Jun 292017
 
 June 29, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Paul Klee Still Life 1929

 

Banks Unleash Big Payouts After Fed’s Stress Tests (BBG)
Yellen Questioned As China Debt Surpasses 300% Of GDP (CNBC)
Corporations Are Still The Largest Buyer Of Stocks (BBG)
NYSE President Targets Short Sellers (WS)
Forget Fake News, Investors Should Realize The Markets Are Fake (CNBC)
CNN’s Van Jones: “The Russia Thing Is Just A Big Nothing Burger” (ZH)
CNN Proclaims Trump’s War On Media “Is Physically Endangering Reporters” (ZH)
The Presstitutes, Not Russia, Interfered in the US Presidential Election (PCR)
Schaeuble Bemoans EU ‘Loophole’ Used in Italy Banks’ Rescue (CNBC)
Accept Demands or it’s Goodbye Qatar (GulfNews)
Scientists Fear “Supervolcano” Eruption At Yellowstone (ZH)
World’s Plastic Binge ‘As Dangerous As Climate Change’ (G.)

 

 

If you needed any more proof that the Fed has caused the crisis.

Banks Unleash Big Payouts After Fed’s Stress Tests (BBG)

The Federal Reserve told big banks they have more than enough capital, and they promptly announced a windfall for their shareholders. JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America led U.S. firms in unveiling plans to boost dividends and stock buybacks more than analysts had projected, after every lender passed annual stress tests for the first time since the Fed began the reviews in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Shares across the industry rallied in late trading. Still, Capital One slipped more than 2% after it was the lone bank to stumble through the exam Wednesday, garnering conditional approval to make payouts while it fixes “material weaknesses” in planning. Lofty payouts once made banks hot stocks before the financial crisis exposed many of them as too thinly capitalized.

The companies’ plans unveiled on Wednesday show how they’re trying to generate investor interest – even as many still struggle to meet profitability targets and a few languish below book value. “This is the big payoff after seven years of pushing the industry to get to a place where capital planning is well ingrained,” said David Wright, a managing director at Deloitte’s advisory business who once worked at the Fed. “They reached the summit.” The Fed’s projections also show regulators may have more leeway to ease rules after years of forcing companies to curtail risk-taking and beef up internal controls – demands that eroded revenue and fueled costs.

The industry is counting on President Donald Trump to soften that oversight by appointing more business-friendly board members to the Fed, shifting the balance of power from regulators to shareholders. Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recommended that stress tests be performed every other year and that banks maintaining a sufficiently high level of capital be exempt from exams. “The highly positive report card puts more wind at the backs of the Trump administration and others who want to soften Dodd-Frank-era regulations,” Ian Katz at Capital Alpha Partners said in a note Wednesday, referring to a 2010 rewrite of industry rules. “That’s an additional bit of longer-term good news for banks.”

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Yellen has fallen victim to the opioid epidemic.

Yellen Questioned As China Debt Surpasses 300% Of GDP (CNBC)

Global debt has hit a record level in the first quarter of this year, mainly driven by emerging markets, raising questions of whether there will be another financial crisis in the near future. Data from the Institute of International Finance showed that global debt reached $217 trillion in the first quarter of this year, or 327% of GDP. “The debt burden is not distributed evenly. Some countries/sectors have seen deleveraging while others have built up very high debt levels. For the latter, rising debt may create headwinds for long-term growth and eventually pose risks for financial stability,” the IIF said in its Global Debt Monitor report on Tuesday. On Tuesday, U.S. Fed Chair Janet Yellen told an audience in London that banks are in a “very much stronger” position and another financial crisis is unlikely “in our lifetime.”

The 2008 financial crisis began with high indebtedness levels by U.S. households. But Yellen’s remarks aren’t’ consensual. “I think Yellen’s comment – if I am interpreting it correctly – is a huge hostage to fortune. The words Titanic and unsinkable spring to mind,” Erik Jones, professor of international political economy at Johns Hopkins University, told CNBC via email. Casrten Brzeski, senior economist at ING said that “high debt levels mean that the debt crisis has not been solved, yet. Neither in the US, nor in the Eurozone. Increasing debt levels in Asia and other emerging market economies also show that a structural change has not yet taken place.” “All of this, however, does not mean that we are at the verge of a other financial crisis. Central banks and low interest rates have and should continue to limit this risk significantly,” he added via email.

[..] “Total debt in emerging markets (excluding China) has increased by some $0.9 trillion to over $23.6 trillion in the first quarter of 2017—mainly driven by Brazil (up $0.6 trillion to $3.6 trillion) and India (up $0.2 trillion to 2.9 trillion),” the IFF said in its report. China poses a great risk in itself with households accelerating their borrowing. “The household debt-to-GDP ratio hit an all-time high of over 45% in the first quarter of 2017 —well above the Emerging Market average of around 35%. In addition, our estimates based on monthly data on total social financing suggest that China’s total debt surpassed 304% of GDP as of May 2017,” the IIF noted.

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Buyback Mountain.

Corporations Are Still The Largest Buyer Of Stocks (BBG)

The buyers of stocks may not be who everyone thinks they are.Last week, Goldman Sachs released a report saying the recent bull market is being increasingly fed by a single source: exchange-traded funds. The Wall Street Journal echoed on Wednesday with an article titled “ETF Buyers Propel Stock Market Rally.” That certainly follows the recent narrative that the great shift to passive investing – ETFs predominantly follow indexes – is what is driving the market. It is also appears to be wrong, at least according to the most recent data, which came out earlier this month from the Federal Reserve. ETFs, which it should be said are mostly just individuals buying stocks in new packaging, are indeed on pace to plow more money into equities this year than they have in the past, nearly $400 billion, up slightly more than 100% from a year ago.

But they are still not the biggest buyer of stocks. The entities shoveling more money into the stock market than any other this year, as has been the case for the past few years, remain corporations. Buybacks are on pace to reach nearly $550 billion, or $150 billion more than ETFs. ETFs, which it should be said are mostly just individuals buying stocks in new packaging, are indeed on pace to plow more money into equities this year than they have in the past, nearly $400 billion, up slightly more than 100% from a year ago. But they are still not the biggest buyer of stocks. The entities shoveling more money into the stock market than any other this year, as has been the case for the past few years, remain corporations. Buybacks are on pace to reach nearly $550 billion, or $150 billion more than ETFs.

Buybacks are down this year, by 13%, for the first time in a while. So a case could be made that the force driving the market is shifting, though it’s a weak one. Earlier this year, many were predicting that buybacks would drop by 30%. But even if what’s driving the market is shifting, ETFs still do not appear to be holding the keys.

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A longtime favorite among panicky dictatorial types.

NYSE President Targets Short Sellers (WS)

Short sellers like Andrew Left, founder of Citron Research, serve a real purpose in the markets and in society. His analysis helped reveal what’s going on at Valeant Pharmaceuticals and brought media focus on how the company conspired not only to manipulate up its reported sales and earnings but also drug prices for consumers. But short sellers are nuts. Short sellers are fighting a system that is totally rigged in every way against them. They’ve chosen to make money when share prices fall. They’ve chosen to make money in the most painful way possible. Self-flagellation comes to mind. Because the entire system is rigged to make share prices rise, no matter what. And when they rise, short sellers get their heads handed to them.

NYSE Group President Tom Farley, who should be neutral about share prices and should be primarily concerned about the functioning of the market, hammered home just how rigged that fight is. “It feels kind of icky and un-American, betting against a company,” he told lawmakers in Washington yesterday. Even those engaging in rampant hype, lies, and worse, I presume. According to Bloomberg: He added that because short-selling can actually improve markets, public companies don’t necessarily want to ban it outright – instead they want to see more stringent disclosure. “They say, ‘Let’s have a little more transparency,”’ said Farley. This urge for “transparency” is ironic. No one complains how Warren Buffett does it. Through Berkshire Hathaway, he quietly buys enough shares of a company to gain ownership in the single-digit percentage range.

This buying activity drives up the price. His brokerage firm knows, word spreads, and those in the know also buy the shares. Then the stake is disclosed in an SEC filing. Instantly, shares jump further. “Buffett Buys x% of…” the media scream. With his avuncular face on CNBC and other TV shows, he gets to promote what a great company this is, how he believes in the management, yada-yada-yada. Shares jump further. Then he quietly buys some more shares, a small amount this time. When the SEC filing becomes public, the whole media circus starts all over again, and shares jump some more.

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Something I’ve been hammering on forever. Only, if you follow the logic, there’s another step: investors should realize that they themselves are fake, too.

Forget Fake News, Investors Should Realize The Markets Are Fake (CNBC)

The global rally in financial markets is unsustainable because it only seems to respond to changes in the real economy when it fits a certain narrative, according to the CIO of investment firm Fasanara Capital. “I call it fake markets… you know, these days they talk about fake news (but) these are fake markets in a way right?” Francesco Filia, CIO of Fasanara Capital, told CNBC on Wednesday. Filia argued financial markets had become “complacent” and “insensitive” to fundamental changes in the economy. He suggested while markets appeared to surge higher on so-called good data, a mirrored response lower on negative sentiment had not been evident.

“I think this kind of market environment is both unstable and unsustainable… at some point, something is going to happen that is going to all of a sudden wake up markets as to this overvaluation,” Filia said. European bourses were trading lower on Wednesday after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi appeared to hint the ECB would be prepared to scale back its monetary policy amid improving economic prospects for Europe. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the broader S&P 500 index posted its biggest one-day drop in about six weeks overnight and closed at its lowest point since the end of May. Wall Street’s losses appeared to accelerate on news that the U.S. Senate had delayed voting on a health care reform bill.

When Filia was asked to explain how his ‘fake markets’ theory stacked up with declining global stocks on Wednesday, he replied, “A pullback of 1% in the stock market from all-time highs? I wouldn’t call it exactly re-pricing things up. It’s just slowing the pace at which you grow.” Filia cited “Stein’s Law” as a fitting adage for the state of financial markets at present. Herbert Stein, chief economist to U.S. President Richard Nixon wrote: “If something cannot continue forever, it will stop.”

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Ouch. Project Veritas has promised a -compromising- CNN video ‘every day this week’. A conversation that’s long overdue.

CNN’s Van Jones: “The Russia Thing Is Just A Big Nothing Burger” (ZH)

Yesterday, after dropping his first undercover CNN bombshell, which starred producer John Bonifield admitting that CNN’s endless ‘Russian meddling’ crusade was “mostly bullshit” directed by the network’s CEO Jeff Zucker with the sole intent of spiking ratings, Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe promised there was more to come. And, all we knew was that the subject of the second video would be “someone we all knew…” As it turns out, that ‘someone’ is none other than CNN’s Van Jones who inadvertently got caught revealing his true thoughts on CNN’s ‘Russian meddling’ narrative, namely that the whole story is a “big nothing burger.” PV Reporter: “What do you think is going to happen this week with the whole Russia thing?” Van Jones: “The Russia Thing Is Just A Big Nothing Burger” PV Reporter: “Really?” Van Jones: “Yeah.”

Of course, while we’re happy that Van Jones decided to tell the truth, if only while he thought no one was listening, we do wonder how he intends to explain his seemingly conflicted ‘on-air’ versus ‘off-air’ personalities to his children. As you may recall, Jones was the same distraught CNN commentator who spent election night describing Trump as a “bully” and a “bigot” all while saying that his “biggest fear” was how he could explain Trump’s victory to his children… Perhaps it’s time to think about how you can explain to your children why you exploited your position and fame to provoke mass hysteria among a divided American electorate, over a story you knew to be false…hysteria which very well could have contributed to a mass shooting that nearly claimed the life of Steven Scalise.

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Only possible comeback attempt? Problem is: CNN war on Trump may be “Physically Endangering Reporters” at least as much. And no, Trump didn’t start this.

CNN Proclaims Trump’s War On Media “Is Physically Endangering Reporters” (ZH)

It’s been a tough week for CNN, so they needed a distraction, and what better way to try and gain back some credibility – from a worldwide audience now likely questioning every word out of the ‘news’ network’s mouth – than to proclaim “we are going to see a reporter face physical harm because” of President Trump’s “declaration of war on the media.” As RealClear Politics reports, CNN’s Clarissa Ward, a foreign correspondent serving as guest co-host on Wednesday’s broadcast of CNN’s News Day, fretted “people” in war zones have been “emboldened” by President Trump’s “declaration of war on the media.” Ward, expressing concern for members of the media in dangerous areas of the world, said to guest Chris Cillizza, “I can only imagine what a person like you is dealing with. At what point does this become reckless or irresponsible?”

Playboy White House correspondent Brian Karem – who is now infamous for his whiney exchange with White House deputy spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders at Tuesday’s press briefing – replied that Ward is “absolutely right” and talked about the trial and tribulations of reporters who have been jailed and even killed. “Our newspapers after Donald Trump’s election, we’ve gotten threats from both the far left and the far right,” Karem said. “They are emboldened, it is dangerous, and the fact of the matter is, it is insulting to the memory of the people who have given their lives for the cause for providing information to the public to then be told you are fake media, you do not matter, and what you’re doing is false.” Karem went as far to predict “we are going to see a reporter face physical harm because” of Trump.

“And quite frankly, every one of us should stand up against that because it is undermining the First Amendment. It is dangerous, making it dangerous for reporters. You’re absolutely right, there is going to come a time, and it’s not going to be too far off I surmise when we’re going to see a reporter is going to face physical harm because of this,” he said. We suggest readers put down all sharp objects before embarking on the following four minutes of utter farce as each personality seems to want to one-up the last in their grandstanding of just how threatened they are by Trump’s words…

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Paul Craig Roberts put what I wrote last night in Feeding Frenzy in the Echo Chamber, in a sharper perspective.

The Presstitutes, Not Russia, Interfered in the US Presidential Election (PCR)

Unlike Oliver Stone, who knew how to interview Vladimir Putin, Megyn Kelly did not. Thus, she made a fool of herself, which is par for her course. Now the entire Western media has joined Megyn in foolishness, or so it appears from a RT report. James O’Keefe has senior CNN producer John Bonifield on video telling O’Keefe that CNN’s anti-Russia reporting is purely for ratings: “It’s mostly bullshit right now. Like, we don’t have any big giant proof.” CNN’s Bonifield is reported to go on to say that “our CIA is doing shit all the time, we’re out there trying to manipulate governments.” And, of course, the American people, the European peoples, and the US and European governments are being conditioned by the “Russia did it” storyline to distrust Russia and to accept whatever dangerous and irresponsible policy toward Russia that Washington comes up with next.

Is the anti-Russian propaganda driven by ratings as Bonifield is reported to claim, or are ratings the neoconservatives and military/security complex’s cover for media disinformation that increases tensions between the superpowers and prepares the ground for nuclear war? RT acknowledges that the entire story could be just another piece of false news, which is all that the Western media is known for. Nevertheless, what we do know is that the fake news reporting pertains to Russia’s alleged interference in the US presidential election. Allegedly, Trump was elected by Putin’s interference in the election. This claim is absurd, but if you are Megyn Kelly you lack the IQ to see that. Instead, presstitutes turn a nonsense story into a real story despite the absence of any evidence. Who actually interfered in the US presidential election, Putin or the presstitutes themselves?

The answer is clear and obvious. It was the presstitutes, who were out to get Trump from day one of the presidential campaign. It is CIA director John Brennan, who did everything in his power to brand Trump some sort of Russian agent. It is FBI director Comey who did likewise by continuing to “investigate” what he knew was a non-event. We now have a former FBI director playing the role of special prosecutor investigating Trump for “obstruction of justice” when there is no evidence of a crime to be obstructed! What we are witnessing is the ongoing interference in the presidential election, an interference that not only makes a mockery of democracy but also of the rule of law. The presstitutes not only interfered in the presidential election; they are now interfering with democracy itself. They are seeking to overturn the people’s choice by discrediting the President of the United States and those who elected him.

The Democratic Party is a part of this attack on American democracy. It is the DNC that insists that a Putin/Trump conspiracy stole the presidency from Hillary. The Democrats’ position is that it is too risky to permit the American people—the “deplorables”— to vote. The Democratic Party’s line is that if you let Americans vote, they will elect a Putin stooge and America will be ruled by Russia. Many wonder why Trump doesn’t use the power of the office of the presidency to indict the hit squad that is out to get him. There is no doubt that a jury of deplorables would indict Brennan, Comey, Megyn Kelly and the rest. On the other hand, perhaps Trump’s view is that the Republican Party cannot afford to go down with him, and, therefore, as he is politically protected by the Republican majority, the best strategy is to let the Democrats and the presstitutes destroy themselves in the eyes of flyover America.

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Er, wait, Schaeuble was there when the loophole was put into place.

Schaeuble Bemoans EU ‘Loophole’ Used in Italy Banks’ Rescue (CNBC)

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble on Wednesday underscored Germany’s concerns about what he called a regulatory loophole after the EU cleared Italy to wind up two failed banks at a hefty cost to local taxpayers. Schaeuble told reporters that Europe should abide by rules enacted after the 2008 collapse of U.S. financial services firm Lehman Brothers that were meant to protect taxpayers. Existing European Union guidelines for restructuring banks aimed to ensure “what all political groups wanted: that taxpayers will never again carry the risks of banks,” he said.

Italy is transferring the good assets of the two Veneto lenders to the nation’s biggest retail bank, Intesa Sanpaolo , as part of a transaction that could cost the state up to €17 billion ($19 billion). The deal, approved by the European Commission, allows Rome to solve a banking crisis on its own terms rather than under potentially tougher European rules. Noting that closure under national insolvency laws benefited owners and investors, Schaeuble said: “We in Europe need to think about this regulatory loophole.”

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Will Saud’s new kid on the block go to war with Qatar? What will Trump do? And Putin?

Accept Demands or it’s Goodbye Qatar (GulfNews)

In a series of clear warning messages to Qatar, Arab Gulf officials have stressed that meeting a set of demands that were put forward by four Arab countries is the only way out of the crisis for Doha. The officials said they are considering further economic pressure on Qatar, such as reducing commercial links with states that continue to trade with Doha. UAE Ambassador to Moscow, Omar Gobash, sent a strong message to Doha that it could face expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council if it does not meet the 13-point-demands set by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. The four countries had cut their diplomatic relations with Doha earlier this month over Qatar’s foreign policy and its support to terrorism.

In an interview in London with The Guardian, Gobash said there are “certain economic decisions that we can take which are being considered right now”. “One possibility would be to set conditions on our own trading partners and say you want to work with us then you have got to make a commercial choice. “If Qatar was not willing to accept the demands, it is a case of ‘Goodbye Qatar’ we do not need you in our tent anymore,” he said. Meanwhile, Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, called on Qatar to make a “wise and well-thought choice” move before the time frame given by the four Arab countries to Doha to comply with the demands. “Now that the hour of truth is coming nearer, we invite the brother to choose his surroundings, to choose honesty and transparency in dealing [with the issue],” he said in a tweet.

“We have long suffered from the brother’s conspiracy to undermine our stability and we have witnessed his support for a partisan agenda seeking to create chaos in our Arab world. Now, we tell him: Enough! Get back to your senses or go on your way, but without us,” he posted on his Twitter account yesterday. He was referring to Qatar as brother. In Washington, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir showed a tougher stand saying that there is no room for negotiations with Qatar. “We made our point, we took our steps and it’s up to the Qataris to amend their behavior,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al Jubeir told reporters. Once they do, “then things will be worked out. But if they don’t, they will remain isolated.”

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One of the world’s largest supervolcanoes.

Scientists Fear “Supervolcano” Eruption At Yellowstone (ZH)

More than 800 earthquakes have now been recorded at the Yellowstone Caldera, a long-dormant supervolcano located in Yellowstone National Park, over the last two weeks – an ominous sign that a potentially catastrophic eruption could be brewing. However, despite earthquakes occurring at a frequency unseen during any period in the past five years, the US Geological Survey says the risk level remains in the “green,” unchanged from its normal levels, according to Newsweek. The biggest earthquake in this “swarm” – which registered a magnitude of 4.4 – took place on June 15, three days after the rumblings started. That quake was the biggest in the region since a magnitude 4.8 earthquake struck close to Norris Geyser Basin in March 2014. This magnitude 4.4 earthquake was so powerful that people felt it in Bozman Montana, about eight miles away.

A scientist from the University of Utah said the quakes have also included five in the magnitude three range, and 68 in the magnitude two range. “The swarm consists of one earthquake in the magnitude 4 range, five earthquakes in the magnitude 3 range, 68 earthquakes in the magnitude 2 range, 277 earthquakes in the magnitude 1 range, 508 earthquakes in the magnitude 0 range, and 19 earthquakes with magnitudes of less than zero,” the latest report said. An earthquake with a magnitude less than zero is a very small event that can only be detected with the extremely sensitive instruments used in earthquake monitoring.” There is normally a rise in seismic activity before a volcano erupts. And scientists currently believe there’s a 10% chance that a “supervolcanic Category 7 eruption” could take place this century, as pointed out by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku.

An eruption, Kaku said, is long overdue: The last one occurred 640,000 years ago. To be sure, the swarm has slowed down considerably this week, and larger swarms have been recorded in the past, according to Jacob Lowenstern, the scientists in charge of the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory. Yet the possibility that the volcano could be on the verge of what’s called a “supereruption” should be enough to give the government pause. But scientists have said recently that there’s some evidence to suggest the next one could occur this century.

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That’s over 30 pieces of plastic each and every day:

“..people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year.”

World’s Plastic Binge ‘As Dangerous As Climate Change’ (G.)

A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute and the number will jump another 20% by 2021, creating an environmental crisis some campaigners predict will be as serious as climate change. New figures obtained by the Guardian reveal the surge in usage of plastic bottles, more than half a trillion of which will be sold annually by the end of the decade. The demand, equivalent to about 20,000 bottles being bought every second, is driven by an apparently insatiable desire for bottled water and the spread of a western, urbanised “on the go” culture to China and the Asia Pacific region. More than 480bn plastic drinking bottles were sold in 2016 across the world, up from about 300bn a decade ago. If placed end to end, they would extend more than halfway to the sun. By 2021 this will increase to 583.3bn, according to the most up-to-date estimates from Euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report.

Most plastic bottles used for soft drinks and water are made from polyethylene terephthalate (Pet), which is highly recyclable. But as their use soars across the globe, efforts to collect and recycle the bottles to keep them from polluting the oceans, are failing to keep up. Fewer than half of the bottles bought in 2016 were collected for recycling and just 7% of those collected were turned into new bottles. Instead most plastic bottles produced end up in landfill or in the ocean. Between 5m and 13m tonnes of plastic leaks into the world’s oceans each year to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms, and by 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic by weight than fish, according to research by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Experts warn that some of it is already finding its way into the human food chain.Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated people who eat seafood ingest up to 11,000 tiny pieces of plastic every year.

Last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University reported plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. Last year, the European Food Safety Authority called for urgent research, citing increasing concern for human health and food safety “given the potential for microplastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish”. Dame Ellen MacArthur, the round the world yachtswoman, now campaigns to promote a circular economy in which plastic bottles are reused, refilled and recycled rather than used once and thrown away. “Shifting to a real circular economy for plastics is a massive opportunity to close the loop, save billions of dollars, and decouple plastics production from fossil fuel consumption,” she said.

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Jun 122017
 
 June 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Adam West died last week. This was his phone book listing in Ketchum, ID where he lived.

 

New Economic Woes Put Theresa May Under Fresh Pressure (Tel.)
EU Threatens Year-Long Delay In Brexit Talks Over UK Negotiating Stance (G.)
Donald Trump’s State Visit To Britain Put On Hold (G.)
It’s The Calm Before A Gigantic, Horrendous Storm: David Stockman (CNBC)
The Risk To The “Bull” Thesis (Roberts)
Big Tech Stocks Under Pressure After Apple Shares Downgraded (CNBC)
China’s $5 Trillion Asset Pile Could Still Expand (BBG)
When Currencies Fall, Export Growth Is Supposed to Follow (WSJ)
Aldi Fires $3.4 Billion Shot In US Supermarket Wars (R.)
France’s Macron Set For Landslide Majority In Parliament (R.)
Naomi Klein: ‘Trump Is An Idiot, But He’s Good At That’ (G.)
Chelsea Manning Explains Why She Went to Prison for You (TAM)
Over 2,500 Migrants Rescued In Mediterranean In 2 Days, Over 50 Missing (RT)

 

 

Even the -Tory- Telegraph has turned on the ‘winner’: Another one of their headlines: “Theresa May arrogantly abandoned Thatcherism – this is her reward”.

New Economic Woes Put Theresa May Under Fresh Pressure (Tel.)

Theresa May has been hit by a series of economic blows, with consumers tightening their belts and businesses increasingly showing fears of a sharp slowdown as she attempts to cling on to power. The crucial services sector stands on the brink of a contraction, new data shows, and credit card spending has fallen for the first time in four years. High Street footfall has also gone sharply into reverse and manufacturing and construction companies in the English regions report a widespread slowdown in activity. Most of the gloomy figures published today were gathered prior to Mrs May’s disastrous snap election. It has further undermined confidence, according to the Institute of Directors (IoD). The hung parliament has triggered a massive swing towards negativity among the business leaders.

Before the election, IoD members’ net confidence, which offsets economic pessimism and optimism, was almost balanced at minus three. In the aftermath of the election it has plunged to minus 37. Businesses were increasingly ready to openly criticise Mrs May over the weekend after her interventionist manifesto failed to inspire strong public support. Stephen Martin, IoD director general, said last night: “It was disheartening that the only reference the Prime Minister made to prosperity in her Downing Street statement was to emphasise the need to share it, rather than create it in the first place.” Official figures later this week are expected to show a tightening squeeze on consumers. Economists estimate that wages grew by 2pc the year to April, down from 2.1pc a month earlier. Meanwhile inflation is expected to remain at 2.7pc, with rises to come.

Shoppers are curbing their spending in response, according to data from Visa. The credit card company said household expenditure in May was gown 0.8pc on last year, the first decline since 2013. Consumers cut back on clothing and household goods especially. Visa UK managing director Kevin Jenkins said the data “clearly shows that with rising prices and stalling wage growth, more of us are starting to feel the squeeze”.

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All Jeremy Corbyn has to do is tell Europe that he won’t feel bound by anything they negotiate with May.

EU Threatens Year-Long Delay In Brexit Talks Over UK Negotiating Stance (G.)

Theresa May is to be told the EU will take a year to draft a new mandate for its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, effectively killing the Brexit negotiations, if she insists on discussing a future trade relationship at the same time as the UK’s divorce bill. In a sign of growing impatience with the shambolic state of the British side of the talks, senior EU sources said that if London insisted on talking about a free trade deal before the issues of its divorce bill, citizens rights and the border in Ireland were sufficiently resolved, it would be met with a blunt response. “If they don’t accept the phased negotiations then we will take a year to draw up a new set of negotiating guidelines for Barnier,” one senior EU diplomat said, adding that the EU could not understand Britain’s continued claim that it would be able to discuss trade and the divorce terms in parallel.

The EU’s 27 leaders formally agreed to give Barnier a narrow set of tasks at a summit in April and they have no intention of rethinking the so-called phased approach when they meet May at a European summit on 22-23 June. Formal Brexit talks are due to begin on 19 June, the same day as the Queen’s speech, at which point it will be known whether May has secured the support of a majority of MPs for her policy agenda. The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) sent a note to the European commission on Friday evening to signal that the government was operational and pre-negotiation talks about logistics should begin this week as planned. Olly Robbins, May’s EU adviser, told his European counterparts: “The prime minister has directed that the procedures for preparing the negotiations for the formal withdrawal from the European Union should start as soon as possible.” There is some scepticism in Brussels, however, about the ability of May’s minority administration to make effective decisions.

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But they keep all their own clowns in Parliament? Government, even?

Donald Trump’s State Visit To Britain Put On Hold (G.)

Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming. The US president said he did not want to come if there were large-scale protests and his remarks in effect put the visit on hold for some time. The call was made in recent weeks, according to a Downing Street adviser who was in the room. The statement surprised May, according to those present. The conversation in part explains why there has been little public discussion about a visit.

May invited Trump to Britain seven days after his inauguration when she became the first foreign leader to visit him in the White House. She told a joint press conference she had extended an invitation from the Queen to Trump and his wife Melania to make a state visit later in the year and was “delighted that the president has accepted that invitation”. Many senior diplomats, including Lord Ricketts, the former national security adviser, said the invitation was premature, but impossible to rescind once made.

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“Stockman believes the S&P 500 could easily fall to 1,600, about a 34% drop from current levels.”

It’s The Calm Before A Gigantic, Horrendous Storm: David Stockman (CNBC)

If David Stockman is right, Wall Street should hunker down. “This is one of the most dangerous market environments we’ve ever been in. It’s the calm before a gigantic, horrendous storm that I don’t think is too far down the road,” he recently said on “Futures Now.” Stockman, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, made his latest prediction after lawmakers grilled former FBI Director James Comey over whether President Donald Trump tried to influence the Russia investigation. “This is a huge nothing-burger, but you don’t take comfort from that. You get worried about that because the system is determined to unseat Donald Trump,” said Stockman. Stockman argues the latest drama on Capitol Hill is a distraction from the real problems facing the economy.

“If the Senate can involve itself in something this groundless, it’s just more hysteria about Russia-gate for which there is no evidence. If they can bog themselves down in this, then we have a dysfunctional, ungovernable situation in Washington,” he said, noting there are just seven weeks until lawmakers go home for the August recess. Stockman contends it’s unlikely tax reform and an infrastructure package will become reality in this environment — two business-friendly policies seen as a huge benefit to Wall Street. In fact, he warns, the country could see a government shutdown in a matter of months. A scenario like that could wipe out all of the stock market gains since the election and more, according to Stockman.

“I don’t know what Wall Street is smoking. They ought to be getting out of the casino while it’s still safe. Yet there’s this idea that since he [Trump] wasn’t incriminated, that proves that we can move on,” he said. “I think it’s crazy.” Stockman believes the S&P 500 could easily fall to 1,600, about a 34% drop from current levels. He’s made similar calls like this in the past, but they haven’t materialized. “There is nothing rational about this market. It’s just a machine-trading-driven bubble that’s nearing some kind of all-time craziness, mania,” he said.

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Buybacks again. And again.

The Risk To The “Bull” Thesis (Roberts)

Following the election, the markets began pricing in a strongly recovering economic environment driven by a wave of legislative policies. While the market has indeed advanced, the economic and fundamental realities HAVE NOT changed since the election. As noted on Friday: “Economic data is not buying it either. Headline after headline, as of late, has continued to disappoint from new and existing home sales to autos, inventories, and employment. This also puts the Fed at risk of further rate hikes this year. ‘It appears traders are losing faith in the rest of the year as the odds of a hike occurring in December is now above that of September (as both drop to around 25%). As economic data has crashed since The Fed hiked rates in March, so the markets expectations has dropped to just 1.44 rate-hikes this year (one in June guaranteed), well below The Fed’s guidance of 2 more rate-hikes minimum.’”

Another huge risk going forward, as well, is the risk to further stock buybacks to support higher EPS as the lack of legislative reforms to boost the bottom line fade. As noted by Goldman just after the election: “We expect tax reform legislation under the Trump administration will encourage firms to repatriate $200 billion of overseas cash next year. “A significant portion of returning funds will be directed to buybacks based on the pattern of the tax holiday in 2004.” – Goldman Sachs. But it is not just the repatriation but lower tax rates that will miraculously boost bottom line earnings, but as noted from Deutsche Bank tax cuts are the key. “Every 5pt cut in the US corporate tax rate from 35% boosts S&P EPS by $5. Assuming that the US adopts a new corporate tax rate between 20-30%, we expect S&P EPS of $130-140 in 2017 and $140-150 in 2018. We raise our 2017E S&P EPS to $130.”

Maybe not so fast. Here is the problem. While you may boost bottom line earnings from tax cuts, the top line revenue cuts caused by higher interest rates, inflationary pressures, and a stronger dollar (as expected would be the result of tax reform) will exceed the benefits companies receive at the bottom line. I am not discounting the rush by companies to buy back shares at the greatest clip in the last 20-years to offset the impact to earnings by the reduction in revenues. However, none of the actions above go to solving the two things currently plaguing the economy – real jobs and real wages. Economic realities and wishful fantasies eventually reconnect and generally in the worst possible way.

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Bubble? Hell, no.

Big Tech Stocks Under Pressure After Apple Shares Downgraded (CNBC)

After a drop in big technology stocks Friday caused the Nasdaq composite to post its worst week of the year, the shares were likely to come under pressure again on Monday after Apple shares were downgraded. Mizuho Securities’ Abhey Lamba downgraded the iPhone maker to neutral from buy on Sunday, saying the best case scenario is priced into the shares. The analyst echoed a common concern of investors taking profits in big technology stocks last week. “The stock has meaningfully outperformed on a YTD basis and we believe enthusiasm around the upcoming product cycle is fully captured at current levels, with limited upside to estimates from here on out,” wrote Lamba, who cut his 12-month price target to $150, which is about one dollar above where Apple closed Friday.

A Friday selloff pushed the Nasdaq down more than 1.5% last week, but the selling was worse among the biggest stocks. Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon lost nearly $100 billion in market value on Friday on no specific headlines, but rather investors questioning whether valuations for the names were getting ahead of themselves. Nasdaq-100 futures were lower Sunday evening following the Apple downgrade. [..] Apple, Facebook and Amazon are still up more than 27% so far in 2017. Alphabet is up 20% and Microsoft shares are 11% higher for the year. By comparison, the S&P 500 is up more than 7% year-to-date.

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The graph indicates balance sheet change, not total numbers. Bit misleading when a $5 trillion asset pile, with the Fed at $4.5 trillion, is the topic.

China’s $5 Trillion Asset Pile Could Still Expand (BBG)

Investors who fret about when and how global central banks will run down their crisis-era balance sheets can be relaxed about the biggest of them all – China’s. Whereas the Fed’s $4.5 trillion asset pile is set to be shrunk and the ECB’s should stop growing by the end of this year as the outlook brightens, China’s $5 trillion hoard is here to stay for the time being – and could even still expand, according to the majority of respondents in a Bloomberg survey. The PBOC balance sheet is a fundamentally different beast from its global peers – run up through years of capital inflows and trade surpluses rather than hoovering up government bonds – but it still matters for the global economy. Changes in the amount of base money in the world’s largest trading nation are having a bigger impact than ever, making the variable key for stability in a year when political transition in Beijing is in the cards.

“China is more than a couple of years away from balance-sheet contraction,” said Ding Shuang, chief China economist at Standard Chartered, pointing out that the growth in the broad money supply is still behind the government’s target. The balance sheet has broadly leveled off, and contracted in the first quarter of this year, though that was mostly through seasonal factors related to liquidity operations around the Lunar New Year, when the demand for cash surges. Now, with the Fed set to raise rates this year, the PBOC is still wary of accelerating cash outflows from China and may need to use reserves to support the currency even as trade surpluses keep piling up. Most economists said they predict that the balance sheet will be around the same size or bigger by the end of the year, in the survey of 21 institutions including Bank of China, Nomura and SocGen.

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No, you don’t get inflation from a falling currency. But you just might get higher prices.

When Currencies Fall, Export Growth Is Supposed to Follow (WSJ)

For decades, economics textbooks argued that suddenly weaker currencies are a boon to growth, because they make a country’s exports more competitive or profitable on the global stage, which in turn boosts domestic production and employment. What if that theory no longer holds? Economists and government officials are increasingly wondering if that effect is diminishing, especially among advanced Western economies with shrinking manufacturing capacity and supply chains increasingly interwoven with the rest of the world. The new idea is that much of the benefit from a falling currency is offset by the higher prices paid for components imported from overseas. The U.K. is emerging as a test case for whether globalization has diminished the effect.

Although its currency has been battered by the financial crisis, the Brexit vote to leave the European Union—which took place a year ago June 23—and the country’s fresh bout of political uncertainty, its exporting power hasn’t responded as textbooks might suggest. Chemicals made at Chemoxy’s factory in Middlesbrough are worth about 20% more in the export market after last June’s fall in sterling, given the beefed-up value of the currencies used to buy those goods overseas. Higher costs for imported materials, however, all but erased that advantage. “We have a huge interdependency on international markets,” says Chemoxy Chief Executive Ian Stark. The company exports more than 60% of its products and imports about 85% of its chemical raw materials. A weaker pound, he says, “isn’t revolutionary.”

British businesses ranging from car makers to food processors to lumber mills are discovering the same thing. Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and a member of the Bank of England’s rate-setting monetary policy committee between 2009 and 2012, says the effects of currency moves on exports have faded over time. After the financial crisis in 2008, a big sterling depreciation didn’t result in the pickup in exports “we would have expected,” he says. “You just don’t get as much bang for your pound as you used to,” said Mr. Posen. Whether or how the relationship between a currency’s strength and economic growth still holds has ramifications for international politics.

In the U.S., manufacturers have long complained about the impact of a strong dollar. President Donald Trump has accused Japan and China of keeping their currencies artificially low, hampering U.S. exports. In 1992, the pound fell by around 11% between September and the end of that year after the U.K. crashed out of the European exchange rate mechanism—a precursor to the euro that required a stronger pound than the government could sustain. The U.K. economy then went on an export tear, which turned a trade deficit into a five-year surplus and jump-started a recovery.

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“Aldi’s prices were also up to 50% lower than traditional grocery chains, a move that appeared to follow rival Lidl’s announcement on prices.”

Aldi Fires $3.4 Billion Shot In US Supermarket Wars (R.)

German grocery chain Aldi said on Sunday it would invest $3.4 billion to expand its U.S. store base to 2,500 by 2022, raising the stakes for rivals caught in a price war. Aldi operates 1,600 U.S. stores and earlier this year said it would add another 400 by the end of 2018 and spend $1.6 billion to remodel 1,300 of them. The investment, which raises Aldi’s capital expenditure to at least $5 billion so far this year, comes at a time of intense competition and disruption in the industry. German rival Lidl will open the first of its 100 U.S. stores on June 15. In May, Lidl said it would price products up to 50% lower than rivals. Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. grocer, is testing lower prices in 11 U.S. states and pushing vendors to undercut rivals by 15%. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, is expected to spend about $6 billion to regain its title as the low-price leader, analysts said.

The furious pace of expansion by Aldi and Lidl is likely to further disrupt the U.S. grocery market, which has seen 18 bankruptcies since 2014. The two chains are also upending established UK grocers like Tesco and Wal-Mart’s UK arm, ASDA. In May, Aldi CEO Jason Hart told Reuters the chain intended to have prices at least 21% lower than rivals and would focus on adding in-house brands to win over price-sensitive customers. “We’re growing at a time when other retailers are struggling,” Hart said in a statement. Hart added that Aldi’s prices were also up to 50% lower than traditional grocery chains, a move that appeared to follow rival Lidl’s announcement on prices. The latest store expansion will create 25,000 U.S. jobs and make Aldi the third-largest grocery chain operator in the country behind Wal-Mart and Kroger, the German chain said in a statement. Aldi’s 2,500 stores would equal about 53% of Wal-Mart’s U.S. outlets.

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As I said yesterday, highly curious. When he won on May 7, just 5 weeks ago, there were no candidates, no apparatus, and no money: word was the candidates even had to pay for their own campaigns. And look now.

Note: France is still under a state of emergency.

France’s Macron Set For Landslide Majority In Parliament (R.)

French President Emmanuel Macron’s party is set for a giant majority in parliament, opinion pollsters said on Sunday after a first round of voting. According to two pollsters, his Republic On the Move (LREM) party and its ally Modem were set to win well over 400 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. The two organisations along with others forecast he had won well over 30% of first round votes as voting closed. A poll by Elabe put the number of seats at between 415 and 445, while a poll by Kantar Sofres put it at between 400 and 445. A second round of voting will determine the actual number of seats Macron wins. The first round for the most part eliminates eliminates candidates who have gathered less than 12.5% of registered voters.

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Long interview for Naomi’s new book “No Is Not Enough”.

Naomi Klein: ‘Trump Is An Idiot, But He’s Good At That’ (G.)

The fact that Naomi Klein predicted the forces that explain the rise to power of Donald Trump gives her no pleasure at all. It is 17 years since Klein, then aged 30, published her first book, No Logo – a seductive rage against the branding of public life by globalising corporations – and made herself, in the words of the New Yorker, “the most visible and influential figure on the American left” almost overnight. She ended the book with what sounded then like “this crazy idea that you could become your own personal global brand”. Speaking about that idea now, she can only laugh at her former innocence. No Logo was written before social media made personal branding second nature. Trump, she suggests in her new book, No Is Not Enough, exploited that phenomenon to become the first incarnation of president as a brand, doing to the US nation and to the planet what he had first practised on his big gold towers: plastering his name and everything it stands for all over them.

Klein has also charted the other force at work behind the victory of the 45th president. Her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, argued that neoliberal capitalism, the ideological love affair with free markets espoused by disciples of the late economist Milton Friedman, was so destructive of social bonds, and so beneficial to the 1% at the expense of the 99%, that a population would only countenance it when in a state of shock, following a crisis – a natural disaster, a terrorist attack, a war. Klein developed this theory first in 2004 when reporting from Baghdad and watching a brutally deregulated market state being imagined by agents of the Bush administration in the rubble of war and the fall of Saddam Hussein. She documented it too in the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami in Sri Lanka, when the inundated coastline of former fishing villages was parcelled up and sold off to global hotel chains in the name of regeneration.

And she saw it most of all in the fallout of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, when, she argued, disaster was first ignored and exacerbated by government and then exploited for the gain of consultants and developers. Friedmanites understood that in extreme circumstances bewildered populations longed above all for a sense of control. They would willingly grant exceptional powers to anyone who promised certainty. They understood too that the combination of social media and 24-hour cable news allowed them to manufacture such scenarios almost at will. The libertarian right of the Republican party, in Klein’s words, became “a movement that prays for crisis the way drought-struck farmers pray for rain”.

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Here’s hoping Chelsea has some peace and perhaps even fun.

Chelsea Manning Explains Why She Went to Prison for You (TAM)

Chelsea Manning has given her first interview since being released from prison last month in which she explains her motivations for making public thousands of military documents. Excerpts of her interview with ABC‘s “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang aired Friday on the network’s “Good Morning America.” Asked about why she leaked the trove of documents, she says, “I have a responsibility to the public … we all have a responsibility.” “We’re getting all this information from all these different sources and it’s just death, destruction, mayhem.” “We’re filtering it all through facts, statistics, reports, dates, times, locations, and eventually, you just stop,” she adds. “I stopped seeing just statistics and information, and I started seeing people.” Asked by Hing what she would tell President Obama, Manning, choking up, says, “I’ve been given a chance,” she says. “That’s all I asked for was a chance.”

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Stop bombing. Start rebuilding. There is no other solution.

Over 2,500 Migrants Rescued In Mediterranean In 2 Days, Over 50 Missing (RT)

More than 2,500 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast in the past 48 hours while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in “flimsy dinghies,” the UN refugee agency has said. At least eight people have died and dozens are feared missing. “Eight corpses have been recovered so far and at least 52 people are feared missing from two incidents involving large numbers of people on flimsy dinghies off the coast of Libya on Saturday,” Director of Europe Bureau of the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR) Vincent Cochetel said in a statement, citing the Italian Coast Guard. In all, over a dozen search-and-rescue operations, coordinated by the Italian Coast Guard, were launched over the weekend. The rescued migrants are expected to be disembarked in Italy over the next few days, the agency added.

“UNHCR applauds the rescue efforts by European government authorities, the Italian Coast Guard and NGOs, but is deeply saddened that the death toll continues to rise,” the statement reads. Over 1,770 people are estimated to have perished or gone missing while trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year, according to agency’s estimates, while more than 50,000 migrants reached Italian shores, most of them through Libya. The death toll among migrants trying to reach Europe is believed to be much higher, according to the UNHCR, though, as many of them presumably die in the Sahara desert without even making it to the Libyan coast. The migrant death toll is expected to spike in the next few months with the beginning of summer sailing season, the agency warns. While urging to strengthen international efforts to save people attempting to cross the Mediterranean, UNHCR stated that the “solutions cannot just be in Italy.” Italy has on numerous occasions said that it does not enough resources to deal with the migrant influx from Libya.

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Apr 272017
 
 April 27, 2017  Posted by at 8:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Pablo Picasso Self portrait with palette 1906

 

The Destruction Of Greece – “Only A Down Payment” According To The IMF (Bilbo)
Greek Supermarkets Report Dramatic Recession (K.)
US Student Loan Implosion (PolCal)
If Mortgage Rates Rise, What Happens to Canada’s House Price Bubble? (WS)
Canada’s Housing Bubble Explodes As Biggest Lender Crashes (ZH)
Canada’s Housing Watchdog Warns of ‘Problematic Conditions’ (BI)
It’s Tough Being Canada These Days (BBG)
Trump Tells Canada, Mexico, He Won’t Terminate NAFTA Treaty Yet (R.)
Trump Tax Plan Would Raise US Debt by $5.5 Trillion, 20% of 2027 GDP (CRFB)
What Happened Last Time US Companies Got A Break On Overseas Profits (CNBC)
New Zealand Plans Spending Splurge to Keep ‘Growing Like Sydney’ (BBG)
Russian Spokeswoman On ‘Ridiculous’ Airstrikes In Syria, Fake News (Y!)
German Court Upholds Greek Teacher’s Case Against Pay Cut (AP)

 

 

Excellent lenghty takedown by Bill Mitchell.

The Destruction Of Greece – “Only A Down Payment” According To The IMF (Bilbo)

With Greece still wallowing in the depths of recession, it is clear that the IMF hasn’t finished with the destruction of that formerly independent nation. The destruction to date (27% contraction and increased poverty) are considered by the IMF to be “only a down payment” on what Greece has to do so satisfy the Troika. At what point do people start to realise that the on-going costs of this austerity dwarf the significant costs that would accompany exit? And the Troika is not done with Greece yet. They intend to screw it down even further. And the costs of remaining in the dysfunctional monetary union escalate by the day. At some point, the Greeks will realise they have been dudded. What is left is anyone’s guess – but it won’t be pretty. The destruction of Greece is “only a down payment” according to the IMF – keep that mentality in mind when you are working out whether Greece should remain obedient or tell them all to f*ck off and regain their currency independence and restore prosperity.

[..] The ‘event’ that brought Greece to heal in June 2015 was the ECB decision to starve the Greek banks of liquidity – in total violation of its charter to maintain financial stability within its jurisdiction. How many Greek people lost income over that blackmail? How many took their own lives? How many plunged into mental illness? Did the IMF come up with a measure of their sordid part in all that? And now Thomsen is back – threatening and haranguing a subservient polity in Greece who call themselves Socialists but have done more damage to their own nation by taking the obedience option that the conservatives could have ever dreamed of doing. The Troika are now claiming (largely at the behest of the IMF) that if Greece cuts further it will receive debt relief.

Why the Greeks are worried about their external debt is beyond me. Why not just refuse to pay it and let the debtors (largely the ECB these days as a result of the deals done with the previous bailouts (which insulated the private German and French banks from exposure) sort out the implications of that? Why not threaten Brussels with default (redenomination) and exit if they don’t allow the Greek government to expand its fiscal deficit to stimulate growth – along the lines of Spain, which only is growing because its fiscal position is in violation with the fiscal rules – conveniently ignored by Brussels as it wanted the PP government returned? Why not demand that the ECB include Greek government debt in its QE program – thereby ‘funding’ the deficit. If not, we leave!

Then the bullies would be on call and the compromises would come thick and fast. But the spinelessness of the Greek polity combined with the sociopathological joy of the Troika in bringing this rogue nation to heel will ensure no such confrontation occurs and Greece will continue to wallow at the bottom of the Eurozone. It is forecast that Greece currently needs an injection of around “€100 billion in emergency bailout cash” to stay afloat for a while. This would further add to its “already massive debt burden, that could also deepen the budget cuts and economic overhauls required to get Athens’ balance sheets back into the black and prolong what has already been a near decadelong ordeal for the country.” And the costs of staying in – huge and getting bigger.

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A “dramatic drop in consumption of basic commodities such as milk and bread..”

Greek Supermarkets Report Dramatic Recession (K.)

The supermarket sector in Greece is experiencing a deep recession ranging from 8 to 15% year-on-year across its categories, according to the marketing and strategic planning director of AB Vassilopoulos, Zeta Cheimonidou. Her statements at a corporate event confirmed the general mood in the industry and data compiled by researchers surveying the sector. Cheimonidou went on to estimate that 2017 will see a 4 to 5% decline in supermarket turnover compared with 2016. “The market is experiencing a much steeper decline than last year. There is a very deep recession,” Cheimonidou stated, although she added that it would be safer to wait and see how demand evolves up until the end of May before drawing any conclusions for the entire year.

If proven correct, her estimate for a 4% drop in turnover will come on the back of a major decline in 2016 compared to 2015, which, depending on the surveying company, ranges from 4.5 to 6.5%. In its recent annual general meeting, the Hellenic Food Industry Federation (SEVT) noted the dramatic drop in consumption of basic commodities such as milk and bread, while a senior market research company official told Kathimerini that “our clients, suppliers and retailers, were crying in the first quarter.”

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Congress wil have to address this soon.

US Student Loan Implosion (PolCal)

The Consumer Federation of America recently put out a press release that reports that they’ve found that 1.1 million student loan borrowers in the United States have gone 270 or more days without making payments on their Federal Direct Student Loans, with more than $137 billion worth of the loans issued by the U.S. government now qualifying as being in default by that standard. Data from the CFA’s press release has made the rounds among multiple news outlets, but we have a pretty basic question: Are those big numbers? They certainly seem like big numbers, what with all the millions and billions being thrown about, but how do these numbers fit into the bigger U.S. government-issued student loan story? Let’s start with the biggest numbers, where we discover that $137 billion worth of Federal Direct Student Loans are in default, against the larger total of $1.3 trillion worth of Federal Direct Student Loans that have been issued through the end of December 2016.

Here, we calculate that the percentage of student loans that have gone 270 or more days without having had a payment made upon them represents about 11% of the total amount borrowed. That means that some 1.1 million people whose student loans require that they make some sort of scheduled payment went more than 9 months without making any. To tell if that’s a big number or not requires that we put that number into some kind of context. Here, we’ll draw on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s data for the delinquency rates on loans and leases issued by all commercial banks in the U.S., where for the fourth quarter of 2016, we find that the total delinquency rate is 2.04%. That value had previously peaked at 7.4% back in the first quarter of 2010, following the bottoming of the Great Recession.

But another important thing to consider is that delinquency rate would include all private-sector issued loans and leases that have payments that are past due, including those that have gone without payment for much less than 270 days. That figure tells us that the default rate of 11% for Federal Direct Student Loans is, to put it in Trumpian terms, “Yuge!” [..] The average student loan balance in the U.S. is $30,650. For Americans who haven’t defaulted on their student loans, that average figure drops to $28,150. But for Americans who have defaulted on their payments to their U.S. government creditor, the average balance on their Federal Direct Student Loan is $124,545.

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If you were not scared yet…

If Mortgage Rates Rise, What Happens to Canada’s House Price Bubble? (WS)

Housing affordability is a function of down payment, monthly payment, and household income. With home prices skyrocketing while household incomes were lagging far behind, low mortgage rates were the grease that kept it going. But what happens when mortgage rates begin to tick up? A “payment shock.” “An increase in interest rates of 100 bps [1 percentage point] on a 5 year term would represent a rise of C$388 for the monthly mortgage payment in the Vancouver market (+9% to C$4,669) and C$239 in Toronto (+7% to C$3,692). With housing affordability problem in these markets being already acute, we doubt current home prices could resist such an interest rate hike.”

This chart via NBF Economics and Strategy shows by how much monthly mortgage payments would rise if mortgage rates ticked up just 1 percentage point. Note the impact on monthly payments for homes in Toronto (Ontario) and Victoria and Vancouver (British Columbia):

So just how big is the Canadian housing bubble? The chart below by NBF Economics and Strategy compares US home prices (Case-Shiller 20-City index) to Canadian home prices (Teranet-National Bank 26-city index). Both indices are based on similar methodologies of comparing pairs of sales of the same home over time. The shaded areas denote recessions in Canada. The brief dip during the last recession in Canada pales against the multi-year housing bust in the US:

Like so many other assets classes in central-bank nirvana, this one too has reached ludicrous levels. But there’s a difference. People don’t live in stocks, bonds, classic cars, or art, and these asset bubbles have less impact on the real economy. But people do have to live in homes. Now that the results are clearer than daylight, central banks and governments worry about the consequences: Bubbles don’t just plateau. Now they wonder, belatedly, how to get out of it without bringing the whole construct down. The fact that a 1-percentage point increase in mortgage rates poses existential questions for some of the hottest markets shows how far policy makers have painted themselves into a corner.

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“Home Capital shares dropped by 61% in Toronto..”

Canada’s Housing Bubble Explodes As Biggest Lender Crashes (ZH)

Call it Canada’s “New Century” moment. We first introduced readers to the company we said was the “tip of the iceberg in Canada’s magnificent housing bubble” nearly two years ago, in July 2015 when we exposed a major problem that we predicted would haunt Home Capital Group, Canada’s largest non-bank mortgage lender: liar loans in particular, and a generally overzealous lending business model with little regard for fundamentals. In the interim period, many other voices – most prominently noted short-seller Marc Cohodes – would constantly remind traders and investors about the threat posed by HCG.

Today, all those warnings came true, when the stock of Home Capital Group cratered by over 60%, its biggest drop on record, after the company disclosed that it struck an emergency liquidity arrangement for a C$2 billion ($1.5 billion) credit line to counter evaporating deposits at terms that will leave the alternative mortgage lender unable to meet financial targets, and worse, may leave it insolvent in very short notice. As part of this inevitable outcome, one which presages the company’s eventual disintegration and likely liquidation, Bloomberg reports that the non-binding rescue loan with an unnamed counterparty will be secured by a portfolio of mortgage loans originated by Home Trust, the Toronto-based firm said in a statement Wednesday.

Home Capital shares dropped by 61% in Toronto to the lowest since 2003, dragging down other home lenders. Equitable fell 17%, Street Capital fell 13%, while First National declined 7.6%. In short, the Canadian mortgage bubble has finally burst. refundable commitment fee of C$100 million, while standby fee on undrawn funds is 2.5%. The initial draw must be C$1 billion. The loan has an effective – and very much distressed – interest rate of 22.5% on the first C$1 billion, declining to 15% if fully utilized, according to a note from Jaeme Gloyn, an analyst at National Bank of Canada. Home Capital said the credit line is intended to “mitigate” a sharp drop in Home Trust’s high-interest savings account balances, which sank by $591 million from March 28 to April 24, at which point the total balance was $1.4 billion. Home Capital warned on Wednesday that further outflows are anticipated. Translated: what until last night was a depositor bank jog just became a sprint.

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Dangerous shoptalk: “..overvaluation has been downgraded to moderate from a previously strong assessment..”

Canada’s Housing Watchdog Warns of ‘Problematic Conditions’ (BI)

Canada’s housing watchdog maintained its view that there is “strong evidence of problematic conditions” in the market that some economists have classified as being in a bubble. The market is characterized by imbalances, defined as when demand and prices are far from their historical averages, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation said in second-quarter report. “While the overall assessment of problematic conditions remains strong for Canada, overvaluation has been downgraded to moderate from a previously strong assessment,” CMHC said.

“Careful analysis by geography shows that local differences continue to divide the Canadian housing market into several markets: centers in the East are showing weak evidence of overvaluation, while centres in Southern Ontario and the West are showing moderate to strong evidence of overvaluation,” it added. In Victoria, for example, the CMHC determined that overvaluation had accelerated from “moderate” to “strong.” The Teranet and National Bank of Canada house-price index showed a 24.8% gain year-on-year in March. It jumped 12.2% for Vancouver. Separately on Wednesday, shares of Canada’s home lenders fell after Home Capital Group said it obtained a $1.5 billion credit line to cope with falling deposits. Home Capital shares plunged by more than 60%.

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“George Washington used to complain about British lumber coming in from Canada..”

It’s Tough Being Canada These Days (BBG)

It’s tough being Canada these days. There’s no other way, really, to explain why the Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it was imposing tariffs on exports of Canadian softwood lumber – tariffs that will cost the Canadian lumber industry $1 billion annually. The Canadian dairy industry is also in Trump’s crosshairs, as he made plain in a threatening tweet Tuesday morning. Trump spent much of his campaign railing about China’s “unfair” trade practices, and all the “American jobs” that have migrated to Mexico. But now that he’s president, he’s apparently been made to understand that slapping tariffs on Chinese goods could lead to a catastrophic trade war. And any moves that might destabilize Mexico would have negative consequences for the U.S.

Ah, but hit Canada with a tariff, and you get all of the political upside of looking tough with no downside. This is not just because Canadians are nice. It’s because the Canadian economy is more U.S.-dependent than any other. “20% of Canada’s GDP relies on the U.S.,” said Laura Dawson, the director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center. “And 70% of Canada’s exports go to the U.S.” Even if Canada wanted to retaliate, what exactly could it do? Stop the Ford plants in Canada from shipping cars to Ford in Detroit? A rational administration would never let these minor disputes get in the way of a smooth-functioning economic relationship with Canada. To start with, there’s the fact that Canada is the staunchest U.S. ally, which you would think would count for something.

And the U.S. benefits enormously from trade with Canada, which buys 18% of all American exports, more than any other country. Last year, Canada’s trade surplus with the U.S. was a minuscule $11.2 billion. The integration of the two economies has been beneficial to both. Nor are the two disputes anything new. The American lumber industry has been complaining about Canadian softwood lumber since pretty much forever. “George Washington used to complain about British lumber coming in from Canada,” Dawson said with a chuckle. The basic allegation is that most timberland in Canada is owned by its provinces, which sell logging rights at below-market prices. The U.S. views this as a government subsidy, a notion Canada rejects. Although Americans and the Canadians have never been able to put this dispute to rest, they have been able to negotiate a truce on three separate occasions since the early 1980s.

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Advisers can’t agree.

Trump Tells Canada, Mexico, He Won’t Terminate NAFTA Treaty Yet (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump told the leaders of Canada and Mexico on Wednesday that he will not terminate the NAFTA treaty at this stage, but will move quickly to begin renegotiating it with them, a White House said. The announcement came after White House officials disclosed that Trump and his advisers had been considering issuing an executive order to withdraw the United States from the trade pact with Canada and Mexico, one of the world’s biggest trading blocs. The White House said Trump spoke by telephone with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that he would hold back from a speedy termination of NAFTA, in what was described as a “pleasant and productive” conversation.

“President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time and the leaders agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries,” a White House statement said. “It is my privilege to bring NAFTA up to date through renegotiation. It is an honor to deal with both President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau, and I believe that the end result will make all three countries stronger and better,” Trump was quoted as saying in the statement. The Mexican and Canadian currencies rebounded in Asian trading after Trump said the U.S. would stay in NAFTA for now. The U.S. dollar dropped 0.6% on its Canadian counterpart and 1% on the peso.

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This is not going to be easy to pass.

Trump Tax Plan Would Raise US Debt by $5.5 Trillion, 20% of 2027 GDP (CRFB)

The White House released principles and a framework for tax reform today. We applaud the President’s focus on tax reform, but the plan includes far more detail on how the Administration would cut taxes than on how they would pay for those cuts. Based on what we know so far, the plan could cost $3 to $7 trillion over a decade– our base-case estimate is $5.5 trillion in revenue loss over a decade. Without adequate offsets, tax reform could drive up the federal debt, harming economic growth instead of boosting it. The framework proposes a number of specific changes including: consolidating and reducing individual income tax rates to 10, 25, and 35%; doubling the standard deduction; cutting the business tax rate to 15% on both corporations and pass-through businesses; repealing the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and estate tax; repealing the 3.8% investment surtax from the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”); moving to a territorial tax system; and imposing a one-time tax on money held overseas.

The plan also includes some vaguer proposals, including “providing tax relief for families with child and dependent care expenses” and eliminating “targeted tax breaks that mainly benefit the wealthiest taxpayers.” Although the framework itself is vague on the latter, at their press conference Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Director Gary Cohn seemed to imply it meant repealing all individual deductions unrelated to savings, charitable giving, or mortgage interest (revenue would come mostly from repealing the state and local tax deduction). Even with the detailed portions of the plan, there are not enough parameters specified to provide a certain revenue estimate of the tax plan. But making some assumptions based on prior proposals, our best rough estimate suggests the specified parts of the plan would cost $5.5 trillion. Assuming tax break limits only apply only to higher earners, that cost could be as high as $7 trillion; assuming credits and exclusions are eliminated as well as deductions, it would cost $3 trillion.

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“..as much as 91 cents on the dollar went to share repurchases, even though that, along with compensation increases, was an expressly prohibited use by Congress.”

What Happened Last Time US Companies Got A Break On Overseas Profits (CNBC)

The Trump administration wants to give companies a break on profits earned overseas and brought back to the United States — a program that’s been tried before to little effect. Current estimates put the total stockpile that U.S firms are holding abroad so as to avoid U.S. taxes at somewhere in the $2.5 trillion range. Back in 2004, Congress approved a plan to “repatriate” such overseas funds that companies could bring back home at a reduced rate. The program was part of the American Jobs Creation Act. The hope then, as now, was that companies would shovel that money back into the economy in the form of investment and job creation. It didn’t quite work out that way. Contrary to the intent, the benefits skewed toward a select few companies in a select few industries.

Rather than use the money for hiring and capital purchases, companies plowed the cash into share buybacks and dividends, and many of the biggest beneficiaries actually cut American jobs in the years after the repatriation. “While empirical evidence is clear that this provision resulted in a significant increase in repatriated earnings, empirical evidence is unable to show a corresponding increase in domestic investment or employment,” the Congressional Research Service, Congress’ nonpartisan think tank, said in a report. The CRS cited a series of reports into the benefits of repatriation, with a common theme that the 2004 program was “an ineffective means of increasing economic growth.” In the 2004 case, 9,700 companies were eligible to take part in a tax holiday that would bring the overseas cash back at a rate of 5.25%, well below the 35% rate for profits earned abroad.

Of that group, 843 firms participated. They brought home $312 billion in qualified earnings, or about one-third of the total cash held overseas, according to the CRS. That translated into total deductions of $265 billion. [..] In the 2005-06 time frame, Pfizer, which repatriated $37 billion, slashed 10,000 jobs. Merck, which brought back $15.9 billion, cut 7,000 jobs, and HP pared its employment rolls by 14,500 after repatriating $14.5 billion. Most of the money went to repairing balance sheets and rewarding shareholders, according to the CRS. According to one study cited, as much as 91 cents on the dollar went to share repurchases, even though that, along with compensation increases, was an expressly prohibited use by Congress.

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Once was a nice country.

New Zealand Plans Spending Splurge to Keep ‘Growing Like Sydney’ (BBG)

New Zealand’s government announced plans to substantially increase infrastructure spending to help sustain economic growth and cope with a swelling population. In its May 25 budget, the government will allocate NZ$11 billion ($7.6 billion) in additional spending on infrastructure like schools, roads, hospitals and housing between 2017 and 2020, Finance Minister Steven Joyce said in a speech in Wellington Thursday. When added to already-planned investments, a total of around NZ$23 billion would be spent over the four-year period, representing “the biggest addition to the government’s capital stock in decades,” he said. New Zealand’s economy is among the fastest-growing in the developed world, expanding at around 3% a year, and the government predicts rising budget surpluses.

Growth is being driven in part by record immigration and fewer New Zealanders seeking work abroad, which is straining infrastructure. “As a country we are now growing a bit like South-East Queensland or Sydney, when in the past we were used to growing in fits and starts,” Joyce said. “That’s great because we used to send our kids to South-East Queensland and Sydney to work, and now they come back here.” Details of the first tranche of spending would be unveiled in the budget, and Joyce said the government wants to make greater use of public-private partnerships and joint ventures to boost infrastructure further.

[..] The government will aim to cut net debt to 10-15% of GDP by 2025, from an estimated 24.3% at June 30 this year. Its current target is to reduce net debt to 20% of GDP by 2020. Joyce said the government borrowed heavily to help the country through the global financial crisis and a devastating earthquake in Christchurch in 2011. “Shocks can come along at any time, and sometimes they come in pairs,” he said. “We are a geologically young country, and we are also a small country in an often turbulent world – so there are plenty of shocks ahead of us.”

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“I just want any example of Russia spreading fake news, just show me one example.. I can present you tons, dozens, billions of examples of Western media spreading false news about Russia..”

Russian Spokeswoman On ‘Ridiculous’ Airstrikes In Syria, Fake News (Y!)

Recent U.S. airstrikes against Syria were “ridiculous,” according to Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova. In a blunt, at times contentious, interview with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, Zakharova called the strikes “unacceptable” and said they violated international law and made no military or political sense. “They brought the situation nowhere,” she said. She went on to say that the goal of the West to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad is “not a way out, it is a dead end.” When pressed on whether Assad was responsible for the chemical attacks that led to the U.S. military action, she said, “Our decisions should be based on real evidence,” detailing Russia’s desire to have independent investigators determine blame.

She pointed to U.S. claims in 2003 that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which later turned out to be false. “That was the worst thing that happened to the Security Council, to the United States, to the Middle East region,” Zakharova said. The wide-ranging, exclusive conversation began with Zakharova objecting to Couric’s characterization of the Russian government as a “regime.” “I think if a president is elected by the people of his country, it’s not about being a regime, it’s about being a democracy,” she said. Zakharova said that relations between the U.S. and Russia began to deteriorate during the Obama administration, in part because of what she called “fake news” reports about her country that were disseminated during those years.

“What I’m facing today is, the main role of the media is to separate people (in order) to divide the world into separate parts. I think it’s dangerous.” She dismissed claims from American and European intelligence officials that, in actuality, Russia is disseminating fake news to achieve its geopolitical goals. “I just want any example of Russia spreading fake news, just show me one example,” she said. “I can present you tons, dozens, billions of examples of Western media spreading false news about Russia,” she told Couric.

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Germany forces Greece to take measures that are illegal under German law. Both are -equal- members of an economic union.

German Court Upholds Greek Teacher’s Case Against Pay Cut (AP)

A German federal court has upheld a complaint by a teacher at a Greek school in Germany against a pay cut that the Greek government imposed at the height of the country’s financial crisis. The teacher, a Greek citizen, works at a Greek government-run school in Nuremberg but his contract is subject to German law. He sued after his pay was cut in 2010. A lower court granted his demand for some €20,000 ($21,780) in extra pay for Oct. 2010-Dec. 2012 — the amount by which his salary was lowered. The Federal Labor Court said Wednesday it has rejected a Greek appeal against that ruling. It ruled that Greek austerity legislation isn’t directly applicable on German territory and that Greece doesn’t have legal immunity over the labor contract.

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Mar 212017
 
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Fred Stein Streetcrossing, Paris 1935

 

To Make America Great Again, Trump Will Have To Make the Dollar Weak Again (MW)
The Fed Gave Trump Just Enough Rope To Hang Himself With – Deutsche (ZH)
S&P 500 Companies Blow $1.7 Trillion On Making Earnings Look Less Bad (WS)
US “Too Big To Fail” Banks Top $1 Trillion – What Happens Next? (ZH)
Australia’s Central Bank Warns Of Growing Risks In Housing, Debt (CNBC)
Australia Bank Regulators To Unleash New Crackdown On Lenders (AFR)
Toronto Home Prices May Jump 25% This Year – TD (BBG)
Canada Real Estate: This Is Going To Blow Sky High (Bergin)
British Banks Handled Vast Sums Of Laundered Russian Money (G.)
What Central Banks Get Wrong About Economic Equilibrium (BBG)
Full Speed Ahead for Murphy’s Law (Jim Kunstler)
Earth Is A Planet In Upheaval Breaking Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ (G.)
Three-Quarters Of Older People In The UK Are Lonely (G.)
Greek Public Hospitals Stretched Further As Access Granted To Uninsured (K.)
Sharp Increase In Refugees Reaching Aegean Islands From Turkey (K.)

 

 

Currency manipulation?

To Make America Great Again, Trump Will Have To Make the Dollar Weak Again (MW)

If Donald Trump really wants to Make America Great Again, he’s going to have to Make the Dollar Weak Again first. So argued hedge fund manager Mathew Klody of MCN Capital Management at this week’s Grant’s investment conference in New York. He made an intriguing case. If Klody’s right, Trump may just be blowing smoke when he talks about tariffs and border-adjustment taxes. And, most importantly, if Klody is right, we should also buy foreign currencies, especially those issued by emerging markets. Sooner or later, the president will need to drive down the dollar, and for those based in the U.S. that will drive up foreign currencies. Mexican pesos, anyone? This is not far-fetched. Research Affiliates, the smart investment advisers in Newport Beach, Calif., argue that emerging market currencies are among the most attractive asset classes available to investors.

They’re expecting those currencies to produce returns in U.S. dollars of inflation plus about 3.5% a year over the next decade, with far less volatility than stocks. Incidentally, if Klody’s analysis is right, Trump should also, logically, be good for gold. The collapse of American manufacturing towns, and the old industrial middle class, has gone hand in hand with a staggering 40-year rise in the dollar, Klody observed. It is standard economics that as your currency rises, your exports become more expensive and less competitive in foreign markets. Meanwhile, the reverse happens at home: Imports from overseas get cheaper and cheaper compared with domestic production. Klody noted that since the mid-1970s, the U.S. dollar has quadrupled in price — yes, really — when measured against the Federal Reserve’s broad basket of foreign currencies.

It may be mere coincidence that during that same period, imports have surged, and the U.S. has lost its global dominance in many areas of manufacturing. MCN Capital’s Klody notes that during the period that the dollar soared, workers’ share of domestic income has plummeted.From the 1940s through the early 1970s, the working man and woman got a pretty consistent 50% of national domestic income.Since the mid-1970s, it’s collapsed to around 43%. And, yes, that’s happened under most political regimes (the Clinton-Gingrich-dot-com years in the 1990s being an exception).That, of course, is a big reason why Trump won. Klody himself came from a small town in Pennsylvania that used to be a classic American industrial boomtown. And now, according to the town’s mayor, it looks like a deserted bomb site.

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Tyler: “The above, simply summarized: the Fed has given Trump just enough rope to hang himself with; and since all that matters now is how effective the President will be in passing his political agenda – which is not looking good- should Trump fails, the one of two possible outcomes that is most likely is the one where the “curve bear flattens or inverts”, prompting the next, long overdue, recession. “

The Fed Gave Trump Just Enough Rope To Hang Himself With – Deutsche (ZH)

Aleksandar Kocic: “The subtext of the last week’s Fed “package” is a compromise motivated by a desire to extend the comfort zone and to hedge their position against possible fiscal irresponsibility, while, at the same time, not stand in the way to any possible fiscal stimulus (or its absence) by hiking too aggressively…. Depending on the interplay between degree of political resolve and the Fed actions we could see two distinct paths of resolution of the existing tensions in the mid- or long-run. Last week, the Fed delivered what appears as a dovish hike, in all likelihood to be followed with two hikes more in 2017 and three in 2018. Such a choice of the Fed action was a compromise driven by the developments in the labor market and the key events in Europe, on one side, combined with the risk associated with the approval of the fiscal stimulus, on the other.

The subtext of this compromise can be interpreted as being motivated by the Fed’s desire to extend the comfort zone and to hedge their position against possible fiscal irresponsibility, while, at the same time, not stand in the way to any possible fiscal stimulus by hiking too aggressively. Despite all the efforts not to create more uncertainty, this is likely to create at least mild ambiguity regarding the long-run. A Fed which is not in a standby position waiting for the fiscal package to arrive and kick in is going to be supportive for USD and higher real rates. The March FOMC “package” (in terms of rate hike, dots, rhetoric and Q&E) implies effectively a real rate rise and is most likely bearish for breakevens, which could diminish the effect of the border tax on the trade deficit and, as such, reduce the impact on growth potential.

In addition, having higher real rates increases the costs of borrowing and possibly creates political resistance against deficit expansions and structural steepening of the curve. On top of that, given what we saw in the last weeks, this suggests that the political process around the budget plan and the Legislative package already expected by the market is going to be anything but smooth, which is adding further doubts about its success and timing. Depending on the interplay of politics and policy – degree of political resolve and the Fed actions – we could see two distinct paths of resolution of the existing tensions in the mid- or long-run.

On one hand, it appears that the Fed is removing uncertainty around the terminal rate, while on the other, politics is creating a binary outcomes which could have a dramatically different effect on long rates. In that context, we are facing a future with bifurcating back end of the curve. Either political bottlenecks clear and the stimulus gets approved and goes full force leading to higher growth potential with subsequent rise in price levels and structural steepening of the curve, or political tensions effectively sabotage either its arrival or content (or both), and the curve initially bear flattens or even twists with rate shorts capitulation accelerating the rally of the back end.”

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Find a -nearly- deserted island to live on.

S&P 500 Companies Blow $1.7 Trillion On Making Earnings Look Less Bad (WS)

The S&P 500 index, closing today at 2,373, hovers near its all-time high. Total market capitalization of the 500 companies in the index exceeds $20 trillion, or 106% of US GDP. In the three-plus years since the end of January 2014, the index has soared 33%. And yet, over these three-plus years, even with financial engineering driven to the utmost state of perfection, including $1.7 trillion in share buybacks and despite “ex-bad-items” accounting schemes that are giving even the SEC goosebumps – despite all these efforts, the crucial and beautifully doctored “adjusted” earnings-per-share, perhaps the single most manipulated metric out there, has gone nowhere. “Adjusted” earnings per share are back where they’d been at the end of January 2014. It’s a sad sign when not even financial engineering can conjure up the appearance of earnings growth.

Companies report earnings in two ways: 1) All companies report as required under GAAP (our slightly inconvenient Generally Accepted Accounting Principles). These earnings are often a loss or way too small and shrinking, instead of growing, and hence not very palatable. 2) So most companies also report pro-forma, ex-bad-items, “adjusted” earnings, based on the companies’ own notions of what matters. Analysts and the media hype that metric. This is just a method of reporting the same results in a more glamorous manner. Then there’s financial engineering. Companies borrowed heavily over the past few years and used those funds to purchase their own shares. This hollowed out equity and left companies with piles of debt.

Over the past three years, companies blew $1.7 trillion on share buybacks. This money was not invested in productive activities that would have expanded the company and the economy, and generated cash flow to service this debt. All it did was reduce the number of shares outstanding. This has the effect of increasing earnings per share (EPS) though the company didn’t actually make more money. Add this system of share buybacks to the system of “adjusting” earnings per share via reporting schemes, and the result should be a miracle of soaring “adjusted” EPS. But no.

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“..surged 30% since Donald Trump was elected president..”

US “Too Big To Fail” Banks Top $1 Trillion – What Happens Next? (ZH)

For the first time ever, the market cap of America’s “Big Four” banks topped $1 trillion having surged 30% since Donald Trump was elected president. While to some this is cause for celebration, we note that the last time a nation’s “big four” banks topped $1 trillion in market cap did not end well… As Bloomberg notes, the four biggest U.S. banks were worth the most on record versus China’s “Big Four” this month, as JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Citigroup were worth over $250 billion more than Industrial & Commercial Bank, China Construction Bank, Bank of China, and Agricultural Bank of China combined. The four Chinese banks, the world’s most profitable, were worth about the same as the U.S. foursome as recently as June. However, as the chart shows, while the American quartet’s combined market value closed above $1 trillion for the first time last month, China achieved that goals in June 2015… and it did not end well.

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Too late now.

Australia’s Central Bank Warns Of Growing Risks In Housing, Debt (CNBC)

Australia’s central bank saw growing risks in the nation’s hot housing market when it left rates steady earlier this month, underlining the case against further easing in policy. Minutes of its March meeting showed the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) was generally optimistic about the economy as it transitioned away from a decade long boom in mining investment. However, board members felt there had been a “build-up of risks” in the housing market as borrowing for investment fueled brisk price rises in Sydney and Melbourne. Home prices accelerated at an annual pace of 11.7% in February, with Sydney running red-hot at 18.4%, data from property consultant CoreLogic showed. Governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly argued that cutting rates further could encourage a renewed borrowing binge by households who are already heavily indebted, outweighing any economic benefits.

With wages growing at record lows, debt was outpacing incomes and threatening to weigh on consumer spending. Data out recently showed retail sales grew at a tepid pace for a third straight month while the outlook for capital expenditure remained uninspiring. The RBA noted tighter supervision had contributed to “some” strengthening in lending standard by the banks, which has also been raising rates on some mortgage products recently. Analysts suspect even stricter standards are likely to be imposed by regulators in coming weeks. Housing affordability, or the lack of it, has become a hot-button issue for the conservative government of Malcolm Turnbull which has promised measures to ease the problem in its May budget. The RBA’s angst over housing has convinced financial markets there will be no more cuts in interest rates, already at all time lows of 1.5%.

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They’re too scared too crack down on anything. Housing can bring down the entire Oz economy by now.

“I don’t use the B-word. I refuse to use the B-word..”

Australia Bank Regulators To Unleash New Crackdown On Lenders (AFR)

Regulators are preparing to impose a fresh wave of constraints on the banks to slow investor lending growth, crack down on interest-only loans, and force buyers to stump up more equity on purchases as they scramble to manage a rampant property boom. Warning that financial and economic risks have grown in recent months, particularly across east coast property markets, the nation’s top financial regulators and Treasurer Scott Morrison unleashed co-ordinated calls for fresh restraint from banks. “Watch this space,” declared Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman Wayne Byres on Monday, speaking just hours after Mr Morrison urged APRA and the Australian Securities and Investments commission to use “the levers that they have”. Leaping house price growth over recent months in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as a tsunami of new apartment stock due to hit the market in coming months are creating a wall of uncertainty over the financial stability of the housing market.

That’s being exacerbated by concerns over heavily indebted households’ ability to withstand a rising global interest rate environment at a time of record-low wages growth. In a sign of growing tensions between members of the Council of Financial Regulators – which includes APRA, ASIC, Treasury and chaired by the Reserve Bank – Mr Byres pointedly refused to describe the property market as being in a “bubble”, saying use of the term was “superficial” and “binary”. “I don’t use the B-word. I refuse to use the B-word,” Mr Byres said. “We are in it – we are not in it. If we are in it we’re all going to be ruined – if we are not in it we’re going to be right. It’s too simplistic.” By contrast, Greg Medcraft, ASIC’s chairman, bluntly repeated his view that the market was in a bubble. “I have been saying for a while that I thought it was a bubble and other people are catching up now. “Clearly the issue is if you raise interest rates that’s a big tool but then you affect the whole economy.”

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Hike rates into this.

Toronto Home Prices May Jump 25% This Year – TD (BBG)

Toronto’s housing market is likely to stay strong for the rest of the year, with home prices jumping as much as 25%, amid hints that speculators are fueling demand and posing a potential risk to the economy, TD Economics Chief Economist Beata Caranci said. A “strong Toronto home-price forecast is not a vote of confidence in market fundamentals,” Caranci wrote Monday in a note to clients. “It’s getting harder to ignore warning signs that market demand pressures are increasingly reflecting speculative forces.” Residential prices in Canada’s largest metropolitan region are forecast to grow 20 to 25% this year, up from a previous estimate of 10 to 15%, according to the report by TD Economics, part of Toronto-Dominion Bank.

Toronto-area prices have climbed 19% in the past 12 months, the fastest clip since the 1980s, when a frenzied housing market resulted in year-over-year increases of 55%, Caranci said. “Evidence is building that speculative forces are growing deeper roots, which raises the risk that prices will move closer to the top end of that forecast in the absence of policy measures,” Caranci wrote. As for next year, higher mortgage rates and fewer affordable properties will likely cut the growth rate to 3 to 5%, though a lack of clarity on housing speculation makes predictions difficult, Caranci said. A housing market driven by speculators seeking a quick profit boosts the risk of rapidly unwinding price gains at the same time homebuyers are contending with larger debt burdens, she said.

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Seen this movie so many times before.

Canada Real Estate: This Is Going To Blow Sky High (Bergin)

Originally, I thought this would be a bit of a joke. There were billboards in all the Toronto subway cars advertising the Canadian Real Estate Wealth Expo – learn how to become a millionaire. I thought this was so ridiculous, it may be fun. What better way to experience the top of the housing market than watching Tony Robbins and Pitbull along with a bunch of US real estate professionals explain how Toronto real estate is the path to riches. Prices were originally $150 per ticket, but I was able to buy for $50. While it deeply bothers me that I paid $50 to these shameless (amoral) self-promoters, I thought it would be worth it to witness, in person, the top of the housing market. I had thought, there can’t be that many people stupid enough to attend this, but I was very wrong – 15,000 people were there! I was blown away. Bubbles are largely psychological. This crowd was tangible proof of that.

15k people in one spot listening to Americans explain why real estate in Toronto is an exceptional investment. The whole experience was horrifying. The crowd was very well-dressed, middle- to upper-middle class (from appearances), and super excited to hear how much money could be made if you just buy real estate (most of them clearly already owned). The first real segment of the expo was a panel of Canadian developers and real estate agents giving their views on the market. It actually started off a touch bearish, which surprised me. Two of the panelists were saying that prices are exceptionally high and no market goes up forever. With that slight bit of caution thrown out there, it became a real estate FOMO-building talk.

There are, apparently, two very important things to know when dealing with real estate. First, you have to face your fear; this fear is to be ignored and then you should ‘just do it’ and ‘buy now’. The next step is find what you can afford and then buy it. Ignore all ‘non-doers’, don’t overanalyze or focus on the numbers, just fucking buy. To allay fears the speakers are actually quite clever as they shift between a long to short term focus when it suits. For example, now is a great time to buy because short-term the market is on fire. If, however, markets cool then you just hold because it always goes up long-term – and you are a savvy long-term buyer, aren’t you? By showing no scenario where you can lose I can see how this pitch works on the susceptible.

The second important factor in real estate is financing. Not everyone has money, so what can they do? The answers were shocking. Be ‘creative’ was the first response. Pool your money, borrow from friends and family, own just 5% of a house, get the money however you can and just do it – remember, it only goes up. Other financing suggestions were get cozy with a lender and they will ‘bend the rules’ for you! The fact that the biggest condo developer in Canada (Brad Lamb) said lenders will bend (but not break, apparently) rules to get you financing in front of 15k people with most people smiling and nodding was shocking. So there you go – when it comes to Toronto real estate, just do it (using borrowed money any way you can get it).

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Well, actually, it’s HSBC again. And a few minor conspirators.

British Banks Handled Vast Sums Of Laundered Russian Money (G.)

Britain’s high street banks processed nearly $740m from a vast money-laundering operation run by Russian criminals with links to the Russian government and the KGB, the Guardian can reveal. HSBC, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds, Barclays and Coutts are among 17 banks based in the UK, or with branches here, that are facing questions over what they knew about the international scheme and why they did not turn away suspicious money transfers. Documents seen by the Guardian show that at least $20bn appears to have been moved out of Russia during a four-year period between 2010 and 2014. The true figure could be $80bn, detectives believe. One senior figure involved in the inquiry said the money from Russia was “obviously either stolen or with criminal origin”.

Investigators are still trying to identify some of the wealthy and politically influential Russians behind the operation, known as “the Global Laundromat”. They estimate a group of about 500 people were involved. These include oligarchs, Moscow bankers, and figures working for or connected to the FSB, the successor spy agency to the KGB. Igor Putin, the cousin of Russia’s president, Vladimir, sat on the board of a Moscow bank which held accounts involved in the fraud. British-registered companies played a prominent role in this extensive money-laundering network. The real owners of most of the firms used in the scheme remain secret, however, because of the anonymity provided by controversial offshore laws.

The Global Laundromat banking records were obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta from sources who wish to remain anonymous. OCCRP shared the data with the Guardian and media partners in 32 countries. The documents include details of about 70,000 banking transactions, including 1,920 that went through UK banks and 373 via US banks.

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More of this interview with Steve in a few days, hopefully.

What Central Banks Get Wrong About Economic Equilibrium (BBG)

In today’s “Morning Must Read,” Bloomberg’s Tom Keene highlights comments on economic equilibrium models. He speaks with Kingston University Economics Professor Steve Keen on “Bloomberg Surveillance.”

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“What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe.”

Full Speed Ahead for Murphy’s Law (Jim Kunstler)

In the 1950s, finance made up about 5% of the economy. It’s mission then was pretty simple and straightforward: to manage the accumulated wealth of the nation (capital) and then allocate it to those who proposed to generate greater wealth via new productive activities, mostly industrial, ad infinitum. It turned out that ad infinitum doesn’t work in a world of finite resources — but the ride had been so intoxicating that we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe it, and still can’t. With industry expiring, or moving elsewhere (also temporarily), we inflated finance to nearly 40% of the economy. The new financialization was, in effect, setting a matrix of rackets in motion.

What had worked as capital management before was allowed to mutate into various forms of swindling and fraud — such as the bundling of dishonestly acquired mortgages into giant bonds and then selling them to pension funds desperate for “yield,” or the orgy of merger and acquisition in health care that turned hospitals into cash registers, or the revenue streams on derivative “plays” that amounted to bets with no possibility of ever being paid off, or the three-card-monte games of interest rate arbitrage played by central banks and their “primary dealer” concubines. Some of what I’ve listed above may be incomprehensible to the blog reader, and that is because these rackets were crafted to be opaque and recondite.

The rackets continue without regulation or prosecution because there is an unstated appreciation in government, and in the corporate board rooms, that it’s all we’ve got left. What remains of the accustomed standard of living in America is supported by wishing and fakery and all that is now coming to a climax as we steam full speed ahead into Murphy’s law: if something can go wrong, it will. When all of America comes to realize that President Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing, it will make last November’s national nervous breakdown look like a momentary case of the vapors. What can go wrong awaits in markets, banks, currencies, and the immense dark pools of counterparty obligations that amount to black holes where notions of value are sucked out of the universe. There is so much that can go wrong. And then it will. And then maybe that will prompt us back to consider being a nation again.

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Sometimes I think we’re going to live to see Noah’s next ark.

Earth Is A Planet In Upheaval Breaking Into ‘Uncharted Territory’ (G.)

The record-breaking heat that made 2016 the hottest year ever recorded has continued into 2017, pushing the world into “truly uncharted territory”, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. The WMO’s assessment of the climate in 2016, published on Tuesday, reports unprecedented heat across the globe, exceptionally low ice at both poles and surging sea-level rise. Global warming is largely being driven by emissions from human activities, but a strong El Niño – a natural climate cycle – added to the heat in 2016. The El Niño is now waning, but the extremes continue to be seen, with temperature records tumbling in the US in February and polar heatwaves pushing ice cover to new lows.

“Even without a strong El Niño in 2017, we are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said David Carlson, director of the WMO’s world climate research programme. “Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere,” said Jeffrey Kargel, a glaciologist at the University of Arizona in the US. “In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilisation, which thrives on stability.” The WMO report was “startling”, said Prof David Reay, an emissions expert at the University of Edinburgh: “The need for concerted action on climate change has never been so stark nor the stakes so high.”

[..] 2016 saw the hottest global average among thermometer measurements stretching back to 1880. But scientific research indicates the world was last this warm about 115,000 years ago and that the planet has not experienced such high levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for 4m years. 2017 has seen temperature records continue to tumble, in the US where February was exceptionally warm, and in Australia, where prolonged and extreme heat struck many states. The consequences have been particularly stark at the poles. “Arctic ice conditions have been tracking at record low conditions since October, persisting for six consecutive months, something not seen before in the [four-decade] satellite data record,” said Prof Julienne Stroeve, at University College London in the UK. “Over in the southern hemisphere, the sea ice also broke new record lows in the seasonal maximum and minimum extents, leading to the least amount of global sea ice ever recorded.”

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Ah, look at all the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Three-Quarters Of Older People In The UK Are Lonely (G.)

Almost three-quarters of older people in the UK are lonely and more than half of those have never spoken to anyone about how they feel, according to a survey carried out for the Jo Cox commision on loneliness. The poll by Gransnet, the over-50s social networking site, also found that about seven in 10 (71%) respondents – average age 63 – said their close friends and family would be surprised or astonished to hear that they felt lonely. Gransnet is one of nine organisations – including Age UK, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Silver Line helpline for older people – working to address the issue of loneliness in older people, which is the current focus of the commission, set up by Cox before her murder last June. They are urging individuals and businesses to look for signs of loneliness and refer people to organisations that can help.

But they also want people to take time to speak to neighbours, family, old friends or those they encounter randomly. The chairs of the cross-party commission, the Labour MP Rachel Reeves and Conservative MP Seema Kennedy, said there was a stigma around loneliness that must be tackled. “We all need to act and encourage older people to freely talk about their loneliness,” they said. “Everyone can play a part in ending loneliness among older people in their communities by simply starting a conversation with those around you. “How we care and act for those around us could mean the difference between an older person just coping, to them loving and enjoying later life.” Almost half (49%) of the 73% who described themselves as lonely in the online poll said they had been so for years, 11% said they had always felt lonely and 56% said they had never spoken about their loneliness to anyone.

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Pure Greek tragedy. But you can’t leave 2.5 million people untreated.

Greek Public Hospitals Stretched Further As Access Granted To Uninsured (K.)

A change in legislation last April has given access to the public health system to some 2.5 million Greeks who did not have social insurance but has also put a financial strain on hospitals, whose funding has not increased. Treating uninsured patients cost public hospitals in Athens €57.2 million last year. Across Greece, €23.5 million was spent on providing free lab tests to about 204,000 people. “Our experience shows that the number of uninsured people coming to the hospitals is increasing,” the vice president of the Athens-Piraeus Hospital Doctors’ Association, Ilias Sioras, told Kathimerini. “But the hospitals do not have adequate funds.” State funding is at €1.1 billion this year, the same as in 2016.

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If Erdogan gets desperate enough he’ll pull the plug and turn this into a Europe supports terrorism narrative. Woe Greece.

Sharp Increase In Refugees Reaching Aegean Islands From Turkey (K.)

New arrivals to the eastern Aegean islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos have raised the number of migrants landing in Greece from neighboring Turkey since last Thursday to 566, government figures showed on Monday. The figure represents a significant increase compared to arrivals in the rest of March and for the whole of February. In the past four days, 195 migrants landed on Lesvos, 341 on Chios and 30 on Samos. More than 14,000 migrants remain stuck on the islands of the eastern Aegean awaiting the outcome of their applications for asylum or deportation. The majority are living in overcrowded reception facilities where conditions have been described as “unacceptable” and “inhumane” by human rights groups.

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Oct 042016
 
 October 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:36 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Howard Hollem Assembly and Repairs Department Naval Air Base, Corpus Christi 1942

‘I Defy Any Analyst To Tell Me What Deutsche’s Derivatives Are Worth’ (Price)
IMF and ECB Don’t Even See Their Destruction of Greece as a Failure (M. Hudson)
The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Yes!)
Median S&P 500 Stock Is More Overvalued Than At Any Point In History (Hussman)
TARGET2 Shows Europe’s Banking Crisis Is Escalating Again – Fast (Gerifa)
US Stock Buyback Plans Drop To 5 Year Low (ZH)
Subprime Auto-Loan Backed Securities Turn Toxic (WS)
Putin Suspends Plutonium Cleanup Accord With US Citing ‘Unfriendly’ Acts (R.)
Predictable Presidential Temperament (Scott Adams)
When It Comes to Tax Avoidance, Donald Trump’s Just a Small Fry (NYT)
ING Announces 7,000 Job Cuts As Unions Condemn ‘Horror Show’ (G.)
Why Biologists Don’t Believe In Race (BBG)
Bid For Strongest Protection For All African Elephants Defeated At Summit (G.)
EU Signs Deal To Deport Unlimited Numbers Of Afghan Asylum Seekers (G.)
Over 6,000 Migrants Rescued From Mediterranean In A Single Day, 22 Dead (R.)

 

 

Mark-to-Myth.

‘I Defy Any Analyst To Tell Me What Deutsche’s Derivatives Are Worth’ (Price)

This is getting to be a habit. Previous late summer holidays by this correspondent coincided with the run on Northern Rock, and subsequently with the failure of Lehman Brothers. So the final crawl towards the probable nationalisation of Deutsche Bank came as no particular surprise this year, but it is tiresome to relate nevertheless. The 2015 annual report for Deutsche Bank runs to some 448 pages, so one rather doubts if even its CEO, John Cryan, has read it all, or has a complete grasp of, for example, its €42 trillion in total notional derivatives exposure.

Is Deutsche Bank technically insolvent? We’d suggest that it probably is, but we have no dog in the fight, having never either owned banks, or shorted them. And like everybody else we assume that some kind of fix will soon be in – probably one that will further vindicate exposure to gold, both as money substitute and currency substitute. Professor Kevin Dowd, asking whether Deutsche Bank ist kaputt, suggests that the bank’s derivatives exposure is difficult to assess rationally; the value of its derivatives book:

“is unreliable because many of its derivatives are valued using unreliable methods. Like many banks, Deutsche uses a three-level hierarchy to report the fair values of its assets. The most reliable, Level 1, applies to traded assets and fair-values them at their market prices. Level 2 assets (such as mortgage-backed securities) are not traded on open markets and are fair-valued using models calibrated to observable inputs such as other market prices. The murkiest, Level 3, applies to the most esoteric instruments (such as the more complex/illiquid Credit Default Swaps and Collateralized Debt Obligations) that are fair-valued using models not calibrated to market data – in practice, mark-to-myth. The scope for error and abuse is too obvious to need spelling out.”

[As Compass Point’s Charles Peabody exclaims “I defy any analyst to tell me what that {derivative} portfolio is worth.”]

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Michael Hudson reviews Galbraith’s latest book. Europe’s Economic Hit Men.

IMF and ECB Don’t Even See Their Destruction of Greece as a Failure (M. Hudson)

[..] instead of an emerging “European superstate” run by elected representatives empowered to promote economic recovery and growth by writing down debts in order to revive employment, the Eurozone is being run by the troika on behalf of bondholders and banks. ECB and EU technocrats are serving these creditor interests, not those of the increasingly indebted population, business and governments. The only real integration has been financial, empowering the ECB to override national sovereignty to dictate public spending and tax policy. And what they dictate is austerity and economic shrinkage. In addition to a writeoff of bad debts, an expansionary fiscal policy is needed to save the eurozone from becoming a dead zone.

But the EU has no unified tax policy, and money creation to finance deficit spending is blocked by lack of a central bank to monetize government deficits under control of elected officials. Europe’s central bank does not finance deficit spending to revive employment and economic growth. “Europe has devoted enormous effort to create a ‘single market’ without enlarging any state, and while pretending that the Central Bank cannot provide new money to the system.” Without monetizing deficits, budgets must be cut and the public domain sold off, with banks and bondholders in charge of resource allocation. As long as “the market” means keeping the high debt overhead in place, the economy will be sacrificed to creditors. Their debt claims will dominate the market and, under EU and ECB rules, will also dominate the state instead of the state controlling the financial system or even tax policy.

Galbraith calls this financial warfare totalitarian, and writes that while its philosophical father is Frederick Hayek, the political forbear of this market Bolshevism is Stalin. The result is a crisis that “will continue, until Europe changes its mind. It will continue until the forces that built the welfare state in the first place rise up to defend it.” To prevent such a progressive policy revival, the troika promotes regime change in recalcitrant economies, such as it deemed Syriza to be for trying to resist creditor commitments to austerity. Crushing Greece’s Syriza coalition was openly discussed throughout Europe as a dress rehearsal for blocking the Left from supporting its arguments. “Governments from the Left, no matter how free from corruption, no matter how pro-European,” Galbraith concludes, “are not acceptable to the community of creditors and institutions that make up the European system.”

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“..it is not an American empire, it’s not helping Americans. It’s exploiting us in the same way that we used to exploit all these other countries around the world.”

The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (Yes!)

Sarah van Gelder : What’s changed in our world since you wrote the first Confessions of an Economic Hit Man?

John Perkins : Things have just gotten so much worse in the last 12 years since the first Confessions was written. Economic hit men and jackals have expanded tremendously, including the United States and Europe. Back in my day we were pretty much limited to what we called the third world, or economically developing countries, but now it’s everywhere. And in fact, the cancer of the corporate empire has metastasized into what I would call a failed global death economy. This is an economy that’s based on destroying the very resources upon which it depends, and upon the military. It’s become totally global, and it’s a failure.

van Gelder : So how has this switched from us being the beneficiaries of this hit-man economy, perhaps in the past, to us now being more of the victims of it?

Perkins : It’s been interesting because, in the past, the economic hit man economy was being propagated in order to make America wealthier and presumably to make people here better off, but as this whole process has expanded in the U.S. and Europe, what we’ve seen is a tremendous growth in the very wealthy at the expense of everybody else. On a global basis we now know that 62 individuals have as many assets as half the world’s population. We of course in the U.S. have seen how our government is frozen, it’s just not working. It’s controlled by the big corporations and they’ve really taken over. They’ve understood that the new market, the new resource, is the U.S. and Europe, and the incredibly awful things that have happened to Greece and Ireland and Iceland, are now happening here in the U.S. We’re seeing this situation where we can have what statistically shows economic growth, and at the same time increased foreclosures on homes and unemployment.

van Gelder : Is this the same kind of dynamic about debt that leads to emergency managers who then turn over the reins of the economy to private enterprises? The same thing that you are seeing in third-world countries?

Perkins : Yes, when I was an economic hit man, one of the things that we did, we raised these huge loans for these countries, but the money never actually went to the countries, it went to our own corporations to build infrastructure in those countries. And when the countries could not pay off their debt, we insisted that they privatize their water systems, their sewage systems, their electric systems. Now we’re seeing that same thing happen in the United States. Flint, Michigan, is a very good example of that. This is not a U.S. empire, it’s a corporate empire protected and supported by the U.S. military and the CIA. But it is not an American empire, it’s not helping Americans. It’s exploiting us in the same way that we used to exploit all these other countries around the world.

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“..easily exceeding the overvaluation observed at the 2000 and 2007 pre-crash extremes.”

Median S&P 500 Stock Is More Overvalued Than At Any Point In History (Hussman)

“In the ruin of all collapsed booms is to be found the work of men who bought property at prices they knew perfectly well were fictitious, but who were willing to pay such prices simply because they knew that some still greater fool could be depended on to take the property off their hands and leave them with a profit.” – Chicago Tribune, April 1890

[..] I’ve noted before that while the bubble peak in 2000 was the most extreme level of valuation in history on a capitalization-weighted basis, the recent speculative episode has actually exceeded that bubble from the standpoint of speculation in individual stocks. The most reliable measures of individual stock valuation we’ve found are based on formal discounted cash flow considerations, but among publicly-available measures we’ve evaluated, price/revenue ratios are better correlated with actual subsequent returns than price/earnings ratios (though normalized profit margins and other factors are obviously necessary to make cross-sectional comparisons).

The chart below shows the median price/revenue ratio across all S&P 500 components, in data since 1986. I should note that from a long-term perspective, the valuation levels we observed in 1986 are actually close to very long-term historical norms over the past century, as the pre-bubble norm for the market price/revenue ratio is just 0.8 in data since 1940. With the exception of 1986, and the 1987, 1990 and 2009 lows, which were moderately but not severely below longer-term historical norms, every point in this chart is “above average” from the standpoint the longer historical record. Presently, the median stock in the S&P 500 is more overvalued than at any point in U.S. history, easily exceeding the overvaluation observed at the 2000 and 2007 pre-crash extremes.

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Unstoppable. There’s not enough fingers for al the holes in the dikes.

TARGET2 Shows Europe’s Banking Crisis Is Escalating Again – Fast (Gerifa)

Problems of Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank, Monte dei Paschi and other German, Italian and Spanish banks are not the only concern of the European Banking System. Trouble is much deeper than it is thought because there is a systemic imbalance that has been increasing for almost ten years. Politicians do not want to tell us the truth, but soon we will experience the same crisis in the Monetary Union as we did in 2012. The extent of the problems in the European Banking System is TARGET2 and its balances of the National Central Banks of the Eurosystem. These balances, or rather imbalances, reflect the direction of the capital flight. And there is only one way: from Southern Europe into Germany. After Draghi’s famous words “I do whatever it takes to save the euro”, things seemed to improve; however, since January 2015 problems have been escalating again.


TARGET2, (i.e. Trans-European Automated Real-Time Gross Settlement Express Transfer System), is a clearing system which allows commercial banks in Europe to conduct payment transactions in the euro through National Central Banks (NCB) and the European Central Bank (ECB).

The excess money flow from banks in one country to banks in another country has to be compensated for. It can be done with loans or so called interbank lending. If there is no compensation from the interbank market (because banks do not trust each other any more) then country A has a liability and country B has a claim and compensation comes from the ECB. Therefore TARGET2 balances are net claims and liabilities of the euro area NCBs vis-a-vis the ECB. As long as the interbank money market in Europe functioned correctly, balances were relatively stable. Excess money that flows from Greece to Germany was compensated for with the purchase of Greek bonds or by interbank lending. However, after the crisis in the Euro Area, banks have stopped lending each other money and the compensation has to be provided by the central bank.

As the Euro Crisis Monitor shows, on the basis of the ECB data, the money is going now to Germany and also to Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Finland, while all other national banks have increasing liabilities! The worst situation is in Spain and Italy who are now close to the 2012 negative records. The current imbalance, or the excessive flow of money from Southern Europe to Northern Europe is not related to the trade balance deficit. Spain and Italy have managed to reduce their trade balance deficits. We hope clients from Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena have not moved their money to Deutsche Bank. The Greek balance seems to be improving, but it is due to capital control: banks in Greece are limited in using the system.

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The only game is leaving town.

US Stock Buyback Plans Drop To 5 Year Low (ZH)

The value of stock buyback announcements from U.S. companies slowed to its lowest level in nearly five years, dropping to a fresh nine quarter low, TrimTabs Investment Research said on Monday, potentially jeopardizing one of the main drivers of the rising stock market. TrimTabs calculated that buybacks rebounded to $59.9 billion in September from a 3.5 year low of $21.5 billion in August, but two-thirds of last month’s volume was due to a single buyback by Microsoft. The 39 buybacks rolled out last month was the lowest number in a month since January 2011. “Buybacks have been trending lower for the past two years, which is a cautionary longer-term signal for U.S. equities,” said Winston Chua, analyst at TrimTabs. “Along with central bank asset purchases, buybacks have been a key pillar of support for the bull market.”

Somewhat surprisingly, the decline in buybacks takes place even as corporations issue record amounts of debt which in previous years was largely put toward stock repurchases but is increasingly going to fund maturing debt due to a rising rollover cliff in the coming year. “The U.S. stock market isn’t likely to get as much of a boost from buybacks as it did in recent years,” noted Chua. “Apart from big tech firms and the too-big-to-fails, fewer companies seem willing to use lots of cash to support share prices. One month ago, David Santschi, CEO of TrimTabs, warned that “buyback activity has been disappointing in earnings season”, a trend that has persisted in the coming weeks. “The reluctance to pull the trigger on share repurchases suggests corporate leaders are becoming less enthusiastic about what they see ahead.”

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As car sales are already under threat.

Subprime Auto-Loan Backed Securities Turn Toxic (WS)

In the subprime auto loan market, things are turning ugly as delinquencies and losses have begun soaring. Specialized lenders – a couple of big ones, and a whole slew of small ones that service the lower end of the subprime market – slice and dice these loans, repackage them into auto-loan backed securities (auto ABS), and sell them to investors, such as yield-hungry pension funds. Delinquencies of 60 days and higher among subprime auto ABS increased by 22% year-over-year in August, Fitch Ratings reported on Friday – now amounting to 4.9% of the outstanding balances that Fitch tracks and rates. And subprime annualized losses increased by 27% year-over-year, reaching 8.9% of the outstanding balances of auto ABS.

Even delinquencies among prime borrowers are rising, with delinquencies of 60 days or more increasing by 17% from a year ago, and annualized losses by 11%, though they’re still relatively tame at 0.4% and 0.6% respectively of the balances outstanding. And according to Fitch, the toxicity level in the subprime auto ABS space isgoing to rise, with “subprime auto losses to pierce 10% by year-end.” Total auto loan balances, both subprime and prime – given the soaring prices of cars, the stretched terms of the loans, and the ballooning loan-to-value ratios – have been skyrocketing, up 46% from the first quarter in 2011 through the second quarter in 2016, when they hit $1.07 trillion:

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“..taking into account this tension (in relations) in general … the Russian side considers it impossible for the current state of things to last any longer.”

Putin Suspends Plutonium Cleanup Accord With US Citing ‘Unfriendly’ Acts (R.)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday suspended an agreement with the United States for disposal of weapons-grade plutonium because of “unfriendly” acts by Washington, the Kremlin said. A Kremlin spokesman said Putin had signed a decree suspending the 2010 agreement under which each side committed to destroy tonnes of weapons-grade material because Washington had not been implementing it and because of current tensions in relations. The two former Cold War adversaries are at loggerheads over a raft of issues including Ukraine, where Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and supports pro-Moscow separatists, and the conflict in Syria.

The deal, signed in 2000 but which did not come into force until 2010, was being suspended due to “the emergence of a threat to strategic stability and as a result of unfriendly actions by the United States of America towards the Russian Federation”, the preamble to the decree said. It also said that Washington had failed “to ensure the implementation of its obligations to utilize surplus weapons-grade plutonium”. The 2010 agreement, signed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called on each side to dispose of 34 tonnes of plutonium by burning in nuclear reactors. Clinton said at the time that that was enough material to make almost 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Both sides then viewed the deal as a sign of increased cooperation between the two former adversaries toward a joint goal of nuclear non-proliferation. “For quite a long time, Russia had been implementing it (the agreement) unilaterally,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with journalists on Monday. “Now, taking into account this tension (in relations) in general … the Russian side considers it impossible for the current state of things to last any longer.”

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Dilbert creator Scott Adams was apparently “shadowbanned” by Twitter in the aftermath of this post for asking his followers for examples of Clinton supporters being violent against peaceful Trump supports in public.

Predictable Presidential Temperament (Scott Adams)

Do you remember the time someone insulted Donald Trump and then Trump punched him in the nose? Neither do I. Because nothing like that has ever happened. Instead, people attack Donald Trump with words (often) and he attacks them back with words. See if the following pattern looks familiar: 1. Person A insults Trump with words. Trump insults back with words. 2. Person B mentions some sort of scandal about Trump. Trump mentions some sort of scandal about Person B. 3. Person C endorses Trump (even if they publicly feuded before) and Trump immediately says something nice about Person C. The feud is instantly over. See the pattern? Consider how many times you have seen the pattern repeat with Trump. It seems endless. And consistent.

Trump replies to critics with proportional force. His reaction is as predictable as night following day. The exceptions are his jokey comments about roughing up protesters at his rallies. The rally-goers recognize it as entertainment. I won’t defend his jokes at rallies except to say that it isn’t a temperament problem when you say something as a joke and people recognize it as such. (We see his rally joke-comments out of context on news coverage so they look worse.) What we have in Trump is the world’s most consistent pattern of behavior. For starters, he only responds to the professional critics, such as the media and other politicians. When Trump responded to the Khan family and to Miss Universe’s attacks, they had entered the political arena.

As far as I know, private citizens – even those critical of Trump – have never experienced a personal counter-attack. Trump limits his attacks to the folks in the cage fight with him. And when Trump counter-attacks, he always responds with equal measure. Words are met with words and scandal mentions are met with scandal mentions. (And maybe a few words.) But always proportionate and immediate. Does any of that sound dangerous? What if Trump acted this way to our allies and our adversaries? What then? Answer: Nothing Our allies won’t insult Trump, and they won’t publicly mention any his alleged scandals. They will respect the office of the President of the United States no matter what they think of Trump.

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“Avoidance” is already a leading, and therefore unfortunate, term.

When It Comes to Tax Avoidance, Donald Trump’s Just a Small Fry (NYT)

Not paying taxes “makes me smart,” Donald J. Trump said last week. His surrogates called him “a genius” for his recently revealed tax avoidance strategies. Well, if they are right, the executives running corporate America are absolute virtuosos. An exhaustive study being released on Tuesday by a group of researchers shows in detail how Fortune 500 companies have managed to shelter trillions of dollars in profits offshore from being taxed. Mr. Trump’s efforts pale by comparison. Worse, the companies have managed to hide many of their tax havens completely, in many cases reporting different numbers to different government agencies to obfuscate exactly how they’ve avoided Uncle Sam. And, yes, it is all legal.

The immediate response from many readers may be ire for the companies avoiding taxes — or for Mr. Trump. But that’s not the goal of this particular column. In this case, that kind of thinking may even be counterproductive. Instead, the study — which notes that 58 Fortune 500 companies would owe $212 billion in additional federal taxes, “equal to the entire state budgets of California, Virginia and Indiana combined,” if they were taxed properly — should be a five-alarm call to voters and lawmakers to finally fix the tax system. If all the attention on Mr. Trump’s tax bill (or lack of one) isn’t enough to inspire a complete rewrite of the tax code, this study may be. The authors of the report, which include the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Citizens for Tax Justice, combed through the filings of the Fortune 500 for 2015 and found an astonishing 73% “maintained subsidiaries in offshore tax havens.”

Maybe it is to be expected. Companies and individuals complain bitterly that taxes are too high and the rules too complicated, but many corporations and the wealthiest members of our society have found ways to make the tax code work for them. If all the Fortune 500 companies paid taxes on their sheltered profits, the researchers tallied, the government would receive a whopping $717.8 billion windfall. To put that number in context, the 2015 federal budget deficit was $438 billion. However, fixing our corporate tax system alone isn’t the answer to reducing our red ink; it might only be a drop in the bucket given that our total federal debt is nearing $20 trillion.

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Government bails out bank with taxpayers money, which then goes and fires taxpayers. What’s wrong with this picture?

ING Announces 7,000 Job Cuts As Unions Condemn ‘Horror Show’ (G.)

ING’s plans to shed 7,000 jobs and invest in its digital platforms to make annual savings of €900m by 2021 has drawn swift criticism of the Netherlands’ largest financial services company from unions. The layoffs represent slightly less than 12% of ING’s 52,000 workforce, because nearly 1,000 are expected to come at suppliers rather than at the bank itself. But they are the heaviest since 2009, when ING was forced to restructure and spin off its insurance activities after receiving a state bailout during the financial crisis. Unions were highly critical.

“I don’t think this was the intention of the [government] when it kept ING afloat with bailout money,” Ike Wiersinga of the Dutch union CNV said. In Belgium, where the number of jobs lost will be highest, labour leader Herman Vanderhaegen called the decision a “horror show” and said workers would strike on Friday 7 October. Although other large banks have announced mass layoffs at branch offices in the past year to boost profitability, ING said the job cuts were partly to combine technology platforms and risk-control centres, as well to help it to contend with regulatory burdens and low interest rates.

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Race is an invention to justify terrorizing groups of people.

Why Biologists Don’t Believe In Race (BBG)

Race is perhaps the worst idea ever to come out of science. Scientists were responsible for officially dividing human beings into Europeans, Africans, Asians and Native Americans and promoting these groups as sub-species or separate species altogether. That happened back in the 18th century, but the division lends the feel of scientific legitimacy to the prejudice that haunts the 21st. Racial tension proved a major point of contention in the first 2016 presidential debate, and yet just days before, scientists announced they’d used wide-ranging samples of DNA to add new detail to the consensus story that we all share a relatively recent common origin in Africa.

While many human species and sub-species once roamed the planet, there’s abundant evidence that beyond a small genetic contribution from Neanderthals and a couple of other sub-species, only one branch of humanity survived to the present day. Up for grabs was whether modern non-Africans stemmed from one or more migrations out of Africa. The newest data suggests there was a single journey – that sometime between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago, a single population of humans left Africa and went on to settle in Asia, Europe, the Americas, the South Pacific, and everywhere else. But this finding amounts to just dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on a scientific view that long ago rendered notion of human races obsolete.

“We never use the term ‘race,’ ” said Harvard geneticist Swapan Mallick, an author on one of the papers revealing the latest DNA-based human story. “We’re all part of the tapestry of humanity, and it’s interesting to see how we got where we are.” That’s not to deny that people vary in skin color and other visible traits. Whether you’re dark or light, lanky or stocky depends in part on the sunlight intensity and climate in the regions where your ancestors lived. Nor is it to deny that racism exists – but in large part, it reflects a misinterpretation of those superficial characteristics. “There is a profound misunderstanding of what race really is,” Harvard anthropology professor Daniel Lieberman said at an event the night after the presidential debate. “Race is a scientifically indefensible concept with no biological basis as applied to humans.”

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Titanic and the Deckchairs. Nice name for a band. But with this I’m more convinced than ever that we will need to put the death penalty on killing elephants and lions and many other species. And we have to put our armies to good use, ours, not that of the military-industrial complex. Mankind will not survive with the natural world that gave birth to it, thoroughly decimated. And if you doubt that, ask yourself why on earth we should take the chance. And have our children know the most iconic animals on earth only from photos from the past.

Bid For Strongest Protection For All African Elephants Defeated At Summit (G.)

A bid to give the highest level of international legal protection to all African elephants was defeated on Monday at a global wildlife summit. The EU played a pivotal role in blocking the proposal, which was fought over by rival groups of African nations. But the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), meeting this week in Johannesburg, passed other new measures for elephants that conservationists say will add vital protection. All 182 nations agreed for the first time that legal ivory markets within nations must be closed. Separately, a process that could allow one-off sales of ivory stockpiles was killed and tougher measures to deal with nations failing to control poached ivory were agreed.

More than 140,000 of Africa’s savannah elephants were killed for their ivory between 2007 and 2014, wiping out almost a third of their population, and one elephant is still being killed by poachers every 15 minutes on average. The price of ivory has soared threefold since 2009, leading conservationists to fear the survival of the species is at risk. The acrimonious debate over elephant poaching has split African countries. Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which host about a third of all remaining elephants, have stable or increasing populations. They argue passionately that elephant numbers are also suffering from loss of habitat and killings by farmers and that they can only be protected by making money from ivory sales and trophy hunting.

[..] Kelvin Alie, at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said the failure to put all elephants on appendix one was a disaster: “This is a tragedy for elephants. At a time when we are seeing such a dramatic increase in the slaughter of elephants for ivory, now was the time for the global community to step up and say no more.”

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FIghting rages across Afghanistan as we speak. It has ever since ‘western interests’ invaded.

EU Signs Deal To Deport Unlimited Numbers Of Afghan Asylum Seekers (G.)

The EU has signed an agreement with the Afghan government allowing its member states to deport an unlimited number of the country’s asylum seekers, and obliging the Afghan government to receive them. The deal has been in the pipeline for months, leading up to a large EU-hosted donor conference in Brussels this week. According to a previously leaked memo, the EU suggested stripping Afghanistan of aid if its government did not cooperate. The deal, signed on Sunday, has not been made public but a copy seen by the Guardian states that Afghanistan commits to readmitting any Afghan citizen who has not been granted asylum in Europe, and who refuses to return to Afghanistan voluntarily. It is the latest EU measure to alleviate the weight of the many asylum seekers who have arrived since early 2015. Afghans constituted the second-largest group of asylum seekers in Europe, with 196,170 applying last year.

While the text stipulates a maximum of 50 non-voluntary deportees per chartered flight in the first six months after the agreement, there is no limit to the number of daily deportation flights European governments can charter to Kabul. With tens of thousands set to be deported, both sides will also consider building a terminal dedicated to deportation flights at Kabul international airport. The agreement, Joint Way Forward, also opens up the deportation of women and children, which at the moment almost exclusively happens from Norway: “Special measures will ensure that such vulnerable groups receive adequate protection, assistance and care throughout the whole process.” If family members in Afghanistan cannot be located, unaccompanied children can be returned only with “adequate reception and care-taking arrangement having been put in place in Afghanistan”, the text says.

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On and on and on and on.

Over 6,000 Migrants Rescued From Mediterranean In A Single Day, 22 Dead (R.)

About 6,055 migrants were rescued and 22 found dead on the perilous sea route to Europe on Monday, one of the highest numbers in a single day, Italian and Libyan officials said. Italy’s coastguard said at least nine migrants had died and a pregnant woman and a child had been taken by helicopter to a hospital on the Italian island of Lampedusa, halfway between Sicily and the Libyan coast. Libyan officials said 11 migrant bodies had washed up on a beach east of the capital, Tripoli, and another two migrants had died when a boat sank off the western city of Sabratha. One Italian coast guard ship rescued about 725 migrants on a single rubber boat, one of some 20 rescue operations during the day.

About 10 ships from the coast guard, the navy and humanitarian organisations were involved in the rescues, most of which took place some 30 miles off the coast of Libya. Libyan naval and coastguard patrols intercepted three separate boats carrying more than 450 migrants, officials said. Monday was the third anniversary of the sinking of a migrant boat off the Italian island of Lampedusa in which 386 people died. According to the International Organisation for Migration, around 132,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of the year and 3,054 have died.

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Aug 202016
 
 August 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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William Henry Jackson New Orleans, “Canal Street from the Clay monument” 1890

A Black Swan The Size Of World War I (IBT)
Canadian Debt Slaves Pile it on (WS)
Things Keep Getting Worse For EU Banks (CNBC)
Brexit Armageddon Was A Terrifying Vision – But It Simply Hasn’t Happened (G.)
Over 500,000 UK First-Time Buyers Let Down By ‘Help To Buy’ Scheme (Sun)
A Dairy Firm at the End of the Earth Is Trying to Rule the World (BBG)
Does Motorola Need To Go To Rehab? (CCB)
Finance is Not the Economy (Hudson/Bezemer)
Saudi Arabia Kills Civilians, the US Looks the Other Way (NYT)
US Withdraws Staff From Saudi Arabia Dedicated To Yemen Planning (R.)
US Army Fudged Its Accounts By Trillions Of Dollars (R.)
Netherlands On Brink Of Banning Sale Of Petrol-Fuelled Cars (Ind.)

 

 

“The saving grace would have been to invest in Detroit startups or other investments that successfully straddled wars, Russian revolution, crises..”

A Black Swan The Size Of World War I (IBT)

To illustrate a strategic gap common to today’s portfolio managers, George Sokoloff, PhD, founder and CIO at Carmot Capital, proposes an interesting thought experiment – a breakdown of a typical, well-diversified investment strategy in 1912. Teetering on the cusp of revolution, war and depression, Sokoloff’s point is that, even following a modern portfolio management strategy, the manager would stand to lose the vast majority of their assets. People tend to rely on historically stable relationships between bonds and stocks, and when that relationship breaks down – as often happens in a liquidity event – even complicated strategies involving some arbitrage, essentially blow up. Imagine being a wealth manager out of Geneva in 1912, trying to create a nice diversified portfolio of developed market bonds, and emerging market bonds, says Sokoloff.

Say 39% of client assets would be split between stocks of Great Britain, France, German Empire, Austria-Hungary and Italy: truly mature, developed markets. Some 21% of assets would go into stocks of the two fastest growing economies: Russian Empire and North American United States. The wealth manager might also put a smidge into emerging economies like Argentina, Brazil or Japan. In bonds, allocation would be somewhat similar. Gilts with sub-3% yield would be the benchmark, with the rest of developed and emerging bonds trading at a spread. Alternatives investment could be in anything ranging from arable land in central Russia or the Great Plains, to shares of new automotive or aeroplane startups in Europe and America, to Japanese manufacturing ventures.

This well-intentioned, balanced portfolio would be in for a wild ride in the next decade and possibly drawdowns of as much as 80%. The saving grace would have been to invest in Detroit startups or other investments that successfully straddled wars, Russian revolution, crises and the technological boom of the early 20th century. Sokoloff told IBTimes UK: “That thought experiment is really frightening to me. You followed very sound modern portfolio management advice back then and still in ten years your portfolio is gone. I don’t think we are really learning the lessons of history, especially now that the global economy is so much more interconnected than it was before.”

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Scary.

Canadian Debt Slaves Pile it on (WS)

Consumer debt in Canada’s debt-fueled economy rose to a new record of C$1.67 trillion in the second quarter, according to Equifax. That’s up 3.0% from the prior quarter and 6.3% from a year ago. Excluding mortgages, consumer debt rose 3.4%, to C$21,878 per borrower on average. Folks 65 and over splurged the most with money they didn’t have and ended up increasing their debt by 8.2%. But Millennials had trouble. Their debts barely rose, and their delinquency rates have begun to jump. Equifax Canada, which based this report on its 25 million consumer credit files, doesn’t appear to capture the full extent of Canadian household debt: Statistics Canada’s most recent quarterly report pegged “total household credit market debt,” which includes mortgages, at a record C$1.933 trillion, up 5% year-over-year.

This gives Canadian households one of the highest debt-to-income ratios in the world. The ratio started soaring relentlessly 15 years ago, supporting the housing boom that barely took a breather during the Financial Crisis – a boom that now has turned into one of the globe’s most phenomenal and riskiest housing bubbles. Piling on debt to move the economy and the housing bubble forward was encouraged by record low borrowing rates. So at the end of the first quarter, the level of consumer debt was 165.3% of disposable income. It’s so high that it’s regularly subject of ineffectual hand-wringing in Canada’s central bank circles:

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“..investment banking in Germany, for example, is down 45%…”

Things Keep Getting Worse For EU Banks (CNBC)

European Union banks just can’t catch a break. Many of them are still slogging uphill to recoup share price losses incurred from the Brexit vote in the U.K. European investment banking revenue overall is down 23% this year compared with the same period in 2015, according to data tracker Dealogic. And all are lagging behind U.S. banks for wallet share, or how much revenue they take in from dealmaking compared to competitors. JPMorgan Chase tops every bank in the EU for wallet share, with 7.3% of deals, according to data from Dealogic this week. It’s followed by Goldman Sachs, which has 6.2% of deals, and only then, in third place, is an EU bank: Deutsche Bank has 5% of revenue on European mergers and acquisitions.

But European banks (and their American counterparts) are fighting off a rising tide of boutique banks that have taken a growingpercentage of M&A revenue from them over the last decade. Around the world, M&A levels have declined from recent record highs. But the pain is exacerbated in Europe, where big banks experienced a steeper drop off in revenue. Dealogic data show that investment banking in Germany, for example, is down 45%. Globally, European deals account for just 22% of banking revenue, the lowest margin since Dealogic began tracking investment banking wallet share. That comes in the wake of banks being hit especially hard on concerns about elevated loan losses, especially those coming from oil and gas assets.

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For the love of Brexit.

Brexit Armageddon Was A Terrifying Vision – But It Simply Hasn’t Happened (G.)

Unemployment would rocket. Tumbleweed would billow through deserted high streets. Share prices would crash. The government would struggle to find buyers for UK bonds. Financial markets would be in meltdown. Britain would be plunged instantly into another deep recession. Remember all that? It was hard to avoid the doom and gloom, not just in the weeks leading up to the referendum, but in those immediately after it. Many of those who voted remain comforted themselves with the certain knowledge that those who had voted for Brexit would suffer a bad case of buyer’s remorse. It hasn’t worked out that way. The 1.4% jump in retail sales in July showed that consumers have not stopped spending, and seem to be more influenced by the weather than they are by fear of the consequences of what happened on 23 June.

Retailers are licking their lips in anticipation of an Olympics feelgood factor. The financial markets are serene. Share prices are close to a record high, and fears that companies would find it difficult and expensive to borrow have proved wide of the mark. Far from dumping UK government gilts, pension funds and insurance companies have been keen to hold on to them. City economists had predicted an immediate rise in the claimant count measure of unemployment in July. That hasn’t happened either. This week’s figures show that instead of a 9,000 rise, there was an 8,600 drop.

Some caveats are in order. It is still early days. Hard data is scant. Survey evidence is still consistent with a slowdown in the economy in the second half of 2016. Brexit may be a slow burn, with the impact only becoming apparent in the months and years to come. But it is obvious that the sky has not fallen in as a result of the referendum, and those who said it would look a bit silly. By now, Britain was supposed to be reeling from the emergency budget George Osborne said would be necessary to fill a £30bn black hole in the public finances caused by a plunging economy. The emergency budget is history, as is Osborne.

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Nobody should be buying a home in Britain.

Over 500,000 UK First-Time Buyers Let Down By ‘Help To Buy’ Scheme (Sun)

The much-trumpeted Help to Buy Isa was branded a scandal last night as it emerged that first-time buyers will not be able to use it for a deposit. More than 500,000 savers opened accounts after George Osborne claimed it would provide ‘direct Government support’. But it has been revealed that a flaw in the scheme means a 25% Government bonus on savings will not be paid out until a house purchase has been completed. Experts said those struggling to find the money to buy a home would have to look to their parents for loans. The Help to Buy Isas, which launched last year, let customers save £200 a month, to which the Government adds £50, up to a final total of £15,000. Buyers are usually required to provide a 10% deposit when they exchange contacts.

But the small print shows the bonus cannot be used for the initial deposit and only spent as part of the purchase cost. So far, fewer than 1,500 people have used the Isas to help buy a home as the limit on how much can be paid in means they have only just got a realistic amount to put toward a deposit. Andrew Boast of SAM Conveyancing said: “It is a scandal. Unsuspecting first-time buyers are finding that they can’t use the bonus as part of the deposit.” Danny Cox of Hargreaves Lansdown financial advisers said: “Hundreds of thousands of Help to Buy Isa savers risk finding a last-minute hole in their finances.” A Treasury spokesman said: “It has always been the case that money saved in a Help to Buy Isa is for an exchange deposit, with the bonus of up to £3,000 per Isa going toward the total funds available for the property transaction.”

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Fonterra was never going to last. Illusions of grandeur only go so far.

A Dairy Firm at the End of the Earth Is Trying to Rule the World (BBG)

In the shadow of a snow-dusted volcano on a corner of New Zealand’s North Island, a sprawling expanse of stainless steel vats, chimneys and giant warehouses stands as a totem of the tiny nation’s dominance in the global dairy trade. The Whareroa factory was until recently the largest of its kind, churning out enough milk powder, cheese and cream to fill more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools a week. The plant has helped make owner Fonterra Cooperative Group the world’s top dairy exporter and its farmer-suppliers among the greatest beneficiaries of China’s emerging thirst for milk. Now, faced with reduced Chinese demand that’s eroded milk prices and helped drag 80% of New Zealand’s dairy farmers into the red, the 44-year-old factory has come to symbolize Fonterra’s struggle to climb the value chain.

While a global shift toward more natural foods has spurred even Coca-Cola to develop new milk products, Fonterra’s business remains largely wedded to commodities traded on often-volatile international markets. That’s frustrated the ranks of the cooperative’s 10,500 farmer-shareholders, who are set to receive the lowest return in nine years for the milking season just ended, and turned Fonterra’s strategy into the subject of national debate. “Fonterra hasn’t taken the opportunity to put itself in a position to really weather these storms as well as they should be able to,” said Harry Bayliss, 63, a former Fonterra director who still supplies the cooperative from farms about 30 kilometers west of the Whareroa factory. “What the board has focused on in the last 10 years haven’t been areas that have created real ongoing value for the shareholders or the company.”

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Motorola borrows heavily to buy its own shares. If that isn’t liquidating your company, what is? “It’s a much weaker company than it was two or three years ago..”

Does Motorola Need To Go To Rehab? (CCB)

How does Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown keep his company’s stock rising despite declining revenue and profit? Volume—of share repurchases. Since splitting off its mobile phone business in 2011, Motorola Solutions has spent $11.5 billion buying back stock. Earlier this month, the provider of products and services for government communications systems authorized another $2 billion in repurchases. The buybacks have reduced total share count by more than half, bolstering earnings per share even as actual profit declined to $613 million in 2015 from $1.16 billion in 2011. And because investors price shares on the basis of EPS, Motorola Solutions shares increased 90% in value over that period, to $75.99 yesterday, outpacing a 72% rise for the Standard & Poor’s 500 market.

Of course, Motorola Solutions is far from alone in gobbling its own shares as an antidote to sluggish growth. Companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 repurchased a record amount in the 12 months through March 31. Still, Motorola ranks in the top 10% in terms of the percentage of outstanding shares repurchased over five years, according to Birinyi Associates. Buybacks are becoming more controversial as they consume a growing share of capital. Critics say companies are artificially burnishing their results rather than investing in business activities that would generate real long-term growth. Defenders say buybacks make sense for companies that generate more cash than they can reinvest profitably.

But Motorola Solutions has spent far more than excess cash flow on buybacks. Since the spinoff, the now Chicago-based maker of two-way radio systems has produced $2.7 billion in operating cash flow and collected $3.4 billion in proceeds from selling its enterprise business to Zebra Technologies in 2014. That $6.1 billion total represents a little more than half of Motorola’s buyback outlay. Brown has financed the rest with borrowed money, tripling long-term debt to $5 billion since the spinoff. Cash on hand dropped to $1.5 billion as of June 30, from $3.1 billion a year earlier. “It’s a much weaker company than it was two or three years ago,” says analyst David Novosel of Gimme Credit, a research firm in Chicago.

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“When the financial bubble bursts, negative equity spreads as asset prices fall below the mortgages, bonds, and bank loans attached to the property.“

Finance is Not the Economy (Hudson/Bezemer)

Analysis of private sector spending, banking, and debt falls broadly into two approaches. One focuses on production and consumption of current goods and services, and the payments involved in this process. Our approach views the economy as a symbiosis of this production and consumption with banking, real estate, and natural resources or monopolies. These rent-extracting sectors are largely institutional in character, and differ among economies according to their financial and fiscal policy. (By contrast, the “real” sectors of all countries usually are assumed to share a similar technology.)

Economic growth does require credit to the real sector, to be sure. But most credit today is extended against collateral, and hence is based on the ownership of assets. As Schumpeter (1934) emphasized, credit is not a “factor of production,” but a precondition for production to take place. Ever since time gaps between planting and harvesting emerged in the Neolithic era, credit has been implicit between the production, sale, and ultimate consumption of output, especially to finance long- distance trade when specialization of labor exists (Gardiner 2004; Hudson 2004a, 2004b). But it comes with a risk of overburdening the economy as bank credit creation affords an opportunity for rentier interests to install financial “tollbooths” to charge access fees in the form of interest charges and currency-transfer agio fees.

Most economic analysis leaves the financial and wealth sector invisible. For nearly two centuries, ever since David Ricardo published his Principles of Political Economy and Taxation in 1817, money has been viewed simply as a “veil” affecting commodity prices, wages, and other incomes symmetrically. Mainstream analysis focuses on production, consumption, and incomes. In addition to labor and fixed industrial capital, land rights to charge rent are often classified as a “factor of production,” along with other rent-extracting privileges. Also, it is as if the creation and allocation of interest-bearing bank credit does not affect relative prices or incomes.

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Not exactly. The US is not some innocent bystander. Having the NYT write this up is maybe a sign, but it’s also double tongued.

Saudi Arabia Kills Civilians, the US Looks the Other Way (NYT)

In the span of four days earlier this month, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen bombed a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital, killing 19 people; a school, where 10 children, some as young as 8, died; and a vital bridge over which United Nations food supplies traveled, punishing millions. In a war that has seen reports of human rights violations committed by every side, these three attacks stand out. But the Obama administration says these strikes, like previous ones that killed thousands of civilians since last March, will have no effect on the American support that is crucial for Saudi Arabia’s air war.

On the night of Aug. 11, coalition warplanes bombed the main bridge on the road from Hodeidah, along the Red Sea coast, to Sana, the capital. When it didn’t fully collapse, they returned the next day to destroy the bridge. More than 14 million Yemenis suffer dangerous levels of food insecurity — a figure that dwarfs that of any other country in conflict, worsened by a Saudi-led and American-supported blockade. One in three children under the age of 5 reportedly suffers from acute malnutrition. An estimated 90 percent of food that the United Nation’s World Food Program transports to Sana traveled across the destroyed bridge.

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Too much publicity lately?

US Withdraws Staff From Saudi Arabia Dedicated To Yemen Planning (R.)

The U.S. military has withdrawn from Saudi Arabia its personnel who were coordinating with the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, and sharply reduced the number of staff elsewhere who were assisting in that planning, U.S. officials told Reuters. Fewer than five U.S. service people are now assigned full-time to the “Joint Combined Planning Cell,” which was established last year to coordinate U.S. support, including air-to-air refueling of coalition jets and limited intelligence-sharing, Lieutenant Ian McConnaughey, a U.S. Navy spokesman in Bahrain, told Reuters. That is down from a peak of about 45 staff members who were dedicated to the effort full-time in Riyadh and elsewhere, he said.

The June staff withdrawal, which U.S. officials say followed a lull in air strikes in Yemen earlier this year, reduces Washington’s day-to-day involvement in advising a campaign that has come under increasing scrutiny for causing civilian casualties. A Pentagon statement issued after Reuters disclosed the withdrawal acknowledged that the JCPC, as originally conceived, had been “largely shelved” and that ongoing support was limited, despite renewed fighting this summer. “The cooperation that we’ve extended to Saudi Arabia since the conflict escalated again is modest and it is not a blank check,” Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump said. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reduced staffing was not due to the growing international outcry over civilian casualties in the 16-month civil war that has killed more than 6,500 people in Yemen, about half of them civilians.

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The DoD simply does no accounting.

US Army Fudged Its Accounts By Trillions Of Dollars (R.)

The United States Army’s finances are so jumbled it had to make trillions of dollars of improper accounting adjustments to create an illusion that its books are balanced.The Defense Department’s Inspector General, in a June report, said the Army made $2.8 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries in one quarter alone in 2015, and $6.5 trillion for the year. Yet the Army lacked receipts and invoices to support those numbers or simply made them up. As a result, the Army’s financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated,” the report concluded. The “forced” adjustments rendered the statements useless because “DoD and Army managers could not rely on the data in their accounting systems when making management and resource decisions.”

Disclosure of the Army’s manipulation of numbers is the latest example of the severe accounting problems plaguing the Defense Department for decades. The report affirms a 2013 Reuters series revealing how the Defense Department falsified accounting on a large scale as it scrambled to close its books. As a result, there has been no way to know how the Defense Department – far and away the biggest chunk of Congress’ annual budget – spends the public’s money. The new report focused on the Army’s General Fund, the bigger of its two main accounts, with assets of $282.6 billion in 2015. The Army lost or didn’t keep required data, and much of the data it had was inaccurate, the IG said. “Where is the money going? Nobody knows,” said Franklin Spinney, a retired military analyst for the Pentagon and critic of Defense Department planning.

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It’ll take a lot more than that to make cities liveable. How about a deep financial crisis?

Netherlands On Brink Of Banning Sale Of Petrol-Fuelled Cars (Ind.)

Europe appears poised to continue its move towards cutting fossil fuel use as the Netherlands joins a host of nations looking to pass innovative green energy laws. The Dutch government has set a date for parliament to host a roundtable discussion that could see the sale of petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars banned by 2025. If the measures proposed by the Labour Party in March are finally passed, it would join Norway and Denmark in making a concerted move to develop its electric car industry. It comes after Germany saw all of its power supplied by renewable energies such as solar and wind power on one day in May as the economic powerhouse continues to phase out nuclear energy and fossil fuels.

And outside Europe, both India and China have demanded that citizens use their cars on alternate days only to reduce the exhaust fume production which is causing serious health problems for the populations of both nations. The consensus-oriented parties of the Netherlands are set to consider a total ban on petrol and diesel cars in a debate on 13 October. Richard Smokers, principle adviser in sustainable transport at the Dutch renewable technology company TNO, said the Dutch government was committed to meeting the Paris climate change agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions to 80% less than the 1990 level. The plan requires the majority of passenger cars to be run on CO2-free energy by 2050.

“Dutch cities still have some problems to meet existing EU air quality standards and have formulated ambitions to improve air quality beyond these standards,” he told The Independent, adding that the government had at the same time been reluctant to implement strict policies on the environment. “The current government embraces long term targets and strives at meeting EU requirements, but is hesistant about proposing ‘strong’ policy measures. “Instead it prefers to facilitate and stimulate initiatives from stakeholders in society.” If the law to ban the sale of new fossil-fuel cars by 2025 passes, a significant move will have been made towards phasing out all petrol and diesel cars by 2035, added Dr Smokers.

Read more …

Aug 182016
 
 August 18, 2016  Posted by at 8:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC George W. Cochran & Co., 709 14th Street NW, Washington DC 1920

Japanese Imports Drop -24.7%, Exports Crash -14.1% (ZH)
A Physics Lesson for Central Bankers (BBG)
The Idea Of The Fed Raising The Inflation Target Is Outrageous (Boockvar)
On The Impossibility Of Helicopter Money And Why The Casino Will Crash (DS)
US Buyback Announcements Tumble to a 2012 Low (BBG)
Oil Drillers Have Slashed Spending For 2015-2020 By $1 Trillion
Only 37% Of Borrowers Are Paying Down Their Student Loans (WSJ)
Chinese Airlines Need To Hire 100 Pilots A Week For The Next 20 Years (BBG)
Hillary Clinton Picks TPP and Fracking Advocate To Set Up Her White House (IC)
Is US Moving Nuclear Weapons From Turkey to Romania? (EurA)
America Is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen (NYT Editorial Board)
California Slaughter: The State-Sanctioned Genocide of Native Americans (NW)
Uncovering The Brutal Truth About The British Empire (G.)
Greek Villagers Rescued Refugees. Now They Are the Ones Suffering. (NYT)

 

 

Apparently Kuroda doesn’t buy enough yet.

Japanese Imports Drop -24.7%, Exports Crash -14.1% (ZH)

For the 19th month in a row, Japanese Imports plunged – dropping 24.7% YoY (worse than expected), the biggest drop since Oct 2009. Exports were just as dismal, also missing expectations, plunging 14.1% YoY – worst since Oct 2009. The biggest driver of the collapse of Japanese trade was a 44% crash in the Chinese trade balance. There’s no lipstick to put on this pig… it’s a disaster.. and worse still Yen is strengthening back below 100 against the USD.

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Why not simply admit that central bankers and economists alike have no idea what they’re doing?! Even if they ever had a clue, we’re now 8 years into ‘uncharted territory’, and it’s all anyone‘s guess. That’s what ‘uncharted territory’ means.

Moreover, central bankers and economists come in with dogmatic school book theories that don’t apply in ‘uncharted territory’, and those school book educations make sure they’re the very last candidates for finding creative solutions. Comparing economics to actual science does not help one bit.

A Physics Lesson for Central Bankers (BBG)

The world is braced for the discovery of a fifth fundamental forces of nature – the four known ones being electromagnetism, gravity, and strong and weak nuclear forces – that subverts the so-called standard model of particle physics. Given the lackluster outlook for global growth, maybe economics needs a similar revolution. Quantitative easing’s failure to quash the threat of deflation is finance’s equivalent of the bump in the data that alerted physicists to the possibility of a new boson. The mismatch between economic theory and the real-world outcome of zero interest rates poses a direct challenge to the current orthodoxy that puts a 2% inflation target at the heart of monetary policy in most of the developed world.

Figures earlier this week showed inflation running at an annual pace of just 0.8% in the U.S. and 0.6% in the U.K. Consumer prices in the euro zone are rising by about 0.2% a year; in Japan, prices dropped by 0.4% in June. The consensus forecast among economists surveyed by Bloomberg News is for none of the four central banks in those regions to meet their targets in 2016, and for the ECB and the BOJ to continue falling short for at least the next year:

Years of pumping trillions of dollars, euros, yen and pounds into the economy by buying government debt and other securities hasn’t produced the rebound in inflation that economics textbooks predicted. Record low borrowing costs haven’t led to a surge in investment and spending that would lead to higher prices. That’s the kind of empirical evidence that should produce a reconsideration of what Rothschild Investment Trust Chairman Jacob Rothschild this week called “the greatest experiment in monetary policy in the history of the world.” Neil Grossman, director of Florida-based bank C1 Financial and former chief investment officer at TKNG Capital Partners, likens the need to abandon the current economic orthodoxy with the impact of quantum physics on science in the last century.

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“There is no science to this 2% number, it is all art.”

The Idea Of The Fed Raising The Inflation Target Is Outrageous (Boockvar)

I can’t let an opportunity go by without criticizing a Fed official. I believe their feet should be held to the fire after creating a huge asset price bubble and culture of debt that is dragging down economic growth. Fed President John Williams comments yesterday really got me angry. First, he suggested possibly raising the Fed’s 2% inflation target. This reflects an amazing cluelessness of the damage this would do if realized. We are in an epic bond bubble globally where higher inflation would be kryptonite. With the bond monster central bankers have created, the last thing they should want is higher inflation. Also, many U.S. citizens are literally living paycheck to paycheck and a higher cost of living without a corresponding increase in wages or any interest income would damage the largest component of the U.S. economy and the lives of millions.

Second, he said, “Conventional monetary policy has less room to stimulate the economy during an economic downturn.” This we know is true. But he then added, “This will necessitate a greater reliance on unconventional tools like central bank balance sheets, forward guidance, and potentially even negative policy rates.” This last sentence proves he’s blind to the negative consequences of what unconventional tools have wrought and he believes in negative rates even in the face of all the evidence of how damaging the idea is. Let me expand on the first issue of inflation. Central banks in the U.S., Eurozone, UK and in Japan have tethered their monetary policy decisions on growth certainly but also the desire for 2% annual inflation. There is no science to this 2% number, it is all art.

The reason for this target and desire for this level of inflation is a matter of control. While they like to keep interest rates artificially low, they also understand the need to have them higher than they are in order to respond to any economic challenges. The fallacy with this theory that higher inflation is good and deflation is bad, is inflation is just a symptom of underlying supply and demand and technological improvements, and thus shouldn’t be manipulated.

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Stockman: “..earnings had fallen by 19% since then, even as the stock market moved from 1950 to nearly 2200 or 13% higher..”

On The Impossibility Of Helicopter Money And Why The Casino Will Crash (DS)

[..] .. the S&P 500 companies posted Q2 2016 earnings for the latest 12 month period at $86.66 per share. So at the August bubble high the market was being valued at a lunatic 25.1X. Even in a healthy, growing economy that valuation level is on the extreme end of sanity. But actual circumstances are currently more nearly the opposite. That is, earnings have now been falling for six straight quarters in line with GDP growth that has slumped to what amounts to stall speed. In fact, reported earnings for the S&P 500 peaked at $106 per share in the 12 months ended in September 2014. That means that earnings had fallen by 19% since then, even as the stock market moved from 1950 to nearly 2200 or 13% higher.

This is called multiple expansion in the parlance of Wall Street, but it’s hard to find a more bubblicious example. Two years ago the market was trading at just 18.4X, meaning that on the back of sharply falling earnings the PE multiple had risen by 36%! Valuation multiples are supposed to go up only when the economic and profits outlook is improving, not when it’s unmistakably deteriorating as at present. But during the spring-summer melt-up these faltering fundamentals were blithely ignored on the hopes of a second half growth spurt and, failing the latter, that the Fed would again pull the market’s chestnuts out of the fire.

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Time for Yellen to buy those stocks? Buybacks were the no. 1 reason the S&P looked good till now. Better find something to replace them, or else…

US Buyback Announcements Tumble to a 2012 Low (BBG)

Stock buybacks appear to be slowing down, suggesting either corporate America’s outlook has dimmed, stock valuations have become prohibitively high or, most optimistically, that companies are starting to listen to investors and put funds toward other uses. Buybacks announced for the second quarter’s earnings season between July 8 and August 15 totaled an average of $1.8 billion a day, the lowest volume in an earnings season since the summer of 2012, according to TrimTabs Investment Research.
Share repurchases have been a key driver of this year’s stock market rally, despite a notable deceleration relative to to the same period in 2015. In the first seven months of 2016, buybacks totaled $376.5 billion, according to TrimTabs.

That’s down 21% from $478.4 billion in the first seven months of last year. Equity buybacks last week totaled just $2.6 billion, while record highs in U.S. stocks triggered an increase in new equity offerings. “The reluctance to pull the trigger on share repurchases suggests corporate leaders are becoming less enthusiastic about what they see ahead,” David Santschi, chief executive officer of TrimTabs, said in a press release on Tuesday. That means “buybacks aren’t likely to provide as much fuel for the stock market as they have in the recent past.” According to TrimTabs, just five companies have announced buybacks of more-than $3 billion this earnings season: Biogen ($5 billion), Visa ($5 billion), CBS ($5 billion), AIG ($3 billion), and 21st Century Fox ($3 billion).

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Hard to admit to something that will cost you your livelihood. They all keep hoping for rising prices.

Oil Drillers Have Slashed Spending For 2015-2020 By $1 Trillion

Mad Dog, BP’s drilling project deep in the Gulf of Mexico, could be Exhibit A in the oil industry’s war on cost. When the British oil giant announced the project’s second phase in 2011, it put the price at $20 billion. Last month, after simplifying plans and benefiting from a sharp drop in everything from steel to drilling services, Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley said he could do the job for $9 billion.

Across the industry, companies have taken a chainsaw to expenses, slashing spending for the 2015-to-2020 period by $1 trillion through cutting staff, delaying projects, changing drilling techniques and squeezing outside contractors, according to consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. That’s cushioned businesses as oil prices plunged 60% since 2014. Now producers seek to show they can make the savings stick, while service providers try to reverse their losses. Industry costs “may be the defining issue of the next six to 12 months,” said J. David Anderson, a Barclays analyst in New York. “As you start ramping up, the fact is you’re going to need more services and they’re going to have to come in at a higher price.”

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Someone will come with an across the board forgiveness plan. But it’ll be contentious.

Only 37% Of Borrowers Are Paying Down Their Student Loans (WSJ)

A largely overlooked report released in February by the Government Accountability Office suggests that the Obama administration’s policies have exacerbated student debt, which equals nearly a quarter of annual federal borrowing. With only 37% of borrowers actually paying down their loans, the federal student-loan program more closely resembles the payday-lending industry than a benevolent source of funds for college. As this newspaper reported in April, “43% of the roughly 22 million Americans with federal student loans weren’t making payments as of Jan. 1,” and a staggering “1 in 6 borrowers, or 3.6 million, were in default on $56 billion in student debt.”

If student debt continues to skyrocket, the federal government may have to deal with as much as a $500 billion write-down when future defaults and loan-forgiveness programs are factored in. In 2010, the Obama administration dispensed with the private intermediaries that had administered federal loans since the 1960s. It put in their place Direct Lending, a program administered by the Education Department. At the time, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that Direct Lending would save $62 billion from 2010 to 2020. That didn’t happen. The program’s advocates failed to anticipate how two other Obama-backed college affordability initiatives—Income-Driven Repayment and loan forgiveness—would create a cataclysmic hit to the federal student-loan program’s finances.

There are more than 20 Income-Driven Repayment programs, but they all work essentially the same way. Students struggling financially can defer their payments. When no or limited payments are made, their balances grow. Today, over 20 million borrowers are watching their loan balances increase thanks to these programs. The average balance ballooned to approximately $25,000 in 2014 from $15,000 in 2004, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and has grown still larger since then.

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In their dreams.

Chinese Airlines Need To Hire 100 Pilots A Week For The Next 20 Years (BBG)

Chinese airlines need to hire almost 100 pilots a week for the next 20 years to meet skyrocketing travel demand. Facing a shortage of candidates at home, carriers are dangling lucrative pay packages at foreigners with cockpit experience. Giacomo Palombo, a former United Airlines pilot, said he’s being bombarded every week with offers to fly Airbus A320s in China. Regional carrier Qingdao Airlines promises as much as $318,000 a year. Sichuan Airlines, which flies to Canada and Australia, is pitching $302,000. Both airlines say they’ll also cover his income tax bill in China. “When the time to go back to flying comes, I’ll definitely have the Chinese airlines on my radar,” said Palombo, 32, now an Atlanta-based consultant for McKinsey. “The financials are attractive.”

Air traffic over China is set to almost quadruple in the next two decades, making it the world’s busiest market, according to Airbus Group SE. Startup carriers barely known abroad are paying about 50% more than what some senior captains earn at Delta Air Lines, and they’re giving recruiters from the U.S. to New Zealand free rein to fill their captains’ chairs. With some offers reaching $26,000 a month in net pay, pilots from emerging markets including Brazil and Russia can quadruple their salaries in China, said Dave Ross, Las Vegas-based president of Wasinc International. Wasinc is recruiting for more than a dozen mainland carriers, including Chengdu Airlines, Qingdao Airlines and Ruili Airlines. “When we ask an airline, ‘How many pilots do you need?,’ they say, ‘Oh, we can take as many as you bring,”’ Ross said. “It’s almost unlimited.”

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Incredible, but he really said it: “..there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone..”

Hillary Clinton Picks TPP and Fracking Advocate To Set Up Her White House (IC)

Two big issues dogged Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primary: the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP) and fracking. She had a long history of supporting both. Under fire from Bernie Sanders, she came out against the TPP and took a more critical position on fracking. But critics wondered if this was a sincere conversion or simply campaign rhetoric. Now, in two of the most significant personnel moves she will ever make, she has signaled a lack of sincerity. She chose as her vice presidential running mate Tim Kaine, who voted to authorize fast-track powers for the TPP and praised the agreement just two days before he was chosen.

And now she has named former Colorado Democratic Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to be the chair of her presidential transition team — the group tasked with helping set up the new administration should she win in November. That includes identifying, selecting, and vetting candidates for over 4,000 presidential appointments. As a senator, Salazar was widely considered a reliable friend to the oil, gas, ranching and mining industries. As interior secretary, he opened the Arctic Ocean for oil drilling, and oversaw the botched response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Since returning to the private sector, he has been an ardent supporter of the TPP, while pushing back against curbs on fracking.

The TPP would enhance the ability of corporations to sue to overturn environmental regulations, but Salazar helped a pro-TPP front group, the “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs,” argue the opposite. In a November 2015 USA Today op-ed that Salazar co-wrote with Bruce Babbitt, the two men argued that the TPP would be the “the greenest trade deal ever” by promoting sustainable energy. Both Salazar and Babbitt cited their former positions as interior secretaries to boost their credibility. The following month, Salazar authored a Denver Post op-ed with two former Colorado governors also affiliated with PCAJ, arguing that the agreement would protect the state’s scenic beauty: “And as a state rich with natural wonder and a long history of conservation, Colorado can be proud that the TPP includes the highest environmental standards of any trade agreement in history.”

Shortly after leaving his post at the Obama administration, Salazar appeared at an oil and gas industry conference to argue in favor of fracking. “We know that, from everything we’ve seen, there’s not a single case where hydraulic fracking has created an environmental problem for anyone,” Salazar told the attendees, who included the vice president of BP America, another keynote speaker at the conference. “We need to make sure that story is told.”

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Not confirmed. But moving them out of Turkey seems logical. Not exactly a safe third country these days.

Is US Moving Nuclear Weapons From Turkey to Romania? (EurA)

Two independent sources told EurActiv.com that the US has started transferring nuclear weapons stationed in Turkey to Romania, against the background of worsening relations between Washington and Ankara. According to one of the sources, the transfer has been very challenging in technical and political terms. “It’s not easy to move 20+ nukes,” said the source, on conditions of anonymity. According to a recent report by the Simson Center, since the Cold War, some 50 US tactical nuclear weapons have been stationed at Turkey’s Incirlik air base, approximately 100 kilometres from the Syrian border.

During the failed coup in Turkey in July, Incirlik’s power was cut, and the Turkish government prohibited US aircraft from flying in or out. Eventually, the base commander was arrested and implicated in the coup. Whether the US could have maintained control of the weapons in the event of a protracted civil conflict in Turkey is an unanswerable question, the report says. Another source told EurActiv.com that the US-Turkey relations had deteriorated so much following the coup that Washington no longer trusted Ankara to host the weapons. The American weapons are being moved to the Deveselu air base in Romania, the source said. Deveselu, near the city of Caracal, is the new home of the US missile shield, which has infuriated Russia.

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It doesn’t sit well with me at all that the NYT editors are saying this. Far too much blood on those hands. It doesn’t feel right one bit.

America Is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen (NYT Editorial Board)

A hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders. A school. A potato chip factory. Under international law, those facilities in Yemen are not legitimate military targets. Yet all were bombed in recent days by warplanes belonging to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killing more than 40 civilians. The United States is complicit in this carnage. It has enabled the coalition in many ways, including selling arms to the Saudis to mollify them after the nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace.

The airstrikes are further evidence that the Saudis have escalated their bombing campaign against Houthi militias, which control the capital, Sana, since peace talks were suspended on Aug. 6, ending a cease-fire that was declared more than four months ago. They also suggest one of two unpleasant possibilities. One is that the Saudis and their coalition of mostly Sunni Arab partners have yet to learn how to identify permissible military targets. The other is that they simply do not care about killing innocent civilians. The bombing of the hospital, which alone killed 15 people, was the fourth attack on a facility supported by Doctors Without Borders in the past year even though all parties to the conflict were told exactly where the hospitals were located.

In all, the war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation. A recent United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60% of the deaths and injuries to children last year. Human rights groups and the United Nations have suggested that war crimes may have been committed.

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Today Yemen, yesterday California. Maybe if we stop trying to hide the past, we’re less likely to repeat it?!

California Slaughter: The State-Sanctioned Genocide of Native Americans (NW)

The tally is relentlessly grim: a whole settlement wiped out in Trinity County “excepting a few children”; an Indian girl raped and left to die somewhere near Mendocino; as many as 50 killed at Goose Lake; and, two months later, as many as 257 murdered at Grouse Creek, scores of them women and children. There were the four white ranchers who tracked down a band of Yana to a cave, butchering 30. “In the cave with the meat were some Indian children,” reported a chronicle published later. One of the whites “could not bear to kill these children with his 56-calibre Spencer rifle. ‘It tore them up so bad.’ So he did it with his 38-calibre Smith and Wesson revolver.”

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We might as well stop speaking about western ‘civilization’.

Uncovering The Brutal Truth About The British Empire (G.)

Help us sue the British government for torture. That was the request Caroline Elkins, a Harvard historian, received in 2008. The idea was both legally improbable and professionally risky. Improbable because the case, then being assembled by human rights lawyers in London, would attempt to hold Britain accountable for atrocities perpetrated 50 years earlier, in pre-independence Kenya. Risky because investigating those misdeeds had already earned Elkins heaps of abuse. Elkins had come to prominence in 2005 with a book that exhumed one of the nastiest chapters of British imperial history: the suppression of Kenya’s Mau Mau rebellion. Her study, Britain’s Gulag, chronicled how the British had battled this anticolonial uprising by confining some 1.5 million Kenyans to a network of detention camps and heavily patrolled villages.

It was a tale of systematic violence and high-level cover-ups. It was also an unconventional first book for a junior scholar. Elkins framed the story as a personal journey of discovery. Her prose seethed with outrage. Britain’s Gulag, titled Imperial Reckoning in the US, earned Elkins a great deal of attention and a Pulitzer prize. But the book polarised scholars. Some praised Elkins for breaking the “code of silence” that had squelched discussion of British imperial violence. Others branded her a self-aggrandising crusader whose overstated findings had relied on sloppy methods and dubious oral testimonies. By 2008, Elkins’s job was on the line. Her case for tenure, once on the fast track, had been delayed in response to criticism of her work.

To secure a permanent position, she needed to make progress on her second book. This would be an ambitious study of violence at the end of the British empire, one that would take her far beyond the controversy that had engulfed her Mau Mau work. That’s when the phone rang, pulling her back in. A London law firm was preparing to file a reparations claim on behalf of elderly Kenyans who had been tortured in detention camps during the Mau Mau revolt. Elkins’s research had made the suit possible. Now the lawyer running the case wanted her to sign on as an expert witness. Elkins was in the top-floor study of her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the call came. She looked at the file boxes around her. “I was supposed to be working on this next book,” she says. “Keep my head down and be an academic. Don’t go out and be on the front page of the paper.”

She said yes. She wanted to rectify injustice. And she stood behind her work. “I was kind of like a dog with a bone,” she says. “I knew I was right.” What she didn’t know was that the lawsuit would expose a secret: a vast colonial archive that had been hidden for half a century. The files within would be a reminder to historians of just how far a government would go to sanitise its past. And the story Elkins would tell about those papers would once again plunge her into controversy.

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But not everyone has lost it: “If it happens again, everyone will do the exact same thing: We will help.”

Greek Villagers Rescued Refugees. Now They Are the Ones Suffering. (NYT)

Stratis Valamios revved the motor on his small white boat and steered under a thumbnail moon out of the harbor of this fishing village, perched on the northern tip of Lesbos, Greece’s third-largest island. Skies were clear enough to see the purple mountains of Turkey a short distance across the Aegean Sea. It would be easy on this tranquil evening to catch calamari. These days, he needed a good haul to make ends meet. A year ago, he and other fishermen in the tiny village, Skala Sikaminias, were making a more unusual catch: thousands of sea-drenched asylum seekers who streamed across the Aegean to escape conflict and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

As one of the landfalls in Greece that is closest to Turkey, Skala Sikaminias, with its 100 residents, fast became ground zero for the crisis, the first stop in Europe for people trying to reach Germany in a desperate bid to start new lives. “I’d be in the middle of the sea, and I would see 50 boats zigzagging toward me,” Mr. Valamios said, gazing across the narrow channel. “I would speed toward them, and they would throw their children into my boat to be saved.” Today the migrants have mostly stopped coming. The coastline, once littered with orange life vests and wrecked boats, has been cleaned to a near-spotless white. But the human drama has left an imprint here, and across all of Lesbos, in ways that have only begun to play out.

The village is nearly empty of tourists this year as Germans, Swedes and other visitors who had long flocked to the crystalline waters of Lesbos go elsewhere, wary of spending their vacations in a place now associated with human desperation. Business at the island’s hotels and tavernas has slumped around 80%, especially along the 7.5-mile stretch between Skala Sikaminias and the vacation town of Molyvos, where many of the more than 800,000 migrants who survived the crossing last year washed ashore. Mr. Valamios used to supplement his income as a fisherman by working five months of the year at Myrivilis’ Mulberry taverna, facing the bucolic port where fishermen mend yellow nets beneath oleanders and village cats prowl for fish. This year, he was asked to work just one month amid a dearth of customers. Nearly 1,000 Greeks in the area have lost seasonal employment.

[..] The villagers no longer experience the sea in the same way. When they look at the horizon, some say they think for a split second that another refugee boat is coming. “We have to be ready,” Mr. Valamios said. “If it happens again, everyone will do the exact same thing: We will help.”

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Aug 152016
 
 August 15, 2016  Posted by at 8:45 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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NPC R.P. Andrews fire, 628 D Street N.W, Washington, DC 1912

Younger Generation In UK Face Overwhelming Pensions Bill (G.)
British Millennials Are ‘Collateral Damage’ as Pension Gap Grows (BBG)
A Simple Test to Dispel the Illusion Behind Stock Buybacks (NYT)
The Bank of Japan’s Unstoppable Rise to Shareholder No. 1 (BBG)
Japan’s Economy Stalls In April-June, Casts Doubts On Abe’s Policies (R.)
China Is Hoarding Cash At The Fastest Pace Since Lehman (ZH)
China Signals Growth, Not Political Disputes, Should Dominate G20 (R.)
Cheap Money Fuels Boom In Germany, But Fails To Lift France And Italy (CNBC)
Enough Austerity. More Fiscal Stimulus, Please (BBG Ed.)
London Set To Bear Brunt Of Post-Brexit Downturn (G.)
Give Us EU Visa Freedom In October Or Abandon Migrant Deal, Turkey Says (R.)
Britain’s Vast National Gamble On Wind Power May Yet Pay Off (AEP)

 

 

“.. it leaves young people paying twice, saving for their own pensions while also paying for the pensions of older generations through taxation.”

“Since 2007, the real disposal income of pensioners has risen by almost 10%. Those over the age of 65 have harvested fully two-thirds of that £2.7tn increase in national wealth. By contrast, since 2007, working-age households with children have achieved income gains of only about 3%, while the incomes of those without children have fallen by 3%,” he said.

This can only go horribly wrong, there is no other possible outcome, but it’s a topic politicians either don’t understand or don’t want to touch. Which is why I wrote Basic Income in The Time of Crisis a month ago. There is not much time left.

Younger Generation In UK Face Overwhelming Pensions Bill (G.)

Older people have saddled the younger generation with an excessive bill for state pensions while grabbing an ever-greater share of NHS spending, according to a report that calls for intergenerational rebalancing. The report from the Intergenerational Foundation (IF) said spending promises on state and public sector pensions are “overwhelming young people’s prospects”. The thinktank is calling on the prime minister, Theresa May, to abandon triple lock protection, which promises that the state pension will rise each year by whatever is highest out of inflation measured by the consumer price index, average earnings growth or 2.5%. The former pensions minister Ros Altmann has called for the triple lock to be scrapped. The Department for Work and Pensions has declined to rule out a review of the “totemic” policy in the coming months.

The report estimates that workers are paying £2,846 a year each to cover the cost of paying state pensions. Public sector pension liabilities, for schemes such as retired civil servants, have risen by 12% to nearly £44,000 per worker, with total liabilities at £1.4tn, it added. Angus Hanton, the co-founder of IF, said: “Public sector pensions represent one of the largest unfunded burdens for younger taxpayers, who will not retire at the same age, or on the same terms, while having to contribute more to their own pensions. “Increasing retirement ages and moving to career average pensions will not be enough to stall the pension burden avalanche that is bearing down on the young.

Auto-enrolment is an apparent success, except that it leaves young people paying twice, saving for their own pensions while also paying for the pensions of older generations through taxation.” But charity Age UK said the vast majority of pensioners have contributed throughout their life to the state pension, which remains lower than the amount paid in many other western countries. Caroline Abrahams, the charity director at Age UK, pointed out that 1.6 million older people live in poverty in the UK. “A strong pensions system that provides a decent quality of life in retirement is central to a civilised society and in the best interests of us all,” she said.

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“Postal-service operator Royal Mail said last week it may not be able to keep its program running beyond 2018. That’s because its annual contributions could more than double to over £900 million.”

British Millennials Are ‘Collateral Damage’ as Pension Gap Grows (BBG)

Britain’s millennials, already suffering for the economic mistakes of the past, now face the prospect of having to pay for the country’s future. Pension-fund liabilities in the U.K. increased to a record £1 trillion ($1.3 trillion) after the Bank of England’s interest-rate cut this month, hurt by quantitative easing and razor-thin yields. It’s Britain’s version of what Duquesne Chairman Stanley Druckenmiller calls “Generational Theft” in the U.S. Plunging bond yields have caused pension liabilities to balloon and it could get even worse because the BOE will probably reduce interest rates further this year. Deficits for defined-benefit-pension funds already rose by more than 40% in the two months through July, following the vote to leave the EU and the central bank’s subsequent decision to increase quantitative easing, according to consulting firm Mercer.

“The Bank of England clearly believes that the effect on our pension system is acceptable long-term collateral damage” to prevent a short-term recession, said David Blake, professor of pension economics at London’s Cass Business School. Younger workers will “have to save more – which they appear reluctant to do – or be prepared to work much longer.” The increased bond-purchase program has had a relatively limited impact on pension deficits, according to the minutes of the BOE’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting on Aug. 3. While the fund managers have to move into riskier assets, that helps to support the economy, Governor Mark Carney said Aug. 4. “That makes it less likely that we will have a very long period of high unemployment, low output, and very low interest rates,” Carney said.

Money managers, however, appear to be unwilling to offload their higher-yielding gilts because they’re worried about generating enough returns to pay their members. The BOE last week failed to find enough investors who were prepared to sell their longer-maturity gilts, a slice of the credit market dominated by pensions and insurers. Companies that run defined-benefit pension funds are also starting to worry. Postal-service operator Royal Mail said last week it may not be able to keep its program running beyond 2018. That’s because its annual contributions could more than double to over £900 million.

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“..who really wants to own a company in the process of liquidating itself?”

A Simple Test to Dispel the Illusion Behind Stock Buybacks (NYT)

Stock investors have had one sweet summer so far watching the markets edge higher. With the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index at record highs and nearing 2,200, what’s not to like? Here’s something. As shares climb, so too do the prices companies are paying to repurchase their stock. And the companies doing so are legion. Through July of this year, United States corporations authorized $391 billion in repurchases, according to an analysis by Birinyi Associates. Although 29% below the dollar amount of such programs last year, that’s still a big number. The buyback beat goes on even as complaints about these deals intensify. Some critics say that top managers who preside over big stock repurchases are failing at one of their most basic tasks: allocating capital so their businesses grow.

Even worse, buybacks can be a way for executives to make a company’s earnings per share look better because the purchases reduce the amount of stock it has outstanding. And when per-share earnings are a sizable component of executive pay, the motivation to do buybacks only increases. Of course, companies that conduct major buybacks often contend that the purchases are an optimal use of corporate cash. But William Lazonick, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and co-director of its Center for Industrial Competitiveness, disagrees. “Executives who get into that mode of thinking no longer have the ability to even think about how to invest in their companies for the long term,” Mr. Lazonick said in an interview. “Companies that grow to be big and productive can be more productive, but they have to be reinvesting.”

[..] The net profit test, said Gary Lutin, a former investment banker who heads the forum, “cuts through to the essential logic of comparing a process that grows a bigger pie – reinvestment – to a process that divides a shrunken pie among fewer people: share buybacks. “It’s pretty obvious,” he continued, “that even mediocre returns from reinvesting in the production of goods and services will beat what’s effectively a liquidation plan.” Investors may be dazzled by the earnings-per-share gains that buybacks can achieve, but who really wants to own a company in the process of liquidating itself? Maybe it’s time to ask harder questions of corporate executives about why their companies aren’t deploying their precious resources more effectively elsewhere.

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And if companies don’t buy stocks, central banks will. It’s the only way left to delay a giant crash.

The Bank of Japan’s Unstoppable Rise to Shareholder No. 1 (BBG)

The Bank of Japan’s controversial march to the top of shareholder rankings in the world’s third-largest equity market is picking up pace. Already a top-five owner of 81 companies in Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average, the BOJ is on course to become the No. 1 shareholder in 55 of those firms by the end of next year, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg from the central bank’s exchange-traded fund holdings. BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda almost doubled his annual ETF buying target last month, adding to an unprecedented campaign to revitalize Japan’s stagnant economy. While bulls have cheered the tailwind from BOJ purchases, opponents say the central bank is artificially inflating equity valuations and undercutting efforts to make public companies more efficient.

Traders worry that the monetary authority’s outsized presence will make some shares harder to buy and sell, a phenomenon that led to convulsions in Japan’s government bond market this year. “Only in Japan does the central bank show its face in the stock market this much,” said Masahiro Ichikawa at Sumitomo Mitsui Asset Management. “Investors are asking whether this is really right.” While the BOJ doesn’t acquire individual shares directly, it’s the ultimate buyer of stakes purchased through ETFs. Estimates of the central bank’s underlying holdings can be gleaned from the BOJ’s public records, regulatory filings by companies and ETF managers, and statistics from the Investment Trusts Association of Japan. Forecasts of the BOJ’s future shareholder rankings assume that other major investors keep their positions stable and that policy makers maintain the historical composition of their purchases.

[..] Japan’s government bond market offers a guide to the risks of further intervention in stocks, said Akihiro Murakami, the chief quantitative strategist for Japan at Nomura in Tokyo. JGB volatility soared to the highest level since 1999 in April, while trading volume has slumped as the central bank’s holdings swelled to about a third of the market. It’s still buying at an annual rate of 80 trillion yen. “If the BOJ does not sell stocks, then liquidity will disappear,” Murakami said. “As liquidity falls, the number of shares you can buy starts to decline – the same thing that’s happening in the JGB market.” The central bank owned about 60% of Japan’s domestic ETFs at the end of June, according to Investment Trusts Association figures, BOJ disclosures and data compiled by Bloomberg. Based on a report released on Friday by the Investment Trusts Association, that figure rose to about 62% in July.

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Abenomics is way beyond doubts.

Japan’s Economy Stalls In April-June, Casts Doubts On Abe’s Policies (R.)

Japan’s economic growth ground to a halt in April-June after a stellar expansion in the previous quarter on weak exports and capital expenditure, putting even more pressure on premier Shinzo Abe to come up with policies that produce more sustainable growth. The world’s third-largest economy expanded by an annualized 0.2% in the second quarter, less than a median market forecast for a 0.7% increase and a marked slowdown from a revised 2.0% increase in January-March, Cabinet Office data showed on Monday. The weak reading underscores the challenges policymakers face in putting a sustained end to two decades of deflation with the initial boost from Abe’s stimulus programs, dubbed “Abenomics,” fading. “Overall it looks like the economy is stagnating. Consumer spending is weak, and the reason is low wage gains.

There is a lot of uncertainty about overseas economies, and this is holding back capital expenditure,” said Norio Miyagawa, senior economist at Mizuho Securities. “The government has already announced a big stimulus package, so the next question is how the Bank of Japan will respond after its comprehensive policy review, which is sure to lead to a delay in its price target.” On a quarter-on-quarter basis, GDP marked flat growth in April-June, weaker than a median market forecast for a 0.2% rise. Private consumption, which accounts for roughly 60% of GDP, rose 0.2% in April-June, matching a median market forecast but slowing from a 0.7% increase in the previous quarter. Capital expenditure declined 0.4% in April-June after a 0.7% drop in the first quarter, the data showed, suggesting that uncertainty over the global economic outlook and weak domestic markets are keeping firms from boosting spending.

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One word: FEAR.

China Is Hoarding Cash At The Fastest Pace Since Lehman (ZH)

The last few months have seen trillions of dollars of fresh credit puked into existence in China to enable goal-seeked growth numbers to creep lower (as opposed to utterly collapse). The problem is… the Chinese are hoarding that cash at the fastest pace since Lehman as liquidity concerns flood through the nation. China’s M2, a broad gauge of money supply including savings deposits, rose at the slowest pace in 15 months and trailed the government’s full-year target of +11% in July. But, as Bloomberg details, by contrast, M1, the total of cash, checks and demand deposits, rose at the quickest pace in six years…

That shows companies “are holding all this cash, but investment returns are low and there are few options for projects,” said Liu Dongliang, a senior analyst at China Merchants Bank Co. in Shenzhen.

In fact, no matter what has been done since the Chinese stock market crashed, the Chinese have been hoarding cash…

In fact, the hoarding of cash in China corresponded with the top in 1999/2000, and the top in 2007…

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“..If people don’t feel like they are beneficiaries of economic development, if they don’t think their lot in life is improving, that’s when they start getting all kinds of ideas.” We wouldn’t want that, would we?

China Signals Growth, Not Political Disputes, Should Dominate G20 (R.)

China expects next month’s summit of the G20 which it is hosting will focus on boosting economic growth and other financial issues rather than disputes like the South China Sea, senior officials said on Monday. The summit of the world’s 20 biggest economies in the eastern city of Hangzhou will be the highlight of President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic agenda this year, and the government is keen to ensure it proceeds smoothly. The Sept 4-5 leaders’ meeting comes as clouds continue to hover over global growth prospects and worries about China’s own slowing economy. Last month’s meeting of G20 policymakers was dominated by the impact of Britain’s exit from Europe and fears of rising protectionism.

Yi Gang, a vice governor of the People’s Bank of China, said the summit will focus on how to stimulate sluggish global economic growth through open, inclusive trade and the development of robust financial markets. “We need to instil market confidence and ensure there are no competitive devaluations but rather let the market determine exchange rates,” Yi told a news briefing, adding this would be the first G20 to discuss foreign exchange markets in such detail. The G20 will also discuss how to better monitor and respond to risks presented by global capital flows, he said. Despite increasingly protectionist rhetoric around the world, the G20 is strongly opposed to anti-trade and anti-investment sentiment, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao said.

“We really do need to make sure that the people, the public, benefit from economic development and growth. If people don’t feel like they are beneficiaries of economic development, if they don’t think their lot in life is improving, that’s when they start getting all kinds of ideas.”

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Why the euro is hammering the EU. And will be the end of it.

Cheap Money Fuels Boom In Germany, But Fails To Lift France And Italy (CNBC)

Germany, for example, does not want zero interest rates and those trillions of euros created through ECB’s massive asset purchases. Germany is a fully-employed economy with balanced public finances and an exploding current account surplus of 9% of GDP. With a 1.8% annual growth in the first half of this year, the economy is running almost an entire percentage point above its potential and noninflationary growth. [..] Now, for a sharp contrast, take a look at Italy. On a quarterly basis, there has been virtually no growth in the first half of this year. In fact, the economy has been declining and stagnating over the last four years, and is currently experiencing a price deflation. Italy’s 3 million of unemployed in June (10.6% of the labor force) are only slightly below that level in the same month of last year. A shocking 36.5% of the country’s youth is out of work.

[..] Germany, close to one-third of the euro area’s products and services, does not need, and does not want, the ECB’s extraordinarily loose monetary policy. But the hard-pressed economies of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece – another 50% of the euro area output – need that oxygen to survive. Easy money is all they got. Their budget deficits of 2-5% of GDP, and their rising public debt of 120-185% of GDP, leave no room for fiscal policy to support demand, output and employment. The EU authorities, whoever they are, have relented from imposing penalties on Spain and Portugal – and have looked the other way in the case of France – for transgressing the euro area budget deficit commitments. But they continue to insist on labor market deregulations and on other socially and politically sensitive measures that act as short-term growth and employment killers.

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Bloomberg editorials blow wherever the wind does.

Enough Austerity. More Fiscal Stimulus, Please (BBG Ed.)

Budget deficits may be coming out of retirement. With economies all over the world growing too slowly and little scope left for new monetary stimulus, governments are turning their attention back to fiscal policy. This shift in thinking is overdue. In many countries, though not all, fiscal expansion is not just possible but also necessary. A resumption of budget activism, if it happens, won’t be riskless, so caution will be needed. A stubborn commitment to fiscal austerity, though, would be riskier still. The immediate response to the 2008 crash included fiscal easing – sometimes deliberate and sometimes the automatic consequence (higher public spending, lower tax revenues) of slumping activity. In most cases, expansionary budgets lessened the impact of collapsing demand, but they also pushed up public debt.

Before long, governments started tightening their budgets to get debt back under control. With demand still lacking, the hope was that monetary expansion would be enough to support recovery. It wasn’t. Governments have found that monetary policy is losing its potency. Interest rates are close to zero in many countries, and in some even negative. Huge bond-buying programs – QE – have delivered an additional monetary punch, but again with diminishing effects, and with a growing risk of financial instability as well. So fiscal policy, despite the recent growth of public debt, is back on the agenda. Central banks have been leading the call. In June, Fed Chair Janet Yellen told the Senate Banking Committee that U.S. fiscal policy had “not played a supportive role.”

In July, the ECB’s chief economist, Peter Praet, said “monetary policy cannot be the only remedy to our current economic challenges.” Governments are responding. Following the U.K.’s decision to quit the EU, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has promised a break with his predecessor’s approach and says he will “reset” fiscal policy. Added investment in infrastructure is under consideration as part of a new industrial strategy.

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Blame it on the bubble, not the Brexit. That would be shooting the messenger.

London Set To Bear Brunt Of Post-Brexit Downturn (G.)

London could bear the brunt of a post-Brexit vote downturn, according to economic indicators in the weeks since the EU referendum pointing to job cuts, falling house prices and a decline in business activity in the capital. London’s economy was relatively unaffected by the previous downturn, compared with other UK regions, but early signs from the latest bout of turmoil suggest that it might not get off so lightly again, economists have said. This could have consequences for the government’s tax receipts and overall growth, given the city’s contribution to the UK economy. One key concern about the impact on London of the vote to leave the EU stems from the capital’s dependence on financial services.

London could lose its status as Europe’s financial capital if the UK leaves the single market and City banks are stripped of their lucrative EU “passports” that allow them to sell services to the rest of the bloc. Samuel Tombs, the chief UK economist at consultancy Pantheon Macroeconomics, said: “London was unscathed by the last recession, but its dependence on finance now is its achilles heel.” He highlighted a potential change of fortunes for London in a note to clients after surveys showed that companies in the capital had taken a hit from the referendum result. London has been the UK’s growth star for the past two decades, outperforming the rest of the country, Tombs said. “Surveys since the referendum, however, indicate that the capital is at the sharp end of the post-referendum downturn.” added.

London was the worst performer out of 12 regions on one measure of business activity for the weeks following 23 June, the day of the referendum. Companies in the capital cut jobs and suffered the sharpest fall in output since early 2009, when the UK was mired in recession, according to the Lloyds Bank regional purchasing managers’ index. Clients appeared reluctant to commit to new contracts, London businesses said, leading to a slump in order books. “The capital was hit harder than any other UK region,” said Paul Evans, the regional director for London at Lloyds commercial banking.

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How deep a whole will Merkel dig this time around?

Give Us EU Visa Freedom In October Or Abandon Migrant Deal, Turkey Says (R.)

The EU should grant Turks visa-free travel in October or the migrant deal that involves Turkey stemming the flow of illegal migrants to the bloc should put be put aside, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a German newspaper. Asked whether hundreds of thousands of refugees in Turkey would head to Europe if the EU did not grant Turks visa freedom from October, he told Bild newspaper’s Monday edition: “I don’t want to talk about the worst case scenario – talks with the EU are continuing but it’s clear that we either apply all treaties at the same time or we put them all aside.” Visa-free access to the EU – the main reward for Ankara’s collaboration in choking off an influx of migrants into Europe – has been subject to delays due to a dispute over Turkish anti-terrorism legislation and Ankara’s crackdown after a failed coup.

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When Ambrose starts talking about energy -or anything other than finance, for that matter- I brace myself. He tends to go into cheerleading mode. In this piece, the only problem he sees is intermittency, and even that mostly as not a real issue. Advancements in technology, don’t you know…

Britain’s Vast National Gamble On Wind Power May Yet Pay Off (AEP)

Wind power has few friends on the political Right. No other industry elicits such protest from the conservative press, Tory backbenchers, and free market economists. The vehemence is odd since wind generates home-made energy and could be considered a ‘patriotic choice’. It dates back to the 1990s and early 2000s when the national wind venture seemed a bottomless pit for taxpayer subsidies. Pre-modern turbines captured trivial amounts of energy. The electrical control systems and gearboxes broke down. Repair costs were prohibitive. Yet as so often with infant industries, early mishaps tell us little. Costs are coming down faster than almost anybody thought possible. As the technology comes of age – akin to gains in US shale fracking – the calculus is starting to vindicate Britain’s vast investment in wind power.

The UK is already world leader in offshore wind. The strategic choice now is whether to go for broke, tripling offshore capacity to 15 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. The decision is doubly-hard because there is no point dabbling in offshore wind. Scale is the crucial factor in slashing costs, so either we do it with conviction or we do not do it all. My own view is that the gamble is worth taking. Shallow British waters to offer optimal sites of 40m depth. The oil and gas industry knows how to operate offshore. Atkins has switched its North Sea skills seamlessly to building substations for wind. JDR in Hartlepool sells submarine cables across the world. Wind power is a natural fit.

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Jun 282016
 
 June 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Walker Evans Saint Charles Street. Liberty Theatre, New Orleans 1935

Stocks Halt Brexit Selloff as Pound Rebounds With Commodities (BBG)
Asian Stocks Erase Losses as Japan Shares Gain on Stimulus Bets (BBG)
Jim Rogers On Brexit: Worse Than Any Bear Market You’ve Seen In Your Life (Y!)
Greenspan Warns A Crisis Is Imminent, Urges A Return To The Gold Standard (ZH)
European Banks Crash To Worst 2-Day Loss Ever As Default Risk Soars (ZH)
Brexit Is the Sum of China’s Fears (Balding)
Brexit To ‘Drive Tectonic Plate Shifts In European Bank Investing’ (R.)
Italy Eyes €40 Billion Bank Rescue As First Brexit Domino Falls (AEP)
Preparing For Brexit, Britain May See New PM By Early September (R.)
S&P Strips UK of Last Top-Notch Credit Rating After Brexit (R.)
UK Credit Default Swap Rates Spike After Wave Of Rating Downgrades (CNBC)
The Reaction to Brexit Is the Reason Brexit Happened (Matt Taibbi)
Some Bad And Some Worse News For Stock Buybacks (ZH)

And all of your problems are solved. It was only a dream….

Stocks Halt Brexit Selloff as Pound Rebounds With Commodities (BBG)

The pound, European stocks and commodities were all headed for their first gains since Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union, while Asian shares erased losses amid signs policy makers are taking steps to limit any economic fallout. Sterling and the Stoxx Europe 600 Index both rebounded after tumbling 11% in the last two trading sessions. A gauge of the greenback’s strength snapped its steepest rally since 2011. The Bloomberg Commodity Index climbed from a three-week low as oil rose to about $47 a barrel and industrial metals rose. Sovereign bond yields plumbed new lows in Australia, Japan and South Korea as futures indicated that the next move in U.S. interest rates is now likely to be a cut.

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What? “Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants his finance minister and the central bank governor to watch markets more closely.” You mean they didn’t?

Asian Stocks Erase Losses as Japan Shares Gain on Stimulus Bets (BBG)

Asian stocks erased losses and most Tokyo shares rose amid speculation policy makers will move to shore up financial markets after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index was little changed as of 4 p.m. in Tokyo after being down as much as 1.2% earlier. Most Japanese shares rose after a drop in the Nikkei 225 Stock Average below 15,000 spurred buying. South Korea’s Kospi index rose 0.5%, reversing a decline of 1%. Investors are watching closely for signs that central banks and governments will help to ease the post-Brexit market turmoil.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he wants his finance minister and the central bank governor to watch markets more closely. Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the ruling party’s general council, proposed a 20 trillion yen ($196 billion) package to Abe, the Nikkei newspaper reported. South Korea said it’s planning a fiscal stimulus package of more than 20 trillion won ($17 billion). “We are probably going to have looser policy settings than before the vote,” said Tim Schroeders at Melbourne-based Pengana Capital. “You’d have to suspect that the bias is to the downside for global growth and as a result that stimulus remains in light of increased uncertainty.”

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“The bear case is the pound disappears…” “The EU as we know it will not exist,” he said. “The euro as we know it will not exist…”

Jim Rogers On Brexit: Worse Than Any Bear Market You’ve Seen In Your Life (Y!)

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union will lead to an economic crisis more severe than what the world faced in 2008, according to legendary investor Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings. “This is going to be worse than any bear market you’ve seen in your lifetime,” he said. “2008 was bad because of debt. The debt all over the world is much, much higher now. Stocks in the US, for instance, have been going sideways for 18 months to 24 months. That’s called a distribution by many people. When you have distribution for a year and a half, it usually leads to bad things.” Rogers – who cofounded the Quantum Fund with George Soros in the 1970s – believes the “leave” movement’s victory last week may threaten the British union.

While any negotiated deal may help assuage the market’s Brexit fears, Rogers foresees a “bad case scenario” where Scotland and Northern Ireland leave the UK and London’s clout diminishes significantly as financial institutions move towards continental Europe. “The UK already has huge international debts and it has balance of trade problems and budget problems,” he said. “The bear case is the pound disappears. England becomes Spain or Poland or Italy or something.” While he doesn’t see an immediate collapse of England’s economy, Rogers anticipates a long-term decline in the country’s prospects.

“The deterioration will continue and make stocks go down a lot,” he warned. Brexit’s win will also embolden other countries to leave the EU and separatist movements to break up a few states, Rogers predicted. That could make the world to look significantly different in just a half a decade. “The EU as we know it will not exist,” he said. “The euro as we know it will not exist.

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But no mea culpa. he wants to die a revered oracle.

Greenspan Warns A Crisis Is Imminent, Urges A Return To The Gold Standard (ZH)

On Friday afternoon, after the shocking Brexit referendum, while being interviewed by CNBC Alan Greenspan stunned his hosts when he said that things are about as bad as he has ever seen. “This is the worst period, I recall since I’ve been in public service. There’s nothing like it, including the crisis — remember October 19th, 1987, when the Dow went down by a record amount 23%? That I thought was the bottom of all potential problems. This has a corrosive effect that will not go away. I’d love to find something positive to say.” Strangely enough, he was not refering to the British exodus but to America’s own economic troubles.

Today, Greenspan was on Bloomberg Surveillance where in an extensive, 30 minutes interview he was urged to give his take on the British referendum outcome. According to Greenspan, David Cameron miscalculated and made a “terrible mistake” in holding a referendum. That decision led to a “terrible outcome in all respects,” Greenspan said. “It didn’t have to happen.” Greenspan then noted that as a result of Brexit, “we are in very early days a crisis which has got a way to go”, and point to Scotland which he said will likely have another referendum on its own, predicting the vote would be successful, and Northern Ireland would “probably” go the same way.

His remarks then centered on the Eurozone which he defined as a truly “vulnerable institution,” primarily due to Greece’s inclusion in its structure. “Get Greece out. They’re a toxic liability sitting in the middle of a very important economic zone.” Ironically, the same Eurozone has spent countless hours doing everything in its power to show just how unbreakable the union is by preserving Greece, while it took the UK just one overnight session to break away. Luckily the UK was not part of the monetary union or else it would be game over. But speaking of crises, Greenspan warned that fundamentally it is not so much an issue of immigration, or even economics, but unsustainable welfare spending, or as Greenspan puts it, “entitlements.”

“The issue is essentially that entitlements are legal issues. They have nothing to do with economics. You reach a certain age or you are ill or something of that nature and you are entitled to certain expenditures out of the budget without any reference to how it’s going to be funded. Where the productivity levels are now, we are lucky to get something even close to two% annual growth rate. That annual growth rate of 2% is not adequate to finance the existing needs. I don’t know how it’s going to resolve, but there’s going to be a crisis. This is one of the great problems of democracy. It goes back to the founding fathers. How do you handle a situation like this? And it’s very troublesome, but eventually you get things like Margaret Thatcher showing up in Britain.”

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Enter Captain Fantastic.

European Banks Crash To Worst 2-Day Loss Ever As Default Risk Soars (ZH)

So much for George “Panic-Monger” Osborne’s calming statement this morning, European banks have collapsed this morning to close down between 20% and 30% since the Brexity vote. The last 2 days plunge in EU banks (down 23%) is the largest in history (double the size of Lehman) and pushes European bank equity market cap to its lowest (in USD terms) ever. Worst. Drop. Ever…

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Giving people a vote in their lives is not Xi’s idea of fun…

Brexit Is the Sum of China’s Fears (Balding)

In voting to leave the EU, the U.K. has confirmed many of the Chinese Communist Party’s worst fears about democracy. Now the question is whether Brexit will also impede its attempts at economic reform. At least one major target of “Leave” campaigners in the U.K. – an unaccountable bureaucracy in Brussels, enjoying the fruits of power – will certainly resonate with Chinese citizens. Despite a recent corruption crackdown, dissatisfaction with officials is simmering in many parts of China – over land grabs, unpaid wages, layoffs and more. For the Communist Party, a popular rejection of distant bureaucrats isn’t to be taken lightly. Brexit also confirms the party’s fears about the capriciousness of the people. As an editorial in the Global Times, a state-run tabloid, put it, Brexit is a “Pandora’s box,” a “lose-lose situation” and a “major setback.”

The Chinese people, it went on, “will continue to watch the consequence of Britain’s embracing of a `democratic’ referendum.” Such skepticism of the wisdom of crowds is widespread in Beijing’s halls of power – and it has real-world consequences for democracy advocates. A deeper worry for the party is instability. The political and business classes in China are extremely risk-averse. Banks lend to state-owned enterprises in the belief that the government stands behind them, students from the best schools aspire to the civil service, and changes to policy flow from on high. Party technocrats tend to see political and financial instability as intimately linked. And as Premier Li Keqiang stressed repeatedly yesterday at the World Economic Forum, Brexit has increased both.

The immediate economic consequences for China are likely to be minimal. As Bloomberg economists Tom Orlik and Fielding Chen have pointed out, only 2.6% of Chinese exports head to the U.K. But the indirect consequences could be substantial. After Britain voted out, the yuan suffered the biggest one-day drop since its devaluation last August. In the worst case, Brexit may act as a long-term drag on China’s exports, increase its spare capacity, spur capital flight, impede foreign direct investment and generally weaken the forces that have sustained its growth over the past few decades. Amid that kind of pressure, expect China’s leadership to double down on economic and financial policies intended to keep growth humming and minimize any disruption, no matter what the price.

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“The FTSE 100 ended 2.6% lower [..] ..wiping off nearly $132 billion since the referendum results early on Friday..”

Brexit To ‘Drive Tectonic Plate Shifts In European Bank Investing’ (R.)

Britain’s top share index extended the previous session’s steep losses on Monday as the country’s vote last week to leave the European Union hurled it into political and economic uncertainty, hitting banks, housebuilders and airlines hard. Some investors took refuge in firms producing gold, seen as a safe-haven asset, with Fresnillo closing up 7% after hitting a three-year high and Randgold Resources gaining 9%. The FTSE 100 ended 2.6% lower at 5,982.20 points, taking total losses to 5.6% in two sessions and wiping off nearly 100 billion pounds ($132 billion) since the referendum results early on Friday. Shares in easyJet recorded their biggest one-day percentage drop in 12 years.

The domestically-focused mid-cap index .FTMC lost nearly 7% after reaching its lowest since late 2014 following growing concerns about the country’s growth and earnings outlook after the poll outcome. “These uncertainties pose significant risks for the investment outlook,” said Larry Hatheway, chief economist and head of multi-asset portfolio solutions at GAM. “Against the backdrop of an already slowing UK economy, Brexit anxiety could precipitate a large enough reduction in consumer and business spending to tip the UK economy into recession.” British financial stocks declined the most, with the sector index ending 7.3% weaker after a seven-year low. RBS and Barclays dropped 15% and 17.3% respectively, also hit by broker downgrades and by JP Morgan’s cutting its rating on all domestic banks.

The mid-cap bank Shawbrook plummeted 30%. “The UK’s vote to leave the EU will drive tectonic plate shifts in European bank investing. We move to a slow growth/modestly recessionary scenario for UK banks,” analysts at Jefferies said in a note, downgrading RBS to “hold” and Barclays to “underperform”. Investors seemed to ignore finance minister George Osborne’s assertion on Monday that the British economy remained strong, his first public statement on the Brexit vote.

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“Italian officials are studying a direct state recapitalisation of the banks, to be funded by a special bond issue.” Remember Cyprus. Italy wants to change bail-in rules, but it can’t.

Italy Eyes €40 Billion Bank Rescue As First Brexit Domino Falls (AEP)

Italy is preparing a €40bn rescue of its financial system as bank shares collapse on the Milan bourse and the powerful after-shocks of Brexit shake European markets. An Italian government task force is watching events hour by hour, pledging all steps necessary to ensure the stability of the banks. “Italy will do everything necessary to reassure people,” said premier Matteo Renzi. “This is the moment of truth we have all been waiting for a long time. We just didn’t know it would be Brexit that set the elephant loose,” said a top Italian banker. The share price of banks crashed for a second trading day, with Intesa Sanpaolo off 12.5pc, and falls of 12pc for Banka MPS, 10.4pc for Mediobana, and 8pc for Unicredit. These lenders have lost a third of their value since Britain’s referendum.

“When Britain sneezes, Italy catches a cold. It is the weakest link in the European chain,” said Lorenzo Codogno, former director-general of the Italian treasury and now at LC Macro Advisors. The country is the first serious casualty of Brexit contagion and a reminder that the economic destinies of Britain and the rest of Europe are intimately entwined. Morgan Stanley warned in a new report that eurozone GDP would contract by almost as much as British GDP in a “high stress scenario”. Italian officials are studying a direct state recapitalisation of the banks, to be funded by a special bond issue. They also want a moratorium of so-called ‘bail-in’ rules and bondholder write-downs, but these steps are impossible under EU laws.

Mr Renzi raised the subject urgently at a meeting with Merkel and Hollande at a Brexit summit in Berlin on Monday. “There has to be a suspension of the bail-in rules and state aid rules at the highest political level in the EU, otherwise I don’t see how this can work,” said Mr Codogno. Unlike the eurozone debt crisis in 2011-2012, there is no serious trouble yet in the sovereign debt markets. The ECB is effectively capping yields under quantitative easing. The stress gauge in this episode is the health of the private banks. The Euro STOXX index of bank stocks has collapsed by half since last July, and is now probing depths seen in the white heat of the debt crisis. British bank shares have also plummeted since Brexit but this has no systemic implication so far.

It chiefly reflects recession fears, and potential loss of access to the EU market for business. Italy’s banks are the Achilles Heel of the eurozone financial system. Non-performing loans have ratcheted up to 18pc of total balance sheets as a result the country’s slide into depression after the Lehman crisis. The new bail-in reform this year has brought matters to a head, catching EU authorities off guard. It was intended to protect taxpayers by ensuring that creditors suffer major losses first if a bank gets into trouble, but was badly designed and has led to a flight from bank shares. The Bank of Italy has called for a complete overhaul of the bail-in rules. It is now almost impossible for Italian banks to raise capital.

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Lots of bitter infighting will ensue. Sort of a cross between Coronation Street and Absolutely Fabulous.

Preparing For Brexit, Britain May See New PM By Early September (R.)

Britain could have a new prime minister by early September, the ruling Conservative Party said on Monday, after David Cameron started laying the groundwork for his successor to trigger the country’s exit from the EU. The government is under pressure to fill a vacuum left when Cameron announced he would resign by October after Britain ignored his advice and voted to leave the 28-member bloc in last week’s referendum. Triggering a leadership battle that could draw in some of his closest advisers, Cameron urged ministers to work together in the meantime. But he also formed a separate unit, staffed by public servants, to help advise Britain on its departure and its options for a future outside the EU. “Although leaving the EU was not the path I recommended, I am the first to praise our incredible strengths as a country,” Cameron told parliament.

“As we proceed with implementing this decision and facing the challenges that it will undoubtedly bring, I believe we should hold fast to a vision of Britain that wants to be respected abroad, tolerant at home, engaged in the world.” Asked about the possibility of a second EU referendum, Cameron said the result of Thursday’s vote must be accepted. Graham Brady, chair of the “1922 Committee” of Conservative lawmakers, which sets the party’s ground rules in parliament, said the group had recommended that the leadership contest should begin next week and conclude no later than Sept. 2. That recommendation will almost certainly be passed. “Both the Conservatives and the country more generally really want certainty. We would like a resolution and we think it would be a good thing to conclude this process as soon as we practicably can,” Brady told Sky News.

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There are so few AAAs left that it doesn’t matter much anymore. And to label Britain AAA is of course silly to begin with.

S&P Strips UK of Last Top-Notch Credit Rating After Brexit (R.)

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s stripped Britain of its last remaining top-notch credit rating on Monday, slashing it by two notches from AAA and warning more downgrades could follow after Britons voted to leave the European Union last week. “In our opinion, this outcome is a seminal event, and will lead to a less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the UK,” S&P said in a statement, adding it saw a higher risk of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom. S&P had warned that Britain’s coveted top-notch credit rating was no longer tenable after last Thursday’s referendum result.

The loss of the last remaining “AAA” rating represents a fresh blow to Britain’s economic standing after the referendum, with sterling tanking to a 31-year low against the dollar and the country’s stock markets plunging. Rival ratings agencies Fitch and Moody’s stripped Britain of their AAA ratings long before the referendum campaign began. They too have warned of further cuts to their gradings of Britain’s creditworthiness. Protecting Britain’s credit rating was a top priority of Conservative finance minister George Osborne when he came to power in 2010.

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The kind of thing that can get very expensive very fast.

UK Credit Default Swap Rates Spike After Wave Of Rating Downgrades (CNBC)

In case you’re wondering how Brexit impacts the U.K.’s creditworthiness, the derivatives market may offer different clues than the bond market. The cost of buying protection against a default on British sovereign debt using credit default swaps rose to a three-year high on Tuesday, after rating agencies rushed to slash the U.K.’s debt rating following last week’s vote to leave the EU. It now costs $48,500 a year to protect $10 million of U.K. sovereign debt for five years, compared with levels near $32,000 before the June 23 referendum. This came despite a sharp fall in yields on U.K. government debt, or gilts. On its own, the absolute cost of insurance remains low, especially when compared with euro zone countries such as Italy and Spain.

The sharp pace of the increase, however, underscored how uncertainty over the U.K.’s position in Europe had undermined its credit-worthiness. Sterling has already plunged to more-than-30-year lows and stock markets have tumbled. On Monday Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.K.’s debt rating by two notches, from AAA to AA, citing last week’s referendum that approved a British exit from the EU, depriving the U.K. of its last triple A rating. Fitch Ratings, meanwhile, moved its rating from AA+ to AA. “In our opinion, this outcome is a seminal event, and will lead to a less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the U.K. We have reassessed our view of the U.K.’s institutional assessment and now no longer consider it a strength in our assessment of the rating,” S&P said in a news release.

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“It’s become perilously fashionable all over the Western world to reach for non-democratic solutions whenever society drifts in a direction people don’t like…”

The Reaction to Brexit Is the Reason Brexit Happened (Matt Taibbi)

Were I British, I’d probably have voted to Remain. But it’s not hard to understand being pissed off at being subject to unaccountable bureaucrats in Brussels. Nor is it hard to imagine the post-Brexit backlash confirming every suspicion you might have about the people who run the EU. Imagine having pundits and professors suggest you should have your voting rights curtailed because you voted Leave. Now imagine these same people are calling voters like you “children,” and castigating you for being insufficiently appreciative of, say, the joys of submitting to a European Supreme Court that claims primacy over the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights. The overall message in every case is the same: Let us handle things. But whatever, let’s assume that the Brexit voters, like Trump voters, are wrong, ignorant, dangerous and unjustified.

Even stipulating to that, the reaction to both Brexit and Trump reveals a problem potentially more serious than either Brexit or the Trump campaign. It’s become perilously fashionable all over the Western world to reach for non-democratic solutions whenever society drifts in a direction people don’t like. Here in America the problem is snowballing on both the right and the left. Whether it’s Andrew Sullivan calling for Republican insiders to rig the nomination process to derail Trump’s candidacy, or Democratic Party lifers like Peter Orszag arguing that Republican intransigence in Congress means we should turn more power over to “depoliticized commissions,” the instinct to act by diktat surfaces quite a lot these days. “Too much democracy” used to be an argument we reserved for foreign peoples who tried to do things like vote to demand control over their own oil supplies.

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A dead end street after all.

Some Bad And Some Worse News For Stock Buybacks (ZH)

For those 17-year-old hedge fund managers used to BTFD on hopes corporate buybacks will “have their back” and provide the bid on which momentum-chasing HFT algos will piggyback, we have some bad news and some worse news. The bad news is that we are entering yet another quiet period for buybacks. This means that for the next 45 days, the biggest – and supposedly only – buyer of stocks will be mostly out of the market, and bank buyback desks will not be able to provide much needed support during distressed (read: more sellers than buyers) times. The worse news is that even without the buyback blackout period, following months of surging stock repurchasing activity by corporate treasurers… buybacks have now ground to a virtual halt.

According to TrimTabs, stock buyback announcements by U.S. companies have fallen sharply, sending a longer-term negative signal for U.S. equities. “Corporate America announced $2.8 trillion in stock buybacks in the past five years, and these buybacks have provided a key source of fuel for the bull market,” said David Santschi, chief executive officer of TrimTabs. “Corporate actions this year suggest this support is going to diminish.” In a research note, TrimTabs reported that U.S. companies have announced a mere $11.8 billion in stock buybacks in June through Friday, June 24. This month’s pace is the lowest this year. Only four companies have announced plans to repurchase at least $1 billion this month.

“Even if some of the too-big-to-fails roll out buybacks after the release of the second part of the Fed’s stress test results, this month’s volume is likely to be among the lowest in the past three years,” noted Santschi. TrimTabs also explained that stock buyback announcements by U.S. companies have totaled $291.7 billion this year, which is 32% lower than the $432.0 billion in the same period last year. “The sharp decline in buyback announcements suggests corporate leaders are becoming more cautious, and it doesn’t bode well for the U.S. stock market,” said Santschi.

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May 142016
 
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Camp Meade, Maryland 1917

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)
The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)
Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)
China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)
China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)
S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)
US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)
The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)
The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)
Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)
What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)
“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)
Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)
Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)
EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

Ambrose strikes. Can’t go wrong with a headline like that. “..the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out.” And “..take your rotting pile of damp wood elsewhere Madame Lagarde.”

IMF Meddling On Brexit Is Scandalous Skulduggery (AEP)

If the IMF and its co-conspirators in the Treasury wish to deter undecided voters from flirting with Brexit, they have certainly failed in my case. Having listened to their irritating lectures, I am more inclined to opt for defiance, for their mask of objectivity has fallen. There can no longer be any doubt that they are playing politics with the democratic self-determination of this country. The Fund gives the game away in point 8 of its Article IV conclusion on the UK economy. It states that “the cost of insuring against a UK sovereign default has doubled (albeit from a low level)”. Any normal person who does not follow the derivatives markets would interpret this as a grim warning from global investors. Yes, the price of credit default swaps on 5-year UK debt – the proxy we all use – has jumped from 17 to 37 since late last year.

But the IMF neglected to mention that it has risen from 15 to 33 in Switzerland, from 26 to 43 in France, and from 45 to 65 in Korea. The jump has almost nothing to do with Brexit, and the IMF knows this perfectly well. The French have an expression that will be familiar to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde: ils font feu de tout bois. Her own IMF mentor and long-time chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, told me last month that there was no risk whatsoever of a sovereign bond crisis, or a Gilts strike, or a sudden stop of any kind. “Will financing be more difficult after Brexit? Will investors see the British government as more risky? I don’t think so,” he said. Professor Blanchard, who recently stepped down from the Fund and is free to speak his mind, says there may be a price to pay for Brexit but it is impossible to calculate.

“The cost of exiting will not be seamless, and the uncertainty will last for a very long time afterwards. Firms deciding whether to locate a plant in the UK or in the Continent will wait. Investment will drop,” he said. But he also said weaker pound would cushion the effects of falling investment to some degree. So bare this in mind when you comb through today’s Article IV statement with its delicious mix of precision and selective vagueness on the alleged damage of Brexit. The hit ranges from 1.5pc to 9.5pc of GDP. Note the decimal points. The range depends on whether it is “a la Switzerland, a la Norway, or a la WTO,” said Madame Lagarde. Perhaps it is churlish to point out that the IMF completely missed the onset of the global financial crisis, and was blindsided when the US fell into recession in November 2007. The Fund’s staff were still predicting sunlit uplands as far as the eye could see, even when the blackest of black storms was upon them.


The IMF misjudged the fiscal multiplier horribly in Greece

Its forecasts for Greece were wrong every single year following the rescue of the euro and the North European banking system in 2010, otherwise known by some cruel twist of language as the Greek bail-out. They originally said the Greek economy would contract by 2.6pc in 2010 and then recover briskly. What actually happened – as predicted at the time by the Indian member of the IMF board – was the most spectacular collapse of a developed economy in the post-war era. Output ultimately fell by 26pc from peak to trough. To its credit, the IMF later admitted that it had horribly misjudged the fiscal multiplier. Indeed. I don’t wish the denigrate the Fund. It remains a superb institution. I use its research all the time in my work. But on this occasion it has been misused for political purposes.

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Maybe they can pay people to dig a big hole to throw the produced steel in.?!

The Zombies Return: Steel Firms In China Come Back From The Dead (SCMP)

The grey smoke pouring once again into the sky above a rusty steel plant in a town in northern China is seen as a blessing by people who live nearby. One of the plant’s six blast furnaces was put back into operation earlier this month, breathing new life into Dongzhen in Shanxi province. The plant, formally known as Haixin Iron and Steel, was closed two years ago as demand for the metal plunged in China. Steel companies with little hope of turning a profit are among the enterprises known as “zombie firms” in China, many operating in ailing heavy industries that the central government has pledged to cut back as it attempts to create a modern, high-tech and innovation driven economy. Millions of jobs are due to be axed in the steel and coal sectors in the coming years.

But the plant at Dongzhen has been given a lifeline. It has been renamed and taken over by new owners amid signs of a rise in steel prices, plus massive support from the local government. And there is evidence that increasing numbers of other steel plants are also reopening in China, despite the government’s pledges that the industry must be cut back. Local people in Dongzhen, at least, now dare to believe there may still be hope for their beleaguered industry. Restaurants have reopened, new food stalls set up, and even watermelon vendors are driving their carts and trucks nearby to serve the thousands of workers coming in and out of the compound. Uniformed workers in red and blue helmets flow through the foundry gate, heavy trucks and cars blow their horns and there is a renewed sense of dynamism in this dusty town.

The fate of the Dongzhen steel plant highlights the dilemma facing many local government across the country: the need for massive economic reforms, weighed against the suffering created by massive job losses and the fear of social unrest. President Xi Jinping has said cutting overcapacity in ailing industries such as steel is an essential part of the government’s “supply-side” economic reforms. An unidentified “authoritative figure” was also quoted in a prominent article in the Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily on Monday renewing calls to terminate “zombie companies”. Haixin, however, is not the only “zombie” steel firming coming back from the dead. As China pumped unprecedented amounts of credit to boost growth in the first quarter, many steel plants are back on stream to take advantage of a rise in steel prices.

Daily steel output on the mainland in March rebounded to a nine-month high and output in April could be even higher, according to analysts, although the steel price rally has started to fizzle away this month. “It’s difficult to take Chinese pledges to address surplus capacity seriously,” said Christopher Balding, an associate professor of economics at Peking University HSBC Business School. “There is a recent track record of talking about the problem and not taking the steps required to solve it: like a dieter who wants to lose weight and still eats chocolate chip cookies.”

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Fighting for a share of a collapsing market.

Europe Launches Probe Into Claims China Is Subsidising Steel Producers (Tel.)

A new front has opened up in the “steel war” between China and Europe after Brussels launched an investigation into whether the Beijing government is subsidising its steel producers. The European Commission said it was starting a probe into a complaint that China is subsiding its producers of hot rolled flat steel – one of the most widely used forms of the alloy. The Commission has already imposed tariffs on some forms of steel being exported into Europe after earlier investigations determined they were being “dumped” – sold at below cost – by Chinese plants, as they get rid of excess production in the wake of a drop in domestic demand. However, the new investigation could tackle the problem at source, by looking into claims China is subsidising its largely state-owned steel industry, damaging European rivals.

If it finds subsidisation is taking place, further duties could be imposed on Chinese imports in an attempt to level the playing field. The announcement comes less than 24 hours after the European Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority against China being given the coveted Market Economy Status. The move follows a complaint from Eurofer, the European steel association, and a spokesman said the group “welcomed the move into unfair subsidisation originating in China”. “Hot rolled flat steel is the bread and butter of the industry, going into everything from cans to cars and by far the most commonly used form of steel,” the spokesman added. “The European steel industry suffers damage from unfair trading practices originating in China.”

The European steel industry is in crisis at the moment as it battles the flood of cheap steel from China, and struggles against tougher environmental controls and higher prices, which are particularly punishing in the UK. More than 5,000 jobs have been lost in Britain’s steel industry in the past year as plants have struggled to compete. In April Tata launched the sale of its loss-making British steel operations based around the massive Port Talbot plant. Gareth Stace, director of trade body UK Steel, said the widening of investigations from dumping into subsidies was a progression of the campaign to fight unfair trade. “This is a welcome and much-needed investigation into Chinese Government subsidies which will run in parallel to its ongoing investigation into dumping of steel into the EU. The significant unfair trading practices carried out by China has been a major cause of the worst steel crisis in over a generation here in the UK.”

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“China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China..”

China Complains To WTO That US Fails To Implement Tariff Ruling (R.)

In another sign of escalating trade tensions between China and the United States, Beijing told the World Trade Organization on Friday that Washington was failing to implement a WTO ruling against punitive U.S. tariffs on a range of Chinese goods. China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) said it had requested consultations with the United States over the issue, and anti-subsidy duties on products including solar panels, wind towers and steel pipe used in the oil industry. China’s complaint to the WTO was filed just days after Washington lodged a similar complaint against China, accusing it of unfairly continuing punitive duties on U.S. exports of broiler chicken products in violation of WTO rules.

“By disregarding the WTO rules and rulings, the United States has severely impaired the integrity of WTO rules and the interests of Chinese industries,” MOFCOM said in a statement distributed by the Chinese embassy in Washington. The case was first brought before the WTO by China in 2012 against U.S. duties on 15 diverse product categories that also include thermal paper, steel sinks and tow-behind lawn grooming equipment. In December 2014, the WTO’s Appellate Body ruled in favor of Chinese claims that the products subject to duties had not benefited from subsidies from “public bodies” favoring particular manufacturers.

The deadline for implementation of the rulings and recommendations of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body, set through binding arbitration, expired on April 1, according to WTO records. A U.S. Trade Representative spokesman said the United States had been “working diligently to comply with the recommendations” and to fully conform with its WTO obligations. He added that the U.S. response to China’s request for consultations would come “in due course.”

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Dollar-denominated debt is the sword of Damocles.

China Inc. Misses Best Shot to Repay $430 Billion as Yuan Drops (BBG)

The best time for China Inc. to repay its dollar debt may be coming to an end. The greenback is rallying after its worst quarter since 2010, threatening to drive up costs for companies seeking to either repay U.S. currency borrowings or hedge exposure. The yuan declined 1% since March 31, following a 2% rally between February and March. Royal Bank of Canada and Credit Suisse see more depreciation. “If corporates haven’t taken advantage of this period of yuan gains, they really only have themselves to blame,” said Sue Trinh, Hong Kong-based head of Asian foreign-exchange strategy at RBC. “The government won’t hold down the exchange rate forever.”

RBC estimates Chinese companies’ outstanding dollar borrowings have now been trimmed to $430 billion, while Daiwa Capital Markets says as much as $3 trillion was borrowed to plow into the higher-yielding yuan, including by individuals and foreign companies. A rush to repay risks accelerating capital outflows and yuan weakness amid China’s slowest economic growth in 25 years. The yuan’s renewed depreciation is a challenge for companies that took advantage of the currency’s gains in the four years through 2013 to borrow dollars offshore, profiting from both an appreciating exchange rate and higher interest rates at home. The one-way bets began to unravel as the currency dropped 2.4% in 2014 and 4.5% last year.

The yuan sank 2.6% in August last year after a shock devaluation, and then rose for the next two months as the People’s Bank of China intervened in the market to support the exchange rate. The authority reiterated in its latest monetary policy implementation report released last week that it wants to keep the currency stable. “The recent yuan stability was artificial and likely helped by consistent verbal intervention from the PBOC that there is no depreciation pressure,” said Koon How Heng at Credit Suisse in Singapore. “However, in the background, there is growing concern of increasing debt issues. We are watching growing incidences of coupon defaults.”

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Pretty damning. But it will continue short term. And a few years down the road, infrastructure will start falling apart.

S&P 500 Companies Plan $600 Billion Buybacks In Losing Strategy (CNBC)

Companies are planning to devote billions to buying back their own stock this year, even though the strategy seems to be losing its bite. Statements accompanying first-quarter earnings indicate corporations are preparing to buy a total of $600 billion in their own shares, according to Goldman Sachs calculations. That comes after a year in which S&P 500 buybacks amounted to $572.2 billion, which itself was a 3,3% increase from 2014 and part of a trend that has seen repurchases amount to more than $2.7 trillion since 2010, data from S&P Dow Jones Indices show. Buybacks slowed in the first part of the year, with TrimTabs reporting a 35% decline over 2015. However, that’s not likely to last as companies struggle to find the best way to spend cash. S&P 500 companies have nearly $1.5 trillion in cash on their balance sheets.

“The main thing that determines that is whether they see their markets pop or not,” said Jim Paulsen, chief market strategist at Wells Capital Management. “One of the things we really haven’t had in this recovery is getting all the economic boats moving north at the same time.” With the lack of sustained economic growth, companies have turned to buybacks and dividends to pick up the slack. However, the effectiveness of returning cash directly to shareholders doesn’t have the same pop it once had. Where buybacks had helped fuel the S&P 500’s meteoric rise and the second longest bull market in history, the market has been volatile but flat over the past year or so. Moreover, companies that have been the biggest movers in buybacks have underperformed significantly.

The PowerShares BuyBack Achievers Portfolio exchange-traded fund tracks companies that have bought back at least 5% of their shares over the past 12 months. The ETF is down about 0.7% in 2016 and off 8.4% over the past year. The fund’s biggest holdings include McDonald’s, Boeing, Qualcomm, Lowes and Mondelez. A big name missing from the top holdings is Apple, which has buyback plans totaling $175 billion for a stock that is down 13.2% year to date and 27.5% over the past year. Yet the buyback and dividend trend continues as companies remain reluctant to hire and invest in equipment and as the deal climate cools after a blistering 2015. Mergers and acquisitions activity plunged 25% in the first quarter, with much of the steam taken out by the collapse of multiple big-ticket deals, the most recent being the $6 billion Staples-Office Depot marriage.

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“..once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

US Energy Bankruptcy Wave Surges Despite Recovering Oil Prices (R.)

The wave of U.S. oil and gas bankruptcies surged past 60 this week, an ominous sign that the recovery of crude prices to near $50 a barrel is too little, too late for small companies that are running out of money. On Friday, Exco Resources, a Dallas-based company with a star-studded board, said it will evaluate alternatives, including a restructuring in or out of court. Its shares fell 35% to 62 cents each. Exco’s notice capped off one of the heaviest weeks of bankruptcy filings since crude prices nosedived from more than $100 a barrel in mid-2014. Prices have bounced back to $46 a barrel from February lows in the mid-$20s, but the futures market shows investors do not expect U.S. benchmark crude to rise above $50 for more than a year.

That will not help smaller producers built for far higher prices. These companies have largely exhausted funding alternatives after issuing more equity and debt, tapping second-lien loans and shedding assets over the last two years to stay afloat as banks trimmed credit lines. Some companies are in more acute distress, faced with the expiration of derivative contracts that had allowed them to sell oil above market prices. “Everybody was able to hold on for a while,” said Gary Evans, former CEO of Magnum Hunter Resources, which emerged from bankruptcy protection this week. “But once the hedges roll off you can’t support that debt.”

Bankruptcy filers this week included Linn Energy and Penn Virginia. Struggling SandRidge, a former high flyer once led by legendary wildcatter Tom Ward, said it would not be able to file quarterly results on time. The number of U.S. energy bankruptcies is closing in on the staggering 68 filings seen during the depths of the telecommunications sector bust of 2002 and 2003, according to Reuters data, the law firm Haynes & Boone and bankruptcydata.com.

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I would normally shudder at the very thought of anyone quoting Larry Summers or god forbid Jeff Rubin, but this is a topic that warrants attention.

The Other Fire: Fort McMurray’s Slow Burn (Tyee)

At the end of the day the $10-billion wildfire that consumed 2400 homes and buildings in Fort McMurray may be the least of the region’s problems. Although the chaotic evacuation of 80,000 people through walls of flame will likely haunt its brave participants for years, a slow global economic burn has already taken a nasty toll on the region’s workers. That fire began last year when global oil prices crashed by 40% and evaporated billions of investment capital in the tarsands. As the project’s most hight cost producers started to bleed cash, corporations laid off 40,000 engineers, labourers, cleaners, welders, mechanics and trades people with little fanfare and even less thanks. Many of these human “stranded assets” endured home foreclosures and lineups at the food bank.

Worker flights to Red Deer and Kelowna got cancelled and traffic at the city’s new airport declined by 16%. Unemployment in Canada’s so-called economic engine soared to nearly nine%. Despite the high cost of the oil price crash, most residents of Fort McMurray, along with Canada’s politicians, think that oil prices will rebound and things will turn around sooner or later. They’ve seen it all before, they say. But a number of economic trends and analyses suggest that bitumen’s glory days may be over. What resembles a string of bad luck may actually be the unfortunate consequence of rapidly developing a high risk and volatile resource with no real safety net. The first undeniable factor is weakening demand for oil, the engine of global economic growth. China’s economy, the world’s largest oil importer, is faltering as its industrial revolution peaks and fades.

Europe, Japan and the United States are also using less oil, and their economies are stagnating too. The global economy has become so stuck in neutral that famous financial power brokers such as Larry Summers now write depressing articles entitled “The Age of Secular Stagnation,” in Foreign Affairs no less. In such a world, little if any bitumen will be needed in the international market place. In fact economists now trace about 50% of the oil price collapse to evaporating demand. But there are many other potent signs and they have already covered the economic landscape with smoke. Murray Edwards, the billionaire tycoon behind Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest bitumen extractors, has decamped from Alberta to London, England. Edwards and company slashed $2.4-billion from CNRL’s budget in 2015. Since the oil price crash, by some accounts, Murray’s company has lost 50% of its market value.

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“..the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions.”

The New Era Of Monopoly Is Here (Stiglitz)

For 200 years, there have been two schools of thought about what determines the distribution of income – and how the economy functions. One, emanating from Adam Smith and 19th-century liberal economists, focuses on competitive markets. The other, cognisant of how Smith’s brand of liberalism leads to rapid concentration of wealth and income, takes as its starting point unfettered markets’ tendency toward monopoly. It is important to understand both, because our views about government policies and existing inequalities are shaped by which of the two schools of thought one believes provides a better description of reality. For the 19th-century liberals and their latter-day acolytes, because markets are competitive, individuals’ returns are related to their social contributions – their “marginal product”, in the language of economists.

Capitalists are rewarded for saving rather than consuming – for their abstinence, in the words of Nassau Senior, one of my predecessors in the Drummond Professorship of Political Economy at Oxford. Differences in income were then related to their ownership of “assets” – human and financial capital. Scholars of inequality thus focused on the determinants of the distribution of assets, including how they are passed on across generations. The second school of thought takes as its starting point “power”, including the ability to exercise monopoly control or, in labour markets, to assert authority over workers. Scholars in this area have focused on what gives rise to power, how it is maintained and strengthened, and other features that may prevent markets from being competitive. Work on exploitation arising from asymmetries of information is an important example.

In the west in the post-second world war era, the liberal school of thought has dominated. Yet, as inequality has widened and concerns about it have grown, the competitive school, viewing individual returns in terms of marginal product, has become increasingly unable to explain how the economy works. So, today, the second school of thought is ascendant. After all, the large bonuses paid to banks’ CEOs as they led their firms to ruin and the economy to the brink of collapse are hard to reconcile with the belief that individuals’ pay has anything to do with their social contributions. Of course, historically, the oppression of large groups – slaves, women, and minorities of various types – are obvious instances where inequalities are the result of power relationships, not marginal returns.

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“The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting.”

Vicious Feedback Loops in New York Art and European Equities (Dizard)

The remarkable swing in sentiment, from depression to relief, and, in some cases, euphoria, around the New York art auctions this past week was one of the most astonishing examples of herd mentality I have seen. Back in 1990, we would buy a paper from the newsboy that would describe a decline in the Japanese stock market that had taken place the previous year. Weeks later, bids for Renoirs would dry up, and there would be talk about a correction in the art market. These days, we are all in short-cycle businesses. But I am trying to take the long-term view here, one that might hold up until the US elections in November. So in that spirit of philosophical detachment, I would say it is time to buy euro-denominated high-yield bonds before the other bidders come in next month in response to the ECB’s corporate bond-buying programme.

I understand that most of the quantitative analysis done on art and securities markets tells us that equity prices “cause” art prices to rise or fall, but it seems to me that the present volatility and vicious feedback loops in both markets are being caused by a more general instability. The weak equity markets at the beginning of this year, and the decline in art prices that had set in by early 2015, apparently led collectors to hold off on consigning contemporary works of art to the spring auctions in New York. Then when the Christie’s evening contemporary sale on Tuesday night worked out better than many expected, with 87% of the lots sold, there was suddenly a shortage of works on public offer. This led to more frantic bidding for contemporary art in that market’s equivalent of junk or high yield, the day sales. All within a couple of days.

The same risk-averse sentiment earlier this year led euro-area junk-rated companies to hold off on selling new bond issues. According to Richard Briggs, credit strategist at CreditSights, a fixed income research provider, euro high-yield debt issuance declined to just €12.7bn in the year to date up to May 9, compared with €47.9bn in the same period in 2015. So euro-based investors are even more starved for yield than New York collectors were for contemporary art. Not everyone agrees with me about the relative value of European junk bonds. As Matt King at Citi Research says: “A lot of investors prefer, or have preferred, US high yield. Optically, the yields are higher. Most of that, though, is about duration and credit quality, and you should adjust for those. The US has more CCC credits [the bottom of the non-defaulting junk pile], and when you take that into account, all the US HY advantage disappears.”

[..] The ECB’s bond-buying programme could have an outsized effect. It is targeted specifically at non-financial corporate bonds. The ECB has indicated it will buy €3bn-€5bn of corporate bonds each month, which is about the same rate of non-financial bond purchases as euro-area financial institutions have maintained since 2012. The ECB’s requirement for an “investment-grade” rating turns out to be an elastic condition; something you tell the Germans to put them off until the next meeting. If just one rating agency, including the Canadian DBRS, will give a corporate bond an investment-grade stamp, the ECB will be open to buying it. Mr King calculates that one little tweak will make about 4% of the European junk-bond market eligible for purchase. In a relatively illiquid €310bn market, every little bit helps.

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Intriguing by Matthew Klein. To be continued.

What If Greece Got Massive Debt Relief But No One Admitted It? – Part 1 (FT)

In 2012, the “official sector” lenders realised they needed to do something different. Over the course of the year they made new loans at low interest rates, lowered interest rates on existing loans, gave the Greek government much more time to repay existing loans, remitted profits from the ECB’s holdings of Greek government bonds back to the Greek government, and forced private lenders to accept getting repaid less than originally owed, among other things. The net effect was to sharply reduce the present value of the Greek government’s debt burden. According IMF data, the Greek government spent about €15 billion, or 7.3% of GDP, on debt interest payments in 2011. For perspective, the Italian government was spending 4.4% and the Portuguese government was spending 3.8%.

By 2013, the Greek economy had shrunk by 13%, in nominal euro terms, yet the sovereign debt interest burden was now 4.0% of GDP, against 4.5% for Italy and 4.2% for Portugal. Put another way, the debt modifications in 2012 cut the amount spent by the Greek government on interest payments by more than half. Subsequent debt modifications and the general decline in euro area interest rates have cut the amount the Greek government spends on interest payments by another 12.6%. Interest expense was 3.6% of Greek GDP in 2015, compared to 4.0% in Italy and 4.1% in Portugal. So why didn’t the 2012 modifications end the crisis? My colleague Martin Sandbu puts it well:

“The problem is the chill caused by the uncertainty the debt overhang causes: will the debt service cost at some point increase (perhaps to crippling levels), and will there be another refinancing crisis whenever a large portion of debt is set to mature? It is this uncertainty that must be erased for investment to pick up.”

In other words, investors don’t care about the decline in the interest burden nearly as much as they worry, reasonably, about the headline debt figures. This makes it impossible for the Greek government to fund itself in the markets at reasonable rates, leaving it dependent on the whims of “official sector” creditors to make its small interest payments and roll over its large debts. This is why it matters whether Kazarian is right about the accounting treatment of Greek sovereign obligations. There are plenty of weak economies in the euro area with miserable productivity growth, terrible demographics, and lots of debt. Greece isn’t that different except insofar as it’s excluded from ECB bond-buying and insofar as the markets and ratings companies treat it as a pariah.

So if the Greek government’s actual debt number were far lower than what’s commonly reported, investors would have little reason to charge it more than they demand from Portugal. And that would have big implications for an economy wracked for years by uncertainty about debt default, sky-high capital costs, and outside demands for “structural reform” and budget surpluses. In part 2, we’ll look at why exactly Kazarian thinks the Greek government’s net debt is only 39% of GDP, rather than 177%, as well as some potential objections. In part 3, we’ll imagine what sorts of budget surpluses would have been required to make the Greek government compliant with Maastricht criteria for debt levels by 2020 under different assumptions of the impact of the 2012 modifications, in comparison to what “official sector” creditors actually demanded.

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The US is falling apart in many places.

“I’ll Never Retire”: Americans Break Record for Working Past 65 (BBG)

Almost 20% of Americans 65 and older are now working, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the most older people with a job since the early 1960s, before the U.S. enacted Medicare. Because of the huge baby boom generation that is just now hitting retirement age, the U.S. has the largest number of older workers ever. When asked to describe their plans for retirement, 27% of Americans said they will “keep working as long as possible,” a 2015 Federal Reserve study found. Another 12% said they don’t plan to retire at all. Why are more people putting off retirement? Three in five retirees surveyed by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies said making money or earning benefits was at least one reason they had retired later than they planned to.

Almost half said financial problems were their main reason for working past 65. The financial crisis, and the tech bust before it, devastated many baby boomers’ retirement savings. That’s if they had any to begin with. Today, 60% of U.S. households have no money in a 401(k) or similar retirement account, and the benefits of 401(k)s are skewed toward the wealthiest Americans, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office found. The waning of traditional, defined-benefit pensions could also be delaying retirement, even for wealthier Americans. Instead of getting a monthly check, many retirees end up with a pot of 401(k) assets they’re not sure how they should be spending. The ups and downs of the market can heighten their anxiety and keep them going into the office.

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The sadness is hard to describe.

Retiree To Fly 80 South African Rhinos To Australia (G.)

A retired South African sales executive who emigrated to Australia 30 years ago is hatching a daring plan to airlift 80 rhinos to his adopted country in an attempt to save the species from poachers. Flying each animal on the 11,000-kilometre journey will cost about $A60,500, but Ray Dearlove believes the expense and risk is essential as poaching deaths have soared in recent years. The rhinos will be relocated to a safari park in Australia, which is being kept secret for security reasons, where they will become a “seed bank” to breed future generations. “Our grand plan is to move 80 over a four-year period. We think that will provide the nucleus of a good breeding herd,” Dearlove said while visiting South Africa to organise for the first batch to be flown out.

The Australian Rhino Project, which the 68-year-old founded in 2013, hopes to take six rhinos to their new home before the end of the year. Funding – from private and corporate sources – is nearly in place, and the first rhinos have been selected from animals kept on private reserves in South Africa. “We have got to get this first one right because it’s a big task, it’s expensive, it’s complex,” Dearlove said. When they are settled successfully in Australia, “then we hopefully will go up in gear,” he added. [..] Poachers slaughtered 1,338 rhinos across Africa last year – the highest level since the poaching crisis exploded in 2008, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN, which rates white rhinos as “near threatened” as a species, says that booming demand for horn and the involvement of international criminal syndicates has fuelled the explosion in poaching since 2007.

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A German point of view.

Merkel’s Deal with Turkey in Danger of Collapse (Spiegel)

On Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was standing on a stage in Ankara raging against the European Union. “Since when are you controlling Turkey?” he demanded. “Who gave you the order?” He then accused Brussels of dividing his country. “Do you think we don’t know that?” It sounded as though he was laying the groundwork for a break with Europe. Erdogan’s fit of rage is only the most recent escalation in the conflict over German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee deal with Turkey. Thus far, officials in Berlin have been dismissing the Turkish president’s tirades as mere theater. “Erdogan is following the Seehofer playbook,” says one Chancellery official, a reference to the outspoken governor of Bavaria who has been extremely critical of Merkel’s refugee policies.

But things aren’t looking good for the deal, which the chancellor has declared as the only proper way to solve the refugee crisis. Indeed, Merkel’s greatest foreign policy project is on the verge of collapsing. The chancellor still hopes that Erdogan will stick to the refugee deal. A key element of that deal is visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens, and Merkel believes that Erdogan’s popularity would take a hit if that didn’t come to pass. That’s why she believes that Erdogan will come around in the end. But she could be mistaken. After all, no one aside from the German chancellor appears to have much interest in the agreement anymore. Erdogan certainly doesn’t: He does not want to make any concessions on his country’s expansive anti-terror laws, the reform of which is one of a long list of conditions Turkey must meet before the EU will grant visa freedoms.

The Europeans at large, wary of selling out their values to the autocrat in Ankara, are also deeply skeptical. And in Germany, Merkel’s junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), have seized on the deal as a way to finally score some much needed political points against the powerful chancellor. Even within Merkel’s own conservatives, many are seeing the troubles the deal is facing as an opportunity to break with the chancellor’s disliked refugee policies.

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Brussels and Berlin would make a deal with Hitler if it suited them.

EU to Work with African Despot to Keep Refugees Out (Spiegel)

The ambassadors of the 28 European Union member states had agreed to secrecy. “Under no circumstances” should the public learn what was said at the talks that took place on March 23rd, the European Commission warned during the meeting of the Permanent Representatives Committee. A staff member of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini even warned that Europe’s reputation could be at stake. Under the heading “TOP 37: Country fiches,” the leading diplomats that day discussed a plan that the EU member states had agreed to: They would work together with dictatorships around the Horn of Africa in order to stop the refugee flows to Europe – under Germany’s leadership.

When it comes to taking action to counter the root causes of flight in the region, Angela Merkel has said, “I strongly believe that we must improve peoples’ living conditions.” The EU’s new action plan for the Horn of Africa provides the first concrete outlines: For three years, €40 million is to be paid out to eight African countries from the Emergency Trust Fund, including Sudan. Minutes from the March 23 meetings and additional classified documents obtained by SPIEGEL and German public TV station ARD show that the focus of the project is border protection. To that end, equipment is to be provided to the countries in question. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges relating to his alleged role in genocide and crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict.

Amnesty International also claims that the Sudanese secret service has tortured members of the opposition. And the United States accuses the country of providing financial support to terrorists. Nevertheless, documents relating to the project indicate that Europe want to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has confirmed that action plan is binding, although no concrete decisions have yet been made regarding its implementation. The German development agency GIZ is expected to coordinate the project.

The organization, which is a government enterprise, has experience working with authoritarian countries. In Saudi Arabia, for example, German federal police are providing their Saudi colleagues with training in German high-tech border installations. The money for the training comes not directly from the federal budget but rather from GIZ. When it comes to questions of finance, the organization has become a vehicle the government can use to be less transparent, a government official confirms.

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