Oct 092018
 
 October 9, 2018  Posted by at 1:03 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Pieter Bruegel the Elder Two monkeys 1562

 

And there we go again. Another IPCC report, and they all keep getting more alarming than the previous one. And then nothing substantial happens. Until the next report is issued and makes everybody’s headlines for a day, or two. Rinse, spin and repeat. “Now we really have to do something!”. “World leaders have a moral obligation to act!”.

Oh boy. To start with that last bit, world leaders don’t act because of moral obligations. They act to stay in, or get in, power. And they all know that to achieve that goal they must keep their people happy, even if dictators do this differently from ‘democratically elected’ leaders.

The first tool they have for this is control of the media, control of the narratives that define -or seem to- their societies. If a society is in bad shape, they will control the media to show that it is doing fine. if it’s actually doing fine, they will make sure all the praise for this is theirs and theirs alone.

So what makes their people happy? One thing far ahead of anything else is material comfort. If leaders can’t convince people that they’re comfortable, their power is in danger. Once enough people are miserable or hungry, a process is set in motion that threatens to push leaders aside in favor of someone who promises to make things better. There’s never a shortage of those.

 

Leaders, politicians, think short-term. They may see further into the future than the next election, but that is not useful information. If they enact measures aimed at 10 years from today or more, they risk being voted out in 2 years, or 4. It’s not even their fault, it’s how the system works. It is different for dictators, but not even that much.

The general notion is clear. But that means we can’t rely on our leaders to act against the climate change the IPCC keeps warning of. because is has a -much- longer time window than the next elections -or the next coup in dictator terms. Even if every IPCC report depicts a shorter window than the last one, it’s still not inside those 4-year election cycles (numbers vary slightly, 4 is typical).

A typical ‘response’ to the climate threat are the COP meetings and agreements. I have fulminated plenty against COP21, the Paris accord, even named it CON21. Because that was signed by those very leaders tied down in their election cycles. Completely useless. That most of the other signees were business leaders who represent oil companies, airlines and Big Tech with huge server parks seals the reality of the deal.

These are not the people who will solve the problems. They have too much interest in not doing so. The CEO’s have their profits to think about, the politicians their elections. They should be kept out of the decision-making process. But they’re the only ones who are in it.

I still think the issue was never better epitomized than in the December 2016 piece in the Guardian by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney entitled “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” , about which I said at the time:

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?

This week’s IPCC report says the efforts to keep warming at acceptable levels (1.5ºC) will cost many trillions of dollars every year. But a billionaire publisher and a central bank head want to make a profit?! Hey, perhaps they can, as long as you and I pay… But they won’t solve a thing. if only because not doing that will be too profitable. Still, while they’re at it, maybe they can do us a favor.

You see, what is hardly ever mentioned, let alone acknowledged, is that we have more than one major existential problem, and they exist in such a form of symbiosis that solving only one doesn’t make much difference.

We have a changing climate, we have accelerating species extinction, we have plastics in our fish, and we have a global economy that’s about to topple over. The common thread in all these is an overkill in energy use and therefore an overkill in waste. Thermodynamics, 2nd law. Waste kills. By raising temperatures, finishing off wildlife, plugging rivers and oceans with plastics, making increasing amounts of people economically miserable.

But as I wrote a while ago, our economies exist to produce waste, it’s not just a by-product -anymore-. If we stop making things we don’t need, and things that do harm to our world and our lives, our economies will collapse. We must continue on our path or see our lifetstyles plummet. They will anyway, we’re just delaying the inevitable, but we’re stuck.

And politicians are utterly useless and utterly unfit in situations like this. But ask yourself: are you any better? If you were told that in order to ‘save the planet’, you’d have to cut your energy use in half, which would take away many of your comforts and luxuries, would you do it?

A better question yet is, if you would agree to do that, and then see that your neighbor does not, would you still cut your driving and flying and electricity? That’s hard enough on an individual level, but how about if one nation does, while another refuses? Or when nations that have much lower per capita energy consumption tell the West: you go first?

 

What do you think the odds are that we’ll find a global solution, approach, before the 2030 cutoff date the IPCC provides in its latest report? While the likes of Bloomberg and Carney still talk about climate change as a profit opportunity? I know what I think.

The report says we need to drastically ‘reform’ our economies and lifestyles. Cutting our energy use in the West in half won’t be enough, if only because billions of people demand more energy at their disposal. Will you cut into your lifestyle, will your children, when they see their neighbors increasing their energy use, when they see entire nations increase theirs?

We don’t have ‘leaders’ that can stop species extinction or a warming planet or an economic collapse, because they either are clueless or they will be voted out of power if they tell the truth. Extend and pretend is a term that’s used to describe economic policies a lot, but it actually paints an accurate picture of everything we do.

“Free”, surplus, energy can come in the shape of sugar in a petri dish full of bacteria, or of stored carbon on planet earth. In both cases, the outcome is as predictable as can be. Can we, with our billions of cars and billions of miles flown every year, and billions of phones and computers, return to the energy use of only 100 years ago? Don’t think so.

On the contrary, we’re constantly increasing our energy consumption. Just like the bacteria do in the petri dish. Until they no longer can, until reality, physics, thermodynamics, sets a limit. One of my favorite themes is that we are the most tragic species ever because we can see ourselves doing things that we know are harmful to us, but we can’t stop ourselves from continuing.

The best we can hope for is that tomorrow morning everything will be the same again as where we started today. But no, that’s not sufficient, either, many of the things we’ve unleashed have 20+ year runtimes, and they’re already baked into the cake of our futures. We can’t start afresh every morning, no Groundhog Day for us. Every morning the alarm goes off things have gotten worse. And we can’t stop that.

 

 

Sep 052018
 
 September 5, 2018  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Matisse Luxury, calm and pleasure 1904

 

JP Morgan Warns Next Crisis To Have Flash Crashes And Social Unrest (CNBC)
Share Buybacks Boost Earnings (Roberts)
Mueller To Accept Written Answers From Trump In Russia Probe (Ind.)
Senior Diplomat Exposes US Meddling In Russian Election (ZH)
Google Bosses Expected To Snub Senate (BBC)
Mervyn King Attacks ‘Incompetent’ Brexit Approach (BBC)
Angela Merkel Admits Collapse Of Brexit Talks Cannot Be Ruled Out (G.)
Mark Carney Willing To Stay On As BoE Governor To Help ‘Smooth’ Brexit (Ind.)
US ‘Could Have Forced A Greek Debt Haircut’ – Ashoka Mody (K.)
Eight Bird Species Are First Confirmed Avian Extinctions This Decade (G.)

 

 

Yeah, I know, the Woodward book. No objective views available. Lots of sensational quotes subject to interpretation. Tons of voices saying for instance that Trump wanted Mattis to kill Assad, even ordered him to. But Woodward writes that Trump said: “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them..”. That doesn’t sound like an order. That’s a first reaction from someone who’s been fooled by his own staff into believing Assad was responsible. Normal first reaction. Not an order. We’ll get some more balance, but it won’t come from the MSM.

 

Liquidity, volatility, fighting in the streets.

JP Morgan Warns Next Crisis To Have Flash Crashes And Social Unrest (CNBC)

Sudden, severe stock sell-offs sparked by lightning-fast machines. Unprecedented actions by central banks to shore up asset prices. Social unrest not seen in the U.S. in half a century. That’s how J.P. Morgan Chase’s head quant, Marko Kolanovic, envisions the next financial crisis. The forces that have transformed markets in the last decade, namely the rise of computerized trading and passive investing, are setting up conditions for potentially violent moves once the current bull market ends, according to a report from Kolanovic sent to the bank’s clients on Tuesday. His note is part of a 168-page mega-report, written for the 10th anniversary of the 2008 financial crisis, with perspectives from 48 of the bank’s analysts and economists.

Kolanovic, a 43-year-old analyst with a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, has risen in prominence for explaining, and occasionally predicting, how the new, algorithm-dominated stock market will behave. The current bull rally, the longest in modern history by some measures, has been characterized by extended periods of calm punctuated with spasms of selling known as flash crashes. Recent examples include a nearly 1,600 point intraday drop in February and a 1,100 point decline in August 2015. “They are very rapid, sharp declines in asset values with sharp increases in market volatility,” Kolanovic, the bank’s global head of macro quantitative and derivatives research, said in a recent interview. But those flash crashes occurred during a backdrop of a U.S. economic expansion; the new market hasn’t been tested in the throes of a recession, he said.

“If you have these liquidity-driven sharp sell-offs that come at the end of the cycle, or maybe even causes the end of the cycle, then I think you can have a much more significant asset price correction and even more significant increase in market volatility,” Kolanovic said. [..] Kolanovic closes his report on an ominous note: “The next crisis is also likely to result in social tensions similar to those witnessed 50 years ago in 1968.”

Read more …

Tyler labeled it the graph of the decade. That may be a bit much, but it’s good to point out that earnings rise ONLY because there are so many fewer outstanding shares. Buybacks don’t only raise share prices, they raise earnings numbers too.

Share Buybacks Boost Earnings (Roberts)

[..] while top line SALES fell, bottom line revenue expanded as share buybacks and accounting gimmickry escalated for the quarter. The question is whether sales dramatically expanded in Q2? Given some of the recent economic data, we have our doubts and expect a smaller increase. (I will update this chart when S&P updates the sales/share figure for Q2) As shown in the chart below, the biggest support for earnings expansion in Q2 continues to be the dramatic decline in shares outstanding.

Of course, such should not be a surprise. Since the recessionary lows, much of the rise in “profitability” have come from a variety of cost-cutting measures and accounting gimmicks rather than actual increases in top-line revenue. While tax cuts certainly provided the capital for a surge in buybacks, revenue growth, which is directly connected to a consumption-based economy, has remained muted. Since 2009, the reported earnings per share of corporations has increased by a total of 353%. This is the sharpest post-recession rise in reported EPS in history. However, the increase in earnings did not come from a commensurate increase in revenue which has only grown by a marginal 44% during the same period and declined from 49% in Q1.

The reality is that stock buybacks create an illusion of profitability. If a company earns $0.90 per share and has one million shares outstanding – reducing those shares to 900,000 will increase earnings per share to $1.00. No additional revenue was created, no more product was sold, it is simply accounting magic. Such activities do not spur economic growth or generate real wealth for shareholders. However, it does provide the basis for with which to keep Wall Street satisfied and stock option compensated executives happy.

Read more …

if Mueller does anything in the public eye before the mid terms are over, expect chaos.

Mueller To Accept Written Answers From Trump In Russia Probe (Ind.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller will accept written answers from President Donald Trump on whether his campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 US election, but Mr Mueller is not ruling out a follow-up interview on that issue, Mr Mueller’s offer to accept written responses from the president on questions about possible collusion was contained in a letter that Mr Trump’s lawyers received on Friday, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday. Mr Trump’s legal team and Mr Mueller’s investigators have been negotiating for months over whether the president will be formally interviewed in the probe.

The president’s team have not yet answered the letter. After receiving the written responses, Mr Mueller’s investigators would decide on a next step, which could include an interview with Mr Trump, the person said. The letter was first reported by the New York Times. It was not immediately clear what those conditions mean for other avenues Mr Mueller is exploring, including whether the president sought to obstruct the Russia investigation through actions such as the firing last year of former FBI Director James Comey.

Read more …

And there is Google.

Senior Diplomat Exposes US Meddling In Russian Election (ZH)

As Russian citizens prepare to head to the polls on Sunday to vote in regional elections, a senior Russian diplomat has revealed that Moscow has uncovered a US interference effort involving a Silicon Valley tech giant and activists opposed to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following a briefing on the matter, senior Russian diplomat Andrey Nesterenko told Russia’s Interfax news agency that the US “certainly does” meddle in the Russian electoral processes, as RT reported. The revelation followed reports that Russia has resumed a major airstrike of a reputed terrorist stronghold in Idlib province over the objections of President Trump, who warned that such a strike would be a humanitarian disaster.

“Our collective opinion is that electoral sovereignty is a principle that all civilized nations should respect” the diplomat said, adding that Moscow will notify “our American partners that the actions of their media outlets allow us to state that they are close to breaking Russian law.” Specifically, Nesterenko was referring to a possible violation of Russian election laws by Google parent Alphabet, which hosted advertisements for an illegal campaign rally organized by Russian opposition leader Aleksey Navalny. Navalny is calling for protests to denounce the vote, which he believes is biased. To help spread the word, Navalny’s public movement is using paid ads on Google services like YouTube. However, holding an event dedicated to an election campaign on the same day as the vote goes against Russian law.

The Russian Central Election Commission, media watchdog Roskomnadzor, and the Russian Anti-monopoly Service have reportedly informed Google about these illegal activities being carried out on its platform. “Living in a proper law-abiding nation, we expect every actor to play by the rules. Especially an informed player. If the opposite happens, I believe we have tools at our disposal [to address that],” Andrey Kashevarov, the deputy head of FAS, said.

Read more …

It’s like an all-out power game.

Google Bosses Expected To Snub Senate (BBC)

When Silicon Valley companies once again appear in front of the US Senate on Wednesday, there will be one major absentee: Google. The Senate Intelligence Committee wanted to hear from Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, or his boss Larry Page, the chief executive of Google’s parent firm, Alphabet. Barring a dramatic, last-minute change of plan, the BBC understands neither will attend. It would mark the first time a technology firm has refused to comply with the wishes of Congress since the wide-reaching inquiries into misinformation and meddling began in the wake of the 2016 election. Google had instead hoped to send Kent Walker, one of its top lawyers. The offer was abruptly shut down by the committee.

Its vice chairman, the Democratic Senator Mark Warner, said an empty chair would be left out to represent Google’s non-appearance. Eventually, senators may issue a subpoena, forcing an appearance under the threat of prosecution. “If Google thinks we’re just going to go away, they’re sadly mistaken,” said Senator Warner, speaking to Wired magazine. The hearing, scheduled to begin at 09:30 (13:30 GMT), is entitled “Foreign Influence Operations’ Use of Social Media Platforms”. As well as Google, Twitter and Facebook have been called to appear. Twitter will be represented by its chief executive, Jack Dorsey, while Facebook is sending its chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. It will be the first time either executive has faced a congressional committee.

[..] The affair risks becoming a public relations crisis for Google, which just last week was doing its best to bat back claims from President Donald Trump that it was censoring conservative news outlets in its search results. The White House did not provide any evidence to support the president’s complaints, but the topic may well come up at Wednesday’s hearing. “I don’t know if it’s because [Page] wants to avoid being asked about those things or because they think they’re so important and so powerful that they don’t need to provide congressional testimony,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, speaking to the Washington Post. He also told the newspaper: “They should be careful with that. When a company gets too big to become accountable, they become a monopoly.”

Read more …

No kidding.

Mervyn King Attacks ‘Incompetent’ Brexit Approach (BBC)

Former Bank of England governor Lord King has blasted Brexit preparations as “incompetent”. The Brexit supporter said it “beggared belief” that the world’s sixth-biggest economy should be talking of stockpiling food and medicines. This left the government without a credible bargaining position, he said. “A government that cannot take action to prevent some of these catastrophic outcomes illustrates a whole lack of preparation,” he said. “It doesn’t tell us anything about whether the policy of staying in the EU is good or bad, it tells us everything about the incompetence of the preparation for it.” Lord King said the 11th-hour preparation for a no-deal Brexit had undermined the government’s negotiating position.

He added: “We haven’t had a credible bargaining position, because we hadn’t put in place measures where we could say to our colleagues in Europe, ‘Look, we’d like a free-trade deal, we think that you would probably like one too, but if we can’t agree, don’t be under any misapprehension, we have put in place the measures that would enable us to leave without one.'” He predicts that we will find ourselves with what’s been dubbed as Brino – Brexit in name only – which he said was the worst of all worlds. It’s also a state of affairs that he fears could drag on for years. “I think the biggest risk to the UK, and this is what worries me most, is that this issue isn’t going to go away, you know the referendum hasn’t decided it, because both camps feel that they haven’t got what they wanted.”

Lord King expressed regret and surprise that it was more difficult for a single country to present a united front than the other 27 EU members. He said: “They must have been really worried that they had 27 countries to try to corral, how could they have a united negotiating position, they were dealing with a country that was one country, made a clear decision, voted to leave, it knew what it wanted to do, how on earth could the EU manage to negotiate against this one decisive group on the other side of the Channel? “Well, the reality’s been completely the opposite. The EU has been united, has been clear, has been patient and it’s the UK that’s been divided without any clear strategy at all for how to get to where we want to go.”

Read more …

Maybe at this point Merkel should be more outspoken?

Angela Merkel Admits Collapse Of Brexit Talks Cannot Be Ruled Out (G.)

Angela Merkel has warned her country’s business leaders that the Brexit negotiations are in danger of collapse. With talks in Brussels at an impasse with just months to go before a deal needs to be agreed, the German chancellor made a rare intervention at a conference in Frankfurt. She told major players in the world of German finance on Tuesday: “We don’t want the discussions to break down. We will use all our force and creativity to make sure a deal happens. We don’t want these negotiations to collapse. But we also can’t fully rule that out because we still have no result.” The EU says it needs a deal to be struck on the withdrawal agreement covering citizens’ rights, the £39bn divorce bill and the Irish border, along with the political declaration on the future deal, by November at the latest.

The German chancellor has generally played a backseat role in the talks, preferring to intervene only at crunch points at EU summits. EU leaders are due to meet in Brussels in October, but an emergency summit is being pencilled in for 13 November in case the negotiations require an extra few weeks for agreement to be made. The leaders will be gathering at a summit in Salzburg later this month where the EU27 are planning a “carrot and stick” approach to Brexit, offering Theresa May warm words on the Chequers proposals to take to the Conservative conference alongside a sharp warning that they need a plan for Northern Ireland within weeks.

Read more …

Using the words ‘Brexit’ and ‘smooth’ in one sentence is just comedy. Wonder what they had to promise him. Knighthood?

Mark Carney Willing To Stay On As BoE Governor To Help ‘Smooth’ Brexit (Ind.)

Mark Carney told MPs on Tuesday that he was willing to stay on as governor of the Bank of England beyond his planned departure date in order to “smooth” the Brexit process. Mr Carney had planned to step down in June 2019 after six years in Threadneedle Street’s top job, two years fewer than BoE governors normally serve. But, asked by MPs on the Treasury Committee whether he would stay, Mr Carney said: “Even though I have already agreed to extend my time to support a smooth Brexit, I am willing to do whatever else I can in order to promote both a smooth Brexit and effective transition at the Bank of England.”

“The chancellor and I have discussed this. I would expect an announcement to be made in due course.” The comments come after mounting speculation in recent days that the Treasury would like Mr Carney to stay on in his role, providing more continuity during uncertain economic times. There are fears that few candidates will put themselves forward for the job as the Brexit negotiations reach a critical stage.

Read more …

“What was the basic demand of SYRIZA? To tie debt repayments to GDP and so reduce the level of austerity. Any good economist will tell you that was a very reasonable starting point for the negotiation.”

US ‘Could Have Forced A Greek Debt Haircut’ – Ashoka Mody (K.)

“The fundamental reason why the Greek crisis lasted so long was the extreme level of austerity that was imposed.” That is the verdict of Ashoka Mody, visiting professor in International Economic Policy at Princeton University, a former deputy director of the IMF’s European Department and one of the most eloquent critics of the policies of the troika in Greece and elsewhere. Mody, who recently published a long-form version of these critiques in his book “EuroTragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts”, spoke to Kathimerini about the Greek crisis and those to blame for it. We began by discussing what many consider the original sin of the bailout period: the decision not to restructure Greece’s debt in May 2010. What should the IMF have done?

“It should have insisted, it should have made the restructuring a condition of its participation,” the Indian-born economist said, mentioning that the staff report all but admitted the debt was unsustainable and that Dominique Strauss-Kahn later said he was in favor of debt relief. “The reason it didn’t happen was the ideological opposition of the European Central Bank – in this case supported by the US Treasury. Strauss-Kahn did not want to offend either the Americans or the Europeans. The stance of the US Treasury was critical – if its representative on the Executive Board had come out in favor of a restructuring, it would have happened. Instead, it sided completely with the European viewpoint – the Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, believed that there should never be a restructuring in the midst of a crisis.”

Regarding the argument that the problem in Greece (compared with other bailout countries) was there was no ownership of reforms, Mody said: “It is indeed the case that IMF programs only succeed when there is ownership. The question is what were Greeks asked to own. The arithmetic of austerity was relentless, cruel. Whatever the Greeks did, with austerity on such a scale they could not have escaped the collapse in gross domestic product. And then things became even worse, because the recession led to targets being missed, which led to more measures! The IMF published studies at the time showing what a terrible idea it was to impose further austerity in a recession, how it worsens the debt-to-GDP ratio. Yet the IMF kept doing it in Greece, ignoring all its internal studies!”

[..] The conversation turned to 2015. How does he think the creditors should have handled SYRIZA differently? “Look, even before SYRIZA came to power, Wolfgang Schaeuble said that elections do not matter. On January 31, 2015, six days after the election, Erkki Liikanen, the head of the Finnish central bank, says that if the new government does not accept the program, the ECB will cut liquidity support for Greek banks. Four days later, the ECB withdraws the waiver [which allowed the banks to borrow cheaply from it, using Greek government bonds as collateral]. And in June, the Europeans close down the banks. What was the basic demand of SYRIZA? To tie debt repayments to GDP and so reduce the level of austerity. Any good economist will tell you that was a very reasonable starting point for the negotiation.”

Read more …

More of my friends are leaving every day. Some don’t even say goodbye.

Eight Bird Species Are First Confirmed Avian Extinctions This Decade (G.)

Spix’s macaw, a brilliant blue species of Brazilian parrot that starred in the children’s animation Rio, has become extinct this century, according to a new assessment of endangered birds. The macaw is one of eight species, including the poo-uli, the Pernambuco pygmy-owl and the cryptic treehunter, that can be added to the growing list of confirmed or highly likely extinctions, according to a new statistical analysis by BirdLife International. Historically, most bird extinctions have been small-island species vulnerable to hunting or invasive species but five of these new extinctions have occurred in South America and are attributed by scientists to deforestation.

Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s chief scientist, said the new study highlighted that an extinction crisis was now unfolding on large continents, driven by human habitat destruction. “People think of extinctions and think of the dodo but our analysis shows that extinctions are continuing and accelerating today,” he said. “Historically 90% of bird extinctions have been small populations on remote islands. Our evidence shows there is a growing wave of extinctions washing over the continent driven by habitat loss from unsustainable agriculture, drainage and logging.” More than 26,000 of the world’s species are now threatened, according to the latest “red list” assessment, with scientists warning that humans are driving a sixth great extinction event.


The Brazilian Spix’s macaw, as seen in the children’s movie Rio, is one of the eight birds to become extinct Photograph: Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation

Read more …

Oct 182017
 
 October 18, 2017  Posted by at 2:26 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvator Rosa Heroic battle 1652

 

A point BOE Governor Mark Carney made recently may be the biggest cog in the European Union’s wheel (or is it second biggest? Read on). That is, derivatives clearing. It’s one of the few areas where Brussels stands to lose much more than London, but it’s a big one. And Carney puts a giant question mark behind the EU’s preparedness.

Carney Reveals Europe’s Potential Achilles Heel in Brexit Talks

Carney explained why Europe’s financial sector is more at risk than the UK from a “hard” or “no-deal” Brexit. [..] When asked does the European Council “get it” in terms of potential shocks to financial stability, Carney diplomatically commented that “a learning process is underway.” Having sounded alarm bells about clearing in his last Mansion House speech, he noted “These costs of fragmenting clearing, particularly clearing of interest rate swaps, would be born principally by the European real economy and they are considerable.”

Calling into question the continuity of tens of thousands of derivative contracts , he stated that it was “pretty clear they will no longer be valid”, that this “could only be solved by both sides” and has been “underappreciated” by Europe . Carney had a snipe at Europe for its lack of preparation “We are prepared as we should be for the possibility of a hard exit without any transition…there has been much less of that done in the European Union.”

In Carneys view “It’s in the interest of the EU 27 to have a transition agreement. Also, in my judgement given the scale of the issues as they affect the EU 27, that there will ultimately be a transition agreement. There is a very limited amount of time between now and the end of March 2019 to transition large, complex institutions and activities…

If one thinks about the implementation of Basel III, we are alone in the current members of the EU in having extensive experience of managing the transition for individual firms of various derivative and risk activities from one jurisdiction back into the UK. That tends to take 2-4 years. Depending on the agreement, we are talking about a substantial amount of activity.” [..] “I wouldn’t want to use financial stability issues as leverage. I wouldn’t want them to be addressed in a bloodless technocratic way in the interests of all the citizens.”

Sounds like Carney knows a thing or two that Juncker et al haven’t sufficiently thought through. The EU plans to move all – or most- derivatives clearing to the continent, but such a thing is anything but easy. That’s another very tangled web, and an expensive one to boot. Brussels probably wants to use the issue to put pressure on London in some way, but a hard Brexit might make that unlikely if not worse. Bloomberg from June this year:

EU Targets Derivative-Clearing Giants With Relocation Threat

“Today, a significant amount of financial instruments denominated in the currencies of the member states are cleared by recognized third-country CCPs,” according to the proposal. “For example, the notional amount outstanding at Chicago Mercantile Exchange in the U.S. is €1.8 trillion for euro-denominated interest-rate derivatives,” the commission said. “This also raises a series of concerns.”

The financial industry has lobbied hard against a location policy. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association said requiring euro-denominated interest-rate derivatives to be cleared by an EU-based clearinghouse would boost initial margin requirements by as much as 20% . The FIA, a trade organization for the futures, options and centrally cleared derivatives markets, has said forced relocation “could nearly double margin requirements from $83 billion to $160 billion.”

According to that Bloomberg piece, the notional amount outstanding of euro-denominated OTC interest-rate derivatives is some $90 trillion, 97% of which goes through the London Clearing House (LCH) based in .. well, you guessed it. Wikipedia:

LCH is a European-based independent clearing house that serves major international exchanges, as well as a range of OTC markets. Based on 2012 figures LCH cleared approximately 50% of the global interest rate swap market, and is the second largest clearer of bonds and repos in the world , providing services across 13 government debt markets.

In addition, LCH clears a broad range of asset classes including: commodities, securities, exchange traded derivatives, credit default swaps, energy contracts, freight derivatives, interest rate swaps, foreign exchange and Euro and Sterling denominated bonds and repos. LCH’s members comprise a large number of the major financial groups including almost all of the major investment banks, broker dealers and international commodity houses.

More details from Reuters, also in June:

Derivatives Body Warns EU Against Moving Euro Clearing From London

Shifting clearing of euro-denominated derivatives from London to the European continent would require banks to set aside far more cash to insure trades against defaults, a cost that would be passed on to companies, a global derivatives industry body says. [..]The London Stock Exchange’s subsidiary LCH currently clears the bulk of euro-denominated swaps, a derivative contract that helps companies guard against unexpected moves in interest rates or currencies.

Britain, however, is due to leave the bloc in 2019, putting it out of the EU’s regulatory reach. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA), one of the world’s top derivatives industry bodies, said on Monday that a “relocation” in euro clearing to continental Europe would split liquidity in markets and reduce the ability of banks to save on margin by offsetting positions in the same liquidity pool.

Deutsche Bank has the world’s largest derivatives portfolio. Not all of it will be euro-denominated, but still. And I know it’s just notional amounts, but derivatives are not things one plays fast and loose with, lest the clearing becomes opaque and trouble starts.

Juncker better solve this thing. Oh, and this one too (yes, it’s quite fun to report on this):

Money Will Divide Europe After Brexit

As part of the transition period of around two years that she called for in her emollient Florence speech last month, Britain would continue to pay in to the EU budget to ensure that none of the member states was out of pocket owing to the decision to leave. These net payments of around €10 billion a year would fix the immediate problem facing the EU, the hole that would otherwise open up in its finances during the final two years of its current budgetary framework, which runs from 2014 to 2020.

[..] through its accounting procedures, the EU can and does commit it to spending that will be paid for by future receipts from the member states. What this means is that even after 2020 there will still be payments due on commitments made under the current seven-year spending plan. That pile of unpaid bills, eloquently called the “reste à liquider” (the amount yet to be settled), is forecast to be €254 billion at the end of 2020.

Estimates of what Britain might owe towards this vary, but taking into account what might have been spent on British projects it could be around €20 billion. On top of that – and the second main reason why the EU is holding out for more – the EU has liabilities, notably arising from the unfunded retirement benefits of European staff estimated at €67 billion at the end of 2016, which it is expecting Britain to share. Even taking into account some potential offsets from its share of assets, Britain may face a bill of between €30 billion and €40 billion on top of the €20 billion paid during the transition period.

The EU finances itself on the fly. It’ll have a €254 pile of unpaid bills in 3 years time. That is scary. Not for Brussels, but for its member countries. A hard Brexit, in which Britain may refuse to pay, is perhaps even scarier.

Anyway, once Juncker’s done with all that, he’ll have to move on to the next problem. Derivatives is a big cloud hanging over Europe, but this one is potentially shattering.

Ray Dalio, manager of the world’s biggest hedge fund, is shorting, placing large bets against, anything Italian, and given Italy’s size and hence importance to the EU, his bets are effectively bets against Brussels.

Dalio’s Fund Opens $300 Million Bet Against Italian Energy Firm

Bridgewater Associates is adding to its billion-dollar short against the Italian economy. The world’s largest hedge fund disclosed a $300 million bet against Eni SpA, Italy’s oil and gas giant, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Bloomberg previously reported that Ray Dalio’s firm had wagered more than $1.1 billion against shares of six Italian financial institutions and two other companies.

This latest bet is the hedge fund’s second-largest against an Italian company, trailing only the $310 million against Enel SpA, the country’s largest utility. Eni’s majority holder is the Italian government via state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti SpA and the Ministry of Economy. The public involvement also is reflected in the government’s role in appointing the chief executive officer. Current CEO Claudio Descalzi has been at the helm since 2014 and was reconfirmed this year.

$1.1 billion against the banking system, $310 million against the main utility, $140 million vs pan-European insurer Generali and now $300 million vs the national oil and gas company, That adds up to quite a bit more than the Bloomberg graph says, but I’ll include it anyway.

 

 

Dalio doesn’t call the bluff of Italy, and this is not just like George Soros’ shorting the British pound in 1992, he’s calling out the entire EU and its financial system. He’s saying I don’t believe you can keep up the charade. He’s making a mockery of Mario Draghi’s “whatever it takes”.

So what are Rome, Brussels and Frankfurt going to do? They can’t ignore the no. 1 hedge fund forever. They will have to pump money into Italy, in large amounts. Merkel won’t like that, neither will her new coalition partner FDP, and the Bundesbank may start legal action.

Dalio’s located the Union’s achilles heel, which is not just that Italy’s insolvent (it’s not alone in that), but that there’s a gigantic theater production being performed to give everyone the impression that things are going just swimmingly, thank you. So Dalio’s said: how much for a ticket to the show?, and paid it. And now he’s inside.

Bridgewater didn’t enter that theater for nothing. $1.85 billion is not chump change for them. Intesa Sanpaolo CEO Carlo Messina may have said that Dalio will lose his bets, but according to the IMF Italy’s non-performing loans levels were €356 billion at the end of June 2016, which is 18% of total loans for Italian banks, 20% of Italy’s GDP and one-third of total Eurozone NPLs. Intesa Sanpaolo holds a nice chunk of that.

‘Whatever it takes’ may well be too much to take for the EU, and Draghi looks outsmarted, as do Juncker and Merkel. How many billions will it take for Dalio to go away? And then, who’s next, which hedge fund, which politician, which ECB chief? Coming soon to a theater near you.

 

 

Aug 272017
 
 August 27, 2017  Posted by at 12:27 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Henri Cartier-Bresson Trafalgar Square on the Day of the Coronation of George VI 1937

 

The Jackson Hole gathering of central bankers and other economics big shots is on again. They all still like themselves very much. Apart from a pesky inflation problem that none of them can get a grip on, they publicly maintain that they’re doing great, and they’re saving the planet (doing God’s work is already taken).

But the inflation problem lies in the fact that they don’t know what inflation is, and they’re just as knowledgeable when it comes to all other issues. They get sent tons of numbers and stats, and then compare these to their economic models. They don’t understand economics, and they’re not interested in trying to understand it. All they want is for the numbers to fit the models, and if they don’t, get different numbers.

Meanwhile they continue to make the most outrageous claims. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said in early July that “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis.” What do you say to that? Do you take him on a tour of Britain? Or do you just let him rot?

Fed head Janet Yellen a few days earlier had proclaimed that “[US] Banks are ‘very much stronger’, and another financial crisis is not likely ‘in our lifetime’. “ While we wish her a long and healthy life for many years to come, we must realize that we have to pick one: it has to be either a long life, or no crisis in her lifetime.

Just a few days ago, ECB President Mario Draghi somehow managed to squeeze through his windpipe that “QE has made economies more resilient”. Even though everybody -well, everybody who’s not in Jackson Hole- knows that QE has blown huge bubbles in lots of asset classes and caused severe damage to savings and pensions, problems that will reverberate through economies for a long time and rip entire societies apart.

But they really seem to believe what they say, all of them. Which is perhaps the biggest problem of all. That is, either they know better and lie straight-faced or they are blind to what they’re doing. Which might be caused by the fact that they are completely blind to what goes on in their countries and societies, and focus exclusively on banking systems. But that’s not where financial crises reside, or at least not only there.

How do we know? Easy. Try this on for size.

78% of Americans Live Paycheck To Paycheck

No matter how much you earn, getting by is still a struggle for most people these days. 78% of full-time workers said they live paycheck to paycheck, up from 75% last year, according to a recent report from CareerBuilder. Overall, 71% of all U.S. workers said they’re now in debt, up from 68% a year ago, CareerBuilder said. While 46% said their debt is manageable, 56% said they were in over their heads. About 56% also save $100 or less each month, according to CareerBuilder.

Haven’t seen anything as ironic in a long time as having a company called CareerBuilder report on this. But more importantly, when almost 4 out of 5 people live paycheck to paycheck, that is a financial crisis right there. Just perhaps not according to the models popular in Jackson Hole. What do they know about that kind of life, anyway? So why would they care to model it?

Yellen’s Fed proudly report almost full employment -even if they felt forced to abandon their own models of it. But what does full employment constitute, what does it mean, when all those jobs don’t allow for people to live without fear of the next repair bill, the next hospital visit, their children’s education?

What does it mean when banks are profitable again and pay out huge bonuses while at the same time millions work two jobs and still can’t make ends meet? How is that not a -financial- crisis? In the economists’ models, all those jobs must lead to scarcity in the labor market, and thus rising wages. And then inflation, by which they mean rising prices. But the models fail, time and time again.

Moreover, talking about inflation without consumer spending, i.e. velocity of money, is empty rhetoric. 78% of Americans will not be able to raise their spending levels, they’re already maxed out at the end of each week, and 71% have debts on top of that. So where will the inflation, rising wages, etc., come from? When nobody has money to spend? Nobody can put that Humpty Dumpty together again.

An actual -as opposed to theoretical- recovery of wages and inflation will certainly not come from QE for banks, that much should be clear after a decade. And that is exactly where the problem is. That is why so many people work such shitty jobs. The banks may be more resilient (and that comes with a big question mark), but it has come at the cost of the economies. And no, banks are not the same as economies. Moreover, ‘saving’ the banks through asset purchases and ultra low rates has made ‘real economies’ much more prone to the next downturn.

The asset purchases serve to keep zombie firms -including banks- alive, which will come back to haunt economies -and central banks- when things start falling. The ultra low rates have driven individuals and institutions into ‘investments’ for which there has been no price discovery for a decade or more. Homes, stocks, you name it. Everyone and their pet hamster overborrowed and overpaid thanks to Bernanke, Yellen and Draghi, and their ‘policies’.

QE for banks didn’t just not work as advertized, it has dug a mile deep hole in real economies. No economy can properly function unless most people can afford to spend money. It’s lifeblood. QE for banks is not, if anything it’s the opposite.

 

Another -joined at the hip- example of what’s really happening in -and to- America, long term and deep down, and which will not be a discussion topic in Jackson Hole, is the following from the Atlantic on marriage in America. And I can hear the disagreements coming already, but bear with me.

Both the above 78% paycheck to paycheck number and the Atlantic piece on marriage make me think back of Joe Bageant. Because that is the world he came from and returned to, and described in Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War. The Appalachians. I don’t believe for a moment that Joe, if he were still with us, would have been one bit surprised about Trump. And reading this stuff, neither should you.

This is not something that is new, or that can be easily turned around anymore. This is the proverbial oceanliner which requires a huge distance to change course. Victor Tan Chen’s piece is a worthwhile read; here are a few bits:

America, Home of the Transactional Marriage

Over the last several decades, the proportion of Americans who get married has greatly diminished—a development known as well to those who lament marriage’s decline as those who take issue with it as an institution. But a development that’s much newer is that the demographic now leading the shift away from tradition is Americans without college degrees—who just a few decades ago were much more likely to be married by the age of 30 than college graduates were.

Today, though, just over half of women in their early 40s with a high-school degree or less education are married, compared to three-quarters of women with a bachelor’s degree; in the 1970s, there was barely a difference. [..] Fewer than one in 10 mothers with a bachelor’s degree are unmarried at the time of their child’s birth, compared to six out of 10 mothers with a high-school degree.

The share of such births has risen dramatically in recent decades among less educated mothers, even as it has barely budged for those who finished college. (There are noticeable differences between races, but among those with less education, out-of-wedlock births have become much more common among white and nonwhite people alike.)

And then you make education so expensive it’s out of reach for a growing number of people… Insult and injury.

Plummeting rates of marriage and rising rates of out-of-wedlock births among the less educated have been linked to growing levels of income inequality. [..] Why are those with less education—the working class—entering into, and staying in, traditional family arrangements in smaller and smaller numbers? Some tend to stress that the cultural values of the less educated have changed, and there is some truth to that.

But what’s at the core of those changes is a larger shift: The disappearance of good jobs for people with less education has made it harder for them to start, and sustain, relationships. What’s more, the U.S.’s relatively meager safety net makes the cost of being unemployed even steeper than it is in other industrialized countries—which prompts many Americans to view the decision to stay married with a jobless partner in more transactional, economic terms.

And this isn’t only because of the financial ramifications of losing a job, but, in a country that puts such a premium on individual achievement, the emotional and psychological consequences as well. Even when it comes to private matters of love and lifestyle, the broader social structure—the state of the economy, the availability of good jobs, and so on—matters a great deal.

This is the erosion of social cohesion. And there is nothing there to fill that void.

Earlier this year, the economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson analyzed labor markets during the 1990s and 2000s—a period when America’s manufacturing sector was losing jobs, as companies steadily moved production overseas or automated it with computers and robots. Because the manufacturing sector has historically paid high wages to people with little education, the disappearance of these sorts of jobs has been devastating to working-class families, especially the men among them, who still outnumber women on assembly lines.

Autor, Dorn, and Hanson found that in places where the number of factory jobs shrank, women were less likely to get married. They also tended to have fewer children, though the share of children born to unmarried parents, and living in poverty, grew. What was producing these trends, the researchers argue, was the rising number of men who could no longer provide in the ways they once did, making them less attractive as partners.

The perks of globalization. Opioids, anyone?

[..] In doing research for a book about workers’ experiences of being unemployed for long periods, I saw how people who once had good jobs became, over time, “unmarriageable.” I talked to many people without jobs, men in particular, who said that dating, much less marrying or moving in with someone, was no longer a viable option: Who would take a chance on them if they couldn’t provide anything?

It’s not only Joe Bageant. These are also the people Bruce Springsteen talked about when he was still the Boss.

[..] The theory that a lack of job opportunities makes marriageable men harder to find was first posed by the sociologist William Julius Wilson in regard to a specific population: poor, city-dwelling African Americans. [..] In later decades of the last century, rates of crime, joblessness, poverty, and single parenthood soared in cities across the country.

[..] In a 1987 book, Wilson put forward a compelling alternative explanation: Low-income black men were not marrying because they could no longer find good jobs. Manufacturers had fled cities, taking with them the jobs that workers with less in the way of education—disproportionately, in this case, African Americans—had relied on to support their families. The result was predictable. When work disappeared, people coped as best they could, but many families and communities frayed.

By now it’s all Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town. That album is some 40 years old. That’s -at least- how long this has been going on. And why it’ll be so hard to correct.

Decades later, the same storyline is playing out across the country, in both white and nonwhite communities, the research of Autor, Dorn, and Hanson (as well as others) suggests. The factory jobs that retreated from American cities, moving to suburbs and then the even lower-cost South, have now left the country altogether or been automated away.

[..] “The kinds of jobs a man could hold for a career have diminished,” the sociologists wrote, “and more of the remaining jobs have a temporary ‘stopgap’ character—casual, short-term, and not part of a career strategy.” The result: As many men’s jobs have disappeared or worsened in quality, women see those men as a riskier investment.

This next bit is painful: life ain’t gonna get any better, so we might as well have kids.

At the same time, they are not necessarily postponing when they have kids. As the sociologists Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas have found in interviews with low-income mothers, many see having children as an essential part of life, and one that they aren’t willing to put off until they’re older, when the probability of complications in pregnancy can increase.

For mothers-to-be from more financially stable backgrounds, the calculation is different: They often wait longer to have children, since their career prospects and earnings are likely to improve during the period when they might otherwise have been raising a child. For less-educated women, such an improvement is much rarer.

Tan Chen follows up with a comparison of European and American safety nets, and suggests that “It’s not a matter of destiny, but policy”, but I don’t find that too relevant to why I found his piece so touching.

It describes a dying society. America is slowly dying, and not all that slowly for that matter. The Fed is comfortably holed up in Jackson Hole after having handed out trillions to bankers and lured millions of Americans into buying -or increasingly renting- properties that have become grossly overpriced due to its ZIRP policies, and congratulating itself on achieving “full employment”.

Why that ever became part of its mandate, g-d knows. I know, ML King et al. But. Thing is, when full employment means 78% of people have such a hard time making ends meet that they can’t afford to keep each other in a job by spending their money in stores etc., you’re effectively looking at a dying economy. Maybe we should not call it ‘full’, but ’empty employment’ instead.

Yeah, I know, trickle down. But instead of wealth miraculously trickling down, it’s debt that miraculously trickles up. How many Americans have mortgages or rents to pay every month that gobble up 40-50% or more from their incomes? That’d be a useful stat. Model that, Janet!

The article on marriage makes clear that by now this is no longer about money. The 40+ year crisis has ‘transcended’ all that. If and when money becomes too scarce, it starts to erode quality of life, first in individuals and then also in societies. It erodes the fabric of society. And you don’t simply replace that once it’s gone, not even if there were a real economic recovery.

But there will be no such recovery. As bad as things are for Americans today, they will get a whole lot worse. That is an inevitable consequence of the market distortion that QE has wrought: a gigantic financial crisis is coming. And the crowd gathered at Jackson Hole will be calling the shots once more, and bail out banks, not people. What’s that definition of insanity again?

 

 

Jul 052017
 
 July 5, 2017  Posted by at 11:14 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Fred Lyon Golden Gate Bridge painter 1947

We Have Fixed Issues That Caused Financial Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)
David Cameron Says People Who Oppose Austerity Are ‘Selfish’ (Ind.)
Judge To Review Ban On Prosecuting Tony Blair For Iraq War (G.)
The Grenfell Inquiry Will Be A Stitch-Up. Here’s Why (Monbiot)
Foreigners Account for Just 4.7% of Home Sales in Toronto Region (BBG)
China’s $162 Billion of Dealmaker Debt Raises Alarm
China’s Shadow Banking Lacks Sufficient Regulation: Central Bank (R.)
Arab States To Deliver Verdict On Qatar As Compromise Elusive (R.)
Why Do We Think Poor People Are Poor Because Of Their Own Bad Choices? (G.)
Austrian Troops To Control Migrants On Italy Border (R.)

 

 

Oh come on, get real. Heard that a million times before. This is insulting. Are people really stupid enough to believe Carney? Is he? Hell yeah. Well, here’s what Carney’s predecessor at the BOE, Mervyn King, said in 2007.

We Have Fixed Issues That Caused Financial Crisis, Says Mark Carney (G.)

Fundamental reforms undertaken since the US sub-prime mortgage market triggered the deepest global recession since the second world war have created a safer, simpler and fairer financial system, Mark Carney has said. With the 10th anniversary of the financial crisis next month, Carney said the world’s biggest banks were stronger, misconduct was being tackled, and the toxic forms of shadow banking were no longer a threat. Carney, as well as being governor of the Bank of England, is chairman of the Financial Stability Board, a body created by the G20 group of developed and developing nations in 2009 to recommend ways of remedying the flaws in the system highlighted by the crash.

In a letter to G20 leaders before their meeting in Hamburg later this week, Carney said: “A decade after the start of the global financial crisis, G20 reforms are building a safer, simpler and fairer financial system. The largest banks are considerably stronger, more liquid and more focused.” The FSB chairman said there were still issues to be addressed, such as the risks posed by developments in financial technology (fintech) and the increased vulnerability of digital systems to cyber-attack. But at a press conference in London on Monday, Carney said: “We have fixed the issues that caused the last crisis. They were fundamental and deep-seated, which is why it was such a major job.” The financial crisis of 2007 began in the US mortgage market but rapidly went global as it emerged that banks and unregulated shadow banks were massively exposed in the market for derivatives and did not have enough capital when losses started to mount.

Public anger towards the financial system grew when the biggest banks were bailed out by taxpayers because they were deemed “too big to fail”. Carney said in his letter: “The largest banks are required to have as much as 10 times more of the highest quality capital than before the crisis and are subject to greater market discipline as a consequence of globally agreed standards to resolve too-big-to-fail entities. “A decade ago, many large banks were woefully undercapitalised, with complex business models that relied on the goodwill of markets and, ultimately, taxpayers. A decade on, the largest banks have raised more than $1.5tn of capital, and all major internationally active banks meet minimum risk-based capital and leverage ratio requirements well in advance of the deadline.”

Read more …

Austerity is not about money, that has nothing to do with it. It’s about power, pure and simple.

David Cameron Says People Who Oppose Austerity Are ‘Selfish’ (Ind.)

David Cameron has intervened in the Cabinet row over easing up on austerity by attacking “selfish” politicians demanding higher spending. The former Prime Minister sided with Chancellor Philip Hammond by arguing it would be wrong to bow to growing public pressure and “let spending and borrowing rip”. A string of senior Tories, including Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, have called for the lifting of the one per cent pay cap on awards to millions of public sector workers. But Mr Cameron, speaking to a business conference in South Korea, said: “The opponents of so-called austerity couch their arguments in a way that make them sound generous and compassionate. “They seek to paint the supporters of sound finances as selfish or uncaring. The exact reverse is true. “Giving up on sound finances isn’t being generous, it’s being selfish: spending money today that you may need tomorrow.”

In addition to the row over the pay cap, Education Secretary Justine Greening is pushing for a £1bn cash injection to end school funding cuts. New demands for higher spending added to the pressures on Mr Hammond today, as councils warned they faced a £5.8bn funding gap by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, the Chancellor used a speech to business leaders last night to urge his colleagues to join a “grown-up debate” about how to pay for higher spending. Mr Hammond acknowledged the public was “weary” of austerity, but insisted “we must hold our nerve” and not simply borrow more. Paul Johnson, director of the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, said “political discipline seems to have fallen apart” in the Cabinet. Alistair Darling, the former Labour Chancellor, said the sight of Cabinet ministers publicly criticising the Chancellor over public sector pay made the Government appear “shambolic”.

Read more …

Don’t get your hopes up.

Judge To Review Ban On Prosecuting Tony Blair For Iraq War (G.)

The most senior judge in England and Wales will hear a case attempting to overturn a ban on prosecuting Tony Blair over the Iraq war, the Guardian has learned. A private criminal prosecution against the former Labour prime minister was blocked in 2016 by Westminster magistrates court when it was ruled Blair would have immunity from any criminal charges. But that ruling by the district judge, Michael Snow, will be reviewed on Wednesday before the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, and Mr Justice Ouseley. The current attorney general, Jeremy Wright QC, wants the block on proceedings upheld. He will have a barrister in court to try to stop the attempted private prosecution. The hearing follows a decision by the high court in May, which has not previously been reported.

Then a high court judge said those wanting to prosecute Blair could have a hearing to seek permission for a court order allowing their case to go to the next stage. The judge in that case also said the attorney general could formally join in the case. Blair caused controversy when prime minister in deciding to take Britain into the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which was led by the US and sparked huge opposition. The private prosecution seeks a war crimes trial in a British court of Blair, the foreign secretary in 2003, Jack Straw, and Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general at the time the government was deciding to join the invasion of Iraq. The case seeks their prosecution for the crime of aggression. The attorney general in written submissions for Wednesday’s hearing says such an offence does not exist in English law, a claim which is disputed.

The private prosecution attempt is based on the findings of last year’s Chilcot report into the decision by Blair to join the invasion of Iraq, which is criticised, under the false pretext that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction. After the Chilcot report was released some families of British service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq said they wanted Blair prosecuted in the courts. This attempt at a private prosecution is brought by Gen Abdul-Wahid Shannan ar-Ribat, former chief of staff of the Iraqi army who is now living in exile. His lawyers are Michael Mansfield QC and Imran Khan, who acted for the family of Stephen Lawrence. In November 2016, a British court ruled against an application to bring a private prosecution. A district judge at Westminster magistrates court ruled Blair had immunity from prosecution over the Iraq war and that any case could also “involve details being disclosed under the Official Secrets Act”.

At the hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, lawyers for the attorney general will argue that the crime of aggression, while existing in international law, has never been included into English law by parliament. But the government’s stance appears to be undermined by Goldsmith. In his 2003 memo on the legality of the Iraq war, Goldsmith appeared to concede the key point of those now seeking his prosecution. “Aggression is a crime under customary international law which automatically forms part of domestic law,” he wrote.

Read more …

Britain is one scary place. I’m reminded of Travis Bickle: “Someday a real rain will come and wipe this scum off the streets.”

The Grenfell Inquiry Will Be A Stitch-Up. Here’s Why (Monbiot)

We don’t allow defendants in court cases to select the charges on which they will be tried. So why should the government set the terms of a public inquiry into its own failings? We don’t allow criminal suspects to vet the trial judge. Why should the government approve the inquiry’s chair? Even before the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster has begun, it looks like a stitch-up, its initial terms of reference set so narrowly that government policy remains outside the frame. An inquiry that honours the dead would investigate the wider causes of this crime. It would examine a governing ideology that sees torching public protections as a sacred duty. Let me give you an example. On the morning of 14 June, as the tower blazed, an organisation called the Red Tape Initiative convened for its prearranged discussion about building regulations.

One of the organisation’s tasks was to consider whether rules determining the fire resistance of cladding materials should be removed for the sake of construction industry profits. Please bear with me while I explain what this initiative is and who runs it, as it’s a perfect cameo of British politics. It’s a government-backed body, established “to grasp the opportunities” that Brexit offers to cut “red tape” – a disparaging term for public protections. It’s chaired by the Conservative MP Sir Oliver Letwin, who has claimed that “the call to minimise risk is a call for a cowardly society”. It is a forum in which exceedingly wealthy people help decide which protections should be stripped away from lesser beings.

Among the members of its advisory panel are Charles Moore, who was editor of the Daily Telegraph and the chair of an organisation called Policy Exchange. He was also best man at Letwin’s wedding. Sitting beside him is Archie Norman, the former chief executive of Asda and the founder of Policy Exchange. He was once Conservative MP for Tunbridge Wells – and was succeeded in that seat by Greg Clark, the minister who now provides government support for the Red Tape Initiative. Until he became environment secretary, Michael Gove was also a member of the Red Tape Initiative panel. Oh, and he was appointed by Norman as the first chairman of Policy Exchange. (He was replaced by Moore.) Policy Exchange also supplied two of Letwin’s staff in the Conservative policy unit that he used to run.

Policy Exchange is a neoliberal lobby group funded by dark money, that seeks to tear down regulations. The Red Tape Initiative’s management board consists of Letwin, Baroness Rock and Lord Marland. Baroness Rock is a childhood friend of the former Tory chancellor George Osborne, and is married to the wealthy financier Caspar Rock. Marland is a multimillionaire businessman who owns a house and four flats in London, “various properties in Salisbury”, three apartments in France and two apartments in Switzerland. In other words, the Red Tape Initiative is a representative cross-section of the British public. In no sense is it a self-serving clique of old chums, insulated from hazard by their extreme wealth, whose role is to decide whether other people (colloquially known as “cowards”) should be exposed to risk.

Read more …

“Ontario’s strong housing market is a reflection of our growing economy,” Charles Sousa, the province’s minister of finance, said..

Foreigners Account for Just 4.7% of Home Sales in Toronto Region (BBG)

The Ontario government said overseas buyers accounted for just 4.7% of home purchases in the Toronto area over a recent one-month period. The new data is in line with other surveys, signaling that foreigners haven’t been major drivers of real estate prices in one of Canada’s most expensive markets. Non-residents bought about 860 properties between April 24 to May 26 in the so-called greater golden horseshoe region of Ontario which includes Toronto, Hamilton and Peterborough, the province said in a statement Tuesday. The finance and housing ministries began compiling the figures as part of a new housing plan announced in April meant to make homes more affordable and accessible for Canadian residents. One of the measures included a 15% levy as of April 21 on foreign investors buying residential property in Toronto and nearby cities.

“Ontario’s strong housing market is a reflection of our growing economy,” Charles Sousa, the province’s minister of finance, said in a statement. “While this is great news for the province, the resulting increase in speculative purchases and a spike in home prices created affordability challenges for many and posed a risk to the market.” Toronto is the latest Canadian city to target non-resident buyers, who are often accused of driving up the price of homes by using them as an investments. Prices and sales in the city had been on a tear until early this year, prompting some to point to non-resident factors as a source of the heat. Vancouver last year imposed a 15% foreign buyer tax that preceded a slowdown of sales and price growth, though it was short-lived as the market picks up speed again. Both cities followed the lead by Australia, which forces offshore buyers to purchase through a separate buying program.

Read more …

Buying the world with monopoly money.

China’s $162 Billion of Dealmaker Debt Raises Alarm

China struck deal after deal to acquire companies abroad over the last few years. Now the bill is coming due. The nation’s top corporate dealmakers, including HNA and Fosun International, must pay off the equivalent of at least $11.5 billion in bonds and loans by the end of 2018 – a feat now complicated by government efforts to rein in their aggressive rush overseas. That figure represents just a fraction of the total debt of 1.1 trillion yuan ($162 billion) that the Chinese companies have reported as they projected their money and influence around the world with a record number of acquisitions. The size of their obligations – and whether they will be able to shoulder them – has begun to worry global banks and investors now that Beijing has pressed companies to dial back their ambitions abroad.

“Those companies the banking regulator is checking on have very high financing demand for M&A activities,” said Xia Le, chief Asia economist at BBVA in Hong Kong. “But banks will heighten their risk control when lending to them going forward, which could increase their funding costs and hurt the pace of their expansion.” The moves threaten to end an era of easy access to money for the firms. People familiar with the matter said last month that China Banking Regulatory Commission asked some banks to provide information on overseas loans to HNA, Fosun, Anbang Insurance and Dalian Wanda. Yields on some bonds issued by the firms jumped. The CBRC is examining examples of acquisitions gone awry to assess potential risks to the financial sector, people familiar also said. To be sure, the companies, which are among the biggest private-sector firms in China, are sitting on a cash pile that they can tap to meet upcoming debt deadlines. They have more than 400 billion yuan of cash and cash equivalents…

Read more …

Too late now, boys.

China’s Shadow Banking Lacks Sufficient Regulation: Central Bank (R.)

China’s central bank said on Tuesday the shadow banking sector lacks sufficient regulation and the bank would give more prominence to financial risk controls. Compared with traditional bank lending, the opaque nature of shadow banking products make it easier for them to bypass regulatory requirements and provide credit to restricted areas, the People’s Bank of China said in its annual China Financial Stability Report released online. The central bank will increase supervision over the rapidly growing asset management industry to curb shadow banking risks, it said. Since the first quarter, the PBOC has included banks’ off-the-balance-sheet wealth management products in its examination of broad credit in its Macro Prudential Assessment (MPA) risk-tool.

The world’s second-largest economy faces major challenges, including excess industrial capacity, sluggish growth, high corporate leverage, mounting local government debt, property bubbles in some regions, and the deterioration of banking assets, the PBOC said in its report. As the economy still faces relatively big downward pressures, the bank pledged to create a favourable monetary and financial environment for the development of the real economy this year. The central bank also said it would strengthen coordination with other financial regulators to fend off systemic financial risks.

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Still can’t help wondering about the timing of this. Why now? What changed?

Arab States To Deliver Verdict On Qatar As Compromise Elusive (R.)

Arab states that have imposed sanctions on Qatar, accusing it of links to terrorism, were due to meet in Cairo on Wednesday to consider Doha’s response to a stiff ultimatum, but settlement of the dispute seemed far off. The editor of the Abu Dhabi government linked al-Ittihad newspaper wrote in an editorial that Qatar was “walking alone in its dreams and illusions, far away from its Gulf Arab brothers”. Foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain will consider whether to escalate, or less likely abandon, the boycott imposed on Qatar last month that has rattled a key oil-producing region and unnerved strategic Western allies. Qatar faces further isolation and possible expulsion from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) if its response to a list of demands made nearly two weeks ago is not deemed satisfactory.

The Arab countries have demanded Qatar curtail its support for the Muslim Brotherhood, shut down the pan-Arab al Jazeera TV channel, close down a Turkish base and downgrade its ties with regional arch-rival Iran. They view Qatar’s independent diplomatic stances and support for 2011 “Arab Spring” uprisings as support for terrorism and a dangerous breaking of ranks – charges Doha vigorously denies. Qatar has countered that the Arab countries want to curb free speech and take over its foreign policy, saying their 13 demands are so harsh they were made to be rejected. The gas-rich state had raised its international profile dramatically in recent years, drawing on huge gas revenues, and developed its economy with ambitious infrastructure projects. It is due to host the soccer world cup in 2022.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said at a joint news conference with his German counterpart on Tuesday that its response was “given in goodwill and good initiative for a constructive solution”, but insisted that Doha would not compromise on its sovereignty. Gulf officials have said the demands are not negotiable, signaling more sanctions are possible, including “parting ways” with Doha – a suggestion it may be ejected from the GCC, a regional economic and security cooperation body founded in 1981. “A Gulf national may be obliged to prepare psychologically for his Gulf to be without Qatar,” the editor of the Abu Dhabi al-Ittihad newspaper said.

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The topic deserves better treatment than this.

Why Do We Think Poor People Are Poor Because Of Their Own Bad Choices? (G.)

Cecilia Mo thought she knew all about growing up poor when she began teaching at Thomas Jefferson senior high school in south Los Angeles. As a child, she remembered standing in line, holding a free lunch ticket. But it turned out that Mo could still be shocked by poverty and violence – especially after a 13-year-old student called her in obvious panic. He had just seen his cousin get shot in his front yard. For Mo, hard work and a good education took her to Harvard and Stanford. But when she saw just how much chaos and violence her LA students faced, she recognized how lucky she had been growing up with educated parents and a safe, if financially stretched, home. Now, as an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, Mo studies how to get upper-class Americans to recognize the advantages they have.

She is among a group of scholars trying to understand how rich and poor alike justify inequality. What these academics are finding is that the American dream is being used to rationalize a national nightmare. It all starts with the psychology concept known as the “fundamental attribution error”. This is a natural tendency to see the behavior of others as being determined by their character – while excusing our own behavior based on circumstances. For example, if an unexpected medical emergency bankrupts you, you view yourself as a victim of bad fortune – while seeing other bankruptcy court clients as spendthrifts who carelessly had too many lattes. Or, if you’re unemployed, you recognize the hard effort you put into seeking work – but view others in the same situation as useless slackers. Their history and circumstances are invisible from your perspective.

Here’s what has gone wrong: hard work and a good education used to be a sure bet for upward mobility in the US – at least among some groups of people. Americans born in the 1940s had a 90% chance of doing better economically than their parents did – but those born in the 1980s have only 50/50 odds of doing so.

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Oh yes, the EU will fail yet.

A comment on Twitter: “The last time Austria had tanks on the Italian border it lost Trent and Trieste.”

Austrian Troops To Control Migrants On Italy Border (R.)

Austria is planning to impose border controls and possibly deploy troops to cut the number of migrants crossing from Italy, defense officials said, drawing a warning from Rome and reigniting a row over Europe’s handling of the refugee crisis. Tensions between European Union countries over how to share the burden of migrants flared in 2015 when hundreds of thousands, many fleeing wars in Africa and the Middle East, began arriving in EU territory, mainly via Greece, and headed for Germany, Austria and other nearby affluent states. Austria took in more than 1 percent of its population in asylum seekers at the time, which helped increase support for the far-right Freedom Party. Keen to avoid another influx, it said it would introduce controls at the busy Brenner Pass border crossing with Italy if one materialized there.

That has not yet happened but Italy recently asked other EU countries to help it cope with a surge in migrants reaching its southern Mediterranean shores from Africa, raising concern in Austria that many will soon show up at its border with Italy. That is a political hot potato in Austria, where a parliamentary election is scheduled in October with immigration shaping up as a central issue. Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil told the mass-circulation Kronen Zeitung in an interview published on Tuesday that he expected restrictions would be introduced along the Alpine boundary with Italy “very soon”. Other Austrian officials, including Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, who oversees crossings like Brenner, said there was currently no reason to introduce controls and Austria remained vigilant, a stance Vienna has repeated for the past year.

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Jan 172017
 
 January 17, 2017  Posted by at 9:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Rothstein Texas Panhandle Dust Bowl Mar 1936

The Cheeto Cometh (Jim Kunstler)
Donald Trump Must Stop Cheering For Brexit, Says Top EU Official (Pol.)
Abolish The CIA (Rozeff)
Theresa May To Confirm UK Exit From EU Single Market (G.)
Corbyn Labeled Russian ‘Collaborator’ for Questioning NATO Troop Build-Up (I’C)
Carney: UK Rates Could Rise Or Fall (BBC)
France Is The Least-Trusted Country In The World (CNBC)
Deutsche Bank Holding Back 90% Of Bonuses This Year (NYP)
China To Target Around 6.5% Growth In 2017 (R.)
China’s Found a New Way to Pump Record Credit (BBG)
China’s Oil Collapse Is Unintentionally Helping OPEC (BBG)
Size Matters – No Country Should Be Bigger Than This (Mises Inst.)
Greek Migration Ministry Running Out Of Options On Islands (Kath.)
Second Man Dies On Freezing Migrant Route Near Turkey In Greece (AP)

 

 

Vinatage Jim. “I’m not aware that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or Andrew Jackson put their slaves in a blind trust after they became president.

The Cheeto Cometh (Jim Kunstler)

I dunno about you, but I rather enjoy watching the praetorian Deep State go batshit crazy as the day of Trump’s apotheosis approacheth. I imagine a lot of men and women running down the halls of Langley and the Pentagon and a hundred other secret operational redoubts with their hair on fire, wondering how on earth they can neutralize the fucker in the four days remaining. What’s left in their trick-bag? Bake a poison cheesecake for the inaugural lunch? CIA Chief John Brennan has been reduced to blowing raspberries at the incoming president. Maybe some code cowboys In the Utah NSA fortress can find a way to crash all the markets on Friday as an inauguration present. What does it take? A few strategic HFT spoofs? There will be lots of police sharpshooters on the DC rooftops that day. What might go wrong?

Civil War Two is underway, with an interesting echo of Civil War One: Trump dissed Civil Rights sacred icon Georgia congressman John Lewis, descendant of slaves, after said icon castigated Trump as “not a legitimate president.” That now prompts a congressional walk-out of the swearing-in ceremony. The New York Times is acting like a Manhattan socialite in a divorce proceeding, with fresh hysterics every day, reminding readers in a front-page story on Monday that “[Martin Luther] King’s birthday falls within days of the birthdays of two Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.” Jeez! Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? There’s not much Trump can do until Friday noon except tweet out his tweets, but one can’t help but wonder what the Deep State can do after that magic moment passes.

I’ve maintained for nearly a year that, if elected, Trump would be removed by a coup d’état within sixty days of assuming office, and I still think that’s a pretty good call — though I hope it doesn’t come to that, of course. My view of this was only confirmed by Trump’s performance at last week’s press conference, which seemed, shall we say, a little light on presidential decorum. Perhaps it befits this particular Deep State to go down in the manner of an opéra bouffe. History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, old Karl Marx observed. What does the Union stand for this time? The rights of former SEC employees to sell their services to CitiBank? The rights of competing pharma companies to jack the price of insulin up from $20 to $250 a vial? The rights of DIA subcontractors to sell Semtex plastic explosives to the “moderate” jihadis of the Middle East?

So the theme of the moment is that Donald Trump is a bigger crook than the servants and vassals of the Deep State. He ran for president so he could sell more steaks and whiskey under the Trump brand. He’s in violation of the emoluments clause in the constitution. Well, I’m not aware that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, or Andrew Jackson put their slaves in a blind trust after they became president. Anyway, at this point in our history, nobody can beat the Deep State for financial turpitude, certainly not a single real estate and hotel magnate.

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Is this an invitation to double down? Because something tells me it might just work.

Donald Trump Must Stop Cheering For Brexit, Says Top EU Official (Pol.)

US President-elect Donald Trump’s praise for Brexit and cheerleading for further divisions between European states are unacceptable, a top EU official said Monday. “Having an [U.S.] administration that hopes for the dismantling of Europe is simply not possible,” Pierre Moscovici, European commissioner for economic and financial affairs, taxation and customs, told reporters in Paris. “I don’t accept this vision of things, and I don’t think that comments which in some way glorify the division of the [European] Union, including by predicting further departures, is the best thing for Euro-Atlantic relations.” He added: “I expect from President Trump that he will be at Europe’s side in this strong relationship. I hope we will not always have to debate in this fashion.”

Moscovici was reacting to a joint interview that Trump gave to the U.K.’s Times and Germany’s Bild in which the president-elect called Brexit a “great thing” and said he expected that other EU peoples would also seek to assert their identity. He also repeated his assertion that the NATO military alliance was “obsolete,” and that he wanted the United States to sign a bilateral trade deal with Britain. Moscovici retorted that no free trade deal between the United States and Britain was conceivable until Brexit actually happened. “Even in the case of a hard Brexit, this will take plenty of time,” he said, adding: “We would expect our American partners not to rejoice over this [Brexit].”

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Abolish NATO, the EU, and the CIA. And abolish Schumer while you’re at it. That was ONE DUMB remark. And he’s the Democrats’ Senate leader? Boy, they have problems.

“Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you. For a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”

“Schumer is saying that the CIA is so powerful that a president should not attempt to control it or else!”

Abolish The CIA (Rozeff)

Every American who looks at the CIA objectively or in a balanced way and judges it by any number of criteria, such as moral, legal and pragmatic, should reach the conclusion that the CIA should be abolished. JFK wanted to break it into a million pieces. Trump is right to dismiss its intelligence reports about DNC hacking. The CIA war on Trump shows us immediately that the CIA is a rogue organization within the U.S. government and a severe threat to America. The CIA is an internal threat to the rule of law and to the government that it supposedly serves. Senator Schumer acknowledges the CIA’s unbridled power, its subversive power, its power to undermine even a president, especially one that wishes to control or alter the organization, when he says:

“Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you. For a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.” Schumer is saying that the CIA is so powerful that a president should not attempt to control it or else! The CIA is so powerful that elections do not matter when it comes to the CIA. The CIA stands alone. The Constitution that empowers the president as the Executive, the boss of government operations, does not matter. Basic American institutions and laws must bow before the threats that the CIA possesses. This is the assessment of a Senator beginning his 4th term and who is the highest ranking Democrat in the Senate in his post as minority leader.

The CIA is an organization that perpetually undermines traditional American values and moral values. It consistently kills innocent people. It continually causes instability and wars. It undermines other societies and our own. It interferes constantly in foreign nations, to the detriment of them and us. It is an unelected power that challenges elected officials. It favors abuses of power, including torture. Its actual value at generating usable intelligence is minimal, often wrong, often misleading, inaccurate and harmful as in the WMD that were never found in Iraq.

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Britain is incapable of conducting a grown up discussion on Brexit. Makes me fearful.

Theresa May To Confirm UK Exit From EU Single Market (G.)

Theresa May is expected to use the most important speech of her premiership to confirm that Britain will be leaving the single market while insisting that it wants to remain “the best friend” to European partners. In remarks that critics will cite as evidence that the government is pursuing a hard Brexit, the prime minister will set out 12 key priorities for the EU negotiations, with no compromise over the ability to control borders and regain sovereignty. Speaking to an audience at Lancaster House, Westminster, including ambassadors from across the world, May will stress her ambition to reach out beyond the continent to build new trading relationships in a move that suggests the UK will also leave the customs union.

However, the prime minister is likely to restate an argument that she does not see it as an either/or choice and say that whatever final deal on trade and customs duties is struck, lorries will be able to pass through Dover and other ports unhindered, despite warnings from others on the issue. “We seek a new and equal partnership – between an independent, self-governing, global Britain and our friends and allies in the EU. Not partial membership of the European Union, associate membership of the European Union or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out,” May is expected to say. “We do not seek to adopt a model already enjoyed by other countries. We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave. The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. My job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.”

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To wit. The guy who said it of course should have been fired right away, but these days such comments are fully acceptable.

Corbyn Labeled Russian ‘Collaborator’ for Questioning NATO Troop Build-Up (I’C)

The leader of the UK’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, called for a “de-escalation” of tensions between NATO and Russia, adding in a BBC interview on Thursday: “I want to see a de-militarisation of the border between them.” Along with the U.S., the UK has been rapidly building up its military presence in the Baltic region, including states which border Russia, and is now about to send another 800 troops to Estonia, 500 of which will be permanently based. In response, Russia has moved its own troops within its country near those borders, causing serious military tensions to rise among multiple nuclear-armed powers. Throughout 2016, the Russian and U.S. militaries have engaged in increasingly provocative and aggressive maneuvers against one another. This week, the U.S. began deploying 4,000 troops to Poland, “the biggest deployment of US troops in Europe since the end of the cold war.”

It was in this context that Corbyn said it is “unfortunate that troops have gone up to the border on both sides,” adding that “he wanted to see better relations between Russia, NATO and the EU.” The Labour leader explained that while Russia has engaged in serious human rights abuses both domestically and in Syria, there must be a “better relationships between both sides . . . there cannot be a return to a Cold War mentality.” The response to Corbyn’s call for better relations and de-escalation of tensions with Moscow was swift and predictable. The armed forces minister for Britain’s right-wing government, Mike Penning, accused Corbyn of being a collaborator with the Kremlin:

“These comments suggest that the Labour leader would rather collaborate with Russian aggression than mutually support Britain’s Nato allies. As with Trident, everything Labour says and does shows that they cannot be trusted with Britain’s national security.” This is the same propagandistic formulation that has been used for decades in the west to equate opposition to militarism with some form of disloyalty or treason: if you oppose military confrontation with a foreign adversary or advocate better relations with it, then you are accused of harboring secret sympathy and even support for those foreign leaders, and are often suspected of being an active “collaborator” with (or “stooge” for) them.

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Obviously, worth every penny of his salary. Razor-sharp analysis.

Carney: UK Rates Could Rise Or Fall (BBC)

UK households have continued spending strongly since the referendum, but face headwinds this year, Bank of England governor Mark Carney has warned. Consumers appeared to be “entirely looking through Brexit-related uncertainties”, he said in a speech at the London School of Economics. However, Mr Carney again warned that consumer spending could be hit by rising prices from the weaker pound. He also sounded a cautionary note on the growth in household debt. Mr Carney said that in the year to November, total household borrowing had risen 4%, while consumer credit had gone up by more than 10%, ” the fastest rate since 2005″. Increasingly, the UK was relying on consumer spending for economic growth – rather than exports or investment – which boded poorly for the future, Mr Carney said on Monday.

Gerard Lyons, a UK economist who backed Brexit, said Mr Carney “did rightly highlight the extent to which growth has become more consumer led”. The UK had one of the world’s fastest-growing advanced economies last year, but the Bank of England has forecast growth will slow in 2017 as higher inflation weighs on consumer spending. “We do see a slowing in the economy and household spending this year… that’s a slowing, not a stopping,” he emphasised. Economic forecasters have predicted that inflation could rise above the Bank’s 2% target as a result of the pound’s weakness since the Brexit vote. Sterling fell against most major currencies on Monday as markets anticipated that Prime Minister Theresa May would use a major speech on Tuesday to advocate a so-called “hard Brexit” in which the UK would leave the EU’s single market and customs union. The UK was entering a “period of somewhat higher consumer price inflation”, Mr Carney said. As a result, the next interest rate move could be either up or down, he said.

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By its own people. Brilliant! And people claim Le Pen doesn’t stand a chance.

France Is The Least-Trusted Country In The World (CNBC)

France has claimed the position of the country least trusted by its people, according to an influential survey by the world’s largest public relations firm. A thumping 72% of the French population agree that the institutional system is failing them, placing the country in joint last position alongside neighboring Italy, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer. Immigration, globalization and eroding social values are highlighted as underpinning the negative results, revealing a disheartening sentiment ahead of this spring’s French presidential election.

The research warns of the consequences playing out in both France and other countries where public disillusion is heightened. “Countries that combine a lack of faith in the system with deep societal fears, such as France, Italy, South Africa, the U.S. and Mexico, are electing or moving towards populist candidates,” reads the research. The disappointment also extends beyond the least enfranchised to the better-off elements of French society. While only a very weak 38% of the mass population trust institutions in France, a mere 56% of the category described as the ‘informed public’ still maintains its faith in the same institutions.

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Don’t worry, the big boys rescued their own: “Only the top 10% of revenue generators may get a bonus for 2016..”

Deutsche Bank Holding Back 90% Of Bonuses This Year (NYP)

Deutsche Bank, the former Wall Street powerhouse, may hold back on giving out bonuses to as many as 90% of bankers and traders, The Post has learned. Only the top 10% of revenue generators may get a bonus for 2016 — and even then it will be paid out over the next five years, according to a source briefed on internal discussions. The bonus plans are still in discussion, another source cautioned, and could still change in the coming weeks. Deutsche was hit hard last month when it settled a mortgage bond probe with the Justice Department for $7.2 billion — which was only about half of what the government initially wanted. While reports have suggested that the settlement could affect the bank’s ability to pay bonuses, it couldn’t be confirmed if the bank had used incentive compensation for the settlement. This wouldn’t be the first time that John Cryan, Deutsche’s CEO, has cut bonuses since taking over in 2014. Last year, the bank cut the bonus pool by 11% and delayed paying its employees until March.

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And just to make sure, they’ll print and borrow it. Can’t miss. AKA fake news.

China To Target Around 6.5% Growth In 2017 (R.)

China will lower its 2017 economic growth target to around 6.5% from last year’s 6.5-7%, policy sources said, reinforcing a policy shift from supporting growth to pushing reforms to contain debt and housing risks. The proposed target was endorsed by top leaders at the closed-door Central Economic Work Conference in mid-December, according to four sources with knowledge of the meeting outcome. “The target will be around 6.5%, which indicates that slightly slower growth is acceptable,” said one of the sources, a policy adviser. The world’s second-largest economy likely grew around 6.7% last year – roughly in the middle of the government’s target range – but it faces increasing uncertainties in 2017, the head of China’s state planning agency said on Jan. 10.

Policy stimulus measures – evident in record lending from mostly state-owned banks and increased government spending – have fueled worries among top leaders about high debt levels and an overheating housing market that could threaten financial stability if not addressed, the sources said. Under the central bank’s recently announced “prudent and neutral” stance, it is expected to guide market interest rates higher to help put the brakes on flush credit conditions, which should also support the weakening yuan CNY=CFXS, the sources said. “They’ve put more emphasis on controlling risks, and monetary policy could be a bit tighter,” said a second policy source, though he characterized the change as ‘fine-tuning’ ahead of a key party meeting in the autumn at which there will be a change in the top leadership. “They are keen to keep economic growth stable before the 19th party congress,” the source said.

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How to get 6.5% growth.

China’s Found a New Way to Pump Record Credit (BBG)

China is increasingly managing the flow of credit with more finely-tuned instruments than its old method of changing how much of their deposits lenders must keep locked away. Banks’ required reserve requirements haven’t changed for almost a year. Instead, the central bank has used short-term lending channels to add almost six times as much funding than would have been added by lowering banks’ RRRs by half a percentage point. With the new tool playing its part in stabilizing the economy – data Friday is estimated to show a 6.7% expansion for 2016 – the People’s Bank of China is switching its focus to risk management. Another advantage of targeted lending: it adds funds without signaling broad easing that adds to downward pressure on the yuan and fuels further capital flight.

The PBOC pumped in a net 270 billion yuan ($39 billion) through open-market operations on Tuesday, the most in a year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That followed last week’s 305.5 billion yuan of MLF operations, the main short-term lending tool used to meet banks’ medium-term cash demand. Analysts said the efforts can help stabilize liquidity before the week-long Chinese New Year holiday at the end of this month. The PBOC increased the total outstanding of its Medium-term Lending Facility last month to a record 3.46 trillion yuan. That compares with the 600 billion yuan that economists estimate was added to the banking system after the last required reserve ratio cut in February, when it was lowered by half a%age point. Bank deposits stood at 155 trillion yuan in December, greater than U.S. GDP.

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And now imagine a large devaluation of the yuan vs the dollar.

China’s Oil Collapse Is Unintentionally Helping OPEC (BBG)

OPEC’s campaign to prop up oil prices is getting unlikely support from its biggest customer. China’s production is forecast to fall by as much as 7% this year, extending a record decline in 2016, according to analysts at CLSA, Sanford C. Bernstein and Nomura. That’s about the same size as the output cut agreed by Iraq, the second-biggest producer in OPEC, which late last year reached a deal to trim supply to support prices. “China’s domestic crude output decline will certainly help OPEC’s plan to reduce global supply,” said Nelson Wang, a Hong Kong-based oil and gas analyst at CLSA, who sees a 7% slide this year. ”Even if that isn’t China’s intention, it’s just the reality that China can’t produce more under the current circumstances.” While China consumes more oil than almost any other country, it’s also one of the world’s biggest producers, with fields stretching from offshore its southern coast to the far north east.

The collapse in prices that began in 2014 is taking its toll, and the nation’s output suffered a record decline last year. That plays into the hands of OPEC as it seeks to prop up the global oil market, forcing China to depend more heavily on imports. Brent crude, benchmark for half of the world’s oil, averaged about $45 a barrel last year, more than 50% below levels in 2014, the year OPEC decided to tackle a global glut by keeping the taps open. The crash in prices triggered a rethink by the group, which banded together with 11 non-member countries late last year and agreed to a collective cut of almost 1.8 million barrels a day. Prices have since rallied above $58 a barrel. China’s output slumped in 2016 as state-owned firms shut wells at mature fields that had become too costly to operate after the crash. Crude production fell 6.9% in the first 11 months of 2016 to about 4 million barrels a day, the first decline since 2009 and the biggest in data going back to 1990.

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Very interesting discussion, but I would want to see a much stronger link to the pros and cons of centralization itself.

Size Matters – No Country Should Be Bigger Than This (Mises Inst.)

For Mises, individuals associate with each other voluntarily in order to take advantage of the division of labor. Writing in Human Action, Mises notes: “Every step by which an individual substitutes concerted action for isolated action results in an immediate and recognizable improvement in his conditions. The advantages derived from peaceful cooperation and division of labor are universal. They immediately benefit every generation, and not only Iater descendants. For what the individual must sacrifice for the sake of society he is amply compensated by greater advantages. His sacrifice is only apparent and temporary; he foregoes a smaller gain in order to reap a greater one later.” Mises continues: [H]uman action itself tends toward cooperation and association; man becomes a social being not in sacrificing his own concerns for the sake of a mythical Moloch, society, but in aiming at an improvement in his own welfare.”

In Mises’s view, these efforts to enhance trade and cooperation among human beings lead to the creation of cities and other population centers. Moreover, for Mises, the state — properly limited to the function of protecting private property — can potentially assist in creating conditions that facilitate the cooperative behavior he envisioned. Thus, it is the cost of acting as an administrator of law that leads Mises to conclude that certain “compelling technical considerations” are are likely to keep states above a certain minimum size. A problem arises, however, when we recognize that this vision of the state exists in tension with the fact that — as illustrated by Raico — the physical and geographical growth of states tends to facilitate the expansion of state power well beyond the role imagined by Mises.

When contained at a municipal or metropolitan level, state power is one thing. Relocation to a neighboring metropolitan area remains relatively easy. Once states begin to take control of sizable frontiers and multiple municipal areas, however, the situation becomes far different, and states begin to limit and regulate trade and free movement, rather than facilitate it. Thus, even if we accept Mises’s idea that there is some level at which economies of scale for state administration may be beneficial, those assumed benefits are increasingly threatened the larger a state becomes. The answer lies in limiting state size to a human scale in which human beings can still associate, travel, and trade across jurisdictional boundaries without incurring a great cost. The standard for “great cost” is subjective, of course, and over time has changed substantially.

The cost of traveling 50 miles in the 16th century, for example, is significantly different form the cost of traveling the same distance today. There are ongoing attempts by geographers, however, to determine the “natural” size of a region that encompasses a population’s economic, political, and social institutions. In a recent study, for example, Garret Dash Nelson and Alasdair Rae attempted to identify regions that “have been substantively tied together by the forces of urban development, telecommunications, the frictionless circulation of capital, and the consolidation of both public and private institutions.” Basing their standard of scale on tolerance for commute times, the geographers selected 50-mile commutes as an indicator of how closely tied together is a specific region. The end result was this:

The authors then create a suggested map of political units based on the scale of megaregions:

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Tsipras needs to grow a pair.

Greek Migration Ministry Running Out Of Options On Islands (Kath.)

The Migration Ministry appears to be at a dead end over how to manage the growing number of migrants trapped on the country’s eastern Aegean islands after an adverse court ruling on Chios and a clash with the mayor of Lesvos. On Chios, a magistrate on Monday upheld a complaint against the development of a holding facility for migrants exhibiting delinquent behavior, leaving the ministry with few options over how to separate troublemakers from the general population at the processing center in Souda, where violence has erupted on several occasions in the past few months.

On Lesvos, tensions rose during a meeting between Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas and Mayor Spyros Galinos on Sunday over the installation of portable toilets at the island’s harbor for migrants temporarily housed on a ship after their tents at Moria camp were snowed in last week, with the local official accusing Mouzalas of putting him on a collision course with the community. Mouzalas has sought – and largely failed – to muster support for building more camps on the islands to help ease the pressure on existing facilities that are struggling to accommodate tens of thousands of refugees and migrants, but is running into increasing opposition.

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We are beyond shame and humanity. Beyond God.

Second Man Dies On Freezing Migrant Route Near Turkey In Greece (AP)

Police in a region of Greece that borders Turkey say another person has died of hypothermia on a route used by migrant smugglers despite freezing temperatures. Authorities said the body of a man was discovered buried in snow outside a Greek village on Monday. They think he probably died over the weekend. The man was the second to succumb to the cold in less than two weeks. Another died of hypothermia in the same area on January 3. In a separate incident, a migrant man was being treated at a nearby hospital for symptoms of frostbite. Greek authorities have reported a recent surge in the number of people attempting to reach Europe while avoiding detention on the Greek islands by crossing a river that divides Turkey and Greece.

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Dec 072016
 
 December 7, 2016  Posted by at 3:19 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Arthur Gerlach Children point towards Christmas toys at The Fair Department Store, Chicago 1940

 

The world is facing the “first lost decade since the 1860s”, said Bank of England governor Mark Carney this week. Arguably good for soundbite of the day, but the buck stops there. The only way that buck could have kept rolling would have been for Carney to take a critical look at himself and his employer(s), but there was none of that.

The Canadian import governor has no doubts about anything he’s done, or if he does he shows none. Instead he puts the blame for all that’s gone awry, on some -minor- elements of what he think globalization means, not with the phenomenon itself, or his enduring support for, and belief in, it. The problem with that is it’s indeed belief only; he can’t prove an inch of what he says.

Globalization is an act of faith inside a politico-economic belief system, and all it needs according to Carney and many others in his ‘church’ is a little tweaking. That globalization itself could be the driving force behind Brexit, Trump and the defeat of Italian PM Renzi does not enter into the faith’s ‘thought’ system.

Neither does the possibility that globalization is what it is, in and of itself, a process that in the end cannot be tweaked. That globalization is simply yet another form of centralization that follows the same rules and laws all other forms do, where power and wealth always, of necessity, wind up in the hands of a few, through pretty basic centrifugal forces.

Carney Lays Out Vision to Revive Benefits of Globalization

Mark Carney launched a defense of globalization and set out a manifesto for central bankers and governments to boost growth and make the world economy more equal. The Bank of England Governor said they must acknowledge that gains from trade and technology haven’t been felt by all, improve the balance of monetary and fiscal policy, and move to a more inclusive model where “everyone has a stake in globalization.” Carney’s speech in Liverpool, England, comes amid rising disquiet about the state of the world economy and political status quo that helped propel Donald Trump to victory in the U.S. presidential election and boost support for the U.K.’s exit from the European Union.

Trump isn’t right to favor more protectionist policies in response to globalization , Carney said in a television interview broadcast after his speech. The answer is to “redistribute some of the benefits of trade” and ensure that workers are able to acquire new skills. “Weak income growth has focused growing attention on its distribution,” Carney said in the speech.

“Inequalities which might have been tolerated during generalized prosperity are felt more acutely when economies stagnate.” Describing the world as facing the “first lost decade since the 1860s,” the BOE governor said public support for open markets is under threat and rejecting them would be a “tragedy, but is a possibility.”

Carney also defended the central bank’s current policy stance. The BOE has faced criticism from politicians after officials took measures including cutting interest rates and expanding asset purchases in August to support the economy after Britain’s June vote to leave the EU. “Low rates are not the caprice of central bankers, but rather the consequence of powerful global forces, including debt, demographics and distribution,” he said, adding that they helped to prevent a deeper economic downturn.

People like Carney will insist that globalization spurs growth, right up to the moment where they’re either voted out or fired. And they’ll probably keep on insisting until their dying days. But why are we in that “first lost decade since the 1860s” then? Is that really only because ‘we’ failed to “redistribute some of the benefits of trade”, something that can allegedly be easily rectified by enabling workers to ‘acquire new skills’?

Where is the proof for that? And why have economies stagnated in the middle of the entire process of globalization? Is that solely because ‘some of’ the benefits were not distributed well enough? If that is so, and wealth distribution is the only problem with globalization, at what point do we redistribute ourselves into the realm of communism? Where’s the dividing line? It all feels mighty vague and unsatisfactory, and not a little goal-seeked.

 

Like a large part of the Brexit voters in Britain, millions of Italians have been on the losing side of globalism’s ‘benefits distribution’. And this weekend they found an outlet for their frustration about it. Like Brexiteers voted against Cameron and Osborne much more than they voted for anything in specific, and Trump won because Americans are fed up with the Obama/Clinton/GOP model, Italians voted against PM Renzi and his idea to take power away from parliament and give it to him.

Judging from poll numbers, they also seem to have gained confidence in Beppe Grillo’s, and the Five Star Movement’s, ability to do something real in politics. It has taken a while, and that makes sense because the movement doesn’t fit the model of politics as they’ve known it all their lives.

 


Wikipedia

 

Also, there are many Italians who have largely agreed with much of what Grillo has been saying all along, but were deterred by the way he delivered it. Ask an Italian and they’re likely to say “too angry, too rude” when it comes to Grillo. And it’s true, his style doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest. But then that’s also exactly his forte. Because there comes a point when everything that does fit in, becomes suspect.

The old guard, from Renzi to Berlusconi to the socialists, will double their efforts to keep Grillo out of the center of power now. President Mattarella is in on it: he asked Renzi to stay on as PM until after the budget has been pushed through, and is then likely to install another technocrat government, tasked with changing laws with the express intent of making it harder for Grillo to get into power.

And Renzi, of course, is on the same wavelength as Carney, and the entire EU -and global- cabal: globalize, reform, re-distribute ‘some benefits’, execute more austerity, rinse and repeat.

What’s particular about Italy in this sense is what it has been able to preserve, unlike most other nations. That is, Italy has a lot of small enterprises, often family owned, with highly skilled workers. That doesn’t fit today’s globalization model, since it’s deemed not competitive enough when you’re forced to fight for market share.

But if globalization, and the entire growth model, is over anyway, as I’ve often asserted, it’s a whole different story. If that is true, the country had better save what’s left of its business model, because it’s ideal for a post-centralized world. ‘Workers’ wouldn’t have to ‘acquire new skills, and leave old and proven skills to be forgotten and gather dust.

 

The world is changing rapidly and that will become even a lot more evident in 2017. The incumbent economic and political systems, as well as their proponents and cheerleaders, are on the way out. They have all failed miserably. What comes next will be profoundly chaotic for quite a while, and that will be perilous. There is not one single (belief) system to replace them, there will be many and they will often clash.

In some places, the political right will prevail, in others the left. In most, from the look of things, neither will, if only because at the end of the day both left and right are still part of incumbent systems. Europe has a number of elections coming up and in at least some of these, parties from outside the incumbent systems will come out on top.

Whether they can then go on to form governments is perhaps another story; the system will not give up easily. But it is done. Carney’s recipe of ‘some’ redistribution of wealth and acquiring new skills is widely shared in power circles, and that will be the system’s undoing. All it has to offer is more talk about more growth and more globalization, and while people protest only the latter, neither is on offer.

One of the tools the media use to discredit anything that comes from outside the system is to label it all ‘populist’. It’s a miracle it hasn’t become a honor label yet. In Europe, all new rightwing parties (a label in itself) get called populist, Le Pen, Wilders, Frauke Petry in Germany, the Lega Nord in Italy. But so does someone like Beppe Grillo, who politically has nothing in common with these people.

Moreover, many of their ideas are not to the right of existing parties at all. Despite some of his views, new French Republican candidate François Fillon is not called a populist, ostensibly because he’s from a large incumbent party, but so are Trump and Sanders in the US, and they do get called populist.

 

Empty labels, fake news and oceans of debt keep the systems -somewhat- going for now. But the genie’s long left the bottle. The ‘incumbents’ have failed their people for far too long, most of all economically. And they keep on claiming that everything will be alright, everyone will be better off if only we execute more globalization, and give them all a few pennies more.

It really is too silly to be true that that is what existing systems and their servants are still trying to make everyone believe. While it is so obvious that so many have long stopped believing. You would think they’d change their messages to reflect that change in society. But they don’t know how. And it’s that very inability that feeds those pesky ‘populists’.

The same François Fillon could be a contender in France against anti-EU Le Pen because he’s expressed doubts on Brussels. Dutch PM Rutte has cautiously critiqued the union too. But those shifts in words if not real opinions come far too late. Britain has said No and there’s zero chance that more nations will not do the same. Just give them the option, give them a vote.

The only way to keep Europe from descending into chaos is to abandon the EU, lock the doors and throw away the keys. The same is true on a global scale, with all the globalist trade agreements that most people have long lost faith in. We will either see a peaceful transition to a system not based on centralization, or we will not see peace, period.

And to think economic meltdown hasn’t even truly started yet, has been kept hidden behind a wall of debt, and so many people are already so fed up with the whole shebang.

Oct 302016
 
 October 30, 2016  Posted by at 11:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing The White House kitchen, Washington DC 1909

Democrats Should Ask Clinton To Step Aside (Kass)
FBI Still Does Not Have Warrant To Review New Abedin Emails (Yahoo)
DOJ Officials Warned FBI’s Comey About Sending Letter on Clinton Emails (WSJ)
Huma Abedin ‘Doesn’t Know How Emails Wound Up On Husband’s Computer’ (WaPo)
Clinton Hid Email Scandal From Her Own Staff (WE)
The First 100 Days Of A Trump White House: Sea Change (AFP)
Finland’s Millionaire Premier Freezes Pay in Bid to Save Economy (BBG)
Iceland Pirate Alliance Falls Short Of Majority (G.)
Mark Carney Could Quit His Bank of England Role Within Days (DM)
Turkey Fires Another 10,000 Civil Servants In Post-Coup Purge (AFP)
Erdogan Says Turkey Soon Will Bring Back Death Penalty (AP)
UK Taxpayers Will Pick Up Costs Of Hinkley Nuclear Waste Storage (G.)
The Broken Promise of Genetically Modified Crops (NY Times)

 

 

Make that ALL Clintons.

Democrats Should Ask Clinton To Step Aside (Kass)

Has America become so numb by the decades of lies and cynicism oozing from Clinton Inc. that it could elect Hillary Clinton as president, even after Friday’s FBI announcement that it had reopened an investigation of her emails while secretary of state? We’ll find out soon enough. It’s obvious the American political system is breaking down. It’s been crumbling for some time now, and the establishment elite know it and they’re properly frightened. Donald Trump, the vulgarian at their gates, is a symptom, not a cause. Hillary Clinton and husband Bill are both cause and effect. FBI director James Comey’s announcement about the renewed Clinton email investigation is the bombshell in the presidential campaign. That he announced this so close to Election Day should tell every thinking person that what the FBI is looking at is extremely serious.

This can’t be about pervert Anthony Weiner and his reported desire for a teenage girl. But it can be about the laptop of Weiner’s wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin, and emails between her and Hillary. It comes after the FBI investigation in which Comey concluded Clinton had lied and been “reckless” with national secrets, but said he could not recommend prosecution. So what should the Democrats do now? If ruling Democrats hold themselves to the high moral standards they impose on the people they govern, they would follow a simple process: They would demand that Mrs. Clinton step down, immediately, and let her vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, stand in her place.

Democrats should say, honestly, that with a new criminal investigation going on into events around her home-brew email server from the time she was secretary of state, having Clinton anywhere near the White House is just not a good idea. Since Oct. 7, WikiLeaks has released 35,000 emails hacked from Clinton campaign boss John Podesta. Now WikiLeaks, no longer a neutral player but an active anti-Clinton agency, plans to release another 15,000 emails. What if she is elected? Think of a nation suffering a bad economy and continuing chaos in the Middle East, and now also facing a criminal investigation of a president. Add to that congressional investigations and a public vision of Clinton as a Nixonian figure wandering the halls, wringing her hands.

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I read about this before but couldn’t get it verified when writing my article yesterday. But it’s apparently true: the DOJ may deny the FBI a warrant to look into the emails. They should try. Meanwhile, I wrote the article this morning: James Comey, American Hero.

FBI Still Does Not Have Warrant To Review New Abedin Emails (Yahoo)

When FBI Director James Comey wrote his bombshell letter to Congress on Friday about newly discovered emails that were potentially “pertinent” to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, agents had not been able to review any of the material, because the bureau had not yet gotten a search warrant to read them, three government officials who have been briefed on the probe told Yahoo News. At the time Comey wrote the letter, “he had no idea what was in the content of the emails,” one of the officials said, referring to recently discovered emails that were found on the laptop of disgraced ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Weiner is under investigation for allegedly sending illicit text messages to a 15-year-old girl.

As of Saturday night, the FBI was still in talks with the Justice Department about obtaining a warrant that would allow agency officials to read any of the newly discovered Abedin emails, and therefore was still in the dark about whether they include any classified material that the bureau has not already seen. “We do not have a warrant,” a senior law enforcement official said. “Discussions are under way [between the FBI and the Justice Department] as to the best way to move forward.” That Comey and other senior FBI officials were not aware of what was in the emails – and whether they contained any material the FBI had not already obtained – is important because Donald Trump’s campaign and Republicans in Congress have suggested that the FBI director would not have written his letter unless he had been made aware of significant new emails that might justify reopening the investigation into the Clinton server.

But a message that Comey wrote to all FBI agents Friday seeking to explain his decision to write the controversial letter strongly hinted that investigators did not not yet have legal authority establishing “probable cause” to review the content of Abedin’s emails on Weiner’s electronic devices.

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“FBI officials were also concerned that if they didn’t act, the information might leak out anyway, in a less controlled manner”. Again, see James Comey, American Hero.

DOJ Officials Warned FBI’s Comey About Sending Letter on Clinton Emails (WSJ)

Justice Department officials warned FBI Director James Comey that his letter to Congress about newly discovered emails potentially related to an investigation of Hillary Clinton would contradict the department’s long-established election policy, according to people familiar with the discussions. Mr. Comey acted “independently” when he decided to send the letter, the people said. The FBI is reviewing newly obtained emails linked to its previously closed investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information as secretary of state. Friday’s announcement came just days before voters to go to the polls to choose a new president.

Before the letter was sent, the FBI told senior Justice Department officials what Mr. Comey planned to do, and those officials warned that doing so would contradict the department’s rules against taking steps that could influence—or be seen as trying to influence—an election, these people said. Mr. Comey, however, decided it was better to share the information rather than face possibly greater criticism for keeping quiet until after the election, according to the people familiar with the discussions. FBI officials were also concerned that if they didn’t act, the information might leak out anyway, in a less controlled manner, these people said.

[..] The emails in question were found during the search of a device in the FBI probe of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, who is being investigated for allegedly sending sexually explicit messages to a minor. Many of the emails were discovered on a laptop used by both Ms. Abedin and Mr. Weiner, according to people familiar with the matter. In searching the laptop, investigators found thousands of emails, and they determined earlier this week that some of the emails involved Ms. Abedin discussing work issues. Authorities haven’t yet determined how many emails involved such work discussions or if any of those included classified information, these people said. They also haven’t determined if the work emails in question are copies of messages already reviewed by the FBI.

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Should be start to feel pity for here? Abused both at work and at home?

Huma Abedin ‘Doesn’t Know How Emails Wound Up On Husband’s Computer’ (WaPo)

Top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin has told people she is unsure how her emails could have ended up on a device she viewed as her husband’s computer, the seizure of which has reignited the Clinton email investigation, according to a person familiar with the investigation and civil litigation over the matter. The person, who would not discuss the case unless granted anonymity, said Abedin was not a regular user of the computer, and even when she agreed to turn over emails to the State Department for federal records purposes, her lawyers did not search it for materials, not believing any of her messages to be there.

That could be a significant oversight if Abedin’s work messages were indeed on the computer of her estranged husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner, who is under investigation for allegedly exchanging lewd messages with a 15-year-old girl. So far, it is unclear what — if any — new, work-related messages were found by authorities. The person said the FBI had not contacted Abedin about its latest discovery, and she was unsure what the bureau had discovered. According to federal law enforcement officials, investigators found thousands of messages on Weiner’s computer that they believe to be potentially relevant to the separate, Clinton email investigation. How they are relevant — or if they are significant in any respect — remains unknown.

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If/when the entire story gets out, we’re not going to believe it. Or rather, that his person ran for/became president.

Clinton Hid Email Scandal From Her Own Staff (WE)

Hillary Clinton’s closest aides hid the private email scandal from her campaign team in the months before the official launch of her presidential campaign, emails made public by WikiLeaks show. Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair, and Neera Tanden, co-chair of Clinton’s transition team, each expressed shock at the revelations about her private server as they emerged in early March 2015. Although Clinton’s team had performed research on her in 2014 as staff prepared for her campaign, Clinton’s inner circle apparently steered Mook and others away from the issue until it was too late. When Podesta asked Mook if he had “any idea of the depth of this story,” Mook answered simply, “Nope.”

“We brought up the existence of emails in reserach [sic] this summer but were told that everything was taken care of,” Mook added in his email reply. Although how Mook approached the emails with researchers in 2014 is not entirely clear, the exchange provides more evidence that Clinton’s team set up her server with the intent to conceal emails from the Freedom of Information Act given their expectation that she would run again for president. In an email to Podesta in July 2015, Tanden hinted that the results of an upcoming CNN poll would likely show Sen. Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s primary opponent, ahead among Democratic voters. “Do we actually know who told Hillary she could use a private email? And has that person been drawn and quartered?” Tanden joked. “Like whole thing is f***g insane.”

Podesta said their party would have to be “suicidal” to consider nominating Sanders over Clinton. A number of the emails obtained illegally form Podesta’s inbox and published in 20 batches by WikiLeaks have exposed the Clinton campaign’s struggle to confront the controversy over Clinton’s private server. A few days after stories about Clinton’s personal email use broke for the first time, Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton aide, admitted “there is just no good answer” to questions about her server. Later, Tanden pressed Podesta on why Clinton’s team did not disclose their private emails months earlier in order to avoid such a massive distraction around the time of her campaign kickoff. “[I] guess I know the answer,” Tanden said. “[T]hey wanted to get away with it.”

Read more …

And now for something completely different.

The First 100 Days Of A Trump White House: Sea Change (AFP)

Donald Trump believes he will score a “tremendous” victory on November 8. If he does, the Republican presidential candidate has indicated he will bring vast change in America during his first 100 days in office. At a recent campaign rally in North Carolina, he promised “a very busy first day,” adding: “The change will begin my first day in office.” The 70-year-old Manhattan real estate mogul, who insists the country suffers from a “rigged” political system, has pledged to “make America great again” with two key ideas: jumpstarting the economy and bolstering national security. He is certainly not without ideas. Trump offered a list of them on October 22 in his own “Gettysburg address” at the same place where Abraham Lincoln tried to unite a divided nation during the Civil War in 1863.

From the first day, Trump has pledged in his “revolutionary Contract with the American Voter” to renegotiate NAFTA and withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He plans to lift restrictions on producing fossil fuels, relaunch the Keystone XL oil pipeline project put on hold by President Barack Obama, and cancel billions of dollars in payments to UN climate change programs. The billionaire will work to “begin removing the more than two million criminal illegal immigrants from the country and cancel visas to foreign countries that won’t take them back.” He would “suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur” and carry out “extreme vetting” of those seeking to enter the country. “Our campaign represents the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime,” he said.

Trump has also vowed to “drain the swamp” of what he sees as systemic corruption in Washington – impose term limits on members of Congress, freeze federal hiring and ban lawmakers and White House staff from becoming lobbyists for five years. He also has promised to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action” undertaken by Obama. Despite his tense ties with the Republican Party, which for now controls both houses of Congress, Trump says he will work with lawmakers to introduce and pass legislation that would see at least 25 million jobs created in a decade.

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The dark days are coming to the north.

Finland’s Millionaire Premier Freezes Pay in Bid to Save Economy (BBG)

The Nordic region’s only euro member is still struggling with austerity. After being stripped of its top AAA credit grade at all three major ratings companies, the government is asking Finns to tighten their belts to keep up with the Germans and the Swedes, who are more productive exporters. Failure to do so will jeopardize Finland’s path away from economic limbo and growing indebtedness, the government warns. Prime Minister Juha Sipila, a self-made millionaire who won elections last year on pledges to reinvigorate Finland’s ailing post-Nokia economy, says exports are the key to economic success. But that requires Finns to produce more without getting more pay if the nation is to close a competitiveness gap as wide as 15 percent relative to its main trading partners.

“We’re behind our main competitor countries,” Sipila said in an interview in Helsinki on Wednesday. “Our problem is that exports are lagging and that growth relies on domestic demand.” But if the economy is to recover, “exports should become the growth motor again.” Finland has been trapped in a low-growth cycle since exiting a series of economic contractions in 2015. Its once dominant paper industry has succumbed to the advent of digital media. The poster child of its consumer technology boom, Nokia Oyj, sold its handset unit off to Microsoft in 2013 after failing to see the potential of smart phones. And the economic crisis in Russia, with whom Finland shares the EU’s longest border, has battered trade.

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Maybe not that bad if they get some more time to learn the ropes.

Iceland Pirate Alliance Falls Short Of Majority (G.)

With about 80% of votes counted, the Pirates, founded four years ago by a group of activists, anarchists and former hackers, and their three left-of-centre partners held 27 seats – five short of a majority in the country’s 63-seat parliament. The Independence party won nearly 30% of the vote, significantly more than pre-election polling had predicted, and with its coalition partner of the past three years, the Progressive party, looks set to end up with 29 seats. “I cannot deny that if the results stay this way … it would be natural that we are a leading party in the next government,” said the leader of the Independence party, Bjarni Benediktsson, one of the its 21 MPs. In a campaign dominated by widespread public discontent with the country’s traditional elites and desire for political reform, the Independence party pledged to lower taxes and keep Iceland’s economic recovery on track.

The preliminary results mean the seven MPs from the newly established, liberal Regeneration party, which split from the Independence party over the issue of Europe earlier this year, could be kingmakers – making coalition negotiations more tricky than usual. Riding a wave of public anger at what many see as endemic political corruption in the wake of the 2008 financial crash and the Panama Papers scandal in April, the Pirates had been predicted to score as high as 20% and possibly even become Iceland’s largest party. But the party’s co-founder, Birgitta Jónsdóttir, an activist, poet and former WikiLeaks collaborator, said it was satisfied with the result, which saw it finish second equal on more than 14% of the vote and with 10 MPs – more than three times as many as in the previous 2013 elections.

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Britain is ruled by vile allegations wherever you look. ‘He never seems to want to recognize the result of the referendum and get on with it. It looks like he is a sore loser.’

Mark Carney Could Quit His Bank of England Role Within Days (DM)

Mark Carney’s days as Governor of the Bank of England appear to be numbered amid rumours he could resign within days. The Canadian – who has been a controversial figure since the Brexit vote as many of his ‘Project Fear’ predictions are yet to materialise – could elect to return to his homeland next year due to family reasons. A decision will be made before the end of the year and could be announced at the Bank’s quarterly inflation report next Thursday. Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Treasury Select Committee member and one of Dr Carney’s most outspoken critics, has been touted as a potential replacement, according to Bloomberg.

Mr Rees-Mogg said earlier this month: ‘On every occasion he wants to talk down the economy and find doom and gloom, which doesn’t seem to me to be the job of the governor of the Bank of England. ‘He never seems to want to recognize the result of the referendum and get on with it. It looks like he is a sore loser.’ Just days ago, Dr Carney delivered a stark warning in the House of Lords that interfering with the independence of the Bank of England could send sterling into a fresh tailspin. In an apparent dig at Theresa May, the governor said markets had ‘taken note’ when politicians criticised monetary policy in the past.

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I lost count, I must admit. How they keep the country going, no idea.

Turkey Fires Another 10,000 Civil Servants In Post-Coup Purge (AFP)

Turkish authorities have fired over 10,000 additional civil servants as the government presses a crackdown over the failed July coup, the official gazette said. A total of 10,131 government employees were removed, mainly from the education, justice and health ministries, according to announcements published late Saturday. The government also announced the closure of 15 pro-Kurdish and other media outlets. University rector elections have also been suspended, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set to pick the winners from a pool of candidates selected by the nation’s education authority. The moves came three months after the government declared a state of emergency following a failed bid by a rogue faction of the army to oust Erdogan. More than 35,000 people have been arrested since then, and many dozens of teachers, police officers and judges have either been suspended or fired.

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Blood and circus.

Erdogan Says Turkey Soon Will Bring Back Death Penalty (AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says the government will soon submit a bill to Parliament to reinstate the death penalty amid calls for the execution of the plotters of a failed coup in July. Addressing crowds in Ankara on Saturday, Erdogan said he would ratify such a bill once it passed despite any objections it might spark in the West. Erdogan made the comments in response to public chants calling for the death penalty, which Turkey abolished in 2004 as part of its bid to join the European Union. Erdogan said: “Soon, our government will bring (the bill) to Parliament…It’s what the people say that matters, not what the West thinks.”

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Excuse me, but does this surprise anyone? It’s what’s going to happen everywhere, no matter what any ‘leader’ says.

UK Taxpayers Will Pick Up Costs Of Hinkley Nuclear Waste Storage (G.)

Taxpayers will pick up the bill should the cost of storing radioactive waste produced by Britain’s newest nuclear power station soar, according to confidential documents which the government has battled to keep secret for more than a year. The papers confirm the steps the government took to reassure French energy firm EDF and Chinese investors behind the £24bn Hinkley Point C plant that the amount they would have to pay for the storage would be capped. The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – in its previous incarnation as the Department for Energy and Climate Change – resisted repeated requests under the Freedom of Information Act for the release of the documents which were submitted to the European commission.

“The government has attempted to keep the costs to the taxpayer of Hinkley under wraps from the start,” said Dr Doug Parr, Greenpeace chief scientist. “It’s hardly surprising as it doesn’t look good for the government’s claim that they are trying to keep costs down for hardworking families.” But, earlier this month, on the very last day before government officials had to submit their defence against an appeal for disclosure of the information, the department released a “Nuclear Waste Transfer Pricing Methodology Notification Paper”. Marked “commercial in confidence”, it states that “unlimited exposure to risks relating to the costs of disposing of their waste in a GDF [geological disposal facility], could not be accepted by the operator as they would prevent the operator from securing the finance necessary to undertake the project”.

Instead the document explains that there will be a “cap on the liability of the operator of the nuclear power station which would apply in a worst-case scenario”. It adds: “The UK government accepts that, in setting a cap, the residual risk, of the very worst-case scenarios where actual cost might exceed the cap, is being borne by the government.”

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OK, now kick ’em out. It’s taken far too long already.

The Broken Promise of Genetically Modified Crops (NY Times)

The controversy over genetically modified crops has long focused on largely unsubstantiated fears that they are unsafe to eat. But an extensive examination by The New York Times indicates that the debate has missed a more basic problem — genetic modification in the United States and Canada has not accelerated increases in crop yields or led to an overall reduction in the use of chemical pesticides. The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise. An analysis by The Times using United Nations data showed that the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany. Also, a recent National Academy of Sciences report found that “there was little evidence” that the introduction of genetically modified crops in the United States had led to yield gains beyond those seen in conventional crops.

At the same time, herbicide use has increased in the United States, even as major crops like corn, soybeans and cotton have been converted to modified varieties. And the United States has fallen behind Europe’s biggest producer, France, in reducing the overall use of pesticides, which includes both herbicides and insecticides. One measure, contained in data from the United States Geological Survey, shows the stark difference in the use of pesticides. Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21%. By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater %age – 65% – and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36%.

The potential harm from pesticides, however, has drawn researchers’ attention. Pesticides are toxic by design – weaponized versions, like sarin, were developed in Nazi Germany – and have been linked to developmental delays and cancer. “These chemicals are largely unknown,” said David Bellinger, a professor at the Harvard University School of Public Health, whose research has attributed the loss of nearly 17 million I.Q. points among American children 5 years old and under to one class of insecticides. “We do natural experiments on a population,” he said, referring to exposure to chemicals in agriculture, “and wait until it shows up as bad.” The industry is winning on both ends – because the same companies make and sell both the genetically modified plants and the poisons. Driven by these sales, the combined market capitalizations of Monsanto, the largest seed company, and Syngenta, the Swiss pesticide giant, have grown more than sixfold in the last decade and a half.

Read more …

Aug 102016
 
 August 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 10 2016


Lewis Wickes Hine Workshop of Sanitary Ice Cream Cone Co., OK City 1917

Bank Of England Suffers Stunning Failure On Second Day Of QE (ZH)
Bank of England QE and the Imaginary “Brexit Shock” (AM)
Negative-Yield Debt Is Doing The Opposite Of What It Was Supposed To Do (CNBC)
The Private Pain of China’s Economy (WSJ)
Oil Companies Face $110 Billion Debt Wall Over Next 5 Years (BBG)
The Problem With Europe Is The Euro (Stiglitz)
The EU Enters Its Endgame (Dowd)
Marc Faber: Tesla Shares Are Going To $0 (CNBC)
The US Public Pensions Ponzi (ZH)
Housing ‘Shell Shock’ Faces Danes Who Think Market Can Only Rise (BBG)
Call Blockchain Developers What They Are: Fiduciaries (Walch)
Construction Of Giant Dam In Canada Prompts Human Rights Outcry (G.)

 

 

Did Carney really not see this coming? That would be stunning indeed. Not hard at all to find out.

Bank Of England Suffers Stunning Failure On Second Day Of QE (ZH)

It started off well enough. On the first day of the Bank of England’s resumption of Gilt QE after the central bank had put its monetization of bonds on hiatus in 2012, bondholders were perfectly happy to offload to Mark Carney bonds that matured in 3 to 7 years. In fact, in the first “POMO” in four years, there were 3.63 offers for every bid of the £1.17 billion in bonds the BOE wanted to buy. However, earlier today, when the BOE tried to purchase another £1.17 billion in bonds, this time with a maturity monger than 15 years, something stunning happened: it suffered an unexpected failure which has rarely if ever happened in central bank history: only £1.118 billion worth of sellers showed up, meaning that the BOE’s second open market operation was uncovered by a ratio of 0.96.

Simply stated, the Bank of England encountered an offerless market. What makes this particular failure especially notable – and troubling – is that while technically uncovered sales of government securities happen frequently, and Germany is quite prominent in that regard as numerous Bund auctions have failed to find enough demand in the open market in recent years forcing the “retention” of the offered surplus, when it comes to a central bank’s buying of securities, there should be, at least in practice, full coverage of the operation as the central bank is willing and able to pay any price to sellers to satisfy its quota. For example, in today’s operation, the scarcity led to the BOE accepting all submissions, even as some investors offered prices above the prevailing market.

The highest accepted price for the 4% bond due in 2060, for example, was 194.00, compared with a weighted average of 192.152, which means that the happy seller obtained a yield well in excess of that implied by the market. And yet, despite having a completely price indiscriminate buyer, some £52 million worth of bond sellers simply refused to sell to the BOE at any price! The QE failure quickly raised alarm signals among the bond buying community. In a Bloomberg TV interview, Luke Hickmore at Aberdeen Asset Management said that “lots of people are bidding us for bonds – Mark Carney is now bidding me for bonds and he still can’t have them. The problem is he was trying to buy 15-year plus bonds today in the gilt market. That’s a really difficult area.”

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“One might as well try to improve one’s health by playing a few rounds of Russian roulette every morning before breakfast.”

Bank of England QE and the Imaginary “Brexit Shock” (AM)

For reasons we cannot even begin to fathom, Mark Carney is considered a “superstar” among central bankers. Presumably this was one of the reasons why the British government helped him to execute a well-timed exit from the Bank of Canada by hiring him to head the Bank of England (well-timed because he disappeared from Canada with its bubble economy seemingly still intact, leaving his successor to take the blame). The adulation he receives is really a major head-scratcher. What has he ever done aside from operating the “Ctrl. Prnt.” buttons? As far as we are aware, nothing. As we have discussed previously, his main legacy is that he has left Canada with one of the greatest and scariest real estate and consumer credit bubbles extant in the world today. Some accomplishment!

With respect to his economic analysis, it seems not the least bit different from the neo-Keynesian/ semi-monetarist mumbo jumbo we get to hear from central bankers everywhere. This is by the way no surprise: they’re an incestuous bunch and have largely received their education at the same institutions. Most of them seem genuinely convinced that central planning not only works, but is necessary to improve on the alleged drawbacks of an “unfettered market” (i.e., the mythical unhampered free market economy no-one alive today has ever experienced). If one looks closely at what they are actually doing, it soon becomes clear that it is in principle not much different from what John Law did in France in the early 18th century (the difference is one of degree only).

The much-dreaded “Brexit” has now given Mr. Carney the opportunity to do what he does best, namely open the monetary spigots wide. One might as well try to improve one’s health by playing a few rounds of Russian roulette every morning before breakfast.

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NIRP scares the sh*t out of people. And rightly so.

Negative-Yield Debt Is Doing The Opposite Of What It Was Supposed To Do (CNBC)

Paying someone to borrow your money sounds like a questionable idea on paper, and seems not to be working out so well in practice. Yet that’s exactly what people who buy negative-yielding bonds do: Instead of collecting payments in the form of yields, investors have to pay someone to take their cash. Investors ostensibly hope they can sell the debt elsewhere and make a profit, as prices go up when yields fall. It’s a strange arrangement that nonetheless has become policy in Japan and parts of Europe. The goal that sovereign debt issuers and central banks hope to achieve is a world where money is pushed toward risk and all that no-yielding debt causes inflation that leads to growth.

However, as the arrangement spreads around the world to the point where more than $11 trillion of global debt holds negative yields, questions are growing quickly about its efficacy. “It’s the definition of insanity: Keep doing the same thing over and again and expect a different result. That’s my assessment of central banks in a nutshell,” said Kim Rupert, managing director of global fixed income analysis at Action Economics. “I never thought I’d say that. I had a lot of respect for central bankers. But they’re getting way overindulgent with very little success as far as I can tell.”

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“..urged local officials to “chant bright songs about the China economy loudly” to boost confidence..”

The Private Pain of China’s Economy (WSJ)

Private investment is withering in China. Companies are shying away from risking their capital, discouraged by a cloudy global outlook and four years of slowing Chinese growth, intermittent deflation and conflicting policy messages. The development risks setting back Beijing’s aim to shift the economy from low-end manufacturing to the kind of high-tech industries and services that dynamic private companies tend to provide. Private investment on capital goods like factories and trucks grew by just 2.8% in the year’s first half following nearly 30% annual average growth over the past decade. In June, it fell for the first time since China started tracking the data in 2004. The July figure, to be released Aug. 12, is expected to show further weakness.

In a bid to reverse the trend, Beijing has stepped up efforts to slash red tape and reduce barriers for entrepreneurs and urged local officials to “chant bright songs about the China economy loudly” to boost confidence, according to one circular. Beijing also has tried to flood the economy with credit to compensate for the decline in private investment. It boosted total social financing, a broad measure of credit that includes both bank loans and nonbank lending, to a first-quarter record. But state banks, China’s main lenders, aren’t always cooperating. In the second quarter, state banks charged private companies interest rates that were 6 percentage points higher than for their public-sector counterparts, according to investment bank CICC. Officials at two state banks said they are careful when lending to smaller private borrowers given concerns over risk and lack of sufficient collateral.

Private companies also report more difficulty in raising informal loans from nonbank lenders, friends and relatives as bad loans increase and lenders grow more cautious. China’s leaders also have pressured state-owned firms to invest more. They responded with a 23% first-half jump in investment that helped prop up economic growth. But the strategy sidelines private companies that account for three-fifths of China’s economy and four-fifths of its workforce. “The government plans a lot of large-scale investments but rarely thinks about private investors getting squeezed out,” said Jon Chan Kung, founder of research group Beijing Anbound Information Co. “Companies are facing a lot of confusion and questions about China’s future.”

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It’s all about hoping prices will rise. If they don’t, and soon, these guys are toast.

Oil Companies Face $110 Billion Debt Wall Over Next 5 Years (BBG)

The worst may be yet to come for some strained oil services companies as $110 billion in debt, most of it junk rated, creeps closer to maturity. More than $21 billion of debt from oilfield services and drilling companies is estimated to be maturing in 2018, almost three times the total burden in 2017, according to a report from Moody’s Investors Service on Aug. 9. More than 70% of those high-yield bonds and term loans are rated Caa1 or lower, and more than 90% are rated below B1. Speculative-grade debt is becoming increasingly risky, as the default rate is expected to reach 5.1% in November, according to a separate Moody’s report.

The 12-month global default rate rose to 4.7% in July, up from its long-term average of 4.2%, Moody’s wrote. Of the 102 defaults this year, 49 have come from the oil and gas sector, Moody’s noted. “While some companies will be able to delay refinancing until business conditions improve, for the lowest-rated entities, onerous interest payments and required capital expenditure will consume cash balances and challenge their ability to wait it out,” Morris Borenstein, an assistant vice president at Moody’s, said in the report.

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The problem is the silly assumptions it was built on.

The Problem With Europe Is The Euro (Stiglitz)

Advocates of the euro rightly argue that it was not just an economic project that sought to improve standards of living by increasing the efficiency of resource allocations, pursuing the principles of comparative advantage, enhancing competition, taking advantage of economies of scale and strengthening economic stability. More importantly, it was a political project; it was supposed to enhance the political integration of Europe, bringing the people and countries closer together and ensuring peaceful coexistence. The euro has failed to achieve either of its two principal goals of prosperity and political integration: these goals are now more distant than they were before the creation of the eurozone. Instead of peace and harmony, European countries now view each other with distrust and anger.

Old stereotypes are being revived as northern Europe decries the south as lazy and unreliable, and memories of Germany’s behaviour in the world wars are invoked. The eurozone was flawed at birth. The structure of the eurozone – the rules, regulations and institutions that govern it – is to blame for the poor performance of the region, including its multiple crises. The diversity of Europe had been its strength. But for a single currency to work over a region with enormous economic and political diversity is not easy. A single currency entails a fixed exchange rate among the countries, and a single interest rate. Even if these are set to reflect the circumstances in the majority of member countries, given the economic diversity, there needs to be an array of institutions that can help those nations for which the policies are not well suited.

Europe failed to create these institutions. Worse still, the structure of the eurozone built in certain ideas about what was required for economic success – for instance, that the central bank should focus on inflation, as opposed to the mandate of the Federal Reserve in the US, which incorporates unemployment, growth and stability. It was not simply that the eurozone was not structured to accommodate Europe’s economic diversity; it was that the structure of the eurozone, its rules and regulations, were not designed to promote growth, employment and stability. Why would well-intentioned statesmen and women, attempting to forge a stronger, more united Europe, create something that has had the opposite effect? The founders of the euro were guided by a set of ideas and notions about how economies function that were fashionable at the time, but that were simply wrong.

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Strong by Kevin Dowd: “..what is the point of her insisting that the UK maintain completely open borders with the EU when nearly a dozen continental EU members no longer do so?”

The EU Enters Its Endgame (Dowd)

The list of countries with strong sentiment for their own Exit votes is a long one: according to a recent opinion poll, over half of the French and Italian electorates want their own exit referenda, and around 40% of the Swedish, Belgian, German, Hungarian, Polish and Spanish electorates want them. There is also strong support in Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden. Other opinion polls suggest even stronger support, but by my count, there is strong support for exit referenda in at least 16 of the 28 member countries of the EU—and then there is Greece, which has its own bone or two to pick with the EU.

Further afield, there were calls for secessionist votes in the United States and the Canadian Prime Minister was soon fending off calls for a Quexit vote. The cat is well and truly out of Pandora’s bag. The issues now are not whether there will be a similar referendum in another country but rather which country will be next and then how many will follow after that. Brexit was merely the first domino. The EU will not survive the process—and by that I do not mean that it will not survive in its current form, which is obvious—I mean that it will not survive at all. The EU “project”—the attempt to establish a federalist European superstate against the wishes of many of its subjects—has failed and the EU itself is unraveling. The only question now is how unpleasant the endgame will be.

[..] A week or so ago, I saw the German Chancellor on the news again repeat her mantra that the UK will only have access to the Single Market if it complies with her demand that it maintain free movement of peoples across what is still now the EU. I found myself scratching my head. Memo to Planet Merkel: does she not see that free movement no longer exists? Schengen has largely broken down: border controls within the EU are already a reality and the Nordics are preparing or already have plans to impose further controls to prevent their welfare states being overwhelmed by migrants. So would someone please explain to me: what is the point of her insisting that the UK maintain completely open borders with the EU when nearly a dozen continental EU members no longer do so?

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“Anybody in the world can make it eventually, at much lower cost and probably much more efficiently..”

Marc Faber: Tesla Shares Are Going To $0 (CNBC)

Marc Faber, editor of the Gloom, Boom & Doom Report, is well-known his perennially bearish take on the overall market. But there are also some specific stocks of which the investor known as “Dr. Doom” takes a particularly dim view – and right now, prime among those is Tesla. “What they produce can be produced by Mercedes, BMW, Toyota, Nissan. Anybody in the world can make it eventually, at much lower cost and probably much more efficiently,” Faber said Monday on CNBC’s “Trading Nation.”

“The market for Toyota and these large automobile companies is simply not big enough, but the moment it becomes bigger, they’ll move into the field and then Tesla will have a lot of competition.” Faber sees this increased competition causing more than a small dent in the company’s business and stock performance. “I think Tesla is a company that is likely to go to zero eventually,” Faber said.

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“Others have suggested that returns should be closer to risk-free rates which would imply an even more draconian $8.4 trillion underfunding.”

The US Public Pensions Ponzi (ZH)

Defined Benefit Pension Plans are, in many cases, a ponzi scheme. Current assets are used to pay current claims in full in spite of insufficient funding to pay future liabilities… classic Ponzi. But unlike wall street and corporate ponzi schemes no one goes to jail here because the establishment is complicit. Everyone from government officials to union bosses are incentivized to maintain the status quo…public employees get to sleep better at night thinking they have a “retirement plan,” public legislators get to be re-elected by union membership while pretending their states are solvent and union bosses get to keep their jobs while hiding the truth from employees.

We even published a note several days ago entitled “Establishment Tries To Suppress “Dissident Actuaries” Explosive Report On Public Pensions,” which pointed out that the American Academy of Actuaries and the Society of Actuaries killed a report that would have warned about the implications of lowering long-term expected returns on pension assets. Apparently the truth was just too scary. Bill Gross has been warning of the unintended consequences of low interest rates for years, and reiterated his concerns to Bloomberg recently: “Fund managers that have been counting on returns of 7% to 8% may need to adjust that to around 4%, Gross, who runs the $1.5 billion Janus Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, said. Public pensions, including the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the largest in the U.S., are reporting gains of less than 1% for the fiscal year ended June 30.”

To our great surprise, certain pension funds are finally taking notice. Richard Ingram of Illinois’s largest pension fund recently announced that he would be taking another look at long-term return expectations noting that “anybody that doesn’t consider revisiting what their assumed rate of return is would be ignoring reality.” Ingram’s Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System is only 41.5% funded and currently assumes annual returns of 7.5%, down from 8% in 2014. We decided to take a look at what would happen if all federal, state and local pension plans decided to heed the advice of Mr. Gross. As one might suspect, the results are not pleasant.

We conservatively assume that public pensions are currently $2.0 trillion underfunded ($4.5 trillion of assets for $6.5 trillion of liabilities) even though we’ve seen estimates that suggest $3.5 trillion or more might be more appropriate. We then adjusted the return on asset assumption down from the 7.5% used by most pensions to the 4.0% suggested by Mr. Gross and found that true public pension underfunding could be closer to $5.5 trillion, or over 2.5x more than current estimates. Others have suggested that returns should be closer to risk-free rates which would imply an even more draconian $8.4 trillion underfunding.

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There’s lots of this in Europe.

Housing ‘Shell Shock’ Faces Danes Who Think Market Can Only Rise (BBG)

Denmark’s biggest mortgage bank is urging homeowners to remember that a seemingly unstoppable series of price gains can end, and even go into reverse. At Nykredit, chief analyst Mira Lie Nielsen says Danes need to start putting the possibility of housing price declines “on their radars” or risk going into “shell shock when it happens.” “Our expectation isn’t that home prices will fall in the near future, but it’s important to say, again and again, that especially apartment prices can also fall,” Nielsen said in an e-mail. After almost half a decade of negative interest rates, many homeowners in Denmark are being paid to borrow, excluding bank fees.

Most analysts estimate Danish rates won’t go positive until 2018 at the earliest, threatening to create an atmosphere of complacency as borrowers take on bigger mortgages based on assumptions that low rates are here to stay. Home prices rose an annual 4.5% across Denmark in July, according to Boligsiden.dk, a web portal that tracks the property market. Copenhagen apartment prices soared 9.4%, underpinning the “continued need to be particularly aware” of the potential risks, Nielsen said. “Prices for city dwellings are at a markedly higher level today and are in a range where few people who aren’t already benefiting from the price gains can join in,” Nielsen said.

“So the price level is playing its own damping role on the market, because incomes haven’t quite been able to keep up. This is already visible in Copenhagen.” Apartment prices in Denmark are about 5% above their 2006 peak, according to the latest data from Statistics Denmark. Back then, the country’s bubble burst and apartment prices slumped about 30% through 2009. But there’s also a flip side to record-low interest rates. Banks have suffered fewer writedowns as borrowers find it easier to repay cheaper loans. The number of homeowners unable to honor their mortgage commitments is falling, with just 0.19% failing to meet payment deadlines in the first quarter, according to industry data published on Tuesday.

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“..the romance of decentralization..”

Call Blockchain Developers What They Are: Fiduciaries (Walch)

The recent hack of the DAO (short for Decentralized Autonomous Organization) and the subsequent reversal of funds on Ethereum’s blockchain should finally put an end to a decentralization charade. People are, in fact, governing public blockchains, and we need to be able to trust them. From the beginning, the core developers (who write, evaluate and modify the software code) and the powerful miners (holders of significant chunks of computing power within the network) have been the governing bodies of these so-called decentralized systems. Yet the romance of decentralization – with the seductive idea that we don’t have to trust anyone because no human is doing anything – has allowed many to overlook this important truth.

In the techno-utopian world of blockchain technology, it has become fashionable to proclaim that software code and its operation can replace the need for human governance. Hence, the push toward “decentralized autonomous organizations,” which are essentially corporations run through code rather than by people. The first of these, the DAO, began operating in May 2016, raising $150 million from investors to operate as a venture fund for blockchain technology. The DAO is just software, coded by an ambitious group at the company Slock.It. It was embarrassingly compromised through a computer hack for $60 million within a month of its inception.

The theft’s fallout has been dramatic. Since the DAO was built on the Ethereum blockchain, everyone involved with the technology was affected: DAO investors, owners of ether (the cryptocurrency of Ethereum) and anyone building anything on Ethereum, which has sought to be a platform for so-called smart contracts. This raised serious questions like: Should folks try to get the stolen ether back? Should they leave it be, as the hack was simply an exploitation of a bug in the purportedly unstoppable code?

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“The rivers are the arteries of the Earth. When we block them up, the earth becomes unhealthy.”

Construction Of Giant Dam In Canada Prompts Human Rights Outcry (G.)

Human rights campaigners are calling on Canadian authorities to halt construction of a huge hydroelectric dam in western Canada over concerns that the mega-project tramples on the rights of indigenous peoples in the area. A global campaign launched by Amnesty International on Tuesday called on the federal government and the provincial government of British Columbia to withdraw all permits and approvals for the Site C hydroelectric dam, a C$9bn project that will see more than 5,000 hectares (12,350 acres) of land – roughly equivalent to about 5,000 rugby fields – flooded in north-east British Columbia. The land is part of the traditional territories of indigenous peoples in the region, said Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International Canada.

“It’s an area that people have used for thousands upon thousands of years. Their ancestors are buried in the land; there are hundreds of unique sites of cultural importance; there is cultural knowledge of how to live on land that is associated with this specific spot.” Many continue to rely on the land to hunt, fish, plant medicines, gather berries and conduct ceremonies. “There are really few other places where they can go to practice their culture and to exercise their rights because this is a region that has been so heavily impacted by large-scale resource development.” Amid protests by several First Nations groups, the project was approved by provincial and federal authorities in 2014, allowing preparatory work to begin last summer.

Earlier this year, as clear-cutting began in the area, part of the construction was held up by a protest camp set up by indigenous activists. “This is home,” said Helen Knott, one of the half a dozen protesters who occupied the site. “The rivers are the arteries of the Earth. When we block them up, the earth becomes unhealthy. It’s about being able to protect something to pass on to our children.” After two months in the snow and braving temperatures that dropped as low as -20C, a provincial court ordered them to dismantle the camp.

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Jul 132016
 
 July 13, 2016  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Tim McKulka Elderly Woman Receives Emergency Food Aid, Sudan 2008

Markets Are In The Twilight Zone, Get Ready For New New Deal (AFR)
BOE Governor Carney Accused Of ‘Peddling Phoney Forecasts’ Over Brexit (G.)
Carney Should Stop Being So Gloomy About Brexit (Ashoka Mody)
German Leaders Demand Brexit Clarity From New British PM (R.)
British Pensions £383 Billion Underwater As Liabilities Hit Record (Tel.)
Ireland’s Economists Left Speechless by 26% Growth Figure (BBG)
Losing Australia’s AAA Rating To Make Losers of Mortgage Holders (BBG)
The Richest Generation in US History Just Keeps Getting Richer (BBG)
A Year After Bailout, Greece Struggles For Brighter Future (AFP)
EU Development Aid To Finance Armies In Africa (EuO)
Global Arms Race Escalates As Sabres Rattle In South China Sea (AEP)
Economic Theory as Ideology (Zaman)
Half Of All US Food Produce Is Thrown Away (G.)

 

 

Thought we were already there.

Markets Are In The Twilight Zone, Get Ready For New New Deal (AFR)

Macquarie analysts have likened the bizarre and inherently contradictory moves in markets to a “twilight zone” which is leading investors to a world where free-market economic thinking will be overtaken by the “nationalisation of credit” and state-sponsored growth. Think about that. Monetary policy is beating a path to a world where conventional market signals such as credit spreads and the price of risk will “finally perish” and be unseated by one where states are the drivers of credit, and spending and capital formation is the domain of central banks. “It would take the form of state-sponsored stimulation of consumption, investment, [research and development] and rescuing what essentially is a bankrupt financial superstructure (ie banks, insurance, life and pensions),” the Macquarie report, authored by Hong Kong-based analyst Viktor Shvets, said.

“Whilst similar to FDR’s New Deal, it would be a far more distorted world than either the 1930s or the 1960s-70s, with brand new investment signals.” [..] The unusual commentary from Macquarie says this “state driven paradise” will be brought on by ongoing high levels of volatility and “discontinuities” similar to what markets are grappling with today. “We don’t believe these conditions are yet satisfied, but the chances are high that they would be over the next 12-18 months. In the meantime, we still expect half-hearted ‘stop and go projects’. Japan is likely to be the first to ‘jump’ and wholeheartedly embrace this merger of fiscal, income support and monetary policies but others would eventually follow. It is just a matter of time.”

The Bank of Japan and re-elected Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have signalled a fiscal-led stimulus package in excess of ¥10 trillion ($98 billion) is under consideration. The contradiction that Macquarie is referring to is the way markets have behaved since Brexit, where assets historically linked to “risk-on” and “risk-off” moods have inexplicably rallied in unison. Equities, a classic risk asset, have recovered all of their losses since the Brexit vote on the belief that central banks will step in and lift asset prices by doing stimulus and ignore sound fears about asset bubbles.

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His role is questionable. Shirked far too close to influencing politics.

BOE Governor Carney Accused Of ‘Peddling Phoney Forecasts’ Over Brexit (G.)

Mark Carney has agreed to hand notes of private meetings he had with the chancellor in the run-up to the EU referendum to MPs, after a Treasury select committee hearing where the governor of the Bank of England faced questions about whether he had “peddled phoney forecasts” about the risks of a vote for Brexit. In his first appearance at the Treasury select committee since the referendum, the Bank’s governor faced questions about whether he had tried to scare the electorate by warning of the economic shock – and possible recession – that a vote to leave the EU would cause. Andrew Tyrie, the committee’s chairman, citing two former chancellors and two former leaders of the Conservative party, said the Bank had also been accused of “startling dishonesty”.

Tyrie, a Conservative MP, told Carney that the accusations, if true, would be a “very robust assault on the Bank’s credibility” and also of the independence from government it was granted in 1997 that could not be recovered under the Canadian’s tenure. Carney said he had held private meetings with George Osborne before the 23 June vote. He agreed that the MPs could appoint someone to review the notes of those meetings but said he would be reluctant for them to be made public. Carney was also asked by Jacob Rees-Mogg, a prominent Brexit campaigner, whether the Bank should be, like Caesar’s wife, beyond suspicion in terms of being influenced by politicians. The governor, who said politicians had sought to inform him rather than influence him, replied: “Those who cast it [the independence] into question should consider their motivations and their judgments.”

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That would mean Stage Five: Acceptance. It’ll take a while. In the meantime, the ‘gloom’ is driven by politics, not economics. And yes, Carney is the champ, hoping for a self-fulfilling process. The Leave camp, which won (remember?), should perhaps ask for him to step down.

Carney Should Stop Being So Gloomy About Brexit (Ashoka Mody)

Few have been more downbeat about the outlook for the U.K. economy than the country’s own central bank governor, Mark Carney. If he wants to help mitigate the consequences of the vote to leave the European Union, he should send a more encouraging message by holding back on monetary stimulus. People charged with managing economies usually try to be optimistic, on the logic that their positive attitude will give people and businesses the confidence to spend and invest, ultimately making the optimism self-fulfilling. The rhetoric surrounding Britain’s vote on EU membership has been a glaring exception. In a bid to influence the vote, a chorus of global policymakers predicted dire consequences. That chorus has sadly persisted.

After voters chose to leave, the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, Angel Gurria, reiterated forecasts of higher unemployment and permanent damage to household incomes. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said that the decision was “casting a shadow over international growth.” Yet Brexit’s shadow is hard to discern amid the broader global decline in output growth and interest rates that began in early 2014. Perhaps no one, though, has been as active as Carney in stoking feelings of gloom and doom – a particularly notable feat, given that central bank governors rarely make predictions of economic and financial turmoil, especially when it concerns their own currency.

As far back as May, the Bank of England said that the possibility of Brexit was already weighing on the British pound, even though much of the decline in sterling’s value had happened earlier, when the polls – and especially the betting markets – showed a clear lead for the “Remain” campaign. The currency actually stabilized during the brief period when polls showed the “Leave” campaign gaining ground. Markets have come to anticipate Carney’s public appearances as harbingers of bad news. The pound began to decline in the hours before his first major post-Brexit speech on June 30, and he did not disappoint: Brexit-induced uncertainty, he insisted, had caused “economic post-traumatic stress disorder amongst households and businesses, as well as in financial markets.”

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Or else what?

German Leaders Demand Brexit Clarity From New British PM (R.)

German leaders stepped up the pressure on Britain’s incoming prime minister Theresa May on Tuesday by demanding she swiftly spell out when she will launch divorce proceedings with the European Union. “The task of the new prime minister … will be to get clarity on the question of what kind of relationship Britain wants to build with the EU,” Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference. Her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said clarity was needed quickly to limit uncertainty after Britain’s shock choice for ‘Brexit’, which has rocked the 28-nation bloc and thrown decades of European integration into reverse. May, 59, will on Wednesday replace David Cameron, who is resigning after Britons rejected his advice and voted on June 23 to quit the EU.

On arriving and departing from Cameron’s last cabinet meeting, she waved a little awkwardly from the doorstep of 10 Downing Street, shortly to become her home. She will face the enormous task of disentangling Britain from a forest of EU laws, accumulated over more than four decades, and negotiating new trade terms while limiting potential damage to the economy. The pound was up 1.2% against the dollar at around $1.3150, boosted by the appointment of a new prime minister weeks earlier than expected after May’s main rival dropped out. But it remains more than 12% below the $1.50 it touched on the night of the June 23 referendum, reflecting concerns that Brexit will hit trade, investment and growth.

The German leaders spoke after May’s ally Chris Grayling appeared to dampen any hopes among Britain’s EU partners that her rapid ascent might accelerate the process of moving ahead with the split and resolving the uncertainty hanging over the 28-nation bloc.

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Which of course can be blamed on Brexit again. But it’s really just a Ponzi scheme dying a natural death.

British Pensions £383 Billion Underwater As Liabilities Hit Record (Tel.)

Britain’s gold-plated pensions now have record-breaking liabilities of £1.75 trillion after the EU referendum triggered a rout in their core gilt and equity holdings, highlighting the difficulty of funding the UK’s retirement needs. The country has almost 6,000 defined benefit schemes, which are obliged to pay their members an amount in retirement often tied to their final salary. Just 950 of these schemes were in surplus on June 30, with the rest hoping to make up the shortfall from long-term investment returns. In total, defined benefit funds are £383.6bn underwater, compared to £294.6bn just a month ago, as the tumbling UK government bond yields added to liabilities while global stock markets wiped value from the schemes’ equity investments.

Around 78pc of the long-term liabilities of the schemes are funded, down from 81.5pc within a month. While these figures are merely a snapshot, the data from the Pension Protection Fund highlights the precarious position of numerous schemes. “Companies are having to divert profits into schemes to make good on their promises, which means less investment capital to help businesses grow and less money available to invest in the pensions of younger workers,” said Tom McPhail, head of retirement policy at Hargreaves Lansdown. “Accrued pension rights have to be respected and investors have to be able to trust the system, however there is also a growing argument for the Government to look at finding a more balanced approach to the retirement funding needs of UK workforce.”

UBS analysts have estimated that a 1pc fall in real yields on government bonds results in a 10pc rise in pension liabilities, although this varies by scheme depending on how many bonds they hold. Gilts have jumped in price, lowering their yields, as global investors seek out safe havens. Industrial companies have the largest pension burdens, amounting to 77pc of their overall market value of the businesses, according to UBS’s research, while telecoms firms have liabilities worth 56pc of their value and utilities’ liabilities have reached 54pc.

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Hilarious.

Ireland’s Economists Left Speechless by 26% Growth Figure (BBG)

In three days, Jim Power is due in London to brief the British-Irish Trade Association on the state of the Irish economy. Now, he has no idea what he is going to say. The economy grew 26% in 2015, officials from the Central Statistics Office told a stunned room full of economists and reporters in Dublin on Tuesday. Previously, they had estimated growth of 7.8%. “I’m not going to stand up and say the economy grew by 26%,” Power, an independent economist, said after the release. “It’s meaningless – we would be laughing” if these numbers came out of China, he said. The figure is mostly explained by the open nature of Ireland’s economy and its attraction to U.S. companies seeking access to a 12.5% tax rate.

Among firms that have inverted to Ireland, mostly through acquisitions, are Perrigo and Jazz Pharmaceuticals. Corporations with assets overseas of €523 billion were headquartered in Ireland in 2014, up from €391 billion in 2013, according to the statistics office. “We are a very small economy, and if we get a big increase in assets, this is what happens,” Michael Connolly, an official at the CSO, said on Tuesday. Once explained the numbers are “believable,” he said. In a statement, Finance Minister Michael Noonan pointed out that growth numbers cut Ireland’s debt and deficit ratios. Trouble is, they carry downsides too. For one, tax inversions artificially inflate the size of Ireland’s economy.

When the headquarters of a group of companies becomes resident in Ireland, all of its global profits may be counted as part of the nation’s gross national income, according to the ministry. Since 2008, that gauge has been boosted by about 7 billion euros thanks to corporate relocations, without accompanying substance or employment, the ministry has said. This in turn drives up the country’s contribution to the European Union budget, which is based on the size of the economy. For a second thing, it leaves self-described “baffled” analysts like Power at a loss to explain the state of the Irish economy. Power says he’ll look at indicators like employment growth and tax revenue for a better gauge, and guesses Ireland’s underlying economic growth was 5.5% last year.

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A world of pain.

Losing Australia’s AAA Rating To Make Losers of Mortgage Holders (BBG)

The biggest losers after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull scraped through to win Australia’s fractious elections could be homebuyers facing higher costs on their A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) in mortgages. The price to protect bonds issued by the nation’s banks climbed seven basis points last week after S&P Global Ratings cut its outlook on Australia’s AAA grade to negative on concern government deficits will persist without “more forceful” decisions to rein in shortfalls. It also put the nation’s biggest lenders on notice. Stephen Miller, BlackRock’s head of fixed income for Australia, said Wednesday there’s a “real risk” Australia loses its top debt score.

“An increase in funding costs relating to a ratings downgrade will impact bank margins, but banks may choose to offset this via loan pricing,” said Anthony Ip at Citigroup in Sydney, adding that any increase in funding costs will be significant but manageable. “At the end of the day it’s still a competitive lending market.” Australia’s largest lenders – Australia & New Zealand Banking, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and Westpac Banking – rely on offshore bond markets for a fifth of their funding requirements, central bank data show. If their rankings were lowered after a sovereign downgrade, that would increase borrowing costs as much as 20 basis points, prompting them to slap mortgagees with higher interest rates, according to Citigroup.

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I smell a timebomb.

The Richest Generation in US History Just Keeps Getting Richer (BBG)

Baby boomers started turning 65 in 2011, marking the unofficial beginning of their retirement years. The timing could not have been better for older boomers, who are already part of the wealthiest generation in U.S. history. Since then, the broad S&P 500-stock index is up 91%, including dividends. U.S. stocks hit a record high yesterday. Market performance in the early years of retirement is a crucial worry for anyone living off a nest egg. In the worst-case scenario, stocks crash just as retirees start spending their savings, leaving them in a hole they can no longer earn their way out of. Older boomers have experienced what is arguably the best-case scenario: The S&P 500 has returned 269% since its March 2009 low.

As a recent study in the Journal of Financial Planning shows, wealthy retirees can be very cautious about spending down their savings. This instinct, along with the stock market’s new record, suggests that many boomers are likely to end up with far more money than they know what to do with. Researchers followed the spending and investing behavior of 65- to 70-year-olds from 2000 to 2008. The poorest 40% of the survey respondents generally spent more than they earned, according to the study, which was funded by Texas Tech University. Those in the middle were able to keep their spending at about 8% below what they could have safely spent from pensions, investments, and Social Security.

The wealthiest fifth, meanwhile, had a gap of as much as 53% between their spending and what they could have spent. The authors wrote: “Retirees in the top quintile of financial wealth were spending nowhere near an amount that would place them in danger of running out of money. In fact, the average financial assets of wealthy retirees increased during this period and most retirees spent less than their income.” In other words, these affluent Americans retired and then continued to get richer. That’s quite a feat when you’re no longer working, particularly against the backdrop of the mediocre stock market of the early 2000s.

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Conditions in Greece are getting worse, fast. I’ll soon have more on that, firsthand. Meanwhile, another 4 refugees died this morning off Lesbos.

A Year After Bailout, Greece Struggles For Brighter Future (AFP)

A year after it fought and lost a tug-of-war with its creditors, Greece remains a country that seems adrift, and many of its citizens view the present as joyless and the future as grim. Summer 2015 saw Greece’s youthful left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wage an extraordinary battle between the mighty European Union, the European Central Bank and the IMF. Over five months, Tsipras and his firebrand finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, took Greece and Europe to the brink as they demanded the creditors ease reforms imposed under two previous bailouts agreed since 2010. As the EU, ECB and IMF took a hard line, Greece’s financial flows shrank and a bank crisis loomed – but Tsipras, instead of buckling, stunned the world by announcing a referendum on the new deal proposed by creditors.

On July 5, 62% of voters rejected the package. But even with the mandate of the Greek people behind him, Tsipras backed down: the risk of seeing Greece thrown out of the eurozone was too much. Instead, in a dramatic U-turn, he let go of Varoufakis, replaced him with the more moderate Euclid Tsakalotos – and just over a week later, signed the third bailout. The deal was worth €86 billion over three years and laden with conditions, such as tax hikes and pension reforms, considered by critics to be so tough that social media buzzed with talk of a coup d’etat. Since then, Greece has soldiered on, weathering popular unrest and the consequences of the 2015 migration crisis, while Tsipras strives to defend his leftwing credentials.

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Brussels is completely lost. Time to end its misery.

EU Development Aid To Finance Armies In Africa (EuO)

The EU commission wants to finance foreign armies as part of a larger effort to stop people from fleeing to Europe, including in countries with patchy human rights. A commission draft proposal released on Tuesday (5 July) spells out reasons why it is “necessary to provide assistance to the militaries of partner countries”. Some €100 million that were initially slated for development aid will be diverted to finance military-led border control exploits and other initiatives like mine-clearing The EU money can also be used to finance anything from troop transport vehicles to uniforms and surveillance equipment. Even furniture, stationary and “sport facilities” are covered. The EU has already contracted out some €1 billion from 2001 to 2009 when it came to things like law enforcement and border management.

But this is the first time it will pump money directly into a foreign military structure. “The direct financing of the military is not possible [at the moment]. Due to exceptional circumstances in some partner countries, it was important to close this gap,” notes the document, a joint communication to the European Parliament and EU Council. The document attempts to quell some concerns over how the money will be used. It notes, for instance, that it won’t fund “recurrent military expenditure”, weapons and ammunition, and combat training. But such limitations are unlikely to be taken seriously by critics. “This proposal is nothing short of scandalous,” said German Green deputy Reinhard Butikofer.

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No Ambrose, not the International Court of Justice. The ruling was by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. And your conclusion is fit for the National Enquirer: “The world has not been in such peril since the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Global Arms Race Escalates As Sabres Rattle In South China Sea (AEP)

The South China Sea has become the most dangerous fault-line in the world. Beijing and Washington are on a collision course over these contested waters, the shipping lane for 60pc of global trade. As expected, the International Court of Justice in The Hague has ruled that China has no “historic title” to areas of this sea stretching all the way to the ‘nine dash line’ – deep into the territorial waters of a ring of South East Asian states. Equally expected, Beijing has dismissed the verdict with scorn, accusing the tribunal of “shamelessly abusing its authority”. The state media said the country “must be prepared for any military confrontation” with the US, and must not flinch from war if provoked.

It is the latest in a series ominous developments in Asia and Europe that are rapidly subverting the Western international system and setting off a global rearmament race with strong echoes of the late-1930s. Tensions are flaring up across so many spots in East Asia that global investment funds are actively betting on defence stocks and technology companies linked to military expansion. Nomura has launched an “Asian Arms Race Basket” as a hedge against potential conflicts in the East China Sea, the Straits of Taiwan, and the South China Sea. Among the companies listed are Mitsubishi Heavy Industry and Sumitomo Precision in Japan, China Shipbuilding and AVIC Aircraft in China, Korea Aerospace and the explosives group Hanwha, as well as Reliance Defence and Bharat Electronics in India.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says China spent $215bn on defence last year, a fivefold increase since 2000, and more than the whole of the European Union combined. It is developing indigenous aircraft carriers. US experts say its “Two-Ocean Strategy” implies a fleet of five or six aircraft carrier battle groups to project global power. Japan has upgraded its once invisible Self-Defence Force to a full-fledged fighting machine with a humming new headquarters and an air of determined alertness. The country has been increasing military spending for the last four years, especially under its nationalist leader Shinzo Abe, commissioning its largest warship since the Second World War, an 800-ft DDH-class helicopter carrier.

Rearmament has paradoxical effects. It acts as a form of Keynesian stimulus, as it did in the late 1930s. The spending might absorb some of the Asian savings glut and eat into excess industrial capacity, lifting the world out of secular stagnation, but it is a lethal way to do it. A parallel process is underway in Europe where defence spending has been shooting up since the Russian invasion of Crimea, ending years of neglect and austerity budgets. Outlays are expected to rise by 20pc in Central and Eastern Europe this year, and 9.2pc in South-Eastern Europe, according to the French think-tank IRIS.

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Not terribly smart people.

Economic Theory as Ideology (Zaman)

[..] For a very long time, economists refused to take results from experiments seriously, because these were in direct conflict with axioms at the heart of economic theories. The empirical failure of economic axioms led to the creation of “Behavioral Economics,” which studies actual behavior of human beings. In any scientific field, “behavioral economics” would be the center of attention, since it matches the observational evidence about human behavior. Furthermore, the axiomatic theory, which is contradicted by the empirical evidence, would be a long forgotten idea belonging to the primitive history of economic science. Surprisingly, mainstream economic textbooks, used all over the planet, continue to teach axiomatic theories of human behavior as if they are true, while behavioral economics remains neglected and ignored.

Why do economists maintain an ideological commitment to patently false theories of human behavior? Certainly it is not because these theories are noble and elevating. In fact, many observers have argued that these theories create immoral behavior, by teaching that selfishness, without concern for morality or society, is rational for everyone, and good for society. For example, Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman taught that businesses should maximize profits, without any concern for social responsibility. Given this license, multinational corporations have gone on a rampage, exploiting natural resources by using methods which threaten to destroy the planet. The easiest way to make a profit is to appropriate a priceless natural treasure, like a rainforest, and chop it down for timber.

The losses from industrial wastes are changing the composition of the atmosphere, oceans, lakes and rivers, and inflicting costs on all human beings, but creating profits for corporate coffers. This strategy is called ‘socializing the losses and privatizing the gains.’ With massive profits, it is easy to buy politicians to prevent environmental concerns from getting in the way. The book Merchants of Doubt documents a well funded campaign to create doubt about climate change, so that corporations can continue to make profits while destroying the planet. The persistence of economic theories which celebrate and glorify these poisonous ideologies of personal greed and social irresponsibility can be traced to corporate funding of think-tanks and research which promote “free markets”. The charms of “freedom” propagated by economic ideologies conceal the ugly reality of corporate freedom and wage slavery of the masses.

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The glory of mankind.

Half Of All US Food Produce Is Thrown Away (G.)

Americans throw away almost as much food as they eat because of a “cult of perfection”, deepening hunger and poverty, and inflicting a heavy toll on the environment. Vast quantities of fresh produce grown in the US are left in the field to rot, fed to livestock or hauled directly from the field to landfill, because of unrealistic and unyielding cosmetic standards, according to official data and interviews with dozens of farmers, packers, truckers, researchers, campaigners and government officials. From the fields and orchards of California to the population centres of the east coast, farmers and others on the food distribution chain say high-value and nutritious food is being sacrificed to retailers’ demand for unattainable perfection.

“It’s all about blemish-free produce,” says Jay Johnson, who ships fresh fruit and vegetables from North Carolina and central Florida. “What happens in our business today is that it is either perfect, or it gets rejected. It is perfect to them, or they turn it down. And then you are stuck.” Food waste is often described as a “farm-to-fork” problem. Produce is lost in fields, warehouses, packaging, distribution, supermarkets, restaurants and fridges. By one government tally, about 60m tonnes of produce worth about $160bn, is wasted by retailers and consumers every year – one third of all foodstuffs. But that is just a “downstream” measure.

In more than two dozen interviews, farmers, packers, wholesalers, truckers, food academics and campaigners described the waste that occurs “upstream”: scarred vegetables regularly abandoned in the field to save the expense and labour involved in harvest. Or left to rot in a warehouse because of minor blemishes that do not necessarily affect freshness or quality. When added to the retail waste, it takes the amount of food lost close to half of all produce grown, experts say. “I would say at times there is 25% of the crop that is just thrown away or fed to cattle,” said Wayde Kirschenman, whose family has been growing potatoes and other vegetables near Bakersfield, California, since the 1930s. “Sometimes it can be worse.”

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