brief rise in interest rates, a market sell-off and a depreciating dollar. Natixis is a French corporate and investment bank headquartered in Paris. Natixis Global Asset Management oversees roughly $950 billion, according to its website. The analyst also called the current level of corporate investment “abnormally high” and suggested a downward correction.

To be sure, the more mainstream investment banks on Wall Street are not nearly as pessimistic. Wall Street foresees a positive 2.5% change in GDP in the third quarter year over year, according to the consensus estimate collected by Thomson Reuters. The Bureau of Economic Analysis will release GDP number on Friday before the bell. And none of the major banks see a recession on the horizon. The American people are even more bullish. According to CNBC’s All-American Economic Survey, optimism about the economy hit an all-time high earlier this month. Forty-three% of the public believes the economy is in excellent or good condition while the four-quarter average for every major economic metric in the poll is at a record 10-year high.

Goldman Sachs is probably the most bearish on the U.S. economy among major firms, predicting 3.9% annual global growth through 2020, but that U.S. growth will decelerate to just 1.5% annually over that time. [..] Natixis has a warning for clients in the note, “If US growth slows down markedly … equity valuation and share prices will start falling.”

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Time to get things out into the open.

America is in Worse Financial Shape than Russia or China – Kotlikoff (SMN)

America’s 2017 fiscal gap will come in near $6 trillion, nine times higher than the $666 billion deficit announced by the US Department of the Treasury last week, says Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University. “Our country is broke,” says Kotlikoff, who estimates total US government debts at more than $200 trillion, when unfunded liabilities are included. “We are in worse shape than Russia, China or any developed nation.” Worse, says Kotlikoff, who has testified before Congress, government officials are well-aware that many of America’s debts and accruing liabilities are being written off the books. However, for the most part, they are keeping their mouths shut.

The upshot is a de facto “two-tier” financial reporting system, in which politicians and insiders have access to key data buried in footnotes about unfunded liabilities, which indicate that there are huge problems in the economy. The public, on the other hand, in slews of Presidential and Congressional Speeches and publications, is led to believe that while things are tough, overall everything is OK. According to Kotlikoff, a long-time activist for fiscal rectitude, the problem stems in large part from the fact that the US government has been spending almost all of Americans’ approximately $795 billion in social security payroll taxes to pay current bills, rather than investing them to fund retirees’ benefits. The upshot is that on a net basis, the US government has no money to pay all the benefits that have been promised. Politicians know that defaults will occur, they just haven’t figured out how to finesse this.

Kotlikoff, unlike most, has a solution. He believes that the US government should adopt what he calls “fiscal gap accounting”, which involves putting all future receipts and expenditures on its books. The idea is that if Americans knew about all the money that their politicians were borrowing and spending, they would be able to make better decisions as to the usefulness of those policies. If the US government produced a financial statement that listed the $200 trillion in unfunded liabilities that Kotlikoff says it owes, workers might make different decisions about how much they will save for retirement. Sadly, current de facto US government practice – inspired by Keynesian thinkers such as Paul Krugman – is for governments to spend, tax, borrow and print as much money as possible, in an effort to keep the economy perpetually running at full steam. The idea is to leave future generations to deal with the problems.

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“Today Xi is celebrated in media reports, but when future historians look back, he will be blamed for recklessly building the Chinese economy on a foundation of sand..”

Xi Has Built Chinese Economy On ‘Foundation Of Sand’ – Kyle Bass (BBG)

Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, who has been betting against the yuan and warning of a collapse in China’s banking system, said the nation will one day come to regret handing Xi Jinping more power than any leader in decades. “Today Xi is celebrated in media reports, but when future historians look back, he will be blamed for recklessly building the Chinese economy on a foundation of sand,” Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, said in an email Wednesday. “Xi desperately seeks credibility, but true developed economies do not impose severe capital controls or move short-term rates hundreds of basis points overnight in attempts to manipulate their own currency.”

At a twice-a-decade congress in Beijing, China’s ruling Communist Party enshrined President Xi’s policies alongside those of former leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Xi, who has sought to turn China into a global economic power and was the architect of the Belt-and-Road infrastructure drive, had his theories on “socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era” included in China’s guiding charter. Yet, some foreign investors have been less than impressed as China’s currency has remained sheltered behind exchange restrictions and curbs on foreign investment. They’ve also pointed to China’s ever-growing pile of debt, with borrowing swelling to 260% of GDP at the end of 2016, Bloomberg Intelligence data show. Moody’s and S&P both downgraded the nation this year on risks from soaring debt.

Bass, who has called for a 30% drop in the Chinese currency, said in an interview earlier this month that he expects the government to relax its grasp on the exchange rate after the National Party Congress. He said he believed once Xi consolidates power, he’ll allow natural economic forces to play out within the banking system. “China remains an emerging backwater when it comes to global currency settlements,” he said Wednesday.

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Tech.

China US Buying Spree Prompts Move to Toughen Deal Reviews (BBG)

Lawmakers in Washington, spurred by Chinese acquisitions of American firms, are moving to broaden the government’s authority to scrutinize overseas investment in the U.S. with bi-partisan legislation set to be proposed in the coming days, according to people familiar with the matter. The bill would expand the power of a national security panel to review investments by foreigners to include joint ventures and minority stakes in companies, according to documents detailing the legislation obtained by Bloomberg. Lawmakers say the current framework for reviews conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, misses deals that pose national security risks because the panel focuses primarily on full acquisitions of American companies even though foreigners conduct a range of deal types in the U.S.

“Many Chinese investments are coordinated state-driven efforts to target critical American infrastructure and disrupt our defense supply-chain requirements,” said Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger of North Carolina, one of the sponsors of the legislation. “Our bi-partisan bill strengthens and modernizes CFIUS to give the government the necessary tools to better track and evaluate Chinese investments.” The Defense Department has raised concerns about Chinese investors financing American start-ups that are developing leading-edge technology in sectors with military applications like artificial intelligence, augmented reality and robotics. Those types of investments generally avoid CFIUS scrutiny because they’re not full acquisitions.

The proposal follows a drumbeat of concerns from lawmakers about recent Chinese deals in U.S. technology, agriculture and financial services. Chinese acquisitions and minority investments in the U.S. peaked in 2016 at $45.9 billion, up from $17.7 billion in 2015, according to Bloomberg data. Chinese deals in 2017 so far are behind 2016’s pace at $23.6 billion. Several Chinese deals have fallen apart this year after encountering objections from CFIUS, an interagency panel that reviews foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies for national security risks. The panel is led by the Treasury Department and includes officials from the Defense, State and Justice departments among others. While CFIUS can impose changes to deals, only the president can block them.

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Wonder where Britain will be in 5 years, 10.

S&P: Britain’s £200 Billion Consumer Debt Boom Is ‘Unsustainable’ (BI)

Double-digit growth in UK consumer debt this year should alarm British lenders, according to credit rating agency Standard and Poor’s. S&P said in a report on Tuesday that consumer credit — which constitutes borrowing like car finance and credit cards — has climbed over £200 billion this year in a low-interest rate market, and warned that losses from lenders could lead to ratings agencies downgrading UK lenders. The agency added that while near-term credit risk remains low, “the recent double-digit annual growth rate in U.K. consumer credit would be unsustainable if it continued at the same pace.” The report also highlighted the Bank of England’s concern over consumer credit levels, which have grown by 10% this year while household income growth has grown by only 2%.

“The Bank of England’s recent assessment of stressed losses on consumer credit lending, brought forward as part of its annual stress test results, also indicates that the regulator is concerned that the resilience of these portfolios may be reducing,” it said. S&P Global Ratings credit analyst Joseph Godsmark said lenders had not been seriously tested on their ability to pull back lending since the 2008 financial crisis. “Although we consider that near-term credit risk remains low, past experience shows that lenders find it hard to avoid inherent cyclicality in consumer credit, and the impact can be severe,” he said.

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End of an era.

Mario Draghi Is Preparing For His Final Act As ECB President (BBG)

Mario Draghi is preparing for the final act in his dramatic tenure as ECB president. The ECB’s meeting on Thursday to discuss how and when it should bring large-scale bond purchases to an end is one of the most keenly anticipated by investors and economists since early 2015 when the program was unveiled. The decision will be announced at 1:45 p.m. in Frankfurt and Draghi will speak 45 minutes later. It’s something of a crossroads for the ECB chief, who faced down the sovereign-debt crisis and near-deflation in the euro area but may end his term in October 2019 without reaching the central bank’s inflation goal or raising interest rates. The Governing Council looks likely to cut monthly asset purchases from 60 billion euros ($71 billion) and stretch them out for as long as capacity allows while it waits for consumer-price growth to pick up.

The president won’t want to repeat the mistake of his predecessor Jean-Claude Trichet who raised interest rates twice in his final months in charge in 2011, only for Draghi to reverse the hikes shortly after taking office. Economists in a Bloomberg survey foresee a nine-month extension of quantitative easing at around 30 billion euros a month, starting in January. There are a range of potential outcomes though – with some officials pushing for QE to end sooner, Bloomberg economists expect a six-month extension at €40 billion. Most commentators expect the ECB to keep its pledge to extend the program further if needed. The central bank is also considering highlighting a related measure: the reinvestment of the proceeds of bond holdings as they mature. That additional spending, which will average about €15 billion a month in 2018 and could run for years, could work as a shock absorber amid any market concerns about the pullback in stimulus.

Economists don’t expect any change to the forward guidance that interest rates will remain unchanged until “well past” the end of net asset purchases. They foresee a rate hike, which would be the first under Draghi’s presidency, only in the first half of 2019 at the earliest. A critical factor for the ECB is the amount of debt still available under its own rules. Some officials see room for little more than €200 billion of purchases in 2018, which would bring total holdings to around €2.5 trillion.

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It’s happening. It’ll be painful.

Sydney Apartment Market Has Cracked (Aus.)

As readers know I have been warning the nation that our banking industry is undertaking a property credit squeeze on a scale not seen for decades. For the most part the regulators and the bankers are inexperienced and are operating in silos so have not understood the combined power of the weapons they are using. Many will be shocked at the results of their actions and by what is to come. In putting numbers to the extent of the fall readers need to understand that the cracking process has been sudden and parts of the Sydney apartment market and other Sydney residential property markets have yet to receive the impact. Many will not fall as much as the big Sydney apartment estate markets, which also led the rise. If you want a headline figure, apartments sold as used apartments in the big Sydney apartment estates have fallen by at least 20%.

The fall rate for individual sales can rise to 25%. These are huge declines by any measure although in Melbourne 18 months after the 1987 share crash falls of 50% were common. However the price fall in new apartments bought either off the plan or as the developer sells a completed apartment are down in the vicinity of 12%. As I will describe later there are good reasons for the difference. And so a hypothetical apartment bought by an investor or a residential buyer for, say, $1 million in the boom (most two bedroom apartments were selling for between $1.2 million and $1.4 million) is now selling for $800,000 — a 20% decline. If I want to buy that hypothetical $1 million apartment off the plan or as a completed unit it would cost about $880,000 — a 12% decline.

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She has to amend TPP to get it done.

New Zealand To Ban Foreign Buyers Snapping Up Existing Homes (G.)

New Zealand is planning to ban foreign buyers from purchasing existing homes in an attempt to tackle a housing crisis by halting a trend among the world’s wealthy to snap up property in the country. The restrictions announced by the prime minister-designate, Jacinda Ardern, are likely to be closely watched by other countries around the world also facing housing shortages and price rises driven by foreign investors. At 37, Ardern has become New Zealand’s youngest leader for 150 years. New Zealand has become a destination for Chinese, Australian and Asian buyers and has gained a reputation as a bolthole for the world’s wealthy – who view it as a safe haven from a potential nuclear conflict, the rise of terrorism and civil unrest, or simply as a place to get away from it all.

The country has become a hotspot for wealthy Americans seeking an escape from political upheaval elsewhere, who view it as a stable nation with robust laws and far from potential conflict zones. Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and a Facebook board member and donor to Donald Trump’s campaign, is among those to have purchased property in New Zealand. Global financiers have been increasingly snapping up properties in the country. Speaking at the annual gathering of the world’s elite in Davos, Robert Johnson, the president of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, said: “I know hedge-fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.”

Reports by Bloomberg and the New Yorker have suggested dozens of Silicon Valley futurists are secretly preparing for doomsday, acquiring boltholes in the country. Jack Ma, the man behind Alibaba, China’s answer to Amazon and its richest man, is also reported to have shown interest in buying a home there. Land sales to foreign buyers are booming in New Zealand, with 465,863 hectares (1.16m acres) bought in 2016, an almost sixfold increase on the year before. That is the equivalent to 3.2% of farmland in a country of 4.7 million people.

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The price of freedom. Pray for peace.

Almost 1,400 Companies Have Left Catalonia Since October 2 (ZH)

A total of 1,394 companies moved their headquarters from Catalonia to other regions of Spain between 2 and 23 October, according to data from the Association of Commercial Registrars of Spain. On Monday, a total of 92 companies emerged, after recording highs at the end of last week. As El Economista reports, the vast majority (1,255) of the companies that left Catalonia had their headquarters in the province of Barcelona, while 25 left Gerona, 57 moved from Lleida and 57 did so from Tarragona. In the period between 2 and 9 October, the number of companies leaving Catalonia was 219 entities, while this figure rose to 551 companies until day 11, to 700 companies until October 16, to 805 until day 17, 917 until Wednesday 18, 1,185 until Thursday 19 and 1,302 until Friday 20. With the departures of Monday 23, there are already 1,394 companies.

The days with the greatest number of transfers of headquarters of Catalonia were 19 of October, with 268; on October 9, with 212 outgoing entities, and on October 10, with 177 companies. After the rebound experienced from day 16 (68 transfers), when the trend was that each day increased the number of exits, to the maximum of 19 (268 transfers), on Friday decreased the number of companies that changed their registered office outside of the community (117), a decline that continued this week (92 on Monday). Without taking into account weekends or holidays, every 15 minutes and a half leaves a company from Catalonia. For its part, a total of 55 companies from outside Catalonia moved their headquarters to the region between 2 and 23 October, 48 of them to the province of Barcelona. We wonder how that ratio will change after today…

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They’ve been in the same government for years. Gabriel should have spoken out sooner.

‘Schaeuble Has Reduced Europe To Rubble’ – German Foreign Minister (Tel)

Germany’s foreign minister launched an extraordinary attack on the country’s outgoing finance minister on Tuesday, exposing deep divisions within Angela Merkel’s government of the last four years. On the day Wolfgang Schäuble was elected speaker of the German parliament, Sigmar Gabriel accused him of “reducing Europe to a pile of rubble which has to put back together by others”. In an interview with several German newspapers, Mr Gabriel said the former finance minister had “succeeded in turning almost all EU member states against Germany” with his hardline stance against Eurozone bailouts. What made the outburst more remarkable was that Mr Gabriel served alongside Mr Schäuble as economy minister and vice-chancellor for much of the period he was describing.

Mr Schäuble has long been a divisive figure in European politics. As Mrs Merkel’s long-serving finance minister, he is feted in Germany for presiding over a period of economic strength. But he is hated in countries like Greece for his deep-seated aversion to bailing out the poorer performing economies of southern Europe. The foreign minister’s outburst is the first sign that Mr Schäuble’s policies were disliked much closer to home — within Mrs Merkel’s government. Mr Gabriel led his Social Democrats (SPD) into coalition with Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) in 2013 — only for his party to suffer its worst ever defeat in last month’s election. Although the SPD has announced it is going into opposition, Mr Gabriel and other ministers are staying on in a caretaker government while Mrs Merkel holds talks on putting together a new coalition with the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens.

The 75-year-old Mr Schäuble agreed to become speaker to free up the finance ministry, which the FDP is widely expected to demand as the price for its support. He was elected unopposed in Tuesday’s first sitting of the newly elected parliament. But in a sign that Mr Gabriel had spoken for many in his party, his nomination was not applauded from the SPD benches, against tradition.

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Jan 092017
 
 January 9, 2017  Posted by at 10:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE Giant Trump Chicken

Locating Fascism on the Home Map (Ford)
‘The Bull Market Is In Its Final Inning’ (CNBC)
Chinese Warns Trump: End One China Policy And China Will Take Revenge (R.)
It’s Gonna Be Huge: China Factory Hatches Giant Trump Chickens (AFP)
How Meaningful Will China “Opening Up” Markets To Foreigners Be? (BBG)
China Tightens Rules After Anti-Corruption Staff Caught Up In Graft (R.)
China’s Pyrrhic Growth Victory Spurs 2017 Shift To Contain Risks (BBG)
The Rise, Fall and Comeback Of China’s Economy Over The Last 800 Years (BI)
Australia Predicts Dramatic Fall In Iron Ore Prices (BBC)
FBI Arrests Volkswagen Exec on Conspiracy Charges in Emissions Scandal (NYT)
UK Motorists Launch Class-Action Suit Against VW (G.)
Le Pen: I’ll Come To Brussels And Dismantle France’s Relationship With EU (EUK)
Beppe Grillo Calls For Five Star Movement Vote On Quitting Farage Bloc (G.)
New Cold Snap, Heavy Snowfall Causes Problems Across Greece (Kath.)

 

 

Hear hear!

Locating Fascism on the Home Map (Ford)

In decadence and decline, the U,S. has produced two strong strains of fascism that now vie for supremacy. The First Black President, now outgoing, represents the “cosmopolitan, global obsessed” variety of fascist. Donald Trump hails from an older fascist strain, “crude and petty, too ugly for global prime time.” At this stage in history, the two corporate parties seem incapable of producing anything other than fascists of one kind or the other.

Barack Obama was a savior – of a drowning ruling class. Under his administration, Wall Street rose from near-death to new heights of speculative frenzy, awash in capital brutally extracted from the vanishing assets and past and future earnings of the vast majority of the population, or gifted in the form of trillions in free money at corporate-only Federal Reserve windows. The Big Casino, reduced to a rubble of its own contradictions in 2008, ushered in the New Year just shy of the once-fantastical 20,000 mark. Analysts credited Donald Trump’s victory for the bankers’ bacchanal, but it was Obama who made the party possible by overseeing the restructuring of the U.S. economy to accommodate and encourage the hyper-consolidation of capital – another way to describe the deliberate deepening of economic (and political) inequality. Having accomplished the mission assigned him by Wall Street in return for record-breaking contributions to his first campaign, Obama is said to be angling for a hot-money squat in Silicon Valley, the super-rich sector that was most supportive of his presidency.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is melting quicker than the Wicked Witch of the West, principally due to the failure of traditionally Democratic working (and out of work) people of all races to turn out on November 8 – a perfectly understandable response to a party and a system that offers them absolutely nothing but grief, in ever quickening increments. The merciless downsizing of the American worker is a central element of Obama’s legacy. Real wages had been frozen or declining for decades. However, economic restructuring in the Age of Obama demanded that millions of workers be crushed all the way through the floor to a lower level of hell: temporary, contract, not-really-a-job, part-time “gig” employment. If the 1930s squatter shanty-towns called “Hoovervilles” were testaments to President Herbert Hoover’s economic policies, then the maddeningly precarious, no guaranteed hours, no benefits, zero job security, fraction of a shift, arbitrarily scheduled employment of today should be called ObamaJobs. A new study by economists at Princeton and Harvard universities shows that an astounding 94% of the 10 million jobs created during the First Black President’s two terms in office were ObamaJobs.

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“Risk has been priced out of the market..”

‘The Bull Market Is In Its Final Inning’ (CNBC)

As investors await the Dow Jones 20,000 with baited breath, one widely followed chart watcher believes the current market rally is actually on its last legs. On Friday, blue chip shares in the Dow Industrial Average flirted with the psychologically charged 20,000 level, which have largely been driven higher by anticipation over President-elect Donald Trump’s business-friendly policies. Yet a few observers think the party is nearly over, and the punch bowl is about to run dry. “Risk has been priced out of the market,” said Sven Henrick of NorthmanTrader.com on CNBC’s “Futures Now.” Henrich, who is known online as the Northman Trader, said that despite the abundance of optimism on the part of investors, technical indicators could be pointing to some near-term pain.

According to the Northman’s chartwork, every time the S&P 500 Index has hit new highs, it eventually retreats back towards its 25-day moving average line, which would translate to a 4% pullback from current levels. The S&P 500 has rallied 6% since the election, and hit an intraday record high on Friday. “I would expect that at some point there would be a buying opportunity for people who may want to invest in this market,” said Henrich. “But if this line breaks, we may see significantly more downside that we’ve seen in previous corrections as well.” What’s more, Henrich also believes that the S&P 500 has continued to trade in a “bearish wedge pattern” that began just after the end of the last recession.

The wedge pattern Henrich speaks of consists of two trend lines: One that runs along the S&P’s highs and a second that runs along its lows, that look to meet sometime in 2017. It is at that point that Henrich believes the rally will have run its course, and a downside will soon follow. On a fundamental basis, the Northman Trader is troubled by “record debt levels” that the global governments have incurred. “In 2016, the U.S. government ran a deficit of over $600 billion,” explained Henrich.” “If we now add tax cuts and stimulus spending, you’re either going to have to cut a significant amount of programs somewhere, or you’re going to end up with an even larger deficit.”

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For domestic use only?

Chinese Warns Trump: End One China Policy And China Will Take Revenge (R.)

State-run Chinese tabloid Global Times warned U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that China would “take revenge” if he reneged on the one-China policy, only hours after Taiwan’s president made a controversial stopover in Houston. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen met senior U.S. Republican lawmakers during her stopover in Houston on Sunday en route to Central America, where she will visit Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador. Beijing had asked Washington not to allow Tsai to enter the United States and that she not have any formal government meetings under the one China policy. A photograph tweeted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott shows him meeting Tsai, with a small table between them adorned with the U.S., Texas and Taiwanese flags. Tsai also met Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

“Sticking to (the one China) principle is not a capricious request by China upon U.S. presidents, but an obligation of U.S. presidents to maintain China-U.S. relations and respect the existing order of the Asia-Pacific,” said the Global Times editorial on Sunday. The influential tabloid is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily. Trump triggered protests from Beijing last month by accepting a congratulatory telephone call from Tsai and questioning Washington’s commitment to China’s position that Taiwan is part of one China. “If Trump reneges on the one-China policy after taking office, the Chinese people will demand the government to take revenge. There is no room for bargaining,” said the Global Times.

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“..mimic his signature hand gestures with their tiny wings.”

It’s Gonna Be Huge: China Factory Hatches Giant Trump Chickens (AFP)

A Chinese factory is hatching giant inflatable chickens resembling Donald Trump to usher in the Year of the Rooster. The five-metre (16-foot) fowls sport the distinctive golden mane of the US president-elect and mimic his signature hand gestures with their tiny wings. Cartoon figures of animals from the Chinese zodiac are ubiquitous around Chinese New Year at the end of this month. The balloon factory is selling its presidential birds for as much as 14,400 yuan ($2,080) on Chinese shopping site Taobao for a 10-metre version.


A golden mane and tiny wings that mimic his hand gestures – the resemblence of inflatable chickens produced for the Chinese New Year to US President-elect is unmistakable (AFP Photo/Johannes EISELE)

“I saw his image on the news and he has a lot of personality, and since Year of the Rooster is coming up I mixed these two elements together to make a Chinese chicken,” factory owner Wei Qing told AFP. “It is so funny, so we designed it and tried to sell it and it turned out to be popular.” The cartoon balloon appeared to be based on a sculpture designed by US artist Casey Latiolais, which was unveiled at a shopping mall last month in Taiyuan, capital of the northern province of Shanxi. Wei said he was not aware that the American designer had created the original, but added that “there are some differences in the facial expression. And that one is glass. Ours is inflatable.”

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“If we do get any reforms this year, they are going to be Potemkin reforms. The veneer will look like they are moving to a market economy, and the reality will be anything but.”

How Meaningful Will China “Opening Up” Markets To Foreigners Be? (BBG)

China’s recent policy of opening its markets to foreigners is expected to continue this year, but there are questions about how meaningful the change will be amid a clampdown on money leaving the country. While China loosened restrictions on its interbank bond market and relaxed rules for offshore investors trading stocks, it also saw $762 billion head overseas in the first 11 months of last year, according to Bloomberg Intelligence estimates, as investors sought safety in foreign assets. That helped push the yuan down 6.5% against the dollar in 2016, the most since 1994. Seeking to stem the flow, mainland authorities tightened rules that contributed to MSCI Inc. refusing to add Chinese-listed shares to its global indexes.

China’s regulators have indicated that this year foreigners might be allowed to access commodity futures and bond derivatives, while MSCI will again consider adding mainland stocks. But concerns remain about how open China’s markets will be, especially on the issue of taking assets out of the country. The contrast highlights the tension authorities face between inviting more investment while keeping control of the financial sector. “I’d describe China’s strategy as a pipeline strategy. Essentially what they do is to create various pipelines of inflows and outflows,” said John Greenwood, London-based chief economist at Invesco Asset Management. “The problem is the flows are always in the opposite direction of what they want.”

Among last year’s steps, Beijing lifted almost all quotas on China’s interbank bond market and scrapped some constraints under the Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor program, which governs how offshore funds invest in mainland markets. The Shenzhen-Hong Kong stock exchange link, the second between the mainland and the former British colony, opened in December. Expectations then rose as an official with the People’s Bank of China said the central bank is committed to further opening the interbank market, including giving foreign investors access to foreign-exchange and interest-rate derivatives to hedge risks, and expanding trading hours. Even as China opens up to incoming funds, it has been clamping down on outflows.

Officials have banned the use of friends’ currency quotas, made it more difficult to buy insurance policies in Hong Kong and prepared restrictions on overseas acquisitions by Chinese companies. Grants of new quotas for domestic fund managers to invest overseas were frozen, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The tightening of outflow rules makes it hard for some to say that the country is fully embracing financial reform. “We have already seen in China’s case, markets only work when they go up. You are not allowed to go down,” said Michael Every at Rabobank in Hong Kong. “If we do get any reforms this year, they are going to be Potemkin reforms. The veneer will look like they are moving to a market economy, and the reality will be anything but.”

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“500,000-plus corruption investigators..” Who are corrupt.

China Tightens Rules After Anti-Corruption Staff Caught Up In Graft (R.)

China’s top anti-corruption watchdog has tightened supervision of its 500,000-plus corruption investigators, after some of its own staff were caught in graft probes. The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a statement on its website late on Sunday that a new regulation would be applied to procedures such as evidence collection and case reviews, without providing further details. “Trust cannot replace supervision,” the CCDI said in the statement, released after it held an annual 3-day meeting. “We must make sure the power granted by the (Communist) Party and the people is not abused,” it said.

State newspaper the China Daily, which did not indicate its sources, said the new regulation would set clear standards on how to handle corruption tips, how to handle ill-gotten assets, and would encourage audio and video recordings to be made throughout interrogations. More than 7,900 disciplinary officials have been punished for wrongdoing since 2012, the newspaper said, citing CCDI figures. Of those, 17 were CCDI staffers who were put under investigation for graft, it said. On Friday, state news agency Xinhua quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as saying that the battle against corruption “must go deeper”, and called for the Communist Party to be governed “systematically, creatively and efficiently”.

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Stuck.

China’s Pyrrhic Growth Victory Spurs 2017 Shift To Contain Risks (BBG)

As China’s top leaders tallied the cost of another year of debt-fueled growth at a December meeting, the imperative for stability as a leadership reshuffle loomed later this year prompted an unexpected conclusion. The price was too high, the leaders agreed, according to a person familiar with the situation. The buildup of debt used to fuel smokestack industries from steel to cement had helped win the short-term battle for growth, but the triumph itself undermined the foundations of long-term expansion, the leaders decided, according to the person, who asked not to be named because the meeting was private. What followed was an order to central and local government officials that if they are forced to choose this year, stability must be the priority while everything else, including the growth target and economic reform, is secondary, said another four people familiar with the situation.

Other concerns aired at the meeting that contributed to the policy shift were the short-term risk of a confrontation with the U.S. under President-elect Donald Trump over trade or Taiwan, and longer-term challenges including how to spur the innovation needed to prevent economic stagnation as well as cleaning up toxic air that enrages and poisons citizens, said the person. Left unsaid was that economic growth underpins the legitimacy of Communist Party rule. “China’s reaching the point where it has to pick its poison and giving up a half%age point of growth would be far less politically damaging than instability in the bond or currency markets,” said David Loevinger, a former China specialist at the U.S. Treasury and now an analyst at fund manager TCW in Los Angeles. “Looking past the Party Congress later in the year, President Xi Jinping may realize that unlike his predecessor, Hu Jintao, he can’t kick the can to his successor, even more so if he plans on extending his term” beyond 2022.

At the December meeting, officials expressed alarm over the nation’s rapid accumulation of total debt, with some present noting that other nations have experienced crises after allowing debt to climb to about 300% of gross domestic product, the person said. China’s credit boom may have pushed overall debt at the end of 2016 to 265% of GDP. Also aired at the meeting was the risk that China falls into the so-called Thucydides trap, a theory attributed to the eponymous Greek philosopher that says a rising power will clash with an established force. So menacing is the array of economic and political challenges confronting the nation that some leaders at the meeting said there’s no prospect for yuan appreciation against the dollar until at least 2020, said the person. “Tapping the brakes may help avoid the economy skidding off the road,” said Frederic Neumann at HSBC in Hong Kong.

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Interesting point of view.

The Rise, Fall and Comeback Of China’s Economy Over The Last 800 Years (BI)

China’s economy led its European counterpart by leaps and bounds at the start of the Renaissance. China was so far ahead, in fact, that economic historian Eric L. Jones once argued that the Chinese empire “came within a hair’s breadth of industrializing in the fourteenth century.” At the start of the 15th century, China already had the compass, movable type print, and excellent naval capacity. In fact, Chinese Admiral Zheng He commanded expeditions to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Western Asia, and East Africa from about 1405-1433 – about a century before the Portuguese reached India. He also had ships several times the length of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, the largest of Columbus’ three ships that crossed the Atlantic.

Still, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of the shift China’s economic fortunes have seen just with historical anecdotes. And so, in a recent note to clients, Macquarie Research’s Viktor Shvets included two fascinating charts showing the changes China saw over the last 800 years, which we included below. The first chart shows the estimated percent share of a given country’s economy as a part of the overall world economy. In the 15th and 16th centuries, China was about 25-30% of the global economy, but come 1950-1970, after the destruction of World War II and under the rule of Mao Zedong, it was under 5%. Today, its economy is about 17% of the global economy – roughly the same as the US.

The second chart compares GDP per capita in China, Japan, and the US to the British GDP per capita measured in 1990 US dollars. In this case, the British GDP per capita in each year is 100, so if a number from China, Japan, or the US is above 100, then its GDP per capita is greater than in Britain, and if the number falls below 100, per capita output is lower than that in Britain. As Shvets writes, on a per capita basis, China was the wealthiest part of the world in the 1200-1300s — aside from Italy. Even as late as the 1600s it was roughly on par with the Brits. However, after that, the GDP per capita relative to Britain declines all the way up to the 1970s, when it was below 10% of the British standard of living. Around 1990, it starts to pick up again, but it has yet to recover to levels seen in 1200-1600.

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And what does this say about China?

Australia Predicts Dramatic Fall In Iron Ore Prices (BBC)

Shares in Australian mining companies have fallen after the government forecasted a dramatic decline in iron ore prices. The government forecast an iron ore price of $46.70 a tonne by 2018, almost half the current level of $80. The current price is supported by resurgent demand from China. But the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science said that demand was unlikely to continue over the coming years. The department also lowered its forecast for iron ore exports by 2% to 832.2 million tonnes for the fiscal year 2016-17. Australia is the world’s biggest supplier of iron ore and shares in the country’s main mining companies fell after the report was released. Hardest hit was Fortescue Metals which fell more than 3% in early trade, while commodity giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto also saw their shares prices drop. In its forecast early last year, the department had predicted an iron ore price of $44.10 per tonne, but an increase in Chinese demand spurred the price to above $80.

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This guy’s been lying outright to US authorities.

FBI Arrests Volkswagen Exec on Conspiracy Charges in Emissions Scandal (NYT)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested a Volkswagen executive who faces charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States, two people with knowledge of the arrest said on Sunday, marking an escalation of the criminal investigation into the automaker’s diesel emissions cheating scandal. Oliver Schmidt, who led Volkswagen’s regulatory compliance office in the United States from 2014 to March 2015, was arrested on Saturday by investigators in Florida and is expected to be arraigned on Monday in Detroit, said the two people, a law enforcement official and someone familiar with the case. [..] In a statement, Jeannine Ginivan, a spokeswoman for Volkswagen, said that the automaker “continues to cooperate with the Department of Justice” but that “it would not be appropriate to comment on any ongoing investigations or to discuss personnel matters.”

Lawsuits filed against Volkswagen by the New York and Massachusetts state attorneys general accused Mr. Schmidt of playing an important role in Volkswagen’s efforts to conceal its emissions cheating from United States regulators. Starting in late 2014, Mr. Schmidt and other Volkswagen officials repeatedly cited false technical explanations for the high emissions levels from Volkswagen vehicles, the state attorneys general said. In 2015, Mr. Schmidt acknowledged the existence of a so-called defeat device that allowed Volkswagen cars to cheat emissions tests. Volkswagen eventually said that it had fitted 11 million diesel cars worldwide with illegal software that made the vehicles capable of defeating pollution tests. [..] James Liang, a former Volkswagen engineer who worked for the company in California, pleaded guilty in September to charges that included conspiracy to defraud the federal government and violating the Clean Air Act. But Mr. Schmidt’s arrest brings the investigation into the executive ranks.

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Settling the UK alone could cost VW £3.6 billion.

UK Motorists Launch Class-Action Suit Against VW (G.)

Thousands of British motorists have launched a lawsuit against Volkswagen over the “dieselgate” emissions scandal, in a claim that could end up costing the carmaker billions of pounds. The group of 10,000 VW owners has filed a class action lawsuit against the German car firm, seeking £30m, or £3,000 each. If VW ends up having to pay the amount to each one of the 1.2 million people in the UK who own affected cars, including its Skoda, Audi and Seat marques, it would cost the company around £3.6bn.The German firm has yet to reach a settlement with British and European owners affected by the scandal, in which the company admitted using “defeat devices” to cheat emissions tests, making its cars appears greener than they were.

It has not compensated British owners despite reaching a £15bn settlement with 500,000 US drivers, offering instead to fix affected vehicles. The class action suit, which is being led by law firm Harcus Sinclair, is expected to claim that drivers should be compensated because they paid extra for what they thought were clean diesel cars. In fact, the claimants will allege, the cars emitted far higher levels of NOx – a mixture of pollutants nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide – than stated. Damon Parker, head of litigation at Harcus Sinclair, told the Daily Mail that claimants were “angry and believe that VW might get away with it”. “They feel that they have been left with no choice but to take legal action,” Parker said. “We have paved the way for consumers who trusted but were let down by VW, Audi, Seat and Skoda to seek redress through our courts.

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My guess is pollsters and media will get this as wrong as they got Brexit and Trump.

Le Pen: I’ll Come To Brussels And Dismantle France’s Relationship With EU (EUK)

Marine Le Pen announced her first foreign visit would be to Brussels to dismantle France’s relationship with the EU if elected president later this year. The National Front leader has been a long-time critic of the EU and has promised to push back the sprawling European superstate and take back sovereignty to France. The 48-year-old said: “I would go to Brussels to immediately launch negotiations allowing me to give back to the French people their sovereignty.” The right-wing leader attacked the faltering euro currency as one of the root problems of the EU and described her main economic proposals as “economic patriotism, intelligent protectionism and a return to monetary independence”. She added: “The euro is a major obstacle to the development of our economy.”

Le Pen mooted that she was in favour of maintaining a form of common currency mechanism between France and the EU to help prevent sharp currency fluctuations. Recent opinion polls predicted that Le Pen would finish second in April’s first round of voting – putting her through to the next round in a run-off against Les Repubicain’s François Fillon. If pollsters are correct, France would be guaranteed a right-wing leader after five years of left-wing leadership from Francois Hollande.

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Farage got his price, Grillo still has nothing. Weird to ally himself with Verhofstadt, but it’s how Brussels is set up: you either force yourself into some group or you don’t count.

Beppe Grillo Calls For Five Star Movement Vote On Quitting Farage Bloc (G.)

The founder of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement (M5S) has asked members to vote on splitting from a Eurosceptic bloc of MEPs co-chaired by Nigel Farage. Beppe Grillo, a comedian turned politician, said in a post on his blog that since Farage had led Ukip to Britain voting to leave the EU, the two parties no longer shared common goals and he recommended leaving the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). “Recent events in Europe, such as Brexit, have led us to reconsider the nature of the EFDD group,” Grillo wrote. “With the extraordinary success of the leave campaign, Ukip achieved its political objective: to leave the EU. “Let’s discuss the concrete facts: Farage has already abandoned the leadership of his party and British MEPs will leave the European parliament in the next legislature. Until then, our British colleagues will be focused on developing the choices that will determine the UK’s political future.”

Grillo and Farage forged an alliance over lunch in Brussels after 2014’s European elections, in which Ukip took the largest share of the vote in Britain and M5S came second in Italy after winning 17 seats. Both said at the time that the group was aimed at “restoring freedom and national democracy”, with Farage adding: “Expect us to fight the good fight to take back control of our countries’ destinies.” In a move that would see his party mesh with European liberals, Grillo has called an online referendum, scheduled for Sunday and Monday, on breaking away and instead forming a new group with the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), led by the former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, who is also the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. Grillo has long called for a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro currency, but not on Italy leaving the EU.

With ALDE’s 68 MEPs, the alliance could become the “third political force in the European parliament”, Grillo wrote, while pointing to the fact that his party had only voted alongside Ukip about 20% of the time within the past few years. He said the two shared values linked to “direct democracy, transparency, freedom and honesty”. “With our vote we can make a difference and influence the result of many important decisions to counter the European establishment,” Grillo added. Farage said in a statement: “In political terms it would be completely illogical for Five Star to join the most Euro fanatic group in the European parliament. The ALDE group doesn’t support referenda or the basic principle of direct democracy. ALDE are also the loudest voice for a EU army. I suspect if Five Star joins ALDE it’s support will not last long.” A Ukip spokesman said: “Both Ukip and Five Star are free to choose to stay or quit a political relationship. While it’s interesting that some Five Star MEPs adamantly wish to stay in the EFDD group, as adults we wish them all the best whatever they do.”

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The scandal spreads and deepens. Tens of millions have been handed to NGOs to prepare for winter, and they simply haven’t done it. While those of us that could make it happen don’t have the money. People have to die first?

New Cold Snap, Heavy Snowfall Causes Problems Across Greece (Kath.)

A new cold snap brought snowfall to many parts of the country, leaving the Sporades islands of Alonissos and Skopelos without a ferry connection to the mainland and the Aegean islands of Lesvos and Chios struggling to care for hundreds of migrants amid freezing temperatures. Schools remained closed in many parts of the country due to heavy snowfall, including in the northern suburbs of Athens. According to meteorologists, the bad weather is set to continue through Wednesday. From Monday evening, the cold snap is forecast to spread to eastern Macedonia, Thrace, Halkidiki, the northern Aegean, the Sporades and across Crete. Storms are also likely at sea.


Moria camp, Lesbos, Jan 7

Temperatures are set to drop to -16 degrees Celsius in western Macedonia. The icy conditions left many households in the Thessaloniki region without water as pipes froze or broke. Most schools in the region were to remain closed on Monday due to heavy snowfall and low temperatures. The cold snap has made road travel risky in many parts of the country with motorists advised to fit their cars with anti-skid chains in northern areas.


Moria camp, Lesbos, Jan 7

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Sep 112016
 
 September 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:28 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing No caption, Washington DC 1915

Fed Dove Frets About Asset Bubbles, Wall Street Freaks Out (WS)
Hostage to a Bull Market (Jim Grant)
Leverage Soars to New Heights as Corporate Bond Deluge Rolls On (BBG)
On Nov. 8 Americans Decide To Either Rescue The Banks Or The Consumer (RI)
Wells Fargo Opened a Couple Million Fake Accounts (BBG)
It’s Business As Usual At Wells Fargo After Record Fine (MW)
New Zealand Prepares for the Party to End (Hickey)
Italy’s Renzi: At Last Hollande Is With Us, We Can Cause A Stir (Kath.)
Yanis Varoufakis’s Fantasy Politics (Jacobin)
Greek PM Tsipras Pledges Growth Amid Protests, Austerity Plans (AP)
EU Adds €115 Million In Aid For Migrants In Greece (DW)
Rescuers Bring 2,300 Migrants To Safety From Mediterranean on Saturday (R.)

 

 

There’s only one solution: take away from central banks their current powers to manipulate markets and economies.

Fed Dove Frets About Asset Bubbles, Wall Street Freaks Out (WS)

When Boston Fed governor Eric Rosengren, a voting member of the Federal Open Markets Committee, where monetary policy is decided, shared some aspects of his worries on Friday morning, markets tanked instantly. This came just after the ECB’s refusal to please the markets with promises of additional bond purchases. Instead, it stuck to the promises it had made previously. What a disappointment for markets running on nothing but central-bank mouth-wagging and money-printing! [..] In his speech, Rosengren discussed how the US economy has been “fairly resilient” and is near “reaching the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate from Congress (stable prices and maximum sustainable employment),” despite all the global headwinds, some of which he enumerated.

And so, he said, “a reasonable case can be made for continuing to pursue a gradual normalization of monetary policy.” Hence, rate increases, even though there were some “conflicting signals” in the economic data – “Clearly, the first two quarters did not live up to the forecasts,” he said. But “waiting too long to tighten” would expose the economy to two risks: First, the economy overheats – the belated tightening might “require more rapid increases in interest rates later in the cycle,” which will likely “result” in a recession, as it did “frequently” in the past. And second, asset bubbles – “that some asset markets become too ebullient.” He pointed at commercial real estate prices that “have risen quite rapidly over the past five years, particularly for multifamily properties.”

He added: Because commercial real estate is widely held in the portfolios of leveraged institutions, commercial real estate cycles can amplify the impact of economic downturns as financial institutions need to write down the value of loans and cut back on lending to maintain their capital ratios. And what a bubble it is. Over the past 12 months, prices have jumped only 6%, according to the Green Street Commercial Property Price Index, compared to the double-digit gains in prior years. “Equilibrium,” the report called it. The index has soared 107% from May 2009, and 26.5% from the peak of the totally crazy prior bubble that ended with such spectacular fireworks:

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Excellent from Grant, fully in line with Nicole’s series the past week.

Hostage to a Bull Market (Jim Grant)

If there is a curse between the covers of this thin, self-satisfied volume, it doesn’t have to do with cash, the title to the contrary notwithstanding. Freedom is rather the subject of the author’s malediction. He’s not against it in principle, only in practice. Ken Rogoff is a chaired Harvard economics professor, a one-time chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and (to boot) a chess grandmaster. He laid out his case against cash in a Saturday essay in this newspaper two weeks ago. By abolishing large-denomination bills, he said there, the government could strike a blow against sin and perfect the Federal Reserve’s control of interest rates. “The Curse of Cash,” the Rogoffian case in full, comes in two parts.

The first is a helping of monetary small bites: a little history (in which the gold standard gets the back of the author’s hand), a little central-banking practice, a little underground economy. It’s all in the service of showing where money came from and where it should be going. Terrorists traffic in cash, Mr. Rogoff observes. So do drug dealers and tax cheats. Good, compliant citizens rarely touch the $100 bills that constitute a sizable portion of the suspiciously immense volume of greenbacks outstanding—$4,200 per capita. Get rid of them is the author’s message. Then, again, one could legalize certain narcotics to discommode the drug dealers and adopt Steve Forbes’s flat tax to fill up the Treasury. Mr. Rogoff considers neither policy option. Government control is not only his preferred position.

It is the only position that seems to cross his mind. Which brings us to the business end of this production. Come the next recession, the book’s second part contends, the Fed should have the latitude to drive interest rates below zero. Mr. Rogoff lays the blame for America’s lamentable post-financial-crisis economic record not on the Obama administration’s suffocating tax and regulatory policies. The problem is rather the Fed’s inability to put its main interest rate, the federal funds rate, where it has never been before. In a deep recession, Mr. Rogoff proposes, the Fed ought not to stop cutting rates when it comes to zero. It should plunge right ahead, to minus 1%, minus 2%, minus 3% and so forth.

At one negative rate or another, the theory goes, despoiled bank depositors will stop saving and start spending. According to the worldview of the people who constitute what Mr. Rogoff fraternally calls the “policy community” (who elected them?), the spending will buttress “aggregate demand,” thus restore prosperity. You may doubt this. Mr. Rogoff himself sees difficulties. For him, the problem is cash. The ungrateful objects of the policy community’s statecraft will stockpile it. What would you do if your bank docked you, say, 3% a year for the privilege of holding your money? Why, you might convert your deposit into $100 bills, rent a safe deposit box and count yourself a shrewd investor. Hence the shooting war against currency.

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Historians will see us as too deluded to be true.

Leverage Soars to New Heights as Corporate Bond Deluge Rolls On (BBG)

Here’s a gut check for bond investors: corporate America is now more leveraged than ever. As this year’s corporate bond sales raced past $1 trillion on Wednesday – marking the fifth consecutive year of trillion-plus issuance – Morgan Stanley published a report Friday highlighting the growing strains on company balance sheets. The report, which estimated US companies’ collective debt at a record 2.4 times their collective earnings as of June, comes at a time of growing angst in global bond markets “The investment-grade ‘safe’ part of the market is becoming the most dangerous,” said Ashish Shah, CIO at AllianceBernstein. “There are so little returns out there. People are crowding into whatever they can.”

The debt metric, which doesn’t include banks and other financial companies, has climbed for five straight quarters as corporate profits decline at the same time companies load up on the increasingly cheap borrowings, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Adam Richmond wrote in a note to clients. In 2010, when the U.S. economy started recovering from the longest recession since the Great Depression, the ratio fell to 1.7 times. But what has the analysts uneasy isn’t just the speed at which leverage is climbing, but that it’s happening while the economy continues to grow. “Leverage tends to rise most in a recession – so the fact that it is this high in a ‘healthy economy’ is even more concerning,” the analysts wrote. In other words, they said, “mistakes are both more likely and more costly.”

The analysts’ assessment wasn’t totally worrisome. Years of near-zero interest rates have made it a lot easier to service those debt loads. The typical company’s annual earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, known as Ebitda, is still almost 10 times its interest payments, Morgan Stanley’s data shows. Even that number has been declining, though, as earnings slump.

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“Today, consumption can only increase if someone hands out money. This money cannot be earned by companies, because consumers are unable to buy additional products.”

On Nov. 8 Americans Decide To Either Rescue The Banks Or The Consumer (RI)

Recently, the Fed decided not to change interest rates. Various reasons were given, but as we know, there are two “parties” in the US, one which favors monetary easing, and the other, tightening, and each has arguments for their case. Economists are divided on how to proceed. They disagree on precisely this: which economic policies can facilitate growth in our times? A brief look at the last 50 years provides some context. In the 70s, household incomes fell, most of all from 1972-73, and with them, spending. Starting in 1981, (Reaganomics!), spending began to rise, but income, hardly at all. Economic growth was due to increased consumption driven by a rise in household debt, and from 2008 on, in government debt. If we look at real disposable household income, it is the same today as it was in the early 60s.

Today, average household debt is 120% of annual income, whereas up until 1981 it never exceeded 65%. Note too, that in 1981, the discount rate was 19%, whereas today it is practically zero. Today, consumption can only increase if someone hands out money. This money cannot be earned by companies, because consumers are unable to buy additional products. So the only way is to increase debt. But lowering interest rates is impossible because they are already at zero. So there are two options: 1) print money and hand it out to people through the banks, with the understanding that this money will not be returned, or 2) restructure the existing debt, both personal and corporate, in the hopes that then people will start to consume.

In order to do this, interest rates would have to be raised to at least 3-4%, with the banks taking a major hit, because their customers cannot service their loans at those rates… Voila the collision of interests between the people and the banks. Unsurprisingly, the two US candidates disagree on this issue. Clinton is for option 1, i.e. more monetary easing (helping the banks), and Trump is for tightening (helping the people). The choice, of course, lies with the American voter.

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And nobody in management noticed a thing?

Wells Fargo Opened a Couple Million Fake Accounts (BBG)

[..] Wells Fargo was fined $185 million by various regulators for opening customer accounts without the customers’ permission, and that is bad, but there is also something almost heroic about it. There’s a standard story in most bank scandals, in which small groups of highly paid traders gleefully and ungrammatically conspire to rip-off customers and make a lot of money for themselves and their bank. This isn’t that. This looks more like a vast uprising of low-paid and ill-treated Wells Fargo employees against their bosses. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which fined Wells Fargo $100 million, reports that about 5,300 employees have been fired for signing customers up for fake accounts since 2011. You’d have a tough time organizing 5,300 people into a conspiracy, which makes me think that this was less a conspiracy and more a spontaneous revolt.

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“Wells Fargo’s punishment comes to only 0.9% of the $22.9 billion that the bank earned last year..”

It’s Business As Usual At Wells Fargo After Record Fine (MW)

“The fine is a rounding error, and I don’t see any unintended consequences.” So said FBR analyst Paul Miller, describing the $185 million in fines and penalties, plus another $5 million for “customer remediation,” that Wells Fargo agreed to pay. Wells Fargo’s punishment comes to only 0.9% of the $22.9 billion that the bank earned last year. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) found “widespread unlawful practices” at the third-largest U.S. bank by assets, including the opening of “hundreds of thousands” of accounts by employees without customers’ knowledge so employees could hit lofty sales targets. The fine was the largest levied since the CFPB’s founding in 2011.

Shares of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo fell 2.4% at the close of regular trading Friday, in line with the benchmark S&P 500 suggesting a low level of worry among investors. But there could be longer-term consequences for the bank’s reputation, as Federal Reserve Gov. Daniel Tarullo said during a CNBC interview that criminal charges against bank officers should be pursued. In Wells Fargo’s more than 6,000 retail branches, there has long been a culture of cross-selling as many products to customers as possible, which has been a big part of the bank’s success for decades, according to Marty Mosby, director of bank and equity strategies at Memphis, Tenn.-based broker-dealer Vining Sparks.

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I’m afraid the walls will have to come crumbling down before Kiwis accept their reality.

New Zealand Prepares for the Party to End (Hickey)

Should we all celebrate? Or sink into a great depression, or run for the nearest bunker? It’s hard to know how to react to the news Auckland’s average house value rose over $1 million in August. Auckland’s homeowners should in theory be celebrating their good fortune and voting for more of the same. Anyone who invested just over $53,000 of their money in 2011 to buy an average Auckland house with a 90% mortgage would now be sitting on tax-free capital gains of $486,000. Indeed, some are celebrating. New car sales are at record highs and spending in Auckland’s cafes, bars and restaurants is growing at double-digit rates. But it’s not the sort of go-for-broke debt-fuelled spending binge like the one we saw from 2002-07 when mortgage lending grew at an annual rate of 15%.

Mortgage debt grew 9% in the last year and most people think it has peaked, given the Reserve Bank’s latest restrictions on low deposit lending and a limit on debt to income multiples expected next year. Most Aucklanders don’t believe the manna from the great housing gods in the heavens is real enough to go withdrawing from their household ATMs, which is why the lending growth is relatively subdued. They can also feel in their bones that house prices at 10 times incomes are hyper≠ventilated, if not downright over-valued. New Zealand’s house-price-to-income multiple is the second-most-expensive relative to long run averages in the OECD (behind Belgium), and is the most expensive relative to rents in the OECD. That overvaluation has grown more than any other country in the OECD over the past six years.

This is not the sort of world champion tag we want. The $1m milestone is clearly a moment of despair for those young Aucklanders aspiring to own a home and start a family, particularly those whose parents were also renters. The combination of the price rises and the new LVR rules mean they face decades of saving for a deposit, let along being able to borrow the hundreds and hundreds of thousands to buy a home. All they can hope for is to win Lotto or to marry into a rich family. Another response is to hunker down and prepare for an implosion, which means saving madly to repay debt ahead of the housing market end-times and to diversify into other types of assets. This isn’t so much a celebration as a preparing for the party to be shut down.

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Really?

Italy’s Renzi: At Last Hollande Is With Us, We Can Cause A Stir (Kath.)

After the EU-Mediterranean summit in Athens on Friday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expressed his satisfaction that French President Francois Hollande joined Alexis Tsipras’s initiative to form a front against austerity, Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper reported on Saturday. “At last, Hollande is with us, he got over his indecisiveness,” the paper quoted Renzi as saying. “Now we can take action.” On the flight back to Rome from Athens, Renzi appeared more than satisfied with the outcome of the summit, the paper reported. Renzi is said to have expressed relief, in comments to journalists, that Hollande signed a declaration embracing the policies that Italy and other southern European countries are promoting. “Now we are many, we can cause a stir,” Renzi is reported to have said, adding that he expected that “in the future the balance of power will change.”

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Much as I appreciate Yanis, I’m afraid I have to agree with much of this article. Reforming the EU is akin to reforming the mob. Why not put your energy into an organization that exists ‘parallel’ to the EU?

Yanis Varoufakis’s Fantasy Politics (Jacobin)

To his credit, Varoufakis at least recognizes that progressives “have no alternative” but a “head-on clash with the EU establishment,” since the European Union simply cannot be reformed to make it more democratic. But, he nonetheless insists, leftists must not support referenda to leave the EU. He offers two confused reasons for this. First, since exit referenda are “movements that have been devised and led primarily by the Right,” it is “unlikely” that joining them “will help the Left block their opponents’ political ascendancy.” This left defeatism is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Left refuses to lead exit referenda campaigns, of course the running will be left to the Right. And since the Left cannot convincingly defend the European Union, that leaves the Right to benefit.

Secondly, Varoufakis suggests that restoring national democracy will mean the end of the free movement of “workers.” “Given that the EU has established free movement, Lexit involves acquiescence to – if not actual support for – the reestablishment of national border controls, complete with barbed wire and armed guards.” Leaving aside the fact that left-wing leadership could theoretically persuade an electorate to accept open borders, this defence of the EU is simply bizarre. The European Union is very far from “borderless” (his word). It has created free movement not for “workers,” but for EU citizens, albeit limited for the citizens from accession countries.

But for non-EU workers, the European Union has established Fortress Europe: “barbed wire and armed guards” surround the continent, resulting in thousands of dead Africans and Asians in the Mediterranean Sea, and hundreds of thousands more languishing in squalid conditions in southeast Europe (including Varoufakis’s own home country, Greece) and Turkey. Moreover, the migration crisis has led to the restoration of “barbed wire and armed guards” across the continent. The idea that the European Union safeguards some sort of workers’ paradise of open borders against right-wing revanchism is ludicrous.

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Growth is a pipedream wih half your young people long term unemployed (which kills economic activity), wages as low as €100 a week, and pensions at €380 a month (both of which kill consumption).

Greek PM Tsipras Pledges Growth Amid Protests, Austerity Plans (AP)

Greece’s prime minister promised Saturday to deliver economic growth to a country hammered by years of economic hardship, as thousands gathered in protest at more planned austerity measures. About 15,000 protesters – beating drums, waving black flags and holding helium balloons bearing anti-government slogans – took part in demonstrations, marching through the center of Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki, where Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke on the state of the nation’s economy. “In five disastrous years … a quarter of our national wealth was destroyed, disposable income fell by 40%, unemployment soared to 28% and the level of poverty rose to 38%,” Tsipras told an audience of politicians and business leaders, referring to governments before he took office in early 2015.

“Now, all the indications are that this chapter is closing…Finally, we are going from a negative direction to a positive one.” As expected Tsipras said that €246 million, the proceeds of a recent auction of TV licenses, would go toward the “needs of the welfare state.” He promised 10,000 new jobs at state hospitals, thousands more free meals at schools, more kindergarten places and a program aimed at bringing back young Greeks who left the country due to the crisis. “Every last euro of the €246 million will go the people,” he said. He also heralded a 5-year action plan – “a realistic road map for the recovery of the economy and reduction of burdens” – that would bring about a “new Greece” by 2021 and promised to freeze the social security contributions of self-employed Greeks as well as reducing taxes in two years time.

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I had to read 5-6 versions of this, in order to find where the money would be going. Turns out, as I feared, that it goes not to the Greeks but to -mostly- international NGOs, who’ve done a far from stellar job. Give a fraction of the €115 million to Konstantinos and his O Allos Anthropos ‘movement’ that we support, and many more people get help. That this is still needed despite the 100s of millions of euros doled out to those NGOs says more than enough. International NGOs are way too expensive and inefficient. So please click that link and help The Automatic Earth help where it counts.

EU Adds €115 Million In Aid For Migrants In Greece (DW)

The European Union will provide humanitarian organizations in Greece an additional €115 million on top of €83 million from earlier this year, the European Commission said on Saturday. “The European Commission continues to put solidarity into action to better manage the refugee crisis, in close cooperation with the Greek Government,” Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Christos Stylianides said. “The new funding has the key aim to improve conditions for refugees in Greece, and make a difference ahead of the upcoming winter.”

About 60,000 refugees and migrants are stranded in Greece due to border closures implemented earlier this year in the Balkans. Rights organizations have documented poor conditions in overcrowded camps. The new funding will help improve existing shelters and build new ones, pay for a voucher system for migrants, and provide education and other support to unaccompanied minors. It will be channelled via humanitarian organizations. The EU’s emergency support aid is in addition to financial assistance given under other funding programmes.

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A routine day.

Rescuers Bring 2,300 Migrants To Safety From Mediterranean on Saturday (R.)

Rescuers pulled 2,300 migrants to safety on Saturday in 18 separate rescue operations in the Mediterranean coordinated by the Italian coast guard. A Spanish boat belonging to an EU naval force, an Irish navy vessel and boats of four non-governmental organizations were involved in the rescue operations, the coast guard said in a statement. It did not say where the migrants, who were traveling in 17 rubber vessel and one small boat, originally came from. Since moves to stop people crossing from Turkey to Greece, Europe’s worst migrant crisis since World War Two is now focused on Italy, where some 115,000 people had arrived by the end of August, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

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Mar 172015
 
 March 17, 2015  Posted by at 12:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


DPC Shoppers on Sixth Avenue, New York City 1903

Bull Market Is ‘Closer To The End’ Than Investors Think (MarketWatch)
Europe’s Trapdoor Slams Shut (Vilches)
March 23 Tsipras, Merkel Talks Could Be Chance To Break Impasse (Kathimerini)
Greek PM Tsipras Says There Is No Going Back To Austerity (Reuters)
Austerity Policy Failed In Whole Of Europe, Not Just Greece – Tsipras (RT)
ECB Reports Only €9.8 Billion In Bond Purchases In First Full Week Of Q€ (ZH)
If Greece Exits, Don’t Expect Us To Follow: Italy (CNBC)
Italy’s Debt Burden Now At Record High 132% Of GDP (RT)
China Trust Firms Shift, Rather Than Reduce, Shadow Banking Risk (Reuters)
A US Shadow Banking Sector Has Gotten 65 Times Larger (CNBC)
Corporations Get $760 Back For Every $1 of US Political Donations (Zero Hedge)
The Volatility / Quantitative Easing Dance of Doom (Nomi Prins)
Public Banking: Ayn Rand’s Worst Nightmare (Phillip Doe)
American Amoeba (Jim Kunstler)
US Intel Stands Pat on MH-17 Shoot-Down (Robert Parry)
Petrobras Scandal Widening as Braskem Named in Morass (Bloomberg)
A $250,000 Tour With One Aim: Get Chinese to Buy a Home
Nationwide Protests In Canada To Denounce New Anti-Terror Law (RT)
Nuclear Expert Arnie Gundersen Warns Of ‘Chernobyl On Steroids’ In UK (Ind.)
Great Barrier Reef Wins Protection With Ban on Waste Dumping (Bloomberg)
Earth Has Exceeded Four Of The Nine Limits For Hospitable Life (Ind.)

“Rising interest rates can provide significant headwinds to a bull market..”

Bull Market Is ‘Closer To The End’ Than Investors Think (MarketWatch)

Spring training has begun, and with it the dreams of baseball fans everywhere that this year their team will win it all. On Wall Street, investors hope that one of the longest bull markets in memory can keep rolling. But one All-Star who called this bull from its outset now thinks we’re in the seventh-inning stretch, possibly the top of the ninth. Jim Stack is the president of Whitefish, Montana-based InvesTech Research, which is on the Hulbert Financial Digest’s Honor Roll of top newsletters over the past 15 years, and Stack Financial Management, which manages more than $1 billion of investors’ money. He’s been cautious for some time, as we wrote last January. Now, in a special alert, he suggests that subscribers cut their equity exposure to 76% of their holdings, from 80%, and put the rest in cash.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s actually the lowest equity and highest cash position he’s recommended since the bull market began in March 2009. “We’re most likely in the later third of the bull market and closer to the end than we think,” Stack said in an exclusive interview with MarketWatch. And maybe even the final year. “We could see this bull market peak this year, whether it’s already done so or could within the next six to nine months.” If the bull continues through May and the S&P 500 Index adds another 5% to its March 2 all-time closing high of 2017.48, this will be the third-longest and third-biggest bull market of the past 80 years, Stack said. But although bull markets don’t die of old age, there are signs “it’s getting ‘late in the bull game,’ ” he wrote.

Stack is troubled by what he sees as the media’s frothy coverage of the economy. The reaction to the latest jobs report — “Jobs Boom Continues” and “Party Like It’s 1999” were two headlines I found — prompted his latest “sell” signal. “The U.S. economy is hitting on all cylinders,” he said. “Bull markets characteristically peak when you have strong economic news and pressures on the Federal Reserve to take away the punch bowl.” He sees anecdotal evidence of mounting wage pressures, putting the Fed on course to raise rates later this year. We may get more clarity after the Fed’s March meeting ends Wednesday. “Rising interest rates,” he explained, “can provide significant headwinds to a bull market,” which he calls “one of the more interest-rate-sensitive bull markets in our lifetime.”

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“..the Greek ‘impossible triangle’ can be solved in great style as Alexander the Great had in solving the Gordian Knot.”

Europe’s Trapdoor Slams Shut (Vilches)

Nothing has changed with the ‘new’ agreement between Greece and its European ‘partners’ because the Greek so-called ‘impossible triangle’ stands in their way. The three mutually incompatible vertices of the Greek ‘impossible triangle’ are : (1) The Syriza ruling party staying in power. (2) Reversing the current Troika austerity programs. (3) Greece staying in the euro. The uncompliable list of promises made to the Greek people by Syriza has now been replaced by an equivalent uncompliable list of promises made to the Troika. The European soul-searching exercise is thus over, leaving no further room for self-correction. The Troika is back in Athens with yet heavier boots on the ground pushing for the very same things it always wanted –and needs– from exemplary Greece.

Meanwhile, government money is running out fast, as we speak. Near term payments of all sorts have been jeopardized with no solution in sight. Major events –including a referendum– are highly probable very soon in Greece, way before the June ‘agreed’ reset date which can’t solve anything anyway. Thus, the stage has been set for the Pan-European Grand Project to come apart at the seams. The 2010 – 2012 press rehearsal is over, now it’s for good. Adrift in European shallow waters, the Greek ship will now run aground into unchartered political rocks. Europe’s own trapdoor has slammed shut. [..]

So here comes the Alexander-the-Great moment for Greece whereby the Gordian knot has to be cut apart, high and dry. Because no matter the rationale or how the problem is sliced… or temporarily postponed… by having Vertex 1 and 2 firmly embodied into the Greek current power structure, the final outcome necessarily means the devaluation of the Greek currency, namely the euro (or rather the Deutsche Mark?) And that means Grexit. Additionally, repudiating the USD $0.5 trillion real, effective sovereign debt (***) would jump start the Greek economy with primary account surplus on the ‘get go’ similarly to what happened in Argentina. Russia and/or China would probably (and eagerly) take it from there for their own good reasons. So with Vertex 3 demolished, the “impossible triangle” is instantly solved and both Greece and Euclidian geometry would find themselves back in business… with a lot of hardship ahead.

There will be no shortage of costs, both inside and outside of Greece, both inside and outside of Europe. But such costs would be far lower for everybody than having Greece turn into an anomic state. Greeks know this already and Europeans are finally finding out. There will also be additional Grexit losses because of the euro area GDP reduction. That’d be another Eurozone problem, not Greece’s, something which Brussels, Paris and Berlin should have thought about long ago. So make no mistake: the Greek ‘impossible triangle’ can be solved in great style as Alexander the Great had in solving the Gordian Knot.

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Finally the long overdue invitation.

March 23 Tsipras, Merkel Talks Could Be Chance To Break Impasse (Kathimerini)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on March 23 for talks expected to focus on Greece’s looming cash crunch even as bilateral tensions remain high. Tsipras is expected to use the meeting, proposed by Merkel on Monday, to seek a “political solution” to the current deadlock that would allow the release of much-needed funding. However, sources close to Merkel indicated that Athens should not foster high hopes for the meeting. “Our aim is the implementation of the February 20 agreement and to keep Greece in the eurozone,” a source said. In the meantime, technical experts from the Greek side and the creditors will continue talks in Brussels on Wednesday as diplomats prepare for an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday and Friday.

Tsipras had been planning to raise the matter of Greece’s funding needs and reform proposals with the German chancellor on the sidelines of the summit. Sources conceded that the meeting is likely to be “difficult,” adding that Tsipras may also seek a meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Sources close to Tsipras welcomed Merkel’s overture to the Greek premier, noting that she had so far rejected the prospect of a bilateral meeting. During a phone call with Tsipras on Monday, Merkel underlined the critical nature of the current situation and suggested that a face-to-face meeting would be a good idea, sources said.

The meeting could be the last chance for the two leaders to avert an impasse which some prominent Greek government officials blame on “circles in the EU” that want the current administration to fall and are pushing it to implement measures the previous conservative-led coalition had agreed to. In an interview with Ethnos newspaper published on Monday, Tsipras insisted that further tough measures were out of the question. “Whatever obstacles we may encounter in our negotiating effort, we will not return to the policies of austerity,” Tsipras told Ethnos. One reason that creditors appear to be holding a hard line is the Greek government’s delay in enforcing economic reforms. Another is a series of initiatives that have been interpreted as aggressive vis-a-vis Greece’s creditors, notably Tsipras’s decision to resurrect the country’s demands for war reparations from Germany.

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And he means it too.

Greek PM Tsipras Says There Is No Going Back To Austerity (Reuters)

Greece will not accept any return to austerity, leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday, adding that he was convinced he would strike a deal with international partners to keep finances afloat. “The key for an honorable compromise (with the EU/IMF creditors) is to recognize that the previous policy of extreme austerity has failed, not only in Greece, but in the whole of Europe,” Tsipras told daily Ethnos in an interview. Greece’s left-wing government won elections in January on a pledge to roll back budget rigor and renegotiate the terms of a €240 billion bailout. But it has faced resistance from euro zone partners who are unwilling to offer major compromises.

Although Athens has been granted a four-month extension to the bailout deal, the Feb. 20 accord did not give Greece access to aid pledged to it from the euro zone and the International Monetary Fund, which has led to a cash crunch. To obtain the remaining aid, Athens must agree on a revised package of reforms. With cash running low, the government has sought to issue more short-term debt, but the European Central Bank has so far refused to give its green light. Tsipras said the bailout policies of the last five years had led to an unprecedented recession, record unemployment and a humanitarian crisis. Athens could find common ground with its partners based on its proposed reforms, but talks remain tough.

“Whatever obstacles we may encounter in our negotiating effort, we will not return to the policies of austerity,” the prime minister said. Asked whether the government had an alternative plan if its partners continued to refuse it any leeway on its funding needs, Tsipras said he expected the issue would be resolved at this week’s EU summit, scheduled for March 19 and 20. “I don’t believe we will need to apply alternative plans because the issue will be solved at a political level by the end of the week in the run up to the EU summit, or, if necessary, at the EU summit (itself),” he told the paper.

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And here’s why.

Austerity Policy Failed In Whole Of Europe, Not Just Greece – Tsipras (RT)

The policy of extreme austerity has failed not only in Athens, but in the whole of Europe, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said. His comments come as the standoff with key creditor Germany mounts. “The key for an honorable compromise (with the EU/IMF creditors) is to recognize that the previous policy of extreme austerity has failed, not only in Greece, but in the whole of Europe,” Tsipras said in an interview to daily Ethnos, Reuters reports. The prime minister is convinced he’ll reach an agreement with international creditors to keep the country’s finances afloat. Tsipras’ pre-election promise to drop austerity helped him win support from Greeks, but the prime minister’s anti-austerity tone has slightly faded since then.

His reform plan worked out in late February to get a bailout extension caused protests against the Tsipras cabinet. People were angry as they felt the new government had failed to fulfill its anti-austerity election pledge. On Monday, the prime minister reaffirmed his government would not return to austerity whatever it takes. “Whatever obstacles we may encounter in our negotiating effort, we will not return to the policies of austerity,” Tsipras was cited as saying by Reuters. He also expressed hopes that the issue would be resolved at the EU summit, scheduled for March 19 and 20.

“I don’t believe we will need to apply alternative plans because the issue will be solved at a political level by the end of the week in the run up to the EU summit, or, if necessary, at the EU summit (itself),” he said. Greece’s bailout program extension was approved by the so-called troika of lenders in February; nevertheless, Greece hasn’t received the aid from the ECB. Athens must agree on a revised package of reforms in order to obtain the remaining aid from the eurozone and IMF. The prime minister also blames eurozone austerity for the country’s unprecedented recession. Since 2010, when Greece undertook the austerity measures, the economy has lost a quarter of its value, a third of Greeks live below the poverty line and the unemployment rate has reached 30%.

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They’re all looking for escape velocity…

ECB Reports Only €9.8 Billion In Bond Purchases In First Full Week Of Q€ (ZH)

Unlike the Fed, the ECB’s Q€ program is far more opaque, far more ad-hoc, and far more improvised (and at the rate it is soaking up already negligible collateral as JPM explained yesterday, soon to be far more abbreviated). In fact, without a daily POMO preview (such as what the Fed used to provide) nobody has any idea what is going or what the ECB will be buying until a week after the fact. Today, for the first time, the ECB provided the bare minimum data on its “Public sector purchase program” i.e., how much debt it had purchased in the first week of the ECB’s QE. The answer: only €9.8 billion.

This being the central bank which refused to respond to a Bloomberg FOIA seeking to uncover what the ECB knew when, about Goldman’s Greek FX swaps, don’t expect any additional data breakdown, such as which CUSIPs the ECB has purchased, or which nations benefitted the most from the ECB’s money printing generosity. All of that information may lead to the heads of ordinary European peasants exploding, and who can blame the ECB. After all this comes from a central bank servicing a current Commissioner who said “there can be no democratic choice against the European treaties” and whose former Commissioner said “democratic governments are often wrong. If you trust them too much they make bad decisions.”

In fact, it is best to not give any information to these “democratic governments” and their constituent peasantry at all. Because a few central-planning BIS bankers always know best. Snyde comments about Europe’s democratic union aside, the take home, and why we said “only”, is that a mere €9.8 billion in bond purchases was enough to break the European bond market, to expose the complete lack of collateral and in the process soak up all available liquidity. So less than €10 billion down, €1.1 trillion to go, and the ECB hopes to have something resembling a bond market left afterwards? Good luck.

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“Because the fundamentals in Italy have very much strengthened over the recent past..” Yeah, right. Wait till you see the artcile below this one.

If Greece Exits, Don’t Expect Us To Follow: Italy (CNBC)

No matter what the Greeks may say, Italy is not at risk of leaving the euro if Greece does, Italy’s Finance Minister told CNBC. “I think that any relationship between ‘Grexit’ and Italy is out of place,” said Pier Carlo Padoan, using the parlance for a Greek exit from the currency zone while speaking on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti conference on Lake Como. “Italy has significantly strengthened its position. Italy is gaining a lot of confidence in the markets.” Greece and its European partners are in the middle of tough negotiations over the conditions Greece must meet in order to secure billions more in bailout money.

Without those funds, Greece is at high risk of having to put capital controls in place, which would significantly raise the likelihood that the country would leave the 19-member currency union. New Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has repeatedly told reporters, hedge fund managers, and anyone else who will listen that if Greece were to leave the Euro, the markets would start to price in the risk of Italy leaving the currency zone as well. When asked if Varoufakis is right, he responded: “I don’t know whether it is right. I think that any ‘Grexit’ option would be very bad, and I think it’s [in the] interest of everybody to be united within the euro and to move toward a stronger growth prospect for Greece.”

Padoan added that he does not believe that Italy would face substantially higher interest rates in the face of Greek exit. “I don’t think so, because to the extent that [interest rates] price risk, the Italian risk will not increase as a consequence of a Greece accident,” he said, then adding, “Because the fundamentals in Italy have very much strengthened over the recent past as for instance the assessment by the commission of our fiscal and growth position shows.”

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Nothing much has improved, has it?

Italy’s Debt Burden Now At Record High 132% Of GDP (RT)

Italy’s debt load is now €2.1659 trillion, the Bank of Italy said Friday. The country’s public debt increased by €31 billion in January, bringing the total close to the record-high of €2.1677 billion euro recorded in July 2014. Italy’s public debt is only second to Greece in the eurozone. The main reason debt spiked in January is because the Treasury increased its available liquidity, or money supply, by €36.3 billion euro, bringing the total to €82.6 billions, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported Friday. Gross domestic product to debt in Italy is near 132%, compared to 127.9% in 2013, or 102% two years ago.

Italy, the third largest economy in Europe, has had its economic woes overshadowed by the looming crisis in Greece. Rome hasn’t seen quarterly growth since mid-2011, and the economy is in need of economic resuscitation. Though the European Commission isn’t monitoring Italy as strictly as Greece, Rome’s budget is still under “special surveillance.”The European Commission mandated debt-to-GDP target is 60%. Italy’s growth forecast for 2015 is 0.5%, a much rosier picture after the economy’s less than stellar performance in 2014, when growth stagnated in the fourth quarter. In 2016, Italy’s central bank expects 1.5% expansion.

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The $8+ trillion elephant in the China shop.

China Trust Firms Shift, Rather Than Reduce, Shadow Banking Risk (Reuters)

China’s trust firms, with total assets of $2.2 trillion, are shifting more cash into frothy capital markets and over-the-counter (OTC) instruments instead of loans – blunting regulators’ efforts to reduce shadow banking risk. By redirecting money into capital markets and OTC products like asset-backed securities (ABS) and bankers’ acceptances, trusts are acting less like lenders and more like hedge funds or lightly regulated mutual funds. And the shift – a response to a clampdown last year on trust lending to risky real estate and industrial projects – means a significant chunk of shadow banking risk is migrating rather than shrinking. China trusts take in funds from retail and institutional investors and re-lend or reinvest that money, often in parts of the economy that struggle to obtain bank credit, like mid-sized private enterprises or municipal industrial projects.

As of end-2014, total trust assets were 14 trillion yuan, according to China Trust Association data. Previously, people who bought into opaque wealth management products, many of which were peddled by banks but actually backed by trust assets, found themselves heavily exposed to real estate loans. Trust firms’ changing asset mix means these investors may now instead find themselves exposed to high-yield corporate debt (junk bonds), volatile stock funds or risky short-term OTC debt instruments. While this could help keep the wealth management industry running, and by extension help the trust industry stay afloat, it could delay efforts to properly price risk. A Reuters analysis of China Trust Association data shows that while loans outstanding grew just 8% last year – far below the 62% growth in 2013 – growth in obscure asset categories including “tradable financial assets” and “saleable fixed-term investments” was 77% and 47%, respectively.

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Just what we needed. But CNBC says it’s all just fine: they have evolved…

A US Shadow Banking Sector Has Gotten 65 Times Larger (CNBC)

Shadow banking in general has come back to life after getting hammered during the financial crisis, but one segment has been especially rampant. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending, in which loans are made privately through individuals who most often connect through a network of relatively new websites, has exploded over the past five years. It is now the fastest-growing sector of non-bank lending, according to an exhaustive Goldman Sachs report on the shadow banking industry. The P2P industry had just $26 million in loan issuance back in 2009, as the worst of the banking crisis passed; but that figure now stands at a robust $1.7 billion.

While that’s still a fraction of the total $12 trillion in loans across the U.S., and even pales in comparison to the $4 trillion in total shadow bank loans, it represents a growth of 65 times during the period. “Personal lending (installment and card) is likely to continue to see disruption as the benefits of a lesser regulatory burden, lower capital requirements and a slimmer cost structure [over time] drive pricing advantages for new players…leading to share moving away from traditional players,” Goldman said in its report. Broadly speaking, shadow banking refers to nonbank lending, with total liabilities in the industry put at $15 trillion. That’s a decline from the 2007 peak of $22 trillion.

The name originated from former Pimco executive Paul McCulley, who used it to describe the myriad institutions that helped provide the easy-money financing that led to the subprime mortgage market crash, which in turn triggered the financial crisis. While the term became a pejorative closely tied to the crisis, the industry has evolved. As banks find themselves under tighter regulatory scrutiny, customers are turning back to nonbank lenders for financing. The shadow firms don’t face the same regulatory burdens as banks, because they don’t take deposits and are thus less constrained when making loans.

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What a surprise, right?!

Corporations Get $760 Back For Every $1 of US Political Donations (Zero Hedge)

The first time we read the recent analysis by the Sunlight Foundation in which it combed through 14 million corporate records, including data on campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, federal budget allocations and spending, in order to determine the “rate of return” on lobbying and spending to buy political goodwill, we were left speechless. To be sure, we had previously shown that when it comes to the rate of return on lobbying, the rates were simply staggering, and ranged anywhere between 5,900% for oil subsidies, to 22,000% for multinational tax breaks and even higher for America’s legal drug dealers.

But nothing could prepare us for this. According to the foundation’s analysis, between 2007 and 2012, 200 of America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion (with a B) on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. What they gave pales compared to what those same corporations got: $4.4 trillion (with a T) in federal business and support. Putting that in context, the $4.4 trillion total represents two-thirds of the $6.5 trillion that individual taxpayers paid into the federal treasury. Said otherwise, by “spending: a paltry $6 billion to bribe the US government, or just a little more than what GM will spend on stock buybacks alone, US corporations are getting the direct benefit of two-thirds of US taxpayers’ labor!

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“Yellen had a seat at the Clinton administration banking deregulation table when Glass-Steagall was summarily dismantled..”

The Volatility / Quantitative Easing Dance of Doom (Nomi Prins)

What began with the US Federal Reserve became a global phenomenon of subsidizing the financial system and its largest players. Most real people – that don’t run hedge funds or big banks or leverage other peoples’ money in esoteric derivatives trades – have their own meager fortunes at risk. They don’t have the power of ECB head, Mario Draghi to issue the ‘buy’ order from atop the ECB mountain. Nor do they reap the benefits. Retail sales are down because people have no extra money and can’t take on excess debt through credit cards forever. They aren’t governments or central banks that can print when they want to, or big private banks that can summon such assistance at will. Federal Reserve Chair, Janet Yellen recently chastised these bankers. This, while the Fed has become their largest client and the world’s biggest hedge fund.

While she wags her finger, the Fed is paying JPM Chase to manage the $1.7 trillion portfolio of mortgage related assets that it purchased from the largest banks. In other words, somewhere along the line, the public is both paying to buy nefarious assets from the big banks at full value, thereby supporting an artificially higher price and demand for these and similar assets, and paying the nation’s largest bank for managing them on behalf of the Fed. Yellen says things like “poor values may undermine bank safety” and all of a sudden she’s on an anti-bank rampage? What about the fact that just six banks control 97% of all trading assets in the US banking system and 95% of derivatives? Or that 30 banks control 40% of lending and 52% of assets worldwide?

Think about the twilight zone squared logic of this. Yellen’s predecessors, Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke, enabled the path of the US banking system to become more concentrated in the hands the Big Six banks, which have legacy connections to the Big Six banks that drove the country to disaster during the 1929 Crash, and have been at the forefront of the nexus of political-financial power polices for more than a century. Yellen had a seat at the Clinton administration banking deregulation table when Glass-Steagall was summarily dismantled thereby enabling big banks to become bigger and more complex and risky. Those commercial banks that didn’t hook up with investment banks back then, got their chance in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008. They also concocted 75% of the toxic assets that were spread globally and the associated leverage behind them in the lead up to 2008.

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An alternative worth contemplating/

Public Banking: Ayn Rand’s Worst Nightmare (Phillip Doe)

A few weeks ago a Colorado grassroots group, Be the Change, of which I am a board member, sponsored an all -day conference on public banking. I know, it sounds like the equivalent of an all- day climate debate between aging Republican Senators, but the public banking concept may have some value, it might even surprise you. Indeed, it could provide a source of funding for desperately needed infrastructure, particularly at the local level. Over 20 states are looking into the public banking option. But only one, North Dakota has a public bank, and it dates from the populist era, early in the last century. In a recent WSJ article the North Dakota bank was lauded for having a return on investment of almost 20%, a 70% greater return than either Goldman-Sachs or J.P. Morgan, two of Wall Street’s best bullies.

From a short-term perspective, a public bank’s chief advantage is that revenues generated at the city, county, and state level from taxes and fees, stay in the state. They would no longer be sent to the grand casino that has become Wall Street where the prospects of another melt down grow. The recent actions of Congress make it likely that giant retirement funds such as Colorado’s public employee’s retirement plan, PERA, can be appropriated to cover Wall Street speculative losses should a melt down occur. Even FDIC insured personal accounts might be at risk. Moreover, the high management fees Wall Street charges for using our money to gamble with would be eliminated, thus greatly increasing the amount available for local and regional projects of wide public support and interest.

Critical to a public bank is its structure. If it looks like just another bank, public support and interest will be ho hum, at best. But if it is chartered so that management rests with a citizen advisory board, with a professional banking staff answering to them, interest will be sustained, with the public interest more likely to be served. And if the banking management is paid on a scale consistent with prevailing professional salaries within the state or region it serves, a sense of common or shared interest might be possible.

Adopting anything resembling Wall Street’s outrageous self-dealing in salary and bonus structures would be self-defeating. Salaries based on public sector pay for professionals should be the model. After all bankers are no better than engineers, teachers, and scientists, as the numerous bank failures throughout our history clearly demonstrate. Teachers have a much better success ratio and a much tougher work environment. In the long term, city and regional banks, the latter called mutual banks by public banking advocates, hold more promise. The closer to home the decision-making, the better the potential outcome is a truth self-evident. A dithering, science denying, money-corrupted, war-mongering Washington provides the mother of all counterpoints.

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“The transparent truthlessness of the Fed’s basic premises go far to explain the chasm between official policy and reality..”

American Amoeba (Jim Kunstler)

The money-moving world waits on tenterhooks for the Wednesday appearance of America’s oracle, Janet Yellen, to step out of her grotto and state whether or not she feels twinges of patience. Wikipedia notes that Pythia, the original priestess of Delphi “…delivered oracles in a frenzied state induced by vapors rising from a chasm in the rock, and that she spoke gibberish which priests interpreted as the enigmatic prophecies preserved in Greek literature.” Some things never change. Patience for what? Well, whether to raise the Federal Reserve’s benchmark short-term interest rate from near-zero to something microscopically above zero. This is what the world foolishly turns on. And, of course, also some oracular hint as to whether this momentous move might occur in April, June, September, or not at all.

Some canny observers of the vaudeville that US money policy has become — namely, Jim Rickards, David Stockman, Peter Schiff — maintain that Yellen and her Fed are boxed in and can really do nothing. Their policies and interventions regarding the flows of capital have done nothing so far but disable the normal operations of markets and distort the valuation of everything, especially the cost of renting money itself — for that is what happens when you take out a loan. The net result of all that is a financial picture that no longer reflects anything truthful about the actual economy, being a trade in goods and services.

The transparent truthlessness of the Fed’s basic premises go far to explain the chasm between official policy and reality — though it does not explain the appetite for plain lying of the supposedly informed minority cohort of the public, the deciders among us in business, politics, and media. For instance, the employment numbers that came out of the federal government ten days ago saying that the jobless rate is just over 5%. Everybody not in a special ed class in America knows that this is a barefaced lie. But nobody except a few mavericks on the web (see above) object to it. Lesser official oracles such as The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal report the lie without reservation and it gets absorbed into the body politic like any other morsel of protoplasm into the mindless amoeba that America has become.

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Comprehensive history of MH17 intel. US ‘intelligence’ hasn’t updated its data since July. Wonder why. Could it be that…?

US Intel Stands Pat on MH-17 Shoot-Down (Robert Parry)

Despite the high stakes involved in the confrontation between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States over Ukraine, the US intelligence community has not updated its assessment on a critical turning point of the crisis – the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – since five days after the crash last July 17, according to the office of the Director of National Intelligence. On Thursday, when I inquired about arranging a possible briefing on where that US intelligence assessment stands, DNI spokesperson Kathleen Butler sent me the same report that was distributed by the DNI on July 22, 2014, which relied heavily on claims being made about the incident on social media. So, I sent a follow-up e-mail to Butler saying: “are you telling me that US intelligence has not refined its assessment of what happened to MH-17 since July 22, 2014?”

Her response: “Yes. The assessment is the same.” I then wrote back: “I don’t mean to be difficult but that’s just not credible. US intelligence has surely refined its assessment of this important event since July 22.” When she didn’t respond, I sent her some more detailed questions describing leaks that I had received about what some US intelligence analysts have since concluded, as well as what the German intelligence agency, the BND, reported to a parliamentary committee last October, according to Der Spiegel. While there are differences in those analyses about who fired the missile, there appears to be agreement that the Russian government did not supply the ethnic Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine with a sophisticated Buk anti-aircraft missile system that the original DNI report identified as the likely weapon used to destroy the commercial airliner killing all 298 people onboard.

Butler replied to my last e-mail late Friday, saying “As you can imagine, I can’t get into details, but can share that the assessment has IC [Intelligence Community] consensus” – apparently still referring to the July 22 report. Last July, the MH-17 tragedy quickly became a lightning rod in a storm of anti-Russian propaganda, blaming the deaths personally on Russian President Vladimir Putin and resulting in European and American sanctions against Russia which pushed the crisis in Ukraine to a dangerous new level. Yet, after getting propaganda mileage out of the tragedy – and after I reported on the growing doubts within the US intelligence community about whether the Russians and the rebels were indeed responsible – the Obama administration went silent.

In other words, after US intelligence analysts had time to review the data from spy satellites and various electronic surveillance, including phone intercepts, the Obama administration didn’t retract its initial rush to judgment – tossing blame on Russia and the rebels – but provided no further elaboration either. This strange behavior reinforces the suspicion that the US government possesses information that contradicts its initial rush to judgment, but senior officials don’t want to correct the record because to do so would embarrass them and weaken the value of the tragedy as a propaganda club to pound the Russians.

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Haven’t reached the bottom of this pit by a long shot.

Petrobras Scandal Widening as Braskem Named in Morass (Bloomberg)

The staggering reach of Petroleo Brasileiro SA’s corruption scandal is getting even bigger. Braskem, Latin America’s biggest petrochemicals maker by sales, became the latest company implicated in testimony alleging it paid bribes to the state-controlled oil producer in return for contracts. While Braskem denied the accusations, its $750 million of bonds due 2024 plummeted 7.9% last week, the most among high-grade emerging-market debt. The allegations against Braskem underscore how pervasive the alleged kickbacks were in Brazil. The federal investigation has already embroiled the nation’s biggest builders and rig makers while fueling losses in the bonds of banks, the government and even a state pension fund.

“The whole scandal is damaging more and more Brazilian companies from all segments, and Braskem can be seen as the latest example,” Leonardo Kestelman, a money manager at Dinosaur Securities, said by telephone from Sao Paulo. “People just prefer to hit the sell button instead of waiting.” Sao Paulo-based Braskem denied any irregularities in its dealings with Petrobras in e-mail to Bloomberg News on March 11. “All the payments and contracts between Braskem and Petrobras followed the legal requirements and were approved in a transparent manner in accordance with the governance rules of both companies,” Braskem said. Braskem’s 6 billion reais ($1.8 billion) in cash and revolving credit facilities are enough to cover debt payments for the next 47 months, the company said.

“Braskem understands that the oscillation of its securities doesn’t reflect its credit quality,” the company said. Braskem also said that most of its revenue is tied to the dollar, which has surged against the real. Braskem paid annual bribes, initially set at $5 million, to buy crude derivatives such as naphtha and propylene at low prices from 2006 to 2012, ex-Petrobras executive Paulo Roberto Costa and admitted money launderer Alberto Youssef said in testimony published on the Supreme Court’s website on March 6.

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China prints monopoly money and has its people buy up America with it. And Australia, New Zealand etc.

A $250,000 Tour With One Aim: Get Chinese to Buy a Home

Just how confident is Los Angeles property broker Erik Coffin that he can interest Chinese clients in high-end Las Vegas villas? He’s charging $4 million a month for a quick glimpse. It isn’t just any tour. The marketing push is set to start next month for these twice-monthly journeys that cost $250,000 a pop for a seven-day, private jet and Rolls Royce-chauffeured trip to the American heartland. Eight-person groups also will be offered consultations on plastic surgery, picking the sex of a child and wealth-management.
“It’s already a win for us,” said Coffin, 42, who employs 18 Mandarin speakers, almost a third of his staff, at Gotham Corporate, which recently opened an office in Beijing Wealthy Chinese have been stocking up on overseas real estate for at least the past five years, according to SouFun, China’s biggest real estate website.

Now, entrepreneurs such as Coffin are banking on that demand to create an entirely new industry to cater to their needs – everything from websites and brokers to developers, lawyers and international marketers. “Chinese consumers used to come to us and say, ‘Where can I buy with $500,000?,’’ said Andrew Taylor, 44, who helps run Juwai.com, a four-year-old Shanghai-based real estate platform catering to Chinese clients seeking homes overseas. ‘‘Now they are looking at three or four countries at the same time.’’ Juwai, which means ‘‘Live Abroad,’’ says it has more than 4.8 million property listings in 58 nations. There’s no shortage of clients: 60% of China’s wealthiest are contemplating a move, the site says.

In Beijing, a marketing campaign sponsored by SouFun touts a 12-day ‘‘Gold-Digging U.S. tour.” The Chinese capital was also host last weekend to a three-day foreign property and immigration exhibition, the second of its kind in four months. Among destinations on offer: Portugal (“get a residence permit for the whole family”); Japan (“pass on your ownership for generations”); and the U.S. (again, “invest by one person, get a green card for the whole family”). “We used to think these buyers are local tycoons,” said Ben Liu, Shanghai-based marketing director at the American Regional Center for Entrepreneurs, which helps Chinese buyers invest in U.S. properties through the EB-5 program. “They are now entrepreneurs or higher mid-class professionals, such as doctors and engineers.”

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Five eyes squared.

Nationwide Protests In Canada To Denounce New Anti-Terror Law (RT)

Thousands of demonstrators have united across Canada to take action against proposed anti-terrorism legislation known as Bill C-51, which would expand the powers of police and the nation’s spy agency, especially when it comes to detaining terror suspects. Organizers of the ‘Day of Action’ said that “over 70 communities” across Canada were planning to participate on Saturday, according to StopC51.ca. The biggest gatherings were reported in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa and Halifax. “I’m really worried about democracy, this country is going in a really bad direction, [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper is taking it in a really bad direction,” protester Stuart Basden from Toronto, the Canadian city which saw hundreds of people come out, told The Star. “Freedom to speak out against the government is probably [in] jeopardy…even if you’re just posting stuff online you could be targeted, so it’s a really terrifying bill,” Basden added.

The ruling Conservative government tabled the legislation back in January, arguing that the new law would improve the safety of Canadians. Demonstrators across the nation held signs and chanted against the bill, which they believe violates Canadian civil liberties and online privacy rights. Protester Holley Kofluk told CBC News that the legislation “lacked specificity…it’s just so much ambiguity, it leaves people open [and] vulnerable.” One of the protest organizers in Collingwood, Jim Pinkerton, shared with QMI Agency that he would like to see the Canadian government “start over with Bill C-51 with proper safeguards and real oversight.” “We need CSIS to be accountable. It’s not OK for CSIS to act as the police, which is what’s indicated in Bill C-51. We need accountability and Canadians deserve that,” Pinkerton said.

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Yay! New nukes!

Nuclear Expert Arnie Gundersen Warns Of ‘Chernobyl On Steroids’ In UK (Ind.)

An American nuclear expert has warned that Westinghouse’s proposed reactor for Cumbria needs a $100m (£68m) filter to safeguard against a leak that would turn the region into “Chernobyl on steroids”. Arnie Gundersen lifted the lid on safety violations at a nuclear firm in 1990 – he claimed to have found radioactive material in a safe – and was CNN’s resident expert during the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011. Mr Gundersen told The Independent that he is concerned by designs for three reactors proposed for a new civil nuclear plant in Cumbria. A nuclear engineering graduate by background, Mr Gunderson believes that the AP1000, designed by the US-based giant Westinghouse, is susceptible to leaks.

The reactor has been selected for the proposed £10bn Moorside plant, a Toshiba-GDF Suez joint venture that will power six million homes. It is going through an approval process with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). Mr Gundersen, who visited the Sellafield nuclear facility in Cumbria last week, warned that any leak would be like “Chernobyl on steroids”, referring to the 1986 nuclear disaster that killed 28 workers within four months. He passed on some of these fears to MPs at an event in Parliament during his visit to the UK. He said: “Evacuation of Moorside would have to be up to 50 miles. You could put a filter on the top of the AP1000 to trap the gases – that would cost about $100m, which is small potatoes. “If this leaks it would be a leak worse than the one at Fukushima. Historically, there have been 66 containment leaks around the world.”

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Good.

Great Barrier Reef Wins Protection With Ban on Waste Dumping (Bloomberg)

Australia will ban companies from dumping waste in the Great Barrier Reef marine park, a victory for environmental groups that have long campaigned to protect the World Heritage-listed area. The entire 345,000 square kilometer (133,200 square mile) park will be protected under the plan to stop the disposal of dredging waste, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Monday. “Improving the Great Barrier Reef’s health and resilience requires governments and the community to work together,” Hunt said in a statement. The move will ensure the reef “remains one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth,” he said.

Environmental groups have campaigned against dredge dumping near the reef and last year lodged a legal challenge after North Queensland Bulk Ports Corp. was given the right to dispose of spoil from a coal port expansion at sea. Ports Australia said in a statement Monday the ban would threaten the nation’s economy and the long-term viability of ports in the northeastern state of Queensland. The government has “allowed misguided activism aimed at closing down Australian coal exports” to influence policy, Ports Australia CEO David Anderson said.

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And counting.

Earth Has Exceeded Four Of The Nine Limits For Hospitable Life (Ind.)

Humanity has raced past four of the boundaries keeping it hospitable to life, and we’re inching close to the remaining five, an Earth resilience strategist has found. In a paper published in Science in January 2015, Johan Rockström argues that we’ve already screwed up with regards to climate change, extinction of species, addition of phosphorus and nitrogen to the world’s ecosystems and deforestation. We are well within the boundaries for ocean acidification and freshwater use meanwhile, but cutting it fine with regards to emission of poisonous aerosols and stratospheric ozone depletion. “The planet has been our best friend by buffering our actions and showing its resilience,” Rockström said. “But for the first time ever, we might shift the planet from friend to foe.”

Rockström came up with the boundaries in 2007, and since then the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has risen to around 400 parts per million (the ‘safe’ boundary being 350 parts per million), risking high temperatures and sea levels, droughts and floods and other catastrophic climate problems. The research echoes a recent debate over whether the Earth has moved from the Holocene epoch to a new one scientists are calling the Anthropocene, named after the substantial effect mankind has had on the Earth’s crust. It’s not all doom and gloom though. “Ours is a positive, not a doomsday, message,” Rockström insisted. He is confident that we can step back within some of the boundaries, for example through slashing carbon emissions and boosting agricultural yields in Africa to soothe deforestation and biodiversity loss. “For the first time, we have a framework for growth, for eradicating poverty and hunger, and for improving health,” he said.

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