Aug 012016
 
 August 1, 2016  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 1 2016


Wyland Stanley Marmon touring car at Yosemite 1919

Abe’s Fiscal Plan Follows a Long Road of Packages That Failed (BBG)
China July Factory Activity Unexpectedly Dips (R.)
China’s Love Affair With U.S. Real Estate Fades (BBG)
For Social Security “Time’s Up – The Pain Must Begin Now” (CH)
Impact Of Poverty Costs The UK £78 Billion A Year (G.)
Did Germany Just Blink? (DQ)
US Shale Producers Weather Oil Price Storm (AEP)
Growing Oil Glut Shows Investors There’s Nowhere to Go But Down (BBG)
Amid Britain Nuclear Debacle, China’s Xinhua Decries ‘Suspicion’ (R.)
Greece Eases Back On Capital Controls In Bid To Reverse Currency Flight (G.)
Building a Progressive International (YV)
India Rescues 10,000 Starving Workers In Saudi Arabia (Sky)

 

 

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Shinzo.

Abe’s Fiscal Plan Follows a Long Road of Packages That Failed (BBG)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “bold” plan to revive the economy with a $273 billion package leaves him traveling down a well-trod path: it marks the 26th dose of fiscal stimulus since the country’s epic markets crash in 1990, in a warning for its effectiveness. The nation has had extra budgets every year since at least 1993, and even with that extra spending, it has still had six recessions, an entrenched period of deflation, soaring debt and a rapidly aging population that has left the world’s third-largest economy still struggling to get off the floor. While some analysts say the latest round of spending may buy the economy time, few are convinced it will be enough to dramatically change the course.

First off, much of the 28 trillion yen announced by Abe last week won’t be spending, but lending. And if previous episodes are any guide, an initial sugar hit to markets and growth will quickly fade amid a realization that extra spending does little to cure the economy’s underlying problems. A Goldman Sachs study found that markets gave up their gains in the first month after the cabinet approved the stimulus in 18 of the 25 packages it studied since 1990. Skeptics of Abe’s latest plan aren’t hard to find. Instead of adding to a debt pile already more than twice the economy’s size, more should be done to tackle thorny structural problems such as a declining labor force and protected industries, according to Naoyuki Shinohara, a former Japanese finance ministry official.

“Looking at the history of the Japanese economy, there have been lots of fiscal stimulus packages,” according to Shinohara, who was a top official at the IMF until last year. “But the end result is that it didn’t have much impact on the potential growth rate.”

Read more …

A lot of seemingly contradictory reports today. Manufacturing PMI down, but services PMI up.

China July Factory Activity Unexpectedly Dips (R.)

Activity in China’s manufacturing sector eased unexpectedly in July as orders cooled and flooding disrupted business, an official survey showed, adding to fears the economy will slow in coming months unless the government steps up a huge spending spree. While a similar private survey showed business picked up for the first time in 17 months, the increase was only slight and the much larger official survey on Monday suggested China’s overall industrial activity remains sluggish at best. Both surveys showed persistently weak demand at home and abroad were forcing companies to continue to shed jobs, even as Beijing vows to shut more industrial overcapacity that could lead to larger layoffs.

And other readings on Monday pointed to signs of cooling in both the construction industry and real estate, which were key drivers behind better-than-expected economic growth in the second quarter. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) eased to 49.9 in July from the previous month’s 50.0 and below the 50-point mark that separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. While the July reading showed only a slight loss of momentum, Nomura’s chief China economist Yang Zhao said it may be a sign that the impact of stimulus measures earlier this year may already be wearing off. That has created a dilemma for Beijing as the Communist Party seeks to deliver on official targets, even as concerns grow about the risks of prolonged, debt-fueled stimulus.

“The government has realized the downward pressure is great but they’ve also realized that stimulus to stimulate the economy continuously is not a good idea and they want to continue to focus on reform and deleveraging,” Zhao said.

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Monopoly money running out.

China’s Love Affair With U.S. Real Estate Fades (BBG)

For David Wong, the business of selling homes isn’t as good this year as it was in 2015, and he’s blaming that on a decline in customers from China. “The residential-property market here, especially for those priced between $2.5 million to $3 million, has been affected by China’s measures to control capital flight,” said the New York City-based Keller Williams Realty Landmark broker. “You need to cut the price, or it may take a real long time.” Wong is not the only one who has felt the cooling in the U.S. real estate market for foreign buyers. Total sales to Chinese buyers in the 12 months through March fell for the first time since 2011, to $27.3 billion from $28.6 billion a year earlier, according to an annual research report released by the National Association of Realtors.

The number of properties purchased by Chinese also declined to 29,195 units from 34,327 units. While the total international sales saw its first decline in three years, the 1.25% pace is slower than 4.5% recorded for Chinese buying. In terms of U.S. dollar value, the total share of Chinese buying of international sales dropped from 27.5% to 26.7%. [..] The yuan began plummeting in August, driving the Chinese currency to a five-year low versus the U.S. dollar. The Chinese authorities have been compelled to increasingly tighten the noose on cross-border capital flows to defend the yuan and to slow down the burnout of the nation’s foreign-exchange reserves since then. This includes increasing scrutiny of transfers overseas, to closely check whether individuals send money abroad by breaking up foreign-currency purchases into smaller transactions.

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This is why I recently wrote that a basic income should replace old-age provisions.

For Social Security “Time’s Up – The Pain Must Begin Now” (CH)

In 2010, Social Security (OASDI) unofficially went bankrupt. For the first time since the enactment of the SS amendments of 1983, annual outlays for the program exceeded receipts (excluding interest credited to the trust funds). The deficit has grown every year since 2010 and is now up to 8% annually and is projected to be 31% in 2026 and 44% by ’46. The chart below highlights the OASDI annual surplus growth (blue columns) and total surplus (red line). This chart includes interest payments to the trust funds and thus looks a little better than the unvarnished reality. For a little perspective, the program pays more than 60 million beneficiaries (almost 1 in 5 Americans), OASDI (Old Age, Survivors, Disability Insurance) represents 25% of all annual federal spending, and for more than half of these beneficiaries these benefits represent their sole or primary source of income.

The good news is since SS’s inception in 1935, the program collected $2.9 trillion more than it paid out. The bad news is that the $2.9 trillion has already been spent. But by law, Social Security is allowed to pretend that the “trust fund” money is still there and continue paying out full benefits until that fictitious $2.9 trillion is burned through. To do this, the Treasury will issue another $2.9 trillion over the next 13 years to be sold as marketable debt so it may again be spent (just moving the liability from one side of the ledger, the Intergovernmental, to the other, public marketable). However, according to the CBO, Social Security will have burnt through the pretend trust fund money (that wasn’t there to begin with) by 2029.

Below, the annual OASDI surplus (in red) peaking in 2007, matched against the annual growth of the 25-64yr/old (in blue) and 65+yr/old (grey) populations. The impact of the collapse of the growth among the working age population and swelling elderly population is plain to see. And it will get far worse before it eventually gets better. [..] Americans turning 67 in 2030 will be told that after being mandated to pay their full share of SS taxation throughout their working lifetime, they will not see anything near their full benefits in their latter years. However, those in retirement now and those retiring between now and 2029 are being paid in full despite the shortfall in revenue. They will be paid in full until this arbitrary “trust fund” is theoretically drained.

I have no intention of funding, in full, current retirees benefits with my tax dollars only to know I will hit the finish line with a 30%+ reduction that will only worsen over time. My goal is to pay it forward to my kids and then do my best to never to be a burden to them. The SS (OASDI) benefits must be cut now to be in line with revenues. Raise taxes, lower benefits…your choice. But I’m not about to make the old whole so I can then subsequently see my generation go bankrupt in my latter years.

Read more …

Perfect fit for a basic income. But it won’t come. Austerity as controlled poverty is a power(ful) tool.

Impact Of Poverty Costs The UK £78 Billion A Year (G.)

Dealing with the effects of poverty costs the public purse £78bn a year, or £1,200 for every person in the UK, according to the first wide-ranging report into the impact of deprivation on Britain’s finances. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) estimates that the impact and cost of poverty accounts for £1 in every £5 spent on public services. The biggest chunk of the £78bn figure comes from treating health conditions associated with poverty, which amounts to £29bn, while the costs for schools and police are also significant. A further £9bn is linked to the cost of benefits and lost tax revenues. The research, carried out for JRF by Heriot-Watt and Loughborough universities, is designed to highlight the economic case, on top of the social arguments, for tackling poverty in the UK.

The prime minister, Theresa May, has made cutting inequality a central pledge. Julia Unwin, the chief executive of the foundation, said: “It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, so many people in our country are being held back by poverty. But poverty doesn’t just hold individuals back, it holds back our economy too. “Taking real action to tackle the causes of poverty would bring down the huge £78bn yearly cost of dealing with its effects, and mean more money to create better public services and support the economy. UK poverty is a problem that can be solved if government, businesses, employers and individuals work together.”

Read more …

“But did anyone tell you that Germany from 2009 onwards bailed out its failing banks with public money? Banks, that is, with holes in their balance sheets visible from the Moon.”

Did Germany Just Blink? (DQ)

Put simply, the EU is a half-way house with too much democracy and nothing in the way of transfer union. “There are too many moving parts in the electoral politics of 28 nation states, and too many conceivable random-like events that could push political and economic developments in one direction or another, with impossible-to-predict consequences and timelines,” the agency added. The perfect case in point is Italy’s banking crisis. If the country’s struggling banks are not saved with a combination of public and private money — a process that, to all intents and purposes, began on Friday with the announcement of Monte dei Paschi’s suspension of the ECB’s stress test as well as a €5 billion capital expansion later this year — the resulting carnage could unleash not only a tsunami of financial contagion but also an unstoppable groundswell of political opposition to the EU.

For a taste of just how disastrous the political fallout would be for Italy’s embattled premier, Matteo Renzi, here’s an excerpt from a furious tirade given by Italian financial journalist Paolo Barnard on prime-time TV, addressing Renzi directly:

“You went to meet Mrs. Merkel to ask for a minor public funded bail-out of Italian banks and you got a sharp NO. But did anyone tell you that Germany from 2009 onwards bailed out its failing banks with public money? “Banks, that is, with holes in their balance sheets visible from the Moon.

Germany bailed them out to the tune of €704 billion. It was all paid for by European taxpayers’ money, public funds that is. “It was done through the EU Commission of Mr Barroso and by Mr Mario Draghi at the ECB. Didn’t you know that Mr Renzi? Couldn’t you have barked this right into Ms Merkel’s face?”

Barnard rounded off his rant with a rallying call for Italians to follow the UK’s example and demand an exit from the EU — a prospect that should be taken very seriously given that one of the manifesto pledges of Italy’s rising opposition party, the 5-Star Movement, is to call a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro.

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Ambrose has religion. He believes!

US Shale Producers Weather Oil Price Storm (AEP)

Opec’s worst fears are coming true. Twenty months after Saudi Arabia took the fateful decision to flood world markets with oil, it has failed to break the back of the US shale industry. The Saudi-led Gulf states have certainly succeeded in killing off a string of global mega-projects in deep waters. Investment in upstream exploration from 2014 to 2020 will be $1.8 trillion less than previously assumed, according to consultants IHS. But this is an illusive victory. North America’s hydraulic frackers are cutting costs so fast that most can now produce at prices far below levels needed to fund the Saudi welfare state and its military machine, or to cover Opec budget deficits.

Scott Sheffield, the outgoing chief of Pioneer Natural Resources, threw down the gauntlet last week – with some poetic licence – claiming that his pre-tax production costs in the Permian Basin of West Texas have fallen to $2.25 a barrel. “Definitely we can compete with anything that Saudi Arabia has. We have the best rock,” he said. Revolutionary improvements in drilling technology and data analytics that have changed the cost calculus faster than most thought possible. The “decline rate” of production over the first four months of each well was 90pc a decade ago for US frackers. This dropped to 31pc in 2012. It is now 18pc. Drillers have learned how to extract more. Mr Sheffield said the Permian is as bountiful as the giant Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia and can expand from 2m to 5m barrels a day even if the price of oil never rises above $55.

His company has cut production costs by 26pc over the last year alone. Pioneer is now so efficient that it already adding five new rigs despite today’s depressed prices in the low $40s, and it is not alone. The Baker Hughes count of North America oil rigs has risen for seven out of the last eight weeks to 374, and this understates the effect. Multi-pad drilling means that three wells are now routinely drilled from the same rig, and sometimes six or more. Average well productivity has risen fivefold in the Permian since early 2012. Consultants Wood Mackenzie estimated in a recent report that full-cycle break-even costs have fallen to $37 at Wolfcamp and Bone Spring in the Permian, and to $35 in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province. The majority of US shale fields are now viable at $60.

Read more …

Once again: demand.

Growing Oil Glut Shows Investors There’s Nowhere to Go But Down (BBG)

Money managers have never been more certain that oil prices will drop. They increased bets on falling crude by the most ever as stockpiles climbed to the highest seasonal levels in at least two decades, nudging prices toward a bear market. The excess supply hammered the second-quarter earnings of Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Inventories are near the 97-year high reached in April as oil drillers boosted rigs for a fifth consecutive week. “The rise in supplies will add more downward pressure,” said Michael Corcelli, chief investment officer at Alexander Alternative Capital, a Miami-based hedge fund. “It will be a long time before we can drain the excess.”

Hedge funds pushed up their short position in West Texas Intermediate crude by 38,897 futures and options combined during the week ended July 26, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. It was the biggest increase in data going back to 2006. WTI dropped 3.9% to $42.92 a barrel in the report week, and traded at $41.75 at 12:20 p.m. Singapore time. WTI fell by 14% in July, the biggest monthly decline in a year. It’s down by 19% since early June, bringing it close to the 20% drop that would characterize a bear market.

U.S. crude supplies rose by 1.67 million barrels to 521.1 million in the week ended July 22, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. Stockpiles reached 543.4 million barrels in the week ended April 29, the highest since 1929. Gasoline inventories expanded for a third week to 241.5 million barrels, the most since April. “The flow is solidly bearish,” said Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York. “It reflects a recognition that the market is, at least for the time being, oversupplied.”

Read more …

Hinkley Point is about the worst British plan ever, and that’s saying something.

Amid Britain Nuclear Debacle, China’s Xinhua Decries ‘Suspicion’ (R.)

China will not tolerate “unwanted accusations” about its investments in Britain, a country that cannot risk driving away other Chinese investors as it looks for post-Brexit trade deals, China’s official Xinhua news agency said on Monday. British Prime Minister Theresa May was concerned about the security implications of a planned Chinese investment in the Hinkley Point nuclear plant and intervened to delay the project, a former colleague and a source said on Saturday.The plan by France’s EDF to build two reactors with financial backing from a Chinese state-owned company was championed by May’s predecessor David Cameron as a sign of Britain’s openness to foreign investment.

But just hours before a signing ceremony was due to take place on Friday, May’s new government said it would review the project again, raising concern that Britain’s approach to infrastructure deals, energy supply and foreign investment may be changing. China General Nuclear Power, which would hold a stake of about a third in the project, said on Saturday it respected the decision of the new British government to take the time needed to familiarise itself with the program. Xinhua, in an English-language commentary, said China understood and respected Britain’s requirement for more time to think about the deal. “However, what China cannot understand is the ‘suspicious approach’ that comes from nowhere to Chinese investment in making the postponement,” it said.

The project will create thousands of jobs and create much needed energy following the closure of coal-fired power plants, Xinhua added, dismissing fears China would put “back-doors” into the project. “For a kingdom striving to pull itself out of the Brexit aftermath, openness is the key way out,” it said.

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But please don’t think this means problems are over.

Greece Eases Back On Capital Controls In Bid To Reverse Currency Flight (G.)

More than a year after they were imposed, capital controls in Greece will be substantially eased on Monday in a bid to lure back billions of euros spirited out of the country, or stuffed under mattresses, at the height of the eurozone crisis. The relaxation of restrictions, whose announcement sent shockwaves through markets and the single currency, is aimed squarely at boosting banking confidence in the eurozone’s weakest member. The Greek finance ministry estimates around €3bn-€4bn could soon be returned to a system depleted of more than €30bn in deposits in the run-up to Athens sealing a third bailout to save it from economic collapse last summer.

“The objective is to re-attract money back to the banking system which in turn will create more confidence in it,” said Prof George Pagoulatos who teaches European politics and economy at Athens University. “And there are several billion that can be returned. People just need to feel safe.” As such the loosening of measures initially seen as an aberration in the 19-strong bloc is being viewed as a test case: of the faith Greeks have in economic recovery and the ability of their leftist-led government to oversee it. New deposits will not be subject to capital controls; limits on withdrawals of money brought in from abroad will also be higher; and ATM withdrawals will be raised to €840 every two weeks in a reversal of the policy that allowed depositors to take out no more than €420 every week.

[..] From 2008, the year before the country’s debt crisis erupted, until the end of 2015, an estimated 244,700 small- and medium-sized businesses have closed with many more expected to declare bankruptcy this year. The latest move, which follows easing of transactions abroad, is directed at small entrepreneurs, for years the lifeline of the Greek economy, and individual depositors. But while economists are calling the easing of restrictions a significant step to normalisation, Greek finances are far from repaired. Challenges for the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, are expected to peak – along with social discontent – in the autumn when his fragile two-party coalition is forced to meet more milestones and creditor demands, starting with the potentially explosive issue of labour reform. Further disbursement of aid – €2.8bn – will depend exclusively on the painful measures being passed.

Read more …

The Great Deflation.

Building a Progressive International (YV)

Politics in the advanced economies of the West is in the throes of a political shakeup unseen since the 1930s. The Great Deflation now gripping both sides of the Atlantic is reviving political forces that had lain dormant since the end of World War II. Passion is returning to politics, but not in the manner many of us had hoped it would. The right has become animated by an anti-establishment fervor that was, until recently, the preserve of the left. In the United States, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, is taking Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, to task – quite credibly – for her close ties to Wall Street, eagerness to invade foreign lands, and readiness to embrace free-trade agreements that have undermined millions of workers’ living standards.

In the United Kingdom, Brexit has cast ardent Thatcherites in the role of enthusiastic defenders of the National Health Service. This shift is not unprecedented. The populist right has traditionally adopted quasi-leftist rhetoric in times of deflation. Anyone who can stomach revisiting the speeches of leading fascists and Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s will find appeals – Benito Mussolini’s paeans to social security or Joseph Goebbels’ stinging criticism of the financial sector – that seem, at first glance, indistinguishable from progressive goals.
What we are experiencing today is the natural repercussion of the implosion of centrist politics, owing to a crisis of global capitalism in which a financial crash led to a Great Recession and then to today’s Great Deflation.

The right is simply repeating its old trick of drawing upon the righteous anger and frustrated aspirations of the victims to advance its own repugnant agenda. It all began with the death of the international monetary system established at Bretton Woods in 1944, which had forged a post-war political consensus based on a “mixed” economy, limits on inequality, and strong financial regulation. That “golden era” ended with the so-called Nixon shock in 1971, when America lost the surpluses that, recycled internationally, kept global capitalism stable.

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What a crazy story.

India Rescues 10,000 Starving Workers In Saudi Arabia (Sky)

The Indian government has come to the rescue of more than 10,000 of their starving citizens in Saudi Arabia. Some 16,000 kg of food was distributed on Saturday night by the consulate to penniless workers who’ve lost their jobs and not been paid. The issue came to light when a man tweeted India’s foreign minister Sushma Swaraj saying around 800 Indians had not eaten for three days in Jeddah, asking her to intervene. Investigations found that there were thousands starving across Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Ms Swaraj instructed the consulate to make sure no unemployed worker is to go without food, and is said to have monitored the situation on an hourly basis.

She tweeted: “Large number of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages, closed down their factories. “The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand.” Many workers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been living in inhumane conditions after losing their jobs. Hundreds have been laid off without being paid their wages. Indian newspapers reported that one firm – the Saudi Oger company – did not pay wages for seven months. Of its 50,000 employees, 4,000 were Indians. India’s Consul General Mohammad Noor Rehman Sheikh, told a news agency: “For the last seven months these Indian workers of Saudi Oger were not getting their salaries and the company had also stopped providing food to these workers.”

[..] India’s junior foreign minister VK Singh has been tasked to travel to Saudi Arabia to put in place an evacuation process which is due to begin soon. He had successfully led the evacuation of a large number of Indians from war-torn Yemen and most recently from South Sudan. There are more than three million Indians living and working in Saudi Arabia and more than 800,000 in Kuwait. Falling oil prices have hit the economy of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Read more …

Feb 242016
 
 February 24, 2016  Posted by at 9:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »


Gordon Parks Harlem, New York 1943

Fantasy and Magic: A New Central Bank Approach (WSJ)
Draghi Has Two Weeks To Pull Another Rabbit Out Of The Bag (BBG)
Investors Fear Central Bank Policy Errors (FT)
China Adds To The World’s Most Dangerous Debt Pile (BBG)
How Long Before The Cracks Show In China’s Great Currency Wall? (Reuters)
Capital Controls In China A Possibility (CNBC)
World Bank’s Kim Sees Little Chance of G-20 Action (BBG)
Europe’s Banking Model Is Still Broken (BBG)
US Banks To Cut Credit Lines For Energy Firms (Reuters)
Banks Have More to Fear Than Boris (BBG)
The Australian Housing Bubble Is Out Of Control (SMH)
Portugal Adopts Anti-Austerity Budget Despite Concerns (AFP-PTI)
Czech Republic ‘Will Follow Britain Out Of EU’ (Telegraph)
NATO’s New Migrant Mission In The Aegean Is A Victory For Turkey (EI)
Refugee Flows To Europe Already Top 110,000 So Far In 2016 (Reuters)
Italy’s Navy Rescues 700 Refugees From Six Boats, 4 Found Dead (Reuters)
Refugee Pressure Piles Up On Greece (Kath.)
Greek Migration Crisis Enters Worst-Case Scenario (EUO)

Well, new…

Fantasy and Magic: A New Central Bank Approach (WSJ)

“You may call it ‘nonsense’ if you like, but I’ve heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary,” says the Red Queen in “Through The Looking-Glass.” Central banks have gone down the rabbit hole. Starting with record low interest rates, then purchases of government bonds and mortgage bonds, ultra-accommodative policy progressed in Japan to buying real-estate investment trusts and equity funds. With negative rates, central bankers have now managed what was believed all but impossible: breaching the “zero lower bound.” In the looking-glass world of modern central banking, almost nothing is taboo, with even the abolition of cash discussed seriously by top monetary wonks.

One idea not yet considered: the Bank of Japan should print money to buy oil. It sounds beyond nonsense. But with central bankers believing six impossible things before breakfast, it no longer seems inconceivable, which is informative in itself. Consider the BOJ’s problem. The central bank is creating ¥80 trillion ($700 billion) a year to buy mainly government bonds, one of the biggest programs of money printing in history. It already owns almost a third of the bond market, nearly 2% of equities and about half of exchange-traded funds by value. Nonetheless, Japanese inflation remains quiescent. The yen has been strengthening despite the negative rates introduced last month, making it even harder to push prices up toward the BOJ’s 2% target.

There have been hints that the BOJ will do more next month, although Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda on Tuesday cast doubt on whether printing money alone would achieve the goal. The obvious alternative is to take rates much more negative, possibly in conjunction with more asset purchases and higher government spending. Yet, negative rates have unpleasant side-effects, hurting banks, while bond supply may be limited. Nomura estimates that over the next three years only ¥236 trillion of bonds could be available to buy because banks and insurance companies are reluctant to sell many of their holdings—making it hard to ramp up purchases further. HSBC says that in a worst-case scenario the BOJ would have trouble filling its monthly purchases later on this year.

These estimates may be overly pessimistic. If not, the obvious alternative of buying foreign assets is challenging. Direct currency manipulation is a diplomatic no-no nowadays for such a big country as Japan, so buying U.S. Treasurys—similar to Swiss purchases of European bonds—is not realistic. There are more extreme options, such as direct financing of government spending, or abolishing bank notes so interest rates can go deeply negative. None is politically palatable. Compared with these, creating money to buy oil has several big advantages.

Read more …

More magic.

Draghi Has Two Weeks To Pull Another Rabbit Out Of The Bag (BBG)

Mario Draghi has two weeks left to decide how to ramp up stimulus in a way that doesn’t upset either his colleagues or investors. When ECB policy makers meet in Frankfurt from March 9-10, they’ll consider whether negative interest rates and 60 billion euros ($67 billion) a month of debt purchases is enough to revive consumer prices. With another rate cut priced in by markets, the biggest question mark hangs over how to customize quantitative easing. The ECB president has said there are no limits to how far policy makers will go within their mandate, yet sub-zero rates carry risks and expanding QE is easier said than done.

He’ll walk a fine line between convincing investors he can overcome the hurdles and avoiding the market disappointment that greeted the last adjustment in December. “It’ll be very challenging” to increase QE, said James Nixon at Oxford Economics, who doesn’t expect such a move just yet. “You’d have to sort of throw the rule book out. It might be quite interesting to see whether Draghi, as he tends to do when he’s confronted by these situations, pulls another rabbit out of the bag.”

[..] To ease the reliance on German debt, the ECB could eliminate the capital key that links buying to economic size. That would allow other countries with more outstanding debt, such as Italy, to buy a greater share. That strategy might make it look like the ECB is supporting nations that pursued riskier fiscal policies. Worse, it could draw accusations of monetary financing, which is banned under European Union law. “They chose the capital key for a reason,” said Peter Schaffrik at Royal Bank of Canada in London. “Do I think it would make sense to change that from a macroeconomic point of view? Absolutely. Do I think that’s the preferred measure and most easily adoptable within the council? I’m not so convinced.”

Allowing central banks to buy other nations’ public debt would also be a hard sell. It’s unlikely a country such as Germany would find it acceptable to buy riskier bonds from elsewhere. “You’ve really got to sort of put that in print, write it down, to realize how completely unworkable politically that would be,” Nixon said. “It’s just a complete non-starter.”

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“..China cannot simultaneously control its currency and its money supply growth and allow free flow of capital…”

Investors Fear Central Bank Policy Errors (FT)

Do investors think central banks can restore calm or is negative rate policy an error? Bear markets thrive on fear and uncertainty. Until a few weeks ago, the list included a hard landing for China, plunging oil prices, problems for European banks and fears that even the US economy was rolling over. Now we worry that central bankers are not just behind the curve, to use that trite phrase, but have lost the plot. What is the current policy framework, let alone its efficacy? The first concern is China’s exchange rate policy; is it simply moving from a fixed dollar peg to a trade weighted basket? Is modest volatility required to justify the renminbi’s membership of the IMF’s SDR, the reserve asset, or a dramatic depreciation to prop up a rapidly slowing economy? The ‘unholy trinity’ remains very clear — that China cannot simultaneously control its currency and its money supply growth and allow free flow of capital.

A second policy error possibly took place when the Bank of Japan unexpectedly adopted negative interest rates, following in the footsteps of several European central banks. Just as with QE, there are several channels through which this new policy tool could affect the real economy. The standard argument is that in a world of low headline inflation the zero bound on nominal yields needs to give way to engineer negative real yields, encourage portfolio rebalancing and discourage savings. There are other rationales, though; the Swiss and Swedish central banks adopted negative rates to dissuade currency inflows which could destabilise their inflation targets. It is vital to recognise what works domestically need not work externally. Each central bank in turn argues that their currency is too high in relation to domestic conditions, and therefore action needs to be taken to make their exchange rate more competitive.

This argument might work in an environment of strong global GDP and trade growth but those days are long past. We are all familiar with the litany of headwinds which have brought global nominal GDP growth to its lowest since 2009. A zero sum game is threatening with no winners from ever more desperate efforts to bring currencies down. Negative rates are an especially large threat to commercial banks because they compress net interest margins and thus remove a key driver of profits. That may matter less in Sweden where banks can benefit from a range of other income sources. Rightly or wrongly, investors have assumed that Japan’s decision is more dangerous. Sure, the BoJ was aware of the risk and crafted a complicated three-tier mechanism, but negative rates were associated with a parallel shift down, rather than a steepening, in the yield curve. Over 70% of the JGB market now has negative yields — about 15% of Japanese bank assets are in bonds and bills. How can this help profits growth?

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This is scary: “..45% of new debt is being used to pay interest on old debt..”

China Adds To The World’s Most Dangerous Debt Pile (BBG)

China has two very good reasons to slow the gusher of cheap money that continues to flood its economy. The first, obviously, is to prevent the kind of financial implosion that’s struck down similarly debt-burdened countries. The second is just as important: to clear out the deadwood in the world’s second-largest economy. For Chinese leaders, the need to prop up faltering GDP growth outweighs fears about a rapid buildup in debt. In January alone, banks made a record $385 billion worth of new loans, more than 70% higher than the year before. Debt now tops 230% of GDP and could reach as high as 300% of GDP if current trends continue. Billionaire investor Bill Gross has joined the chorus of voices calling this trajectory “unsustainable.” Even the Bank for International Settlements, a body not known for hyperbole, has warned that Chinese debt is reaching levels that typically trigger financial crises.

The recent surge in credit is merely an extension of policies put into place after the global financial crisis. To fend off a downturn, China launched a massive 2009 fiscal stimulus package focused on infrastructure and investment spending. Simultaneously, policymakers ordered banks to open the credit spigot. Since January 2009, total loans in China have grown 202%, for an annualized growth rate of 34%. Local governments and businesses alike have been only too happy to partake in the largesse. The problem is that most of this money has gone into the least efficient, most saturated parts of the economy. Nomura estimates that 40% of bank loans to companies go to state-owned enterprises, although they account for barely 10% of China’s output. The money is being used to prop up companies that probably shouldn’t survive: One Chinese securities firm suggests 45% of new debt is being used to pay interest on old debt, like using a new credit card to pay off an old one.

Cheap money is also continuing to expand capacity in sectors that already have too much. There are currently about four-and-a-half years’ worth of residential real estate sales under construction. Coal plants, which are currently running at only 67% of capacity, are investing in an additional $9.4 billion worth of capacity in 2015, with a similar number expected in 2016. The government has pledged to slash capacity in the bloated steel sector by as much as 13% by 2020. But given that the industry is already losing about $25 for every ton of steel produced, those small cuts, even excluding capacity additions, are hardly going to solve the problem. The government isn’t blind to the dangers. Its 2016 economic plan lists “deleveraging” and capacity reduction as two major priorities for the year.

The central bank has imposed limits on certain banks that had been a bit too liberal in their recent lending. But the fact remains that the state-owned giants drawing the bulk of new lending are also the most politically well-connected. Rather than shutting them down and throwing potentially millions of Chinese out of work, the government hopes to keep them afloat while they’re merged and overhauled. There’s little reason to think this plan can succeed. No country with a similarly rapid rise in debt levels has escaped either a financial crisis, or like Japan, a prolonged slowdown. Continuing to lend at this pace will only increase the ranks of zombie companies, alive because of government life support. Slowing lending will inevitably mean lower GDP growth, more corporate bankruptcies and higher unemployment. But it will also reduce the buildup of risks that are otherwise certain to come due.

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Horse, cart. If you can’t see the cracks already, get better glasses.

How Long Before The Cracks Show In China’s Great Currency Wall? (Reuters)

China still owns the world’s largest currency reserves, but it has been burning through them at such a pace that some think Beijing might soon have to allow a sharp fall in the yuan or back-pedal on liberalization and tighten its capital controls. Foreign exchange reserves in China declined $99.5 billion in January to $3.23 trillion, following a record fall the previous month, and have shrunk by $762 billion since mid-2014, more than the gross domestic product of Switzerland. That still leaves a mighty arsenal, and the People’s Bank of China says it is more than adequate, though it has not said what the minimum might be and did not return a request for comment. PBOC governor Zhou Xiaochuan told Caixin magazine a week ago that much of the outflow had been Chinese companies repaying dollar debt as the greenback rose, which would bottom out, or outbound investment, which was to be welcomed.

Most economists agree China has a way to go before running out of road, but some believe it will have to hit the brakes in months, not years. The pace of decline has accelerated as the PBOC fought to keep the yuan steady in the face of speculative selling offshore and capital flight at home, a task made harder by China’s slowest economic growth in 25 years and the bank’s own decision to guide the currency down in August and again in early January. Though it has huge reserves, an economy the size of China’s needs them to cover imports and foreign debts, and the less liquid assets in reserves can’t readily serve those purposes. Though the composition of China’s reserves is a state secret, officials also say the falling dollar value of other currencies it holds accounts for some of the fall.

Economists and foreign exchange professionals around the world are nevertheless asking how low can they go before Beijing is forced to choose between fresh capital controls or giving up selling dollars to defend the yuan. French bank Societe Generale says IMF guidelines put $2.8 trillion as the minimum prudent level for China, which is not far away if reserves keep falling at the current pace. “If that occurs in the next few months,” says SocGen, “expect to see a tidal wave of speculative selling, forcing the PBOC to throw in the towel and let the market decide the level of the renminbi exchange rate.” A G20 deputy central banker was considerably more sanguine. “Whatever number I would come up with, it would be a lot less than $2.8 trillion,” he said, adding that reserves could fall another trillion by year-end in conjunction with stability in the exchange rate.

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But that doesn’t rhyme with their new IMF status.

Capital Controls In China A Possibility (CNBC)

While markets are flirting with the idea that a big devaluation of the yuan could take China’s economic slowdown to a new and more dangerous place, economists and some money managers say it’s not at all likely. Over the past eight months, China’s central bank has spent billions of dollars to fend off speculators who think the yuan will fall as China looks to pump up exports. The currency fell to a five-year low of 6.51 against the dollar on Jan. 6 as weak economic data spooked investors. That’s one reason uber-bear fund manager Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, could shake markets with a prediction that China’s currency could lose 40% of its value in the next 18 months, thanks to the heavy debt load of state-backed Chinese enterprises.

Bass’ idea is that China’s banks are facing huge yet-undisclosed credit losses, largely on loans to manufacturers that, like the banks, are controlled by the government, and that the currency will fall as the government prints yuan to recapitalize the banks. Bass’ opinion remains, for now at least, a minority view. Other fund managers and economists argue that devaluation would do little to promote sales of Chinese exports that are already competitive, especially in the U.S., and that a sharp devaluation would backfire if countries like Australia, Malaysia and Indonesia were prodded to devalue their currencies in a bid to make sure they remain competitive with China.

Most of all, they said, a market-jolting move lower for the yuan would be at odds with a record of incrementalism that Beijing’s government has nurtured for years, and it would rock investors who have already pushed the Shanghai Composite Index down 43% to 2,927 since its peak last June. “They want a stable but gradually declining exchange rate if they can engineer it,” said Barry Eichengreen, an economist at the University of California-Berkeley and former senior policy advisor for the International Monetary Fund. “Stability is good for their image in the markets, and a gradual decline is good for their effort to maintain a growth rate of 6%.”

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Missed opportunities?! A deal for a yuan devaluation at the summit means Beijing wouldn’t pick up the blame alone.

World Bank’s Kim Sees Little Chance of G-20 Action (BBG)

The sluggish global economy has entered “unprecedented territory” as countries grapple with divergent difficulties, leaving little room for a coordinated policy response from the Group of 20 finance chiefs meeting this week, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in an interview. “There is a lot of uncertainty; there is a lot of instability and fluctuations in global markets,” he said. “But I don’t think we’re at a point where you are going to see some sort of concerted, focused action in one sector or another.” Global growth continues to lag even as advanced economies embrace “unorthodox” policies, Kim said. “We are now seeing negative interest rates in Japan, negative interest rates in Europe and even in the US, although they are not negative, the notion that that might be possible has been put on the table, so this is completely unprecedented territory.”

The Washington-based development bank lowered its global forecast for 2016 growth to 2.9%, from a 3.3% projection in June, according to a report it released last month. The world economy advanced 2.4% last year, lower than the 2.8% growth forecast. China’s hosting of the G-20 forum this year in Shanghai culminates in a leaders’ summit in September, and officials are pushing a detailed and diverse platform that covers everything from bolstering investment in infrastructure to climate-friendly financing. The weakening outlook for global growth and how policy makers should respond will dominate the agenda when the G-20 central bank governors and finance ministers gather. China faces calls to make its currency and macroeconomic policies clearer at the meeting.

The economic woes afflicting individual countries are so varied that it’s unlikely a consensus on a policy response will be reached, Kim said. The G-20 provides “an environment in which we can put difficult issues on the table and talk them through,” he said. “But it’s difficult to imagine that everyone would take a particular action around fiscal, monetary or other kinds of policies because you have oil producers and oil importers, you have commodity exporters and commodity importers — there’s such a difference in economic models.”

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Looks pretty dark.

Europe’s Banking Model Is Still Broken (BBG)

Call it the new normal for European bank earnings. Standard Chartered shares plunged by the most in more than three years on Tuesday after the bank posted a “surprise” 2015 pretax loss of $1.5 billion, somewhat different from the $1.37 billion average profit estimate from 20 analysts. On Monday, HSBC delivered a “surprise” fourth-quarter pretax loss of $858 million, rather than the expected profit of $1.95 billion. On Jan. 28, Deutsche Bank “surprised” bond investors with a fourth-quarter net loss of $2.3 billion, less than two weeks after tapping them for $1.75 billion of funds. As the saying goes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. But fool me three times and maybe I should just resign myself to being a fool, at least where European banks are concerned.

The unpalatable truth is that the banking model is broken. The days of generating gobs of cash from “socially useless” financial engineering, as Adair Turner put it in 2009 when he chaired the U.K. Financial Services Authority, are over. Because banks have to hold more capital for a rainy day, they have less money to play with in financial markets. And they’re still shrinking their trading desks, further curbing their ability to make money from markets. Important aspects of Europe’s regulatory backdrop remain foggy at best; the European Union’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, new rules covering a multitude of markets from derivatives to bonds, has been delayed by a year to 2018. But it’s clear that the EU is seeking to keep financial institutions from so-called casino banking as much as possible.

Provisions for European bank loans to oil and gas companies are likely to climb – HSBC took a $400 million hit on those loans this week – further crimping profit. And there seems to be no end to the fines being paid for rigging markets, with settlements for faking prices for gold, silver, platinum, palladium and derivative-market benchmarks still looming. As another saying goes, a billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking about real money. So it’s little wonder that Europe’s banks have lost about 30% of their value in the past year [..] Central bank interest rates at near or below zero deliver cheap money. But longer-term rates also at record lows and in many cases below zero (five-year German government bonds yield -0.33%) mean banks can’t borrow cheaply and profit from lending to their customers at inflated rates.

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You mean they haven’t done that yet?

US Banks To Cut Credit Lines For Energy Firms (Reuters)

Cash-strapped energy firms are coming under increasing pressure from U.S. bank lenders and, on average, could see a 15% to 20% cut in their credit lines, the head of JP Morgan’s commercial bank told investors on Tuesday. Until now, banks could be more lenient with their energy clients despite a prolonged slump in the price of oil, but Doug Petno, the head of JP Morgan’s commercial bank, said that is changing. Moves, disclosed in securities filings, by oil and gas companies such as Linn Energy and SandRidge Energy to max out revolving credit lines – designed to cover short-term funding gaps – have prompted banks to take action. Petno said JP Morgan was not waiting for April, when banks traditionally reassess the value of oil reserves underpinning energy loans – a process known as redetermination – to reassess its exposure.

“We are not waiting for the spring redetermination to discuss this with our clients,” he said during a presentation at JP Morgan’s annual investor day in New York. Petno said JP Morgan had been working closely with its energy customers through the current price rout. The biggest U.S. bank by assets plans to increase provisions for expected losses on bad energy loans by more than 60% in the first quarter. Petno said he expected credit lines, on average, would shrink by 15% to 20% across the industry, but there would be wide variations depending on the health of the borrower. “Some borrowing bases may by go up. Some may go down by 50%,” he said. A lurch in the price of oil below $30 a barrel last month has forced companies to offload assets and cut staff to survive.

Dozens of companies have already hit the wall and a third of oil producers and service firms, or 175 companies, are at high risk of slipping into bankruptcy this year, according to a study by Deloitte. “Most of these clients are working with their banks way in advance of redeterminations, so it is compelling M&A, it is compelling asset sales, it is compelling discussions with private equity. But there is a lot of leverage,” said Petno. “The most distressed clients know when they are going to be pinched… and are taking the steps to deal with it,” he added. “There will be a meaningful number of these players who have no options. I think we have only begun to see the range of bankruptcies in oil and gas.”

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You can’t be the EU’s financial center if you’re not in the EU.

Banks Have More to Fear Than Boris (BBG)

Boris Johnson’s backing of Brexit has heightened anxiety in the City of London. But Europe’s dominant financial center faces bigger threats to its future than whether or not the Brits listen to their capital’s mayor and quit the EU. A vote to leave in June’s referendum certainly wouldn’t help London’s financiers. Take this from Deutsche Bank analysts led by Barbara Boettcher:”An EU exit would mean uncertainty for the ability to use the U.K. as a hub to provide banking services into Europe. This has implications not just for the EU operations of U.K. financial institutions (which have actually reduced significantly post-crisis), but also for the U.K. and European operations of banks globally. “Some banks might move their headquarters to continental Europe or shift jobs, Deutsche Bank said, something senior executives have warned about in private over the past year.

HSBC chief Stuart Gulliver broke cover on Monday and said his bank could shift about 1,000 U.K. jobs to Paris in the event of an exit.But despite the veiled (and not so veiled) threats, the City of London is already under pressure on jobs and to defend its pre-eminence in Europe – even before a decision on the EU. For starters, many roles that were traditionally strong in London have been in the firing line since the financial crisis. In particular, big banks are shrinking fixed income and commodities trading desks in response to regulations that make these businesses more capital intensive and less profitable. At the top global investment banks, fixed income revenues and staffing levels fell about a third between 2010 and 2015, according to Coalition research. More broadly, weak revenue growth across banking puts more emphasis on costs as the best way to lift profit.

Investment-banking revenue has dipped 15% since 2010 but costs have remained stubbornly high despite layoffs. That suggests more cuts will come.Meanwhile, the soaring cost of employing staff in London makes it harder to keep large swathes of workers there when other locations will do. London has by far the most expensive office space in Europe – annual leasing costs run to $122 per square foot on average, compared to just $56.75 in Paris or $53.25 in Frankfurt. Surging accommodation costs are pushing up the cost of living too. The median house price in London climbed about 13% in December from a year earlier to $615,931. Already, many global investment banks have shifted jobs to smaller U.K. cities such as Bournemouth, Birmingham and Manchester and to offshore sites, and more plans are afoot.

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Oh boy…

The Australian Housing Bubble Is Out Of Control (SMH)

Jonathan Tepper, a UK based economist and founder of research house Variant Perception, is convinced Australia is in the midst of “one of the biggest housing bubbles in history”. The Australian Financial Review reports about how he and local hedge fund manager John Hempton scoped out the apparent epicenter of this bubble, Sydney’s western suburbs, and walked away thinking it was even worse than they’d originally thought. It’s a fascinating story. In a subsequent report to clients, obtained by Fairfax Media, Tepper uses the following charts to support his thesis.

‘Australia is simply in a league of its own when it comes to mortgage lending.’

And a rising share of these mortgages are ‘interest only’ loans

“The Australian housing bubble could not have become as ridiculous as it is without the help of easy financing,” he writes. “Over the past few years, over 40% of all new mortgages originated have been interest-only mortgages. “This is truly Ponzi financing, where home buyers only make money if their houses keep rising in value,” he writes, later describing interest only loans as a “disaster waiting to happen.”

The negative gearing effect…

It is one of the most contentious issues in the national political discourse at the moment. Tepper likens negative gearing – the ability to claim losses on leveraged investment properties as a tax deduction – to startups during the dot com bubble burning through their cash. “Only in a bubble could losing money on housing be viewed as positive,” he writes.

Housing prices are totally out of whack with…everything

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Schäuble will come and get them.

Portugal Adopts Anti-Austerity Budget Despite Concerns (AFP-PTI)

Portugal’s Socialist-led lawmakers have approved a 2016 budget that pledges to reverse unpopular austerity measures but is seen as high-risk by critics and investors, with Lisbon under EU pressure to stay on a disciplined path. “This budget proves it is possible to live a better life in Portugal,” socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa said yesterday. The vote came a few weeks after the European Commission approved Portugal’s draft, but warned that more efforts would be needed by the government to avoid a breach of EU rules on spending. In response, Portugal cut its budget deficit target for 2016 to 2.2% of GDP from a previously announced target of 2.6%. Last year, Portugal’s budget deficit came in at 4.3%, well above the EU’s 3.0% limit.

The conservative opposition lashed out at the new budget yesterday, branding it “unrealistic and populist”. “It is a poisoned gift for the Portuguese,” said former prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho. Portugal received a massive international debt bailout in 2011 that saved it from defaulting, but in return the country had to introduce a string of austerity measures. In four years, over 78,000 public sector jobs were cut – more than 10% of the total – alongside other steps the creditors said were needed to return the public finances to balance and put the economy back on track.

Portugal’s public debt is forecast to hit 130% of GDP. True to the socialists’ campaign promises that brought them to power in November, Costa’s budget restores civil servants’ salaries, eases a surtax tax on employees’ incomes, and breathes new life into the welfare system. However, in a bid to appease Brussels’ demands, the government also announced a hike in taxes on fuel, vehicles and tobacco. Analysts were sceptical however that the plan would actually work. “The budget seeks an impossible balance. It is doomed. It will neither put an end to austerity, nor will it meet the deficit objectives,” said Joao Cesar das Neves, an economics professor.

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Czexit.

Czech Republic ‘Will Follow Britain Out Of EU’ (Telegraph)

The Czech Republic may choose to follow Britain out of the EU, the country’s prime minister said, amid growing fears in Brussels of a “contagion”. Bohuslav Sobotka said that a “Czexit” may take place. The Czech Republic only joined the EU in 2004 and has been the beneficiary of billions in development funds, but has some of the most hostile public opinion. A Brussels decision to force the country to take in a quota of migrants caused fury. Three-fifths of Czechs said they were unhappy with EU membership and 62% said they would vote against it in a referendum, according to an October 2015 poll by the STEM agency. “If Britain leaves the EU, we can expect debates about leaving the EU in a few years too,” said Mr Sobotka, who led eastern European states in opposition to David Cameron’s plans to curb benefits.

“The impact may be really huge,” he said, adding that a “Czexit” could trigger an economic and security downturn and a return to the Russian sphere of influence. Such a move “would be an absolute negation of the developments after 1989”, he said, referring to the revolution of Czechoslovakia that threw off Soviet rule. There are fears in Brussels that the multiple crises of Brexit, migration and the euro mean that 2016 will prove to be the high-water mark of the European project, in which it becomes plain that the vision of a fully federalised EU state will never be reached. And leaders fear that Mr Cameron will trigger a string of copy-cat referendums from ambitious leaders who want to extract special concessions from Brussels, pulling the bloc to pieces.

Meanwhile, Aleksander Vucic, the Serbian Prime Minister said that EU membership is no longer the “big dream it was in the past” for Balkan states.. “The EU that all of us are aspiring to, it has lost its magic power,” Mr Vucic told a conference at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London. “Yes we all want to join, but it is no longer the big dream it was in the past.” “When you see that in Britain at least 50% of the people say they want to leave that has an effect on the public,” he said. Seven states are in the queue to join the EU under a new wave of enlargement, that will not take place before 2019: Serbia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Turkey and Macedonia. Membership could take years for some, as they are gripped by corruption, cronyism and sky-high unemployment, according to the EU’s own assessment reports.

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Not to take lightly: Turkey links the refugee crisis to its land-grabbing Kurds-killing ambitions in Syria.

NATO’s New Migrant Mission In The Aegean Is A Victory For Turkey (EI)

The recent Nato agreement to create a mission to tackle the migration crisis in the Aegean has been presented as a major new development. But its impact on migrant flows will in reality be limited. Its shape and scope for action is a reflection of Turkey’s priorities in the region rather than European needs. The creation of the Nato mission showcases the EU’s strategic irrelevance and highlights Turkey’s desire to entangle Europeans in its adventurist endeavours in Syria. The Nato mission will conduct monitoring, surveillance and reconnaissance in the Aegean in order to deter and contain the activities of human traffickers. Nato forces will not push back boats, except when rescuing migrants from drowning who will be returned to Turkey. The task of deterring smugglers will be performed by the Greek and Turkish coastguards.

But assistance from Nato will not make much of a difference if the key actor in the crisis, Turkey, does not act decisively. The stemming of migration flows still hinges on Turkish will to patrol its coasts. In previous months, Turkey had been under pressure to patrol its coasts more effectively. But it refrained from acting because the cost of accepting back or keeping in Turkish territory large numbers of migrants was considered much higher than whatever rewards the EU had promised. Caving in to external pressure would also be infuriating for domestic public opinion. A Nato mission allows Turkey to give in to some EU demands while circumventing these problems. As the mission covers Turkish as well as Greek territory, Turkey can deflect part of the European pressure for control of migrant flows back on its neighbour.

Turkey has also ensured that its actions will be scrutinised by an organisation in which it has a strong say. The migration issue forms only one aspect of a complex geopolitical game that Turkey is involved in now in Syria. Turkey’s relationship with Russia has deteriorated rapidly. Moscow’s clients in Syria have made significant inroads against Turkey’s allies, threatening it with both a collapse of its support and the arrival of new waves of refugees to its borders. Turkey’s position is further complicated by the assertiveness of Syria’s Kurds, whom Turkey’s Western allies consider a valuable ally against Islamic State. Turkey is now pushing for stronger support from Nato for its activities in Syria. A first step was taken in the same meeting that authorised the migrant mission in the Aegean. There,

Nato also decided to step up its participation in the fight against Islamic State, initially by deploying AWACS planes in the region. Involving Nato in the management of the migration crisis is part of a broader strategy by Turkey to align Europeans with its goals in the region. Any signs of Turkey becoming more cooperative on migration in the following weeks must be seen through the prism of its interests in Syria and its expectation that Europe will support it there in return.

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The end of the EU is near.

Refugee Flows To Europe Already Top 110,000 So Far In 2016 (Reuters)

More than 110,000 migrants and refugees have arrived in Greece and Italy already this year, a sharp increase on 2015, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday. They include around at least 102,500 landing on Greek islands including Samos, Kos and Lesbos, and 7,500 in Italy, the IOM said. “Over 410 migrants and refugees have also lost their lives during the same period, with the eastern Mediterranean route between Turkey and Greece continuing to be the deadliest, accounting for 321 deaths,” the IOM said. Last year, the figure of 100,000 refugees and migrants was not reached until the end of June, according to IOM figures. Spokesman Itayi Viriri noted that the figure of 100,000 had already been exceeded this year despite rough sea conditions in recent days on the route from Libya to Italy. Migrants arriving in Italy are often in “very bad condition, having been subjected to violence by smugglers in Libya”, the IOM said, adding that women were subjected to human trafficking.

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Mankind’s new normal: “More than 400 migrants have died in the Mediterranean this year..”

Italy’s Navy Rescues 700 Refugees From Six Boats, 4 Found Dead (Reuters)

More than 700 migrants were rescued from six leaky boats in the sea between Tunisia and Sicily on Tuesday and four were found dead, the Italian navy said. More than 400 migrants have died in the Mediterranean this year, as people continue to try to cross into Europe despite bad winter weather in the second year of Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II. More than 110,000 people, many fleeing poverty and war in Africa and the Middle East, have arrived in Greece and Italy this year, a sharp increase on 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The navy said one of its ships went to help three boats, recovering 403 survivors and the four bodies. Another ship rescued 219 people from two vessels and a third coordinated the rescue of 105 migrants from their sinking boat.

The navy did not say what nationality the migrants were nor did it give any other information about their identities. Bad weather cut the number of people arriving last month in Greece, the main gateway to Europe for migrants, but the number was still nearly 40 times higher than in the previous January, European Union border agency Frontex says. Most of those were from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, while most of those who entered Europe via Italy were Nigerian, according to Frontex. Italy called on Monday for shared funding, including through issuing EU bonds, for a common policy to manage external borders and cope with the migration crisis.

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This can get fully out of hand in mere weeks.

Refugee Pressure Piles Up On Greece (Kath.)

More than 12,000 refugees and migrants found themselves trapped in Greece on Tuesday as Athens took diplomatic action to counter the border restrictions to its north that are causing the buildup. The Greek government issued a demarche to Austria over its decision to limit the number of asylum seekers it will accept, as well as the number of migrants that can pass through its territory in transit. Vienna is also hosting a conference on Wednesday to discuss the refugee crisis. A number of Western Balkan countries will attend but Greece had not been invited, prompting Athens to accuse the Central European country of making a “unilateral” move. “The exclusion of our country at this meeting is seen as a non-friendly act since it gives the impression that some, in our absence, are expediting decisions which directly concern us,” said Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also called his Dutch counterpart Mark Rutte to discuss Athens’s grievances as the Netherlands currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency. Athens feels that there was an agreement at last week’s leaders’ summit in Brussels that none of the Union’s members should take any unilateral actions concerning refugees until the planned meeting with Turkey takes place on March 6. The limitations put in place by Austria have had a knock-on effect along the rest of the so-called Balkan Route for migrants, particularly on Greece’s border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), where only a few dozen people were allowed to cross on Tuesday.

FYROM border guards refused to allow Afghans to cross, leading to the Greek government hiring 21 coaches to transport the migrants back to Athens, where some were taken to the former Olympic Games site at Elliniko and others to the transit center at Schisto. Last night there was a total of around 2,500 people at the two sites. The rise in the number of arrivals also means there is a greater number of refugees and migrants on the Greek islands. Almost 1,400 people were rescued by the coast guard on Lesvos, some 1,200 people were at the hot spot on Chios and more than 1,300 had arrived on passengers ferries at Piraeus.

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The Balkanization of Europe.

Greek Migration Crisis Enters Worst-Case Scenario (EUO)

The European Commission and the Dutch EU presidency warned on Tuesday (23 February) of a humanitarian crisis in the Western Balkans and “especially in Greece,” adding that preparation for “contingency plans” was under way. The warning comes after border controls along the Western Balkan migration route were tightened in recent days in Austria and Macedonia. It is the realisation of a worst-case scenario becoming reality for EU authorities, in which Greece would be in effect cut off from the Schengen area and left to cope with hundreds of thousands of stranded refugees, while still being itself in the middle of an economic and social crisis. On Monday, Macedonia decided to deny entry to Afghan migrants and restricted access to Syrians and Iraqis.

The move followed last week’s decision by Austria to cap to 80 the number of daily asylum applications and to 3,200 the number of entries, also under the condition that the people go to another country to apply for asylum. The situation illustrates the growing rift between the actions of some EU and Balkan states and the common policies the European Commission and Germany have tried to put in place since the start of the migrant crisis last summer. The result is growing and potentially dramatic pressure on Greece, where 2,000 to 4,000 migrants arrive on the islands each day. On Tuesday alone, 1,130 refugees arrived at Athens Piraeus port, where they will have to be taken care of. “We are concerned about the developments along the Balkan route and the humanitarian crisis that might unfold in certain countries especially in Greece,” EU migration commissioner Dimitri Avramopoulos and Dutch minister for migration Klaas Dijkhoff said in a joint statement.

They called on “all countries and actors along the route to prepare the necessary contingency planning to be able to address humanitarian needs, including reception capacities”. “In parallel,” they said, “the commission is coordinating a contingency planning effort, to offer support in case of a humanitarian crisis both outside and within the EU, as well as to further coordinate border management.” Commission experts are already in Greece to assess the needs and what could be done in cooperation with the UN. Faced with the new developments, the commission seems to be more helpless than ever. “There is a clear risk of a fragmentation of the [Balkan] route,” an EU official said, with countries deviating from previously agreed plans. “We are concerned by the fact that member states are acting outside of the agreed framework,” commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud told journalists on Tuesday.

[..] This is the scenario that is now unfolding with the Austrian-Balkan initiative, one that the commission, together with Germany and some other EU countries, had wished to avoid. “We cannot let Greece become an open air detention camp,” a senior EU diplomat said, adding that “preserving the integrity of Schengen” was crucial for the EU. Financial and geopolitical concerns also come under consideration as Greece is engaged in an €85 billion bailout programme. “We do not want 500,000 migrants to destabilise the Greek government and Greece itself,” a source from another influential country said. “We would not see our money back and the whole EU would dismantle.”

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Jan 112016
 


Thin White Duke

David Bowie Dies Aged 69 (Reuters)
Chinese Stocks Down 5%, As Rout Ricochets In Asia (MarketWatch)
Chinese Stocks Extend Rout as Economic Growth Concerns Deepen (BBG)
Yuan Liquidity Extremely Tight, Interbank Rates Soar In Hong Kong (BBG)
London Hedge Fund Omni Sees 15% Yuan Drop, and More in a Crisis (BBG)
Australia Bet The House On Never-Ending Chinese Growth (Guardian)
India Concerned About Chinese Currency Devaluation (Reuters)
China PM: We’ll Let Market Forces Fix Overcapacity (Reuters)
Fed’s Williams: “We Got It Wrong” On Benefits Of Low Oil Prices (ZH)
Free Capital Flows Can Put Economies In A Bind (Münchau)
Pensions, Mutual Funds Turn Back to Cash (WSJ)
UK House Price To Crash As Global Asset Prices Unravel (Tel.)
The West Is Losing The Battle For The Heart Of Europe (Reuters)
Newly Elected Catalan President Vows Independence From Spain By 2017 (RT)
Dutch ‘No’ To Kiev-EU Accord Could Trip Continental Crisis: Juncker (AFP)
Britain Abandons Onshore Wind Just As New Technology Makes It Cheap (AEP)
400,000 Syrians Starving In Besieged Areas (AlJazeera)
World’s Poor Lose Out As Aid Is Diverted To The Refugee Crisis (Guardian)

Bowie’s secret: hard work.

David Bowie Dies Aged 69 From Cancer (Reuters)

David Bowie, a music legend who used daringly androgynous displays of sexuality and glittering costumes to frame legendary rock hits “Ziggy Stardust” and “Space Oddity”, has died of cancer. He was 69. “David Bowie died peacefully today surrounded by his family after a courageous 18-month battle with cancer,” read a statement on Bowie’s Facebook page dated Sunday. Born David Jones in the Brixton area of south London, Bowie took up the saxophone at 13. He shot to fame in Europe with 1969’s “Space Oddity”. But it was Bowie’s 1972 portrayal of a doomed bisexual alien rock star, Ziggy Stardust, that propelled him to global stardom. Bowie and Ziggy, wearing outrageous costumes, makeup and bright orange hair, took the rock world by storm.

Bowie said he was gay in an interview in the Melody Maker newspaper in 1972, coinciding with the launch of his androgynous persona, with red lightning bolt across his face and flamboyant clothes. He told Playboy four years later he was bisexual, but in the eighties he told Rolling Stone magazine that the declaration was “the biggest mistake I ever made”, and he was “always a closet heterosexual”. The excesses of a hedonistic life of the real rock star was taking its toll. In a reference to his prodigious appetite for cocaine, he said: “iI blew my nose one day in California,” he said. And half my brains came out. Something had to be done.”

Bowie kept a low profile after undergoing emergency heart surgery in 2004 but marked his 69th birthday on Friday with the release of a new album, “Blackstar”, with critics giving the thumbs up to the latest work in a long and innovative career. British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted: “I grew up listening to and watching the pop genius David Bowie. He was a master of re-invention, who kept getting it right. A huge loss.” Steve Martin from Bowie’s publicity company Nasty Little Man confirmed the Facebook report was accurate. “It’s not a hoax,” he told Reuters.

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Close to circuit breaker again. Plunge protection.

Chinese Stocks Down 5%, As Rout Ricochets In Asia (MarketWatch)

China shares slid Monday, and losses in other regional markets deepened, as a rout that knocked trillions of dollars off global stocks last week ricochets back to Asia. The Shanghai Composite Index fell 5.3% to 3,018 and the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index was last down 3.5%. Shares in Hong Kong sank to their lowest in roughly 2.5 years. The Hang Seng Index was off 2.4% at 19,970, on track to close below 20,000 for the first time since June 2013. A gauge of Chinese firms listed in the city fell 3.5%. Australia s benchmark was down 1.3%, and South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.7%. Japan s market was closed for a national holiday. Worries about weakness in the Chinese yuan and how authorities convey their market expectations continue to unnerve investors.

Poorly telegraphed moves last week exacerbated volatility in China, and triggered selling that spread to the rest of the region, the U.S. and Europe. Concerns about China’s stalling economy, with the yuan weakening 1.5% against the U.S. dollar last week, has sparked selling in commodities and currencies of China s trading partners, and sent investors to assets perceived as safe. “There’s no reason for Chinese stock to move up for now”, said Jiwu Chen, CEO of VStone Asset Management. He said investors are closely watching for hints in coming days from officials on their outlook for shares and the yuan, noting that authorities have nudged the yuan stronger starting Friday.

Earlier Monday, China’s central bank fixed the yuan at 6.5833 against the U.S. dollar, guiding the currency stronger from its 6.5938 late Friday. It was the second day the bank guided the yuan stronger, after eight sessions of weaker guidance. The onshore yuan can trade up or down 2% from the fix. The onshore yuan, which trades freely, was last at 6.6727 to the U.S. dollar, compared with 6.6820 late Friday. It reached a five-year low of 6.7511 last Thursday. China’s central bank appears to have spent huge amounts of dollars to support the yuan amid decelerating economic growth and the onset of higher U.S. interest rates. The country’s foreign-exchange regulator said over the weekend that its reserves are relatively sufficient. Reserves dropped by $107.9 billion in December, the biggest monthly drop ever.

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“Policy makers have to be cautious in using intervention as they can’t rescue the market all the time.”

Chinese Stocks Extend Rout as Economic Growth Concerns Deepen (BBG)

Chinese stocks fell, extending last week’s plunge, as factory-gate price data fueled concern the economic slowdown is deepening. The Shanghai Composite Index slid 2.4% to 3,109.95 at the break, led by energy and material companies. The producer price index slumped 5.9% in December, extending declines to a record 46th month, data over the weekend showed. The Hang Seng China Enterprises Index tumbled 3.5% at noon, while the Hang Seng Index fell below the 20,000 level for the first time since 2013. “Pessimism is the dominant sentiment,” said William Wong at Shenwan Hongyuan Group in Hong Kong. “The PPI figure confirms the economy is mired in a slump. Market conditions will remain challenging given weak growth and volatility in external markets and the yuan’s depreciation pressure.”

Extreme market swings this year have revived concern over the Communist Party’s ability to manage an economy set to grow at the weakest pace since 1990. Policy makers removed new circuit breakers on Friday after blaming them for exacerbating declines that wiped out $1 trillion this year. [..] The offshore yuan erased early losses after China’s central bank kept the currency’s daily fixing stable for the second day in a row, calming markets after sparking turmoil last week. While state-controlled funds purchased Chinese stocks at least twice last week, according to people familiar with the matter, there was little evidence of intervention on Monday. “Sentiment is very poor,” said Castor Pang, head of research at Core Pacific Yamaichi Hong Kong. “I don’t see any clear signs of state buying in the mainland market. Policy makers have to be cautious in using intervention as they can’t rescue the market all the time.”

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Yuan shortage.

Yuan Liquidity Extremely Tight, Interbank Rates Soar In Hong Kong (BBG)

Interbank yuan lending rates in Hong Kong climbed to records across the board after suspected intervention by China’s central bank last week mopped up supplies of the currency in the offshore market. The city’s benchmark rates for loans ranging from one day to a year all set new highs, with the overnight and one-week surging by the most since the Treasury Markets Association started compiling the fixings in June 2013. The overnight Hong Kong Interbank Offered Rate surged 939 basis points to 13.4% on Monday, while the one-week rate jumped 417 basis points to 11.23%. The previous highs were 9.45% and 10.1%, respectively. “Yuan liquidity is extremely tight in Hong Kong,” said Becky Liu, senior rates strategist at Standard Chartered in the city.

“There was some suspected intervention by the People’s Bank of China last week, and the liquidity impact is starting to show today.” The offshore yuan rebounded from a five-year low last week amid speculation the central bank bought the currency, an action that drains funds from the money market. Measures restricting overseas lenders’ access to onshore liquidity – which make it more expensive to short the yuan in the city – have also curbed supply. The PBOC has said it wants to converge the yuan’s rates at home and abroad, a gap that raises questions about the currency’s market value and hampers China’s push for greater global usage as it prepares to enter the IMF’s reserves basket this October. The offshore yuan’s 1.7% decline last week pushed its discount to the Shanghai price to a record, prompting the IMF to say that it will discuss the widening spread with the authorities.

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What would make one think this is not a crisis?

London Hedge Fund Omni Sees 15% Yuan Drop, and More in a Crisis (BBG)

Omni Partners, the $965 million London hedge fund whose wagers against China helped it beat the industry last year, said the yuan may fall 15% in 2016, and even more if the nation has a credit crisis. The currency, which tumbled to a five-year low last week, would have to drop to 7 or 7.5 a dollar to meaningfully reverse its appreciation and be commensurate with the depreciation of other slowing emerging markets, Chris Morrison, head of strategy of Omni’s macro fund, said in a telephone interview. The yuan slumped 1.4% last week to around 6.59 in Shanghai. “While Chinese authorities have been intervening heavily in the dollar-yuan market, they cannot ultimately fight economic fundamentals,” Morrison said, adding that even the 7-7.5% forecast would be too conservative if China were to have a credit crisis.

“You’ll be talking about the kind of moves that Brazil and Turkey have seen, more like 50%, and that’s how you can create serious numbers like 8, 9 and 10 against the dollar.” The yuan’s biggest weekly loss since an Aug. 11 devaluation prompted banks including Goldman Sachs and ABN Amro Bank, which Bloomberg data show had the most-accurate forecasts for the yuan over the past year, to cut their estimates for the currency. The options market is also signaling that the yuan’s slide has plenty of room to run, with the contracts indicating there’s a 33% chance that the yuan will weaken beyond 7 a dollar, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The declining currency, a debt pile estimated at 280% of GDP and a volatile equity market are complicating Premier Li Keqiang’s efforts to boost an economy estimated to grow at the slowest pace in 25 years. While intervention stabilized the yuan for almost four months following an Aug. 11 devaluation, the action led to the first-ever annual decline in the foreign-exchange reserves as capital outflows increased. Policy makers also propped up shares in the midst of a $5 trillion rout last summer, including ordering stock purchases by state funds. While a weaker yuan would support China’s flagging export sector, it also boosts risks for the nation’s foreign-currency borrowers and heightens speculation that the slowdown in Asia’s biggest economy is deeper than official data suggest.

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A hard rain is gonna fall.

Australia Bet The House On Never-Ending Chinese Growth (Guardian)

Over the last couple of decades, China has undergone profound change and is often cited as an economic growth miracle. Day by day, however, the evidence becomes increasingly clear the probability of a severe economic and financial downturn in China is on the cards. This is not good news at all for Australia. The country is heavily exposed, as China comprises Australia’s top export market, at 33%, more than double the second (Japan at 15%). A considerable proportion of Australia’s current and future economic prospects depend heavily on China’s current strategy of building its way out of poverty while sustaining strong real GDP growth.

To date, China has successfully pulled hundreds of millions of its people out of poverty and into the middle class through mass provision of infrastructure and expansion of housing markets, alongside a powerful export operation which the global economy has relied upon since the 1990s for cheap imports. Though last week’s volatile falls on the Chinese stock markets alongside a weakening yuan sent shockwaves through the global markets, Australia’s exposure lies much deeper within the Chinese economy. The miracle is starting to look more and more fallible as it slumps under heavy corporate debts and an over-construction spree which shall never again be replicated in our lifetimes or that of our children.

As of the second quarter of 2015, China’s household sector debt was a moderate 38% of GDP but its booming private non-financial business sector debt was 163%. Added together, it gives a total of 201% and its climbing rapidly. This may well be a conservative figure, given it is widely acknowledged the central government has overstated GDP growth. Australia, though it frequently features high on lists of the world’s most desirable locations, currently has the world’s second most indebted household sector, at 122% of GDP, soon to overtake Denmark in first place. Combined with private non-financial business sector debt, Australia has a staggering total of 203%, vastly larger than public debts at all levels of government.

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There’ll be alot of this.

India Concerned About Chinese Currency Devaluation (Reuters)

India on Friday called the slide in China’s yuan a “worrying” development for its flagging exports and said it was discussing possible measures to deal with a likely surge in imports from its northern neighbour. Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the yuan’s fall would worsen India’s trade deficit with China. While the government would not rush into any action, it had discussed likely steps it could take to counter an expected flood of cheap steel imports with domestic producers and the finance ministry, she said. The comments came a day after China allowed the biggest fall in the yuan in five months, pressuring regional currencies and sending global stock markets tumbling as investors feared it would trigger competitive devaluations.

“My deficit with China will widen,” she told reporters. India’s trade deficit with China stood at about $27 billion between April-September last year compared with nearly $49 billion in the fiscal year ending in March 2015. India steel companies such as JSW Ltd have asked the government to set a minimum import price to stop cheap imports undercutting them. A similar measure was adopted in 1999. “We have done ground work but are not rushing into it,” Sitharaman said when asked if India would impose a minimum import price for steel.

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?? “..even during an enormous steel glut last year, China had to import certain high-quality steel products, such as the tips of ballpoint pens. ..”

China PM: We’ll Let Market Forces Fix Overcapacity (Reuters)

China will use market solutions to ease its overcapacity woes and will not use investment stimulus to expand demand, Premier Li Keqiang said during a recent visit to northern Shanxi province, according to state media. “We will let the market play a decisive role, we will let businesses compete against each other and let those unable to compete die out,” the state-run Beijing News quoted Li as saying. “At the same time, we need to prioritize new forms of economic development.” Li said the country needed to improve existing production facilities because even during an enormous steel glut last year, China had to import certain high-quality steel products, such as the tips of ballpoint pens.

China needed to set ceilings on steel and coal production volumes and government officials should use remote sensing equipment to check companies, the premier also said, according to the article, which was re-posted on the State Council’s website. During his visit to Chongqing earlier this month, President Xi Jinping said China would focus on reducing overcapacity and lowering corporate costs.

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As I said from the start. ZH did too. Seems such an easy thing to predict, because such a large part of our economies depend on jobs connected with oil.

Fed’s Williams: “We Got It Wrong” On Benefits Of Low Oil Prices (ZH)

In late 2014 and early 2015, we tried to warn anyone who cared to listen time and time and time again that crashing crude prices are unambiguously bad for the economy and the market, contrary to what every Keynesian hack, tenured economist, Larry Kudlow and, naturally, central banker repeated – like a broken – record day after day: that the glorious benefits of the “gas savings tax cut” would unveil themselves any minute now, and unleash a new golden ago economic prosperity and push the US economy into 3%+ growth. Indeed, it was less than a year ago, on January 30 2015, when St. Louis Fed president Jim Bullard told Bloomberg TV that the oil price drop is unambiguously positive for the US. It wasn’t, and the predicted spending surge never happened. However, while that outcome was not surprising at all, what we were shocked by is that on Friday, following a speech to the California Bankers Association in Santa Barbara, during the subsequent Q&A, San Fran Fed president John Williams actually admitted the truth.

The Fed got it wrong when it predicted a drop in oil prices would be a big boon for the economy. It turned out the world had changed; the US has a lot of jobs connected to the oil industry.

And there you have it: these are the people micromanaging not only the S&P500 but the US, and thus, the global economy – by implication they have to be the smartest people not only in the room, but in the world. As it turns out, they are about as clueless as it gets because the single biggest alleged positive driver of the US economy, as defined by the Fed, ended up being the single biggest drag to the economy, as a “doom and gloomish conspiracy blog” repeatedly said, and as the Fed subsequently admitted. At this point we would have been the first to give Williams, and the Fed, props for admitting what in retrospect amounts to an epic mistake, and perhaps cheer a Fed which has changed its mind as the facts changed… and then we listened a little further into the interview only to find that not only has the Fed not learned anything at all, but is now openly lying to justify its mistake. To wit:

I would argue that we are seeing [the benefits of lower oil]. We are seeing them where we would expect to see them: consumer spending has been growing faster than you would otherwise expect.

Actually John, no, you are not seeing consumer spending growing faster at all; you are seeing consumer spending collapse as a cursory 5 second check at your very own St. Louis Fed chart depository will reveal:

But the absolute cherry on top proving once and for all just how clueless the Fed remains despite its alleged epiphany, was Wiliams “conclusion” that consumers will finally change their behavior because having expected the gas drop to be temporary, now that gas prices have been low for “over a year” when responding to surveys, US consumers now expect oil to remain here, and as a result will splurge. So what Williams is saying is… short every energy company and prepare for mass defaults because oil will not rebound contrary to what the equity market is discounting. We can’t wait for Williams to explain in January 2017 how he was wrong – again – that a tsunami of energy defaults would be “unambiguously good” for the US economy.

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Capital controls, protectionism, we’ll see all this and more.

Free Capital Flows Can Put Economies In A Bind (Münchau)

When Margaret Thatcher took power in Britain in 1979, one of her first decisions as prime minister was to scrap capital controls. It was the beginning of a new era and not just for Britain. Free capital movement has since become one of the axioms of modern global capitalism. It is also one of the “four freedoms” of Europe’s single market (along with unencumbered movement of people, goods and services). We might now ask whether the removal of the policy instrument of capital controls may have contributed to a succession of financial crises. To answer that, it is instructive to revisit a debate of three decades ago, when many in Europe invested their hopes in a combination of free trade, free capital mobility, a fixed exchange rate and an independent monetary policy — four policies that the late Italian economist, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, called an “inconsistent quartet”.

What he meant was that the combination is logically impossible. If Britain, say, fixed its exchange rate to the Deutschmark, and if capital and goods could move freely across borders, the Bank of England would have to follow the policies of the Bundesbank. In the early 1990s, Britain put this to the test, joining the single European market and pegging its currency to Germany’s. The music soon stopped; after less than two years in the exchange-rate mechanism, sterling went back to a floating exchange rate. Other European countries took a different course, sacrificing monetary independence and creating a common currency. Both choices were internally consistent. What has changed since then is the rising importance of cross-border finance. Many emerging markets do not have a sufficiently strong financial infrastructure of their own.

Companies and individuals thus take out loans from foreigners denominated in euros or dollars. Latin America is reliant on US finance, just as Hungary relies on Austrian banks. With the end of quantitative easing in the US and rising interest rates, money is draining out of dollar-based emerging markets. Theoretically, it is the job of a central bank to bring the ensuing havoc to an end, which standard economic theory suggests it should be able to do so long as it follows a domestic inflation target. But if large parts of the economy are funded by foreign money, its room for manoeuvre is limited — as the French economist Hélène Rey has explained. In the good times, Prof Rey finds, credit flows into emerging markets where it fuels local asset price bubbles. When, years later, liquidity dries up and the hot money returns to safe havens in North America and Europe, the country is left in a mess.

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Unease.

Pensions, Mutual Funds Turn Back to Cash (WSJ)

U.S. public pension plans and mutual funds are sheltering more of their holdings in cash than they have in years, a sign of growing stress in financial markets. The ultradefensive stance reflects investors’ skittishness about global economic growth and uncertain prospects for further gains in assets. Pension funds have the added need to cut more checks as Americans retire in greater numbers, while mutual funds want cash to cover the risk that investors spooked by volatile markets will pull out more of their money. Large public retirement systems and open-end U.S. mutual funds have yanked nearly $200 billion from the market since mid-2014, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of the most recent data available from Wilshire Trust Universe, Morningstar and the federal government.

That leaves pension funds with the highest cash levels as a percentage of assets since 2004. For mutual funds, the percentage of assets held in cash was the highest for the end of any quarter since at least 2007. The data run through Sept. 30, but many money managers say they remain very conservative. Pension consultants say some fund managers are considering socking even more of their assets into cash as they wait for the markets to calm down. “Some clients are asking us, ‘Would we be crazy to put 10% or 15% of our assets into cash?’,” said Michael A. Moran Goldman Sachs. Public pensions and mutual funds collectively manage $16 trillion, close to the value of U.S. gross domestic product, so even small shifts in their holdings can ripple through the trading world.

The movement of longer-term money to the sidelines has left the market increasingly in the hands of investors such as hedge funds, high-speed traders and exchange-traded funds that buy and sell more frequently, potentially leaving it more vulnerable to sharp swings, according to some money managers. [..] Managers of some pension plans and mutual funds said they limited their losses last year by moving more of their holdings into cash. Returns on cash-like securities were basically zero in 2015, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.2% and the S&P 500 declined 0.7%. New York City’s $162 billion retirement system has more than tripled its cash holdings since mid-2014 to cut the plan’s interest-rate exposure. As a result, New York City’s allocations to plain vanilla stocks and fixed-income securities have fallen.

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“In the US following the December rate rise the cost of mortgages has soared by 50pc. ”

UK House Price To Crash As Global Asset Prices Unravel (Tel.)

House prices have broken free from reality and defied gravity for far too long, but they are an asset like anything else, and there are six clear reasons a nasty correction looms in the coming year . Asset prices around the world soared as central bankers embarked on the greatest money printing experiment in history. While much of that money flowed into the stock market, a great deal also found its way into house prices. What we are now witnessing on trading screens around the world is the unwinding of the era of monetary excess, and house prices will not escape the fallout. The end of easy money began when the US stopped its third QE programme in October 2014. That date marks the point the US balance sheet, or amount of money in the system, stopped rising, having soared from $800m in 2008 to more than $4 trillion.

Without an ever-increasing supply of money the world economy is now slowing sharply. The first assets to be impacted by the downturn were commodities. The price of things such as oil are set daily in one of the largest and most highly traded markets across the world and as a result it is highly sensitive to any changes in demand and supply. Admittedly there are also supply-side factors impacting the oil price, but the weak demand from a slump is still a major factor. The next asset to fall was share prices. There was a delay of about 12 months because even though shares are also traded daily, their value depends on the profits of the company, and the impact of the commodity collapse took about a year to feed through. There is a delayed effect on property prices because the market is so inefficient.

Transactions can take up to three months to complete and the property itself may have to languish on the market for even longer. The prices are also dictated by estate agents, who have an interest in inflating them to raise fees. The number of transactions is also still about 40pc below that of 2006 and 2007, which allows prices to stray from the fundamentals for a longer period. It is true that Britain is suffering from a housing shortage, which drove UK house prices to a record high of an average of £208,286 in December, but like all asset prices they are on borrowed time. The fundamentals of demand and supply in UK housing will undergo a huge shift in the year ahead. A large portion of the demand for UK housing will fall away as the benefits of buy-to-let have effectively been killed off in recent budgets.

George Osborne slapped a huge tax increase on buy-to-let in the summer Budget, which will take effect from 2017 onwards. The removal of mortgage interest relief was the first stage and was followed by hiking stamp duty four months later in the November review. This could prove a double whammy on the housing market, turning potential buyers into sellers, and flooding the market with additional supply. A survey of landlords suggested 200,000 plan to exit the sector. The rapid growth of buy-to-let during the past decade looks set to be slammed into reverse.

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Implosion.

The West Is Losing The Battle For The Heart Of Europe (Reuters)

A little over a quarter of a century ago, Europe celebrated the healing of the schism that Communism enforced on it since World War Two, and which produced great tribunes of freedom. Lech Walesa, the Polish shipyard electrician, climbed over his yard wall in Gdansk to join and then lead a strike in 1980 – lighting the fuse to ignite, 10 years and a period of confinement later, a revolution that couldn’t be squashed. He was elected president in 1990. Vaclav Havel, the Czech writer and dissident who served years in prison for his opposition to the Communist government, emerged as the natural leader of the democrats who articulated the frustration of the country. He was elected president of the still-united Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Jozsef Antall, a descendant of the Hungarian nobility who opposed both the Hungarian fascists and communists, was imprisoned for helping lead the 1956 revolt against the Soviet Union. And he was foremost in the negotiations to end Communist rule in the late 1980s. He survived to be elected prime minister in 1990. These men were inspirations to their fellow citizens, heroes to the wider democratic world and were thought to be the advance guard of people who would grow and prosper in a Europe eschewing every kind of authoritarianism. Havel could say, with perfect certainty, that the Communists in power had developed in Czechs “a profound distrust of all generalizations, ideological platitudes, clichés, slogans, intellectual stereotypes… we are now largely immune to all hypnotic enticements, even of the traditionally persuasive national or nationalistic variety.”

It isn’t like that now. Poland, largest and most successful of the Central European states has, in the governing Law and Justice Party, a group of politicians driving hard to remold the institutions of the state so that their power withstands all challenge. The government has sought to pack the constitutional court with a majority of its supporters; extended the powers of the intelligence services and put a supporter at their head; and signed into law a measure which puts broadcasting under direct state control.

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Democracy under scrutiny.

Newly Elected Catalan President Vows Independence From Spain By 2017 (RT)

The Catalan parliament has sworn in Carles Puigdemont as the president of Catalonia. He will lead the region in its push towards independence from Spain by 2017. “We begin an extremely important process, unparalleled in our recent history, to create the Catalonia that we want, to collectively build a new country,” Puigdemont told the Catalan parliament, vowing to continue with his predecessor Artur Mas’ initiative to pull the region into independence. Puigdemont’s candidacy was backed by 70 lawmakers while 63 voted against, with two abstentions. The parliament has been in deadlock since Spain’s ruling party won most of the seats in September elections but failed to obtain a majority.

The Catalan parties had to agree on a new leader before Monday to avoid holding new regional elections. In a “last minute change”, Catalonia’s former president Artus Mas agreed to step down on Saturday and not seek reelection as pro-independence ‘Together for Yes’ coalition representative. The new candidate was backed by the anti-capitalist Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) party, whose 10 seats has allowed them to secure a majority in the 135-seat chamber. The Catalan 18-month roadmap to independence suggests the approval of its own constitution and the building of necessary institutions, such as a central bank, judicial system and army.

Meanwhile Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy reiterated on Sunday that he would block any Catalan move towards independence to “defend the sovereignty” and “preserve democracy and all over Spain.” Catalonia has a population of 7.5 million people and represents nearly a fifth of Spain’s economic output. The local population has been dissatisfied with their taxes being used by Madrid to support poorer areas of the country.

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Shut up! Show some respect for democracy.

Dutch ‘No’ To Kiev-EU Accord Could Trip Continental Crisis: Juncker (AFP)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker urged Dutch voters Saturday not to oppose an EU cooperation deal with Ukraine, saying such a move “could open the doors to a continental crisis”. A citizens’ campaign in the Netherlands spearheaded by three strongly eurosceptic groups garnered more than 300,000 votes needed to trigger a non-binding referendum on the deal, three months from now. Observers said the vote, set for April 6, pointed more towards broader euroscepticism among the Dutch than actual opposition to the trade deal with Kiev, which fosters deeper cooperation with Brussels. A Dutch ‘no’ “could open the doors to a continental crisis,” Juncker told the authoritative NRC daily newspaper in an interview published on Saturday.

“Let’s not change the referendum into a vote about Europe,” Juncker urged Dutch voters, adding: “I sincerely hope that (the Dutch) won’t vote no for reasons that have nothing to do with the treaty itself.” Should Dutch voters oppose the deal, Russia “stood to benefit most,” he said. The 2014 association agreement provisionally came into effect on January 1 and nudges the former Soviet bloc nation towards eventual EU membership. On a visit to the Netherlands in November, Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko hailed the deal as the start of a new era for the Ukraine. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said his government was bound by law to hold the referendum, and would afterwards assess the results to see if any change in policy was merited.

Although the results are not binding on Rutte’s Liberal-Labour coalition, the referendum is likely to be closely watched as eurosceptic parties – including that of far-right politician Geert Wilders – rise in the Dutch polls ahead of elections due in 2017. Russia has been incensed by the EU’s move to bring Ukraine closer to the European fold.

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Ambrose won’t let go of his techno dreams.

Britain Abandons Onshore Wind Just As New Technology Makes It Cheap (AEP)

The world’s biggest producer of wind turbines has accused Britain of obstructing use of new technology that can slash costs, preventing the wind industry from offering one of the cheapest forms of energy without subsidies. Anders Runevad, CEO of Vestas, said his company’s wind turbines can compete onshore against any other source of energy in the UK without need for state support, but only if the Government sweeps away impediments to a free market. While he stopped short of rebuking the Conservatives for kowtowing to ‘Nimbyism’, the wind industry is angry that ministers are changing the rules in an erratic fashion and imposing guidelines that effectively freeze development of onshore wind. “We can compete in a market-based system in onshore wind and we are happy to take on the challenge, so long as we are able to use our latest technology,” he told the Daily Telegraph.

“The UK has a tip-height restriction of 125 meters and this is cumbersome. Our new generation is well above that,” he said. Vestas is the UK’s market leader in onshore wind. Its latest models top 140 meters, towering over St Paul’s Cathedral. They capture more of the wind current and have bigger rotors that radically change the economics of wind power. “Over the last twenty years costs have come down by 80pc. They have come down by 50pc in the US since 2009,” said Mr Runevad. Half of all new turbines in Sweden are between 170 and 200 meters, while the latest projects in Germany average 165 meters. “Such limits mean the UK is being left behind in international markets,” said a ‘taskforce report’ by RenewableUK. The new technology has complex electronics, feeding ‘smart data’ from sensors back to a central computer system.

They have better gear boxes and hi-tech blades that raise yield and lower noise. The industry has learned the art of siting turbines, and controlling turbulence and sheer. Economies of scale have done the rest. This is why average purchase prices for wind power in the US have fallen to the once unthinkable level of 2.35 cents per kilowatt/hour (KWh), according to the US energy Department. At this level wind competes toe-to-toe with coal or gas, even without a carbon tax, an increasingly likely prospect in the 2020s following the COP21 climate deal in Paris. American Electric Power in Oklahoma tripled its demand for local wind power last year simply because the bids came in so low. “We estimate that onshore wind is either the cheapest or close to being the cheapest source of energy in most regions globally,” said Bank of America in a report last month.

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This is where EU, Turkey wish to send people back into.

400,000 Syrians Starving In Besieged Areas (AlJazeera)

As aid agencies prepare to deliver food to Madaya, on the outskirts of Damascus, and two other besieged towns in Idlib province, an estimated 400,000 people are living under siege in 15 areas across Syria, according to the UN. A deal struck on Saturday permits the delivery of food to Madaya, currently surrounded by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the villages of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib, both of which are hemmed in by rebel fighters. Due to a siege imposed by the Syrian government and the Lebanese Hezbollah group, an estimated 42,000 people in Madaya have little to no access to food, resulting in the deaths of at least 23 people by starvation so far, according to the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Reports of widespread malnutrition have emerged, some of them suggesting that Madaya residents are resorting to eating grass and insects for survival. In Kefraya and Foua, about 12,500 people are cut off from access to aid supplies by rebel groups, including al-Nusra Front. On December 26, Syrian government forces set up a checkpoint and sealed off the final road to Moadamiyah, a rebel-controlled town on the outskirts of Damascus, demanding that opposition groups lay down their arms and surrender. The Moadamiyah Media Office, run by pro-opposition activists, estimates that 45,000 civilians are stuck in the area for more than two weeks. The organisation said on Saturday that a siege that started in April 2013 and lasted a year, resulted in the deaths of 16 local residents due to a lack of food and medicine. It said the current one has killed one local resident so far this year: an eight-month-old boy who died from malnutrition on January 10.

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As we enter another crisis ourselves, we will need to become more generous. Or face chaos.

World’s Poor Lose Out As Aid Is Diverted To The Refugee Crisis (Guardian)

Sweden is one of the most generous countries in the world when it comes to international aid. Along with other Scandinavian countries, it has given bounteously to less fortunate nations for many years. With a population of under 10 million, it also takes more than its fair share of asylum seekers – an estimated 190,000 last year, with a further 100,000 to 170,000 expected to arrive in 2016. This is proving to be an expensive business. The Swedish migration agency says the cost of assimilating such a large number of asylum seekers will be €6.4bn (£4.4bn) this year – and a debate is raging about whether the aid budget should be raided to help meet the bill. In 2015, 25% of the aid budget was spent on refugees. One proposal is to raise that figure to 60%.

Other countries are responding in similar fashion. Italy raised its aid spending in 2015, but the extra money was mostly spent domestically on those who successfully made the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean from north Africa. Final figures for development assistance collated by the OECD show that global aid spending rose to a record level of $137.2bn (£94bn) in 2014 – an increase of 1.2% on the previous year. But the money is not going to those countries that are in the greatest need. Spending on the least developed countries (LDCs) fell by almost 5% and as a share of the total fell below 30% for the first time since 2005. Donor countries are increasingly dipping into their aid budgets to deal with the migration crisis or diverting money that would previously have gone to sub-Saharan Africa to countries that are deemed to be fragile, such as Egypt, Pakistan and Syria, but are not classified as LDCs.

What’s more, the trend is likely to have continued and accelerated in 2015, a year that saw far more people arriving in Europe from north Africa and the Middle East. Italy was already spending 61% of its aid budget on refugees in 2014. For Greece, the other country on the front line, the figure was 46%. It is hardly surprising that the governments in Rome and Athens have responded in this way. Both have had austerity measures foisted upon them and are seeking to make ends meet as best they can. The fact is, though, that the entire development assistance system is creaking under the strain at a time when demands for aid are increasing.

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Jun 292015
 
 June 29, 2015  Posted by at 10:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »


Alfred Eisenstaedt Actress Marilyn Monroe at home 1953

The World Is Defenceless Against The Next Financial Crisis, Warns BIS (Telegraph)
BIS Warns Low Interest Rates Could Spell ‘Entrenched Instability’ (AFP)
The Staggering Cost Of Central Bank Dependence (Wyplosz)
Greece Introduces Capital Controls, Keep Banks Shut As Crisis Deepens (Reuters)
EU Offers Greek Voters 10-Point Plan on June 26 Bailout Offer (Bloomberg)
Athens Is Being Blackmailed (Philippe Legrain)
A Disaster For Athens And A Colossal Failure For The EU (Guardian)
US Urges Europe, IMF To Reach Deal To Keep Greece In Eurozone (Reuters)
The Moral Crusade Against Greece Must Be Opposed (Guardian)
Cautious Merkel On Verge Of Biggest Risk With ‘Grexit’ (Reuters)
The Greeks For Whom All The Talk Means Nothing – Because They Have Nothing (G.)
Grisis (Paul Krugman)
El-Erian: 85% Grexit Odds as ‘Massive’ Contraction Looms (Bloomberg)
Chinese Stocks Crash Most In 19 Years Despite PBOC Hail Mary (Zero Hedge)
A China Market Crash “Poses Great Danger To Social Stability” (Zero Hedge)
Will Beijing Really Be The Last Rescuer For Everyone In The Stock Market? (SCMP)
Does China’s Central Bank Know What It’s Doing? (Bloomberg)
Puerto Rico’s Governor Says Island’s Debts Are ‘Not Payable’ (NY Times)

The central bank of central banks takes position against central bank policy.

The World Is Defenceless Against The Next Financial Crisis, Warns BIS (Telegraph)

The world will be unable to fight the next global financial crash as central banks have used up their ammunition trying to tackle the last crises, the Bank of International Settlements has warned. The so-called central bank of central banks launched a scatching critique of global monetary policy in its annual report. The BIS claimed that central banks have backed themselves into a corner after repeatedly cutting interest rates to shore up their economies. These low interest rates have in turn fuelled economic booms, encouraging excessive risk taking. Booms have then turned to busts, which policymakers have responded to with even lower rates.

Claudio Borio, head of the organisation’s monetary and economic department, said: “Persistent exceptionally low rates reflect the central banks’ and market participants’ response to the unusually weak post-crisis recovery as they fumble in the dark in search of new certainties.” “Rather than just reflecting the current weakness, they may in part have contributed to it by fuelling costly financial booms and busts and delaying adjustment. The result is too much debt, too little growth and too low interest rates. “In short, low rates beget lower rates.” The BIS warned that interest rates have now been so low for so long that central banks are unequipped to fight the next crises. “In some jurisdictions, monetary policy is already testing its outer limits, to the point of stretching the boundaries of the unthinkable,” the BIS said.

Policymakers in the eurozone, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland have taken their interest rates below zero in an attempt to support their economies, contributing to a decline in bond yields. Extraordinarily low interest rates are not a “new equilibrium” said Jaime Caruana, general manager of the BIS, rejecting the theory of so-called “secular stagnation” which some economists blame for the continued decline in global lending rates. “True, there may be secular forces that put downward pressure on equilibrium interest rates … [but] we argue that the current configuration of very low rates is neither inevitable, nor does it represent a new equilibrium,” he said.

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“..low rates beget lower rates…”

BIS Warns Low Interest Rates Could Spell ‘Entrenched Instability’ (AFP)

The Bank of International Settlements warned Sunday that persistently low interest rates were symptoms of a malaise in the global economy that could end in entrenched instability. The Basel-based institution, considered the central bank for central banks, hailed that plunging oil prices had boosted the global economy over the past year. But it cautioned that global debt burdens and financial risks remained too high, while productivity and financial growth were too low, leaving policy makers with little room to maneuvre. “In the long term, this runs the risk of entrenching instability and chronic weakness,” the report said. Claudio Borio, the head of the BIS monetary and economic department, said the “most visible symptom of this predicament is the persistence of ultra-low interest rates.”

“Interest rates have been exceptionally low for an extraordinarily long time,” he said, warning that previously “unthinkable” monetary policies were being so widely used they risked becoming the new norm. A number of countries, including Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden, have in recent months introduced negative rates, meaning investors have to pay to lend money to these states. Between December 2014 and the end of May, around $2.0 trillion in global long-term sovereign debt, much of it issued by euro area sovereigns, was trading at negative yields, BIS said. Key interest rates are lower now than at the height of the financial crisis that began in 2007, it added. “Such yields are unprecedented,” said the report.

The current low rates “are a vivid reminder of the extent to which monetary policy has been overburdened in an attempt to reinvigorate growth,” Borio said. “They have underpinned the contrast between high risk-taking in financial markets, where it can be harmful, and subdued risk-taking in the real economy, where additional investment is badly needed,” he said. Borio warned that the low rates do not just reflect the current weakness in the global economy, but “may in part have contributed to it by fuelling costly financial booms and busts and delaying adjustment.” “The result is too much debt, too little growth and too low interest rates,” he said, stressing that “low rates beget lower rates.”

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“..central banks are not commercial entities. Accepting losses is part of its public service mission. Keeping the banking system afloat is part of its core mission.”

The Staggering Cost Of Central Bank Dependence (Wyplosz)

This weekend’s dramatic events saw the ECB capping emergency assistance to Greece. This column argues that the ECB’s decision is the last of a long string of ECB mistakes in this crisis. Beyond triggering Greece’s Eurozone exit – thus revoking the euro’s irrevocability – it has shattered Eurozone governance and brought the politicisation of the ECB to new heights. Bound to follow are chaos in Greece and agitation of financial markets – both with unknown consequences.

The ECB has decided to maintain its current level of emergency liquidity to Greece (ECB 2015). By refusing to extend additional emergency liquidity, the ECB has decided that Greece must leave the Eurozone. This may be a legal necessity or a political judgement call, or both. Anyway, it raises a host of unpleasant questions about the treatment of a member country and about the independence of the central bank. As anticipated (Wyplosz, 2015), the negotiations between Greece have led nowhere. As a result, Greece is bound to default on all maturing debts in the days and weeks to come. With a primary budget close to balance, the Greek government could have soldiered on until new negotiations about the unavoidable write-down of its debt.

The risk for the Greeks of this ‘default strategy’ has always been that it depended entirely on the ECB’s willingness to continue providing the Greek banking system with liquidity, especially at a time of a bank run by rational depositors who put a non-zero risk of Grexit. Over the last weeks, the ECB has provided the needed liquidity in the face of a “slow-motion run” on Greek banks. Suddenly, on the morning of 28 June, the ECB has stopped providing emergency funding to Greek banks. In a classical self-fulfilling crisis fashion, this decision is bound to turn the “slow-motion run” into a panic. The bank holiday and capital controls announced will create some breathing space, but very briefly. These measures will not prevent the banking system from collapsing.

The natural consequence will be the collapse of the Greek banking system. At that stage, possibly earlier, the Greek authorities will have no choice but to leave the Eurozone and provide banks with the re-created drachma. Why did the ECB freeze its Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to Greece? The ECB will undoubtedly come up with all sorts of legal justifications. Whether true or not, this will not change the outcome. If the ECB is truly legally bound to stop ELA, this means that the Eurozone architecture is deeply flawed. If not, the ECB will have made a political decision of historical importance. Either way, this is a disastrous step. Whether it likes it or not, every central bank is a lender of last resort to commercial banks. By not keeping the Greek banking system afloat, the ECB is failing on a core responsibility.

One explanation is that the ECB fears losses. This is partly incorrect, partly misguided. It is incorrect because the ELA loans are provided by the Central Bank of Greece. It is the Central Bank of Greece, and therefore the Greek people, which stands to suffer losses from defaults by commercial banks. It is misguided because central banks are not commercial entities. Accepting losses is part of its public service mission. Keeping the banking system afloat is part of its core mission.

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Forced into capital controls by legally questionable troika measures. Some partnership.

Greece Introduces Capital Controls, Keep Banks Shut As Crisis Deepens (Reuters)

Greece will introduce capital controls and keep its banks closed on Monday after international creditors refused to extend the country’s bailout and savers queued to withdraw cash, taking Athens’ standoff to a dangerous new level. The Athens stock exchange will also be closed as the government tries to manage the financial fallout of the disagreement with the EU and IMF. Greece’s banks, kept afloat by emergency funding from the ECB, are on the front line as Athens moves towards defaulting on a €1.6 billion payment due to the IMF on Tuesday. Greece blamed the ECB, which had made it difficult for the banks to open because it froze the level of funding support rather than increasing it to cover a rise in withdrawals from worried depositors, for the moves.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said the decision to reject Greece’s request for a short extension of the bailout program was “an unprecedented act” that called into question the ability of a country to decide an issue affecting its sovereign rights. “This decision led the ECB today to limit the liquidity of Greek banks and forced the central bank of Greece to propose a bank holiday and a restriction on bank withdrawals,” he said in a televised address. Amid drama in Greece, where a clear majority of people want to remain inside the euro, the next few days present a major challenge to the integrity of the 16-year-old euro zone currency bloc. The consequences for markets and the wider financial system are unclear.

Greece’s left-wing Syriza government had for months been negotiating a deal to release funding in time for its IMF payment. Then suddenly, in the early hours of Saturday, Tspiras asked for extra time to enable Greeks to vote in a referendum on the terms of the deal. Creditors turned down this request, leaving little option for Greece but to default, piling further pressure on the country’s banking system.

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First they present Tsipras with a do-or-die plan, and now they come with another one again.

EU Offers Greek Voters 10-Point Plan on June 26 Bailout Offer (Bloomberg)

The European Commission offered Greek voters a 10-point plan for bailout requirements on Sunday, urging Greece to stay in the euro area. The list reflects the state of play as of 8 p.m. on June 26 and was never finished because negotiations broke down when Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced on Friday he would seek a referendum. It’s being published now “in the interest of transparency and for the information of the Greek people,” Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Twitter. Juncker will hold a news conference in Brussels at 12:45 p.m. on Monday, the commission said.

The list of measures was never finished or presented to euro-area finance ministers alongside an “outline of a comprehensive deal” because of “the unilateral decision of the Greek authorities to abandon the process,” the European Union’s executive arm said. The plans, published in English and in the process of being translated into Greek, were endorsed by the ECB and IMF, the commission said. The commission said the plans take into account Greek proposals from June 8, June 14, June 22 and June 25, as well as subsequent political and technical talks.

The Greek government hasn’t been informed of any change in the creditors’ proposals after June 25 if there has been one, a Greek government official said in an e-mailed statement. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said she briefed the IMF board on the state of play. “I shared my disappointment and underscored our commitment to continue to engage with the Greek authorities,” Lagarde said in a statement. “I welcome the statements of the Eurogroup and the European Central Bank to make full use of all available instruments to preserve the integrity and stability of the euro area.”

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“Democracy? What’s that?”

Athens Is Being Blackmailed (Philippe Legrain)

“If the Greek government thinks it should hold a referendum, it should hold a referendum. Maybe it would even be the right measure to let the Greek people decide whether they’re ready to accept what needs to be done.” Fine words from Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, on May 11. Yet on June 26, when prime minister Alexis Tsipras duly announced a referendum on whether the Greek government should accept its creditors’ highly unsatisfactory final offer, Schäuble and other eurozone finance ministers reacted very differently. They cut off negotiations with Athens, sabotaged the referendum, and set Greece on a course for capital controls, default, and potentially even euro exit. Democracy? What’s that?

The creditors have tried to blame Tsipras for the breakdown in negotiations. But it was their stubborn refusal to offer an insolvent Greece the debt relief that its depressed economy desperately needs to recover which backed Tsipras into a corner. In exchange for a short-lived infusion of cash, they were insisting on years of grinding austerity dressed up as “reforms”, as I explained previously. With rapacious creditors intent on pillaging the impoverished Greek economy, Tsipras could scarcely agree to their terms. So he gave Greeks themselves a say, while rightly urging them to vote No. Ironically, the exaggerated fear of Grexit and the emotional association, even after five years of debt bondage, between euro membership and being part of modern Europe might well have led Greeks to vote Yes to the creditors’ iniquitous terms.

But eurozone authorities are so terrified of voters that they have sought to deny Greeks a say. They rejected the Greek government’s request to extend the current EU loan program for a month beyond its expiry on June 30. So, if and when Greeks vote on July 5, the program will have expired, and with it the creditors’ offer on which they will be casting their ballots. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. [..] In the meantime, the creditors continue to ratchet up the pressure. Following on from the refusal to extend the EU loan program, the ECB on June 28 decided not to provide Greek banks with any additional emergency liquidity to cover cash withdrawals, which have gathered pace over the weekend. That political move forced the Greek government to declare a bank holiday on Monday to prevent a run that would cause the Greek banking system to collapse, along with capital controls to prevent euros draining out of the Greek economy.

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“Three days, three crises, and a collective performance that inspires little hope or confidence in their crisis management.”

A Disaster For Athens And A Colossal Failure For The EU (Guardian)

Five years from its inception, the world’s biggest bailout of a sovereign state will grind to an excruciating halt on Tuesday, theoretically leaving Greece high and dry and on its own under a leftwing government bitterly accusing the EU elite of deliberately using the country as a neo-liberal laboratory. If the experiment has been a disaster for Greece, it is also a colossal failure for Europe, with the result that at the very apex of leadership the EU nowadays resembles an unhappy assembly of squabbling politicians locked in what could not be called an “ever closer union”. Take just the last few days. On Thursday leaders at a summit contemplated formally for the first time, however briefly, the prospect of Britain leaving the EU.

By three o’clock on Friday morning they were all at one another’s throats in an unseemly quarrel over who should take part in accommodating a mere 40,000 refugees from Italy and Greece over two years, and on what terms. On Saturday, 18 governments of the eurozone cut Greece off and initiated a process that could end in pushing Athens out of the currency and perhaps out of the union. Three days, three crises, and a collective performance that inspires little hope or confidence in their crisis management. The air is already thick with recrimination, not just between Greece and the rest of Europe, but among the Europeans. France says that Greece must be saved, Germany says impossible.

The European commission is seeking to revive negotiation that are on their deathbed. The Finnish finance minister, Alex Stubb, is looking forward to the funeral. The IMF is at odds with the Europeans over the levels of Greek debt. Everywhere there is the sight of leaders seeking to escape responsibility for a sorry state of affairs. For weeks, in anticipation of the criticism certain to be directed at them in the event of a Greek collapse, senior German figures have privately been saying: “Well, nobody will be able to say that we did not try our best. At the meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Saturday that ended the Greek bailout, the French finance minister, Michel Sapin, was the only one with enough humility to remark that maybe the Europeans had got some things wrong and that things might have been done differently, according to witnesses.

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The US had better get going on the topic.

US Urges Europe, IMF To Reach Deal To Keep Greece In Eurozone (Reuters)

Top US officials waded in at the weekend to try to help resolve Greece’s financial woes, urging Europe and the IMF to come up with a recovery plan that keeps the country in the eurozone. In a series of separate phone calls on Saturday to IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde and the finance ministers of Germany and France, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urged them to “find a sustainable solution that puts Greece on a path toward reform and recovery within the eurozone,” according to a Treasury Department statement on Sunday about the calls. Lew noted it is “important for all parties to continue to work to reach a solution, including a discussion of potential debt relief for Greece,” in the run-up to a planned July 5 referendum in Greece on the terms of a bailout.

Greece is facing a looming Tuesday deadline on a 1.6-billion-euro payment due to the IMF. Earlier Sunday, Greece announced it will impose capital controls and keep its banks shut on Monday, after international creditors refused to extend the country’s bailout. Lew also underscored the need for Greece to adopt “difficult measures to reach a pragmatic compromise with its creditors,” the Treasury statement said. The Treasury spokesperson said senior department officials have also been in regulator communication with Greece and that Lew had spoken to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras “multiple times” over the past two weeks. The department has urged Greece to work closely with its international partners on planning for a bank holiday and capital controls, the spokesperson said.

President Barack Obama spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday about the Greek situation. “The two leaders agreed that it was critically important to make every effort to return to a path that will allow Greece to resume reforms and growth within the eurozone,” a White House statement said. “The leaders affirmed that their respective economic teams are carefully monitoring the situation and will remain in close touch.”

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“The Eurogroup is an informal group. Thus it is not bound by treaties or written regulations. While unanimity is conventionally adhered to, the Eurogroup president is not bound to explicit rules.”

The Moral Crusade Against Greece Must Be Opposed (Guardian)

‘This is our political alternative to neoliberalism and to the neoliberal process of European integration: democracy, more democracy and even deeper democracy,” said Alexis Tsipras on 18 January 2014 in a debate organised by the Dutch Socialist party in Amersfoort. Now the moment of deepest democracy looms, as the Greek people go to the polls on Sunday to vote for or against the next round of austerity. Unfortunately, Sunday’s choice will be between endless austerity and immediate chaos. As comfortable as it is to argue from the sidelines that maybe Grexit in the medium term won’t hurt as much as 30 years’ drag on GDP from swingeing repayments, no sane person wants either.

The vision that Syriza swept to power on was that if you spoke truth to the troika plainly and in broad daylight, they would have to acknowledge that austerity was suffocating Greece. They have acknowledged no such thing. Whatever else one could say about the handling of the crisis, and whatever becomes of the euro, Sunday will be the moment that unstoppable democracy meets immovable supra-democracy. The Eurogroup has already won: the Greek people can vote any way they like – but what they want, they cannot have. On Saturday the Eurogroup broke with its tradition of unanimity, issuing a petulant statement “supported by all members except the Greek member”.

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, sought legal advice on whether the group was allowed to exclude him, and received the extraordinary reply: “The Eurogroup is an informal group. Thus it is not bound by treaties or written regulations. While unanimity is conventionally adhered to, the Eurogroup president is not bound to explicit rules.” Or, to put it another way: “We never had any accountability in the first place, sucker.” More striking still is this line of the statement: “The Eurogroup has been open until the very last moment to further support the Greek people through a continued growth-oriented programme.” The measures enforced by the troika have created an economic contraction akin to that caused by war. With unemployment at 25% and youth unemployment at nearly half, 40% of children now live below the poverty line.

The latest offer to Greece promises more of the same. The idea that any of this is oriented towards growth is demonstrably false. The Eurogroup president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has started to assert that black is white. [..] These talks did not fail by accident. The Greeks have to be humiliated, because the alternative – of treating them as equal parties or “adults”, as Lagarde wished them to be – would lead to a debate about the Eurogroup: what its foundations are, what accountability would look like, and what its democratic levers are – if indeed it has any. Solidarity with Greece means everyone, in and outside the single currency, forcing this conversation: the country is being sacrificed to maintain a set of delusions that enfeebles us all.

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Merkel’s fumble. Dropped ball.

Cautious Merkel On Verge Of Biggest Risk With ‘Grexit’ (Reuters)

“If you break it, you own it,” former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell warned President George W. Bush before his invasion of Iraq. Whether it will ever be fair to blame Angela Merkel for “breaking” Greece is debatable. But if the euro zone’s weakest link does default this week and is eventually forced out of the single currency, it seems inevitable that the German chancellor, Europe’s most powerful leader, will “own” the Greek problem and that a decision to let Athens go would profoundly shape her legacy. For months, the notoriously cautious Merkel has been wrestling with the question of whether to risk a “Grexit” and accept the financial, economic and geopolitical backlash it would surely unleash.

Unlike her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, who sent abundant signals in recent months that he could accept a euro zone that does not include Greece, Merkel has been determined to avoid such an outcome, according to her closest advisers. If Greece ends up leaving the euro zone anyway, many in Germany and elsewhere will blame the left-wing government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that came to power in January. It has infuriated its partners with what they have perceived to be an erratic, confrontational stance in the debt talks. Tsipras’s call on Friday for a referendum on Europe’s latest bailout offer, only days before Greece is due to run out of cash, made it easy for Merkel, 60, to say enough is enough, and threaten to pull the plug once and for all.

But it will be Merkel, more than any other European leader, who will have to sort through the rubble of a “Grexit” and answer the question of why disaster was not averted. A Greek exit could lead to a humanitarian crisis on Europe’s southern rim, spark contagion in euro countries that are only just emerging from years of deep recession, and stoke a fiery new debate about German austerity policies and Merkel’s handling of the crisis. Allowing Greece to exit would be by far the boldest move she has taken since coming to power nearly a decade ago, far riskier than her decision in 2011 to phase out nuclear power.[..]

France has toed the German line until now. But at a decisive meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Saturday, France broke with Germany and other countries, arguing in favor of extending Greece’s bailout to allow a referendum to take place, euro zone officials said. The French were slapped down and the Greek request for an extension denied. Now Merkel, barring a miraculous eleventh hour deal with Athens, must face the consequences.

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Incredibly tragic.

The Greeks For Whom All The Talk Means Nothing – Because They Have Nothing (G.)

On a steep, gardenia-scented street in the north-eastern Athens suburb of Gerakas, in one corner of a patch of bare ground, stands a small caravan. Plastic mesh fencing – orange, of the kind builders use – encloses a neat garden in which peppers, courgettes, lettuces and beans grow in well-tended raised beds. Flowers, too. The caravan is old, but spotless. It is home to Georgios Karvouniaris, 61, and his sister Barbara, 64, two Greeks for whom all the Brussels wrangling over VAT rates, corporation tax and pension reforms has meant nothing – because they have nothing, no income of any kind.

Next Sunday’s referendum – which, if the country stays solvent that long, will either send Greece back to the negotiating table with its creditors or precipitate its exit from the eurozone – is unlikely to affect them much either. “I do not see how any of it will change our lives. I have no hope, anyway,” said Georgios, sitting in a scavenged plastic garden chair beneath a parasol liberated from a skip. After seven years of a crisis that has left 26% of Greece’s workforce unemployed, 30% of its people below the poverty line, 17% unable to meet their daily food needs and 3.1 million without health insurance, it is hard to see how anything decided in Brussels or in Athens in the coming week will do much to change the lives of a large number of Greeks any time soon.

“Those that were already on the margins have been pushed right to the very, very edge, and those who were in the middle have been pushed to the margins,” said Ioanna Pertsinidou of Praksis, a charity that runs day centres for vulnerable people and offers legal and employment advice. “So many people – ordinary, low-to-middle income people with jobs and homes and their lives on track – have seen their lives go drown the drain so fast,” Pertsinidou said. “People who never dreamed that one day they would not be able to pay their electricity bill, or feed their children properly.”

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“The troika clearly did a reverse Corleone — they made Tsipras an offer he can’t accept..”

Grisis (Paul Krugman)

OK, this is real: Greek banks closed, capital controls imposed. Grexit isn’t a hard stretch from here — the much feared mother of all bank runs has already happened, which means that the cost-benefit analysis starting from here is much more favorable to euro exit than it ever was before. Clearly, though, some decisions now have to wait on the referendum. I would vote no, for two reasons. First, much as the prospect of euro exit frightens everyone – me included – the troika is now effectively demanding that the policy regime of the past five years be continued indefinitely. Where is the hope in that? Maybe, just maybe, the willingness to leave will inspire a rethink, although probably not.

But even so, devaluation couldn’t create that much more chaos than already exists, and would pave the way for eventual recovery, just as it has in many other times and places. Greece is not that different. Second, the political implications of a yes vote would be deeply troubling. The troika clearly did a reverse Corleone — they made Tsipras an offer he can’t accept, and presumably did this knowingly. So the ultimatum was, in effect, a move to replace the Greek government. And even if you don’t like Syriza, that has to be disturbing for anyone who believes in European ideals.

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Another useless number from El-Erian. RBS just said 40%. Equally void of meaning.

El-Erian: 85% Grexit Odds as ‘Massive’ Contraction Looms (Bloomberg)

Greece is heading for a “massive economic contraction” and is likely to be forced out of the euro zone, according to Mohamed El-Erian, the former chief executive at Pimco. Greece shut its banks and imposed capital controls in a dead-of-night announcement designed to avert the collapse of its financial system after a weekend of turmoil. People rushed to line up at ATMs and gas stations following Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s shock announcement late Friday of a July 5 referendum on austerity measures demanded by the country’s creditors. “There’s an 85% probability that Greece will be forced to leave the euro zone” in the next few weeks, El-Erian said in an interview from New York.

“What we are seeing here is what economists call the sudden stop, when the payment system stops. The logic of a sudden stop is a massive economic contraction, social unrest and it’s going to make continued membership of the euro zone very difficult for Greece.” The euro dropped more then 1% and Treasuries surged by the most since 2011 as the collapse of Greek rescue talks roiled global markets. The lack of trust on both sides now makes it very hard to see how there can be an agreement that would resolve the impasse, said El-Erian, who worked at the IMF from 1983 to 1997.

“This has been an accident in the making for a number of years,” said El-Erian, who is also a Bloomberg View columnist. “It reflects an inability to understand each other’s point of view and an inability to compromise. Europe should have been much more forthcoming on debt reduction and Greece should have been much more forthcoming on implementing reforms.” El-Erian said the ECB will be a key player in trying to contain fallout across the region as the crisis threatens to undo much of the work that President Mario Draghi has done to shore up confidence in the euro as a leading currency of global trade.

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Long predicted, now reality.

Chinese Stocks Crash Most In 19 Years Despite PBOC Hail Mary (Zero Hedge)

Carnage…

*CHINA STOCK PANIC SELLING TO CONTINUE, CENTRAL CHINA ZHANG SAYS

This leave China’s CSI-300 broad stock index futures up just 7% year-to-date…

*CHINA CSI 500 STOCK-INDEX FUTURES FALL BY MAXIMUM 10% LIMIT
*CHINA CSI 500 STOCK-INDEX FUTURES FALL BY LIMIT FOR 2ND DAY

*SHANGHAI COMPOSITE INDEX EXTENDS DROP TO 7.5%
*SHANGHAI COMPOSITE HEADS FOR BIGGEST 3-DAY DROP SINCE 1996

The bounce is dead. CHINEXT – China’s tech-heavy high beta ‘Nasdaq’ – is down 5-6% today, 19% in 3 days, and 33% from highs in early June…!

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XI and Li better think of something, fast.

A China Market Crash “Poses Great Danger To Social Stability” (Zero Hedge)

While Greece has understandably been the focal news event over the weekend – after all it has been 5 years in the making – let’s not forget that in another massive move, one geared squarely to prevent a market collapse and to avoid even further panic, the Chinese central bank cut both its policy rate and the reserve rate in a dramatic push to calm down markets after a 10% crash in just two trading days. Which, incidentally, shows that after the Fed, the BOE, the SNB, the BOJ and the ECB, the PBOC is the latest bank to have cornered itself in a world where it must inflate the bubble at all costs or face the dire consequences. What consequences? Nomura explains:

The policy easing should be viewed as a measure to contain the risk of a hard landing or systemic crisis rather than one to achieve faster growth. In this case, the stronger-than-expected monetary easing may help stem the decline in the equity market following a 10.6% drop over the past two trading days. The positive wealth effect of the equity market on consumption or aggregate demand is limited in China, but an equity market collapse would hurt millions of mid-class households and pose great danger to the economy and social stability.

And there you have it: just like all other central banks, the opportunity cost to markets returning to fair value is nothing short of social conflict (as admirably displayed with every passing day in the US) and even, perhaps, civil war. Which means that unlike before, when the bursting of the bubble would merely lead to a few high flying 1%-ers literally flying from the top floor having lost everything, this time the gamble could not have been higher, and when the central banks finally lose control the outcome will be nothing short of war… just as Paul Tudor Jones, Kyle Bass and countless others have warned before.

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No way.

Will Beijing Really Be The Last Rescuer For Everyone In The Stock Market? (SCMP)

The most dangerous idea gaining traction in the Chinese stock market is the naïve consensus among ordinary investors that no matter how bad the market gets, the Communist Party will eventually rescue everyone. The central bank surprised everyone with its announcement on Saturday that it will cut its benchmark deposit and lending rates by 25 basis points – the fourth reduction since November. Meanwhile, it also decided to reduce the reserve requirement ratio at selected banks to further ease liquidity in the banking system. The unusual “double cut” move came just 24 hours after more than US$760 billion was wiped off the value of mainland stocks – equivalent to the market capitalisation of US technology giant Apple.

The reasons for the market crash are complicated, including margin calls, tight liquidity at the end of the month, and panic. Afterwards, the most frequently heard question was, what will the government do to rescue the market. Rescue? Is this really government’s responsibility? China has been through the planned economy model for decades. This is especially ingrained in the generation of my parents, who make up the bulk of individual investors. Just as everything once belonged to the government, many of these people believe the stock market should also belong to the government. So it’s the job of the government – in other words, the Communist Party – to rescue the market.

Unfortunately, many Chinese experts and professors are also promoting this naïve view of the relationship between domestic investors and the government. After the central bank’s moves on Saturday, many experts told state media that they believed the central bank acted mainly to rescue the stock market, given the timing of the decision. Suddenly, investors who felt that Friday was the end of the world – with more than 2,000 stocks sinking – began to talk about what stocks they should buy on Monday morning. “You still don’t get it? It’s now like the government policy that the stock market must go up. Otherwise, why bother asking the central bank to rescue the market?” said one investor in a post on Weibo. Many others echoed his views on the social media network.

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Not a chance.

Does China’s Central Bank Know What It’s Doing? (Bloomberg)

If you think the U.S. Federal Reserve has a problem communicating its intentions, spare a thought for the People’s Bank of China. In the space of a few days, China’s central bank has changed policy twice, and the message was largely unintelligible both times. Does that matter? One answer: Over the past two weeks, thanks partly to confusion over monetary policy, China’s stock market has suffered its biggest drop in almost 20 years. On Thursday, with the stock market already down from its peak, the central bank subtly eased policy with a technical maneuver involving so-called reverse-repurchase agreements. This left investors wondering, “Is that it?” They’d thought a cut in interest rates was coming; when they concluded it wasn’t, stocks plunged.

Afterward, on Saturday, the PBOC not only cut the benchmark interest rate but also eased its reserve requirements – the first time it has done both at once since 2008. So the central bank went from a surprisingly mild adjustment to a surprisingly dramatic one with a stock-market crash in between. And what PBOC Governor Zhou Xiaochuan intended by these moves still isn’t clear. With the economy slowing, a further lowering of interest rates already made sense on macroeconomic grounds. But the timing of the second and larger change in policy suggests that China’s still-overvalued stock market, rather than the slowing economy, is directing policy. Some analysts are even talking about a “Zhou put” – a Chinese version of the notorious “Greenspan put,” supposedly intended to put a floor under stock prices after the crash of 1987. Many argue that it also pushed U.S. interest rates too low for too long.

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More crisis.

Puerto Rico’s Governor Says Island’s Debts Are ‘Not Payable’ (NY Times)

Puerto Rico’s governor, saying he needs to pull the island out of a “death spiral,” has concluded that the commonwealth cannot pay its roughly $72 billion in debts, an admission that will probably have wide-reaching financial repercussions. The governor, Alejandro García Padilla, and senior members of his staff said in an interview last week that they would probably seek significant concessions from as many as all of the island’s creditors, which could include deferring some debt payments for as long as five years or extending the timetable for repayment. “The debt is not payable,” Mr. García Padilla said. “There is no other option. I would love to have an easier option. This is not politics, this is math.”

It is a startling admission from the governor of an island of 3.6 million people, which has piled on more municipal bond debt per capita than any American state. A broad restructuring by Puerto Rico sets the stage for an unprecedented test of the United States municipal bond market, which cities and states rely on to pay for their most basic needs, like road construction and public hospitals. That market has already been shaken by municipal bankruptcies in Detroit; Stockton, Calif.; and elsewhere, which undercut assumptions that local governments in the United States would always pay back their debt. Puerto Rico’s bonds have a face value roughly eight times that of Detroit’s bonds. Its call for debt relief on such a vast scale could raise borrowing costs for other local governments as investors become more wary of lending.

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Mar 182015
 
 March 18, 2015  Posted by at 6:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


DPC Station at foot of incline, American Falls, Niagara Falls 1890

The US Economy Just Keeps Disappointing (Bloomberg)
‘Hell Will Break Loose’ If Fed Loses Patience (MarketWatch)
Options Market Signals 2007-Like Crash Risk, Goldman Warns (Zero Hedge)
US Housing Starts Plunge Most in Four Years (Bloomberg)
New BoE Regulator Warns Of Risks From US Rate Hikes, Dollar Strength (Reuters)
Europeans Defy US To Join China-Led Development Bank (FT)
Debunking $1.4 Trillion Europe Debt Myth in Post-Heta Age (Bloomberg)
Greek PM Tsipras To Meet Merkel, Draghi In Brussels On Friday (Kathimerini)
Greece WWII Reparations Cause Split Among German MPs (RT)
Athens Furious At Eurogroup Suggestion Of Capital Controls (Kathimerini)
Greece Grabs Cash as More Than $2 Billion in Payouts Loom (Bloomberg)
Greece’s Euro Exit Seems Inevitable (Bloomberg)
EU Warns Against Bills On Debt Settlement, Humanitarian Crisis (Kathimerini)
Japan Exports Slow Sharply In February But Beat Expectations (CNBC)
China New Home Prices Post Sixth Consecutive Monthly Decline (CNBC)
BoE’s Brazier Says Greek Shock Could Trigger Market Correction (Bloomberg)
EU Support for Russia Sanctions Is Waning (Bloomberg)
ECB Celebration of Its New $1.4 Billion Tower Spoiled by Protests (Bloomberg)
Bolivia: A Country That Dared to Exist (Benjamin Dangl)

“..relative to where economists thought we would be, the U.S. is missing by a large margin..”

The US Economy Just Keeps Disappointing (Bloomberg)

Last week, we reported on how the U.S. economy was the most disappointing major economy in the world based on the Bloomberg Economic Surprise Index, which measures incoming economic data against economist expectations. These measures tend to move in cycles, as they reflect both the absolute economic data as well as the optimism or pessimism of the forecasters, which is in itself cyclical. For the U.S. we keep driving lower, hitting depths not seen since the economic crisis. Again, this doesn’t mean that the economy is anywhere near as bad as it was then. But whether it’s a slowdown caused by the harsh winter or something else, relative to where economists thought we would be, the U.S. is missing by a large margin.

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“On the other hand, if Janet is patient and says so, we’re all going to make an absurd amount of money.”

‘Hell Will Break Loose’ If Fed Loses Patience (MarketWatch)

Daytraders tend to relish when the market bounces around like a leprechaun on a hot griddle. But for everybody else, it’s tense times in the trading pits these days. While a calm often settles over markets in the days leading into a hyped-up Fed statement, recent action says to gird for more rockiness. Dips are being bought and profits are being scalped. Yet for all the sparks flying on the S&P, its up only 1% so far this year. That’s better than down, of course, unless you’re betting the “don’t pass” line. But compare that with the 24% explosion to the upside on Germany’s main index, and you’d be pardoned for suffering Teutonic envy. Shanghai, while no Germany, is also doing better than U.S. stocks, and a tandem of brokers are feeling the bull run in China has a long way to run (see call of the day).

Nevertheless, the U.S. is still firmly entrenched in its own bull party, despite recent queasiness. In fact, we’re just about 2,200 days into it. Another two months, and this bull market will overtake the one from 1974-1980 as the third-longest since 1929, according to Bloomberg. Getting there just might hinge on the Fed’s next move. It could go either way, according to the Fly from the iBankCoin blog, who spoke of extremes. “If we find out this Wednesday that [Janet Yellen] is not, in fact, patient, hell will break loose and 66 seals of hell will be broken — paving way for actual centaurs to roam, wall-kicking people in the faces with their hooves,” he wrote. “On the other hand, if Janet is patient and says so, we’re all going to make an absurd amount of money.”

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“..an epic decoupling of put prices and S&P P/E ratios”

Options Market Signals 2007-Like Crash Risk, Goldman Warns (Zero Hedge)

Although US equity prices have demonstrated a remarkable propensity to completely disregard apparently unimportant things like macro fundamentals, forward earnings estimates, and top-line growth projections, we’ve long argued that eventually, reality will come calling and the farther stretched valuations become in the meantime, the more painful the correction will be. As we noted on Sunday, the cracks are starting to form as DB became the first sell-side firm to predict that EPS will in fact not grow in 2015, prompting us to remark that “EPS growth in 2015 [is] now a wash (if not negative), which implies the only upside for the S&P 500 will once again come from substantial multiple expansion.” Against this backdrop of declining revenues, declining earnings, and pitiable economic projections (thanks a lot Atlanta Fed Nowcast), we bring you yet another sign that a “correction” may indeed be in the cards: an epic decoupling of put prices and S&P P/E ratios. Here’s Goldman:

Long-dated crash put protection costs on the SPX have more than doubled over the past 9 months. We believe it is an important development to watch as it implies investors are increasingly concerned about downside risk even as US equities trade near all-time highs. Based on our conversations with investors over the past few months, it appears the increase in long-dated put prices has largely gone unnoticed among equity and credit investors. In fact, Investment Grade credit spreads have actually tightened slightly over the same period. The rise in long-dated equity put prices may signal an increasing fear that a substantial market correction is on the horizon, despite low short-term put prices which suggest low probably of a near-term drawdown vs history.

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“It was just the weather, basically..”: “Starts of single-family properties dropped 14.9%..” “New construction slumped a record 56.5% in the Northeast..”

US Housing Starts Plunge Most in Four Years (Bloomberg)

Housing starts slumped in February by the most in four years as bad winter weather in parts of the U.S. prevented builders from initiating new projects. Work began on 897,000 houses at an annualized rate, down 17% from January and the fewest in a year, the Commerce Department reported Tuesday in Washington. The median estimate of 80 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for 1.04 million. “It was just the weather, basically,” said Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial Corp. in Birmingham, Alabama. Still, “my view of the recovery in single-family housing is that it’s coming more gradually than others think.” An increase in building permits was driven by applications for multifamily units, indicating single-family construction, the biggest part of the market, will keep struggling.

While stronger hiring and low borrowing costs have helped the industry advance, sales remain challenged by limited supply of cheaper homes and sluggish wage growth. The median estimate of 81 economists in the Bloomberg survey called for 1.04 million starts. Estimates ranged from annualized rates of 975,000 to 1.08 million after a previously reported January pace of 1.07 million. Building permits climbed 3% to a 1.09 million annualized pace, the fastest since October, after a 1.06 million rate a month earlier. They were projected at 1.07 million, according to the Bloomberg survey median. Permits for single-family dwellings were the lowest since May.

Stock-index futures held losses after the figures. The contract on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index maturing in June dropped 0.3% to 2,063.3. Starts of single-family properties dropped 14.9% to a 593,000 rate in February. Construction of multifamily projects such as condominiums and apartment buildings decreased 20.8% to an annual rate of 304,000. New construction slumped a record 56.5% in the Northeast and fell 37%, the most since January 2014, in the Midwest. Starts also dropped in the South and West, indicating weather was only partly to blame.

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Hollow.

New BoE Regulator Warns Of Risks From US Rate Hikes, Dollar Strength (Reuters)

The start of U.S. interest rate rises could inject volatility into global financial markets and create risks for Britain’s financial stability, a new member of the Bank of England’s top panel of financial regulators said on Tuesday. Alex Brazier, who took a seat on the BoE’s Financial Policy Committee on Monday, cited the normalisation of U.S. borrowing costs as one of the main global risks for markets. The FPC was set up in 2013 after the failure of Britain’s financial regulation to protect the country against the 2007-08 financial crisis. Last year it imposed curbs on large mortgages and required banks to hold more reserves against potential losses. Brazier – in remarks which share concerns expressed by other BoE officials – said rate hikes by the U.S. Federal Reserve or a change in perceptions of their timing and scale would reflect good news about the U.S. economic recovery.

“However, it would probably reduce the extent of the search for yield and prompt a reduction in global risk appetite,” Brazier said in answer to questions from members of parliament who are reviewing his appointment. Brazier joined the BoE in 2001 after university, and most recently served as principal private secretary to Governor Mark Carney and his predecessor, Mervyn King. “Both of them pushed me to the edges of my limits,” Brazier said, noting that his hair had turned prematurely grey. Brazier is now the BoE’s executive director for financial stability, strategy and risk. This is a new role created last year by Carney as part of a shake-up of the bank. BoE chief economist Spencer Dale briefly held the job before he quit to become chief economist for oil company BP.

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“.. the White House criticism of Britain was a case of sour grapes: “They couldn’t have got congressional approval to join the AIIB, even if they wanted to.”

Europeans Defy US To Join China-Led Development Bank (FT)

France, Germany and Italy have all agreed to follow Britain’s lead and join a China-led international development bank, according to European officials, delivering a blow to US efforts to keep leading western countries out of the new institution. The decision by the three European governments comes after Britain announced last week that it would join the $50bn Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a potential rival to the Washington-based World Bank. Australia, a key US ally in the Asia-Pacific region which had come under pressure from Washington to stay out of the new bank, has also said that it will now rethink that position.

The European decisions represent a significant setback for the Obama administration, which has argued that western countries could have more influence over the workings of the new bank if they stayed together on the outside and pushed for higher lending standards. The AIIB, which was formally launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping last year, is one element of a broader Chinese push to create new financial and economic institutions that will increase its international influence. It has become a central issue in the growing contest between China and the US over who will define the economic and trade rules in Asia over the coming decades. When Britain announced its decision to join the AIIB last week, the Obama administration told the Financial Times that it was part of a broader trend of “constant accommodation” by London of China.

British officials were relatively restrained in their criticism of China over its handling of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year. Britain tried to gain “first mover advantage” last week by signing up to the fledgling Chinese-led bank before other G7 members. The UK government claimed it had to move quickly because of the impending May 7 general election. The move by George Osborne, the UK chancellor of the exchequer, won plaudits in Beijing. Britain hopes to establish itself as the number one destination for Chinese investment and UK officials were unrepentant. One suggested that the White House criticism of Britain was a case of sour grapes: “They couldn’t have got congressional approval to join the AIIB, even if they wanted to.”

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A potential bombshell.

Debunking $1.4 Trillion Europe Debt Myth in Post-Heta Age (Bloomberg)

Austria’s decision to burn bondholders of a failed state bank may mean almost €1.3 trillion of European debt once deemed risk-free now comes with a hazard warning. Austria is the first country to wind down a bank, Heta, under the EU’s new Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive after changing laws last year to allow it to write down subordinated debt of its failed predecessor, Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank. The government is also refusing to stand behind guarantees by the province of Carinthia on Heta’s senior debt. The moves are putting bondholders at risk of losses. As age-old banking mores clash with modern banking rules, investors are being forced to take a second look at how governments have used explicit or implicit promises in the past to issue debt that doesn’t show up in official ledgers.

“People had too much trust in public authorities,” said Otto Dichtl, a credit analyst for financial companies at Stifel Nicolaus. “Austria dropping Carinthia like this is an extraordinary step. We have to see just how this is carried out. From a legal perspective, this is uncharted territory.” Based on current bond prices, Heta’s senior creditors, who bought securities covered by a guarantee from Carinthia province, face losses of more than 40% on their €10.2 billion of debt. Carinthia, a southern Austrian region of 556,000 people with annual revenue of less than €2.4 billion, may face insolvency if the guarantees are triggered. Until this year, figures for debt guarantees weren’t disclosed in most European countries, a fact that helped Greece conceal its true debt levels to gain entry to the euro in 2001.

Greece undertook the biggest debt restructuring on record in 2012. New rules by the European Council, known as the “six pack” directive, led to data as of 2013 being published for the first time last month, revealing €1.28 trillion of government guarantees. The EU introduced the six laws in 2011. As the EU’s biggest user of guarantees, Austria has contingent liabilities corresponding to 35% of national output, or €113 billion, the data show. It isn’t just Austria that has liberally applied state guarantees. Ireland has contingent liabilities equivalent to 32% of its economy, reflecting the collapse of its banking system, while Germany’s tally stands at more than 18% of output. German guarantees, encompassing €512 billion, are the biggest in absolute terms, followed by Spain with €193 billion and France with €117 billion.

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Merkel gets closer.

Greek PM Tsipras To Meet Merkel, Draghi In Brussels On Friday (Kathimerini)

With Greece rapidly running out of funds, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has proposed an urgent meeting on the sidelines of the European Union summit that begins on Thursday in a bid to reach an agreement that would allow Athens to get more funds. Greece urgently needs between €3 and €5 billion. Tsipras on Tuesday telephoned European Council President Donald Tusk and asked him to convene a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Francois Hollande, ECB President Mario Draghi and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker. The meeting will be held on Friday morning, despite the fact that European officials questioned its use.

Sources in Brussels said the proposal was a mistake, as it focused on meeting with the leaders of two countries, and the heads of the ECB and the Commission, rather than pursuing a collective agreement in the EU, and it was not clear what Tsipras wanted to achieve. If the aim was to achieve more funding, this would have to be the subject of technical discussions between experts and could not be dealt with at the political level. However, with teams of experts still unable to reach a conclusion as to Greece’s financing needs and its compliance with the bailout agreement, agreement at the political level is precisely what Tsipras is after.

He wants an agreement on a framework that will set out what Greece must do in order to get the ECB to allow his country to borrow more, a source in Tsipras’s office told Kathimerini. Tsipras is prepared to accept reforms that will be proposed by Greece’s partners, including privatization, the same source said. They stressed that Athens would draw the line at adopting further austerity measures. “We accept everything else, on the basis of the commitments made in [Finance Minister] Yanis Varoufakis’s letter to the Eurogroup,” the source added. The Greek prime minister is to meet the German chancellor in Berlin on March 23, following an invitation from Merkel on Monday.

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That’s what I said: “Germany can’t simply sweep the demands from Greece off the table.”

Greece WWII Reparations Cause Split Among German MPs (RT)

Several senior Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens have for the first time acknowledged that Greece has a case for WWII reparations. This contradicts the stance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government which had ruled it out. “We should make a financial approach to victims and their families,” said Gesine Schwan, chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) values committee told Der Spiegel Online on Tuesday. “It would be good for us Germans to sweep up after ourselves in terms of our history,” she said. “Victims and descendants have longer memories than perpetrators and descendants,” said Schwan, who was nominated as a candidate for President twice in 2004 and 2009. SPD deputy leader Ralf Stegner agreed that the issue should be resolved, however independently from the current debate over the Euro crisis and Greek sovereign debt.

“But independently, we must have a discussion about reparations,” Ralf Stegner told Spiegel. “After decades, there are still international legal questions to be resolved.” SPD is the second major party in Germany that shares power with Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU). The SPD were joined by the Green party, with leader Anton Hofreiter saying that “Germany can’t simply sweep the demands from Greece off the table.” “This chapter isn’t closed either morally or legally.” Demands for reparations from Germany dating back to the Nazi occupation during World War II have been voiced by Greek politicians over the past 60 years, but have gained renewed energy amid the recent financial crisis and tough austerity measures in exchange for largely German-backed loans.

In April 2013 Greece officially declared that it would pursue the reparations scheme. Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leader of the anti-austerity Syriza party relaunched the heated debate in February by saying that Athens has a “historical obligation” to claim from Germany billions of euros in reparations for the physical and financial destruction committed during Nazi occupation. However, Germany’s government has said that this issue has already been legally resolved, arguing that Greece is trying to detract attention from the serious financial problems the country is facing.

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“We cannot easily understand the reasons that pushed him to make statements that are not fitting to the role he has been entrusted with.”

Athens Furious At Eurogroup Suggestion Of Capital Controls (Kathimerini)

The chairman of the Eurogroup, Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, on Tuesday became the first European Union official to suggest the possibility of capital controls to prevent Greece leaving the euro, drawing a furious reaction from Athens, which accused him of “blackmail.” “It’s been explored what should happen if a country gets into deep trouble – that doesn’t immediately have to be an exit scenario,” Bloomberg quoted the head of the eurozone’s finance ministers telling his country’s BNR Nieuwsradio. On Cyprus, he said, “we had to take radical measures, banks were closed for a while and capital flows within and out of the country were tied to all kinds of conditions, but you can think of all kinds of scenarios.”

Greece is scrambling to pay its obligations as revenues drop and it needs the European Central Bank to allow it to borrow more funds. Its eurozone partners are awaiting the result of an inspection into Greece’s finances and its compliance with the bailout program. In Athens, the government issued an angry reply. “It would be useful for everyone and for Mr. Dijsselbloem to respect his institutional role in the eurozone,” Gavriil Sakellaridis said. “We cannot easily understand the reasons that pushed him to make statements that are not fitting to the role he has been entrusted with. Everything else is a fantasy scenario. We find it superfluous to remind him that Greece will not be blackmailed.”

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Schaeuble keeps at it: “Greek leaders are “lying to the population..”

Greece Grabs Cash as More Than $2 Billion in Payouts Loom (Bloomberg)

Greece will begin debating measures to boost liquidity as the cash-starved country braces for more than €2 billion in debt payments Friday. Unable to access bailout funding and locked out of capital markets, the government will outline emergency plans to parliament Tuesday to increase funding. Payments due March 20 include interest on a swap originally arranged by Goldman Sachs, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified publicly discussing the derivative. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government is burning through cash while trying to get its creditors – euro area member states, the ECB and the IMF – to release more money from its €240 billion bailout program.

European governments have said they won’t disburse any more emergency loans unless the government in Athens implements a set of economic overhauls agreed last month, including pension and sales tax reform. “As days go by, room for maneuver becomes ever smaller,” said Theodore Pelagidis at the Brookings Institution. “The impression given is that there’s no plan A or plan B. There’s nothing.” The government’s revenue-boosting plan includes eliminating fines on those who submit overdue taxes by March 27 to encourage payment, helping cover salaries and pensions due at the end of the month. The bill also requires pension funds and public entities to invest reserves held at the Bank of Greece in government securities and repurchase agreements, and transfers €556 million from the country’s bank recapitalization fund to the state.

A vote on the measures is scheduled for Wednesday. Greek stocks rebounded Tuesday, ending four days of declines, with the benchmark Athens Stock Exchange gaining 2.6%. Yields on 3-year bonds rose 8 basis points to 20.25%. The government said March 14 it has a plan to “enhance its liquidity” and won’t have problems meeting payments for civil servants and retirees due just one week after the March 20th debt payments. Tsipras has pledged to meet the country’s obligations while at the same time ending austerity measures. “None of my colleagues, or anyone in the international institutions, can tell me how this is supposed to work,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in Berlin Monday. Greek leaders are “lying to the population,” he said.

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“Put them in front of their contradictions. Make them face the contradictions of the eurozone themselves.”

Greece’s Euro Exit Seems Inevitable (Bloomberg)

Greece’s money troubles resemble a game of pass the parcel, where each successive participant rips another sheet of wrapping paper off the box — which turns out to be empty when the final recipient reaches the core. With time and money running out, a successful endgame seems even less likely than it did a week or a month ago. It’s increasingly obvious that the government’s election promises are incompatible with the economic demands of its euro partners. Something’s got to give. The current money-go-round is unsustainable. Euro-region taxpayers fund their governments, which in turn bankroll the ECB. Cash from the ECB’s Emergency Liquidity Scheme flows to the Greek banks; they buy treasury bills from their government, which uses the proceeds to …repay its IMF debts! No wonder a recent poll by German broadcaster ZDF shows 52% of Germans say they want Greece out of the euro, up from 41% last month.

There’s blame on both sides for the current impasse. Euro-area leaders should be giving Greece breathing space to get its economic act together. But the Greek leadership has been cavalier in its treatment of its creditors. It’s been amateurish in expecting that a vague promise to collect more taxes would win over Germany and its allies. And it’s been unrealistic in expecting the ECB to plug a funding gap in the absence of a political agreement for getting back to solvency. There’s a YouTube video making the rounds on Twitter this week of a lecture Yanis Varoufakis gave in Croatia in May 2013. The most arresting section comes after about two minutes, when the current Greek finance minister literally flips the bird at Germany [..] And if what Varoufakis went on to say is instructive of the game-theory professor’s mind-set, the lack of progress in negotiations with lenders isn’t so surprising:

The most effective radical policy would be for a Greek government to rise up or a Greek prime minister or minister of finance, to rise up in EcoFin in the euro group, wherever, and say “folks, we’re defaulting. We shall not be repaying next May the 6 billion that supposedly we owe the ECB. My God you know, to have a destroyed economy that is borrowing from the ESM to pay to the ECB is not just idiotic, but it’s the epitome of misanthropy.

Say no to that. Put them in front of their contradictions. Make them face the contradictions of the eurozone themselves. Because the moment that the Greek prime minister declares default within the euro zone, all hell will break loose and either they will have to introduce shock absorbers, or the euro will die anyway, and then we can go to the drachma.

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A sovereign nation?

EU Warns Against Bills On Debt Settlement, Humanitarian Crisis (Kathimerini)

The European Commission’s chief representative on the technical team monitoring Greece, Declan Costello, has described draft laws aimed at tackling the humanitarian crisis and launching a 100-installment payment scheme for taxpayers to settle their debts to the state as unilateral actions taken in a fragmentary fashion, according to a text he has reportedly sent to the Greek side. Costello effectively vetoes the bills in his letter, arguing that they are not compatible with the Eurogroup’s February 20 agreement with Athens, as Paul Mason – a journalist who claims to have seen the correspondence between Costello and the Greek authorities – revealed on Tuesday.

There was no reaction to the news from the Finance Ministry up until late last night, with officials pointing to the list of seven actions that Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis submitted to the latest Eurogroup meeting which, according to the ministry, included the above bills. Nevertheless other government officials confirmed the existence of the text sent by Costello and noted that certain points related to the draft laws – especially those concerning the settlement of debts to tax authorities – must be clarified.

According to the text that Mason published as a Costello letter, the Commission representative says that those bills will have to be included in the general context of reform promotion. “We would strongly urge having the proper policy consultations first, including consistency with reform efforts. There are several issues to be discussed and we need to do them as a coherent and comprehensive package,” Costello reportedly told the government: “Doing otherwise would be proceeding unilaterally and in a piecemeal manner that is inconsistent with the commitments made, including to the Eurogroup as stated in the February 20 communique.” The debt settlement bill was tabled in Parliament on Tuesday night.

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“A plunge in export volumes offset another decline in the cost of oil imports. Net exports should therefore become a drag on [GDP] growth soon..”

Japan Exports Slow Sharply In February But Beat Expectations (CNBC)

Japan’s exports rose at a faster-than-expected pace in February but slowed sharply from the previous month as exports to China waned amid the Lunar New Year holidays. Exports rose 2.4% on year, Ministry of Finance data showed on Wednesday, above expectations for a 0.3% increase in a Reuters poll, but down from a 17% on-year rise in January. Despite the above-view reading, exports were sharply lower compared to January’s reading largely due to 17.3% on-year drop in exports to China, which celebrated the Lunar New Year holiday during February. “A plunge in export volumes offset another decline in the cost of oil imports. Net exports should therefore become a drag on [GDP] growth soon,” Marcel Thieliant, Japan economist at Capital Economics, said in a note.

But Mizuho Bank analysts were more optimistic. “We think this supports the [Bank of Japan’s] view of an ongoing, gradual recovery, underpinning its decision to withhold from adding further stimulus even as [central bank governor] Kuroda expresses his view that inflation might turn negative due to oil prices,” it say in a note. Meanwhile, imports fell 3.6% on year in February, sharply below expectations for a 3.1% increase in a Reuters poll. “[The] drop in import values was largely caused by another decline in petroleum import values, which reached the lowest since late 2010,” Thieliant said. “Judging by the Bank of Japan’s import price index, the plunge in the price of crude oil since last summer has now mostly been reflected in the cost of oil imports. However, import prices of natural gas, which tend to follow the price of crude oil with a lag of about six months, have just started to fall. The trade shortfall may therefore still narrow a touch further in the near-term.”

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“New home prices fell 5.7% on year in February..”

China New Home Prices Post Sixth Consecutive Monthly Decline (CNBC)

China new home prices registered their sixth straight month of annual decline in February, as tepid demand continued to weigh on sentiment despite the government’s efforts to spur buying. New home prices fell 5.7% on year in February, according to Reuters calculations based on fresh data from the National Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday. The reading was worse than January’s 5.1% decline and marks the largest drop since the current data series began in 2011. Meanwhile, both Beijing and Shanghai clocked home price declines. In Beijing, prices fell 3.6% on year following a 3.2% drop in January, while prices in Shanghai fell 4.7%, following January’s 4.2% drop.

However, in a statement after the data was released the Chinese statistics bureau said that home sales are expected to show a significant rebound in March, according to Reuters. “The news isn’t great, and it hasn’t been great for some time. The credit crunch in China is very real and prices do have to adjust after a very long time,” John Saunder, head of APAC at Blackrock told CNBC. “I think the China government is trying to make moves to stabilize things. They’ve undergone a lot of policies and obviously the [central bank] is now reducing the policy rates, so that will all help. but you can’t turn it around instantly,” he said.

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No kidding.

BoE’s Brazier Says Greek Shock Could Trigger Market Correction (Bloomberg)

A failure to find a political solution to Greece’s sovereign debt problem could trigger a market correction, Bank of England official Alex Brazier said. “A bad outcome in these negotiations could trigger a broader reassessment of risk in financial markets,” Brazier, executive director for financial stability at the BOE, told U.K. lawmakers in London on Tuesday. “We start from a position where market pricing looks potentially subject to correction,” he said. “I don’t view Greece as a big direct risk but it could potentially be a trigger for a market reappraisal” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government is negotiating with euro-area member states, the ECB and the IMF to release more money from its bailout program.

European governments have said they won’t disburse any more emergency loans unless the government in Athens implements a set of economic overhauls agreed last month, including pension and sales tax reform. “I don’t presume to know how likely it is for Greece to leave the euro,” Brazier said. “Although the economic issue is in some ways very simple – there’s a debt overhang that needs to be dealt with – the way that is dealt with is a political issue and I don’t presume to be able to forecast in any way” how the talks will progress, he said. Brazier said U.K. banks’ direct exposure to Greece was small, “amounting to about £2 billion ($3 billion), which is about 1% of their common equity.”

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Given the propaganda underlying the sanctions, inevitable.

EU Support for Russia Sanctions Is Waning (Bloomberg)

For evidence of the European Union’s diminishing appetite for sanctions against Russia, look no further than Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin guestbook. Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades visited the Russian leader in February, granting the Russian navy access to Cypriot ports; March brought Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, labeled a “privileged partner” by Putin; Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is due next in Moscow, in April. Along with Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Spain, the three countries were reluctant backers of economic curbs to protest Russia’s interference with Ukraine. As a wobbly truce takes hold in eastern Ukraine, the anti-sanctions bloc will lay down a marker at an EU summit starting Thursday in Brussels.

“The likeliest outcome is that they will not agree to roll over the sanctions now and they will put off a decision until the last possible moment before the sanctions expire,” Ian Bond, a former British diplomat now with the Centre for European Reform in London, said by phone. EU governments halted trade and visa talks with Russia and started blacklisting Russian politicians and military officers last March, after the annexation of Crimea. Those asset freezes and travel bans were extended by six months in January 2015. It took the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger jet over eastern Ukraine in July to prompt wider-ranging curbs including bans on financing of major Russian banks and the sale of energy-exploration gear to Russia’s resource-dependent economy. Those “stage three” measures are set to expire in July.

Proponents of extending them are led by Poland, the Baltic states and the U.K., and count as one of their own the EU president and summit chairman: former Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The hawks have already backed down by seeking a five-month prolongation until the end of 2015, instead of the usual 12 months. “At some time there should be a decision in our view about the extension of the sanctions until the end of the year,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius said in an interview in Brussels at a meeting of EU diplomats on Monday. Even that is a stretch, at least at this week’s summit. Sanctions require all 28 EU countries to agree, enabling skeptics to play for time, shape policies to their liking and, in the extreme, cast a veto. Greece’s new government, for example, voiced discomfort about renewing the blacklists in January before finally going along.

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As it should be. How can you spend $1.4 billion in tax money, where a few million would have done, when people have no health care, unless you’re a full-blown megalomaniac?!

ECB Celebration of Its New $1.4 Billion Tower Spoiled by Protests (Bloomberg)

As the ECB prepares to inaugurate its new headquarters four months after moving in, more than 10,000 protesters are seeking to spoil the party. Frankfurt, the euro area’s financial capital and home of the common currency, is bracing for demonstrations and sit-ins on Wednesday at locations throughout the city by anti-austerity groups and organizations sympathizing with the plight of Greece. At the ECB’s €1.3 billion premises in the east end, police have erected barbed wire and barricades to keep the protesters at least 10 meters (33 feet) away. “We want a march open to anyone, peaceful and not harming anyone,” Ulrich Wilken, a lawmaker for the Left Party in the Hesse state parliament, said on Tuesday after meeting with police to outline the marchers’ objectives.

“We want an atmosphere of peaceful protest, not the kind of situation the police prepares for with its tanks.” Nine days after the ECB started buying sovereign debt in a €1.1 trillion plan to revive inflation and rescue the economy, protesters are laying the blame for recession and unemployment in the 19-nation euro area at the doors of ECB President Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A new government in Greece, led by the leftist Syriza party, is preparing emergency measures to boost liquidity as the cash-starved country braces for more than €2 billion in debt payments on Friday. The country is unable to access bailout funding as it haggles with euro-area governments over the terms of its aid program. Its lenders have been cut off from regular ECB finance lines and pushed onto emergency credit from the Greek central bank.

“In the past, we protested against things like the rescue of the banks in Europe,” said Werner Renz, a representative of protest group Attac. “The focus of our protests this year is on Greece. We need more of Athens in Europe and less of Berlin. There is no way Greece can repay all its debt. The situation can’t be solved by austerity alone.” Draghi is scheduled to host an inauguration ceremony at 11 a.m. with guests including Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann and Hesse’s Economy Minister Tarek Al-Wazir.

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“..indigenous language education, gender parity in government, historical memory, indigenous forms of justice, anti-racism initiatives, and indigenous autonomy.”

Bolivia: A Country That Dared to Exist (Benjamin Dangl)

This movement toward decolonization in the Andes is as old as colonialism itself, but the process has taken a novel turn with the administration of Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president. Morales, a former coca farmer, union organizer, and leftist congressman, was elected president in 2005, representing a major break from the country’s neoliberal past. Last October, Morales was re-elected to a third term in office with more than 60% of the vote. His popularity is largely due to his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party’s success in reducing poverty, empowering marginalized sectors of society, and using funds from state-run industries for hospitals, schools and much-needed public works projects across Bolivia.

Aside from socialist and anti-imperialist policies, the MAS’s time in power has been marked by a notable discourse of decolonization. Five hundred years after the European colonization of Latin America, activists and politicians linked to the MAS and representing Bolivia’s indigenous majority have deepened a process of reconstitution of indigenous culture, identity and rights from the halls of government power. Part of this work has been carried forward by the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, which was created in 2009. This Vice Ministry operates under the umbrella of the Ministry of Culture, and coordinates with many other sectors of government to promote, for example, indigenous language education, gender parity in government, historical memory, indigenous forms of justice, anti-racism initiatives, and indigenous autonomy.

Before becoming the Vice Minister of Decolonization when the office opened, Félix Cárdenas had worked for decades as an Aymara indigenous leader, union and campesino organizer, leftist politician and activist fighting against dictatorships and neoliberal governments. As a result of this work, he was jailed and tortured on numerous occasions. Cárdenas participated the Constituent Assembly to re-write Bolivia’s constitution, a progressive document which was passed under President Morales’ leadership in 2009. This trajectory has contributed to Cárdenas’ radical political analysis and dedication to what’s called the Proceso de Cambio, or Process of Change, under the Morales government.

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