Nov 292018
 
 November 29, 2018  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street, Rainy Day 1884

 

Trump Adviser Sought WikiLeaks Emails Via Farage Ally – Mueller Document (G.)
Assange Never Met Manafort. Guardian Publishes More MI6 Lies (Murray)
Trump Threatens To Declassify ‘Devastating’ Docs About Democrats (NYP)
Fed Warns A ‘Particularly Large’ Plunge In Market Prices Is Possible (CNBC)
Fed’s Powell Sends Markets Soaring With Suggestion Rate Hikes May Slow (WaPo)
Obama Administration Used Tear Gas, Pepper Spray At Border Dozens Of Times (NW)
Yes, Virginia, There Really Are Worse Options Than President Trump (Week)
The Day Brexit Went Bust: BoE Says No Deal Will Cause Worst Slump Since WWII
Dublin: 30,000 Empty Homes And Nowhere To Live (G.)
Pressure Mounts To Bury Carbon Emissions, But Who Will Pay? (R.)
The Insect Apocalypse Is Here (NYTM)

 

 

Let me start by saying that is you are surprised that the Guardian publishes hit pieces like the ‘Manafort met Assange’ one, you haven’t been paying attention. Reading the Automatic Earth would have been enough for your first reaction to be: that is BS. But granted, it all spreads deep and wide. For example, picked this up on Twitter just now: Kudos to @ErinBurnett tonight for identifying Wikileaks as “an intelligence arm of the Russian government.” Yeah, Burnett is CNN.

On the other hand, there’s for instance Glenn Greenwald, also on Twitter, who says: Even 2 hours after I read it, I still can’t believe that Politico actually published an article by an ex-CIA agent under a fake name saying that if the Guardian’s blockbuster Assange/Manafort story is false, it’s Russia’s fault. Parodying the US media at this point is futile. Forgive me for not giving that Politico piece any space here.

WikiLeaks has announced they want to sue the Guardian, and Manafort is looking into it. Let’s hope that has some effect. The paper has already been busily redacting its ‘article’ away from liability, but the damage has definitely been done. As a matter of fact, it appears the paper is actively working with the Ecuador government to create a situation where extraditing Assange would be more easily accepted by the world.

To that end, as I’ve often said, it is seen as essential to connect Assange to Russia, even if no such connection exists. But since neither can defend themselves, Assange is cut off and Russia is not believed, it’s easy to just make stuff up. You really should get out of that Matrix, it won’t do anyone any good.

I still remain with a question though, now that the Guardian opens today with another smear piece. That is, Muller has been very secretive. So how did a draft legal doc of his end up at the Guardian? Was it leaked? Did he leak it? Why were there no earlier leaks?

Trump Adviser Sought WikiLeaks Emails Via Farage Ally – Mueller Document (G.)

An ally of Nigel Farage was asked to obtain secret information from WikiLeaks for Donald Trump’s team during the 2016 election campaign, according to US investigators. Ted Malloch, a London-based academic close to Farage, was allegedly passed a request from a longtime Trump adviser to get advance copies of emails stolen from Trump’s opponents by Russian hackers and later published by WikiLeaks. The allegation emerged in a draft legal document drawn up by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any collusion with Trump’s campaign team. In response to a series of questions from the Guardian, including whether he had acted on the request to make contact with WikiLeaks, Malloch said in an email: “No and no comment.”

Trump appeared increasingly anxious on Wednesday following the latest burst of activity from the investigation that has clouded his presidency. He claimed, without evidence, in a tweet that Mueller’s team was “viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts” in return for favourable treatment. The latest revelations come as the role of the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has come under greater scrutiny amid reports in the US that Mueller is looking into his meeting with the Ecuadorian president in 2017. On Tuesday sources also told the Guardian that Manafort met with Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, a claim denied by both men.

Read more …

Craig Murray recognizes BS when he sees it.

Assange Never Met Manafort. Guardian Publishes More MI6 Lies (Murray)

I would love to believe that the fact Julian has never met Manafort is bound to be established. But I fear that state control of propaganda may be such that this massive “Big Lie” will come to enter public consciousness in the same way as the non-existent Russian hack of the DNC servers. Assange never met Manafort. The DNC emails were downloaded by an insider. Assange never even considered fleeing to Russia. Those are the facts, and I am in a position to give you a personal assurance of them. I can also assure you that Luke Harding, the Guardian, Washington Post and New York Times have been publishing a stream of deliberate lies, in collusion with the security services.

I am not a fan of Donald Trump. But to see the partisans of the defeated candidate (and a particularly obnoxious defeated candidate) manipulate the security services and the media to create an entirely false public perception, in order to attempt to overturn the result of the US Presidential election, is the most astonishing thing I have witnessed in my lifetime. Plainly the government of Ecuador is releasing lies about Assange to curry favour with the security establishment of the USA and UK, and to damage Assange’s support prior to expelling him from the Embassy. He will then be extradited from London to the USA on charges of espionage.

Assange is not a whistleblower or a spy – he is the greatest publisher of his age, and has done more to bring the crimes of governments to light than the mainstream media will ever be motivated to achieve. That supposedly great newspaper titles like the Guardian, New York Times and Washington Post are involved in the spreading of lies to damage Assange, and are seeking his imprisonment for publishing state secrets, is clear evidence that the idea of the “liberal media” no longer exists in the new plutocratic age. The press are not on the side of the people, they are an instrument of elite control.

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“Maybe it’s better that the public not see what’s been going on with this country.”

Trump Threatens To Declassify ‘Devastating’ Docs About Democrats (NYP)

In September, a group of Trump allies in the House – led by Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York – called on Trump to declassify scores of Justice Department documents they believe undercut the start of the Russia investigation and show bias against Trump. The documents include Justice officials’ request to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and memos on DOJ official Bruce Ohr’s interactions with Christopher Steele, the author of a controversial dossier that alleged Trump ties with Russia. Trump initially agreed to declassify the documents, including text messages sent by former FBI officials James Comey, Andrew G. McCabe as well as Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and Ohr.

Trump allies believe the revelations will show favoritism toward Hillary Clinton and a plot to take down Trump. Trump then reversed course, citing the need for further review and concern of US allies. Trump added Wednesday that his lawyer Emmet Flood thought it would be better politically to wait. “He didn’t want me to do it yet, because I can save it,” Trump said. The president also pushed back on the notion that all the Justice Department documents should eventually be released for the sake of transparency. “Some things maybe the public shouldn’t see because they are so bad,” Trump said, making clear it wasn’t damaging to him, but to others. “Maybe it’s better that the public not see what’s been going on with this country.”

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The Fed should really try and revive what was once a market. It can only do that by stepping aside.

Fed Warns A ‘Particularly Large’ Plunge In Market Prices Is Possible (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve issued a cautionary note Wednesday about risks to financial stability, saying trade tensions, geopolitical uncertainty and a buildup in corporate debt among firms with weak balance sheets pose strong threats. In a lengthy first-time report on the banking system and corporate and business debt, the Fed warned of “generally elevated” asset prices that “appear high relative to their historical ranges.” In addition, the central bank said ongoing trade tensions, which are running high between the U.S. and China, coupled with an uncertain geopolitical environment could combine with the high asset prices to provide a notable shock.

“An escalation in trade tensions, geopolitical uncertainty, or other adverse shocks could lead to a decline in investor appetite for risks in general,” the report said. “The resulting drop in asset prices might be particularly large, given that valuations appear elevated relative to historical levels.” The drop in asset prices would make it more difficult for companies to get funding, “putting pressure on a sector where leverage is already high,” the report said. The report further noted that the Fed’s own rate hikes could pose a threat. A market and economy used to low rates could face issues as the Fed continues to normalize policy through rate hikes and a reduction in its balance sheet, or portfolio of bonds it purchased to stimulate the economy.

Read more …

Powell as a puppet master. He says JUMP and they all jump.

Fed’s Powell Sends Markets Soaring With Suggestion Rate Hikes May Slow (WaPo)

Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome H. Powell on Wednesday suggested that the central bank could slow the pace of its interest rate increases, a statement welcomed by investors worried about the strength of the global economy and swooning markets. His comments appeared to mark a change from his position last month, when he said that the Fed still had a “long way” to go before it reached what economists consider an appropriate level. Powell’s description of the central bank’s approach sent the stock market soaring, with investors eager for any sign that the Fed might be preparing to pause its slow but steady effort to raise interest rates.

Powell’s scheduled remarks at the Economic Club of New York came a day after President Trump pilloried Powell — whom he appointed last year — for his stewardship of the central bank. Trump said in an interview with The Washington Post that the Fed is a “much bigger problem than China,” complaining it is taking steps to withdraw stimulus from the economy — the latest in a wave of strong criticism that Trump has leveled at the Fed chair. Fed officials say they operate independently of politics, and there is no evidence that Powell made his comments in response to Trump’s attacks. But the remarks nevertheless could ease concerns among Fed critics, such as Trump, who have accused the central bank of moving too aggressively to slow the economy’s expansion.

The Fed had lowered rates to zero after the 2008 financial crisis, and it kept them there and took other steps to strengthen the economy after the deepest recession since the 1930s. Since December 2015, it has been reversing those efforts to avoid inflation and other risks associated with a hot economy.

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Long standing policies. You are right to oppose them, but not to single out Trump when doing so.

Obama Administration Used Tear Gas, Pepper Spray At Border Dozens Of Times (NW)

As the Trump administration continues to face widespread backlash over its use of tear gas against Central American asylum seekers at the southern border on Sunday, data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency has shone a light on just how common the use of tear gas and pepper spray at the border really is. In a statement sent to Newsweek on Tuesday, the CBP said its personnel have been using tear gas, or 2-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), since 2010, deploying the substance a total of 126 times since fiscal year 2012. Under President Donald Trump, CBP’s use of the substance has hit a seven-year record high, with the agency deploying the substance a total of 29 times in fiscal year 2018, which ended on September 30, 2018, according to the agency’s data.

However, the data also showed that the substance was deployed nearly the same number of times in fiscal years 2012 and 2013 under former President Barack Obama, with CBP using the substance 26 times in fiscal year 2012 and 27 times in fiscal year 2013. CBP’s use of tear gas appeared to decline in the following years, with 15 uses in fiscal year 2014, eight in fiscal year 2015 and even fewer in fiscal year 2016, with three recorded instances. As Trump took office, the numbers began to rise again in fiscal year 2017, climbing to 18 deployments of tear gas, before reaching fiscal year 2018’s record high of 29 uses. CBP also noted in its statement that in addition to using tear gas, the agency also “regularly uses” Pava Capsaicin, or pepper spray.

[..] CBP spokeswoman Stephanie Malin said that more than 1,000 individuals who were part of the “so-called caravan” “attempted to cross illegally into the U.S. by breaching section of the fence and using vehicle lanes in and near the San Ysidro Port of Entry” on Sunday. “The group ignored law enforcement agencies in Mexico and assaulted U.S. Federal Officers and Agents assigned to respond to the situation in San Diego,” Malin said. The CBP spokesperson said that “in response to the assaults and to defuse this dangerous situation, trained CBP personnel employed less-lethal devices to stop the actions of assaultive individuals attempting to break into the U.S.”

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Neocons.

Yes, Virginia, There Really Are Worse Options Than President Trump (Week)

17 years after the United States overthrew the government of Afghanistan, 15 years after we toppled the government of Iraq, and 7 years after we deposed the government of Libya, neoconservative pundit William Kristol announced the goal of American foreign policy over the coming decades should be “regime change” in China, a nuclear power that also happens to have a population more than four times the size of the United States. This is important — for several reasons. It’s important because it shows that Kristol, despite burnishing his mainstream reputation over the past few years by unwaveringly opposing Donald Trump, remains an unrepentant neocon. It’s important because, along with a tweet storm Kristol produced to explain and defend his endorsement of Chinese regime change, it helps to clarify exactly what’s distinctive about neoconservative foreign policy thinking.

And it’s important, finally, because it so clearly illustrates just how dangerous and deluded that way of thinking really is. Yes, Virginia, there really are worse options than President Trump. In recent years, the term “neoconservative” has been emptied of meaning — used either by anti-Semites to mean “Jewish conservative” or by journalists as a synonym for “foreign policy hawk.” Neither is true to the history of the movement or what’s distinctive about the evolution of its ideas. The word was originally coined as an epithet to describe a group of liberal intellectuals who migrated rightward during the 1970s, eventually coming to support the presidency of Ronald Reagan. (Kristol’s father Irving was among them.)

At the time, these writers endorsed a range of domestic and foreign policy positions: They were tough on crime, defended the conservative side in the culture war, favored work requirements for welfare recipients, and endorsed a revival of the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

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Brexit is unraveling, but there’s no time left to change it.

The Day Brexit Went Bust: BoE Says No Deal Will Cause Worst Slump Since WWII

Britain is set to be poorer under every kind of Brexit according to two major official studies, released as Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally said a fresh referendum now looks “inevitable”. Pressure to give the British public a Final Say on leaving the EU mounted after Treasury estimates suggested Theresa May’s Brexit deal will leave GDP 3.9 per cent lower than if the UK remain in the bloc. A separate Bank of England study warned of an economic catastrophe in the case of a no-deal departure, including an immediate, savage recession, soaring interest rates and collapsing house prices. Amid the grim data, shadow chancellor John McDonnell gave the strongest signal yet that Labour would swing behind a people’s vote if Ms May’s plans are now blocked by the Commons as expected.

The drive for a new referendum will pick up pace on Thursday as Conservative former minister Jo Johnson delivers a speech warning his party faces electoral armageddon if it forces Ms May’s deal through. The prime minister again tried to defend the deal in parliament as it came under fire from all sides, and she will face a further intense grilling from a committee of the most senior MPs on Thursday morning. [..] The gloomy forecasts were echoed later in the day by the Bank of England, which indicated that under a disorderly no-deal Brexit, the economy could shrink by 8 per cent within a single year, property prices might plunge almost a third, the pound would crash and interest rates soar under a worst-case scenario. Brexiteers attacked the data and the bank itself, with Jacob Rees-Mogg saying: “It is unusual for the Bank of England to talk down the pound and shows the governor’s failure to understand his role. He is not there to create panic.”

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The benefits of Airbnb. It creates elites and poor sods.

Dublin: 30,000 Empty Homes And Nowhere To Live (G.)

About 10,000 people in Ireland are reckoned to be homeless. The number of families who have nowhere to live has increased by more than 20% since 2017. These are national problems, but they are inevitably concentrated in Ireland’s capital, home to more than 10% of the country’s population. In the four months between June and September, 415 Dublin families – including 893 children – became newly homeless, adding to a total across the city of about 1,400. Increasing numbers are being forced to live in hotels. Meanwhile, residential neighbourhoods echo to the clack-clack-clack of suitcase wheels. The city is smattered with key boxes for Airbnb apartments.

A stock line among activists demanding action from the government gets to the heart of all this: in 21st-century Dublin, they say, homeless families stay in hotels, and tourists stay in houses. [..] The Greater Dublin area is reckoned to have more than 30,000 properties that are completely empty, many of which are owned by the local council. Thanks chiefly to Ireland’s corporate tax rate of 12.5%, Dublin is home to the European HQs of Facebook, TripAdvisor, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google, eBay and, poetically enough, Airbnb. The number of high-paid employees who work for such companies is one of the reasons advertised rents in the city now average around €1,900 a month. As Brexit grinds on, there are fears that if companies relocate from the UK to Ireland, it will only add to Dublin’s housing problems.

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Why stop producing it if you can make yourself believe there’s a carpet you can sweep it under?

Pressure Mounts To Bury Carbon Emissions, But Who Will Pay? (R.)

Environmentalists worry the costly technology, known as carbon capture and storage (CCS), will perpetuate the fossil fuel status quo when rapid and deep cuts energy use are needed to limit global warming. But proponents of CCS will be lobbying hard at the two-week climate conference in Katowice, Poland, for the extensive investment and regulatory change required to employ it at scale, citing U.N. assessments that it could play a role. “The expectation is that Katowice will be important,” said Stephen Bull, a senior vice president at Norwegian state-controlled oil company Equinor, which is involved in developing a CCS project called Northern Lights.

“CCS is the only way to go,” he said, arguing that countries need the technology to help fulfil the pledges they made around the time of the breakthrough Paris climate change agreement in 2015. A United Nations report warned on Tuesday that nations would have to triple their current efforts to keep global temperature rises within boundaries scientists say are needed to avoid devastating floods, storms and drought. Along with the United States, Norway is one of the countries at the forefront of drive for CCS, building on 20 years of diverting carbon dioxide from its vast gas output and using some to push out hard-to-reach oil from aging fields.

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“We notice the losses,” [..] “It’s the diminishment that we don’t see.”

The Insect Apocalypse Is Here (NYTM)

In the United States, scientists recently found the population of monarch butterflies fell by 90 percent in the last 20 years, a loss of 900 million individuals; the rusty-patched bumblebee, which once lived in 28 states, dropped by 87 percent over the same period. With other, less-studied insect species, one butterfly researcher told me, “all we can do is wave our arms and say, ‘It’s not here anymore!'” Still, the most disquieting thing wasn’t the disappearance of certain species of insects; it was the deeper worry, shared by Riis and many others, that a whole insect world might be quietly going missing, a loss of abundance that could alter the planet in unknowable ways. “We notice the losses,” says David Wagner, an entomologist at the University of Connecticut. “It’s the diminishment that we don’t see.”

Because insects are legion, inconspicuous and hard to meaningfully track, the fear that there might be far fewer than before was more felt than documented. People noticed it by canals or in backyards or under streetlights at night – familiar places that had become unfamiliarly empty. The feeling was so common that entomologists developed a shorthand for it, named for the way many people first began to notice that they weren’t seeing as many bugs. They called it the windshield phenomenon. To test what had been primarily a loose suspicion of wrongness, Riis and 200 other Danes were spending the month of June roaming their country’s back roads in their outfitted cars.

They were part of a study conducted by the Natural History Museum of Denmark, a joint effort of the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University and North Carolina State University. The nets would stand in for windshields as Riis and the other volunteers drove through various habitats — urban areas, forests, agricultural tracts, uncultivated open land and wetlands — hoping to quantify the disorienting sense that, as one of the study’s designers put it, “something from the past is missing from the present.” [..] A 1995 study, by Peter H. Kahn and Batya Friedman, of the way some children in Houston experienced pollution summed up our blindness this way: “With each generation, the amount of environmental degradation increases, but each generation takes that amount as the norm.”

[..] Ornithologists kept finding that birds that rely on insects for food were in trouble: eight in 10 partridges gone from French farmlands; 50 and 80 percent drops, respectively, for nightingales and turtledoves. Half of all farmland birds in Europe disappeared in just three decades. At first, many scientists assumed the familiar culprit of habitat destruction was at work, but then they began to wonder if the birds might simply be starving. [..] What we’re losing is not just the diversity part of biodiversity, but the bio part: life in sheer quantity. While I was writing this article, scientists learned that the world’s largest king penguin colony shrank by 88 percent in 35 years, that more than 97 percent of the bluefin tuna that once lived in the ocean are gone.

[..] We’ve begun to talk about living in the Anthropocene, a world shaped by humans. But E.O. Wilson, the naturalist and prophet of environmental degradation, has suggested another name: the Eremocine, the age of loneliness.

Read more …

Jun 052018
 
 June 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:40 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John French Sloan East Entrance, City Hall, Philadelphia 1901

 

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)
The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)
US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)
India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)
China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)
Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)
Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)
Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)
Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)
Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)
A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)
Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)
Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

 

 

Don’t think it will happen without an overall economic collapse.

Carbon Bubble To Destroy Trillions Of Dollars Of Global Wealth (Ind.)

Trillions of dollars of fossil fuel wealth will be wiped out at some point over the next 17 years even if governments fail to impose binding carbon emissions limits on industry to curb global warming, according to a major new study. Environmentalists and policymakers have long warned of the threat of a “carbon bubble” and “stranded assets” for listed energy companies, based on the possibility they will never be able to realise the value of their vast stores of oil, gas and coal if politicians actually deliver on their decarbonisation promises.

But today a group of scientists and analysts from Cambridge, Nijmegen, Macao and the Open University take that warning a step further by arguing that these assets are destined to be stranded regardless of official policies to discourage the use of fossil fuels because clean energy technologies are now developing so rapidly that those polluting assets will be worthless in any case. “Our analysis suggests that, contrary to investor expectations, the stranding of fossil fuels assets may happen even without new climate policies. This suggests a carbon bubble is forming and it is likely to burst,” said Professor Jorge Viñuales from Cambridge University. If policymakers did deliver on the decarbonisation programmes, the loss for investors would be even more rapid.

The research is at odds with work from the International Energy Agency, which projects steady price rises for fossil fuels until 2040. And Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change has also done nothing to persuade most investors to take the stranded assets warning seriously. But the researchers’ new “simulation-based, energy-economy-carbon-cycle climate” model suggests investing in fossil fuel firms today is likely to prove a disastrous bet, suggesting that between $1 trillion and $4 trillion could be wiped off the value of global fossil fuel assets by 2035.

Read more …

Steel and concrete prices better not rise.

The Effects Of Trump’s Steel Tariffs On Red State Energy (F.)

Electricity production is heavily dependent on materials like steel, concrete, copper and aluminum, for both producing electricity and moving it around to where it’s needed (see figure). Solar and Wind energy take more steel than any other energy source. Natural gas and nuclear take the least. Solar needs 1,600 tons of steel per MW, wind energy needs over 400 tons of steel, while gas and nuclear need only 4 and 40 tons, respectively. Wind and solar also require ten times more transmission, also heavily steel-intensive, since they are usually sited far away from where the energy is used.

The average high-voltage transmission tower includes about 30 tons of steel and transmission wire contains about a ton of steel per mile. Going from our biggest solar array, located in the Mohave Desert, to Los Angeles is almost 300 miles, requiring on the order of 10,000 tons of steel depending on specific design. While we tend to think of renewables as associated with Blue States, they are actually growing faster in Red States. Four of the five states with the most installed wind energy are Texas (20,321 MW), Iowa (6,917 MW), Oklahoma (6,645 MW) and Kansas (4,451 MW). The only Blue State in the top five is California (5,662 MW).

Read more …

Prop up your stock some more.

US Firms To Pour $2.5 Trillion Into Buybacks, Dividends, M&A This Year (CNBC)

Money is pouring into the U.S. economy and in turn helping provide support for the otherwise struggling stock market. If current conditions persist, corporations are likely this year to inject more than $2.5 trillion into what UBS strategists term “flow” — the combination of share buybacks, dividends, and mergers and acquisitions activity. The development comes as companies find themselves awash in cash, thanks primarily to years of stashing away profits plus the benefits of a $1.5 trillion tax break this year that slashed corporate rates and encouraged firms to bring back money idling overseas. Companies have nearly $2.5 trillion in cash parked domestically, according to the Federal Reserve, and as much as $3.5 trillion overseas, various estimates have shown.

When all is said and done for 2018, UBS expects dividend issuance to top $500 billion, buybacks to range from $700 billion to $800 billion, and M&A to constitute about $1.3 trillion. If the numbers pan out, they would equate to about 10% of the S&P 500’s market cap and 12.5% of GDP. “Assuming improving growth and stable rates, we expect the positive positioning/flow backdrop to support US equities, which is important as the daily corporate flow slows from mid-June to mid-July,” UBS strategist Keith Parker said in a note. Parker pointed out that the firm has overweight positions in both tech and health care as the two sectors are leading the buyback boom.

Buybacks specifically have been on a torrid pace and are helping provide a floor to a market that for much of 2018 had looked tired and volatile after a 20% S&P 500 gain the year before. Repurchases are up 83% year to date, far ahead of the 9% gain in dividends, while M&A activity involving U.S. companies has surged 130%, according to UBS. [..] UBS estimates that the combination of buybacks, dividends and demand flows account for some 40% in performance this year. The S&P 500 has nudged 2.6% higher and the Dow industrials are just ahead of breakeven.

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The Fed retreats and the Treasury issues new debt.

India Central Banker Sees Sudden “Evaporation” Of Dollar Funding (ZH)

In an op-ed published overnight in the FT, a central banker writes that when it comes to the turmoil gripping the world’s Emerging Markets, whether it is the acute, idiosyncratic version observed in Argentina and Turkey, which according to JPM may be doomed, or the more gradual selloffs observed in places like Indonesia, Malaysia, Brazil, Mexico and India, don’t blame the Fed’s rate hike cycle. Instead blame the “double whammy” of the Fed’s shrinking balance sheet coupled with the dollar draining surge in debt issuance by the US Treasury.

That’s the message from the current Reserve Bank of India, Urjit Patel, who writes that “unlike previous turbulence, this episode cannot be attributed to the US Federal Reserve’s moves on interest rates, which have been rising steadily since December 2016 in a calibrated manner.” But does that mean that the Fed is not to blame for what increasingly looks like another budding EM crisis? Not at all: according to Patel, the dollar funding shortage “upheaval” stems from what he sees as the confluence of two significant events of which the Fed’s balance sheet reduction is one, while the second is the dramatic increase in US Treasury issuance to pay for Trump’s tax cuts; what is notable is that both events are drastically soaking up dollar liquidity.

As a result, Patel blames a lack a coordination between the Fed and Treasury on the adverse flow through across global funding markets as a result of this decline in dollar liquidity, and writes that “given the rapid rise in the size of the US deficit, the Fed must respond by slowing plans to shrink its balance sheet. If it does not, Treasuries will absorb such a large share of dollar liquidity that a crisis in the rest of the dollar bond markets is inevitable.” Putting these two parallel processes – which threaten to materially impair dollar funding markets – in context, on one hand there is QT, or the gradual decline in the Fed’s balance sheet which is set to peak at a rate of $50BN/month by October, while at the same time US net Treasury issuance is set to jump to $1.2 trillion in 2018 and 2019 to cover the forecasted budget deficit of $804BN and $981BN in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

And in a curious coincidence, the withdrawal of dollar funding by the Fed in monthly terms, as it reduces its reinvestment of income received, is proceeding at roughly the same pace as that of net issuance of debt by the US government. Furthermore, both processes are open ended which means that over the next few years, the government’s net issuance will stabilize, albeit at a high level, whereas the Fed’s balance-sheet reduction will keep rising. Both are terrible news for Emerging Markets, which are in desperate need of reversing the ongoing dollar outflows; however as long as Trump continues to make America great, and funds said stimulus with excess debt issuance, emerging market turmoil is virtually guaranteed.

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China retreats, too.

China’s Debt Crackdown To Hurt Emerging Markets, Oil, Metals – Fitch (R.)

China’s debt crackdown is a key risk to the country’s economic growth and will have significant knock-on effects for the global economy, particularly emerging markets with high commodity dependence or close Chinese trade links, Fitch Ratings said. Beijing’s campaign to put a lid on debt could also lead to a sharp slowdown in business investment, Fitch said late on Sunday, forecasting that growth in the world’s second-biggest economy would slow to around 4.5% over the medium term. Fitch said the implications of this scenario for the global economy would be significant but not dramatic, unlike a full-scale hard landing.

One of the most significant effects would be on commodity prices, with Fitch expecting oil and metal prices to fall 5 to 10% from its baseline scenario, reflecting China’s large role as a commodity consumer. In April, a Reuters poll of 72 institutions showed economists expected China’s economic growth to slow to 6.5% this year and 6.3% next year as Beijing extends its crackdown on riskier lending practices. GDP in 2017 expanded 6.9% in real terms and 11.2% in nominal terms. Beijing’s financial crackdown, now in its third year, has slowly pushed up borrowing costs and is choking off alternative, murkier funding sources for companies such as shadow banking.

The ratio of Chinese corporate debt to GDP is already very high by international standards – at 168% in 2017 – and is expected to start rising again as nominal GDP growth declines towards 8% from the unusually high rate of more than 11% in 2017, Fitch said. If the government aims to stabilize its corporate debt ratio by 2022, Fitch said China’s nominal economic growth rate could fall by 1 percentage point a year over the medium term while business investment growth would drop 5percentage points per year.

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Restructuring Target2. That should be fun.

Italy’s Long, Hot Summer (Carmen Reinhart)

The political upheaval and social unrest fueling the current crisis in Italy should surprise no one. On the contrary, the only uncertainty was when exactly matters would come to a head. Now they have. Italy’s per capita GDP in 2018 is about 8% below its level in 2007, the year before the global financial crisis triggered the Great Recession. And the International Monetary Fund’s projections for 2023 suggest that Italy will still not have fully recovered from the cumulative output losses of the past decade. Among the 11 advanced economies that were hit by severe financial crises in 2007-2009, only Greece has suffered a deeper and more protracted economic depression.

Greece and Italy were the two economies carrying the highest debt burdens at the outset of the crisis (109% and 102% of GDP, respectively), leaving them poorly positioned to cope with major adverse shocks. Since the crisis erupted a decade ago, economic stagnation and costly banking weaknesses have propelled debt burdens higher still, despite a decade of exceptionally low interest rates. Greece has already faced more than one “credit event” and, while Italy has also had a couple of close calls, the spring of 2018 is turning out to be its most tumultuous episode yet. The summer will probably be worse, bringing Italy closer to a sovereign debt crisis. On the surface, general government debt appears to have stabilized since 2013, at around 130% of GDP. However, as I have stressed here and elsewhere, this “stability” is misleading.

General government debt is not the whole story for Italy, even setting aside the private debt loads and the recent renewed upturn in nonperforming bank loans (a daunting legacy of the financial crisis). When evaluating Italy’s sovereign risk, the central bank’s debts (Target2 balances) must be added to those of the general government. As the most recent available data (through March) show, these balances increase the ratio of public-sector debt to GDP by 26%. With many investors pulling out of Italian assets, capital flight in the more recent data is bound to show up as an even bigger Target2 hole. This debt, unlike pre-1999, pre-euro Italian debt, cannot be inflated away. In this regard, it is much like emerging markets’ dollar-denominated debts: it is either repaid or restructured.

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What the euro has meant for Greece and Italy: lower wages, higher unemployment and higher current account deficit.

Why The Euro Was Created (ZH)

[..] we thought it would be a good idea to remind readers why the euro exists in the first place. The briefest possible answer: to make sure the Deutsche Mark does not. As presented in the chart below – which shows the performance for each of the EU12 countries against the German DEM in every decade from the 1950s to the start of the Euro in 1999 – apart from a small revaluation of core countries in the 1990s, every country devalued to Germany in every decade between the 1950s and the start of the Euro. Said otherwise, the Deutsche Mark appreciated in value against all of its European peers for 5 consecutive decades, a condition which if left unchanged, would have led to an economic and trade crisis.

And as a bonus chart, here is same data (with the US and UK added) from the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1971 to the start of the Euro (Lira -82% devaluation to German DM) and during the 1990s (-24% devaluation) – the decade immediately leading up to the Euro start. As can be seen Italy is amongs the weakest performers relative to the German DM over these periods and showed the momentum that existed in the period leading up to the start of the Euro.

And while the fixed exchange of the Euro for European nations allowed the German export industry to go into overdrive, the lack of the possibility for an external, i.e. currency, devaluation, meant that Italy has been forced to do it all by engaging in internal devaluation, i.e., lower wages, higher unemployment and boosting its current account deficit, which however is made virtually impossible given Italy’s deteriorating demographics. This is what DB’s Jim Reid said of Italy’s potential future: Looking forward, Italy will not find it easy to grow out of its problems as its facing one of the worst set of demographics of the G20 countries. Its population size has peaked (according to the UN) and is expected to decline out to 2050. Its working age population (15-64 year olds as a proxy) is set to fall -24% over the same period and is again one of the worst placed in the G20.

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“Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago..”

Toronto’s House Price Bubble Not Fun Anymore (WS)

Housing in the Greater Toronto Area is, let’s say, retrenching. Canada’s largest housing market has seen an enormous two-decade surge in prices that culminated in utter craziness in April 2017, when the Home Price Index had skyrocketed 32% from a year earlier. But now the hangover has set in and the bubble isn’t fun anymore. Home sales plunged 22% in May compared to a year ago, to 7,834 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB). It affected all types of homes, even the once red-hot condos: • Detached houses -28.5% • Semi-detached houses -29.4% • Townhouses -13.4% • Condos -15.5%.

It was particularly unpleasant at the higher end: Sales of homes costing C$1.5 million or more plummeted by 46% year-over-year to 508 homes in May 2018, according to TREB data. Compared to the April 2017 peak of 1,362 sales in that price range, sales in May collapsed by 63%. But it’s not just at the high end. At the low end too. In May, sales of homes below C$500,000 – about 68% of them were condos – fell by 36% year-over-year to 5,253 homes. The TREB publishes two types of prices – the average price and its proprietary MLS Home Price Index based on a “composite benchmark home.” Both fell in May compared to a year ago.

The average price in May for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) fell 6.6% year-over-year to C$805,320, and is now down 12.3%, or an ear-ringing C$113,000, from the crazy peak in April 2017. There are no perfect measures of home prices in a market. Each has its own drawbacks. Average home prices can be impacted by the mix and by a few large outliers – but over the longer term, it gives a good impression of the direction. The chart below shows thepercentage change in average home prices in the GTA compared to a year earlier:

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Because the boom was a bubble.

Why Australia’s Great Banking Boom Has Ended (SMH)

It doesn’t feel all that long ago that Australian banks were the envy of the world. In March 2009, when stress-testing of US financial institutions drove the final spasm of the previous year’s credit crisis, you could have bought all the shares in Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Barclays with their $US8.4 trillion ($11 trillion) of gross assets for less than you’d pay for the equity of Westpac, with $US347 billion of assets. Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s share price peaked six years later just a sliver south of three times the value of its net assets, an extraordinary level in a business where price-book ratios have struggled to break above one times over the past decade.

With the current Royal Commission inquiring into practices in the country’s financial services industry and a slew of court cases, those high-flyers have come to earth with a bump. CBA on Monday agreed to pay $700 million to settle a money laundering case in which it admitted that a software update allowed about 54,000 reportable transactions to go unreported over a period of almost three years. On Friday, ANZ and local units of Deutsche Bank and Citigroup announced they were facing possible criminal cartel charges over their handling of a $2.5 billion placement of ANZ shares in 2015. Having executives hauled up before government inquiries and paying out hundreds of millions in court settlements isn’t great for headlines, but it would be a mistake to see the declines in Australia’s banking sector as purely a result of this.

When your annual net income is in the region of $10 billion, as CBA’s is, a $700 million charge is more than just a rounding error. But the 1.2 per cent jump in the company’s stock after the settlement was announced Monday is an indication that the cost is worth less to shareholders than the benefit of putting the issue firmly in the past. The greater risk to Australia’s banks lurks not in the papers of regulators and inquisitors, but on the streets of the country’s sprawling suburbs. As we’ve argued before, the most ominous indicator to watch is also a favourite one of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Rents, as measured by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, have been increasing at less than 1 per cent for nine consecutive quarters , the worst performance for the measure since the housing crash of the early 1990s.

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The spirit of Steve Jobs?!

Apple Jams Facebook’s Web-Tracking Tools (BBC)

Apple will attempt to frustrate tools used by Facebook to automatically track web users, within the next version of its iOS and Mac operating systems. “We’re shutting that down,” declared Apple’s software chief Craig Federighi, at the firm’s developers conference. He added that the web browser Safari would ask owners’ permission before allowing the social network to monitor their activity. The move is likely to add to tensions between the two companies. Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook had previously described Facebook’s practices as being an “invasion of privacy” – an opinion Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg subsequently denounced as being “glib”.

At the WWDC conference – held in San Jose, California – Mr Federighi said that Facebook keeps watch over people in ways they might not be aware of. “We’ve all seen these – these like buttons, and share buttons and these comment fields. “Well it turns out these can be used to track you, whether you click on them or not.” He then pointed to an onscreen alert that asked: “Do you want to allow Facebook.com to use cookies and available data while browsing?” “You can decide to keep your information private.”

One cyber-security expert applauded the move. “Apple is making changes to the core of how the browser works – surprisingly strong changes that should enable greater privacy,” said Kevin Beaumont. “Quite often the changes companies make around privacy are small, incremental, they don’t shake the market up much. “Here Apple is allowing users to see when tracking is enabled on a website – actually being able to visually see that with a prompt is breaking new ground.”

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Building on the Ring of Fire.

A West Coast State of Mind (Jim Kunstler)

It’s only been in the last thirty years that Seattle hoisted up its tombstone cluster of several dozen office and condo towers. That’s what cities do these days to demonstrate their self-regard, and Seattle is perhaps America’s boomingest city, what with Microsoft’s and Amazon’s headquarters there — avatars of the digital economy. A megathrust earthquake there today would produce a scene that even the computer graphics artistes of Hollywood could not match for picturesque chaos. What were the city planners thinking when they signed off on those building plans?

I survived the journey through the Seattle tunnel, dogged by neurotic fantasies, and headed south to California’s Bay Area, another seismic doomer zone. For sure I am not the only casual observer who gets the doomish vibe out there on the Left Coast. Even if you are oblivious to the geology of the place, there’s plenty to suggest a sense of impossibility for business-as-usual continuing much longer. I got that end-of-an-era feeling in California traffic, specifically driving toward San Francisco on the I-80 freeway out in the suburban asteroid belt of Contra Costa County, past the sinister oil refineries of Mococo and the dormitory sprawl of Walnut Creek, Orinda, and Lafayette.

Things go on until they can’t, economist Herb Stein observed, back in the quaint old 20th century, as the USA revved up toward the final blowoff we’ve now entered. The shale oil “miracle” (so-called) has given even thoughtful adults the false impression that the California template for modern living will continue indefinitely. I’d give it less than five years now.

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Snowden deserves as much support as Assange does.

Edward Snowden: ‘The People Are Still Powerless, But Now They’re Aware’ (G.)

Edward Snowden has no regrets five years on from leaking the biggest cache of top-secret documents in history. He is wanted by the US. He is in exile in Russia. But he is satisfied with the way his revelations of mass surveillance have rocked governments, intelligence agencies and major internet companies. In a phone interview to mark the anniversary of the day the Guardian broke the story, he recalled the day his world – and that of many others around the globe – changed for good. He went to sleep in his Hong Kong hotel room and when he woke, the news that the National Security Agency had been vacuuming up the phone data of millions of Americans had been live for several hours.

Snowden knew at that moment his old life was over. “It was scary but it was liberating,” he said. “There was a sense of finality. There was no going back.” What has happened in the five years since? He is one of the most famous fugitives in the world, the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, a Hollywood movie, and at least a dozen books. The US and UK governments, on the basis of his revelations, have faced court challenges to surveillance laws. New legislation has been passed in both countries. The internet companies, responding to a public backlash over privacy, have made encryption commonplace.

Snowden, weighing up the changes, said some privacy campaigners had expressed disappointment with how things have developed, but he did not share it. “People say nothing has changed: that there is still mass surveillance. That is not how you measure change. Look back before 2013 and look at what has happened since. Everything changed.” The most important change, he said, was public awareness. “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.”

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Bayer-Monsanto: “It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits..”

Who Should Feed The World: Real People Or Faceless Multinationals? (Vidal)

Unless there is a major hiccup in the next few days, an incredibly powerful company will shortly be given a licence to dominate world farming. Following a nod from Donald Trump, powerful lobbying in Europe and a lot of political arm-twisting on several continents, the path has been cleared for Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, to be taken over by Bayer, the second-largest pesticide group, for an estimated $66bn (£50bn). The merger has been called both a “marriage made in hell” and “an important development for food security”.

Through its many subsidiary companies and research arms, Bayer-Monsanto will have an indirect impact on every consumer and a direct one on most farmers in Britain, the EU and the US. It will effectively control nearly 60% of the world’s supply of proprietary seeds, 70% of the chemicals and pesticides used to grow food, and most of the world’s GM crop genetic traits, as well as much of the data about what farmers grow where, and the yields they get. It will be able to influence what and how most of the world’s food is grown, affecting the price and the method it is grown by. But the takeover is just the last of a trio of huge seed and pesticide company mergers.

Backed by governments, and enabled by world trade rules and intellectual property laws, Bayer-Monsanto, Dow-DuPont and ChemChina-Syngenta have been allowed to control much of the world’s supply of seeds. You might think that these mergers would alert the government, but because political parties in Britain are so inward-looking, and because most farmers in rich countries already buy their seeds from the multinationals, opposition has barely been heard.

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Sep 292017
 
 September 29, 2017  Posted by at 9:10 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 29 2017


Pablo Picasso Weeping woman 1937

 

US Inequality Near Historic Highs, Wages Stagnant (BI)
UBS Indentifies 8 Cities With Biggest Housing Bubbles (ZH)
Chinese Money Is Still Leaking Into the World’s Housing Markets (BBG)
China’s Bitcoin Market Alive And Well As Traders Defy Crackdown (R.)
China Orders North Korean Companies Active In The Country To Shut Down (BBG)
The Closing Of The Catalan Polling Stations (EI)
French Vineyards Robbed Of Seven Tonnes Of Grapes (AFP)
Schäuble Leaves But Schäuble-ism Lives On (Varoufakis)
Over Half Of All Greek Enterprises Are In The Red (K.)
Surge In Migration To Greece Fuels Misery In Refugee Camps (G.)
China’s Love of Meat Is Driving Global Antibiotic Usage (BBG)
Tropical Forests Don’t Absorb Carbon. They Emit As Much As All US Transit (Q.)

 

 

Economy out of balance.

US Inequality Near Historic Highs, Wages Stagnant (BI)

There is a reason so many Americans feel the economy’s recovery from the Great Recession has not benefited them: It hasn’t. An expansion that began, believe it or not, more than seven years ago has extended a longer-run trend of wage stagnation for the average US worker, despite a sharp drop in the official unemployment rate to 4.4% from an October 2009 peak of 10%. No wonder the recovery seems so lopsided, particularly given economic inequality levels not seen since before the Great Depression. A new report from the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy initiative of the Brookings Institution in Washington, offers a range of startling figures and charts that paints a rather dramatic picture of US economic disparities. “The U.S. economy has experienced long-term real wage stagnation and a persistent lack of economic progress for many workers,” wrote Jay Shambaugh, a White House economist under President Barack Obama who now heads the Hamilton Project.

After adjusting for inflation, wages are just 10% higher in 2017 than they were in 1973, amounting to real annual wage growth of just below 0.2% a year, the report says. [..] One big source of the problem: Starting around the 1970s, US productivity growth began rising much more rapidly than workers’ compensation — meaning the share of growth was accumulating increasingly in corporate profits at the expense of pay. The report attributes this both to the increasing role of technology in the workplace but also to a loss of bargaining power brought on by anti-union labor policies and other wage-suppressing measures. “Changes in worker bargaining power, competition within and across industries, and globalization can all influence the share of output workers receive,” the report said.

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What happened to Auckland?

UBS Indentifies 8 Cities With Biggest Housing Bubbles (ZH)

Two years ago, when UBS looked at the world’s most expensive housing markets, it found that London and Hong Kong were the only two areas exposed to bubble risk. What a difference just a couple of years makes, because in the latest report by UBS wealth Management, which compiles the bank’s Global Real Estate Bubble Index, it found that eight of the world’s largest cities are now subject to a massive speculative housing bubble. And while perpetually low mortgage rates are clearly to blame for the rapid ascent of home prices, Chinese money laundering operations clearly seem to also be playing a role as their favorite markets of Vancouver, Toronto and Sydney all made this year’s list. Bubble risk seems greatest in Toronto, where it has increased significantly in the last year.

Stockholm, Munich, Vancouver, Sydney, London and Hong Kong all remain in risk territory, with Amsterdam joining this group after being overvalued last year. Valuations are stretched in Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Zurich, Frankfurt, Tokyo and Geneva as well. In contrast, property markets in Boston, Singapore, New York and Milan seem fairly valued, while Chicago remains undervalued, just as it was last year. Price bubbles are a regularly recurring phenomenon in property markets. The term “bubble” refers to a substantial and sustained mispricing of an asset, the existence of which cannot be proved unless it bursts. But recurring patterns of property market excesses are observable in the historical data. Typical signs include a decoupling of prices from local incomes and rents, and distortions of the real economy, such as excessive lending and construction activity. The UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index gauges the risk of a property bubble on the basis of such patterns.

As UBS points out, artificially low interest rates in Europe, for example, have kept mortgage payments below their 10-year average despite real prices surging 30% since 2007. Falling mortgage rates over the last decade have made buying a home vastly more attractive, which increased average willingness to pay for home ownership. In European cities, for example, the annual usage costs for apartments (mortgage interest payments and amortization) are still below their 10-year average, despite real prices escalating 30% since 2007. In Canada and Australia, too, a large part of the negative impact of higher purchase prices on affordability was cushioned by low mortgage rates.

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Xi must watch his reserves.

Chinese Money Is Still Leaking Into the World’s Housing Markets (BBG)

Tighter capital controls have done little to dent the appetite of Chinese buyers who already helped drive prices higher across the globe. While definitive data are hard to come by, real estate brokers including Knight Frank LLP, Savills Plc and domestic firm Shiju report rising purchases of overseas property this year. What’s changed is that the curbs have prompted buyers to look for cheaper homes in smaller cities, making down payments more manageable. Part of the reason for the unhindered overseas purchases could be that authorities have already succeeded in stemming capital outflows after cracking down on the most acquisitive companies. That eases the need to enforce limits on individuals, a more difficult and costly process, said Steven Zhang at Morgan Stanley Huaxin. “It’s a question of cost and benefit,” Zhang said.

Since the start of 2017, Chinese applying for their $50,000-a-year foreign-exchange quotas must sign pledges that the money won’t be used for real estate. Violators face a range of potential sanctions. [..] The impact of the increased currency scrutiny has been on the size rather than the quantity of deals. At real estate portal Juwai.com, the average price of overseas properties Chinese buyers inquired about dropped to just over $292,000 this year from more than $356,000 in 2016. Some buyers are eschewing pricey hubs like New York for less-expensive areas such as Florida and Texas, according to Eric Lam, chief executive of Shiju, the overseas broker unit of Shenzhen World Union Properties. They’re typically spending up to 3 million yuan ($450,000) for U.S. homes, and as much as 2 million yuan for U.K. properties, prices that make for manageable down payments using exchange quotas, Lam said.

Jones Lang LaSalle said it was mainly selling U.K. homes, often below $500,000, and Cushman & Wakefield also highlighted surging Chinese demand for British property after the pound weakened following the Brexit vote. [..] The undimmed appetite suggests Chinese money could continue to put upward pressure on prices, a trend that’s stoked concern among locals in cities from Vancouver to Sydney. Chinese buyers, mainly from the mainland but also from Taiwan and Hong Kong, spent a record $31.7 billion on U.S. residential properties in the year through March 31, remaining the biggest foreign force in the market.

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The crackdown doesn’t come into effect until October.

China’s Bitcoin Market Alive And Well As Traders Defy Crackdown (R.)

Weeks after Beijing banned fundraising through token launches and ordered some bitcoin exchanges to shut, casting a chill over the cryptocurrency industry, traders say that the market is far from dead. While several exchanges have announced that they will close by the end of this month, traders have now moved to buy and sell bitcoin directly with each other on peer-to-peer marketplaces and messenger apps. Industry insiders say some overseas-based initial coin offerings (ICOs) are still being marketed. Although the crackdown has dissuaded large swathes of less-experienced investors from participating in the trade, market participants point to the limits Chinese regulators ultimately face in controlling the industry, where many users are anonymous and difficult to track.

In the short-run, the crackdown has also created an arbitrage opportunity for investors, with the price of bitcoin in China now trading at a discount to overseas exchanges. “They can’t set rules to stop me from investing in what I want to invest in. They say you are protecting me, but as long as I think this is good, they have no way to intervene,” said a Chinese bitcoin investor named Victor, who declined to give his full name citing current sensitivities. [..] “The fact that bitcoin is still being traded is an indication that China isn’t looking to eliminate them, but reposition things in a way to have better control over them,” said Marshall Swatt, the founder of New York-based Coinsetter, a bitcoin exchange acquired by larger peer San Francisco-based Kraken in 2016.

Other Chinese cryptocurrency players said traders were also moving away from using Tencent’s WeChat app, to encrypted messenger app Telegram to avoid regulatory scrutiny. Some said they were still seeing overseas-based ICOs being marketed in China. The Sept. 4 shutdown of ICOs stipulated that Chinese citizens were not allowed to invest in ICOs. Overseas ICOs have been returning money on a voluntary basis.

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That’s going to hurt.

China Orders North Korean Companies Active In The Country To Shut Down (BBG)

China ordered North Korean companies active in the country to shut down as it seeks to implement United Nations’ sanctions against the hermetic regime. Joint ventures between Chinese firms and North Korean entities and individuals will also have to close, according to a statement on the website of China’s Ministry of Commerce Thursday. Companies are required to cease business within 120 days of Sept. 12 – the day after the UN passed new sanctions aimed at punishing North Korea for its latest missile and nuclear tests. Non-profit and non-commercial public utility and infrastructure projects are not subject to the order, the ministry said. The move comes ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to China at the weekend. North Korea is among topics to be discussed with senior Chinese leaders, along with President Donald Trump’s planned trip to the region and trade and investment issues, the State Department said in a statement on Wednesday.

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Please keep the peace.

The Closing Of The Catalan Polling Stations (EI)

As we reported yesterday, the Catalan head prosecutor has instructed the regional police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, to seal the designated polling stations for Sunday’s independence referendum by Friday. This may not be easy. The radical left separatist party CUP is calling for the seals to be broken, and there will be attempts to organise sit-ins at the polling stations before the police comes to seal them, which would force the police to clear the sit-in. As we noted yesterday they are about 2,700 polling stations in a Catalan election, which stretches the police’s ability to cover them all simultaneously. The Mossos have responded officially that they will act proportionately, and that there is a risk that sealing the polling places may lead to public unrest. In addition, they are demanding a court order – not just an instruction from the prosecutor – to seal the polling stations.

The Catalan government says that the police is there to guarantee order so that people can exercise their right to vote, while the Spanish government says the police is there to prevent illegal acts from being carried out. The Catalan premier has convened the region’s public safety board, which includes representatives of the Spanish interior minister who will be in attendance. The interior minister had previously set up security coordination meetings for all the Spanish and Catalan police forces, which the Mossos resent as they result in putting them under command of the national police. We have also reported that Mariano Rajoy will miss tomorrow’s informal EU summit in Tallinn, which starts today with a dinner, ostensibly on account of the Catalan referendum. The referendum is scheduled for Sunday. We wonder whether Mariano Rajoy feels he needs to be in Spain on the Friday just in case unrest breaks out.

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Sounds like a lot. The French are serious about wine.

French Vineyards Robbed Of Seven Tonnes Of Grapes (AFP)

At least seven tonnes of grapes have been stolen in the dead of night from vineyards in France’s prime winegrowing region of Bordeaux, following a disastrous yield blamed on poor weather, police say. Three vineyards have had grapes and even whole vines stolen since mid-September, police said on Wednesday. They said about six and a half tonnes of grapes disappeared from a vineyard in Genissac near the world-famous Saint Emilion region, adding that the theft was clearly committed by professional vintners. Between 600 and 700kg (1,300 and 1,500lb) of grapes were stolen from a vineyard in Pomerol, which produces top quality reds. Thieves also uprooted 500 vines from a vineyard in nearby Montagne, police said.

A fourth grape robbery took place in Lalande-de-Pomerol, according to a local press report. Thieves making away with grapes is not a new phenomenon but it has surged this year apparently because of a very low yield. “There’s a great temptation to help oneself from [the vineyard] next door,” an industry expert told AFP on condition of anonymity. France faces its poorest wine harvest since 1945 after an unusually mild March and frosty April, experts said last month, although a hot summer promises to deliver top vintages. The agriculture ministry said output was expected to total 37.2m hectolitres (983m US gallons), 18% less than 2016 and 17% below the average over the past five years.

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Merkel already sold off Greece to please her bankers. Now she’s planning to make things worse in order to cement a coalition.

Schäuble Leaves But Schäuble-ism Lives On (Varoufakis)

Wolfgang Schäuble may have left the finance ministry but his policy for turning the eurozone into an iron cage of austerity, that is the very antithesis of a democratic federation, lives on. What is remarkable about Dr Schäuble’s tenure was how he invested heavily in maintaining the fragility of the monetary union, rather than eradicating it in order to render the eurozone macro-economically sustainable and resilient. Why did Dr Schäuble aim at maintaining the eurozone’s fragility? Why was he, in this context, ever so keen to maintain the threat of Grexit? The simple answer is: Because a state of permanent fragility was instrumental to his strategy for using the threat of expulsion from the euro (or even of Germany’s withdrawal from it) to discipline the deficit countries – chiefly France.

Deep in Dr Schäuble’ thinking there was the belief that, as a federation is infeasible, the euro is a glorified fixed exchange rate regime. And the only way of maintaining discipline within such a regime was to keep alive the threat of expulsion or exit. But to keep that threat alive, the eurozone could not be allowed to develop the instruments and institutions that would stop it from being fragile. Thus, the eurozone’s permanent fragility was, from Dr Schäuble’s perspective an end-in-itself, rather than a failure. The Free Democratic Party’s ascension will see to it that Wolfgang Schäuble’s departure will not alter the policy of doing whatever it takes to prevent the eurozone‘s evolution into a sustainable macroeconomy.

The FDP’s sole promise to its voters was to prevent any of Emmanuel Macron’s plans, for some federation-lite, from being agreed to, and for pursuing Grexit. Even worse, whereas Wolfgang Schäuble understood that austerity plus new loans were catastrophic for countries like Greece (but insisted on them as part of his campaign to discipline France and Italy), his FDP successors at the finance ministry will probably be less ‘enlightened’ believing that the ‘tough medicine’ is fit for purpose. And so the never ending crisis of Europe’s social economy, that feeds the xenophobic political monsters, continues.

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Waterboarding. And worse. Do this to an economy, and it will fail outright. That, then, must be what Berlin is aiming for.

Over Half Of All Greek Enterprises Are In The Red (K.)

At least 56% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are now in debt due to low liquidity and high borrowing, a combination that forbids them from meeting their short-term obligations. Only a fraction have a chance of having their debt restructured, which means that sooner or later they will follow the fate of many of their peers and be forced to shut down. This is the main conclusion of a Piraeus Bank analysis after a sample of 7,896 companies were assessed using its Enterprise Rating System (ERS). Given that over 97% of enterprises in Greece are SMEs, the risk both to them and the economy in general is clear, with an impact on state revenues, employment and bank provisions.

The ERS assessment resulted in four categories of enterprises based on liquidity, solvency, degree of leverage and debt servicing. Just 8.6% of all companies have made it into the A category. They are the healthiest businesses, with high cash flows, even though two-thirds face problems with their earnings. Category B accounts for 35.7% of companies, which display satisfactory performance; however, it should be observed that the obligations of these businesses exceed their assets by 1.2 times. The largest category is C, with two-fifths of all companies, or 40.4%; they are enterprises which have not yet reached the brink as they have some chances at becoming sustainable, but indicate a low degree of debt servicing, finding themselves in the red.

Finally there is category D, which hosts 15.4% of all companies. The vast majority (82.5%) has a substantial problem in terms of sustainability; not only do they have a negative operating profit rate, averaging at -9.1%, but they are also loss-making. The average company in this category has borrowing that is three-and-a-half times its assets and 25 times its earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

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Lesvos Solidarity on Twitter: “Section C in #moria now houses around 200 unaccompanied minors, incl pregnant girls. They are unattended after 17.00.”

Surge In Migration To Greece Fuels Misery In Refugee Camps (G.)

Greece is experiencing a dramatic rise in the number of refugees and migrants entering the country, exacerbating already deplorable living conditions on island camps. The number of people arriving, across land and sea borders, has more than doubled since the beginning of the summer. Authorities estimate arrivals are now at their highest level since March 2016, with over 200 men, women and children being registered every day. “It is dramatic and it is the most vulnerable of the vulnerable coming in,” said Elias Pavlopoulos, who heads Médecins sans Frontières in Greece. “There are whole families fleeing war zones in Syria and Iraq. In the last few months our clinics have seen more people who have suffered violence, who are victims of rape, who have been tortured, than ever before.”

Despite a pledge by EU member states in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum seekers – including 106,000 from Greece and Italy – a mere 29,000 have been moved to other European countries so far. With the 28-nation bloc failing to meet the deadline set out in its own plan, mass demonstrations are expected in capitals across Europe this weekend. Refugees and migrants have been arriving in Greece not only on rickety boats from Turkey but by foot across the frontier between the two countries. On Wednesday, police announced 37 refugees – including 19 children – from Iraq, Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan, had been dumped by smugglers on the national highway outside Thessaloniki.

Human rights groups are increasingly likening the situation to 2015, when, at the height of the migrant crisis that engulfed Europe, Greece saw close to a million people enter the country on onward journeys that often took them to Germany. “We’re living the days of 2015,” said Pantelis Dimitriou from Iliaktida, a local NGO on Lesbos operating accommodation and support centres for the newly arrived. “The flows have become huge. From around 50 to 60 in early July they are now at more than 200 every day. Maybe it is the German elections, maybe it is about Turkey’s [worsening] relations with the EU, or maybe this is the last push before winter, but something is going on.” More worrying is the number of minors making the often treacherous journey to get to Greece. In a statement this week, Save the Children said around 40% of the new arrivals were under the age of 18. Over 1,500 unaccompanied minors are currently on waiting lists in Greece to be housed in child shelters.

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We need a global ban on using antibiotics on farms. But the industry is very powerful.

China’s Love of Meat Is Driving Global Antibiotic Usage (BBG)

Growing global demand for animal protein is good news for the pharmaceutical industry, but a worry for public health. Food animals will consume 200,235 tons of antimicrobial medicines by 2030, 53% more than they were getting in 2013, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. China, already the world’s largest consumer of veterinary antimicrobials, is forecast to lead the charge, with a 59% jump. That bodes badly for the efficacy of these infection-fighting medications. The study’s authors linked the quantity of drugs used on farms with the emergence of foodborne bacteria, like Campylobacter and Salmonella harboring antibiotic-resistance genes. Limiting daily meat intake worldwide to the equivalent of one standard fast-food burger per person could reduce global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals by 66%, the researchers said.

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It was fun while it lasted?!

Tropical Forests Don’t Absorb Carbon. They Emit As Much As All US Transit (Q.)

Since humans began to worry about having put too much carbon in the atmosphere, we’ve considered tropical forests an important “carbon sink.” Their fast growth rate, dense vegetation, and rich soils sucked more carbon out of the atmosphere then they produced. In other words, tropical forests were a natural greenhouse-gas vacuum. Except now, just when the world most needs them to be, they’re not. At some point, it turns out, deforestation, drought, and other forest-disturbing factors tipped the scales, making tropical forests a net producer of carbon rather than a sink, according to a new study published Sept. 28 in the journal Science. Each year, instead of absorbing carbon, these degraded forests are a source of more carbon (roughly 425 teragrams of carbon per year) than an entire year’s worth of US transportation emissions.

Scientists at Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University spent two and a half years trekking to tropical forests in 22 countries, measuring trees’ thickness and recording their growth rate, which is a big factor in how much carbon a forest is absorbing. They then paired their field data with laser remote-sensing data and 12 years of satellite data from NASA’s MODIS satellites. The researcher’s combined approach allowed them to figure out not just losses from dramatic deforestation, but also the harder-to-calculate losses from less obvious factors, like selective logging and small-scale farming. Previous studies have looked at large-scale deforestation in the tropics as a source of carbon, and more recent papers have pointed towards the subtler forms of degradation as a likely underestimated source.

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Aug 272017
 
 August 27, 2017  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Elliott Erwitt Downtown Hat Shop Window, Pittsburgh 1950

 

Phillips Curve Doesn’t Help Forecast Inflation, Fed Study Finds (BBG)
Where Do Consumers Spend The Most Money? (Mish)
Should California Spend $3 Billion To Help People Buy Electric Cars? (LAT)
Tesla: A Canary in the Wall Street Coal Mine (Barron’s)
UK Labour Party Makes Dramatic Shift On Brexit And Single Market (G.)
Controlled Demolition (Jim Kunstler)
The War That Time Forgot (CP)
It’s Time To Accept Carbon Capture Has Failed (Conv.)
Industrial Farming Is Driving The Sixth Mass Extinction Of Life On Earth (Ind.)

 

 

The incompetence is deafening. Trillions have been washed away on the theory.

Phillips Curve Doesn’t Help Forecast Inflation, Fed Study Finds (BBG)

A fundamental relationship of mainstream economic theory at the heart of the Federal Reserve’s strategy for setting interest rates has been a poor guide for policy makers for at least three decades, according to a study by the Philadelphia Fed’s top-ranking economist. The paper, co-authored by Philadelphia Fed Director of Research Michael Dotsey, shows that forecasting models based on the so-called Phillips curve, which asserts a link between unemployment and inflation, don’t actually help predict inflation. “Our results indicate that monetary policymakers should at best be very cautious in their reliance on the Phillips curve when gauging inflationary pressures,” Dotsey and Philadelphia Fed economists Shigeru Fujita and Tom Stark wrote.

Their study is timely. Fed officials have been surprised by a deceleration in U.S. inflation over the past several months despite a continued decline in unemployment, the opposite of what the Phillips curve relationship would predict. Minutes of the last meeting of the central bank’s rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee in July revealed that “a few participants cited evidence suggesting that this framework was not particularly useful in forecasting inflation,” while “most participants thought that the framework remained valid.” If the majority view on the FOMC is that the Phillips curve framework is still valid, it implies that central bankers should continue raising interest rates with unemployment at a 16-year low, because they expect inflation will rise in the medium term even though prices pressures have been disappointingly soft.

Kansas City Fed President Esther George, who has been more forceful than many of her colleagues in recent years about the need to raise rates, lent support to that view on the sidelines of this week’s annual gathering of central bankers from around the world in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “There may in fact be something wrong with the models, I don’t know, I think that continues to be a question that many economists are asking,” George said during a TV interview with Bloomberg’s Michael McKee that aired Thursday. Even so, she favors another rate increase this year.

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Cars + gasoline account for almost 30% of all spending. Crazy.

Where Do Consumers Spend The Most Money? (Mish)

In Dealers “Wildly Overweight” SUVs as Sales Slow, I commented “Vehicles account for 20% of retail spending. A crash or even a significant slowdown will impact retail sales and thus GDP.” A reader asked me how I calculated that. Let’s take a look. My number came from the latest Census Department Advance Retail Sales Report. Here are some charts I created from 7-month totals (January-July) 2017.

Key Points
• Motor vehicles and parts account for 21.18% of retail sales. Gasoline stations account for 7.94%. Together that adds up to 29.12%.
• Food and beverage stores (grocery and liquor stores) account for 12.62 percent of retail sales. Food services and drinking places (restaurants and bars) account for 12.14. The food and drink total is 24.76%.
• Nonstore retailers (think Amazon) account 10.39% of retail sales.

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Yeah, let’s subsidize the car culture.

Should California Spend $3 Billion To Help People Buy Electric Cars? (LAT)

Over seven years, the state of California has spent $449 million on consumer rebates to boost sales of zero-emission vehicles. So far, the subsidies haven’t moved the needle much. In 2016, of the just over 2 million cars sold in the state, only 75,000 were pure-electric and plug-in hybrid cars. To date, out of 26 million cars and light trucks registered in California, just 315,000 are electric or plug-in hybrids. The California Legislature is pushing forward a bill that would double down on the rebate program. Sextuple down, in fact. If $449 million can’t do it, the thinking goes, maybe $3 billion will. That’s the essence of the plan that could lift state rebates from $2,500 to $10,000 or more for a compact electric car, making, for example, a Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car cost the same as a gasoline-driven Honda Civic.

Already approved by several Senate and Assembly committees, the bill will go to Gov. Jerry Brown for his approval or veto if the full Legislature approves it by the end of its current session on Sept. 15. California aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to a level 40% below what they were in 1990. “If we want to hit our goals, we’re going to have to do something about transportation,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), sponsor of Assembly Bill 1184. Without a dramatic boost in subsidies, Ting said, the state risks falling short of Gov. Brown’s goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on California highways by 2025, and the California Air Resources Board’s goal of 4 million such cars by 2030. The bill is opposed by Republicans averse to taxpayer subsidies and even the Legislature’s own analysts have called it “duplicative,” “unclear” and “problematic.”

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“Once again, history and reality are replaced by dreams with little substance.”

Tesla: A Canary in the Wall Street Coal Mine (Barron’s)

Those who think today’s stock market is unlike that of 2000, when baseless enthusiasm pushed stocks up to wild valuations, only to collapse in subsequent years, should take another look. Do they remember counting eyeballs as a basis for value? Once again, history and reality are replaced by dreams with little substance. Tesla, in which I have a short position, is becoming the loudest canary in Wall Street’s coal mine. Tesla requires repetitive capital raises to fund persistent operating losses. This requires bullish analysts and holders to keep the stock aloft with projections of imagined earnings from future products, while they overlook existing businesses, which continue to lose vast sums of money. Morgan Stanley, one of Tesla’s major underwriters, has an analyst covering Tesla named Adam Jonas. Astonishingly, he raised his price target for the stock, despite recognizing the need to slash his earnings forecast.

In May, Jonas had estimated per-share losses (excluding stock-option expense) of $3.53 in 2017 and $1.14 in 2018, and a profit of $2.43 in 2019. His latest estimates: losses of $7.60 and $3.66, and a 2019 profit of $2.01. Raising the target price while more than doubling the company’s projected loss indicates the craziness of the times. Price targets are fantasies, discounting distant earnings estimates by analysts who show little accuracy in estimating only a year ahead. For most companies, profit is the major objective. Tesla is different because its founder is different. Elon Musk is driven by a mission to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Unlike companies seeking profit maximization by using patents to establish exclusive rights to products, Musk encourages competitors and has made virtually all of his patents available. Almost all auto companies have imminent plans to compete.

Tesla has been first-to-market in electric cars, but this in no way guarantees success, as competition and technological change are major challenges. Remember Atari, Blackberry, AOL, Napster, Netscape, and Palm? Musk is smart and imaginative, but none of his major companies are profitable. Tesla has been around for 14 years and has cumulatively lost more than $3.7 billion, despite the massive subsidies that it and its customers have received. SolarCity, also a beneficiary of alternative-energy subsidies, lost hundreds of millions of dollars before being bailed out by Tesla. As subsidies diminish, and competition emerges, profits will be even more elusive. Tesla tries to convey the illusion of inexhaustible demand for its cars, yet sales of the Model S and Model X have been flat for four quarters. Tesla’s rising inventory and shrinking deposits suggest declining demand.

Tesla claims to have more than 400,000 deposits for the Model 3, but these aren’t orders. They reflect a decision by potential buyers to get in line for a $7,500 tax credit at virtually no cost. Shifting $1,000 from a savings account into a refundable Tesla deposit costs only about $1 per year in lost interest. Fewer than 100,000 of these depositors will actually get full tax credits before Tesla consumes its allowable allotment of them. Its competitors will be able to offer such credits to prospective buyers, just as Tesla’s expire.

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Jockeying for votes?

UK Labour Party Makes Dramatic Shift On Brexit And Single Market (G.)

Labour is to announce a dramatic policy shift by backing continued membership of the EU single market beyond March 2019, when Britain leaves the EU, establishing a clear dividing line with the Tories on Brexit for the first time. In a move that positions it decisively as the party of “soft Brexit”, Labour will support full participation in the single market and customs union during a lengthy “transitional period” that it believes could last between two and four years after the day of departure, it is to announce on Sunday. This will mean that under a Labour government the UK would continue to abide by the EU’s free movement rules, accept the jurisdiction of the European court of justice on trade and economic issues, and pay into the EU budget for a period of years after Brexit, in the hope of lessening the shock of leaving to the UK economy.

In a further move that will delight many pro-EU Labour backers, Jeremy Corbyn’s party will also leave open the option of the UK remaining a member of the customs union and single market for good, beyond the end of the transitional period. Permanent long-term membership would only be considered if a Labour government could by then have persuaded the rest of the EU to agree to a special deal on immigration and changes to freedom of movement rules. The announcement, revealed in the Observer by the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, means voters will have a clear choice between the two main parties on the UK’s future relations with the EU after a year in which Labour’s approach has been criticised for lacking definition and appeared at times hard to distinguish from that of the Tories.

The decision to stay inside the single market and abide by all EU rules during the transitional period, and possibly beyond, was agreed after a week of intense discussion at the top of the party. It was signed off by the leadership and key members of the shadow cabinet on Thursday, according to Starmer’s office.

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“..to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God.”

Controlled Demolition (Jim Kunstler)

This is the week-of-weeks when the official grand viziers of finance gather at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to confab and interpret the lay of animal neck-bones and other auguries scattered in the sand, with the hope of steering the awesome powers of the universe this was or that as they affect the operations of money. The exercise is hardly different in function from the sort of rude ceremonials that took place on top of Sumerian ziggurats and Aztec temples — to reassure the masses that effective spells for favor of the Gods have been cast — except that in our civilization money is God. Or “money,” we should say, because the old definitions don’t fit so well anymore. It used to have a straightforward relationship with the work required to produce actual things of value, but those days are gone.

“Money” nowadays is a byproduct of wishful analytics and computer legerdemain seasoned with generous measures of fraud and larceny. This is a big problem when everything is measured in money and it becomes quite impossible to state with assurance what the value of money actually is. Obviously, you end up not knowing the value of anything. That’s the perilous situation the world faces. And since the USA is the straw the stirs the world’s drink — at least for now — the utterances emanating from Jackson Hole may determine which way that situation turns. We should suppose that the officers of the Federal Reserve are upright, well-intentioned, patriotic people. No doubt they think they are. But the perilous situation is largely one of their own making, and seems to be veering out of their control, and reputations are at stake.

Their task at this year’s Jackson Hole confab is to maintain the appearance of confidence in their own rituals. But with a kicker. That kicker is named T-r-u-m-p. This modern Balaam, riding the ass of the Deep State into wickedness, must be stopped, perhaps at all costs. On his way to the oval office last fall, Trump prophesied that the stock markets represented “one big, fat, ugly bubble.” That was an offense to the grand viziers, for whom the elevated stock market valuations stood as the main testament to their power and wisdom. In fact, it was the only testament, and a rather flimsy one. More recently, though, the wicked Trump changed his tune and declared that the tower of stock market exaltation was his own doing, setting himself up for the revenge of the grand viziers.

Since nothing else has worked so far to dislodge Trump from the White House, a tumbling tower of stocks might seal his fate. The tower has to fall anyway, lest the moiling masses of flyover America think about besetting Wall Street with pitchforks and torches. A controlled demolition might be just the thing to appease these suffering holders of three part-time jobs (if they are so lucky) who have stood by in wonder and nausea while a tiny fraction of the elite gather unto themselves all the dwindling riches of the realm — at least in paper securities denominated in US dollars — while the wicked Trump will be left to the jackals of the Deep State, to be torn apart with the 25th Amenedment.

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Elizabeth War(ren).

The War That Time Forgot (CP)

If it’s Independence Day, then you can count on John McCain to be bunkered down in a remote outpost of the Empire growling for the Pentagon to unleash airstrikes on some unruly nation, tribe or gang. This July the Fourth found McCain making a return engagement to Kabul, an arrival that must have prompted many Afghans to scramble for the nearest air raid shelter. From the press room at NATO command, McCain announced that “none of us could say we are on a course to success here in Afghanistan.” The senator should have paused for a reflective moment and then called for an end to the war. Instead, McCain demanded that Trump send more US troops, more bombers and more drones to terrorize a population that has been riven by near constant war since the late 1970s.

McCain’s martial drool is now as familiar as the opening notes to the “Law & Order” theme song. What may surprise some, however, is the composition of the delegation that signed up to travel on his frequent flier program, notably the presence of two Democratic Senators with soaring profiles: Sheldon Whitehouse and Elizabeth Warren. Whitehouse, the former prosecutor (aren’t they all?) from Rhode Island, has lately taken a star turn in the role of chief inquisitor of suspected Russian witches in the Senate intelligence committee hearings. Perhaps he finally located one selling AK-47s to the Taliban to replace the guns they’d gotten from the CIA. (We now know that it’s the Saudis–not the Russians–who have been covertly funneling money to the Taliban, though don’t expect the Trump to impose any sanctions on the Kingdom of the Head-choppers.)

For her part, Warren largely echoed McCain’s bellicose banter that Trump needs to double down militarily to finish off the Taliban, the impossible dream. No real surprise here. To the extent that she’s advanced any foreign policy positions during her stint in the senate, Warren has been a dutiful supplicant to the demands of AIPAC and the Council on Foreign Relations, rarely diverging from the neocon playbook for the global war on Islam. Warren’s Afghan junket is a sure sign of her swelling presidential ambitions. These days “national security” experience is measured almost exclusively by how much blood you are willing to spill in countries you know almost nothing about. It didn’t take long for Warren to matriculate to the company position.

[..] Nothing better illustrates the eclipse of US global power than the fact that Afghanistan refuses to be subjugated or even managed, despite 16 years of hard-core carnage. Since the first US airstrikes hit Kandahar in October 2001, more than 150,000 Afghan civilians have been killed. Still Afghanistan resists imperial dictates. Even after Obama’s shameful troop surge in 2010, an escalation that went almost unopposed by the US antiwar movement, the Taliban now retains almost as much control of the country as it did in 2001. And for that Afghanistan must be punished. Eternally, it seems.

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There’s always a new theory. Don’t let’s stop using as much of the stuff as we can.

It’s Time To Accept Carbon Capture Has Failed (Conv.)

For years, optimists have talked up carbon capture and storage (CCS) as an essential part of taking emissions out of electricity generation. Yes, build wind and solar farms, they have said, but they can t be relied on to produce enough power all the time. So we ll still need our fleet of fossil-fuel-burning power stations; we just need to stop them pumping carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. Most of their emphasis has been on post-combustion capture. This involves removing CO2 from power station flue gases by absorbing them into an aqueous solution containing chemicals known as amines. You then extract the CO2 , compress it into a liquid and pump it into a storage facility the vision in the UK being to use depleted offshore oil and gas fields. One of the big attractions with such a system is it could be retrofitted to existing power stations.

But ten years after the UK government first announced a £1 billion competition to design CCS, we re not much further forward. The reason is summed up by the geologist Lord Oxburgh in his contribution to the government-commissioned report on CCS published last year: “There is no serious commercial incentive and it will stay that way unless the state demonstrates there is a business there.” The problem is that the process is costly and energy intensive. For a gas-fired power station, you typically have to burn 16% more gas to provide the capture power. Not only this, you end up with a 16% increase in emissions of other serious air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Concerns have also been expressed about the potential health effects of the amine solvent used in the carbon capture.

You then have to contend with the extra emissions from processing and transporting 16% more gas. And all this before you factor in the pipeline costs of the CO2 storage and the uncertainties around whether it might escape once you ve got it in the ground. Around the world, the only places CCS looks viable are where there are heavy state subsidies or substantial additional revenue streams, such as from enhanced oil recovery from oilfields where the COC is being pumped in. Well, say the carbon capture advocates, maybe another technology is the answer. They point to oxy-combustion, a system which is close to reaching fruition at a plant in Texas.

First proposed many years ago by British engineer Rodney Allam, this involves separating oxygen from air, burning the oxygen with the fossil fuel, and using the combustion products -water and CO2- to drive a high-pressure turbine and produce electricity. The hot CO2 is pressurised and recycled back into the burners, which improves thermal efficiency. It has the additional advantage that CO12 is also available at pressures suitable for pipeline transportation.

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Small is beautiful.

Industrial Farming Is Driving The Sixth Mass Extinction Of Life On Earth (Ind.)

Industrial agriculture is bringing about the mass extinction of life on Earth, according to a leading academic. Professor Raj Patel said mass deforestation to clear the ground for single crops like palm oil and soy, the creation of vast dead zones in the sea by fertiliser and other chemicals, and the pillaging of fishing grounds to make feed for livestock show giant corporations can not be trusted to produce food for the world. The author of bestselling book The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy will be one of the keynote speakers at the Extinction and Livestock Conference in London in October. Organised by campaign groups Compassion in World Farming and WWF, it is being held amid rising concern that the rapid rate of species loss could ultimately result in the sixth mass extinction of life.

This is just one reason why geologists are considering declaring a new epoch of the Earth, called the Anthropocene, as the fossils of soon-to-be extinct animals will form a line in the rocks of the future. The last mass extinction, which finished off the dinosaurs and more than three-quarters of all life about 65 million years ago, was caused by an asteroid strike that sent clouds of smoke all around the world, blocking out the sun for about 18 months. Prof Patel, of the University of Texas at Austin, said: “The footprint of global agriculture is vast. Industrial agriculture is absolutely responsible for driving deforestation, absolutely responsible for pushing industrial monoculture, and that means it is responsible for species loss. “We’re losing species we have never heard of, those we’ve yet to put a name to and industrial agriculture is very much at the spear-tip of that.”

Speaking to The Independent, he pointed to a “dead zone” – an area of water where there is too little oxygen for most marine life – in the Gulf of Mexico that has grown to the same size as Wales because of vast amounts of fertiliser that has washed from farms in mainland US, into the Mississippi River and then into the ocean. “That dead zone isn’t an accident. It’s a requirement of industrial agriculture to get rid of the sh*t and the run-off elsewhere because you cannot make industrial agriculture workable unless you kick the costs somewhere else,” he said. “The story of industrial agriculture is all about externalising costs and exploiting nature.” “Extinction is about the elimination of diversity. What happens in Brazil and other places is you get green deserts — monocultures of soy and nothing else. “Various kinds of chemistry is deployed to make sure it is only soy that’s grown on these mega-farms. “That’s what extinction looks like. If you ever go to a soy plantation, animal life is incredibly rare. It’s only soy, there’s nothing there for anything to feed on.”

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Feb 052017
 
 February 5, 2017  Posted by at 8:59 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Hugo Simberg The Wounded Angel 1903

 

US Appeals Court Denies Request To Restore Trump’s Immigration Ban (R.)
DHS Suspends Actions On Travel Ban; ‘Standard Policy’ Now In Effect (R.)
Trump Tells O’Reilly He ‘Respects’ Putin in Super Bowl Interview (Fox)
As Trump Weighs Thaw With Putin, EU Set to Renew Its Blacklist (BBG)
Goldman Throws Cold Water On Trump Agenda (CNBC)
Economists Say Action On Carbon Is Vital, Or Say Nothing At All (Age)
Japan – It’s Finally Happening (Muir)
Le Pen Kicks Off Campaign With Promise Of French ‘Freedom’ (R.)
Theresa May Abandons ‘Home Owning Democracy’ of Thatcher and Tories (G.)
Attention Trade Warriors: Germany’s Surplus is on the Wane (BBG)
Dennis Kucinich Rages Against The Military-Industrial-Complex (FB)
NATO, Not Russia, Has Deployed Tanks To Poland & Baltic States – Galloway (RT)
Varoufakis Calls on PM Tspiras to Ditch Bailout Restructuring (GR)
Varoufakis Urges Tsipras To Ditch Negotiations, Adopt “Parallel System” (KTG)
UK: Refugees Heading To Europe To Be Sent To Asia And Latin America (Ind.)

 

 

It was always going to the Supreme Court. More interesting right now is how strongly this is dividing the White House team. Kelly refused to enact some of Bannon’s demands. Tillerson and Mattis are not sitting comfortable either. And the legal team has gained in standing, a lot. Trump cannot afford too many of these snags, even if they love the attention and controversy coming from it. All in all, a good thing that the legal system gets tested, never a thing to fall asleep on.

US Appeals Court Denies Request To Restore Trump’s Immigration Ban (R.)

A U.S. appeal court late on Saturday denied an emergency appeal from the U.S. Department of Justice to restore an immigration order from President Donald Trump barring citizens from seven mainly Muslim countries and temporarily banning refugees. “Appellants’ request for an immediate administrative stay pending full consideration of the emergency motion for a stay pending appeal is denied,” the ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said. It said a reply from the Department in support of the emergency appeal was due on Monday. The Department filed the appeal a day after a federal judge in Seattle ordered Trump’s travel ban to be lifted. The president’s Jan. 27 order had barred admission of citizens from the seven nations for 90 days.

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Law.

DHS Suspends Actions On Travel Ban; ‘Standard Policy’ Now In Effect (R.)

A Seattle federal judge on Friday put a nationwide block on U.S. President Donald Trump’s week-old executive order that had temporarily barred refugees and nationals from seven countries from entering the United States. The judge’s temporary restraining order represents a major setback for Trump’s action, though the White House said late Friday that it believed the ban to be “lawful and appropriate” and that the U.S. Department of Justice would file an emergency appeal. As a result of the ruling, the Department of Homeland Security suspended its enforcement of the ban, announcing on Saturday that “standard policy and procedures” were now in effect. “In accordance with the judge’s ruling, DHS has suspended any and all actions implementing the affected sections of the Executive Order entitled, “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” DHS said in a statement.

“DHS personnel will resume inspection of travelers in accordance with standard policy and procedure,” it stated, adding that the Justice Department would file an emergency stay to “defend the president’s executive order, which is lawful and appropriate.” The move came on the heels of the State Department announcing it was reversing the revocation of visas that left countless travelers stranded at airports last weekend. The move all but ensures a protracted public and legal battle over one of Trump’s most controversial policies, barely two weeks after he was inaugurated. Early Saturday morning, Trump criticised the ruling as “ridiculous” and warned of big trouble if a country could not control its borders.

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Quite right. Putin bashing is a losing strategy.

Trump Tells O’Reilly He ‘Respects’ Putin in Super Bowl Interview (Fox)

On Sunday, Bill O’Reilly will hold a special Super Bowl pre-game interview with President Trump at 4 p.m. ET on your local FOX broadcast station. In a special preview, Trump revealed his plans for dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. O’Reilly asked Trump whether he “respects” the former KGB agent: “I do respect him, but I respect a lot of people,” Trump said, “That doesn’t mean I’m going to get along with him.” Trump said he would appreciate any assistance from Russia in the fight against ISIS terrorists, adding that he would rather get along with the former Cold War-era foe than otherwise. “But, [Putin] is a killer,” O’Reilly said. “There are a lot of killers,” Trump responded, “We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?”

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For the EU, like NATO, Putin bashing is the only thing left that provides a reason to be. That’s just dangerous.

As Trump Weighs Thaw With Putin, EU Set to Renew Its Blacklist (BBG)

The European Union plans to renew asset freezes and travel bans against key allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin who are accused of destabilizing Ukraine, at a time when Donald Trump is weighing warmer ties with Moscow. Four EU officials said member governments intend by mid-March to prolong the sanctions for another six months on more than 100 Ukrainians and Russians. Among them: Arkady Rotenberg, co-owner of SMP Bank and InvestCapitalBank, and Yury Kovalchuk, the biggest shareholder in Bank Rossiya, the Brussels-based officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the deliberations are confidential. Trump, who had a phone call with Putin on Jan. 28, has left open the possibility of easing the U.S.’s sanctions against Russia.

Former President Barack Obama drew up the American penalties in coordination with the 28-nation EU after Putin annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014 and lent support to separatist rebels. “The Europeans are waiting to see what hand grenade Trump throws into the Russia-Ukraine pond,” Michael Emerson, a foreign-policy expert at the CEPS think tank in Brussels, said by phone. With the asset freezes and travel bans due to expire on March 15, “European politicians and diplomats will be cautious and stick to the status quo,” he said. The planned renewal of the blacklist highlights the EU’s political commitment to a policy that Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande guided in step with Obama. The European sanctions against Russia resemble the U.S. penalties and include a separate set of curbs – prolonged for another six months just before Trump took office on Jan. 20 – on Russia’s financial, energy and defense industries.

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Volatility.

Goldman Throws Cold Water On Trump Agenda (CNBC)

The policy halo effect that provided ballast to the stock market and fueled investor optimism is already being dimmed by political realities, according to Goldman Sachs, which may have negative implications for economic growth. In a note to clients on Friday, the investment bank noted President Donald Trump’s agenda was already running into bipartisan political resistance, with doubts growing about potential tax reform and a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, among other marquee Trump administration initiatives. Just two weeks into his tenure, “risks are less positively tilted than they appeared shortly after the election ,” Goldman wrote. Growing resistance to Trump’s executive orders on immigration and financial reform has galvanized opposition while dividing members of the president’s own Republican Party.

It has also curbed the enthusiasm of investors, who sent stocks on a roller-coaster ride this week as they struggled to reconcile the new restrictions on immigration with Trump’s professed pro-business bent. “While bipartisan cooperation looked possible on some issues following the election, the political environment appears to be as polarized as ever, suggesting that issues that require bipartisan support may be difficult to address,” the bank added. The balance of risks “are less positively tilted than they appeared shortly after the election,” Goldman said, which may blunt the force of future growth. Amid reports that top GOP members are reportedly becoming nervous about the impact of a full-fleged repeal of health care, that political pushback “does not bode well for reaching a quick agreement on tax reform or infrastructure funding, and reinforces our view that a fiscal boost, if it happens, is mostly a 2018 story.”

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Steve on Twitter: “Coulnd’t resist it: sanctimonious carbon price pap, & belief market can solve an ecological problem just baug me. So my satirical gene fired.”

Economists Say Action On Carbon Is Vital, Or Say Nothing At All (Age)

There is no consensus. Economists either believe it is vital that Australia becomes a low-carbon intensity economy, or that the issue is so unimportant – or perhaps that it is so politically divisive – that they choose not to volunteer an opinion. Asked about the importance of reducing the country’s carbon footprint and how best to do it, more than half of 27 economists from industry, consultancy, academia and finance questioned for the annual BusinessDay Scope survey agreed it was a must. Another 10 left the question blank. Whether this indicates a lack of interest or the contentious nature of climate change policy is unclear. But none of those who did answer made the case that cleaning up the economy did not matter. They overwhelmingly said action should be swift and include a market-based carbon pricing scheme.

[..] Steve Keen, of London’s Kingston University, made what – we think – was a similar point about the importance of climate action, albeit less conventionally. “Nah mate! Wassa matta, dontcha own a pair of budgie smugglers?” he wrote. “It’s all a conspiracy by Marxists anyway to undermine the Ostralyan way of life – you know, burning stuff and damn well enjoying it rather than whingeing. “A bit a coal never hurt anyone, matter of fact it tastes even better than a raw onion!”

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“I am shorting JGBs with both fists.”

Japan – It’s Finally Happening (Muir)

I still shake my head at the stupidity. One of the most overindebted countries in the history of modern finance trading with a 0% thirty year bond. Professor Malkiel – stick that in your pipe and smoke it. But into that panic a crazy thing happened. Worried its bonds would trade at negative yields and pressure the financial system, the Bank of Japan pegged its 10 year yield at 0%. In doing so, the Bank of Japan moved from a set rate of balance sheet expansion to one that varies based on whether that peg is either too high, or too low. If the equilibrium level of 10 year rates was in fact below 0%, the Bank of Japan would be forced to sell bonds to keep rates stuck at 0%. If there was demand for credit and 10 year rates moved higher, then the BoJ would be forced to buy bonds to keep them from declining.

The BoJ program was a little more nuanced, and there were some caveats, but at its heart, the BoJ was giving up control of its balance sheet so it could peg a specific part of the yield curve. Of course Central Banks do this all the time. The difference is they usually operate at the front part of the curve, and when there is too much demand or supply, they change the rate. When the Bank of Japan took this unprecedented step, I walked away from my short JGB position. I figured there were better fixed income markets to short. Yet I highlighted that by pegging the 10 year rate, the Bank of Japan had not eliminated volatility, but merely postponed it. Eventually the Bank of Japan’s massive balance sheet expansion would kick in. At that point, inflation would pick up, credit would be demanded and the Bank of Japan would be forced to defend the 0% peg.

Yet this defending would be expansionary as they would be forced to buy bonds and expand the amount of base money, which if not offset with a decline in the velocity of money, would create more inflation, etc… All of this would be occurring with an already highly supercharged Japanese Central Bank balance sheet. I have been sitting and waiting for this expansionary feedback loop to kickstart. Until recently, the Bank of Japan had not been forced to buy any bonds to keep the rate pegged at 0%. When 10 year rates drifted far enough above 0%, the Bank of Japan made a bid to buy an unlimited number of bonds at a level below the market, which scared the market back to the pegged level. But this week the market decided to test the BoJ’s resolve.

The JGB 10 Year bond spiked through the previous high yield on news the Bank of Japan would not be expanding their balance sheet quite as aggressively as expected in their regular QE program. As yields popped through the previous 0.10% yield ceiling, the Bank of Japan came charging into the market. The BoJ bid 3-4 basis points through the market with unlimited size to push yields back down to the 0.10% level. What does this mean? The market is finally saying the demand for credit is enough to force the Bank of Japan to buy bonds to keep rates down. And that was the signal I was waiting for. I am shorting JGBs with both fists. It probably won’t happen tomorrow, nor the next day. Heck it probably won’t even happen next month, but we have reached the point where I need to be short JGBs.

The pressure will continue to build and when it finally bursts, the torrent will be overwhelming and quick. Although many traders think they will be able to climb on board, it will most likely be extremely difficult – like jumping on a raft bouncing down a raging river, it always seems way easier than it is. I hate German bunds, but I now have a fixed income instrument I hate even more. I expect bund yields to double or even triple in the coming quarters, but JGBs will eventually trade significantly though bunds. It would be just like the Market Gods to finally usher in the JGBs collapse once all the hedge fund guys had given up on it…

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Count her out at your own peril.

Le Pen Kicks Off Campaign With Promise Of French ‘Freedom’ (R.)

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen kicked off her presidential campaign on Saturday with a promise to shield voters from globalization and make their country “free”, hoping to profit from political turmoil to score a Donald Trump-style upset. Opinion polls see the 48-year old daughter of National Front (FN) founder Jean-Marie Le Pen topping the first round on April 23 but then losing the May 7 run-off to a mainstream candidate. But in the most unpredictable election race France has known in decades, the FN hopes the scandal hitting conservative candidate Francois Fillon and the rise of populism across the West will help convince voters to back Le Pen. “We were told Donald Trump would never win in the United States against the media, against the establishment, but he won… We were told Marine Le Pen would not win the presidential election, but on May 7 she will win!” Jean-Lin Lacapelle, a top FN official, told several hundred party officials and members.

In 144 “commitments” published at the start of a two-day rally in Lyon, Le Pen proposes leaving the euro zone, holding a referendum on EU membership, slapping taxes on imports and on the job contracts of foreigners, lowering the retirement age and increasing several welfare benefits while lowering income tax. The manifesto also foresees reserving certain rights now available to all residents, including free education, to French citizens only, hiring 15,000 police, curbing migration and leaving NATO’s integrated command. “The aim of this program is first of all to give France its freedom back and give the people a voice,” Le Pen said in the introduction to the manifesto.

[..] “This presidential election puts two opposite proposals,” Le Pen said in her manifesto. “The ‘globalist’ choice backed by all my opponents … and the ‘patriotic’ choice which I personify.” If elected, Le Pen says she would immediately seek an overhaul of the European Union that would reduce it to a very loose cooperative of nations with no single currency and no border-free area. If, as is likely, France’s EU partners refuse to agree to this, she would call a referendum to leave the bloc.

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Horse barn.

Theresa May Abandons ‘Home Owning Democracy’ of Thatcher and Tories (G.)

A major shift in Tory housing policy in favour of people who rent will be announced by ministers this week as Theresa May’s government admits that home ownership is now out of reach for millions of families. In a departure from her predecessor David Cameron, who focused on advancing Margaret Thatcher’s ambition for a “home-owning democracy”, a white paper will aim to deliver more affordable and secure rental deals, and threaten tougher action against rogue landlords, for the millions of families unable to buy because of sky-high property prices. Ministers will say they want to change planning and other rules to ensure developers provide a proportion of new homes for “affordable rent” instead of just insisting that they provide a quota of “affordable homes for sale”.

They will also announce incentives to encourage landlords to offer “family-friendly” guaranteed three-year tenancies, new action to ban unscrupulous landlords who offer sub-standard properties, and a further consultation on banning many of the fees that are charged by letting agents. A senior Whitehall source said: “We want to help renters get more choice, a better deal and more secure tenancies.” They added that the government did not want to scare people off from renting out homes, but offer incentives to encourage best practice and isolate the worst landlords. By emphasising the rights of renters, as well as trying to boost house building, the white paper will mark a turning point for a party that since the 1980s, and the first council house sales, has promoted home ownership as a badge of success, while neglecting the interests of renters.

The Tory manifesto for the 2015 general election spelt out plans for 200,000 new “starter homes” that could be bought by first-time buyers at 20% discounts, but said little about promoting the interests and improving the lot of so-called “generation rent”. Cameron also pushed the idea of getting people on the housing ladder through shared ownership schemes, an idea that is no longer such a priority. The white paper will be seen as part of May’s deliberate break with Cameron, and her drive to create a country “that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”.

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Makes no difference anymore to Greece and Italy.

Attention Trade Warriors: Germany’s Surplus is on the Wane (BBG)

The Trump administration appears intent on escalating the long-standing U.S. practice of attacking Germany’s current-account surplus. Good news for those on the receiving end: It has probably peaked. As officials like National Trade Council director Peter Navarro rail against the trade imbalance that dominates the balance of payments between the two countries, pensioners, home-buyers and immigrants are quietly working to bring that $297 billion current-account surplus down. According to research by Deutsche Bank, demographics and a housing boom are two factors that will drive the current account balance – the difference between what a country earns from abroad and what it spends – to its lowest level in seven years by 2020.

That may offer little consolation to the German delegation when it hosts a Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers in March, as they’ll likely face intensified criticism for allowing such an imbalance to continue. Germany has long faced flak, both within the euro area and outside it, for failing to encourage greater domestic spending and imports to balance out its external excess. Still, while the weaker euro will continue to make German exports attractive in the U.S. – think expensive sedans, high-tech machinery – there are countervailing factors at play on the other side of the equation. “In the medium term we expect the demographic development and the solid domestic economy, driven by a sustained positive development on the property market, to push the surplus down to 7 percent of GDP,” Deutsche Bank economist Heiko Peters said by phone.

A rising share of pensioners in the German population, who normally have less money to save than people in jobs, will crimp household savings rates, while an increasing number of immigrants such as refugees will contribute to boosting German imports, Peters wrote in a study first published last year. And with housing valuations outpacing income and rent growth since 2009, home owners feel richer, save less toward retirement and borrow against their property. That leads to rising imports of building materials to fuel the property boom and increased demand for foreign consumer goods on the back of the wealth effect. 7% of GDP is still a mighty big number for an economy as large as Germany’s. “That’s still a relatively high level until 2020,” Peters says. “But an even greater demographic effect is then expected for 2020-2025, and the surplus should then decline clearly further.”

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Another ‘curious’ WaPo feat.

Dennis Kucinich Rages Against The Military-Industrial-Complex (FB)

I have dedicated my life to peace. As a member of Congress I led efforts to avert conflict and end wars in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Iran. And yet those of us who work for peace are put under false scrutiny to protect Washington’s war machine. Those who undermine our national security by promoting military attacks and destroying other nations are held up as national leaders to admire. Recently Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and I took a Congressional Ethics-approved fact finding trip to Lebanon and Syria, where we visited Aleppo and refugee camps, and met with religious leaders, governmental leaders and people from all sides of the conflict, including political opposition to the Syrian government.

Since that time we have been under constant attack on false grounds. The media and the war establishment are desperate to keep hold of their false narrative for world-wide war, interventionism and regime change, which is a profitable business for Washington insiders and which impoverishes our own country. Today, Rep. Gabbard came under attack yet again by the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin who has been on a tear trying to ruin the reputations of the people and the organization who sponsored our humanitarian, fact-finding mission of peace to the Middle East. Rogin just claimed in a tweet that as community organization I have been associated with for twenty years does not exist. The organization is in my neighborhood. Here’s photos I took yesterday of AACCESS-Ohio’s marquee.

It clearly exists, despite the base, condescending assertions of Mr. Rogin. Enough of this dangerous pettiness. Let’s dig in to what is really going on, inside Syria, in the State Department, the CIA and the Pentagon. In the words of President Eisenhower, let’s beware (and scrutinize) the military-industrial-complex. It is time to be vigilant for our democracy.


These leaders of the Christian faith in Aleppo begged for the US to stop funding terrorists in #Syria. They expressed that before international interventions (covert and overt) Syrians lived in peace without concern as to whether they were Christian, Muslim or Jew.

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Line of the day: “Why are we spending £160bn on renewing Trident when we now know its missiles are more likely to hit Australia if they were aimed at Russia?..”

NATO, Not Russia, Has Deployed Tanks To Poland & Baltic States – Galloway (RT)

British Defense Secretary speech on “Russian threat” is a desperate attempt to “save jobs and budgets” for the Cold War crowd, which is worried the new US leader will not consider Russia an enemy, broadcaster and former British MP George Galloway told RT. Addressing a group of university students, the UK’s defense secretary Michael Fallon warned of a resurgent Russia and said that it is becoming aggressive. RT: What did you make of Michael Fallon’s speech? George Galloway: Well, Michael Fallon puts the ‘squeak’ in the word ‘pipsqueak.’ He is of course the defense minister of a small and semi-detached European power with not much military prowess and which wants to feel big about itself.

And these people, and he’s not alone – the military industrial complex in the United States is up to the same game – they are desperately thrashing around to save their jobs, to save their budgets, to save their roles as muscle-men in the world. And Fallon got used to, as did other European powers, going around the world, threatening people with America’s army. Now America’s army is not quite so reliable, because America has a President who might not want to use the army in the way that these people want him to, at least one hopes not. And so they desperately seek to continually exacerbate the existing tensions with Russia to defend their own relevance. The people are asking, “What’s NATO for?”

The people are asking, “Why are we spending £160bn on renewing Trident when we now know its missiles are more likely to hit Australia if they were aimed at Russia? And in any case Russia has thousands of nuclear weapons, and we only a handful.” So it’s all pretty pitiful, actually. Right down to the audience of university students, hoping that none of them would challenge him. I’d like him to debate these matters with me, he knows me well, he comes from the same town in Scotland as me. I’d really love to get my metaphorical hands on him to have some of these matters out. The truth is that the European Union is having to come to terms with the fact that the US now has a President that doesn’t want war with Russia and they – who have built their entire 50-60 years of history on the possibility of war with Russia – are all at sea, except we don’t have that many battleships left either.

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Greece turning into an impoverished prison camp is a feature not a bug.

Varoufakis Calls on PM Tspiras to Ditch Bailout Restructuring (GR)

Yanis Varoufakis wrote in an op-ed in Efimerida ton Syntakton on Saturday. The former finance minister called on Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras to adopt a plan originally proposed by Varoufakis while he was still in office. The plan would unilaterally restructure the loans the ECB holds. In addition according to BitCoin Magazine and reiterated in the former FM’s op-ed a payment system that could operate in euros but which could be changed into drachmas “overnight” if necessary would be implemented along with a parallel payment system. “This two-pronged preparation is the only way to prevent another excruciating retreat by the prime minister in the short-term and [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schaeuble’s plan in the long-term,” Varoufakis wrote. Varoufakis has been a vocal protester to Greek bailout plans and restructuring as it stands now, hence his resignation. He firmly believes that the current plan could lead to Greece leaving the Eurozone of their own accord.

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More on that. “In reality there was never a basis for hope that the toxic 3rd bailout would be gradually rationalized, in terms that the European Commission would support Athens so that the austerity and anti-social IMF measures would relax..”

Varoufakis Urges Tsipras To Ditch Negotiations, Adopt “Parallel System” (KTG)

Former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis strikes back and urges Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to turn his back on Greece’s lenders, adopt a parallel payment system and to unilaterally restructure the loans held by the ECB. In an op-ed in Efimerida ton Syntakton, Varoufakis, Varoufakis calls on Tispras to prepare for rupture with creditors in order to avoid rupture. “This two-pronged preparation is the only way to prevent another excruciating retreat by the prime minister in the short term and [German Finance Minister Wolfgang] Schaeuble’s plan in the long term,” Varoufakis wrote. In his article, Varoufakis suggested that Schaeuble’s strategy is to lead Greeks to the point of exhaustion so they ask to leave the euro themselves.

Noting that the “parallel payment system was already designed in 2014”, Varoufakis stresses that Tsipras had “two delusions” that led the government to the current impasse: A) that on the night of the referendum, the dilemma was between Schaeuble’s Grexit Plan and the 3rd bailout, and B) that the obedience to the 3rd bailout could be politically manageable through a parallel, society-friendly program. Both of these “working assumptions” were based only on autosuggestion, the ex finance minister stresses adding that he tried to explained this to the Prime Minister on the night of the referendum

“In reality there was never a basis for hope that the toxic 3rd bailout would be gradually rationalized, in terms that the European Commission would support Athens so that the austerity and anti-social IMF measures would relax, the IMF would force Berlin to accept debt restructuring and lower primary surpluses, the ECB would include Greece in the bond purchase program (QE),” Varoufakis wrote. He accused leading European negotiators of lying. “That Moscovici [EU Monetary Affairs Commissioner], Coerer [ECB] and Sapen [French finance minister] might have given such promises was not an excuse. Since May 2015 we were fully aware that these gentlemen know how to lie and fail to deliver on their promises when they do not lie.”

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Completely devoid of any comprehension or compassion. Moral Bankruptcy. Throw money at it, that should work… And then keep bombing, British involvement in that makes a lot of profit.

UK: Refugees Heading To Europe To Be Sent To Asia And Latin America (Ind.)

Refugees heading to Europe will be urged to settle in Asia and Latin America instead, under a new £30m British aid package. Theresa May announced the scheme at an EU summit in Malta, arguing it showed the Government is “stepping up its support for the most vulnerable refugees”. The package will see Britain provide lifesaving supplies for people facing freezing conditions across Eastern Europe and Greece, including warm clothing, shelter and medical care. However, it will also pay for better infrastructure in far-flung countries willing to take refugees who had hoped to settle in Europe. The move builds on an existing scheme run by The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), but it is the first time Britain’s aid budget has been used to bolster it. It risks adding to criticism that the Prime Minister is unwilling for the UK to accept a reasonable share of the refugees and migrants fleeing Syria and other war zones.

Only a few thousand Syrian refugees have been resettled in Britain – and the Government has refused to take part in an EU-wide programme to co-ordinate the continent’s response to the crisis. Government sources stressed that people would only be diverted to countries in Asia and Latin America if they were willing to be resettled there. The Department for International Development is expected to release a list of interested countries later. In Malta the Prime Minister insisted the focus of the £30m programme was “helping migrants return home rather than risk their lives continuing perilous journeys to Europe”. It would provide assistance to refugees and migrants across Greece, the Balkans, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Sudan. Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, said: “Conflict, drought and political upheaval have fuelled protracted crises and driven mass migration. We cannot ignore these challenges.

The package will be delivered by UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and NGO collective Start Network. Its aim is to:

* provide 22,400 life-saving relief items including tents, blankets, winter clothes such as hats and gloves and hygiene kits including mother and baby products

* help more than 60,000 people with emergency medical care, legal support and frontline workers to identify those at risk of violence and trafficking

* allow up to 22,000 people to reunite with family members they have become separated from

* help countries in Asia and Latin America that “might be able to resettle refugees put the infrastructure and systems in place to do so”

* provide more than 1,500 refugees in Egypt, including those fleeing Syria and other conflicts, with urgent health assistance and educational grants for students to go back to school

* provide a migrant centre in Sudan to enable “voluntary returns home when safe”, replicating a successful scheme in Niger.

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Feb 042017
 
 February 4, 2017  Posted by at 2:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Esther Bubley Boy who rides to school daily on Greyhound bus, Washington Court House, Ohio 1943

 

It’s been a while since the Automatic Earth featured an article from Energy Matters, the site run by our longtime friend Euan Mearns, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Aberdeen, and his co-conspirator Roger Andrews, a British engineer/geophysicist, semi-retired in Mexico. But I read a piece by Roger yesterday that I like, because it allows me to rant against all the false claims emanating from countries and companies about the share of renewable power in their total energy consumption.

Roger focuses on the railway system in the Netherlands, run by NS, which recently claimed that it operates on 100% wind power. This is of course, if you know anything about electricity generation and the grid, a preposterous claim, and that the company has the guts to make such a claim can only serve to prove how little the general public knows about the topic. Or they wouldn’t dare. Green is still so sexy in certain circles, and actual knowledge so poor, that companies like the NS feel no scruples about stretching their ‘greenness’ into absurd theater territory.

Google does something similar. And you might be inclined to think that the topic is so important for both the companies and the people they seek to please with their claims that grossly exaggerating the numbers would be out of the question, but not so. Instead, “Google announced that it will purchase enough renewable energy to match 100% of its operations in 2017”. And that is not the same as running on renewables, which is what is being suggested (in carefully cherry-picked terms). I like this assessment by electronicdesign.com:

Is Google’s Renewable Energy Plan What It Seems?

“Essentially, Google is contracting for green energy from places that can never reach its data centers. If it were as simple as Google claims, it would be easy to build a renewable power sector. New York City could execute a massive number of contracts with wind farms in upstate New York because they are on the same grid.“ [..]

Google is promising to buy—on an annual basis—the same amount of megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy as the amount of megawatt-hours of electricity that it consumes for its worldwide operations. This approach will benefit the renewable energy market even though it is still generating the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions with or without its 100% renewable energy purchasing plan.

Google ‘buys renewable energy’ in various places around the world, but its servers don’t run on it. It’s exactly like companies buying carbon permits from poorer nations; an excuse to keep polluting. As both the permits and the renewables are traded in markets where prices are low and/or heavily subsidized. As for the scale involved, “In 2015, Google consumed 5.7 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, which is nearly as much electricity as the city of San Francisco.” And don’t forget it keeps consuming ever more as the company grows. That’s a lot of fossil fuels. The medieval ‘principle’ of absolution inevitably comes to mind.

As for the Netherlands’ railways, Roger concludes below, after explaining why, that “the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.”

 

I would like to add that because of continuing issues related to intermittency and baseload, which are nowhere near being solved, the very grid itself that is used to deliver the ‘renewable’ electricity couldn’t exist without fossil fuels. Or, in other words, if there were only ‘green’ sources of electricity, there would be no grid. How much can be moved towards ‘green’ sources is still somewhat debatable, but just like solar panels and wind turbines cannot build themselves but need fossil fuels to be produced, there is a limit far far below the 100% both Google and the Dutch railways are (deceitfully?) toying around with. Here’s Roger:

 

 

a target=”new” href=”https://euanmearns.com/do-the-netherlands-trains-really-run-on-100-wind-power/”>Do The Netherlands’ Trains Really Run On 100% Wind Power?

This question generated a number of comments in the last Blowout so I thought I would take a quick look at it. I find that the electrified portion of the Dutch railway network (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, or NS) runs on grid electricity that comes dominantly from fossil fuel generation (natural gas and coal). NS claims 100% wind power because it has a contract with various wind farms to produce enough energy to power its rail system, but this is just an accounting transaction. Only a small fraction of the power delivered to its trains actually comes from wind.

First some details on the Netherlands’ electricity sector. As shown in the table below installed capacity is dominantly fossil fuel, with natural gas making up 61% of total installed capacity and coal 15%. Wind contributes 4,117MW, representing 13% of the capacity mix. (Data from ENTSO-E ):

No details on the current generation mix are readily available, but as shown in Figure 1 gas and coal supplied around 80% of the Netherlands’ electricity between 2000 and 2013 and it’s likely that this percentage still applies.

Figure 1: The Netherlands’ generation mix 2000-2013. Data from Frontier Economics

How much of the Netherlands’ electricity is supplied by wind? According to Cleantechnica
wind power in the Netherlands generates 7.4 billion kWh (7.4TWh) of electricity annually, and according to BP the Netherlands’ total electricity generation in 2015 was 109.6TWh. However, wind power consumption in the Netherlands in 2015 was 12.5TWh, indicating that about 5TWh of wind power was imported during the year. So while wind contributes about 7% to the Netherlands’ electricity generation it contributes about 11% to the country’s electricity consumption. Either figure comfortably exceeds the amount of electricity NS uses to power its electric trains, which is variously quoted as either 1.2 or 1.4TWh/year.

The Netherlands imports wind power basically because it’s falling behind its EU renewable energy targets. But how does NS know the power it imports is wind? Because Eneco, which contracts to supply NS with wind power, gets a “Guarantee of Origin” from the exporter under which the exporter confirms that the power came from wind and assigns the rights to it to NS. As Cleantechnica puts it: “the GoO system allows for the transfer of the rights to call electricity green from those who actually generate renewable energy to those who don’t but want to classify their power as such. The actual amount of green energy produced is unaffected.”

There is, however, a problem. For NS to use only wind power from wind farms to power its rail system the wind farms must be connected directly to NS’s railways. (Figure 2: Note the dotted lines showing non-electrified track. According to LJ Electrical only 2,231km of NS’s total 3,223km of track is electrified):

Figure 2: The Netherlands’ railway network.

And of course no such connections exist. The two Dutch wind farms that have contracted to sell power to NS (Noordoostpolder and Luchterduinen) are both connected directly to the Dutch grid, along with all the other power plants in the country, and NS draws its power from the grid:

Figure 3: The Netherlands’ electricity grid. Grid connections for the Luchterduinen and Nordpoostpolder wind farms (locations approximate) are shown in black.

When wind power is fed into a grid it becomes inextricably mixed with all the vibrating electrons from other generation sources to the point where there is no way of knowing where any power taken from the grid came from. Grid power in fact reflects the overall generation mix, which in the case of the Netherlands is dominantly gas and coal with only a small contribution from wind. How much wind? Over the course of this year the average will be around 11%, equal to wind power’s share of the Netherlands’ annual grid electricity consumption.

And only half of the wind power NS has contracted for comes from the Netherlands. The other half comes from “newly built wind farms in …. Belgium and Finland”. Wind power now supplies about 10% of Belgium’s electricity, so power imported from the Belgian grid will be about 10% wind. Wind power from Finland can be discounted. Only about 2% of Finland’s generation mix is wind, and by the time it passes through the Finnish, Swedish and German grids on its way to the Netherlands it will effectively have disappeared. Imports from the German grid, however, will contain about 14% wind power, although not wind power that NS has contracted for. Putting these numbers together indicates that only 10-15% of the electricity consumed annually by NS’s electric trains will come from wind, with the rest a mixture that includes mostly Dutch gas and coal plus a small amount of Belgian and German coal, nuclear and lignite – and maybe even a little German solar.

The supply of wind power to the Dutch grid will also not be constant. I have no wind records for the Netherlands but P.F. Bach supplies data for Belgium, which should be a close analogy, and Figure 4 shows Belgian wind generation for September 2014:

Figure 4: Belgian wind generation, September 2014

With an installed capacity of around 1850MW in this month the overall wind capacity factor was 11% and there were a number of occasions on which wind generation fell effectively to zero for hours on end. During these periods wind generation in the neighboring Netherlands would also have fallen to low levels. Were these conditions to repeat themselves now, and if NS’s trains were powered exclusively by wind, they would almost certainly come to a halt. (Although Eneco, NS’s wind power procurer, claims that its “wind farm portfolio guarantees sufficient capacity to cover such eventualities” . Apparently Eneco can make the wind blow to order.)

So how does NS justify the claim that all Dutch trains run on 100% wind power? Well, it actually claims that only the electrified portion runs on 100% wind. Only the Guardian has seen fit to publish a correction:

An earlier version said all Dutch trains were now 100% powered by wind-generated electricity, according to the national railway company NS. The company said all electric trains were now powered by wind energy. (my emphasis)

And how does NS justify this lesser claim? According to Railway Technology because it has a:

“green energy contract – thought to be among the largest yet signed in Europe – between power supplier Eneco and VIVENS, an energy procurement joint venture comprising Netherlands Railways (NS), Veolia, Arriva, Connexxion and rail freight firms”, and because

“NS and Eneco have carefully selected a list of wind farms that fulfil their criteria of being traceable, sustainable – or renewable – and additional, or new”, and because

“This partnership ensures that new investments can be made in even newer wind farms, which will increase the share of renewable energy. In this way, the Dutch railways aim to reduce the greatest negative environmental impact caused by CO2 in such a way that its demand actually contributes to the sustainable power generation in the Netherlands and Europe.”

The first two are “feel good” justifications that have no practical impact. The third – that by purchasing wind power that would otherwise have gone elsewhere NS is leaving the door open for more wind projects and more CO2 reductions – is the only one that offers any tangible benefits. But there is no guarantee that the unfilled demand will be met by renewables, and in any event the 1.2-1.4TWh/year consumed by NS represents barely more than 1% of the Netherlands’ annual electricity consumption and a totally negligible fraction of European consumption. This is hardly enough to make a big deal about.

And meanwhile the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.

 

 

Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 5:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Parisians duck down to evade German sniper fire following Nazi surrender of Paris, 1945

 

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution? That our definition of success is what dooms us?

Philosophers, religious people, or you and me, may struggle with the question “what’s the purpose of life?”. These guys do not. The purpose of life is to make a profit. The earth and all the life it harbors exist to kill, drill, excavate and burn down, if that means you can make a profit. And after that you repair it all for a profit. In their view, the earth doesn’t turn of its own accord after all, it’s money that makes it go round.

 

The worrisome thing is that Mark and Michael will be listened to, that they are allowed a seat at the table in the first place, whereas you and I are not. A table that will be filled with plenty more of their ilk, as the announcement of Bill Gates’ billionaire philantropist energy fund says loud and clear:

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a group of high-profile executives are investing $1 billion in a fund to spur clean energy technology and address global climate change a year after the Paris climate agreement. Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund on Monday along with billionaire entrepreneurs such as Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos. The fund seeks to increase financing of emerging energy research and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to help meet goals set in Paris, according to a statement by the investor group known as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Yes, many of the same folk and/or their minions were sitting at the table with Trump on Dec 14. To see if there are any profits to be made. When a profit is involved they have no trouble sitting down with the same guy they insulted and warned against day after grueling day mere weeks ago. They have no trouble doing it because they insulted him for a potential profit too. It’s business, it’s not personal.

Billionaires will save us from ourselves, and make us -and themselves- rich while doing it. What is not to like? Well, for one thing, has anybody lately checked the energy footprint of Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates, Ma, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al? Is it possible that perhaps they’re trying to pull our collective wool over our eyes by pretending to care about those footprints? That maybe these ‘clean energy’ initiatives are merely a veil behind which they intend to extend -and expand- said footprints?

The ones in that sphere who wind up being most successful are those who are most convincing in making us believe that all we need to do to avert a climate disaster is to use some different form of energy. That all the talk about zero emissions and clean energy is indeed reflecting our one and only possible reality.

That all we need to do is to switch to solar and wind and electric cars to save ourselves (and they’ll build them for a subsidy). That that will end the threat and we can keep on doing what we always did, and keep on growing it all and as the cherry on the cake, make a profit off the endeavor.

 

None of it flies even a little. First of all, as I said last week in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity, there are many more problems with our present lifestyles than ‘only’ climate change, or the use of carbon. Like the extinction of two-thirds of all vertebrate life in just 50 years leading up to 2020. There’s -close to- nothing wind and solar will do to alleviate that.

Because it’s not oil itself, or carbon in general, that kills; our use of it does. And the rush to build an entire new global infrastructure that is needed to use new energy forms, which will depend on using huge amounts of carbon, is more likely to kill off that globe than to save it. “Carbon got us in this, let’s use lots more of it to get us out”.

The trillions in -public- investment that are would be needed will make us all dirt poor too, except for the gentlemen mentioned above and a handful of others who invent stuff that they manage to make us believe will save us. Still convinced?

 

The lifestyles of the last 10 generations of us, especially westerners, are characterized more than anything else by the huge increase in the use of energy, of calories and joules. As we went from wood to peat to coal to oil and gas, the energy return on energy investment kept going higher. But that stopped with oil and gas. And from now on in it will keep going down.

“Free carbon excess” was a one-off ‘gift’ from nature. It will not continue and it will not return. Different forms of carbon have offered us a one-time source of free energy that we will not have again. The idea that we can replace it with ‘clean energy’ is ludicrous. The energy return on energy investment doesn’t even come close. And you can’t run a society with our present levels of complexity on a much lower ‘net energy’. We must dress down. No profit in that, sorry.

We built what we have now with oil at an EROEI of 100:1. There are no forms of energy left that come remotely close, including new, unconventional, forms of oil itself. Peak oil has been a much maligned and misunderstood concept, but its essence stands: when it takes more energy to ‘produce’ energy than it delivers, there will be no production.

This graph is a few years old, and wind and solar may have gained a few percentage points in yield, but it’s still largely correct. And it will continue to be.

 

 

We have done with all that free energy what all other life forms do when ‘gifted’ with an excess of available energy: spend it as fast as possible, proliferate to speed up the process (we went from less than 1 billion people to 7 billion in under 200 years, 2 billion to 7 billion in 100 years) and, most of all, waste it.

Ever wonder why everybody drives a car that is ten times heavier then her/himself and has a 10% efficiency rate in its energy use? Why there’s an infrastructure everywhere that necessitates for every individual to use 1000 times more energy than it would take herself to get from A to B on foot? Sounds a lot like deliberately wasteful behavior, doesn’t it?

The essence here is that while we were building this entire wasteful world of us, we engaged in the denying and lying behavior that typifies us as a species more than anything: we disregarded externalities. And there is no reason to believe we would not continue to do just that when we make the illusionary switch to ‘clean’ energy.

To begin with, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says there’s no such thing as clean energy. So stop using the term. Second, that we call wind and solar ‘clean energy’ means we’re already ignoring externalities again. We pretend that producing windmills and solar panels does not produce pollution (or we wouldn’t call it ‘clean’). While enormous amounts of carbon are used in the production process, and it involves pollution, loss of land, loss of life, loss of resources (once you burn it it’s gone).

 

An example: If we want to ‘save’ the earth, we would do good to start by overthrowing the way we produce food. It presently easily takes more than 10 calories of energy -mostly carbon- for every calorie of food we make. Then we wrap it all in (oil-based) plastic and transport it sometimes 1000s of miles before it’s on our plates. And at the end of this process, we will have thrown away half of it. It’s hard to think of a more wasteful process.

It’s a process obviously devised and executed by idiots. But it’s profitable. There is a profit to be made in wasting precious resources. And there is a key lesson in that. There is no profit in producing food in a more efficient way. At least not for the industries that produce it. And perhaps not even for you, if you produce most of your food – it takes ‘precious’ time.

It would still be hugely beneficial, though. And there’s the key. There is no direct link between what is good for us, and the planet, on the one side, and profit, money, on the other. What follows from that is that it’s not the people whose entire lives are centered around money who are the most obvious choices to ‘save the planet’. If anything, they are the least obvious.

But in an economic and political system that is itself as focused on money as ours is, they are still the ones who are allowed to assume this role. It’s a circle jerk around, and then into, a drain.

 

Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.

We would need to gain much more knowledge of who we are and what makes us do what we do, and why. But that is not going to happen if we focus on making a profit. Using less energy means less waste means less profit.

Yes, there may be energy sources that produce a bit less waste, a bit less pollution, than those that are carbon based. But first, our whole infrastructure has been built by carbon, and second, even if another energy source would become available, we would push to grow its use ever more, and end up initially in the same mess, and then a worse one.

 

 

I stumbled upon an excellent example of the effects of all this today:

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km (6mi by 6 mi). Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people.

The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads.

 

 

It’s a good example because it raises the question: how much of this particular issue do you think will be solved by the promotion of electric cars, or windmills? How much of it do you think can be solved for a profit? Because if there’s no profit in it, it will not happen.

One more for the philosophy class: I know many people will be inclined to suggest options like nuclear fusion. Or zero point energy. And I would suggest that not only do these things exist in theory only, which is always a bad thing if you have an immediate problem. But more than that: imagine providing the human race with a source of endless energy, and then look at what it’s done with the free energy available to it over the past 10 generations.

Give man more energy and he’ll just destroy his world faster. It’s not about carbon, it’s about energy and about what you yourself do with it. And no, money and profit will not reverse climate change, or any other detrimental effects they have on our lives. They will only make them worse.

Sep 032015
 
 September 3, 2015  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Family of Dennis Decosta, Portuguese Farm Security Administration client Dec 1940

Syrians are the Famine Irish of the 21st Century (Glavin)
Shocking Images Of Drowned Syrian Boy Show Tragic Plight Of Refugees (Guardian)
Family Of Drowned Syrian Boy Had Been Rejected By Canada For Refugee Status (NP)
Germany Targets Billions in Refugee Aid by Late September (Bloomberg)
Italy Revives Border Checks (Deutsche Welle)
European Police ‘Scarier Than ISIS Terrorists’ (Finian Cunningham)
The End Of A Flawed Globalisation (Guardian)
Devaluation Strengthens China’s Hand at IMF (WSJ)
Wall Street Surges As Turbulence Becomes The Norm (Reuters)
We Are In A Great Transition Period (Ron Paul)
Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry (Edstrom)
The Chinese Bubble (Beppe Grillo)
Why The Federal Reserve Should Be Audited (John Crudele)
Marc Faber Warns “There Are No Safe Assets Anymore” (ZH)
Giant US Pension Fund To Sell 12% Of Stocks In Fear Of “Another Downturn” (WSJ)
Pimco Assets Drop Below $100 Billion For The First Time Since ’07 (Reuters)
House Sales Plunge In Calgary As Energy Sector Job Losses Mount (Globe and Mail)
Tens Of Thousands Of Greek Companies Fear Closure In Coming Months (Kath.)
Lucky Britain To Win 21st Century Jackpot From Carbon Capture (AEP)
Two More European Countries Ban Monsanto GMO Crops (EcoWatch)

“This Is What It’s Come To: Letting Syria Die, Watching Syrians Drown..”

Syrians are the Famine Irish of the 21st Century (Glavin)

“The worst part of it is the feeling that we don’t have any allies,” Montreal’s Faisal Alazem, the tireless 32-year-old campaigner for the Syrian-Canadian Council, told me the other day. “That is what people in the Syrian community are feeling.” There are feelings of deep gratitude for having been welcomed into Canada, Alazem said. But with their homeland being reduced to an apocalyptic nightmare – the barrel-bombing of Aleppo and Homs, the beheadings of university professors, the demolition of Palmyra’s ancient temples – among Syrian Canadians there is also an unquenchable sorrow. Bashar Assad’s genocidal regime clings to power in Damascus and the jihadist psychopaths of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are ascendant almost everywhere else.

The one thing the democratic opposition wanted from the world was a no-fly zone and air-patrolled humanitarian corridors. Even that was too much to ask. There is no going home now. But among Syrian-Canadians, the worst thing of all, Alazem said, is a suffocating feeling of solitude and betrayal. “In the western countries, the civil society groups – it’s not just their inaction, they fight you as well,” he said. “They are crying crocodile tears about refugees now, but they have played the biggest role in throwing lifelines to the regime. And so I have to say to them, this is the reality, this is the result of all your anti-war activism, and now the people are drowning in the sea.”

Drowning in the sea: a little boy in a red t-shirt and shorts, found face-down in the surf. The boy was among 11 corpses that washed up on a Turkish beach Tuesday. Last Friday, as many as 200 refugees drowned when the fishing boat they were being smuggled in capsized off the Libyan coast. At least 2,500 people, most of them Syrians, have drowned in this way in the Mediterranean already this year.

Read more …

Europe is comfortably Teflon coated.

Shocking Images Of Drowned Syrian Boy Show Tragic Plight Of Refugees (Guardian)

The full horror of the human tragedy unfolding on the shores of Europe was brought home on Wednesday as images of the lifeless body of a young boy – one of at least 12 Syrians who drowned attempting to reach the Greek island of Kos – encapsulated the extraordinary risks refugees are taking to reach the west. The picture, taken on Wednesday morning, depicted the dark-haired toddler, wearing a bright-red T-shirt and shorts, washed up on a beach, lying face down in the surf not far from Turkey’s fashionable resort town of Bodrum. A second image portrays a grim-faced policeman carrying the tiny body away. Within hours it had gone viral becoming the top trending picture on Twitter under the hashtag #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik (humanity washed ashore).

Greek authorities, coping with what has become the biggest migration crisis in living memory, said the boy was among a group of refugees escaping Islamic State in Syria. Turkish officials, corroborating the reports, said 12 people died after two boats carrying a total of 23 people, capsized after setting off separately from the Akyarlar area of the Bodrum peninsula. Among the dead were five children and a woman. Seven others were rescued and two reached the shore in lifejackets but hopes were fading of saving the two people still missing. The casualties were among thousands of people, mostly Syrians, fleeing war and the brutal occupation by Islamic fundamentalists in their homeland.

Kos, facing Turkey’s Aegean coast, has become a magnet for people determined to reach Europe. An estimated 2,500 refugees, also believed to be from Syria, landed on Lesbos on Wednesday in what local officials described as more than 60 dinghies and other “unseaworthy” vessels. Some 15,000 refugees are in Lesbos awaiting passage by cruise ship to Athens’ port of Piraeus before continuing their journey northwards to Macedonia and up through Serbia to Hungary and Germany. Wednesday’s dead were part of a grim toll of some 2,500 people who have died this summer attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, according to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Read more …

“The frustration of waiting and the inaction has been terrible.”

Family Of Drowned Syrian Boy Had Been Rejected By Canada For Refugee Status (NP)

The drowned child washed up on a Turkish beach captured in a photograph that went around the world Wednesday was three-year-old Aylan Kurdi. He died, along with his five-year-old brother Galip and their mother Rehan, in a desperate attempt to reach Canada. The Syrian-Kurds from Kobane died along with eight other refugees early Wednesday. The father of the two boys, Abdullah, survived. The father’s family says his only wish now is to return to Kobane with his dead wife and children, bury them, and be buried alongside them. “I heard the news at five o’clock in this morning,” Teema Kurdi, Abdullah’s sister, said Wednesday. She learned of the drowning through a telephone call from Ghuson Kurdi, the wife of another brother, Mohammad. “She had got a call from Abdullah, and all he said was, my wife and two boys are dead.”

Teema, a Vancouver hairdresser who emigrated to Canada more than 20 years ago, said Abdullah and Rehan Kurdi and their two boys were the subject of a “G5” privately sponsored refugee application that the ministry of citizenship and immigration rejected in June, owing to the complexities involved in refugee applications from Turkey. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander could not be reached for comment, but Port Moody – Coquitlam NDP MP Fin Donnelly said he’d hand-delivered the Kurdis’ file to Alexander earlier this year. Alexander said he’d look into it, Donnelly said, but the Kurdis’ application was rejected in June. “This is horrific and heartbreaking news,” Donnelly said. “The frustration of waiting and the inaction has been terrible.”

The family had two strikes against it — like thousands of other Syrian-Kurdish refugees in Turkey, the United Nations would not register them as refugees, and the Turkish government would not grant them exit visas. “I was trying to sponsor them, and I have my friends and my neighbours who helped me with the bank deposits, but we couldn’t get them out, and that is why they went in the boat. I was even paying rent for them in Turkey, but it is horrible the way they treat Syrians there,” Teema said.

Read more …

That’s 4 weeks?! Clearly Germany does not see a crisis, nor an emergency. They don’t care if people drown.

Germany Targets Billions in Refugee Aid by Late September (Bloomberg)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is facing up to the cost of caring for refugees pouring into Germany as estimates of the budget impact from Europe’s biggest migrant crisis since World War II increase. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said Wednesday he’ll present a package of measures within three weeks to help fund municipalities, ease building rules and streamline bureaucracy for housing and registering refugees. “We need clarity quickly on financial assistance,” Maiziere told reporters in Berlin. Deputy Finance Minister Jens Spahn, asked in a Bloomberg Television interview in Frankfurt about the price tag of aid to refugees, said, “it will be billions, we’re still calculating.”

As migrants seeking refuge from war and poverty squeeze onto trains to Germany, Merkel says her country may see as many as 800,000 arrivals this year, about four times the level in 2014. That means federal support payments for asylum seekers this year will increase by as much as €3.3 billion, Labor Minister Andrea Nahles told reporters Tuesday. Party leaders of Merkel’s governing coalition will discuss the measures on Sunday and probably complete the legislation by Sept. 24 when Merkel and leaders of Germany’s 16 states meet, de Maiziere said. The measures could be approved by the lower house in October, he said.

Read more …

And so it starts.

Italy Revives Border Checks (Deutsche Welle)

Italy has temporarily reinstated border patrols at the frontier with Austria. The move follows an appeal from the southern German state of Bavaria. Following a request from Germany to help stem the flow of refugees, Italy reimposed identification checks in its northern region of South Tyrol on Wednesday. The bilingual province on the border with Austria is the last stop in Italy for migrants who arrive in the country from northern Africa, hoping to travel on other nations in Europe. The regional capital Bolzano said it was ready to “reactivate” controls at the Alpine town of Brennero just as it did for the G7 summit in June, but that it was “a temporary measure to allow Bavaria to reorganize and face the emergency.”

Bavaria registered around 2,500 new refugees on Tuesday, with a total of almost 4,300 new arrivals in the week so far. South Tyrol also agreed to take in 300-400 migrants who had arrived in Munich “for a few days” to take some pressure off the southern German state whose facilities are swamped by migrants arriving not only from the Middle East and Africa, but some Balkan nations as well. Although Italy, Germany, and Austria belong to the Schengen Zone, which largely abolished border controls between signatory countries beginning in the 1990s, its provisions may be lifted in exceptional situations. When Rome suspended Schengen for the G7 in June it caused serious overcrowding in South Tyrol as migrants were forced to postpone their journeys.

Read more …

Well, not all of them. But still.

European Police ‘Scarier Than ISIS Terrorists’ (Finian Cunningham)

In what is being described as the worse refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, tens of thousands of desperate migrants are streaming across EU borders. They have risked their lives to get there, only to be then attacked by EU «border police», or else targeted by racist street mobs. Welcome to Europe! Destitute and carrying their worldly possessions in nothing but a haversack, men, women and young children are having to outwit truncheon-wielding police ranks in order to try to reach safety. This is in the European Union, whose treaties proclaim to the rest of the world the sanctity of human rights and dignity. Hungary, Romania and Greece have emerged as the new crisis points, replacing Italy as the formerly main refugee route. Crying mothers run with petrified children jostled on their backs into forests or ditches just to escape from teargas-firing riot police.

One distraught woman told a France 24 news crew how she had become separated from her family in the melee. She didn’t know how she would ever find them because she was stranded on the other side of the police cordon. Her missing children and husband had to run away before they were captured by the cops. One young boy from Syria told CNN reporter Awra Damon that his family and many others were forced back by a phalanx of helmet-clad police officers as they attempted to cross the Hungarian border. The little boy said his family fled an area in Syria that is under control of the Islamic State (or ISIS) terror group – the cult jihadist militia notorious for beheading civilians. (The CNN reporter didn’t seem to notice the irony that her TV channel has previously made heaps of news stories out of accusing the Syrian government as being the one who is terrorising its people.)

What does that say about the Hungarian border police when beleaguered refugees are cowering before them? It’s a graphic condemnation of the EU’s border controls being scarier than blood-thirsty terrorists. Last month alone, more than 100,000 migrants crossed EU borders. This is a humanitarian crisis on a scale that evokes the harrowing grainy footage showing wandering masses in the aftermath of World War Two. The vast majority of the refugees to the EU are from war-torn Syria, according to the UN’s International Organisation for Migration. Up to 12 million of Syria’s population – half the total – have been displaced by more than four years of conflict in that country. A war that has been fuelled covertly by the United States, Britain and France seeking regime change against President Bashar al Assad. Also fuelling the war in Syria are Western allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey and Israel.

Read more …

“..the debacle in Asia’s number one economy has blown a hole in a string of hitherto long-held beliefs.”

The End Of A Flawed Globalisation (Guardian)

Clad as it is in jargon and technicalities, financial meltdowns can often seem like an elaborate spectacle taking place in a foreign country. So it is with the trillions wiped off shares since 24 August’s “Black Monday”. Obviously it’s a huge deal, but beyond the numbers on Bloomberg terminals it’s hard to put into perspective. Yet one way to think about what has happened in China over the past couple of weeks is the drawing to a close of an entire system for running the world economy. Over the past two decades, globalisation has fired on two engines: the belief that Americans would always buy the world’s goods, of which the Chinese would make the lion’s share – and lend their income to the Americans to buy more.

That policy regime was made explicit during the Asian crisis of the late 90s, when Federal Reserve head Alan Greenspan slashed US borrowing rates, making it cheaper for Americans to buy imports. And it was talked about throughout the noughties by central bankers fretting about the “Great Wall of Cash” flooding out of China and into western assets. The first big blow to that system came with the banking crisis of 2008, which made plain that the US could no longer afford to continue as the world’s backstop consumer. The latest dent has been made over the past couple of weeks in China. Because the debacle in Asia’s number one economy has blown a hole in a string of hitherto long-held beliefs.

First, it exploded the assumption that China can keep racking up double-digit growth rates forever. Stock markets are only the aggregate of investors’ estimates of the future profitability of the companies listed on them. The crash on the Shanghai Composite suggests that shareholders are no longer so confident of the prospects for Chinese businesses – and with reason: data shows that China’s manufacturing, investment and demand for commodities are all on the slide. More importantly, the last few weeks have shattered faith in the Beijing politburo as technocrats with an incomparably sure touch. Whatever doubts economists might have had over the sustainability of China’s dirty-tech, investment-heavy economic model, they would normally be quelled with the thought that Beijing’s “super-elite” had a textbook for every occasion.

But that was before the shock devaluation of the yuan on 11 August, followed by a jittery press conference called by the People’s Bank of China – after which it spent hundreds of billions buying yuan to keep it strong, effectively reversing the devaluation. Couple all this with the national government’s cack-handed attempts to shore up the stock market and this week’s bizarre and reprehensible “confession” on state TV from a journalist for talking down the stock market – and a picture emerges of a state government unsure how to deal with financial jitters and lashing out at any convenient target.

Read more …

Or not.

Devaluation Strengthens China’s Hand at IMF (WSJ)

China’s sudden decision last month to devalue its currency riled neighbors and fueled investors’ fears about a sharp slowdown in the world’s No. 2 economy. But the move has won over the IMF and even secured restrained praise from the U.S. Treasury Department. The currency maneuver has positioned the Chinese government to press for a greater international role for the yuan during visits to a series of Group of 20 meetings starting this week and a visit to Washington later this month. For more than a decade, the U.S. and other countries castigated China for its currency policy, saying the yuan’s level gave the country’s exporters an unfair advantage at the expense of its trading partners.

The Aug. 11 depreciation initially spurred worries in global financial markets as investors saw it as a signal that Beijing was reverting to its old policy playbook in a desperate effort to revive a flagging economy. A number of China experts and Western officials close to the matter say China likely isn’t regressing. “If they wanted to revert to their mercantilist trade policies, they would have moved sooner and they would have moved by a much bigger amount,” said Nick Lardy, a China expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Instead, economists are generally viewing the depreciation as China presented it: as a move to make the country’s exchange rate more market-determined.

Combined with Beijing’s careful management of the currency since then, it is bolstering China’s bid to get the yuan included in the IMF’s basket of reserve currencies after the IMF board’s vote in November, according to people familiar with the matter. They and other experts say China is holding to its currency commitments for now despite discord in its financial markets and deepening international worries about the Chinese economy. Contrary to initial expectations, China’s depreciation of the yuan might actually help mitigate long-simmering tensions between the U.S. and China over the country’s currency policy ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Washington in late September.

Read more …

Volatility.

Wall Street Surges As Turbulence Becomes The Norm (Reuters)

Wall Street stocks jumped almost 2% on Wednesday in the latest volatile session as investors weighed the impact of a stumbling Chinese economy and global market turmoil on the Federal Reserve’s impending decision about when to raise interest rates. U.S. investors have weathered over two weeks of unusually wide-swinging trade that has left the S&P 500 with its worst monthly drop in three years and a loss of 8.5% from an all-time high in May. “What we’re seeing today is not a recovery. It’s market volatility, it’s nervousness, it’s an inability to call the direction of the market,” said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive officer of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Through now and October we’re going to see a lot more of this, a lot of volatility.”

U.S. labor markets were tight enough to fuel small wage gains in some professions in recent weeks, though some companies already felt a chill from an economic slowdown in China, the Fed said. The combination of more demand for workers and worries about Chinese economic growth underscores the challenge faced by the Fed at a Sept 16-17 meeting where it may decide to raise interest rates for the first time since 2006. The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 1.82% to end at 16,351.31 points. The S&P 500 climbed 1.83% to 1,948.85 and the Nasdaq Composite surged 2.46% to 4,749.98. The CBOE Volatility index .VIX, Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” dipped 11% but stayed in territory not seen since 2011 after Standard & Poor’s cut its credit rating on the United States for the first time.

The recent turbulence has left the S&P 500’s valuation at 15.1 times expected earnings, inexpensive compared to around 17 for much of 2015, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data. But investors fear that the outlook for earnings may darken as China’s economy loses steam.

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“The big danger is if the results of this failure are total poverty for more and more nations and total war.”

We Are In A Great Transition Period (Ron Paul)

It’s a shame to see what has happened so far in this new century. The last century ended with a victory over defeated communism. I think that was the greatest victory of the 20th century. Events showed that communism did not work. Unfortunately, we jumped to the conclusion that we had an Empire to defend, and that Keynesian economics would solve all of our problems. Printing money, spending money, and debt wouldn’t matter, and we would bring peace to the world and make everyone good democrats. Right now, the refugee crisis that we see in Europe is a failure of government policies and a failure of central banking. In some ways, I think we are in a great transition period. This cannot continue. The big danger is if the results of this failure are total poverty for more and more nations and total war. Or, hopefully, we can wise up and say that these policies have failed.

The American people should lead the charge on this. The policies are lousy, and yet government is always adding more and more of the same. The worse the economy gets, the more we’re starting to hear about socialism and authoritarianism as the cures. So we live in an age in which the policies of the past are coming to an end. The Keynesian model does not work, and our Empire does not work. This total failure has to change, and we need to present the alternative. For me, the alternative is free markets, free society, civil liberties, and a foreign policy where we mind our own business. The alternative is peace and prosperity. We were told about these things in our early years, but it seems they’ve been forgotten. We’d be much better off in this country with such a policy and we could set a standard for the rest of the world.

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Nice set of numbers.

Wall Street and the Military are Draining Americans High and Dry (Edstrom)

The US government often cites $18 trillion as the amount of money that they owe, but their actual debts are higher. Much higher. The government in the USA owes $13.2 trillion in US Treasury Bonds, $5 trillion in money borrowed by the US Federal government from Federal government trust funds like the Social Security trust fund, $0.7 trillion for state bonds issued by the 50 states, $3.7 trillion for the municipal bond market (US towns, cities and counties), $1.97 trillion still owing by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, mostly for bad mortgages in years gone by, $6.23 trillion owed by US government authorities other than Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, $1.04 trillion in loans taken out by the US Federal government (e.g. government credit card balances, short term loans) and $0.63 trillion in loans owed by government authorities (e.g. their government credit card balances, short term loans).

As of April 1, 2015, according to the Federal Reserve Bank’s Financial Accounts of the US report, the government in the USA has $32.77 trillion in debt excluding unfunded government pension debts and unfunded government healthcare costs Debt is money that has to be paid. The government in the USA also has to pay $6.62 trillion for unfunded pension liabilities, as of April 1, 2015. There are thousands of government pension plans in the USA. The Federal Employees Pension Plan is now short $1.9 trillion according to the Fed’s March 2015 statement plus $4.7 trillion in unfunded state and municipal pension liabilities according to State Budget Solutions which calculates on actual pension returns (approx. 2.5% per year from 2009 to 2014, instead of the fantasy ‘assumption’ of an 8% return used by the Fed to guesstimate pension fund money).

The largest governmental pension fund in Puerto Rico ran out money (became insolvent) in 2012 and the government now has to pay $20.5 billion for that. Pension contributions into government pension plans have been less than what these pension plans pay out to retirees which is why the government was short by $6.62 trillion for government pensions as of April 1, 2015. The DJIA has gone down 9.5% since the Spring. $6.3 trillion in governmental pension plan money was invested in Wall Street as of April 1st. Additional government pension plan losses have been, so far this year, $0.6 trillion. As of August 29, 2015, the government in the US owes $7.2 trillion for pensions. Every additional 10% the DJIA drops is another $0.6 trillion in unfunded pension costs that the government has to pay.

The Federal government owed $1.95 trillion in unfunded entitlements for the Federal Employees Pension Fund as of April 1, 2015. Unfunded entitlements are health care benefits for retirees above and beyond Medicare benefits. States, municipalities and governmental authorities owe an additional $4.2 trillion for retiree health benefits. Medicare and Medicaid costs, about $0.83 trillion in 2014, escalate 6% a year and Obamacare adds $0.18 trillion a year in governmental health costs, mostly for subsidies. Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare costs will escalate to $1.28 trillion in 2018. Bottom line, as of August 29, 2015, the government in the USA owes $46.1 trillion (bonds, unfunded pension costs, unfunded healthcare costs, credit card balances and loans).

Footprints. The US government has paid Wall Street’s way when Wall Street can’t pay it’s own way. Wall Street has promised to pay more than the US government has promised to pay. $0.5 trillion in margin loans and $3.95 trillion in repurchase agreements pale in comparison to $21 trillion in open credit default swaps, a type of derivative. Bankruptcy legislation in 2005 gave derivatives “super priority” status to be paid first when banks go bankrupt. According to BIS, there were $630 trillion in outstanding derivatives earlier this year, about half in the USA. Since wall street doesn’t have $315 trillion to pay their derivatives, who will pay this amount? And how? Even if only 15% of US derivatives go bad, that’s $47 trillion. How would the US government pay for that? The derivative liabilities arising, due to ongoing Wall Street instability, is an elephant in the room.

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“Since 2008, all the advanced economies have entered a phase of credit contraction (deleverage), whereas China has been moving in the opposite direction..”

The Chinese Bubble (Beppe Grillo)

The devaluation of the currency decided by China’s Central Bank has surprised financial markets. After anchoring the yuan to the dollar within a minimum margin of oscillation, after the Lehman crisis, the Chinese authorities have progressively broadened the oscillation zone and in 2014, they altered it from 1% to 2%. The decision in August to disconnect the yuan from the dollar has made it possible for the market to stabilise fluctuations in the currency and China did not intervene to correct the oscillation in the value of the yuan and thus it allowed the currency to devalue. Why?

Reasons for the devaluation An initial response can be found in the 8% annual fall in Chinese exports reported in the month of July. Connecting the yuan to the dollar after the crisis in 2008, eliminated the exchange rate risk and it facilitated the flow of foreign investments but it also brought about a devaluation of the yuan that penalised the balance of trade. In fact the real Chinese exchange rate increased by 30% between 2008 and 2014, most of which was in that last year following on from expectations of the rise in USA interest rates and the relative increase in the value of the dollar. The result saw a decline in exports to such an extent that it now needs explaining – now at no more than 20% of China’s GDP as compared to 40% a few years ago. Devalue to maintain growth is thus the first and most obvious way of looking at this new mercantilist spirit on the part of the Chinese monetary authorities.

The Chinese property bubble 2008 was the start of the Chinese property bubble. The de facto regime of fixed exchange rates with the dollar and the enormous reserves in foreign currencies have guaranteed the convertibility of the yuan and this has facilitated the flow of capital and the disproportionate expansion of credit to families. Since 2008, all the advanced economies have entered a phase of credit contraction (deleverage), whereas China has been moving in the opposite direction: from 2008 to 2014 private debt in China as a%age of GDP, has gone from 100% to 180% (of this, corporate debt as a%age of GDP has gone from 85% to 140% and for families it has gone up by a bit less than a multiple of three: – from 15% in 2008 to 40% today). This means that the ratio of private debt to GDP in China reached and went beyond the levels that Japan and the United States recorded in a 17 year period: from 1993 to 2010.

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More reasons than we have time to mention.

Why The Federal Reserve Should Be Audited (John Crudele)

It is time for a comprehensive audit of Janet Yellen ’s Federal Reserve — and not just for the reasons presidential candidate Rand Paul and others have given. The Fed needs to be audited to see if its ruling body has broken the law by manipulating financial markets that are outside its jurisdiction. A thorough investigation of the Fed will show once and for all if its former chief Ben Bernanke and current Chairwoman Yellen should go to jail. I know, that’s a bold statement coming as it does on Sept. 1, 2015, with Wall Street still in half-bloom. But it won’t be so preposterous some day in the future if the stock market suffers a full-blown economy-busting collapse and Congress and everyone else are looking for scalps.

The Fed should be audited as a brokerage firm would be — its financial holdings, its transactions, market orders, emails and phone calls. Special attention should be given to what is called the “trade blotter” at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which handles all market transactions for the Fed. The Fed’s dealing with foreign central banks — especially at times of market stress — should be given special attention. Trades in the wee hours of the morning should be in the spotlight. Not surprisingly, the Fed is strongly opposed to an audit and sees it as an intrusion into its autonomy. Washington shouldn’t be intimidated. Autonomy? Hah! That ended when the central bank started playing footsie with Wall Street.

Let’s look at what happened to the stock market last week, and it’ll explain what I think those who audit the Fed need to look for. As you probably remember, stocks were headed for oblivion on Monday, Aug. 24. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 1,089 points early in the day before the index rallied for a close that was “only” 588 points lower. China’s problems. Weak US economic growth. Greece. The possibility of an interest-rate hike. Those and other issues were the root causes of last Monday’s woe. But Wall Street’s real problem is that there is a bubble in stock prices created by years of risky monetary policy by the Fed. Quantitative easing, or QE — the experiment in money printing that has kept interest rates super-low — hasn’t helped the economy (and even the Fed of St. Louis concluded that). But QE did force savers into the stock market whether they wanted to take the risk or not.

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“..we have precise statistics who actually benefited from the stock market boom post-2009. This is not even 1% of the population. It’s 0.01%.”

Marc Faber Warns “There Are No Safe Assets Anymore” (ZH)

Markets have “reached some kind of a tipping point,” warns Marc Faber in a brief Bloomberg TV interview. Simply put, he explains, “because of modern central banking and repeated interventions with monetary policy, in other words, with QE, all around the world by central banks – there is no safe asset anymore.” The purchasing power of money is going down, and Faber “would rather focus on precious metals because they do not depend on the industrial demand as much as base metals or industrial commodities,” as it’s now “obvious that the Chinese economy is growing at nowhere near what the Ministry of Truth is publishing.” Faber explains more… “I have to laugh when someone like you tries to lecture me what creates prosperity” Some key exceprts…

On what central banks hath wrought… I think that because of modern central banking and repeated interventions with monetary policy, in other words, with QE, all around the world by central banks there is no safe asset anymore. When I grew up in the ’50s it was safe to put your money in the bank on deposit. The yields were low, but it was safe. But nowadays, you don’t know what will happen next in terms of purchasing power of money. What we know is that it’s going down.

On the idiocy of QE…..in my humble book of economics, wealth is being created through, essentially, a mixture of capital spending, and land and labor. And if these three production factors are used efficiently, it then creates a prosperous society, as America became prosperous from its humble beginnings in 1800, or thereabout, to the 1960s, ’70s. But it’s ludicrous to believe that you will create prosperity in a system by printing money. That is economic sophism at its best.

On the causes of iunequality… ..unfortunately the money that was made in U.S. stocks wasn’t distributed evenly. And we have precise statistics, by the way published by the Federal Reserve, who actually benefited from the stock market boom post-2009. This is not even 1% of the population. It’s 0.01%. They took the bulk. And the majority of Americans, roughly 50%, they don’t own any shares anyway. And in other countries, 90% of the population do not own any shares. So the printing of money has a very limited impact on creating wealth.

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Scream.

Giant US Pension Fund To Sell 12% Of Stocks In Fear Of “Another Downturn” (WSJ)

The nation’s second-largest pension fund is considering a significant shift away from some stocks and bonds, one of the most aggressive moves yet by a major retirement system to protect itself against another downturn. Top investment officers of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System have discussed moving as much as 12% of the fund’s portfolio—or more than $20 billion—into U.S. Treasurys, hedge funds and other complex investments that they hope will perform well if markets tumble, according to public documents and people close to the fund. Its holdings of U.S. stocks and other bonds would likely decline to make room for the new investments. The board of the $191 billion fund, which is known by its abbreviation Calstrs, discussed the proposal at a meeting Wednesday. A final decision won’t be made until November.

A wave of deep selloffs over the past two weeks has shattered years of steady gains for U.S. stocks. Calstrs isn’t reacting directly to those sharp price swings, but they are a reminder of the volatility in stocks and how exposed Calstrs is when markets swoon. “There’s no question,” Calstrs Chief Investment Officer Christopher Ailman said in an interview. The recent market volatility “has been painful.” Calstrs currently has about 55% of its portfolio in stocks. The fund’s investment officers began discussing the new tactic—called “Risk-Mitigating Strategies” in Calstrs documents—several months ago as they prepared for a regular three-year review of how Calstrs invests assets for nearly 880,000 active and retired school employees. Mr. Ailman, who has been chief investment officer at the fund since 2000, said he hopes a move away from certain stocks and bonds could help stub out heavy losses during future gyrations. This could include moving out of some U.S. stocks as well as investment-grade bonds.

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“..leaving it with about a third of the money it managed at its 2013 peak..”

Pimco Assets Drop Below $100 Billion For The First Time Since ’07 (Reuters)

Pacific Investment Management Co’s flagship fund dropped below $100 billion in assets for the first time in more than eight years, leaving it with about a third of the money it managed at its 2013 peak. Investors pulled $1.8 billion in assets from the Pimco Total Return Fund in August, down from $2.5 billion the previous month, according to the Newport Beach, California-based firm on Wednesday. After 28 consecutive months of outflows, assets plunged to $98.5 billion as of Aug. 31 from a peak of $293 billion in April 2013, when the mutual fund was the world’s largest and run by Pimco co-founder Bill Gross.

Gross, the bond market’s most renowned investor and long known as the “Bond King,” shocked the investment world nearly a year ago when he quit Pimco for distant rival Janus Capital Group. This is the first time that Total Return assets had less than $100 billion since January 2007, before strong risk-adjusted returns during the financial crisis attracted monstrous inflows of cash from investors seeking the relative safety of bonds. Assets were $99.86 billion in January 2007, according to Morningstar data. Investors have withdrawn record amounts of money since April 2013 because of erratic performance exacerbated by last year’s departures by Gross and Mohamed El-Erian, the former chief executive officer of Pimco and Gross’ heir apparent.

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Sales down 27%, prices down 2%. Next step is obvious.

House Sales Plunge In Calgary As Energy Sector Job Losses Mount (Globe and Mail)

Calgary’s housing market is showing signs of fracturing amid a fresh wave of layoffs announced by major energy companies in the city. Home sales plunged 27% in August from a year earlier, while the benchmark and average resale prices both fell, the Calgary real estate board said Tuesday. The benchmark price slipped 0.09% to $456,300. The average resale price in the city tumbled nearly 2% to $466,570. On a year-to-date basis, average prices fell roughly 1.7% while benchmark prices rose about 2.4% as the number of new listings eased. But overall inventories are swollen at 44% above the same period in 2014 so far this year, pointing to more weakness ahead as job losses in the oil and gas sector mount. Total sales so far this year are down 25%.

“While we’ve managed to come through the spring market with not a lot of change, because there is further expectations of softness in the employment market, these things will start weighing on the housing market as we move into the end of the year,” said Ann-Marie Lurie, chief economist with the board. The weakening housing market is another symptom of oil’s collapse to under $50 a barrel from more than $100 (U.S.) last year – a sharp drop that has forced the city’s energy industry into survival mode. ConocoPhillips and Penn West Petroleum on Tuesday shed a combined 900 positions, adding to thousands of job losses that have piled up as companies dial back spending and halt drilling projects. Alberta’s oil-dependent economy is now expected to contract by 0.6% this year and its deficit could top $6.5-billion (Canadian) as the downturn intensifies, the province’s NDP government said this week.

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The price of a bailout.

Tens Of Thousands Of Greek Companies Fear Closure In Coming Months (Kath.)

Many of the country’s very small enterprises believe the returning recession and the capital controls are likely to finally put them out of business, with about 30% of them facing the threat of closure in the next six months, a survey by the Small Enterprises’ Institute of the Hellenic Confederation of Professionals, Craftsmen and Merchants has shown. It is estimated that the number of enterprises in Greece will drop by about 63,000 in the next six months, and the toll will be higher for very small companies. Indications that appeared in the second half of last year suggesting that the country was finally emerging from its recession have been eclipsed in the last couple of months.

According to the study’s baseline scenario, business closures will lead to some 138,000 people losing their jobs (including employers, the self-employed and salary workers), of whom about 55,000 will be salary workers. In the first half of the year, total job losses in small and very small enterprises amounted to 25,000, of which 15,000 concerned salary workers. The marginal decline in the jobless rate, which came to 25% in May according to the latest ELSTAT figures, seems unlikely to be reproduced in the second half of the year: The survey showed that over 20% of enterprises consider it probable they will have to lay off staff in the next six months. This rate is considerably greater (40.2%) among enterprises employing more than five people.

Three in every seven businesses (43%) are facing difficulties in making salary payments, while one in every four reduced its employees’ salaries during the first half of the year. Over two in five enterprises (41.1%) say they are likely to cut salaries or working hours during the latter half of the year.

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This can only go wrong, as technohappy does: “Access to storage will be much more valuable than the fossil fuels themselves.”[..] “..Coal producers now see carbon capture as their saviour.”

Lucky Britain To Win 21st Century Jackpot From Carbon Capture (AEP)

The energy sheikhs of the next generation will not be those who control vast reserves of oil, gas or coal. Sweeping climate rules are about to turn the calculus upside-down. Greater riches will accrue to those best able to capture carbon as it is burned, and are then able to transport it through a network of pipelines and store it cheaply a mile or more underground. As it happens, Britain is perfectly placed to win the jackpot of the 21st century. China and the US – the twin CO2 giants – have already reached a far-reaching deal to curb greenhouse gases. China has pledged to cap total emissions by 2030. Mexico has vowed to cut gases by 40pc within 15 years, and Gabon by even more. The poisonous North-South conflict that doomed the Copenhagen summit in 2009 has given way to a more subtle mosaic of interests.

There is a high likelihood that 40,000 delegates from 200 countries will agree to legally-binding rules at the COP 21 climate talks in Paris in December. As a matter of pure economics, it makes no difference whether or not you accept the hypothesis of man-made global warming. The political argument has been settled by the world’s dominant powers. The messy compromise will fall far short of capping carbon emissions at 3,000 gigatonnes, the outer limit deemed necessary by scientists to stop temperatures rising by more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. (We have used up two-thirds) But it will probably usher in some sort of regime that puts a “non-trivial” price on burning carbon, the first of several escalating accords. Eventually it will be draconian.

“I don’t think people have fully realised that there is a finite budget, and when it’s used up, that’s it,” said Professor Jon Gibbins from Edinburgh University. “We will have to go negative and capture carbon from the air, which will be very expensive.” A new report by Cititgroup – “Energy Darwinism” – says an ambitious COP 21 implies that a third of global oil reserves, half the gas and 80pc of coal reserves cannot be burned, unless carbon capture and storage (CCS) comes to the rescue. It is precisely this prospect of “fossil-dämmerung” that is at last concentrating the mind. The fossil industry itself is embracing the CCS revolution because its own survival depends on it in a “two degree” political world.

Carbon capture has long been dismissed as a pipe-dream. But as so often with technology, the facts on the ground are rapidly pulling ahead of a stale narrative. The Canadian utility SaskPower has already retro-fitted a filtering system onto a 110 megawatt (MW) coal-fired plant at Boundary Dam, extracting 90pc of the CO2 at a tolerable cost. It used Cansolv technology from Shell. “We didn’t intend to build the first one in the world, but everybody else quit,” said Mike Monea, the head of the project. “We have learned so much from the design flaws that we could cut 30pc off the cost of the next plant, but it is already as competitive as gas in Asia,” he said. The capture process uses up 18pc of the power – a cost known as the “parasitic load” – but it is less than the 21pc expected.

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Greece and Latvia.

Two More European Countries Ban Monsanto GMO Crops (EcoWatch)

Two more European countries are rejecting genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Lativia and Greece have specifically said no to growing Monsanto‘s genetically modified maize, or MON810, that’s widely grown in America and Asia but is the only variety grown in Europe. Latvia and Greece have chosen the “opt-out” clause of a European Union rule passed in March that allows member countries to abstain from growing GM crops, even if they are authorized by the EU. Scotland and Germany also made headlines in recent weeks for seeking a similar ban on GMOs. According to Reuters, in many European countries, there is widespread criticism against the agribusiness giant’s pest-resistant crops, claiming that GM-cultivation threatens biodiversity.

Monsanto said it would abide by Latvia’s and Greece’s request to not grow the crops. The company, however, accused the two countries of ignoring science and refusing GMOs out of “arbitrary political grounds.” In a statement, Monsanto said that the move from the two countries “contradicts and undermines the scientific consensus on the safety of MON810.” Monsanto also told Reuters that since the growth of GM-crops in Europe is so small, the opt-outs will not affect their business. “Nevertheless,” the company continued, “we regret that some countries are deviating from a science-based approach to innovation in agriculture and have elected to prohibit the cultivation of a successful GM product on arbitrary political grounds.”

According to NewsWire, the EU’s opt-out clause “directly confronts U.S. free trade deal supported by EU, under which the Union should open its doors widely for the US GM industry.” In a statement on Thursday, the European Commission confirmed its zero-tolerance policy against non-authorized GM products. The commission said that it’s also consulting with the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in order to answer “a scientific question” on GMO crops that’s unrelated to trade negotiations with the U.S. The EFSA announced that it would release a scientific opinion on the question by the end of 2017.

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