A lot has changed since the stock market crash of 2000. Apple Inc. has gone from being just another computer brand to becoming the most valuable company in the world, Amazon.com Inc. went from being an e-book retailer to a byword for online shopping and Tesla’s Elon Musk has risen from obscurity to Twitter stardom. Yet some things never change and Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at Leuthold Group, has been on a mini-campaign highlighting the parallels between 2000 and 2018. Among the numerous similarities is the elevated valuation of the S&P 500 then and now, which Ramsey illustrates in a chart that he has dubbed as the “scariest chart in our database.”
“Recall that the initial visit to present levels was followed by the S&P 500’s first-ever negative total return decade,” he said in a recent blog post. Price-to-sales ratio is one measure of a stocks value. It isn’t as popular as the price-to-earnings ratio, or P/E, but is viewed as less susceptible to manipulation since it is based on revenue. He also shared a chart which he claims is “unfit for a family-friendly publication” that shows how in terms of median price to sales ratio, the S&P 500 is twice as expensive as it was in 2000.
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) pops up all over the place. Involved in killing off talks with Assange in spring 2017, a year later calls for Assange’s asylum to be revoked, then weeks later wants him to testify.
Julian Assange has been asked to testify before the US Senate Intelligence Committee as part of their Russia investigation, according to a letter signed by Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA) posted by the official WikiLeaks Twitter account. The letter, delivered to Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, reads in part “As part of the inquiry, the Committee requests that you make yourself available for a closed interview with bipartisan Committee staff at a mutually agreeable time and location.” Wikileaks’ says their legal team is “considering the offer but testimony must conform to a high ethical standard,” after which the whistleblower organization added a tweet linking to a list of 10 Democratic Senators who demanded in late June that Assange’s asylum be revoked in violation of international law:
[..] Last August, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher travelled to London with journalist Charles Johnson for a meeting with Assange, after which Rohrabacher said the WikiLeaks founder offered “firsthand” information proving that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia, and which would refute the Russian hacking theory. After Trump denied knowledge of the potential deal, Rohrabacher raged at Trump’s Chief of Staff, John Kelly, for constructing a “wall” around President Trump by “people who do not want to expose this fraud.” And in January of 2017, Julian Assange’s legal team approached Clinton-linked D.C. lobbyist Adam Waldman to reach out and see if anyone in the Trump administration would negotiate with the WikiLeaks founder – only to have James Comey kill the deal.
A leaked memo circulating among Senate Democrats contains a host of bonkers authoritarian proposals for regulating digital platforms, purportedly as a way to get tough on Russian bots and fake news. To save American trust in “our institutions, democracy, free press, and markets,” it suggests, we need unprecedented and undemocratic government intervention into online press and markets, including “comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation” of the sort enacted in the E.U.
Titled “Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms,” the draft policy paper—penned by Sen. Mark Warner and leaked by an unknown source to Axios—the paper starts out by noting that Russians have long spread disinformation, including when “the Soviets tried to spread ‘fake news’ denigrating Martin Luther King” (here he fails to mention that the Americans in charge at the time did the same). But NOW IT’S DIFFERENT, because technology. “Today’s tools seem almost built for Russian disinformation techniques,” Warner opines. And the ones to come, he assures us, will be even worse.
The US government has said it will impose fresh sanctions on Russia after determining it used a nerve agent in the attack against a former Russian spy in Salisbury. The State Department said the sanctions will be imposed on Moscow because it used a chemical weapon in violation of international law in the attack on former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, 67, and his daughter Yulia, 33. The pair were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent called novichok in Salisbury, UK, in March. Following a 15-day Congressional notification period, the new US sanctions will take effect on or around 22 August, according to a statement.
[..] State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said it had been determined Russia had “used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law, or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals.” “Following the use of a Novichok nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate UK citizen Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia Skripal, the United States, on 6 August, 2018, determined under the Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act of 1991 (CBW Act) that the government of the Russian Federation has used chemical or biological weapons in violation of international law or has used lethal chemical or biological weapons against its own nationals,” a statement said.
The sanctions will cover sensitive national security goods, a senior State Department official said. There would, however, be exemptions for space flight activities and areas covering commercial passenger aviation safety, which would be allowed on a case by case basis, the official added. A second batch of “more draconian” sanctions would be imposed after 90 days unless Russia gives “reliable assurances” that it will no longer use chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections by the United Nations.
Russia’s embassy in the United States on Thursday called new U.S. sanctions draconian and said the reason for the new restrictions — allegations it poisoned a former spy and his daughter in Britain — were far-fetched. The United States on Wednesday announced it would impose fresh sanctions on Russia after Washington determined Moscow had used a nerve agent against a former Russian double agent, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, Yulia, in Britain. Russia has repeatedly denied responsibility for the attack, and Russia’s embassy in Washington said in a statement that Washington’s findings against it in the case were not backed by evidence.
“On August 8, 2018 our Deputy Chief of Mission was informed in the State Department of new ‘draconian’ sanctions against Russia for far-fetched accusations of using the ‘Novichok’ nerve agent against a UK citizen,” the embassy said in a statement. “We grew accustomed to not hearing any facts or evidence.” The U.S. announcement fueled already worsening investor sentiment about the possible effect of more U.S. sanctions on Russian assets and the rouble slid by over 1 percent on Thursday against the dollar, a day after falling toward its lowest level in nearly two years. The Russian embassy said Moscow continued to advocate for an open and transparent investigation into the poisoning.
On March 1st Russian President Vladimir Putin changed the geopolitical game. During his speech he unveiled new weapons which instantly made obsolete much of the U.S military’s physical arsenal. And the panic in Washington was palpable. Since that speech everything geopolitical has accelerated. The US government under Trump has shifted its strategies in response to this. No longer were we threatening North Korea with military invasion. No, Trump sat down with Kim Jong-un to negotiate peace. On Russia, Iran, China, Turkey, Venezuela and even Europe Trump’s war rhetoric has intensified. Trump is only talking about economic sanctions and tariffs, however, leveraging the dollar as his primary weapon to bring countries to heel.
There’s no hint of US invasion, no matter how much John Bolton whispers in his ear or Bibi Netanyahu bangs his shoe on the table. Why? Because US military dominance has always been enforced not by technology but by logistics. Those bases, while expensive, are also the real strength of the US military. They are a financial albatross which the ‘Axis of Resistance’ is using to win a war of attrition against US hegemony. And now, Putin’s new weapons rendered them obsolete in a moment’s time. Once fully deployed there will be no going back to the old world order. So, that’s why Trump talked to North Korea yesterday and why he will talk with Iran tomorrow.
Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic spat with Canada looks set to escalate following a report that the Middle Eastern country has instructed its brokers to sell Canadian assets. Anger between the two countries erupted last week when Canadian officials urged Riyadh to “immediately release” women’s rights activists Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah. Now the Financial Times has reported that the Saudi central bank and state pension funds have instructed third party asset managers to sell Canadian bonds, stocks and cash. The selling is said to have begun on Tuesday. In a sign of its rage, Saudi Arabia has already expelled the Canadian ambassador, frozen trade and investment between Riyadh and Ottawa and halted flights to and from Canada.
Saudi rulers have also stopped all medical treatment programs in Canada and are coordinating for the transfer of all Saudi patients currently receiving care in Canadian hospitals to be moved outside of the country. Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that “Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women’s rights are human rights.” But on Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said there was nothing to mediate between the two countries and that Canada knew what it needed to do to “fix its big mistake.”
The Chinese yuan’s slide is creating challenging headwinds for Beijing’s push to promote its currency globally — a key element in the broader liberalization of the world’s second-largest economy. China wants its currency, also known as the renminbi, to play a leading role in global trade and finance in line with its economic clout. While Beijing has scored some significant milestones, the yuan has been declining, assailed by a weakening economy and a trade war with the United States. One major achievement was in 2016 when it joined the ranks of the dollar, euro, yen and British pound as part of the IMF’s Special Drawing Right (SDR), an international reserve asset.
But there have been bumps as well, most notably in 2015 when authorities suddenly devalued the currency after steadily nudging it higher for years, triggering a sell-off in global markets. The renminbi, or literally “people’s currency,” is now being buffeted by a new challenge as China’s economy is under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff assault. Analysts say its push to become a global currency is likely to suffer a setback. “Renminbi internationalization could be slowing down temporarily in the second half of this year,” Ken Cheung, senior Asia foreign exchange strategist at Mizuho Bank in Hong Kong, told CNBC, citing the disruption caused by the trade war.
While it might not seem like it now, President Donald Trump is a gift to free market-oriented economists and policymakers. His clumsy approach to protectionism has ignited a trade war that inevitably will harm the U.S. economy. When the pendulum inexorably swings the other way after the Trump fiasco, free trade ideology will return with a vengeance. This is a potential tragedy for left-leaning policy analysts who have long been concerned about the excesses of neoliberalism and argued for a more measured use of tariffs to foster local economic development. As such, it critical that we distinguish between Trump’s right-wing nationalist embrace of tariffs and the more nuanced use of this tool to support infant industries.
As a development geographer and an Africanist scholar, I have long been critical of unfettered free trade because of its deleterious economic impacts on African countries. At the behest of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the majority of African countries were essentially forced, because of conditional loan and debt-refinancing requirements, to undergo free market–oriented economic reforms from the early 1980s through the mid-2000s. One by one, these countries reduced tariff barriers, eliminated subsidies, cut back on government expenditures, and emphasized commodity exports. With the possible exception of Ghana, the economy of nearly every African country undertaking these reforms was devastated.
This is not to say that there was no economic growth for African countries during this period, as there certainly was during cyclical commodity booms. The problem is that the economies of these countries were essentially underdeveloped as they returned to a colonial model focused on producing a limited number of commodities such as oil, minerals, cotton, cacao, palm oil, and timber. Economic reforms destroyed the value-added activities that helped diversify these economies and provided higher wage employment, such as the textile, milling, and food processing industries. Worse yet, millions of African farmers and workers are now increasingly ensnared in a global commodity boom-and-bust cycle. Beyond that cycle, they are experiencing an even more worrying long-term trend of declining prices for commodities.
One of the consequences of the hollowing out of African economies has been the European migration crisis. While some of this migration is clearly connected to politics, war, and insecurity in the Middle East and Africa, a nontrivial portion is related to grim economic prospects in many African countries.
Securities regulators have inquired with Tesla Inc. about Chief Executive Elon Musk’s surprise announcement that he may take the company private and whether his claim was factual, people familiar with the matter said. The Securities and Exchange Commission has asked whether Musk’s unusual announcement on Tuesday was factual, the people said. The regulator also asked Tesla TSLA, -2.43% about why the disclosure was made on Twitter rather than in a regulatory filing, and whether the company believes the announcement complies with investor-protection rules, the people said. Musk on Tuesday proposed taking Tesla private at $420 a share, about 11% higher than the day’s closing stock price.
He called the funding “secured” for what would be the biggest-ever corporate buyout, but he hasn’t disclosed details. A group of Tesla board members on Wednesday said Musk spoke to them last week about taking the company private. The SEC’s inquiries, which originated from its San Francisco office, suggest Tesla could come under an enforcement investigation if regulators develop evidence that Musk’s statement was misleading or false. It wasn’t immediately clear on Wednesday whether the regulator had opened a formal enforcement investigation based on the answers it received from the company.
A combination of unaffordable housing and Brexit has led to an “exodus” from London, with an increasing number of young people moving elsewhere to live and work, according to new research. Analysis by think tank Centre for London showed that job numbers in the capital reached 5.9 million at the end of June this year, up 1.9 per cent compared with the same month in 2017 – and the highest level since records began in 1996. However, the group warned that this was driven by a “significant growth” in the number of people moving away from London to rest of the UK, and a slowdown in international migration, suggesting that the city is become a less desirable place to live and work.
London recorded the slowest rate of population growth in over a decade, at almost half the rate of the previous year, the research revealed. A spokesperson for Centre for London said: “The continuing affordability crisis and the prospect of Brexit are dampening the city’s appeal, with the former seen as driving the rise in the number of people in their mid-twenties to thirties leaving the capital.” In July the average rent for London rose above £1,600 for the first time on record, according to the latest Homelet Rental Index, and while house price growth in London has slowed in recent months, the average price in the second quarter of this year was £468,845 – more than double the national average of £214,578.
The diverging performance of major US stock market indexes which has been in place since the late January peak in DJIA and SPX has become even more extreme in recent months. In terms of duration and extent it is one of the most pronounced such divergences in history. It also happens to be accompanied by weakening market internals, some of the most extreme sentiment and positioning readings ever seen and an ever more hostile monetary backdrop. The above combination is consistent with a market close to a major peak – although one must always keep in mind that divergences can become even more pronounced – as was for instance demonstrated on occasion of the technology sector blow-off in late 1999 – 2000.
Along similar lines, extremes in valuations can persist for a very long time as well and reach previously unimaginable levels. The Nikkei of the late 1980s is a pertinent example for this. Incidentally, the current stock buyback craze is highly reminiscent of the 1980s Japanese financial engineering method known as keiretsu or zaibatsu, as it invites the very same rationalizations. We recall vividly that it was argued in the 1980s that despite their obscene overvaluation, Japanese stocks could “never decline” because Japanese companies would prop up each other’s stocks. Today we often read or hear that overvalued US stocks cannot possibly decline because companies will keep propping up their own stocks with buybacks.
Of course this propping up of stock prices occurs amid a rather concerning deterioration in median corporate balance sheet strength, as corporate debt has exploded into the blue yonder (just as it did in Japan in the late 1980s). The fact that an unprecedented number of companies is a single notch downgrade away from a junk rating should give sleepless nights to fixed income and stock market investors alike – as should the oncoming “wall of maturities”. A giant wall of junk bond maturities is looming in the not to distant future. Unless investors remain in a mood to refinance all comers, this threatens to provide us with a spot of “interesting times”. Something tells us that “QT” could turn into a bit of a party pooper as the “Great Wall” approaches.
It should also be mentioned that past stock market peaks as a rule coincided with record highs in buybacks. This indicates that record highs in buybacks are mainly a contrarian indicator rather than a datum providing comfort at extreme points. Of course, what actually represents an “extreme point” can only ever be known with certainty in hindsight, as extremes tend to shift over time – particularly in a fiat money system in which the supply of money and credit can be expanded willy-nilly. What can be stated with certainty is only whether the markets are entering what we would call dangerous territory.
U.S. government debt supply will likely continue to boom, but bond market investors seem to be taking it in stride. The Treasury Department is having to sell more debt to finance the government’s ballooning deficit, stemming from the massive federal tax overhaul in December and the spending deal passed in February. Still, bond yields have remained in a narrow range, suggesting investors may not be fretting about the swelling debt supply. “There will be no relief from supply especially from bills going into October,” said Tom Simons, money market strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York. Supply is expected to run high at least until the Treasury provides updated forecasts on its borrowing needs, next due in November – and might even accelerate further.
This week, the Treasury will sell $34 billion in three-year notes, with $26 billion in 10-year debt on Wednesday and $18 billion in 30-year bonds on Thursday. It will also auction $51 billion in three-month bills and $45 billion in six-month bills, together with an expected $65 billion in one-month bills. The supply will fall short of a record week of $294 billion set in March but continues a trend higher since February. Analysts, who said the market would have no trouble digesting this week’s offerings, see the government as becoming increasingly dependent on private investors for cash as the Fed further reduces its bond holdings. The goal is to shrink a balance sheet that had grown to more than $4 trillion from three massive rounds of asset purchases to combat the previous recession.
If you were standing in the smoldering ashes of 9/11 trying to peer into the future, you might have been overjoyed to discover this happy snapshot of 2018: There has been no subsequent major terrorist attack on America from Al Qaeda or its heirs. American troops are not committed en masse to any ground war. American workers are enjoying a blissful 4 percent unemployment rate. The investment class and humble 401(k) holders alike are beneficiaries of a rising GDP and booming stock market that, as measured by the Dow, is up some 250 percent since its September 10, 2001, close. The most admired person in America, according to Gallup, is the nation’s first African-American president, a man no one had heard of and a phenomenon no one could have imagined at the century’s dawn. Comedy, the one art whose currency is laughter, is the culture’s greatest growth industry. What’s not to like?
Plenty, as it turns out. The mood in America is arguably as dark as it has ever been in the modern era. The birthrate is at a record low, and the suicide rate is at a 30-year high; mass shootings and opioid overdoses are ubiquitous. In the aftermath of 9/11, the initial shock and horror soon gave way to a semblance of national unity in support of a president whose electoral legitimacy had been bitterly contested only a year earlier. Today’s America is instead marked by fear and despair more akin to what followed the crash of 1929, when unprecedented millions of Americans lost their jobs and homes after the implosion of businesses ranging in scale from big banks to family farms.
It’s not hard to pinpoint the dawn of this deep gloom: It arrived in September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it).
That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.
A year or so after the 2008 crisis, Nassim Taleb, a financial trader turned bestselling author, was called to Washington to talk to a commission that was compiling a report on what went wrong. Taleb, after all, had predicted the crisis with eerie prescience in his 2007 book The Black Swan, which talked about the underappreciated “tail risks” faced by the global economy. “They heckled me for about two or three hours on technicalities,” he recalls. “But not a single one of my points was in the report. Bunch of f****** bureaucrats. No wonder people voted for Donald Trump.” Taleb believes we have learnt nothing from the crisis. “Not only did people not get why it happened,” he says, “but the moral hazard in the system actually increased.”
The problem, in Taleb’s view, is what he calls a “Bob Rubin trade”. In the build-up to the crash, Robert Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, spent years advising the investment bank Citigroup, eventually becoming its chairman. After the crash happened, he resigned and walked away having made tens of millions. “What’s most depressing is that nobody who was involved in causing the crisis paid any price for it,” Taleb says. “America’s debt is now trillions higher because people transferred risk to the state, owing to mistakes made by individuals.” The crisis highlighted the licence to take risk that banks had, knowing the government would step in if things went wrong.
“People realised that, hey, you can do that with impunity,” Taleb says. “If anything, banks today are even more on government support.” He does identify one bright spot. “Some people have realised there was a problem,” he says. “There is an immense amount of disgruntlement by people who see this point, on the left in Europe and on the right in America. “So you have what is mislabelled ‘populism’ as a first-order reaction, which may be correct or incorrect. But at least some people are starting to see these methods are bullshit.”
There may be times when Mark Carney regrets extending his stint at the Bank of England by an extra year. Had things gone as originally planned, Carney would have handed over the keys to Threadneedle Street a month ago and someone else would have had the task of steering the economy through what is certain to be a fiendishly tricky period. That would be the case even without Brexit. The UK economy has recovered more slowly and more unevenly than Carney envisaged when he took over at the Bank from Mervyn King in 2013. It was only last week that the Bank’s monetary policy committee felt confident enough to raise interest rates above the 0.5% emergency level that they reached in March 2009.
But Brexit is taking up half the governor’s time and it is clear that he is starting to get concerned. Certainly, his remarks when questioned on the BBC Today programme on Friday were blunt. With just eight months to go before Britain leaves the European Union, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high”. There was a time when such plain speaking from the governor of the Bank of England would have raised a few eyebrows in Downing Street. Not now. The line since the cabinet signed up to Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan is that the government has made all the concessions it can, and that means unless Brussels gives something in return there is a danger of chaos next March.
So the prime minister would not have been troubled when Carney said that a no-deal Brexit would be “highly undesirable” and something all parties should seek to avoid, because that’s the official Whitehall line. There will be no complaints if the governor continues to stress the importance of London as a source of low-cost capital for European governments and companies.
We now know it beyond doubt: however we leave the European Union, the result is likely to be damage that Britain is in no position to absorb. Job losses are certain. A stack of Brexit impact reports from local authorities obtained last week by Sky News identified a catalogue of dire consequences, from farms in Shetland that could be plunged into impossible losses, through social care services in East Sussex already being hit by labour shortages, to the M26 being turned into a giant lorry park. With his characteristic emollience, the trade secretary, Liam Fox, says a no-deal Brexit is now more likely than a negotiated deal; Jeremy Hunt reckons we could fall off the came cliff-edge “by accident”, and reports about stockpiled food and medicines attest to the awfulness of any such prospect.
March 2019, then, could well mark a watershed point in a drawn-out disaster. But so, in a different way, could somehow nullifying the result of the referendum and staying put. It would be comforting to think that what George Orwell called “the gentleness of the English civilisation” would mean that an overturning of 2016’s outcome would be grudgingly swallowed by the vast majority of leave voters, but I would not be so sure. Ukip is back in the polls, and has newly strengthened links to the far right. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Boston in Lincolnshire, the town whose 75.6% vote for Brexit made it the most leave-supporting place in the UK. Many of the people I spoke to were already convinced that Brexit was doomed, and full of talk of betrayal.
Some of what I heard was undeniably ugly, though much of it was based on an undeniable set of facts. People were asked to make a decision, and they did. The referendum was the one meaningful political event in millions of voters’ lifetimes, and we were all assured that its result would be respected. Whatever the noise about a second referendum, this is the fundamental reason why the likelihood of Brexit interrupted remains dim.
Saudi Arabia said Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa’s vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists. The kingdom gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs. The move, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes after Canada demanded the immediate release of human rights campaigners swept up in a new crackdown. “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted.
“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours.” The ministry also announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action”. Canada last week said it was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi. Samar was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah last week, the latest victims of what Human Rights Watch called an “unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement”.
Chinese state media on Monday lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies in an unusually personal attack, even as they sought to reassure investors about the health of China’s economy as growth concerns roiled its financial markets. China’s strictly controlled news outlets have frequently rebuked the United States and the Trump administration as the trade conflict has escalated, but they have largely refrained from specifically targeting Trump.
The latest criticism from the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper singled out Trump, saying he was starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”. Trump’s desire for others to play along with his drama is “wishful thinking”, a commentary on the paper’s front page said, arguing that the United States had escalated trade friction with China and turned international trade into a “zero-sum game”. “Governing a country is not like doing business,” the paper said, adding that Trump’s actions imperiled the national credibility of the United States.
Wells Fargo is blaming a computer glitch for more than 400 customers losing their homes between 2010 and 2015. The bank revealed in regulatory filings last week that the technological error resulted in 625 customers being denied loan modifications, and about 400 costumers having their houses foreclosed on, CNN Money reported on Friday. The filing says the bank has set aside $8 million to compensate the affected customers, it added. Wells Fargo apologized for the error and said in a statement that it is “providing remediation” to customers whose mortgages were affected, according to CNN.
The Treasury Department set up a program in 2009 to help Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, offering them the opportunity to apply for loan modifications, the network noted, adding that the computer error rejected applications from 625 Wells Fargo customers. A bank spokesperson told CNN that there is “not a clear, direct cause and effect relationship” between the error and foreclosures, but said some customers who were denied loan modifications lost their homes. Multiple government agencies are also probing Wells Fargo for its financing of low-income housing developments, Reuters reported. The embattled bank last week agreed to pay more than $2 billion to settle allegations related to offering subprime mortgages in the years before the 2008 financial crisis.
For decades, the Friendship pipeline has delivered oil from Russia to Europe, heating German homes even in the darkest days of the Cold War. But a new pipeline that will carry gas direct from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany is doing rather less for friendship, driving a wedge between Germany and its allies and giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a headache. For U.S. President Donald Trump, Nord Stream 2 is a “horrific” pipeline that will increase Germany’s dependence on Russian energy. Ukraine, fighting Russian-backed separatists, fears the new pipeline will allow Moscow to cut it out of the lucrative and strategically crucial gas transit business.
It comes at an awkward time for Merkel. With the fraying of the transatlantic alliance and an assertive Russia and China, she has acknowledged that Germany must take more of a political leadership role in Europe. “The global order is under pressure,” Merkel said last month. “That’s a challenge for us … Germany’s responsibility is growing; Germany has more work to do.” In April she accepted for the first time that there were “political considerations” to Nord Stream 2, a project she had until then described as a commercial venture. Most European countries want Germany to do more to project European influence and protect eastern neighbors that are nervous of Russian encroachment.
But letting Russia sell gas to Germany while avoiding Ukraine does the opposite, depriving Kiev of transit revenues and making it, Poland and the Baltic states more vulnerable to cuts in gas supplies. “The price would be an even greater loss of trust from the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine,” said Roderich Kiesewetter, a Merkel ally on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. “We Germans always say that holding the West together is our ‘center of gravity’, but the Russian approach has succeeded in dragging Germany, at least in terms of energy policy, out of this western solidarity.”
With the Amazon beast breathing down their necks, the last thing struggling retailers need is a cautious U.S. consumer. Yet, that’s exactly what they have gotten in recent months — and if it persists, retail stocks are likely to take it on the chin this summer. Real consumer spending took a nosedive in the first quarter (chart below) as consumers assessed the impact President Trump’s tax reform plan. Not helping matters was a more volatile stock market, rising inflation and a cooling U.S. labor market. In turn, consumer sentiment has remained stuck in a range since February. Retail stocks have followed suit.
The VanEck Vectors Retail ETF (RTH) is down about 7% since hitting a high on Jan. 29. This week has brought bearish notes on department stores like Macy’s from Wall Street shops, citing fears of online competition and challenging first quarter sales conditions. Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette will be speaking at TheStreet’s sister publication, The Deal’s, big corporate governance in June. “We think that real consumption growth will firm from 1.1% annualized in 1Q to 2.3% in 2Q. We continue to see similarities between this year and last that likely are related to abnormal patterns of tax refunds, and like last year, we expect real consumer spending to firm noticeably between 1Q and 2Q,” says JPMorgan & Chase strategist Daniel Silver. But even Silver doesn’t sound 100% convinced.
“But inflation likely will be much stronger in 2Q18 than it was in 2Q17, and higher prices should dampen real spending and erode some of the benefits associated with lower taxes.”
One word may explain Warren Buffett’s investment decisions on Apple and Amazon: profit. Last week Buffett both lamented on not investing in Amazon shares and revealed how he added massively to Berkshire Hathaway’s stake in Apple. The Oracle of Omaha’s moves may be explained by his philosophy of emphasizing a company’s historical financial track record versus putting credence in aggressive future forecasts from analysts. “I think it’s fair to say, we’ve never looked at a [analyst] projection in connection with either a security we’ve bought or a business we’ve bought,” Buffett said during a Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder meeting in 1995, according to remarks found using CNBC’s Warren Buffett Archive.
Apple “is an unbelievable company,” Buffett told CNBC on May 3. “If you look at Apple, I think it earns almost twice as much as the second most profitable company in the United States.” The smartphone maker generated a $48.35 billion in profit during its fiscal 2017 and made $13.8 billion in net income during the March 2018 quarter. In comparison, Amazon’s total net income since inception is about $9.6 billion. The number was calculated by adding up all of Amazon’s annual net income figures since its inception to the company’s $1.6 billion profit in the March 2018 quarter.
Facebook is facing a class action lawsuit over the revelations that it logged text messages and phone calls via its smartphone apps. In the lawsuit filed in Facebook’s home of the northern district of California, the primary plaintiff, John Condelles III, states that the social network’s actions “presents several wrongs, including a consumer bait-and-switch, an invasion of privacy, wrongful monitoring of minors and potential attacks on privileged communications” such as those between doctor and patient. Facebook collected the logs of text messages and calls, including the recipients and duration of the communications, through its apps for Android including Messenger when users opted into being able to send SMS from the app or give access to their contact lists.
“Facebook has collected and stored information in a scope and manner beyond that which users knowingly authorised. The practice is ongoing,” states the filing first reported by the Register. The extent of the collection was revealed when users began downloading and sifting through the data Facebook held on them following the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The plaintiffs allege that Facebook’s collection of the data from users’ phones breaches California’s Unfair Competition Law on three counts – including fraudulent business practice – in addition to the Consumer Legal Remedies Act and the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. [..] Facebook is also facing a class action lawsuit from both British and US lawyers as part of a case against the social network, Cambridge Analytica and two other companies for allegedly misusing the personal data of 71 million people.
The capital markets are a democracy, but that’s not how Facebook is being run, said Christopher Ailman, the chief investment officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, known as CalSTRS. “There is something wrong,” he said Thursday on CNBC’s “Closing Bell.” “When Facebook changed its structure to take public money in, they should have changed their structure to a more open board structure, and we think that there’s a problem with having one person in charge of the company,” he added. CEO Mark Zuckerberg owns a majority of the voting rights to the company. That’s because the tech giant has dual-class shares.
Facebook’s Class B shares are controlled by Zuckerberg and a small group of insiders and have 10 votes per share. Class A shares only have one vote per share. The end result is that Zuckerberg and those insiders control almost 70 percent of the voting shares in Facebook. CalSTRS took on the issue in a recent op-ed in the Financial Times. CalSTRS portfolio manager Aeisha Mastagni wrote, “Why does Mr. Zuckerberg need the entrenchment factor of a dual-class structure? Is it because he does not want governance to evolve with the rest of his company? If so, this American dream is now akin to a dictatorship.”
Facebook is “very serious” about launching its own cryptocurrency, according to a report from Cheddar. It’s not the first time the idea of a Facebook coin has been floated, but the plans take on some greater meaning in light of Facebook’s recently reshuffled executive structure and newly formed blockchain group. Blockchain, the decentralized record-keeping system, could help tackle some of Facebook’s most bothersome problems, like identity verification or advertising sales. It’s also the technology behind most cryptocurrencies, logging ownership and transfers of the digital tokens.
“Like many other companies Facebook is exploring ways to leverage the power of blockchain technology. This new small team will be exploring many different applications,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC in a statement. It would likely be years before Facebook’s work on blockchain and cryptocurrency became anything material, Cheddar reports, citing anonymous sources. The business news site also reports Facebook has no plans to hold an ICO, or initial coin offering.
The new U.S. ambassador to Germany said the row over Washington’s planned imposition of punitive tariffs on European goods would not trigger a trade war, adding that U.S. President Donald Trump only wanted “a level playing field”. In an interview with the Funke newspaper group, Richard Grenell insisted that the United States was awaiting proposals on how punitive tariffs could be averted. “Germans are doing a phenomenal job on trade,” he said. “There will be no trade war … We are talking with our friends to solve a problem.” The United States wanted to see Europe’s proposals before deciding what would follow the expiry of an already extended June 1 deadline to impose tariffs, he added.
Less than a week into the job, Grenell has already triggered headlines with his demand in a tweet that German companies in Iran should “wind down operations” immediately after Trump withdrew the United States from an international nuclear deal. In the interview, Grenell maintained the hard line on Iran that has caused dismay in Europe’s capitals, restating the U.S. government’s position that Europe must re-impose sanctions on Iran. “We expect our friends and allies to help us to bring Iran back to the negotiating table,” he said, adding that the United States had proof Iran had violated its commitment not to enrich uranium.
Theresa May is set to roll out the red carpet for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan this weekend, as new figures reveal that Britain has sold more than $1bn of weapons to Ankara since the failed 2016 coup and subsequent crackdown under emergency powers, Middle East Eye can reveal. Turkey remains a “priority market” for British weapons, despite concerns from human rights groups and EU officials over the erosion of the country’s rule of law. Turkey is a fellow member of NATO and has cooperated with the EU in tackling the refugee crisis, but critics say that Erdogan’s government has arrested or sacked more than 100,000 state workers and members of the military in the wake of the coup attempt.
Unlike many other Western allies, London spoke out quickly after the coup, in which fighter jets bombed the Turkish parliament and troops opened fire on civilians. But the UK has remained largely silent as Turkey targeted not only the alleged plotters but also political dissidents, journalists and members of pro-Kurdish parties for “supporting terrorism”. Erdogan will meet the Queen and the prime minister during his three-day visit to the UK, starting on Sunday. It comes as the UK is making a Brexit push to boost trade with Ankara, but also in the middle of a snap Turkish parliamentary and presidential campaigns conducted under a state of emergency.
UK weapons sales since the attempted coup include a $667m deal for military electronic data, armoured vehicles, small arms, ammunition, missiles, drones, aircraft and helicopters. It also includes a $135m deal for BAE Systems to fulfil Erdogan’s plan to build a Turkish-made fighter jet. The jet deal was signed by May in January 2017 under an “open licence” to ease the transfer of military technology, and UK officials now reportedly wish to expand the deal by pushing for Rolls-Royce to win the engine contract. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a Labour MP who recently travelled to northern Syria, where Turkey is involved in operations against the Kurdish YPG militia, told MEE: “The government has been increasing arms sales to Turkey as it has fallen into authoritarianism at home and warmongering abroad.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took a fresh swipe at rating agencies on Friday over the recent downgrade and the negative outlook they have assigned for the Turkish economy, using “bankrupt” Greece as an example. “Don’t pay attention to them [the rating agencies]. They upgraded a neighbour [of Turkey] that has gone bankrupt by four points. They receive new debts and live with them,” he reportedly told the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) Conference Hall. “Excuse me, but we are talking about a country that cannot pay its civil servants. How is this possible? I am talking about Greece”, he said.
Venezuela’s state-run oil company PDVSA is preparing to shut a Caribbean refinery that is running out of crude amid threats by ConocoPhillips to seize cargoes sent to resupply the facility, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. Conoco of the United States last week began legal actions in the Caribbean to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) over the 2007 nationalization of its projects in Venezuela. The moves have disrupted fuel deliveries throughout the Caribbean, much of which depends on PDVSA. The PDVSA-operated 335,000 barrel-per-day Isla refinery in Curacao, which has not received new shipments from PDVSA since last week, plans to exhaust existing inventories in the coming days, the two sources said.
PDVSA is seeking ways to sidestep legal orders to hand over assets. The Venezuelan firm has transferred custody over the fuel produced at the refinery to the Curacao government, the owner of the facility, the sources said. In another legal move to avoid oil being seized, PDVSA transferred ownership of crude to be refined at Isla to its U.S. unit, Citgo Petroleum, one of the sources added. “The seizure in Curacao was enforced on Thursday, so the inventories’ custody was transferred. The refinery will eventually stop (operations),” the source said.
A class action lawsuit has been filed in a Canadian court on behalf of the thousands of indigenous people alleged to have been unwittingly subjected to medical experiments without their consent. Filed this month in a courtroom in the province of Saskatchewan, the lawsuit holds the federal government responsible for experiments allegedly carried out on reserves and in residential schools between the 1930s and 1950s. The suit also accuses the Canadian government of a long history of “discriminatory and inadequate medical care” at Indian hospitals and sanatoriums – key components of a segregated healthcare system that operated across the country from 1945 into the early 1980s.
“This strikes me as so atrocious that there ought to be punitive and exemplary damages awarded, in addition to compensation,” said Tony Merchant, whose Merchant Law Group filed the class action. The lawsuit, which has not yet been tested in court, alleges that residential schools – where more than 150,000 aboriginal children were carted off in an attempt to forcibly assimilate them into Canadian society – were used as sites for nutritional experiments, where researchers tested out their theories about vitamins and certain foods. “The wrong here is that nobody knew it was happening. Their families didn’t know it was happening,” Merchant said. As the diet at the schools was known to be nutritionally deficient, the children were considered “ideal experimental subjects”, according to court documents.
It cites six schools, stretching from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, and links them to experiments carried out from 1948 to 1953. At times, researchers would carry out what Merchant described as trials aimed at depriving the children of nutrients that researchers suspected were beneficial. “So what they did on a systemic basis … they would identify a group of indigenous children in schools where they were being compulsorily held and they would not give them the same treatment,” said Merchant. “They used them as a control against experiments that they were doing in other places and they also used them to test certain kinds of foods and drugs.”
The Tanzanian government is putting foreign safari companies ahead of Maasai herding communities as environmental tensions grow on the fringes of the Serengeti national park, according to a new investigation. Hundreds of homes have been burned and tens of thousands of people driven from ancestral land in Loliondo in the Ngorongoro district in recent years to benefit high-end tourists and a Middle Eastern royal family, says the report by the California-based thinktank the Oakland Institute. Although carried out in the name of conservation, these measures enable wealthy foreigners to watch or hunt lions, zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and other wildlife, while the authorities exclude local people and their cattle from watering holes and arable land, the institute says.
The report, released on Thursday highlights the famine and fear caused by biodiversity loss, climate change, inequality and discrimination towards indigenous groups. “Losing the Serengeti: The Maasai Land that was to Run Forever” uses previously unpublished correspondence, official documents, court testimonies and first-person testimony to examine the impact of two firms: Thomson Safaris based in the United States, and Otterlo Business Corporation based in the United Arab Emirates. It says Thomson’s sister company, Tanzania Conservation Limited, is in a court battle with three Maasai villages over the ownership of 12,617 acres (5,106 hectares) of land in Loliondo which the company uses for safaris.
Humanity’s toxic addiction to plastic has reached stunning depths, and we only wish we were speaking figuratively. A new study analysing over 30 years’ worth of data on human-made trash found in the deepest parts of the ocean reveals almost 3,500 pieces of plastic and other debris have been discovered littering these remote, fragile ecosystems. If proof were ever needed that there are no more untouched places left on our poor, polluted planet, we now have it in one perfect, twisted symbol: amongst this litany of garbage, the deepest-lurking refuse was a fragmented single-use plastic bag, discarded at a depth of 10,898 metres (35,754 ft) in the Mariana Trench.
The Mariana Trench is the deepest part of the entire ocean, home to distant, alien forms of marine life we know next to nothing about, but its remote, almost unreachable location doesn’t mean we haven’t found ways to carelessly spoil it [..] In the thousands of debris images and videos the researchers compiled in their database, deep-sea organisms were observed in 17% – damning evidence that our throwaway culture entangles, intermingles, and generally affects ocean life in ways we’re not aware of. Because the team’s dataset only includes a visual record of what’s on the sea floor – not what’s drifting and sinking above it – the researchers say they’ve only scratched the (deep) surface of the problem here, although simple physics suggests more garbage is headed this way.
A marked shift toward protectionism by President Donald Trump caused sharp outflows from U.S. large-cap stocks this week, Bank of America Merrill-Lynch (BAML) strategists said on Friday. Investors rushed into government bonds and other safer assets amid rising fears of an international trade war after Trump’s plans for tariffs on imported steel and aluminum met barbed responses from allies and trade bodies. Overall, investors pulled money out of equities, though the damage was mostly in the United States where $10.3 billion flowed out of U.S. equity funds, while global equity funds suffered just $0.4 billion of outflows, according to EPFR data cited by BAML. “As QE ends, protectionism begins,” wrote BAML strategists.
The risk-off mood drove investors into money market funds, pushing assets up to $2.9 trillion – the highest level since 2010. Safe-haven gold also drew in $0.4 billion. U.S. small caps were sheltered from the storm, the only U.S. sector to draw inflows, albeit tiny at $0.03 billion. U.S. large-cap stocks lost $10.1 billion. Flows into Japanese equities continued apace, with the market drawing in $4.1 billion in its 14th straight week of inflows, the longest streak of inflows since 2013. European stock funds managed to draw in $0.1 billion. Trump’s exemption of Canada and Mexico from the final tariffs announced late on Thursday soothed investors somewhat, and news the U.S. president would meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un caused crude prices to rise.
Vice President Mike Pence has said the US made “zero concessions” in order to get an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and talk about a possible end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme. Mr Pence said that President Donald Trump has “consistently increased the pressure” on North Korea, which has continued the development of its weapons – including an increasing number of missile tests in the last 12 months – despite numerous resolutions by the United Nations. Later at the White House, the press secretary made it clear that talks would only take place if Washington saw “concrete action” by North Korea towards denuclearisation. Mr Trump and Mr Kim are expected to meet before the end of May, although a date and location has yet to be set.
After months of escalating rhetoric between the nations the prospect of a thaw has been welcomed by world leaders. Ms Sanders said at a briefing on Friday that President Trump was “in a great mood” in the wake of the announcement, saying that the US was having conversations “from a position of strength” – with denuclearisation having always been the goal of the administration. It has taken many by surprise, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had said just hours before the announcement that the US was a “long ways from negotiations”. But, Mr Tillerson said the President made the decision to accept the invite “himself”, a move he said was a “dramatic” reversal in posture for North Korea.
While everyone is “high fiving” over stocks holding up, the bond market is back to imploding. Already Treasury yields have bounced and are soaring higher in one of the nastiest breakouts in over 20 years.
In a world awash in too much debt (global Debt to GDP is over 300%) this is a MAJOR problem. Most investors believe that the 2008 Crisis was the worst crisis of their lifetimes. They’re mistaken… what’s coming down the pike when the Bond Bubble blows up will be many times worse than 2008. The reason is that bonds, not stocks, represent the bedrock of the financial system. When a stock bubble bursts, investors lose money. When a sovereign bond bubble bursts, entire countries go bust (a la Greece in 2010). On that note, I want to point out that bond yields are not just rising in the US… we’re seeing them spike in Germany, Japan, and others.
This is a truly global problem, and if Central Banks don’t move to get it control soon, we’re heading into a MAJOR crisis.
The census bureau does the data-gathering and the Bureau of Labor Statistics feeds the questionable data sample through its statistical sausage grinder and spits out some type of grotesque scatological substance. You know an economic report is pure absurdity when the report exceeds Wall Street’s rose-colored estimate by 53%. That has to be, by far, an all-time record-high “beat.” If you sift through some of the foul-smelling data, it turns out 365k of the alleged jobs were part-time, which means the labor market lost 52k full-time jobs. But alas, I loathe paying any credence to complete fiction by dissecting the “let’s pretend” report. The numbers make no sense. Why? Because the alleged data does not fit the reality of the real economy.
Retail sales, auto sales, home sales and restaurant sales have been declining for the past couple of months. So who would be doing the hiring? Someone pointed out that Coinbase has hired 500 people. But the retail industry has been laying off thousands this year. Given the latest industrial production and auto sales numbers, I highly doubt factories are doing anything with their workforce except reducing it. And if the job market is “so strong,” how comes wages are flat? In fact, adjusted for real inflation, real wages are declining. If the job market was robust, wages would be soaring. Speaking of which, IF the labor market was what the Government wants us to believe it is, the FOMC would tripping all over itself to hike the Fed Funds rate. And the rate-hikes would be in chunks of 50-75 basis points – not the occasional 0.25% rise.
So we have the first Fed Governor and member of the policy-setting FOMC who came out and said that the QE Unwind that began last October with baby steps isn’t fast enough. And because it’s so slow it may actually contribute to, rather than lower, the “financial imbalances.” In her speech, Kansas City Fed President Esther George pointed at the growth of the economy, the tightness in the labor market, the additional support the economy will get from consumers and companies as they spend or invest the tax cuts, etc., etc. And despite this growth, “the stance of monetary policy remains quite accommodative,” she said. She cited the federal funds rate – the overnight interest rate the Fed targets. The Fed’s current target range is 1.25% to 1.50%, which is “well below estimates of its longer-run value of around 3%,” she said.
The Fed would have to raise rates at least six more times of 25 basis points each, for a total of at least 1.5 percentage points, to bring the federal funds rate to around 3% and get back to neutral. If the Fed wanted to actually tighten after that, it would have to raise rates further. So far, so good. And then came her concerns about the Fed’s balance sheet. Under QE, the Fed acquired $1.7 trillion in Treasury securities and $1.78 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, for a total of about $3.5 trillion. After QE ended in October 2014, the Fed then maintained the levels by replacing maturing securities. But in October last year, it commenced the QE-Unwind and started to not replace some maturing securities. This has the effect of shrinking its balance sheet.
Just like the Fed “tapered” QE by phasing it out over the course of a year, it is also ramping up the QE-Unwind over the course of a year. But the pace of the QE-Unwind has been too slow, according to George – and this may be destabilizing the financial markets: “By the end of this year, however, only about a quarter of the increase to the Fed’s balance sheet resulting from the first round of large scale asset purchases will be unwound. These holdings of longer-term assets were intended to put downward pressure on longer term interest rates. Many investors responded, as would be expected, by purchasing riskier assets in a reach for higher yield. As a result, asset prices may have become distorted relative to the economic fundamentals.”
The mobility of capital radically alters the simplistic 18th century view of free trade. In today’s world, trade can not be coherently measured as goods moving between nations, because capital from the importing nation owns the productive assets in the exporting nation. If Apple owns a factory (or joint venture) in China and collects virtually all the profits from the iGadgets produced there, this reality cannot be captured by the models of simple trade described by Ricardo. In today’s globalized version of “free trade,” mobile capital can arbitrage labor, currencies, interest rates, regulatory burdens and political favors by shifting between nations and assets. Trying to account for trade in the 18th century manner of goods shipped between nations is nonsensical when components come from a number of nations and profits flow not to the nation of origin but to the owners of capital.
[..] In a world dominated by mobile capital, mobile capital is the comparative advantage. Mobile capital can borrow billions of dollars (or equivalent) in one nation at low rates of interest and then use that money to outbid domestic capital for assets in another nation with few sources of credit. Mobile capital can overwhelm the local political system, buying favors and cutting deals, all with cash borrowed at near-zero interest rates. Mobile capital can buy up and exploit resources and cheap labor until the resource is depleted or competition cuts profit margins. At that point, mobile capital closes the factories, fires the employees and moves on. Where is the “free trade” in a world in which the comparative advantage is held by mobile capital?
And what gives mobile capital its essentially unlimited leverage? Central banks issuing trillions of dollars in nearly-free money to banks and other financial institutions that funnel the free cash to corporations and financiers, who can then roam the world snapping up assets and arbitraging global imbalances with nearly-free money. There’s nothing remotely “free” about trade based not on Ricardo’s simple concept of comparative advantage but on capital flows unleashed by central bank liquidity. The gains reaped by mobile capital flow to those who control mobile capital: global corporations, financiers and banks. No wonder labor’s share of the economy is stagnating across the globe while corporate profits reach unprecedented heights.
Investors shrugged off trade skirmishes and signals of fading monetary stimulus as they rewarded some of Europe’s most leveraged companies, putting the latter on track for their best weekly advance since December 2016. Stocks with the weakest balance sheets gained 4.5% this week, compared to 3.1% for their less-indebted counterparts, according to a Bloomberg analysis of Morgan Stanley data. Since these risky-debt companies were beaten up earlier in the year, they’re beginning to bounce back thanks to the risk-on rally, buoyed by largely positive earnings reports, said Hugh Cuthbert at SVM Asset Management. “Post the jitters that we saw at the start of February, they are more than likely to be beneficiaries”.
“The market appetite for risk will always benefit those guys when it’s high.” Still, it’s a small reprieve after they dropped more than 10% in the 25 trading days through last week. Even after the recent advance, shares of weak balance-sheet companies sit 7.7% below their January peak. The Morgan Stanley-compiled basket tracks 40 European companies with measures that include net debt to Ebitda and interest coverage ratios. The good times may be short-lived, however, as the ECB pares stimulus, said Cuthbert. “Look out, if we are in a tightening cycle,” he said. “A lot of companies have been living off debt and their business model won’t apply to higher interest rates.”
Just because China’s financial regulators are cracking down on cryptocurrencies doesn’t mean they’re souring on the idea of digital money. People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan made that clear at a press conference in Beijing on Friday, saying physical cash may one day become obsolete. Zhou said the PBOC is looking into digital currencies as it pursues faster, cheaper and more convenient payment methods, even as he warned that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin – more often used for speculation than payments – don’t serve the economy.
“We must prevent major mistakes that would lead to irreparable losses, so we are cautious,” Zhou said during what may be one of his last public appearances before his expected retirement. “We don’t like creating products for speculation and making people have the illusion that they can get rich overnight.” China, once home to the world’s most active Bitcoin exchanges, banned the venues last year amid a broad-ranging clampdown on virtual currencies. Yet the country is still the world leader in digital payments, thanks to the popularity of platforms developed by tech giants Alibaba and Tencent.
The most notorious of the Nazi collaborators who immigrated to Canada was Mykhailo Chomiak, a mid-level Nazi operative in Poland, who came under US protection at the end of the war and eventually made his way to Canada where he settled in Alberta. Had he been captured by the Red Army, he would quite likely have been hanged for collaboration with the enemy. In Canada however he prospered as a farmer. His grand-daughter is the “Ukrainian-Canadian” Chrystia Freeland, the present minister for external affairs. She is a well-known Russophobe, persona non grata in the Russian Federation, who long claimed her grandfather was a “victim” of World War II. Her claims to this effect have been demonstrated to be untrue by the Australian born journalist John Helmer, amongst many others.
In 1940 the Liberal government facilitated the creation of the Canadian Ukrainian Congress (UCC), one of many organisations used to fight or marginalise the left in Canada, in this case amongst Canadian Ukrainians. The UCC is still around and appears to dominate the Ukrainian-Canadian community. Approximately 1.4 million people living in Canada claim full or partial Ukrainian descent though generally the latter. Most “Ukrainian-Canadians” were born in Canada; well more than half live in the western provinces. The vast majority has certainly never set foot in the Ukraine. It is this constituency on which the UCC depends to pursue its political agenda in Ottawa.
After the coup d’état in Kiev in February 2014 the UCC lobbied the then Conservative government under Stephen Harper to support the Ukrainian “regime change” operation which had been conducted by the United States and European Union. The UCC president, Paul Grod, took the lead in obtaining various advantages from the Harper government, including arms for the putschist regime in Kiev. It survives only through massive EU and US direct or indirect financial/political support and through armed backing from fascist militias who repress dissent by force and intimidation. Mr. Grod claims that Russia is pursuing a policy of “aggression” against the Ukraine.
If that were true, the putschists in Kiev would have long ago disappeared. The Harper government allowed fund raising for Pravyi Sektor, a Ukrainian fascist paramilitary group, through two organisations in Canada including the UCC, and even accorded “charitable status” to one of them to facilitate their fund raising and arms buying. Harper also sent military “advisors” to train Ukrainian forces, the backbone of which are fascist militias. The Trudeau government has continued that policy. “Canada should prepare for Russian attempts to destabilize its democracy,” according to Minister Freeland: “Ukraine is a very important partner to Canada and we will continue to support its efforts for democracy and economic growth.”
There is no place that the US or NATO has gone into in the last 4 decades that is better off. Not one. In fact, there is no place that NATO or the US have intervened, (usually against international law) that hasn’t become a failed state, hell on Earth for the citizens, and a genuine danger to the surrounding regions and the world. It is the US government and NATO, and the people who own and control them, who are the threats and the enemies to the future of Humanity. But their days of disregarding international law and destroying weaker nations with impunity are now over, as of March 1st, 2018. The good people of America now have a huge opportunity, and a huge challenge. Russia spends less than one tenth what the USA spends on military and defense, but their military and weapons are superior in every measurable way.
The waste, corruption and abject venality of the US military industrial complex has wasted trillions on weapon systems that are now literally useless, and which have left the US military (and by extension the American people) defenseless before the power of Russia’s weapons, which are designed and produced to be effective rather than profitable. The opportunity is this – the USA can now reduce its military spending (the highest in the world) by 90% and still be safer than you are right now, spending almost a trillion dollars a year on useless weapons and a defenseless military. Safer, because as soon as the American People take control of their government enough to reduce your spending to ONLY as much as Russia spends, Russia will stop having reason to see the USA as an existential threat.
The less you spend, the safer you will be. The more you spend, the more likely World War Three, which will see you as the instigators and the losers. This gives the USA, starting as soon as you want, an extra $800 billion, per year, to spend on things that have actual worth, things you really need. Health care, free college education, fixing the rotting economy and infrastructure that are daily becoming more of a threat to the American people than Russia has ever been. Your challenge is that you must root out an entrenched and ruthless kleptocracy, built on deceit and oppression, and which is bent on war, and will stop at nothing to cling to its power. It is a huge task, an historic task, but in it lies your only hope. These parasites must be stopped, and if the American People are not up to the challenge, if they fail in their historic mission, they will leave it to the armies of the world, led by Russia, who will no longer tolerate those who want to rule the world.
Chinese president Xi Jinping has repeatedly told the world that China is ready to lead on issues like free trade and climate change. Now, he’s ready to extend his leadership to political parties everywhere. At the big annual gathering of Chinese lawmakers and political advisors that kicked off March 3, Xi said that China is offering a “new type of political party system”—a Chinese solution that contributes to the development of political parties around the world, according to state media (link in Chinese). The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has always said the country will never copy the political systems of other countries, in particular the Western notion of democracy.
But under Xi—the most powerful Chinese leader in four decades—China’s own one-party system is one that is ready to be exported to regimes everywhere. The term “new type of political party system” was first put forward by Xi when he delivered a speech to non-party political advisors on March 4. It’s not the first time that Xi has floated the idea that China’s political model can make a contribution to the world. This time, however, Chinese state media churned out a wave of articles to underscore the significance of this new phrase. In the past, “some people lacking self-confidence always use Western political theories to criticize China’s political party system,” wrote Wang Xiaohong at the party-backed Central Institute of Socialism, in a commentary widely circulated by Chinese news outlets.
But as Wang argues, Western political systems are associated, among other things, with fractured societies, inefficient government, and “endless power transitions and social chaos” as in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and in north Africa after the Arab Spring. “The new type of political party system has overcome all sorts of problems that the old [one] can’t overcome,” Wang argued. In China, there are eight so-called “democratic parties” that are allowed to participate in the political system, but they are almost completely subservient to the CCP. Every year in March, members of the minor parties meet with their communist counterparts in Beijing to provide advice on everything from healthcare to poverty reduction—largely for show.
The system—called “multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the CCP’s leadership”—has been used as evidence that China is also a democracy. The internationalization of China’s political system is in fact well underway. Since 2014, the Communist Party has hosted an annual summit in Beijing inviting political party leaders from around the world to hear about how it governs China. In recent years, the party has also brought young African politicians to China for training, in a bid to cultivate allies.
Complaining that U.S. investigations into foreign interference in the election have gotten almost everything wrong, officials from dozens of countries around the world expressed irritation Friday that all of the credit for meddling in the 2016 presidential race was going to Russia. Resentful operatives from Serbia, Uruguay, Swaziland, and 45 other nations said they were incredibly annoyed that Kremlin-backed computer hackers and dark-money financiers were receiving all the media attention, while their own far superior efforts to undermine the U.S. electoral process had so far received no recognition at all.
“Do you have any idea how much more sophisticated our attacks on American democracy were than Russia’s?” Laotian president Bounnhang Vorachith said of his government’s efforts to spread misinformation about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on social media sites. “We spent millions building a sophisticated bot network that could craft false but believable stories portraying Trump in a good light. And it worked! It’s unbelievably frustrating to pull off something like that and then have all the glory go to someone else.” “Do you really think Russia could’ve hacked into [Clinton campaign chairman] John Podesta’s emails?” Vorachith continued. “Hell no. That was Laos.”
According to sources, every time the American media credits Russian oligarchs with funding election-tampering efforts, numerous foreign agents across the globe throw up their arms and storm out of the room, infuriated because Costa Rican and Nepalese money launderers reportedly did far more to finance such initiatives. These agents have also been known to toss aside newspapers in anger, shouting that Mongolia’s work busing thousands of people with dead voters’ names to cast ballots for Clinton in New Hampshire was more deserving of attention than anything Russia had accomplished.
On this winter day, the world was upside down: it was raining in the Arctic Circle and snowing in Rome. The contradiction was not lost on those gathered at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located near the top of the world. The scientists, activists, executives and government officials were in Longyearbyen, to mark the 10-year anniversary of what has become known as the Doomsday Vault, which stores seeds of the world’s most important crops deep in a mountain against the apocalyptic consequences of climate change and war. The challenge they’re facing now is that the climate is changing far quicker than they’d imagined. The facility sprung a leak last year after construction had failed to take into account that the permafrost could melt.
Norway is now spending about $20 million to secure and improve the facility. But it’s not just the building. “Biodiversity is the building block to develop new plants and because of climate change we’re in a terrible need to quickly develop new varieties,” said Aaslaug Marie Haga, executive director of Crop Trust, a group established to support gene banks. “The climate is changing quicker than the plants can handle.” Svalbard is the farthest north one can travel commercially, about an 1 1/2 hour flight from northern Norway. The vault is about a 10 minute drive from town, past a coal-fired power plant and up a winding two-lane road. Unless armed with a high-caliber rifle, driving is essential, since leaving town also means venturing into polar bear country.
The site’s entrance, not far from the abandoned coal mine that served as the first Nordic seed vault, shines at night like a green beacon, lit up by an artwork of fiber optics, steel and glass called Perpetual Repercussion. The seeds are kept at minus 18 centigrade (-4 Fahrenheit) more than 100 meters into the mountain behind six steel doors. And in an ideal world, the vault would never have to be used. It’s meant to back up the plant gene banks around the world, organized under the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. But many of these facilities are vulnerable. One withdrawal from Svalbard has already been made by the group that ran the seed bank in Aleppo, Syria.
In Iran, nearly 70% of university graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are women—a higher percentage than in any other country. Nearby Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are close, each boasting over 60% female graduates in science, still more of the rest of the world. Young women in science are the rule, not the exception, in the Middle East. At least a third of STEM trained talent across the Muslim world is female, writes Saadia Zahidi in her new book Fifty Million Rising, which tracks the workplace progress achieved by Muslim women since the turn of the century. Only in Jordan, Qatar and the UAE are girls more comfortable with math than boys.
“The Muslim world has put high investment in education, and the payoff is coming now,” argues Zahidi, a World Economic Forum executive who leads education and gender equality initiatives. While observant Muslim societies are often associated with strict social codes for men and women, Western gender stereotypes about work don’t necessarily apply: Several Muslim countries have filled more than half of STEM jobs with female workers. Zahidi adds that in many cases, Muslim women are pioneering their role in the workforce, so they don’t have preconceived stereotypes about whether tech jobs, for example, constitute “feminine” career goals.
A study published in February found that the social and political gender equality typical of Scandinavian countries may be inversely related to women’s representation in STEM fields. This could be in part due to the fact that countries with greater parity between sexes tend to be wealthier, providing better government support to citizens and allowing women to accept less secure jobs.
Bitcoin plunged Friday, taking the digital currency briefly below $11,000 and down 47% from a record high hit at the start of the week. Bitcoin had rallied to a record high above $19,800 on Sunday and was trading near $15,500 for much of Thursday New York time, according to Coinbase. But an afternoon selloff accelerated into the night, and bitcoin dropped 30.2% Friday morning to a low of $10,400 on Coinbase. It had recovered above $14,600 by Friday afternoon, off 27% from the all-time high. There were no immediately apparent explanation for the selloff and extreme volatility.
“I would say the drop in bitcoin is a result of the massive new inflows of retail investors who are relatively ‘weak hands’ and more prone to sell at the sight of falling prices than the capital that has been in the system for a while that has a longer term outlook,” Alex Sunnarborg, founding partner at cryptofund Tetras Capital, said in an email. Adding to the confusion, trading on Coinbase was disabled for more than two hours in the middle of the day. The company had more than 13 million users at the end of November. At its lows, bitcoin had fallen 47% in just five days and lost about $9,400. The digital currency erased more than $1,000 in one hour alone Friday morning.
2017 was the kind of year when no amount of showers could wash off the feeling of existential yeccchhhhh that crept over you day after day like jungle rot. You needed to go through the carwash without your car… or maybe an acid bath would get the stink off. Cinematically, if 2016 was like The Eggplant That Ate Chicago, then 2017 was more like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a gruesome glimpse into the twisted soul of America. And by that I do not mean simply our dear leader, the Golden Golem of Greatness. We’re all in this horror show together. 2017 kicked off with the report by “seventeen intelligence agencies” — did you know there were so many professional snoops and busybodies on the US payroll? — declaring that Russia, and Vladimir Putin personally, tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.
“Meddling” and “collusion” became the watch-words of the year: but what exactly did they mean? Buying $100,000 worth of Google ads in a campaign that the two parties spent billions on? No doubt the “seventeen intelligence agencies” the US pays for were not alert to these shenanigans until the damage was done. Since then it’s been Russia-Russia-Russia 24/7 on the news wires. A few pleas bargains have been made to lever-up the action. When and if the Special Prosecutor, Mr. Mueller, pounces, I expect the GGG to fire him, pardon some of the plea-bargained culprits (if that’s what they were and not just patsies), and incite a constitutional crisis. Won’t that be fun? Anyway, that set the tone for the inauguration of the Golden Golem, a ghastly adversarial spectacle.
Never in my memory, going back to JFK in 1960, was there such a bad vibe at this solemn transfer of power as with the sight of all those Deep State dignitaries gathering gloomily on the Capitol portico to witness the unthinkable. From the sour scowl on her face, I thought Hillary might leap up and attempt to garrote the GGG with a high-C piano wire right there on rostrum. The “greatest crowd ever” at an inauguration, as the new president saw it, looked pathetically sparse to other observers. The deed got done. Five days later, the Dow Jones stock index hit the 20,000 mark and began a year-long run like no other in history: 50 all-time-highs, and a surge of 5000 points by year’s end, with 12 solid “winning” months of uptick.
Foreign buyers are driving up the prices of homes in Canada’s two largest housing markets, according to research which will intensify the debate around overseas property ownership in the expensive cities of Vancouver and Toronto. While people living outside Canada own less than 5% of residential properties in the two cities, those homes are worth significantly more than those held by residents, according to a Reuters analysis of data released this week by Statistics Canada. Public debate over the role of foreign investment in Canada has reached a fever pitch, with locals saying price increases of 60% in Vancouver and 40% in Toronto over the past three years are keeping them out of the market. In Toronto, the average value of a detached home built in 2016-2017 and owned by a non-resident is C$1.7m (US$1.3m), a whopping 48.7% higher than C$1.1m for residents.
Those values for Vancouver average a lofty C$2.5m for non-residents and C$1.8m for residents for a difference of 40.6%. Among all detached homes, not just new ones, those owned by non-residents were larger than residents’ houses by 13.1% in Vancouver and 2.2% in Toronto. The new data reinforces anecdotal evidence that foreign buyers tend to focus on the most affluent neighborhoods, said Jane Londerville, a real estate professor at the University of Guelph in Southern Ontario. “If the goal is to get a couple million dollars out of their country and put it in a very safe, calm economy, you might as well buy a C$2m house,” she said. “So they’re buying in Forest Hill in Toronto and Kerrisdale in Vancouver.” The Statscan data does not look at sales, or flow, but rather is a static snapshot of ownership of housing stock at the time of collection.
Foreign capital also targets new condos, with new Vancouver units owned by non-residents valued at 19.7% more than those owned by residents. In Toronto, the difference is 11.2%. “There’s been a huge spike in foreign ownership in newer buildings,” said Diana Petramala, senior researcher at Ryerson University’s urban policy centre in Toronto. [..] A 15% foreign buyers tax was imposed in Vancouver in 2016 and Toronto in 2017 amid a backlash against foreign buyers, particularly from China. This has cooled both markets at least temporarily.
“Nothing says Merry Christmas like a 27 year low for Canadian housing affordability. That’s right, real estate across Canada has not been this un affordable since the year 1990 per RBC. Spoiler alert house prices tumbled shortly thereafter. RBC Bank released their updated Q3 numbers for housing affordability. To no surprise, Vancouver leads the nation in the most unaffordable market to buy a home. Followed by Toronto and then Victoria. “The deterioration in the latest two quarters, in fact, put Vancouver buyers in the worst affordability position ever recorded in Canada.“ The area experienced the sharpest affordability drop among Canada’s major markets between the second and third quarters. RBC’s aggregate measure surged by 5.3 percentage points to 87.5%. This represents a new record high for any market in Canada. We see further downside to Vancouver’s home ownership rate in the period ahead. The rate fell from 65.5% in 2011 to 63.7% in 2016.”
What RBC didn’t mention in their report is the correlation between elevated house prices that cause affordability issues and recessions. When too much household money is spent servicing mortgage payments it eventually becomes a drag on consumer spending and ultimately triggers a recession. This is not to suggest a recession is imminent. But when the percent of income the median family would have to use to service debt pushes above 50% in Toronto and Vancouver, a recession typically follows in Canada. Currently Toronto is at 71.7%, and Vancouver is at 79.87%. With the Bank of Canada expected to follow our US counter parts in 2018, a couple more interest rate increases are sure to erode affordability even further. Across Canada, Household income would need to climb by 8.5% to fully cover the increase in homeownership costs arising from a 75 basis-point hike in mortgage rates. Buckle in.
In case you were wondering what the going-rate was for one of the world’s richest men’s freedom… it’s $6 billion… in unencumbered cash (not Bitcoin). That is the price that Saudi authorities are demanding from Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to free him from detention. The 62-year-old prince was one of the dozens of royals, government officials and businesspeople rounded up early last month in a wave of arrests the Saudi government billed as the first volley in Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s campaign against widespread graft. According to the Mail, al-Waleed, who is (or was, until recently) one of the richest men in the world, has also been hung upside down and beaten.
The Saudi government has disclosed few details of its allegations against the accused, but as The Wall Street Journal reports, people familiar with the matter said the $6 billion Saudi officials are demanding from Prince al-Waleed, a large stakeholder in Western businesses like Twitter, is among the highest figures they have sought from those arrested. While the prince’s fortune is estimated at $18.7 billion by Forbes – which would make him the Middle East’s wealthiest individual – he has indicated that he believes raising and handing over that much cash as an admission of guilt and would require him to dismantle the financial empire he has built over 25 years. Prince al-Waleed is talking with the government about instead accepting as payment for his release a large piece of his conglomerate, Kingdom Holding Co., people familiar with the matter said.
The Riyadh-listed company’s market value is $8.7 billion, down about 14% since the prince’s arrest. Kingdom Holding said in November that it retained the support of the Saudi government and that its strategy “remains intact.” According to a senior Saudi official, Prince al-Waleed faces accusations that include money laundering, bribery and extortion. The official didn’t elaborate, but said the Saudi government is merely “having an amicable exchange to reach a settlement.” The prince has indicated to people close to him that he is determined to prove his innocence and would fight the corruption allegations in court if he had to. “He wants a proper investigation. It is expected that al-Waleed will give MBS a hard time,” said a person close to Prince al-Waleed, referring to the crown prince by his initials, as many do.
Automotive credit has become easier in the last few years, and manufacturers are still seeking whatever growth they can come up with in our market at any cost. People are buying cars they can’t afford or shouldn’t even have been able to buy. Used car depreciation is at an all time high for many cars and yet everyday more and more people are trading them in. This whole scenario has a bleak end that became evident when I went to my buddy Paris’ repo lot. He called me to check out a 2016 BMW 435i he jacked for BMW Financial Services. It was a beautiful Estoril Blue M-Sport car with just under eight thousand miles on the clock. I could only imagine the circumstances where someone let go of a year old BMW, but as we walked through I noticed all of the cars seemed to be nearly new.
Paris confirmed my fears when he told my about nine-out-of-ten vehicles he’s repossessed in the last few months were model year 2016 or newer. To make matters worse Paris only does work for prime and a few captive lenders, meaning a majority of these cars went out to consumers with good credit. On the other end, every time I look up from my desk there is a customer who is absolutely drowned in their vehicle. Six thousand dollars in negative equity is the norm, but I’ve witnessed numbers as high as twenty thousand in the last year. Customers are always astounded by how their car has lost so much of its value so quickly. What they fail to realise is their car was worthless from the beginning. Rebates and incentives are at an all time high at many manufacturers, J.D. Power quoted an average around four thousand dollars earlier this year, and I’m sure that number has risen since then. The problem with high rebate numbers is it absolutely kills the resale value of a car.
Auxiliary pensions appear headed for a fresh cut in 2018, as the single auxiliary social security fund (ETEAEP) will end 2017 with a deficit, against the small surplus originally forecast. Crucially, while the ETEAEP budget for next year provides for a surplus of €176.01 million, expenditure on pensions will be reduced by 150 million euros. Based on the latest social security laws introduced by former minister Giorgos Katrougalos and current minister Effie Achtsioglou, the new auxiliary pensions – when they are finally issued – will be reduced by 22% on average, with a cut of up to 18% expected to existing pensions in 2019. The provisions of the ETEAEP budget that Kathimerini has seen suggest that existing pensions might be cut as early as next year. The single auxiliary social security fund is now projecting a deficit of €166.6 million for this year, compared to an original forecast for a €10.07 million surplus.
For next year’s surplus of 176.007 million euros to be attained, spending on auxiliary pensions will have to be reduced from €4.30 billion in 2016 and €4.17 billion this year to €4.02 billion in 2018. This means the sum of auxiliary pensions will decline by 3.59% next year. Revenues from next year’s social security contributions are estimated at €2.68 billion, against €2.566 billion this year (compared to a forecast for €2.581 billion). The ETEAEP budget also shows that the fund sold bonds worth €200 million this yea – at a considerable loss – while next year it will need to cash in bonds worth €80 million from the special fund at the Bank of Greece. In total, takings from the fund’s cash and bond handling for this year are estimated at €397.14 million, against an original projection of €200.54 million. Revenues from the utilization or sale of assets will amount to an estimated €311.65 million next year.
How typical is this of mankind on the verge of 2018? The idea is environmental problems can be solved by putting monetary values on everything. The idea is as wrong as it is stupid. Cleaning the planet will not be done for monetary reasons.
Supermarkets, retailers and drinks companies should be forced to pay significantly more towards the recycling of the plastic packaging they sell, an influential committee of MPs has said. Members of the environmental audit committee called for a societal change in the UK to reduce the 7.7bn plastic water bottles used each year, and embed a culture of carrying reusable containers which are refilled at public water fountains and restaurants, cafes, sports centres and fast food outlets. British consumers use 13bn plastic bottles a year, but only 7.5bn are recyled. MPs said the introduction of a plastic bottle deposit return scheme (DRS) was key to reducing plastic waste in the UK, as part of a series of measures to reduce littering and increase recycling rates.
Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has called for evidence on a plastic bottle deposit scheme, and it is expected to be part of measures he announces in the new year. Major retailers have yet to support such a scheme, but Iceland and the Co-op recently announced their backing for a DRS. The report published on Friday underlines the need for government intervention to tackle plastic waste in the UK and calls for higher charges on companies to contribute to clearing up the waste they create. Mary Creagh, chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Urgent action is needed to protect our environment from the devastating effects of marine plastic pollution, which if it continues to rise at current rates, will outweigh fish by 2050.
“Plastic bottles make up a third of all plastic pollution in the sea and are a growing litter problem on UK beaches. We need action at individual, council, regional and national levels to turn back the plastic tide.” In the report MPs called for the “polluter pays” principle to be applied to companies to increase their contribution to recycling plastic waste.
The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about President Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin, people familiar with the matter said. Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research. After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC.
Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary. The Clinton campaign and the DNC, through the law firm, continued to fund Fusion GPS’s research through the end of October 2016, days before Election Day. Fusion GPS gave Steele’s reports and other research documents to Elias, the people familiar with the matter said. It is unclear how or how much of that information was shared with the campaign and the DNC and who in those organizations was aware of the roles of Fusion GPS and Steele. One person close to the matter said the campaign and the DNC were not informed by the law firm of Fusion GPS’s role.
The dossier has become a lightning rod amid the intensifying investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible connections to Russia. Some congressional Republican leaders have spent months trying to discredit Fusion GPS and Steele and tried to determine the identity of the Democrat or organization that paid for the dossier. Trump tweeted as recently as Saturday that the Justice Department and FBI should “immediately release who paid for it.”
A massive amount of hype is spreading regarding China’s alleged ambitions to dethrone the dollar. The story this time involves China’s plan is to price oil in yuan using a gold-backed futures contract. Even if that were true, the impact would be zero. Nonetheless, CNBC is now in on the hype. CNBC reports China has grand ambitions to dethrone the dollar. It may make a powerful move this year. Yuan pricing and clearing of crude oil futures is the “beginning” of a broader strategic push “to support yuan pricing and clearing in commodities futures trading,” Pan Gongsheng, director of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, said last month. To support the new benchmark, China has opened more than 6,000 trading accounts for the crude futures contract, Reuters reported in July. Yawn.
Jeff Brown, president at FGE, an international energy consultant has a more accurate assessment. “Most counterparties will not want anything to do with this contract as it adds in a layer of cost and risk. They also don’t like contracts with only a few dominant buyers or sellers and a government role.” Repeat after me: It’s meaningless what currency oil is quoted in. Once you understand the inherent truth in that statement, you immediately laugh at headlines like that presented on CNBC. For those who do not understand the simple logic, consider the fact that one does not need to have dollars to buy oil. Currencies are fungible. In less than a second, and at ant time day or night, one can convert any currency to any other currency. If countries want to hold dollars they can. If one wants to hold Swiss Francs, Euros, or Yen they can as well. Oil likely trades in all of those currencies right now.
Countries accumulate US dollars because the US runs a trade deficit, and those dollars will eventually return to the US. If China wants to assume the role of having the world’s reserve currency, something I highly doubt actually, it will need to have a free-floating currency and the world’s largest bond market . China will need property rights protection and a global willingness of countries to hold the yuan. To assume the role of China would have to be willing to run trade deficits instead of seeking trade surpluses via subsidized exports. Please read that last sentence over and over again until it sinks in. Mathematically, whether they like it or not, China and Japan have massive US dollar reserves as a result of cumulated trade surpluses. Mathematically, as long as China runs surpluses, foreign holding of yuan will not match foreign holding of dollars.
Halloween is coming and fear mongering seems to be the order of the day — not just on the part of Republicans, but apparently no less so on the part of “centrist” and conservative Democrats who are expressing growing anxiety about offending big donors who see politics not as the pursuit of justice but as the pursuit of their interests. Douglas Schoen, said to have been Bill Clinton’s favorite pollster during his presidency, has taken to the op-ed page of The New York Times to warn center-right party members and friends that ‘all Hell will break loose’ if the Democrats embrace a platform promising “wealth redistribution through higher taxes and Medicare for all” and utilizing democracy to challenge the power of money.
Don’t be bewitched by the fantasies of folks such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Schoen counsels, for if you do, the American financial elite will not keep the party’s “coffers full.” Indeed, he argues, “Democrats should strengthen their ties to Wall Street,” for “America is a center-right, pro-capitalist nation.” “Memories in politics are short,” Schoen wrote. And he wrings his hands over the amnesia that robs people of remembering that the center-right assembled under Bill Clinton enabled him to balance the budget, limit government and protect essential programs “that make up the social safety net.” Leaving behind “that version of liberalism,” Schoen writes, has cost Democrats several elections. He even claims that Hillary Clinton lost in Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016 because she “lurched to the left.”
Yes, memories are short indeed, but they are made even shorter by the likes of Schoen. The horrors he prophesies make it clear that he does not want us to remember. He wants us to forget, and therefore to tame our aspirations for social democracy and an economy that serves everyday people instead of the 1%. Schoen wants us to forget that Hillary Clinton lost the Upper Midwest not because of her supposed “lurch to the left,” but because many working people could not erase from their minds her lavishly paid Wall Street engagements and her adamant refusal to “release the transcripts” of those flattering speeches to the bankers. To many a Rust Belt voter she was the “Goldman Sachs” candidate, something Schoen would consign to the memory hole.
[..] BNN reported that a survey released yesterday found that almost half of Canadian households don’t feel financially prepared for further interest rate increases. According to the Ipsos poll, conducted on behalf of MNP, 40% of respondents said they fear ending up in financial trouble if rates go up much higher, with one-in-three already feeling the impact of higher rates. “It’s clear that people are nowhere near prepared for a higher rate environment,” MNP President Grant Bazian said in a release. “The good news is that there seems to be at least the acknowledgement now that rates are going to climb which might make people reassess their spending habits – especially using credit.”
It gets worse: 42% of respondents said they don’t think they can cover basic expenses over the next year without going deeper into more debt. The same number said they’re within $200 of not being able to cover monthly expenses. This familiar “ponzi state” means that more than 4 in 10 Canadians effectively have no savings, which is ominously similar to US trends: as we reported earlier this year, a quarter of American adults can’t pay all their monthly bills, while 44% have less than $400 in cash. The Ipsos poll also found 70% of Canadians said they will take a more cautious approach to spending amid higher interest rates, which may be enough to choke off any economic growth and make the Canadian rate hikes a “one and one” affair.
Concern about rising rates is greater among lower-income Canadians – those who tend to rely on credit cards – according to the survey, as opposed to homeowners who said they are a bit more optimistic they can absorb a rate increase of… a whopping 1%. Geographically, over half of Albertans say they’ll be more concerned about paying off debt if interest rates rise, which is more than those in British Columbia and Quebec, where less than half said they are worried. Meanwhile, Ontarians are the least concerned (44 per cent) about their ability to pay down their debts.
The entire eurozone will face a crucial test when the European Central Bank begins to wind down its asset-buying program, but one country stands to lose the most as the monetary punch bowl is taken away: Italy. Saddled with mountains of debt and a looming election, the southern European nation will likely struggle to find buyers for its government bonds when the European Central Bank stops snapping up Italian debt over the coming years, according to Christian Schulz, European economist at Citigroup. That means yields are set to rise, potentially strangling the country’s nascent recovery. “It comes at a difficult time. At the moment political uncertainty is rising and the ECB pulling out of the market just makes [the end of quantitative easing] so much harder on Italy than other countries,” Schulz said.
“They have a huge pile of debt, which makes the country much more sensitive to interest rate changes than countries with smaller piles of debt,” he said. Italy has particularly benefited from the ECB’s quantitative easing program that began in 2015, as it’s been one of the biggest bond issuers in the currency union. The central bank has purchased 300 billion euros ($352.9 billion) of Italian bonds under the program, which is more than three times the net bond issuance for the country during that period, according to Schulz. That means the ECB has not only bought pretty much all new bonds issued in Italy since 2015, but also existing bonds from other investors. The ECB is widely expected to announce some sort of tapering at its monetary policy setting meeting on Thursday, and most economists expect the asset purchases to end altogether in late 2018.
Outgoing German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged debt-wracked Greece to stop blaming others for its financial woes and stick to a reform agenda instead of relying on debt relief. Schaeuble, a leading advocate of Greece’s tough austerity programs and one of Germany’s most powerful politicians, was elected speaker of its lower house of parliament on Tuesday. The 75-year-old lawyer, whose no-nonsense approach on austerity made him a popular hate figure among Greeks, told Greek Skai TV that Athens must take responsibility for its fiscal difficulties and act on them. “When you ask others for loans, you cannot insult them for granting the loans. It doesn’t make sense. Greece’s problems are Greece’s problems,” the conservative Christian Democrat said in an interview aired in Greece on Tuesday.
Asked if he ever suggested a “time out” on Greece’s participation in the euro zone, he said he had discussed the option “as a currency devaluation tool” with a former finance minister, who rejected it saying Greece would implement reforms. Schaeuble said he warned Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras while the latter was still in opposition in 2014 that the Greek politician would not be able to meet his pre-election platform of zero austerity. Tsipras, Schaeuble said, told him he wanted to remain in the euro without any conditions. “I responded that I wished, for his sake, that he didn’t win that election because he wouldn’t be able to keep his promises,” Schaeuble said in comments translated from German to Greek.
Seven months after he was elected, Tsipras was forced to cave into lenders’ demands for more belt-tightening. He was re-elected saying the bailout, the country’s third since 2010, was a product of blackmail. Greece is eyeing a bailout exit in 2018. Asked if the Greek case had become a personal issue for him, Schaeuble said: “Obviously in Greece I was a bogeyman, or at least for some media.” Politicians, he said, had a habit of using lenders as an excuse to impose cutbacks. “That saddened me somewhat, because nobody ever wanted to harm Greece,” he said. By way of example, Schaeuble said Greece had decided to cut pensions instead of taxing wealthy ship-owners – contrary to what the leftist Syriza party promised before elections. “This wasn’t a German parliament decision, it was a Greek government decision,” he said.
In 2012 with Greece on the verge of bankruptcy, fellow Eurozone states rallied round to rescue one of their own. Part of the bailout package they agreed was to use almost 27 billion euros to buy up Greek debt to prevent a vicious circle that would see the country facing more and more expensive borrowing costs. At the time, the countries agreed that they should not profit from this action and that the interest paid to them by Athens linked to the bonds they had bought should be returned. To this day, that interest amounts to almost €8 billion (More precisely €7,838,000,000, according to an email sent by EU finance commissioner Pierre Muscovici to MEPs). Some of this money has been sent back to Greece but much of it remains in the hands of other European countries. And they seem determined not to reveal how much.
“For legal reasons, it’s not possible for member states to declare the amounts paid by their central banks to Greece,” said a source at the European Commission, citing the principle that central banks should not disclose details about their investments to avoid unduly influencing the behaviour of markets. For once, it seems, that Europe is united on the issue – Ireland, Italy, Spain and even Greece all refused to disclose how much had been returned and how much they were still holding. In Luxembourg, the press revealed that the government had handed back to Greece €28.3 million and was committed to returning the entire €40.2 million of interest it had accrued.
According to Euronews’ calculations, the Bundesbank, due to its position as the largest of Europe’s central banks earned €2 billion of interest since 2012 on the debt they purchased from Greece. France took €1.58 billion and Italy €1.37 billion. Documents obtained by Euronews confirm the figure for France, officials from other countries would not confirm or deny the amounts by the time this story was published.
Under the Securities Market Programme, Eurozone central banks bought up Greek government bonds, pushing up the prices for that debt and thereby lowering the interest rates Athens needed to pay to borrow. This offset to a degree the impact of market fears about the country’s economy which had obliged the government to pay significantly higher rates to secure the money it needed to keep operating. As a result of this programme, the countries participating received interest from Greece on the bonds they had purchased.
It was this money that they agreed to return under the 2012 bailout deal. When Alexis Tsipras swept to power in 2015 and rejected a proposed deal to extend the bailout, Eurozone finance ministers agreed to freeze these payments, having returned €4.3 billion relating to the debt buyup and a separate programme known as ANFA. The withholding of this money, according to Christopher Dembik, an economist at Saxo Bank, serves as a “kind of punishment” combined with a “means to pressure” Greece to fulfill its bailout obligations.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged Greece on Tuesday to not become a “safe haven” for plotters of last year’s coup attempt, citing the 995 people who have applied for asylum since the failed putsch. Speaking at a joint news conference with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, Cavusoglu said asylum seekers needed to be evaluated to determine those linked to the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Turkey for masterminding the putsch. “We would not want our neighbor Greece, with whom we are improving our ties, to be a safe haven for Gulenists. We believe these applications will be evaluated meticulously and that traitors will not be given credit,” Cavusoglu said.
Responding to Cavusoglu’s comments, Kotzias said the decisions on asylum seekers were made by the Greek judiciary and had to be respected even if “it doesn’t please some”. Relations between Turkey and Greece were further strained in May after a Greek court ruled to not extradite eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece following last year’s coup attempt. Turkey alleges the men, who fled to Greece in a military helicopter as the July coup unfolded, were involved in efforts to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan and has repeatedly demanded they be sent back. Greek courts have blocked two extradition requests by Ankara, drawing an angry rebuke from Turkey and highlighting the tense relations between the NATO allies, who remain at odds over issues from territorial disputes to ethnically split Cyprus.
Some companies’ reputations are so poor that the public already has low expectations when it comes to their ethics and business practices. That doesn’t make it any less shocking when the accusations against them are confirmed in black and white. Agricultural chemicals giant Monsanto is under fire because the company’s herbicide, Roundup (active ingredient: glyphosate), is suspected of being carcinogenic. Permission to sell the chemical in the European Union expires on December 15 with member states set to decide on Wednesday whether to renew it for another 10 years. And now, the longstanding dispute about glyphosate has been brought to a head by the release of explosive documents. Monsanto’s strategies for whitewashing glyphosate have been revealed in internal e-mails, presentations and memos.
Even worse, these “Monsanto Papers” suggest that the company doesn’t even seem to know whether Roundup is harmless to people’s health. “You cannot say that Roundup is not a carcinogen,” Monsanto toxicologist Donna Farmer wrote in one of the emails. “We have not done the necessary testing on the formulation to make that statement.” The email, sent on Nov. 22, 2003, is one of more than 100 documents that a court in the United States ordered Monsanto to provide as evidence after about 2,000 plaintiffs demanded compensation from Monsanto in class-action suits. They claim that Roundup has caused non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of lymph node cancer, in them or members of their family.
The documents suggest the company concealed risks, making their publication a disaster for the company. The matter is also likely to be a topic of discussion at Bayer, the German chemical company in the process of acquiring Monsanto. “The Monsanto Papers tell an alarming story of ghostwriting, scientific manipulation and the withholding of information,” says Michael Baum, a partner in the law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman, which is bringing one of the US class actions. According to Baum, Monsanto used the same strategies as the tobacco industry: “creating doubt, attacking people, doing ghostwriting.”
The European Parliament Tuesday called for the controversial weedkiller glyphosate to be banned by 2022 amid fears it causes cancer, a day before EU states vote on whether to renew its licence. MEPs approved a resolution which is not binding but will add fresh pressure on the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, which has recommended the licence for the herbicide be renewed for 10 years. Glyphosate critics, led by environmental campaigners Greenpeace, are calling for an outright ban in Europe and on Monday activists handed the EU a petition signed by more than 1.3 million people backing such a move.
Experts from the EU’s 28 member states are due to vote on the commission recommendation on Wednesday, just as a row escalates over claims that US agro giant Monsanto unduly influenced research into its weedkiller’s safety. MEPs criticised the commission’s proposal, saying it “fails to ensure a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment (and) fails to apply the precautionary principle”. They called for a halt to non-professional use of glyphosate when its licence runs out in December 15 and for its use to end near public parks and playgrounds. Opponents of glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s best-selling herbicide Roundup, point to a 2015 study by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer that concluded it was “probably carcinogenic”.
Spain’s central government is prepared to discipline Catalan citizens who chose to disobey direct rule from Madrid, the Spanish government’s official representative in Catalonia told CNBC. “The Spanish government is going to have the responsibility of taking decisions of a disciplinary nature if there is a rejection, by any functionaries, of any of the orders that they receive,” Enric Millo told CNBC on Monday, according to a translation. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy invoked unprecedented constitutional powers on Saturday, vowing to curtail some of the freedoms of Catalonia’s parliament, sack some of its political players and force regional elections within six months. A vote in the national Senate to implement this direct rule is scheduled for Friday.
In response, the far-left CUP party — a key supporter of Catalonia’s pro-independence minority government in the regional parliament — described Madrid’s actions as an aggression against all Catalans. The secessionist group also urged Catalan citizens to engage in “massive civil disobedience.” Millo said he was hopeful the “large majority” of public servants based in the northeast of Spain would resist calls from separatist leaders to disobey the constitution. However, when he was asked what preparations had been made for those who ignored Madrid’s direct rule, Millo said that it would be the politicians who had decided to break with “democratic legality” that would be dealt with first. “These people will resign … And therefore, although they may not agree, they will not have any type of responsibility, validity, nor any type of authorization in any institutional decision. They will be left without any responsibilities,” he said.
U.S. troops are now conducting 3,500 exercises, programs, and engagements per year, an average of nearly 10 missions per day, on the African continent, according to the U.S. military’s top commander for Africa, General Thomas Waldhauser. The latest numbers, which the Pentagon confirmed to VICE News, represent a dramatic increase in U.S. military activity throughout Africa in the past decade, and the latest signal of America’s deepening and complicated ties on the continent. With the White House and the Pentagon facing questions about an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger in which four U.S. Special Forces soldiers were killed, Secretary of Defense James Mattis reportedly indicated to two senior members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Friday that these numbers are only likely to increase as the U.S. military shifts even greater attention to counterterrorism in Africa.
“You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham after the briefing. “You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field.” But the U.S. military has already seen significant action in Africa, where its growth has been sudden and explosive. When U.S. Africa Command, the umbrella organization for U.S. military operations on the continent, first became operational in 2008, it inherited 172 missions, activities, programs, and exercises from other combatant commands. Five years in, that number shot up to 546. Today’s figure of 3,500 marks an astounding 1,900 percent increase since the command was activated less than a decade ago, and suggests a major expansion of U.S. military activities on the African continent.
Last week, in an interview with Fox News, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed: “We are leading the nation – excuse me – the world with respect to our CO2 footprint in reductions.” The Washington Post fact-checked this claim and rated it “Three Pinocchios,” which means they rate the claim mostly false. They further wrote that Pruitt’s usage of data appeared to be a “deliberate effort to mislead the public.” I agree that this is a nuanced issue, but the data mostly support Pruitt’s claim. According to the 2017 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, since 2005 annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined by 758 million metric tons. That is by far the largest decline of any country in the world over that timespan and is nearly as large as the 770 million metric ton decline for the entire EU.
By comparison, the second largest decline during that period was registered by the United Kingdom, which reported a 170 million metric ton decline. At the same time, China’s carbon dioxide emissions grew by 3 billion metric tons, and India’s grew by 1 billion metric tons. Thus, I don’t think it’s the least bit misleading to claim that the U.S. is leading the world in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The Washington Post gets into per capita emissions, and indeed despite the decline, U.S. per capita emissions are still among the highest in the world. However, the Washington Post story claimed: “The United States may have had the largest decrease in carbon emissions, but it is still the largest per capita emitter.” That’s not accurate either. According to World Bank data, U.S. per capita carbon dioxide emissions rank 11th among countries.
So, we are not the largest per capita emitter, but we do emit 2.2 times as much on a per capita basis as China. But, China has 4.3 times as many people, and that matters from an overall emissions perspective. China’s lower per capita carbon dioxide emissions are more than offset by its greater population, so China emits over 70% more carbon dioxide annually than the U.S. The story quoted Pruitt a second time: “We have reduced our CO2 footprint by over 18%, almost 20%, from 2000 to 2014.” The Post also disputes this claim, citing EPA numbers that stated “energy-related CO2 emissions” have fallen by 7.5% since 2000. I am not sure why anyone is using numbers from 2000, as U.S. carbon dioxide emissions continued to rise until 2005. That’s when they began to fall.
Worldwide wine production tumbled 8.2% this year to hit a 50-year low due to unfavourable climate conditions, the International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) said Tuesday. The total output of 246.7 million hectolitres was due in large part to steep drops in the top three wine producing countries: Italy, France and Spain. “This drop is consecutive to climate hazards, which affected the main producing countries, particularly in Europe,” said the Paris-based OIV, an intergovernmental organisation that provides scientific and technical advice on vines and wine. In Italy production slumped 23% to 39.3 mhl, while in France the drop was 19% to 36.7 mhl. Production in Spain fell 15% to 33.5 mhl.
They appear silently, seemingly from nowhere: a dozen figures, naked except for bright red loincloths, blocking the dirt road. These are the Waiapi, an ancient tribe living in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest but now fearing invasion by international mining companies. Leading AFP reporters to a tiny settlement of palm-thatched huts hidden in foliage, the tribesmen streaked in red and black dye vow to defend their territory. They brandish six-foot (two-meter) bows and arrows to reinforce the point. “We’ll keep fighting,” says Tapayona Waiapi, 36, in the settlement called Pinoty. “When the companies come we’ll keep resisting. If the Brazilian government sends soldiers to kill people, we’ll keep resisting until the last of us is dead.”
The Waiapi indigenous reserve is in pristine rainforest near the eastern end of the Amazon river. It is part of a much larger conservation zone called Renca, covering an area the size of Switzerland. Surrounded by rivers and towering trees, the tribe operates almost entirely according to its own laws, with a way of life at times closer to the Stone Age than the 21st century. Yet modern Brazil is barely a few hours’ drive away. And now the center-right government is pushing to open Renca to international mining companies who covet the rich deposits of gold and other metals hidden under the sea of green.
[..] the BLS reported that the annual increase in Average Weekly Earnings was a whopping 2.9%, above the 2.5% expected, and above the 2.5% reported last month. On the surface this was a great number, as the 2.9% annual increase – whether distorted by hurricanes or not – was the highest since the financial crisis. However, a problem emerges when one looks just one month prior, at the revised August data. What one sees here, as Andrew Zatlin of South Bay Research first noted, is that while the Total Private Average Weekly Earnings line posted another solid increase of 0.2% month over month, an upward revision from the previous month’s 0.1%, when one looks at the components, it become clear that the BLS fabricated the numbers, and may simply hard-coded its spreadsheet with the intention of goalseeking a specific number.
Presenting Exhibit 1: Table B-3 in today’s jobs report. What it shows is that whereas there was a sequential decline in the Average Weekly Earnings for Goods Producing and Private Service-producing industries which are the only two sub-components of the Total Private Line (and are circled in red on the table below) of -0.8% and -0.1% respectively, the BLS also reported that somehow, the total of these two declines was a 0.2% increase! Another way of showing the July to August data: • Goods-Producing Weekly Earnings declined -0.8% from $1,118.68 to $1,109.92 • Private Service-Providing Weekly Earnings declined -0.1% from $868.80 to $868.18 • And yet, Total Private Hourly Earnings rose 0.2% from $907.82 to $909.19. What the above shows is, in a word, impossible: one can not have the two subcomponents of a sum-total decline, while the total increases. The math does not work.
This, as Zatlin notes, undermines not only the labor inflation narrative, but it puts into question the rest of the overall labor data, and whether there are other politically-motivated, goalseeked “spreadsheet” errors. We have sent an email to the BLS seeking an explanation for the above data fabrication, meanwhile here is what likely happened: a big, juicy fat-finger error, whether on purpose or otherwise because if one looks at the finalized July weekly earnings of $907.82, it’s precisely the same as what the August preliminary wage number was as released last month, also $907.82. For the excel fans out there, it means that the August totals were simply hard coded when the BLS shifted cells in the spreadsheet, becoming July.
As Tropical Storm Nate continued on its course toward the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, energy companies shut down offshore oil and gas platforms, while Louisiana braced for a potential hurricane. Nate is forecast to strengthen as it enters the Gulf and develop into a hurricane by the time it reaches the northern Gulf Coast on Saturday evening, the National Hurricane Center said Friday. Hurricane and storm surge watches are in effect for southeastern Louisiana, including New Orleans, through the Mississippi-Alabama border. The Gulf is home to nearly one-fifth of all U.S. oil output. Drillers who pump crude from offshore platforms have lately produced at record levels above 1.7 million barrels a day. The region already had to contend with Hurricane Harvey in August.
“The major difference between Harvey and Nate is that the trajectory of Nate brings it right through the heart of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil and gas producing region,” said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates. BP and Chevron are ceasing production on all platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, Reuters reported. Royal Dutch Shell and Anadarko Petroleum dialed back activity, while Exxon Mobil, Statoil and others are withdrawing workers. If Nate develops into a Category 2 or 3 hurricane, it could impact up to 80% of the Gulf’s output, Lipow forecast. The storm also has the potential to affect about 15% of U.S. refining capacity in the New Orleans area, Mississippi and Alabama. The region’s biggest refineries include Exxon Mobil’s Baton Rouge facility and Marathon Petroleum’s Garyville, Louisiana, plant, both capable of turning out more than 500,000 barrels a day.
Australian households are in a vulnerable financial position, especially those who have taken out a mortgage. And in an era of weak incomes growth, soaring energy prices and high levels of indebtedness, with the prospect of higher interest rates on the way, many intend to cut discretionary spending in anticipation of even tighter household budgets. That’s the finding of the latest AlphaWise survey conducted by Morgan Stanley, which paints an unsettling picture on the outlook for not only Australia’s retail sector, but also the broader economy. Yes, the weakness in retail sales over the past two months may soon become entrenched. The “crunch time” for Australian households, as Morgan Stanley puts it, has begun. “In early June, we expressed the view that the Australian consumer faces a domestic cash flow and credit crunch,” the bank wrote in a note released this week.
“Income growth has not recovered, ‘cost of living’ inflation is re-accelerating and ‘macro-prudential’-related tightening of credit conditions is extending from housing into consumer finance.” In order to test how households may respond to higher interest rates, whether as a result of macroprudential measures to slow investor and interest-only housing credit growth or official moves from the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA), Morgan Stanley conducted a national survey of 1,836 mortgagors to identify household conditions during late July and early August. Australia’s 2016 census found that 34.5% of households were currently paying off a mortgage. Morgan Stanley says the survey was designed to provide insight into the health of the household balance sheet, including their spending intentions as a result of higher mortgage rates. The news was not good.
“Findings from the AlphaWise survey confirm the stresses in the consumer sector we have been highlighting for some time now,” it says. “Most households have minimal buffers against a shock to their income, and expect to respond to higher debt servicing costs by drawing down on savings and cutting back on expenditure. “Other sectors of the economy may be able to offset some of the headline weakness, but the concentrated exposure of the household sector and economy to an extended housing market is posing an increasingly important structural and cyclical risk to consumer spending.” Of those households surveyed, 54% said they intended to cut back on expenditure in response to higher interest rates, with a further 25% planning to draw down on their savings to cope with higher servicing costs, a pattern that has been seen in Australia’s savings ratio which fell to a post-GFC low in the June quarter.
Somewhat alarmingly, 40% of those surveyed indicated that they did not save at all over the past year, particularly among low-income households. [..] “Only around 13% of respondents expect to be able to save more in the next 12 months..”
You know the old joke: How do you make a killing on Wall Street and never risk a loss? Easy—use other people’s money. Jamie Dimon and his underlings at JPMorgan Chase have perfected this dark art at America’s largest bank, which boasts a balance sheet one-eighth the size of the entire US economy. After JPMorgan’s deceitful activities in the housing market helped trigger the 2008 financial crash that cost millions of Americans their jobs, homes, and life savings, punishment was in order. Among a vast array of misconduct, JPMorgan engaged in the routine use of “robo-signing,” which allowed bank employees to automatically sign hundreds, even thousands, of foreclosure documents per day without verifying their contents.
But in the United States, white-collar criminals rarely go to prison; instead, they negotiate settlements. Thus, on February 9, 2012, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the National Mortgage Settlement, which fined JPMorgan Chase and four other mega-banks a total of $25 billion. JPMorgan’s share of the settlement was $5.3 billion, but only $1.1 billion had to be paid in cash; the other $4.2 billion was to come in the form of financial relief for homeowners in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure. The settlement called for JPMorgan to reduce the amounts owed, modify the loan terms, and take other steps to help distressed Americans keep their homes. A separate 2013 settlement against the bank for deceiving mortgage investors included another $4 billion in consumer relief.
A Nation investigation can now reveal how JPMorgan met part of its $8.2 billion settlement burden: by using other people’s money. Here’s how the alleged scam worked. JPMorgan moved to forgive the mortgages of tens of thousands of homeowners; the feds, in turn, credited these canceled loans against the penalties due under the 2012 and 2013 settlements. But here’s the rub: In many instances, JPMorgan was forgiving loans on properties it no longer owned. The alleged fraud is described in internal JPMorgan documents, public records, testimony from homeowners and investors burned in the scam, and other evidence presented in a blockbuster lawsuit against JPMorgan, now being heard in US District Court in New York City.
The team captain of Spain’s storied football club Barcelona, which has become a focal point of secessionist Catalan sentiment, is urging politicians in Madrid and the Catalan capital to start negotiating about the future of Spain’s restive northeast province. “Before we do ourselves more damage, those in charge must open dialogue with each other. Do it for all of us. We deserve to live in peace,” Andrés Iniesta wrote on his Facebook page, apologizing at the same time for weighing in on “situations that are complex.” His appeal came as a top EU official Thursday warned that the separatist dispute, exacerbated by Catalan secessionists holding an illegal independence referendum Sunday, risks escalating into armed conflict.
“The position is very, very alarming. Civil war is conceivable there, in the middle of Europe,” Gunther Oettinger, the Germany EU commissioner said at an event in Munich. Oettinger and the EU Commission, the European bloc’s governing body, which fears Catalan independence might stir up separatism elsewhere in Europe, have also urged the authorities in Madrid and Barcelona to start negotiations and to avoid further provocations. But there are little signs of that happening. Both sides appear to be standing firm in Spain’s worst constitutional crisis since an attempted coup in 1981. [..] Nationalist sentiment is deepening fast: in Madrid observers have noted more buildings are sporting the Spanish national flag. Spaniards have long harbored an historical fear of dismemberment – Catalan nationalist sentiment was a key factor behind the Spanish civil war of the 1930s.
Spain apologized on Friday for a violent police crackdown on Catalonia’s independence referendum, in a conciliatory gesture as both sides looked for a way out of the nation’s worst political crisis since it became a democracy four decades ago. Spain’s representative in northeast Catalonia, which accounts for a fifth of the national economy, made the apology just as Catalonia’s secessionist leader appeared to inch away from a plan to declare independence as early as Monday. “When I see these images, and more so when I know people have been hit, pushed and even one person who was hospitalized, I can’t help but regret it and apologize on behalf of the officers that intervened,” Enric Millo said in a television interview.
[..] Moments earlier, a Catalan parliament spokeswoman said the regional government’s leader, Carles Puigdemont, had asked to address lawmakers on Tuesday, in timing that appeared at odds with earlier plans to move an independence motion on Monday. Puigdemont wanted to speak on the “political situation”. The softer tone contrasted with remarks earlier on Friday from Catalonia’s head of foreign affairs who told BBC radio it would go ahead with an independence debate in the regional parliament. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has offered all-party political talks to find a solution, opening the door to a deal giving Catalonia more autonomy. But he has ruled out independence and rejected a Catalan proposal for international mediation.
This is one of the highlights so far of my life as a rebel economist: giving an invited talk at the OECD. The OECD was one of the formal economic policy groups that wildly misinterpreted the economic data of 2007, believing that it heralded “sustained growth in OECD economies … underpinned by strong job creation and falling unemployment.” Five years later, they established the New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) initiative, and they’re trying to expand the horizons of economics beyond the narrow and fallacious confines of Neoclassical economics. Being invited to speak there, and getting such a positive reception from OECD Ambassadors, confirmed my belief that if change is to come in economics, it will come from formal economic bodies (the OECD, IMF, Central Banks and Treasuries) rather than university departments.
Formal bodies have to wear the consequences of being wrong about the economy, whereas Neoclassical-dominated university departments can retreat into isolation when the real world fails to conform to their fantasies about it. Nothing is certain however. The desire to fall back into ideologically comfortable but practically false ways of thinking about the economic system is strong. Groups like NAEC within the OECD need support, and they themselves need to support the young students in Rethinking Economics, who are far more amenable to a new paradigm than their hidebound academic instructors in the major Universities.
“Neoclassical economists are not experts on money but experts in finding reasons to believe you can model capitalism as though money banks and debt don’t exist. “And then you give them the right to control the banking system.”
Neoclassical economic theory claims that the human being is a rational self-serving profit maximising unit. It claims to prove the market can handle anything. Classical economists model the economy based on the concept of rational consumers maximising utility and firms maximising profits. Their vision of the world claims that equilibrium is reached and the world functions best if there is no government, no trade unions and no monopolies. Professor Keen says mainstream economist change reality to fit their model. University campuses used to be about education, challenging people exposing them to ideas they didn’t necessarily have in the first instance. But Professor Keen says economics actually leads away from this possibility. “Economics starts by inculcating a view of how you should think about the economy that rules out a whole range of alternatives,” he said.
“It rules out thinking about the sort of work that I do, working from the top down, looking at the overall economy and modelling that way. They say ‘no, you’ve got to start from the isolated individual and you have to talk about individuals for maximising utility’. We’re talking about them as consumers or firms who are maximising profits. “In their mind that is the definition of a perfectly functioning system, but it is not the definition of the world in which we live. “Once you’ve got the mathematical structure of trying to do that, you have a very hard time treating anything else as a sensible analysis of capitalism. They rule out a whole lot of other ways of thinking.”
[..] “Imagine capitalism with no banks, no debt, and no money,” says Professor Keen. “You’re getting pretty close to being a neoclassical economist.” “Neoclassical economists are not experts on money but experts in finding reasons to believe you can model capitalism as though money banks and debt don’t exist. “And then you give them the right to control the banking system.”
“..with half of the flyover population in an opiate daze, and chain-stores shuttering to the tune of 10,000 this year, and car leases expiring into a car market dependent on liar loans bundled into janky securities, and the debt problem festering away like a something dead under the floor boards.”
Grinning like Wonderland’s Cheshire Cat, the Golden Golem of Greatness pronounced this interval of fine fall weather “the calm before the storm.” Hmmmm. Talk about cryptic. This was less than a week after he verbally smacked down Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for “wasting his time” trying to diplomatically reach “Little Rocket Man… “ whereby Rex riposted, calling the President a “moron.” Ordinarily — say, during the past 220-odd years of this nation’s existence — talk like that would prompt a resignation (though, there are no other instances of talk like that). illerson must think that for the good of the country he can’t resign, and God knows what kind of desperate notes are being swapped around between the State Department and the Pentagon.
[..] We are entering a slot of time where an awful lot of things might go wrong. What gets me is seeing the stock markets make new record highs every other day, whether Puerto Rico is destroyed overnight or hundreds of people are shot in a Las Vegas parking lot — and notwithstanding the overall phony-baloney condition of the American economy, with half of the flyover population in an opiate daze, and chain-stores shuttering to the tune of 10,000 this year, and car leases expiring into a car market dependent on liar loans bundled into janky securities, and the debt problem festering away like a something dead under the floor boards. Some kind of financial accident with a this-sucker-is-going-down flavor feels like it’s waiting to happen.
I don’t think Trump was referring to that either, but what if it came down around the same moment that we decided to light up North Korea? Or, alternately, if Rex Tillerson, Mike Pence, and a score of other senior politicos decide that its time for Trump to go? The president is looking mighty friendless these days, and more than a little reckless. I mean, for the good of the country, ladies and gentlemen, what are they waiting for? Will his generals defend him? Nah. Fuggedabowdit. I wonder what the code-name for their action will be. Operation Moron Overboard? The whole spectacle is starting to look like a Coen Brothers movie. When the time comes, I hope they will make the documentary about these strange days of October, 2017.
In the electrified aftermath of the election, aides to Hillary Clinton and Obama pored over polling numbers and turnout data, looking for clues to explain what they saw as an unnatural turn of events. One of the theories to emerge from their post-mortem was that Russian operatives who were directed by the Kremlin to support Trump may have taken advantage of Facebook and other social media platforms to direct their messages to American voters in key demographic areas in order to increase enthusiasm for Trump and suppress support for Clinton. These former advisers didn’t have hard evidence that Russian trolls were using Facebook to micro-target voters in swing districts—at least not yet—but they shared their theories with the House and Senate intelligence committees, which launched parallel investigations into Russia’s role in the presidential campaign in January.
The theories paid off. A personal visit in May by Democratic Senator Mark Warner, vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, “spurred the company to make some changes in how it conducted its internal investigation.” Facebook’s announcement in August of finding 3,000 “likely” Russian ads is now an ongoing “scandal” that has dragged the company before Congressional committees. Other election threats loom. A recent front-page New York Times article linking Russian cyber operations to voting irregularities across the United States is headlined, “Russian Election Hacking Efforts, Wider Than Previously Known, Draw Little Scrutiny.” But read on and you’ll discover that there is no evidence of “Russian election hacking,” only evidence-free accusations of it.
Voting problems in Durham, North Carolina, “felt like tampering, or some kind of cyberattack,” election monitor Susan Greenhalgh says, and “months later…questions still linger about what happened that day in Durham as well as other counties in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Arizona.” There is one caveat: “There are plenty of other reasons for such breakdowns—local officials blamed human error and software malfunctions—and no clear-cut evidence of digital sabotage has emerged, much less a Russian role in it.” The evidence-free concern over Russian hacking expanded in late September when the Department of Homeland Security informed 21 states that they had been targeted by Russian cyber-operations during the 2016 election. But three states have already dismissed the DHS claims, including California, which announced that after seeking “further information, it became clear that DHS’s conclusions were wrong.” Recent elections in France and Germany saw similar fears of Russian hacking and disinformation—and similar results.
In France, a hack targeting the campaign of election winner Emmanuel Macron ended up having “no trace,” of Russian involvement, and “was so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone,” the head of French cyber-security quietly explained after the vote. Germany faced an even more puzzling outcome: Nothing happened. “The apparent absence of a robust Russian campaign to sabotage the German vote has become a mystery among officials and experts who had warned of a likely onslaught,” the Post reported in an article headlined “As Germans prepare to vote, a mystery grows: Where are the Russians?” The mystery was so profound that The New York Times also explored it days later: “German Election Mystery: Why No Russian Meddling?”
In practice it is difficult to envisage a sustainable digital currency that would not be accessible to all; cryptocurrencies are increasingly attractive to the general public. As for privacy, a decentralized ledger, on top of the security advantage it brings, makes the anonymity attached to cash transactions technically possible, and is thus nothing new. The BIS acknowledges as much: While it may look odd for a central bank to issue a cryptocurrency that provides anonymity, this is precisely what it does with physical currency, i.e. cash. Perhaps a key difference is that, with a retail CBCC, the provision of anonymity becomes a conscious decision.
Some might argue that an anonymous payment network would run against the current trend in anti-money-laundering regulation, where the origin of invested cash is carefully vetted to avoid criminal or tax evasion activities. Technically, there is nothing to prevent central bank digital currencies from being fully traceable. Even a decentralized ledger (where transactions are recorded digitally across many computers) only provides the potential for anonymity but does not guarantee it. But if there is no desire for anonymity, then there would be no need for the ledger to be decentralized. The logical outcome would be for central banks themselves to offer retail services, taking deposits from the general public. The BIS considers this possibility:
“We argue that the main benefit that a consumer-facing retail CBCC would offer, over the provision of public access to (centralized) central bank accounts, is that the former would have the potential to provide the anonymity of cash. In particular, peer-to-peer transfers allow anonymity vis-à-vis any third party. If third-party anonymity is not of sufficient importance to the public, then many of the alleged benefits of retail CBCCs can be achieved by giving broad access to accounts at the central bank.” A central bank e-minting monopoly would fundamentally change the structure of the banking system, leading to an increased monetary basis and seigniorage. Any temptation to abuse the enhanced minting monopolies would be reduced not by new technology but by the competitive alternatives offered by other countries’ digital currencies, or even, if necessary, old-fashioned valuable commodities.
The introduction of CBBCs that are traceable would also bring about a revolutionary transformation of the financial system architecture. This is, quite obviously, the opposite of the libertarian ideology underpinning the original cryptocurrencies. It would also accelerate the dismantling of the banking system as we know it. With central banks offering retail services, commercial banks would lose deposits, and with it their ability to lend. It would curtail or end the role of the money multiplier – whereby banks lend more than they receive in deposits, thus increasing the overall money supply – in the economy, and so necessitate massive monetary creation to maintain levels of liquidity in the market. Lending would increasingly be made by regulated specialized funds.
The US has escalated its trade dispute with Britain and Canada by announcing plans to slap a further 80% duty on the export of planes built by Bombardier. The move follows complaints by Boeing that Canadian-owned Bombardier, which employs more than 4,000 people in Belfast, had dumped its C Series jets at “absurdly low” prices. Bombardier is facing a planned 220% tariff as part of a separate investigation, the US Department of Commerce confirmed. A second levy of 80% is also being applied to Bombardier’s sales to the US after a preliminary finding that the jets were sold below cost price to Delta Air Lines in 2016. Boeing claimed that 75 aircraft were sold at nearly £10.6m below cost price. Bombardier dismissed the claim as “absurd”. The company is due to begin delivering a blockbuster order for up to 125 new jets to Atlanta-based Delta next year.
The US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, said: “The United States is committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade with Canada, but this is not our idea of a properly functioning trading relationship. We will continue to verify the accuracy of this decision, while doing everything in our power to stand up for American companies and their workers.” [..] The proposed duties would not take effect unless affirmed by the US International Trade Commission (ITC) early next year. To win its case before the ITC, Boeing must prove it was harmed by Bombardier’s sales, despite not using one of its own jets to compete for the Delta order. Bombardier said it was confident that the ITC would find Boeing had not been harmed, calling the Department of Commerce decision a case of “egregious overreach”. Delta said the decision was preliminary and it was confident the ITC “will conclude that no US manufacturer is at risk” from Bombardier’s plane.
Canada will pay up to C$750m in compensation to thousands of aboriginals who were forcibly removed as children from their families decades ago, promising to end “a terrible legacy”. The move is the latest attempt by the Liberal government of the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to repair ties with Canada’s often-marginalised indigenous population, which says it has been the victim of systemic racism for centuries. In the so-called “Sixties Scoop”, welfare authorities took about 20,000 aboriginal children from their homes between the 1960s and 1980s and placed them in foster care or allowed them to be adopted by non-indigenous families. The compensation package is designed to settle many of the lawsuits launched by survivors, who say the forced removal deprived them of their heritage and led to mental disorders, substance abuse and suicide.
“Language and culture, apology, healing – these are essential elements to begin to right the wrong of this dark and painful chapter,” said Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister in charge of relations with the indigenous population. Canada’s 1.4 million aboriginals, who make up about 4% of the population, experience higher levels of poverty and incarceration and have a lower life expectancy than other Canadians. They are often victims of violent crime and addiction. Indigenous activists complain Trudeau has broken repeated promises to improve their lives since taking office in late 2015. He reshuffled his cabinet in August to put more emphasis on helping aboriginal people. Bennett, at times fighting back tears, told a news conference she had heard “truly heartbreaking stories” about loss of identity and alienation.
Marcia Brown Martel, an aboriginal chief who led the campaign for compensation, lamented the “stealing of children” and noted some of those involved lived as far away as New Zealand. “Think of it as a puzzle, a great big puzzle. Pieces, people are missing,” she told reporters. [..] Trudeau and other Canadian leaders have already apologized for the many abuses committed over a 150-year period when 150,000 aboriginal children were forcibly separated from their parents and sent to church-run residential schools. In 2015, an official report said the schools were an attempt to end the existence of aboriginals as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada.
The leader of Germany’s Free Democrats (FDP), Christian Lindner, seen as a likely successor at the finance ministry if his pro-business party enters a coalition with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), has criticized outgoing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble for not being tough enough on Greece. “Mr Schaeuble did not manage to impose himself over the chancellor in many questions of European policy. Just remember the third aid package for Greece, which he originally did not want to do,” Lindner told German daily Handelsblatt in an interview Friday. The 38-year-old politician managed to lead the FDP back into parliament after a four-year absence on the back of a pledge to limit financial perils from the eurozone and an illiberal assault on Merkel’s open-doors refugee policy.
In the same interview, Lindner called for the creation of an insolvency law for eurozone states, while arguing that countries should be able to leave the common currency area while remaining in the European Union. In May, the FDP chief said that Greece should leave the euro temporarily until its economy was back on track. If the Greek debt is not sustainable as the IMF claims, Lindner said at the time, then it has to be restructured – and this cannot take place within the eurozone. Lindner avoided to say if his party would push to take over the Finance Ministry. “For us a change in fiscal policy is more important than a new minister,” said Lindner, who also expressed doubts about the prospects of a three-way alliance between CDU, FDP and the Greens, known as the “Jamaica coalition.”
An overwhelming majority of SYRIZA’s “Socialist Trend” faction under MEP Costas Chrysogonos have voted to part ways with the ruling leftists over differences in policy. In a ballot held on Friday, the proposal was backed by 1,678, or 82.6%, of the faction’s 2,032 members. Only 31 wanted to stay with SYRIZA. Officials said the faction will take steps to transform into an independent political grouping. They added that more details will be announced next week. Representatives of the faction also accused SYRIZA of turning into “a true replica of the centralized mainstream parties.”
Greece must speed up winter preparations at refugee camps on islands in the Aegean Sea where there has been a sharp rise in arrivals, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday. Nearly 5,000 refugees, mostly Syrian or Iraqi families, crossed from Turkey in September – a quarter of all arrivals this year, UNHCR data shows. While that is a fraction of the nearly 1 million who arrived in 2015 – due to a European Union deal with Turkey to block that route – four of the five island camps are hosting two or three times as many people as they were designed for. “UNHCR urges action on the islands to ease overcrowding, improve shelter, and stock and distribute appropriate and sufficient aid items,” said Philippe Leclerc, UNHCR representative in Greece.
In the Moria camp on the island of Lesbos, one of the main entry points, more than 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without insulation, flooring or heating, UNHCR said. They include pregnant women, people with disabilities, and very young children. On nearby Samos, about 400 people are living in “very difficult” conditions and another 300, including families and lone children, are sleeping in tents in the woods due to a lack of space in the camp, UNHCR said. More than 3,000 people on Samos are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700. In January, refugees in Greece suffered sub-zero temperatures when an icy spell gripped parts of the country and scores of summer tents were weighed down by snow. More than 60,000 refugees and migrants have been trapped in Greece since Balkan countries along the northward overland route to western Europe sealed their borders in March 2016.
UNHCR has been gradually reducing its involvement on the islands since national institutions took over most services in August.
At the same time, the new financial reforms haven’t minimized risk. Moreover, they’ve set taxpayers – that’s you – up for a future fleecing. Congressman Robert Pittenger elaborated this fact in a Forbes article last year: “Even Dodd-Frank’s biggest selling point, that it would end “too big to fail,” has proven false. Dodd-Frank actually created a new bailout fund for big banks–the Orderly Liquidation Authority–and the Systemically Important Financial Institution designation enshrines “too big to fail” by giving certain major financial institutions priority for future taxpayer-funded bailouts.” What gives? Regulations, in short, attempt to control something by edict. However, just because a law has been enacted doesn’t mean the world automatically bends to its will. In practice, regulations generally do a poor job at attaining their objectives. Yet, they often do a great job at making a mess of everything else.
Dictating how banks should allocate their loans, as Dodd-Frank does, results in preferential treatment of favored institutions and corporations. This, in itself, equates to stratified price controls on borrowers. And as elucidated by Senator Wallace Bennett over a half century ago, price controls are the equivalent of using adhesive tape to control diarrhea. The dangerous conceit of the clueless… the house of cards they have built is anything but “safe” and they most certainly can not “fix anything”. Listening to their speeches that seems to be what they genuinely believe. A rude awakening is an apodictic certainty, but we wonder what or who will be blamed this time. Not enough regulations? The largely absent free market? As they say, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (this quote is often erroneously attributed to Mark Twain: we think it doesn’t matter whether he created it, it is often quite apposite and this is a situation that certainly qualifies).
The point is that planning for future taxpayer-funded bailouts as part of compliance with destructive regulations is asinine. In this respect, we offer an approach that goes counter to Fed Chair Janet Yellen and the modus operandi of all central planner control freaks. It’s really simple, and really effective. The best way to regulate banks, lending institutions, corporate finance and the like, is to turn over regulatory control to the very exacting, and unsympathetic, order of the market. That is to have little to no regulations and one very specific and uncompromising provision: There will be absolutely, unconditionally, categorically, no government funded bailouts. Without question, the financial system will be radically safer.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday challenged Congress to raise the government’s debt limit in order to free up relief spending for Hurricane Harvey, a disaster that the governor of Texas said had caused up to $180 billion in damage. Harvey, which came ashore on Aug. 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, has killed an estimated 50 people, displaced more than 1 million and damaged some 200,000 homes in a path of destruction stretching for more than 300 miles (480 km). As the city of Houston and the region’s critical energy infrastructure began to recover nine days after the storm hit, the debate over how to pay for the disaster played out in Washington. Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimated damage at $150 billion to $180 billion, calling it more costly than Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, which devastated New Orleans in 2005 and New York in 2012.
The administration of President Donald Trump has asked Congress for an initial $7.85 billion for recovery efforts, a fraction of what will eventually be needed. Even that amount could be delayed unless Congress quickly increases the government’s debt ceiling, Mnuchin said, as the United States is on track to hit its mandated borrowing limit by the end of the month unless Congress increases it. “Without raising the debt limit, I am not comfortable that we will get money to Texas this month to rebuild,” Mnuchin told Fox News. Republican lawmakers, who control both houses of Congress, have traditionally resisted raising the debt ceiling, but linking the issue to Harvey aid could force their hand with people suffering and large areas of the fourth-largest U.S. city under water. Beyond the immediate funding, any massive aid package faces budget pressures at a time when Trump is advocating for tax reform or tax cuts, leading some on Capitol Hill to suggest aid may be released in a series of appropriations.
Katrina set the record by costing U.S. taxpayers more than $110 billion. In advocating for funds to help rebuild his state, Abbott said damage from Harvey would exceed that. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city expected most public services and businesses to be restored by Tuesday, the first day after Monday’s Labor Day holiday. “Over 95% of the city is now dry. And I‘m encouraging people to get up and let’s get going,” Turner told NBC News. Even so, Houston mandated the evacuation of thousands of people on the western side of town on Sunday to accommodate the release of water from two reservoirs that otherwise might sustain damage. The storm stalled over Houston, dumping more than 50 inches (1.3 m) on the region. Houston cut off power to homes on Sunday to encourage evacuations. The area was closed off on Sunday and military vehicles were stationed on the periphery to take people out.
Canadian real estate prices have soared, and so did borrowing against that value. Our analysis of domestic bank filings from the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) shows that loans secured against property has reached an all-time high. More surprising is the unprecedented rate of growth experienced this year.
Loans secured against residential real estate shattered a few records in June. Over $313.66 billion in real estate was used to secure loans, up 3.43% from the month before. The rise puts annual gains 11.16% higher than the same month last year, an increase of $31.51 billion. The monthly increase is the largest increase since March 2012. The annual gain is unprecedented according to an aggregate of domestic bank filings. Not all borrowing against residential property is all bad, sometimes it’s a calculated risk. For example, someone may need to secure a business loan, and use the loan for operating risks. It doesn’t mean the property is safe, but it’s a risk that could potentially boost the economy.
This is opposed to non-business loans, which is used as short-term financing. This type of financing is often used for things like renovations, and putting a fancy car in the driveway. Experts have observed that more homeowners are using these to prevent bankruptcy. Bottom line, it’s not typically healthy looking debt. So let’s remove loans obtained for business reasons, and take a peek at higher risk debt. The majority of these loans are non-business related according to bank filings. The current total is over $266 billion as of June 2017, a 1.01% increase from the month before. This is a 4.9% increase from the same month last year, which works out to $12.49 billion more. Fun fact, that’s around $23,763 per minute. The number is astronomical.
The Impossible Trinity theory was advanced in the early 1960s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell. It says that no country can have an open capital account, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy at the same time. You can have one or two out of three, but not all three. If you try, you will fail — markets will make sure of that. Those failures (which do happen) represent some of the best profit-making opportunities of all. Understanding the Impossible Trinity is how George Soros broke the Bank of England on Sept. 16, 1992 (still referred to as “Black Wednesday” in British banking circles. Soros also made over $1 billion that day). The reason is that if more attractive total returns are available abroad, money will flee a home country at a fixed exchange rate to seek the higher return.
This will cause a foreign exchange crisis and a policy response that abandons one of the three policies. But just because the trinity is impossible in the long run does not mean it cannot be pursued in the short run. China is trying to peg the yuan to the U.S. dollar while maintaining a partially open capital account and semi-independent monetary policy. It’s a nice finesse, but isn’t sustainable. China cannot keep the capital account even partly closed for long without drying up direct foreign investment. Similarly, China cannot raise interest rates much higher without bankrupting state-owned enterprises. China is buying time until the Communist Party Congress in October. It’s important to realize that for Beijing, the Chinese economy is more than about jobs, goods and services. It’s a means of ensuring its legitimacy.
The Chinese regime is deeply concerned that a faltering economy and mass unemployment could threaten its hold on power. Chinese markets are wildly distorted by the actions of its central bank. Given the problems inherent in trying to manage an economy without proper price signals, the challenge facing Beijing gets harder by the day. China has a long history of violent political fracturing, and the government is deeply worried about regime survival if it stumbles. Many in the West fail to appreciate Beijing’s fears and overestimate the support it has among the disparate Chinese people. What does China do next? Under the unforgiving logic of the Impossible Trinity, China will have to either devalue the yuan or see its reserves evaporate. In the end, China will have to break the yuan’s peg to the dollar in order to stop capital outflows without killing the economy with high rates. The Impossible Trinity really is impossible in the long run. China will find this out the hard way.
To the elected darlings of the free market: I hate to burst your bubble but – you have been living a lie. Your lifetime government pensions: socialism. Overly generous retirement packages, Superannuation and 401ks: socialism. Travel budgets, expense accounts, access to private drivers and town cars, government reimbursement for travel and living arrangements: socialism, socialism, socialism, socialism, socialism. Central banking: socialism. Not to mention fossil-fuel & mining subsidies and tax concessions: socialism, socialism, socialism. The bank bail-outs of 2008: One of the greatest acts of socialism of all time. Where were our free-market representatives then? When the financial system went into melt-down, the banks were not told to suck it up and stand on their own two feet. More than a trillion dollars were poured into the banks, most of which went towards profit margins and CEO bonuses.
These so-called champions of capitalism have the nerve to claim that it is social welfare recipients that are a drain on the system while government representatives take home all kinds of state-provided benefits the rest of us could only dream of: the best health insurance the country has to offer, lifetime pensions and generous retirement packages which drain many more billions from the economy than social welfare ever will. Moreover, corporate welfare pales in comparison to either. The private sector has its own dole system paid for by Federal Governments. Yet many Congressmen, Representatives and MPs still have the nerve to stand before the people who elected them and rail against social spending, claiming people ought to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when no such obligation has ever existed for the corporate sector. Most of the world’s most successful corporations don’t get out of bed without a subsidy.
[..] if the debtors at the bottom aren’t at crisis point yet, the signs of a surfeit of debt are everywhere. Alex Brazier, executive director of financial stability at the Bank of England, warned last month that consumer loans had gone up by 10% in the past year, with average household debt having already eclipsed 2008 levels. He warned against the economy having to sit through “endless repeats of the ‘Debt Strikes Back’ movie”. There is something obscurely insulting about being warned about household debt by the Bank of England. It never warns employers about stagnant wages, or the government about the benefit freeze. It only ever mentions these in terms of the impact of inflation, as if any consideration of the human decisions behind them are too political for comment. But personal debt, miraculously, isn’t political at all.
But that doesn’t make Brazier wrong. Edward Smythe of the campaign group Positive Money, breaks it down: “If you look at total outstanding consumer loans, in July, they’re at £200bn, an £18.5bn net increase every year.” Households spent more than their income by £17.5bn in the first quarter of this year. Economists are interested in where that money comes from – whether it’s access to credit, selling assets or spending savings. The government is presumably, in some dusty corner, interested in why that money is needed, whether it is a result of pauperised wages– real wage growth is negative and looks set to decrease – benefit changes, or some rush of blood to the head where we all suddenly need Sky Sports and cigarettes but aren’t prepared to work for them.
The sources of all this debt are changing: about half the net increase was in personal contract purchase car loans. Four in five new cars are now bought by PCP – an inherently unstable system that leaves both consumers and car manufacturers exposed. It’s a bit like a mortgage system for cars, except you don’t own it at the end, ideally you wouldn’t be living in it, and while a housing crash has been seen before, nobody yet knows what a car crash would look like. Student loan debt is counted separately from consumer loans, and stands at £13bn a year. However much you think you’ve accommodated student fees into your picture of Britons’ finances, it is always astounding to consider how life-changing that decision has been for the younger generation.
Two weeks ago, we were surprised to find that despite the recent “growth promise” of what has been called a coordinated global recovery, the market value of bonds yielding less than 0% had quietly jumped by a quarter in just one month to the highest since October 2016. Since then, the paradoxical divergence between the reported “strong” state of the “reflating” global economy and the amount of negative yielding debt, has only grown, and as JPM reports as of Friday, Sept. 1, the global market value of government bonds trading with negative yield within the JPM GBI Broad index rose to $7.4 trillion, up 60% from its low of $4.6 trillion at the beginning of the year. Some more details from JPM:
We calculate the market value by multiplying the dirty price with the amount outstanding for each bond within JPM GBI Broad Index and then convert it to US dollars at today’s exchange rate. The market value of bonds trading with negative yield,including central banks’ purchases, stands at 30% of the total JPM GBI Broad index. What makes the latest rise in negative yielding debt especially bizarre is that it was mainly driven by Japan, where 10-year government bond yields have fallen significantly over the past month and have turned negative this week for first time since the US presidential election, even as the Bank of Japan has twice in the past month reduced the amount of JGB debt it purchases in the open market in the 5-to-10 year bucket, following on Friday, by a 30BN yen reduction of buying in the 3-to-5 year debt range.
As a result, the total universe of Japanese bonds trading with negative yield within the JPM global government bond index (GBI Broad) now stands at $4.6tr, or 62% of the outstanding amount. The remaining government bonds trading with negative yields worth $2.8 trillion are from Europe, of which more than half are from France and Germany.
Professionals in the property sector are warning that the auctioning of tens of thousands of buildings in the next few years could evolve into an unknown – probably negative – factor regarding the course of prices in the market. It is estimated that a wave of auctions expected to begin soon will see market rates drop at least 10%. Clearing firms are currently involved in an extensive program of property valuations to establish starting prices for the auctions. Ilias Ziogas, head of property consultancy company NAI Hellas and one of the founding members of the Chartered Surveyors Association, said that the property market is certain to suffer further as a result of the auctions: “The impact on prices will be clearly negative, not because the price of a property will be far lower at the auction than a nearby property, but because it will diminish demand for the neighboring property.”
He added that a market with already reduced demand that receives more supply at more attractive rates through auctions will definitely see buyers turn to the latter. He also said that they will only look at other buildings if they are not satisfied with what the auctions have to offer. This view is also shared by Giorgos Litsas, head of the GLP Values chartered surveyor company, which cooperates with PQH. He told Kathimerini that the only way is down for market rates. “I believe that unless there is an unlikely coordination among the parties involved – i.e. the state (tax authorities, social security funds etc.), the banks and the clearing firms – in order to prevent too many properties coming onto the market at the same time, rates will go down by at least 10%.”
He noted that “we estimate the stock of unsold properties of all types comes to 270,000-280,000, in a market with no more than 15,000 transactions per year. Therefore the rise in supply will send prices tumbling.” Yiannis Xylas, founder of Geoaxis surveyors, added, “I fear the auctions will create an oversupply of properties without the corresponding demand, which translates into an immediate drop in rates that may be rapid if one adds the portfolios of bad loans secured on properties that will be sold to foreign funds at a fraction of their price.”
Italy’s finance minister delivered an upbeat tone on his country’s banking sector but highlighted that major hurdles still remain in the euro zone, including in Germany. Germany might be known as the powerhouse of the euro zone economy but it has its own banking problems to deal with, Pier Carlo Padoan told CNBC on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti Forum on Sunday. “I think that there are some German banking problems and I’m confident the German authorities will deal with them,” Padoan said when asked about remarks made by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi last year. “Germany has been the country that has by far poured much more public money into the banking sector in terms of the hundreds of billions of euros in the past when the rules where different of course.
This is a sign that maybe we all have to recognize that we have problems and we all have to recognize that we need to cooperate much more effectively to provide European solutions to those problems,” he said. Though Italy keeps making headlines due to its financial sector, analysts have also warned on banking problems in Germany. These include the reliance on the shipping industry, which used to be a stable investment before the euro zone debt crisis. Other issues include the sheer number of banks in Germany with very little consolidation. There are approximately 2,400 separate banks with more than 45,000 branches throughout the country and over 700,000 employees, according to Commercial Banks Guide, an industry website.
As such, Padoan told CNBC that it is crucial to conclude the banking union – a project created in 2012 in response to the sovereign debt crisis that aims to have one single set of rules for all banks across the European Union. He told CNBC that so far the banking union hasn’t been fully implemented, not because of resistance from certain countries, but because of different national perspectives. “We are however making progress in one thing: That we are building trust among ourselves and we are also recognizing that we have to reconcile historically-driven different traditions in banking sectors and they have to merge into a new European banking culture,” Padoan said.
A referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro currency would be held only as a “last resort” if Rome does not win any fiscal concessions from the European Union, a senior lawmaker from the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement said on Sunday. Luigi Di Maio’s comments reflect a striking change of tone by some senior officials in the party in recent months as they have retreated from 5-Star’s original pledge. Seeking to reassure an audience of bankers and business leaders, Di Maio – widely tipped to be 5-Star’s candidate for prime minister at a general election due by next year – played down the referendum proposal, calling it a negotiating tool with the EU. “Austerity policies have not worked, on monetary policy we deserve the credit for triggering a debate… this is why we raised the issue of a referendum on the euro, as a bargaining tool, as a last resort and a way out in case Mediterranean countries are not listened to,” he said.
Two years ago the party gathered the signatures from the public needed to pave the way for a referendum that it said was vital to restore Italy’s fiscal and monetary sovereignty. But now, running neck-and-neck with the ruling Democratic Party (PD) in opinion polls and with the election in sight – scheduled to be held by May 2018 – it is hitting the brakes on the idea. This underlines the crucial challenge facing the party as it seeks to please some core supporters, while trying to shed its populist image and convince foreign capitals and financial markets that it can be trusted in office. [..] The party wants several changes to the euro zone’s economic rules to help its more sluggish economies, like Italy. These include stripping public investment from budget deficits under the EU’s Stability Pact and creating a European “bad bank” to deal with euro zone lenders’ bad loans.
“We are not against the European Union, we want to remain in the EU and discuss some of the rules that are suffocating and damaging our economy,” said Di Maio, who serves as deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. An opinion poll in La Stampa daily on Sunday had 24% of respondents saying Di Maio most deserved to run the country in the next five years, against 17% for former PD Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and 12% for center-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.
Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has said Turkey should categorically not become a member of the European Union in comments that are expected to further inflame tensions between the Nato allies. Speaking at a televised election debate with her rival, Martin Schulz, she said she would seek a joint EU position with other leaders to ensure Turkey never became a member. “The fact is clear that Turkey should not become a member of the EU,” she said after Mr Schulz said he would stop Turkey’s bid to join the EU if he was elected chancellor. “Apart from this, I’ll speak to my colleagues to see if we can reach a joint position on this so that we can end these accession talks,” she added.
[..] Her comments are likely to worsen already strained ties between the countries after Ms Merkel said Berlin should react decisively to Turkey’s detention of two more German citizens on political charges. It comes just weeks after German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told Turkey it will never become a member of the EU as long as it is governed by the current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “It is clear that in this state, Turkey will never become a member of the EU,” Mr Gabriel said. Mr Erdogan has urged German Turks to boycott Germany’s main parties in next month’s general election.
The astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson commented that ‘dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked the opposable thumbs and brainpower to build a space programme’ Yet although we now have the technological ability to leave Earth, scientists have found another stumbling block to colonising new worlds – our own immune system. Although it is said we are all made of ‘star stuff’ when it comes to travelling away from our home planet humans are far more vulnerable to the rigours of space than our interstellar origins might suggest. Billions of years of evolution has effectively backed mankind into a corner of the Solar System that it may be now be tricky to leave. A team of scientists from Russia and Canada analysed the effect of microgravity on the protein make-up in blood samples of 18 Russian cosmonauts who lived on the International Space Station for six months.
They found alarming changes to the immune system, suggesting that they would struggle to shake off even a minor virus, like the common cold. “The results showed that in weightlessness, the immune system acts like it does when the body is infected because the human body doesn’t know what to do and tries to turn on all possible defense systems,” said Professor Evgeny Nikolaev, of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology and theSkolkovo Institute of Science and Technology. The effects of spaceflight on the human body have been studied actively since the mid-20th century and it is widely known that microgravity influences metabolism, heat regulation, heart rhythm, muscle tone, bone density, the respiration system. Last year research from the US also found that astronauts who travelled into deep space on lunar missions were five times more likely to have died from cardiovascular disease than those who went into low orbit, or never left Earth.
Astronauts are fitter than the general population and have access to the best medical care, meaning that their health is usually better than the general population. Those of comparable age but who never flew, or only achieved low Earth orbit, had less than a one in 10 chance of death from cardiovascular disease. [..] To gain a deeper understanding of the changes in human physiology during space travel, the research team quantified concentrations of 125 proteins in the blood plasma of cosmonauts. Proteins change as the immune system alters and so can be used as a measure of how it is functioning. Blood was taken from the cosmonauts 30 days before they travelled to the ISS and then on their immediate return to Earth. They were also tested seven days after touchdown. Individual proteins were then counted using a mass spectrometer.
”When we examined the cosmonauts after their being in space for half a year, their immune system was weakened,” said Dr Irina Larina, the first author of the paper, a member of Laboratory of Ion and Molecular Physics of Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. “They were not protected from the simplest viruses. We need new measures of disorder prevention during a long flight.
Upbeat data helped send world shares to a fourth all-time high in less than a month on Thursday as Wall Street edged higher in anticipation of solid earnings, while crude oil gained on evidence of stronger demand in China. Stocks were buoyed in Asia and elsewhere a day after Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled a rise in interest rates would be less aggressive than some investors had expected. Sentiment was boosted after China reported upbeat data on exports and imports for June, the latest sign that the global growth is picking up a bit. That offset reports of higher production by key members of OPEC in a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), lifting oil prices.
The data pushed Asian shares up more than 1% and lifted MSCI’s 47-country gauge of global equity markets to a fresh record high with a gain of 0.29%. “Yesterday’s move was in response to Yellen comments that should inflation remain below the 2% target rate, the central bank will be less aggressive in their tightening program,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. “Today, the market is saying that’s old news and let’s focus on the matter at hand, which is earnings that will be coming out in earnest this week,” Stovall said. U.S. shares rose in anticipation second-quarter earnings will grow 7.8% for S&P 500 companies, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Britain’s public finances are in worse shape to withstand a recession than they were on the eve of the 2007 financial crash a decade ago and face the twin threat of a fresh downturn and Brexit, the Treasury’s independent forecaster has warned. The Office for Budget Responsibility – the UK’s fiscal watchdog – said another recession was inevitable at some point and that Theresa May’s failure to win a parliamentary majority in last month’s election left the public finances more vulnerable to being blown off course than they were in 2007. In its first in-depth analysis of the fiscal risks facing Britain, the OBR said its main message was clear: “Governments should expect nasty fiscal surprises from time to time – because policy can only reduce risks, not eliminate them – and plan accordingly.
“And they have to do so in the context of ongoing pressures that are likely to weigh on receipts and drive up spending and a variety of risks that governments choose to expose themselves to for policy reasons. This is true for any government, but this one also has to manage the uncertainties posed by Brexit, which could influence the likelihood or impact of other risks.” The OBR said the size of the UK’s Brexit divorce bill – currently a matter of dispute between London and Brussels – would have little impact on the public finances. But it noted that even a small fall in Britain’s underlying growth rate after departure from the EU would lead to a big increase in the country’s debt burden.
If a knock to trade with the rest of Europe caused productivity to slip by just 0.1 percentage points over the next 50 years, tax receipts would be £36bn lower. With spending growth left unchanged, the debt-to-GDP ratio would end up around 50 percentage points higher, the OBR added. The campaign group Open Britain said the OBR’s report showed “a hard Brexit poses a real threat to our economy. People voted for £350m a week for the NHS, not a £36bn black hole in the public finances that could mean severe cuts to the NHS”.
The IMF said on Thursday that while Canada’s economy has regained momentum, housing imbalances have increased and uncertainty surrounding trade negotiations with the United States could hurt the recovery. The report, written before the central bank raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday to 0.75%, also said the Bank of Canada’s current monetary policy stance is appropriate, and it cautioned against tightening. “While the output gap has started to close, monetary policy should stay accommodative until signs of durable growth and higher inflation emerge,” it said, adding that rate hikes should be “approached cautiously.” Cheng Hoon Lim, IMF mission chief for Canada, later clarified that even with Wednesday’s rate hike, monetary policy remains “appropriately accommodative.”
“The Bank of Canada’s increase of the policy rate reflects encouraging economic data over the past few months. We welcome the good news on the economy,” Lim said in an emailed statement. “Given the considerable uncertainty around the growth and inflation outlook, the Bank should continue to take a cautious approach in further adjusting the monetary policy stance,” she added. In a statement following its annual policy review with Canada, the IMF cautioned that risks to Canada’s outlook are significant – particularly the danger of a sharp correction in the housing market, a further decline in oil prices, or U.S. protectionism. It said financial stability risks could emerge if the housing correction is accompanied by a recession, but said stress tests have shown Canadian banks could withstand a “significant loss” on their uninsured residential mortgage portfolio, in part because of high capital position.
House prices in Toronto and Vancouver have more than doubled since 2009 and the boom has fueled record household debt, a vulnerability that has also been noted by the Bank of Canada. “The main risk on the domestic side is a sharp correction in the housing market that impairs bank balance sheets, triggers negative feedback loops in the economy, and increases contingent claims on the government,” the Fund said. The Fund also warned U.S. protectionism could hurt Canada, laying out a scenario for higher tariffs that could come with the renegotiation of NAFTA. If the United States raises the average tariff on imports from Canada by 2.1 percentage points and there is no retaliation from Canada, there would be a short-term impact on real GDP of about 0.4%.
Recall that as we showed first all the way back in 2011, the total cash on the books of commercial banks with operations in the US tracks the Fed’s excess reserves almost dollar for dollar. More importantly, the number is broken down by small and large domestic banks, as well as international banks. It is the last number that is of biggest interest, because now that Congress is finally scrutinizing the $4.5 trillion elephant in the room, i.e., the Fed’s balance sheet, it may be interested to know that approximately 40%, or $838 billion as of the latest weekly data, in reserves parked at the Fed belongs to foreign banks.
While we will reserve judgment, and merely point out that of the $100 or so billion in dividends and buybacks announced by US banks after the latest stress test a substantial amount comes directly courtesy of the Fed – cash that ultimately ends up in shareholders’ pockets – we will note that the interest the Fed pays to foreign banks operating in the US who have parked reserves at the Fed, amounts to $10.4 billion annualized as of this moment. This is a subsidy from the Fed, supposedly an institution that exists for the benefit of the US population, going directly and without any frictions to foreign banks, who – just like in the US – then proceed to dividend and buybacks these funds, “returning” them to their own shareholders, most of whom are foreign individuals.
While the number appears modest, it is poised to grow substantially as the Fed Funds rate is expected to keep growing, ultimately hitting 3.0% according to the Fed. Indicatively, assuming excess reserves remain unchanged for the next 2-3 years and rates rise to 3.0%, that would imply a total annual subsidy to commercial banks amounting to $65 billion, of which $25 billion would go to foreign banks every year. We wonder if this is the main reason why the Fed is so desperate to trim its balance sheet as it hikes rates, as sooner or later, someone in Congress will figure this out.
Unbeknownst to unassuming corporate bond holders, they too will soon be forced into the slow lane. For the moment, the vast majority fancy themselves that equally exasperating driver who won’t get out of the fast lane, determined to bully their way to their damned destination. As for the perils of tailgating, they’re for the other guy, the less agile driver with rubbery reflexes. That’s all good and well and has been for many years. Bond market fender benders are nearly nonexistent. The question is: Will central bankers worldwide turn placid parkways into highways to hell as they ‘remove accommodation,’ to borrow from their gently genteel jargon? That’s certainly one way to interpret Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen’s latest promise to shrink the balance sheet ‘appreciably.’
Care for a translation? How easily does “Aggressive Quantitative Tightening” roll off the tongue? Perhaps you’ve just bitten yours instead. Enter the International Monetary Fund (IMF), The Institute of International Finance (IIF), The Bank of International Settlements (BIS), and by the way, the Emerging Markets complex including and especially China. As a former central banker, it is with embarrassing ease yours truly can bandy about fantastic figures. No surprise that nary an eyebrow was raised at the latest figures out of the IIF that aggregate global debt is closing in on $220 trillion, as touched on last week. Consider that to be the broad backdrop. Now, narrow in on the IMF’s concerns that financial stability could be rocked by a rumble in US corporate debt markets.
Using firms’ capacity to service their debts from current earnings as a simple and elegant yard stick, the report warned that one in ten firms are failing outright. The last two years of levering up have exacted rapid damage: earnings have fallen to less than six times interest expense, this during an era of unprecedented low interest rates. And as record non-financial debt as a percentage of GDP quickly approaches 50%, the share of income required to service this mountain is at a seven-year high. Should financial conditions tighten (the report was published in April prior to the Fed’s June rate hike), one-in-five firms are likely to default, which rises to 22% if rates continue to rise.
“..The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border..”
Turkey has agreed to pay $2.5 billion to acquire Russia’s most advanced missile defense system, a senior Turkish official said, in a deal that signals a turn away from the NATO military alliance that has anchored Turkey to the West for more than six decades. The preliminary agreement sees Turkey receiving two S-400 missile batteries from Russia within the next year, and then producing another two inside Turkey, according to the Turkish official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokesman for Russia’s arms-export company Rosoboronexport OJSC said he couldn’t immediately comment on details of a deal with Turkey. Turkey has reached the point of an agreement on a missile defense system before, only to scupper the deal later amid protests and condemnation from NATO.
Under pressure from the U.S., Turkey gave up an earlier plan to buy a similar missile-defense system from a state-run Chinese company, which had been sanctioned by the U.S. for alleged missile sales to Iran. Turkey has been in NATO since the early years of the Cold War, playing a key role as a frontline state bordering the Soviet Union. But ties with fellow members have been strained in recent years, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pursuing a more assertive and independent foreign policy as conflict engulfed neighboring Iraq and Syria. Tensions with the U.S. mounted over U.S. support for Kurdish militants in Syria that Turkey considers terrorists, and the relationship with the European Union soured as the bloc pushed back against what it sees as Turkey’s increasingly autocratic turn.
Last month, Germany decided to withdraw from the main NATO base in Turkey, Incirlik, after Turkey refused to allow German lawmakers to visit troops there. The missile deal with Russia “is a clear sign that Turkey is disappointed in the U.S. and Europe,” said Konstantin Makienko, an analyst at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow think-tank. “But until the advance is paid and the assembly begins, we can’t be sure of anything.” The Russian system would not be compatible with other NATO defense systems, but also wouldn’t be subject to the same constraints imposed by the alliance, which prevents Turkey from deploying such systems on the Armenian border, Aegean coast or Greek border, the official said. The Russian deal would allow Turkey to deploy the missile defense systems anywhere in the country, the official said.
[..] The official said the systems delivered to Turkey would not have a friend-or-foe identification system, which means they could be deployed against any threat without restriction.
The scale of Turkey’s crackdown on alleged government opponents following last year’s attempted coup was confirmed by a top official, as the nation prepares to mark the anniversary of the failed putsch amid deepening concern over the rule of law. Authorities have fired 103,824 state employees and suspended 33,483 more since the July 15 bid to seize power by a section of the military, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in an interview. The purge of suspected followers of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by the government of orchestrating the coup attempt, is necessary to ensure national security, he said. ustice Ministry data showed 50,546 suspected members of Gulen’s organization were in prison on July 3, and that arrest warrants had been issued for 8,000 others. The preacher denies involvement in the takeover attempt.
“There might be crypto members of Feto who walk on the snow without leaving tracks,” Kurtulmus said, using an abbreviation of Gulen’s first name that officials have adopted since the defeated military power grab to refer to his movement. “Related agencies are carefully conducting their work against this possibility.” Just this week, Erdogan rebuffed criticism over the detention of a group of international rights activists, including the director of Amnesty International Turkey, as they held a workshop on an island off Istanbul. “They gathered as if they were holding a meeting to continue July 15,” the president said. Amnesty criticized Turkey on Tuesday after the detentions were extended by seven days. “It is truly absurd that they are under investigation for membership of an armed terrorist organization,” Amnesty Europe Director John Dalhuisen said in an email. “For them to be entering a second week in police cells is a shocking indictment of the ruthless treatment of those who attempt to stand up for human rights in Turkey.”
A group of cigarette company executives stood in the lobby of a drab convention center near New Delhi last November. They were waiting for credentials to enter the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty conference, one designed to curb smoking and combat the influence of the cigarette industry. Treaty officials didn’t want them there. But still, among those lined up hoping to get in were executives from Japan Tobacco International and British American Tobacco Plc. There was a big name missing from the group: Philip Morris International Inc. A Philip Morris representative later told Reuters its employees didn’t turn up because the company knew it wasn’t welcome. In fact, executives from the largest publicly traded tobacco firm had flown in from around the world to New Delhi for the anti-tobacco meeting.
Unknown to treaty organizers, they were staying at a hotel an hour from the convention center, working from an operations room there. Philip Morris International would soon be holding secret meetings with delegates from the government of Vietnam and other treaty members. The object of these clandestine activities: the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or FCTC, a treaty aimed at reducing smoking globally. Reuters has found that Philip Morris International is running a secretive campaign to block or weaken treaty provisions that save millions of lives by curbing tobacco use. [..] Confidential company documents and interviews with current and former Philip Morris employees reveal an offensive that stretches from the Americas to Africa to Asia, from hardscrabble tobacco fields to the halls of political power, in what may be one of the broadest corporate lobbying efforts in existence.
It was only a few decades ago that globalisation was held by many, even by some critics, to be an inevitable, unstoppable force. “Rejecting globalisation,” the American journalist George Packer has written, “was like rejecting the sunrise.” Globalisation could take place in services, capital and ideas, making it a notoriously imprecise term; but what it meant most often was making it cheaper to trade across borders – something that seemed to many at the time to be an unquestionable good. In practice, this often meant that industry would move from rich countries, where labour was expensive, to poor countries, where labour was cheaper. People in the rich countries would either have to accept lower wages to compete, or lose their jobs. But no matter what, the goods they formerly produced would now be imported, and be even cheaper.
And the unemployed could get new, higher-skilled jobs (if they got the requisite training). Mainstream economists and politicians upheld the consensus about the merits of globalisation, with little concern that there might be political consequences. Back then, economists could calmly chalk up anti-globalisation sentiment to a marginal group of delusional protesters, or disgruntled stragglers still toiling uselessly in “sunset industries”. These days, as sizable constituencies have voted in country after country for anti-free-trade policies, or candidates that promise to limit them, the old self-assurance is gone. Millions have rejected, with uncertain results, the punishing logic that globalisation could not be stopped. The backlash has swelled a wave of soul-searching among economists, one that had already begun to roll ashore with the financial crisis. How did they fail to foresee the repercussions?
Radioactive tritium, said to pose little risk to human health, will be released from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex into the sea, according to a top official of the plant operator. “The decision has already been made,” Takashi Kawamura, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Company, said in a recent interview with media outlets, referring to the discharge of tritium, which remains in filtered water even after highly toxic radioactive materials are removed from water used to cool the damaged reactors at the plant. At other nuclear power plants, tritium-containing water has routinely been released into the sea after it is diluted. But the move by Tepco has prompted worries among local fishermen about the potential ramifications for their livelihood as public perceptions about fish and other marine products caught off Fukushima could worsen.
They are the first public remarks by the utility’s management on the matter, as Tepco continues its cleanup of toxic water and tanks containing it continue to fill the premises of the plant, where three reactors suffered meltdowns after tsunami flooded the complex in March 2011 following a massive earthquake. Kawamura’s comments came at a time when a government panel is still debating how to deal with tritium-containing water at the Fukushima plant, including whether to dump it into sea. Saying its next move is contingent on the panel’s decision, Kawamura indicated in the interview that Tepco will wait for a decision by the government before it actually starts releasing the water into sea. “We cannot keep going if we do not have the support of the state” as well as Fukushima Prefecture and other stakeholders, he said.
Italians living below the level of absolute poverty almost tripled over the last decade as the country went through a double-dip, record-long recession. The absolute poor, or those unable to purchase a basket of necessary goods and services, reached 4.7 million last year, up from almost 1.7 million in 2006, national statistics agency Istat said Thursday. That is 7.9% of the population, with many of them concentrated in the nation’s southern regions. As Italy went through its deepest, and then its longest, recession since World War II between 2008 and 2013, more than a quarter of the nation’s industrial production was wiped out. Over the same period unemployment also rose, with the rate rising to as high as 13% in 2014 from a low of 5.7% in 2007. Joblessness was at 11.3% at last check in May.
For decades, Italy has grappled with a low fertility rate – just 1.35 children per woman compared with a 1.58 average across the 28-nation EU as of 2015, the last year for which comparable data are available. “The poverty report shows how it is pointless to wonder why there are fewer newborn in Italy,” said Gigi De Palo, head of Italy’s Forum of Family Associations. “Making a child means becoming poor, it seems like in Italy children are not seen as a common good.” The number of absolute poor rose last year in the younger-age classes, reaching 10% in the group of those between 18 and 34 years old. It fell among seniors to 3.8% in the age group of 65 and older, the Istat report also showed.
Earlier this year, the Rome-based parliament approved a new anti-poverty tool called inclusion income that is replacing existing income-support measures. It will benefit 400,000 households, for a total of 1.7 million people, Il Sole 24 Ore daily reported, citing parliamentary documents. The program will be funded with resources of around €2 billion ($2.3 billion) this year which should rise to nearly €2.2 billion in 2018, Sole also said
According to a recent study, the average total household debt in America is just over $132,500, broken down as per the chart below… and thanks to the Fed’s recent and ongoing rate increases, the repayment of said debt will become increasingly more difficult. So difficult, in fact, that most Americans will be saddled with a sizable chunk of it at the time of their death. Actually, most already are. According to December 2016 data from credit bureau Experian provided to credit.com, 73% of American consumers had outstanding debt when they were reported as dead. Those consumers carried an average total balance of $61,554, including mortgage debt. Without home loans, the average balance was $12,875. As credit.com reports, the data is based on Experian’s FileOne database, which includes 220 million consumers.
To determine the average debt people have when they die, Experian looked at consumers who, as of October 2016, were not deceased, but then showed as deceased as of December 2016. Among the 73% of consumers who had debt when they died, about 68% had credit card balances. The next most common kind of debt was mortgage debt (37%), followed by auto loans (25%), personal loans (12%) and student loans (6%). The breakdown of unpaid balances was as follows: credit cards, $4,531; auto loans, $17,111; personal loans, $14,793; and student loans, $25,391. And, as a reminder, debt doesn’t just disappear when someone dies.
What happens to that debt when you die, aside from it continuing to accrue interest until someone remembers to inform the creditors? “Debt belongs to the deceased person or that person’s estate,” said Darra L. Rayndon, an estate planning attorney with Clark Hill in Scottsdale, Arizona. If someone has enough assets to cover their debts, the creditors get paid, and beneficiaries receive whatever remains. But if there aren’t enough assets to satisfy debts, creditors lose out (they may get some, but not all, of what they’re owed). Family members do not then become responsible for the debt, as some people worry they might. That’s the general idea, but things are not always that straightforward. The type of debt you have, where you live and the value of your estate significantly affects the complexity of the situation. For example, federal student loan debt is eligible for cancellation upon a borrower’s death, but private student loan companies tend not to offer the same benefit. They can go after the borrower’s estate for payment.
The 34 largest U.S. banks have all cleared the first stage of an annual stress test, showing they would be able to maintain enough capital in an extreme recession to meet regulatory requirements, the Federal Reserve said on Thursday. Although the banks, including household names like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, would suffer $383 billion in loan losses in the Fed’s most severe scenario, their level of high-quality capital would be substantially higher than the threshold that regulators demand, and an improvement over last year’s level. “This year’s results show that, even during a severe recession, our large banks would remain well capitalized,” said Fed Governor Jerome Powell, who leads banking regulation for the central bank. “This would allow them to lend throughout the economic cycle, and support households and businesses when times are tough.”
The Fed introduced the stress tests in the wake of the financial crisis to ensure the health of the banking industry, whose ability to lend is considered crucial to the health of the economy. Since the first test was conducted in 2009, big banks have seen losses abate, loan portfolios improve and profits grow. The banks that now undergo the exam have also strengthened their balance sheets by adding more than $750 billion in top-notch capital, the Fed said. Banks and their investors have been hoping the improvements would prompt the Fed to allow them to use more capital for stock buybacks and dividends, especially as the Trump administration is seeking to relax financial regulations. Wall Street analysts and trade groups quickly cheered the results on Thursday, saying regulators should feel comfortable easing tough rules put in place since the financial crisis. “We see today’s…stress test results as a positive for Trump administration efforts to deregulate the banks,” said Jaret Seiberg, a policy analyst with Cowen & Co.
The comforting news in the results from the Federal Reserve’s annual stress test is that the largest 34 bank holding companies would all survive a recession. Based on this glorious accomplishment, the clamoring has already started for regulators to allow these banks to pay bigger dividends and to blow more money on share buybacks, and for these regulators to slash regulation on these banks and make their life easier and riskier in general. We don’t want these banks to survive a recession in too good a condition apparently. And it would likely be better for Wall Street anyway if banks could lever up with risks so that a few of them would get bailed out during the next recession. Let’s remember, for the Fed’s no-holds-barred bailout-year 2009, Wall Street executives and employees were doused with record bonuses.
The Fed’s bailouts were good for them. And it has been good for them ever since. The less comforting news in the stress test is that credit card debt – generally the most expensive and risky debt for consumers – has now moved to the top of the Fed’s worry list in the “severely adverse scenario” of the stress test. The projected losses for the 34 largest banks – not counting the losses at the 4,997 smaller banks – are expected to hit $100 billion, up nearly 9% from the stress test a year ago. The projected losses rose for several reasons, including that credit card balances have grown by 5.6% from a year ago to over $1 trillion. The delinquency rate has risen to 2.4%. The Fed is also blaming looser lending standards. Sharing the top spot on the Fed’s worry list in the “severely adverse scenario” are Commercial & Industrial loans, whose balances are over twice as large, at $2.1 trillion, but whose projected losses are also pegged at $100 billion. In total, the “severely adverse scenario” sees $493 billion in losses for these 34 banks:
Albert Edwards pwrites “Theft redux: the citizens will soon turn their rage towards Central Bankers.” The core of his argument is familiar: “While politics in the West reels from a decade of economic crisis and stagnation, asset prices continue to surge on the back of continued rapid growth in G3 QE. In an age of “radical uncertainty” how long will it be before angry citizens tire of blaming an impotent political system for their ills and turn on the main culprits for their poverty – unelected and virtually unaccountable central bankers? I expect central bank independence will be (and should be) the next casualty of the current political turmoil.” That’s just the beginning from Edwards, who appears to be getting increasingly angrier and more frustrated with a market that makes increasingly less sense: his fiery sermon continue with the following preview of the “inevitable catastrophe that lies ahead.”
“Evidence of the impact of monetary madness on assets prices is all around if we care to look. I read that a parking spot in Hong Kong was just sold for record HK$5.18 million ($664,200). What about the 3.5x oversubscribed 100 year Argentine government bond? Sure, everything has a market clearing price, even one of the most regular defaulters in history. But what concerned me most about the story was it was demand from investors (“reverse enquires”) that prompted the issue. Is it just me or can I hear echoes of the mechanics of the CDO crisis? But no one cares when the party is still raging and investors, drunk with the liquor of loose money, are blind to the inevitable catastrophe that lies ahead. There is a lot of anger out on the streets, as demonstrated most visibly in recent elections.
Even in France where investors feel comforted that a “moderate” has gained (absolute?) power, it is salutary to remember that the two establishment parties have just been decimated by a man who had never before stood for public office! This is perhaps even more radical than Trump’s anti-establishment victory under the Republican umbrella. The global political situation is incredibly fluid and unpredictable. While a furious electorate has turned its pent up anger on the establishment political parties, the target for their rage is misguided. I am not completely alone in thinking it is the unelected and virtually unaccountable central bankers who are primarily responsible for the poverty of working people and who will be ultimately held to account in the next crisis.
The number of families being declared homeless has rocketed by more a third since the Conservatives took power in 2010, analysis of new official statistics by The Independent has revealed. Between April 2016 and March 2017, 59,100 families were declared homeless by local authorities in England – a rise of 34% on the same period in 2010-11. The statistics paint a bleak picture of the UK housing crisis and the impact a lack of decent, affordable homes is having on thousands of families. There has been a 60% increase in the number of families being housed in insecure temporary accommodation. In particular, bed and breakfast-type hotels are increasingly being used to house families for long periods of time as local councils struggle to find them proper homes to live in.
There are now 77,240 families in England currently living in temporary accommodation – up from 48,240 just six years ago. Of these, almost fourth-fifths (78%) are families with children, meaning there are currently 120,500 children living in insecure, temporary homes. Of those being housed temporarily, 6,590 households are living in B&Bs, including 3,010 families with children. Almost half have been living in this type of accommodation, which often sees families crammed into one room and forced to share limited bathroom and cooking facilities with strangers, for more than six weeks. This is illegal under the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 2003, which banned local authorities from housing families with children in B&Bs for more than a six-week period.
Today, the High Court ruled that the benefits cap, one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies, is unlawful, because it amounts to illegal discrimination against single parents with small children. It’s likely that the Government will be forced to alter or completely scrap their benefits cap, a policy that limits the total amount a household can receive in benefits to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere in the UK. High Court judge Justice Collins described the benefit cap as causing “real damage” to single parent families and said “real misery is being caused to no good purpose”. This is the fundamental truth at the heart of Tory welfare policy – misery without progress or reason.
Welfare reform as part of the coalition government’s austerity measures has driven thousands more people into poverty and in many tragic cases, some deaths occurred after individuals were declared fit to work. Austerity was not inevitable. It was an ideologically-motivated programme designed to force the poorest and most vulnerable in our society to shoulder the burden of a financial crisis that they had less than nothing to do with creating. Four claimants brought this case to court. Two of them had been made homeless as a result of domestic violence, and were trying to work as many hours as possible while taking care of children under the age of two. Imagine fleeing an abusive partner, seeking support from a domestic violence service that’s had its funding brutally slashed by the Tory government, trying to work and look after a small child, then having your benefits cut, again by the Tory government.
The claimants are not alone. The benefits cap has inflicted a massive amount of suffering, with 200,000 children from the very lowest income families affected, as their parents’ income has fallen drastically. In real terms, this means that these children’s lives have become even more difficult, and they weren’t easy to begin with. This means a colder house, less food to eat, more shame at school due to unwashed clothes, uniforms that are too small, worn-through shoes. It means stressed, unhappy and increasingly desperate parents, and in family, children can’t fail to pick up on this mood of misery. [..] In this wealthy, highly developed country, poverty is the single biggest threat to the wellbeing of children and families. Poverty affects a quarter of all children in Britain, a massive, disgraceful, inexcusable proportion. one in five parents are struggling to feed their children, and 50% of all parents living in food poverty have gone without meals in order to give their children more to eat.
The number of properties bought by landlords has almost halved in a year after a tax and regulatory clampdown, prompting a leading banking body to downgrade its forecasts for buy-to-let lending in 2017 and 2018. The Council of Mortgage Lenders said buy to let had had a weak start to 2017, with lending falling faster than expected as landlords withdrew from the market in response to major tax changes and tighter lending rules. The data follows a series of recent surveys and indices suggesting the housing market is running out of steam. However, the crackdown on buy to let may have helped young people trying to get a foot on the property ladder. CML said house purchase activity was being driven predominantly by first-time buyers, with their numbers up 8% in the 12 months to April.
Buy-to-let homebuying activity was “nearly half what it was a year ago” and had averaged around 6,000 purchases a month over the last 12 months, said the body, which represents banks and building societies. The number of landlord purchases involving a mortgage was 5,300 in April this year. This compared with 10,300 in February 2016 and 11,800 in July 2015. As a result, the CML has cut its forecast for buy-to-let lending from £38bn being lent in both 2017 and 2018 to £35bn in 2017 and £33bn in 2018. The organisation warned against hitting landlords with any further changes to taxation and lending rules, saying the figures “re-emphasise the case for avoiding further changes to the tax and regulatory framework until the effect of these already in train have been properly assessed”.
For the first time ever, Canada’s private sector is racking up debt faster than any other of the world’s 22 advanced economies, putting the country at risk of serious economic consequences, according to new research by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. A new report authored by CCPA Senior Economist David Macdonald reveals that Canada added $1 trillion in private sector debt over the past five years ($2016), with the corporate sector responsible for the majority of it. Economies can become dependent on debt in order to fuel economic and asset price growth. With both rapid private debt accumulation and a high private debt-to-GDP ratio, even a small change in debt growth rates, brought on by changes in interest rates for instance, could have a devastating impact on the larger economy.
“Private sector debt growth is one of the best predictors of economic crisis, and Canada is now the only advanced economy squarely in the debt ‘danger zone’ of having high private sector debt that continues to rise rapidly,” Macdonald says. The report identifies several areas of concern:
• Canada has never before led the advanced economies in private debt growth;
• The last time Canada was close to leading the world in private debt growth was the early 1990s, just as housing prices plummeted and then stagnated for a decade;
• The country’s private debt-to-GDP ratio has risen by a fifth since 2011, from 182% to 218%. The US ratio currently stands at 152%;
• The $315 billion increase in household debt since 2011 ($2016) is almost entirely attributable to the rise in mortgage debt related to rapid home prices increases;
• Corporate debt is less well studied, and rose $671 billion since 2011 ($2016), accounting for two thirds of private debt accumulation over that time;
• Corporate debt was largely spent on mergers and acquisitions as well as real estate purchases, neither of which make the country more productive.
“Canada’s economy has become addicted to binging on ever more private sector debt, and weaning us off it should be our primary public policy concern,” adds Macdonald, who recommends further study of corporate debt and consideration of a housing speculators’ tax to further reign in mortgage debt increases.
Warren Buffett has become the lender of last resort for Home Capital. The billionaire investor agreed to buy shares at a deep discount and provide a fresh credit line for the Canadian mortgage company, tapping a formula he used to prop up lenders from Goldman Sachs to Bank of America. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. will buy a 38% stake for about C$400 million ($300 million) and provide a C$2 billion credit line with an interest rate of 9% to backstop the embattled Toronto-based lender, Home Capital said late Wednesday in a statement. The interest on the one-year loan would net Berkshire at least C$180 million if it’s fully tapped.
“While the terms of the new credit line with Berkshire Hathaway remain harsh, we believe the purpose of this loan is to motivate Home Capital’s management to bolster their own funding sources,” said Hugo Chan at Kingsferry Capital in Shanghai, which owns shares in Home Capital. “This again shows Mr. Buffett’s masterful capital allocation skills,” said Chan, citing his investment motto: “be greedy when others are fearful.” The financial backing from Buffett sent the stock higher Thursday, though it comes at a cost, in keeping with his past bailouts of financial firms. Buffett has buoyed some of the biggest U.S. corporations in times of trouble, including a combined $8 billion injection to prop up Goldman Sachs and General Electric when credit markets froze during the 2008 financial crisis.
In the Home Capital deal, Buffett’s firm agreed to pay an average price of C$10 a share, a 33% discount to Wednesday’s closing price of C$14.94. Berkshire would become the largest shareholder in Home Capital, which has a market value of about C$1 billion. Home Capital surged 27% to C$19 in Toronto on Thursday. That gives Buffett a 90% return on paper for the equity investment, assuming the deal goes through.
Merkel has expressed a willingness to go along with two central French demands — the appointment of a Eurozone finance minister and the creation of a common budget — as long as certain conditions are met. “We can of course think about a Eurozone budget as long as it’s clear that this is really strengthening structures and achieving sensible results,” she said. [..] Back on the table is a proposal to upgrade the grossly unaccountable Luxembourg-based European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a full-fledged European Monetary Fund. As we’ve noted before, creating a European Monetary Fund (EMF) would be an important statement of intent. If Europe’s core countries are truly set on taking the EU project to a whole new level, such as by pursuing the creation of an EU army, an EU border force (with full powers), fiscal union, and ultimately political union, some form of burden sharing will ultimately be necessary.
The establishment of a fully operational EMF could be an important move in that direction. The EMF would essentially act as a fiscal backdrop to the banking system, something the Eurozone has desperately needed ever since its creation. As Bruegel proposes, it would serve as a fiscal counterpart of the ECB to guarantee the financial stability of the euro area in the event of a sovereign or banking crisis, or a threat thereof — of which there are plenty these days, in particular emanating from Italy’s broken banking system. Naturally, the creation of an EMF would deal a further blow to the fading remnants of national sovereignty in Europe. But that’s a price that many (but certainly not all) of Europe’s elite is more than happy to pay; some would say that destroying national sovereignty was the ultimate goal of the EU all along.
In a survey of more than 10,000 EU citizens and 1,800 EU elites carried out by Chatham House, of the elites, 37% believe the EU should get more powers, 28% want to keep the status quo and 31% would prefer to return more powers to individual member countries. This enthusiasm for a more centralized, more powerful EU is not shared with equal enthusiasm by European citizens: 48% want powers returned to the individual member countries. Citizens, overall, do not feel they have benefited from European integration in the same way Europe’s elite does. Whereas 71% of elites report feeling they have gained something from the EU, the figure among the public is only 34%. Even more worrisome for national leaders, a clear majority of the public — 54% — feel that their country was a better place to live 20 years ago, before the euro existed.
Dear Mr. Stone: I have just finished watching all four episodes of The Putin Interviews. May I give you my critique? Overall, I felt that the series is Very Good but felt just short of Great. I will explain below what I feel could have made it Great. First, I want to tell you what I really loved about it. 1. You have an easy style. I felt as if Mr. Putin was at ease with you, and you with him. You have a warm command of the English language and can transmit your ideas into language in a very personable way — an art that is missing among so many American media people these days. I felt that you drew out a candid side of Putin, well, that is, as far as a man of his intellectual prowess and disciplined self-control will allow. 2. Best moment of the show: Sitting next to Vlad and watching Dr. Strangelove! Oh my goodness, most people would not even dream of adding such a thing to their bucket list.
3. I loved the walking tour of the President’s offices and the general background of the Kremlin architecture and decor. I pay attention to the daily, tweeted photos from the Kremlin’s official account. I have seen those desks and tables a million times in the photos. But now I have them all within a mental frame, thanks to your film. Question: I was burning to know why Vlad had a pair of scissors and multi-colored construction paper in the middle of his desk, did you happen to ask him, off-camera?
Where It Fell Short Mr. Stone, I hated that so much time was wasted talking about the contrived “Russia hacked the election” meme. Hillary might not know why she lost the election, but the rest of the nation does. When my father would get on a roll with his bad jokes, Mom would tell us kids: “Don’t encourage him.” Well, you too need to stop encouraging the MSM to keep breathing life into a dead meme.
You also wasted time re-hashing Crimea. “Read My Lips,” Vlad said, “the Crimeans ASKED, BEGGED, AND VOTED to rejoin Russia.” Good grief, when McCain’s and Nuland’s beloved neo-Nazi Svoboda party took illegal control of Ukraine, their first move was to try and make it illegal to speak Russian. Geez, half the people in Ukraine ARE Russian! Mr. Putin has exercised considerable restraint towards Ukraine.
Mr. Stone, I have been following the development of BRICS, the “Silk Road Project,” and the EEU (European Economic Union) for a half-decade now. I can’t have a conversation with my neighbors and friends about all of that here in America because not one of them has heard anything about it! You had a great opportunity to ask Mr. Putin to school us on the Sino-Russian version of a multi-polar world without war, but you totally blew it. I don’t think you ever asked Vlad about China, did you?
Four Arab states boycotting Qatar over alleged support for terrorism have sent Doha a list of 13 demands including closing Al Jazeera television and reducing ties to their regional adversary Iran, an official of one of the four countries said. The demands aimed at ending the worst Gulf Arab crisis in years appear designed to quash a two decade-old foreign policy in which Qatar has punched well above its weight, striding the stage as a peace broker, often in conflicts in Muslim lands. Doha’s independent-minded approach, including a dovish line on Iran and support for Islamist groups, in particular the Muslim Brotherhood, has incensed some of its neighbors who see political Islamism as a threat to their dynastic rule.
The list, compiled by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt and Bahrain, which cut economic, diplomatic and travel ties to Doha on June 5, also demands the closing of a Turkish military base in Qatar, the official told Reuters. Qatar must also announce it is severing ties with terrorist, ideological and sectarian organizations including the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State, al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Jabhat Fateh al Sham, formerly al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, he said, and surrender all designated terrorists on its territory, The four Arab countries accuse Qatar of funding terrorism, fomenting regional instability and cozying up to revolutionary theocracy Iran. Qatar has denied the accusations.
[..] on Monday, Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said Qatar would not negotiate with the four states unless they lifted their measures against Doha. The countries give Doha 10 days to comply, failing which the list becomes “void”, the official said without elaborating, suggesting the offer to end the dispute in return for the 13 steps would no longer be on the table.
Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into a secret network of prisons in southern Yemen where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the “grill,” in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire, an Associated Press investigation has found. Senior American defense officials acknowledged Wednesday that U.S. forces have been involved in interrogations of detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. Interrogating detainees who have been abused could violate international law, which prohibits complicity in torture. The AP documented at least 18 clandestine lockups across southern Yemen run by the United Arab Emirates or by Yemeni forces created and trained by the Gulf nation, drawing on accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.
All are either hidden or off limits to Yemen’s government, which has been getting Emirati help in its civil war with rebels over the last two years. The secret prisons are inside military bases, ports, an airport, private villas and even a nightclub. Some detainees have been flown to an Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemen Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others. Several U.S. defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the topic, told AP that American forces do participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen, provide questions for others to ask, and receive transcripts of interrogations from Emirati allies. They said U.S. senior military leaders were aware of allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen, looked into them, but were satisfied that there had not been any abuse when U.S. forces were present.
“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” said chief Defense Department spokeswoman Dana White when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.” In a statement to the AP, the UAE’s government denied the allegations. “There are no secret detention centers and no torture of prisoners is done during interrogations.” Inside war-torn Yemen, however, lawyers and families say nearly 2,000 men have disappeared into the clandestine prisons, a number so high that it has triggered near-weekly protests among families seeking information about missing sons, brothers and fathers.
None of the dozens of people interviewed by AP contended that American interrogators were involved in the actual abuses. Nevertheless, obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture and could qualify as war crimes, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year