Mar 062018
 
 March 6, 2018  Posted by at 11:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Le Moulin à Poivre, Montmartre 1887

 

EU Proposes Retaliatory Tariff of 25% Against U.S. Goods (BBG)
Trump’s Tariff Threat On European Cars Could Spell Big Trouble For Germany (CNBC)
Retail Investor Bullishness Collapses (WS)
World’s ‘Shadow Banks’ Continue To Expand (R.)
China to Ease Bad-Loan Provision Rules to Support Growth (BBG)
China Faces an ‘Impossible Challenge’ on Budget, Tax and GDP (BBG)
China’s Coming Meltdown Will Rapidly Spread to US (Rickards)
Sex, Money & Happiness (Roberts)
British Can’t Deliver Promises Of Frictionless Trade (Fintan O’Toole)
Canada’s Looming Economic Meltdown (GT)
Coinbase Accused of Cheating Consumers in More Ways Than One (BBG)
US, UK Support World’s Worst Humanitarian Disaster In 50 Years (CP)
Light It Up (Jim Kunstler)
The Ocean Currents Brought Us In A Lovely Gift Today (G.)

 

 

Trump said ‘if you don’t have steel, you don’t have a country’. Is he all that wrong?

EU Proposes Retaliatory Tariff of 25% Against U.S. Goods (BBG)

The EU is preparing punitive tariffs on iconic U.S. brands produced in key Republican constituencies, raising political pressure on President Donald Trump to ditch his plans for taxing steel and aluminum imports. Targeting $3.5 billion of American goods, the EU aims to apply a 25 percent tit-for-tat levy on a range of consumer, agricultural and steel products imported from the U.S. if Trump follows through on his tariff threat, according to a list drawn up by the European Commission and obtained by Bloomberg News. The list of targeted U.S. goods – including motorcycles, jeans and bourbon whiskey – sends a political message to Washington about the potential domestic economic costs of making good on the president’s threat.

Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, comes from the same state – Wisconsin – where motorbike maker Harley-Davidson is based. Earlier this week, Ryan said he was “extremely worried about the consequences of a trade war” and urged Trump to drop his tariff proposal. Other U.S. officials will also feel the pressure. Bourbon whiskey hails from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky. San Francisco-based jeans maker Levi Strauss is headquartered in House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s district. The EU’s retaliatory list targets imports from the U.S. of shirts, jeans, cosmetics, other consumer goods, motorbikes and pleasure boats worth around €1 billion; orange juice, bourbon whiskey, corn and other agricultural products totaling €951 million; and steel and other industrial products valued at €854 million.

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Tariff on US cars exported to Europe is 25%. Tariff on EU cars imported in US is 10%. Looks like there is room for talks there.

Trump’s Tariff Threat On European Cars Could Spell Big Trouble For Germany (CNBC)

The war of words between President Donald Trump and the EU could lead to some serious pressure on the German auto industry, one expert told CNBC. Trump threatened via Twitter on Saturday to hit back at any tariff measures from the European Union — floated in response to Trump’s recently announced global steel import tariffs — in kind. The billionaire businessman’s potential next target? European cars. And the biggest victim of them all may be Germany. “It would be quite severe if we were to face additional import duties to ship the cars into the U.S. — the Germans in particular are very, very exposed,” Arndt Ellinghorst, the head of global automotive research for advisory firm Evercore ISI, told CNBC Monday.

He noted the example of BMW, which sells about 350,000 cars in the U.S. annually, roughly 70% of which come from Europe. “That’s probably an $8 billion to $9 billion revenue stream, if you put a 5 to 10% additional cost on it, it would cost something like $400 million to $800 million. Some of that would be absorbed by the company, and some of it would have to be absorbed by the consumer in the U.S.” Ellinghorst did add that cars being shipped from the U.S. into Europe faced a 10% import duty while European cars into the U.S. faced a 2.5% import duty. “I think what the administration is talking about is to balance out this difference in tariffs to make it more of an equal playing ground for American and European carmakers,” he said.

Out of roughly six million cars exported by Europe in 2016, more than one million were absorbed by the U.S. — just over 16% — its largest country market by a wide margin. Meanwhile, of America’s $53.6 billion in car exports that same year, the value of its car exports into Europe was $11.8 billion, or roughly 22% of the total, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. The U.S. is the third-largest car exporter globally after Germany and Japan, accounting for 7.7% of total world exports. It ran a trade deficit of more than $151 billion overall with Europe in 2017.

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The aftermath of the reurn of volatility.

Retail Investor Bullishness Collapses (WS)

TD Ameritrade’s Investor Movement Index – “designed to indicate the sentiment of retail investors” based on what they’re doing in their accounts and “how they are actually positioned in the markets” – plunged 23% in February to 5.95, the biggest month-over-month plunge in the history of the index, “as volatility returned to the market.” This comes after a 9% plunge of the index in January, the largest month-over-month plunge in three years, which occurred despite the final spurt of the rally that took the stock market indices to new highs on January 26. It’s as if retail investors, for once, smelled a rat. After which the sell-off started:

TDA Chief Market Strategist JJ Kinahan explained in an interview that TDA’s clients “didn’t want to be as exposed” in February to risk “as they were.” “What’s interesting is they were net buyers, and they were net buyers because of the February 9th move,” he said. “They bought a lot of stocks that day. But as the month went on, they just continued to sell those stocks back out, and then some. So it was a really interesting pattern that developed.” The stocks they bought had “lower beta than some of the stocks they sold,” he said. “So it was really and truly a risk-off trade. But the bigger part about it is they lightened up their exposure across the board. So one or two days truly of buying,… but after that, not only selling what they’d bought that day, but selling on top of it what they’d bought earlier” this year and last year.

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Hard to gauge how much of a grip the Financial Stability Board has on the actual numbers. 2016 is the first time they include China. But what do they actually know, and how much is guesswork?

World’s ‘Shadow Banks’ Continue To Expand (R.)

Growth in global bond, real estate and money market funds continued to swell the world’s“shadow banking” sector, a watchdog that coordinates financial regulation for the G20 big economies said on Monday. The Financial Stability Board said its“narrow” measure of shadow banking activities that could pose a threat to stability, rose 7.6% to $45.2 trillion in 2016, the latest year for which figures have been collated. It represents 13% of total financial system assets in the 29 jurisdictions surveyed. Data from China and Luxembourg were included in the measure for the first time. “Non-bank financing provides a valuable alternative to bank financing and helps support real economic activity,” the FSB said in its report. Nevertheless, increased reliance on non-bank funding could give rise to new risks, it said.

The so-called shadow banking sector, made up of companies other than banks that provide financial services, has been treated with suspicion by some regulators since the financial crisis a decade ago. Still, it has some champions among policymakers who say it helps keep capital markets more liquid. The European Union actively courts participants to diversify away from heavy reliance on bank loans for EU companies. Apart from debt investment funds, the measure of shadow banking also includes the repurchase and debt securitization markets as well as hedge funds involved in credit. Faced with few rules in the past, sub-sectors like securitization are now regulated and seen to pose less risk to stability.

Open-ended bond funds, hedge funds that offer credit and money market funds account for 72% of the narrow measure, and grew by 11% in 2016. Regulators have asked funds to have safeguards in place for extreme market turbulence to avoid instability from fire sales of assets if many investors ask for their money back. The United States accounts for 31% of the narrow measure, followed by China with 16%, the Cayman Islands at 10% and Japan at 6%. A broader measure, which includes all financial firms that are not central banks, banks, pension funds or insurers, rose 8% to $99 trillion to represent 30% of global financial assets, its highest level since at least 2002, the FSB said.

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How transparent are these shadows?

China to Ease Bad-Loan Provision Rules to Support Growth (BBG)

China is relaxing rules governing how much banks must set aside to cover bad loans, people with knowledge of the matter said, a sign that regulators are comfortable the nation’s lenders are sound enough to extend additional credit and support the economy. The China Banking Regulatory Commission has issued a notice lowering the bad-loan coverage ratio to a minimum 120% from the previous 150%, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter isn’t public. Relaxed bad-loan coverage rules will allow banks to extend more credit, supporting an economy the government expects to expand about 6.5% this year, a slower pace than in 2017. Additional lending from giants such as Industrial & Commercial Bank of China would also counter some of the effects on the economy of President Xi Jinping’s campaign to curb financial risk, one of the government’s top priorities.

The changes also indicate regulators are confident that they’ve come to grips with a bad-loan epidemic that plagued lenders over the past few years. In 2016, when problem loans at Chinese banks were on the rise, the CBRC resisted lobbying from the nation’s lenders to relax the provisioning thresholds. The timing of the CBRC move suggests that “nonperforming loans are not a problem,” analysts at Shenwan Hongyuan said in a research note. [..] According to the notice, the CBRC will differentiate the amount of provisions an individual bank must hold within the new band of 120% to 150%, based on the level of its capital, the accuracy of its loan classification policies and its proactiveness in handling nonperforming loans, the people said.

China’s banking industry has a bad loan coverage ratio above 180%, CBRC official Xiao Yuanqi said at a briefing last week, indicating banks have plenty of room to reduce provisions. As well as lowering the threshold, the CBRC notice said it will reduce the amount of provisions banks must hold against their total loan book, including healthy loans, to as low as 1.5% from the previous 2.5% minimum.

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They can’t have it all.

China Faces an ‘Impossible Challenge’ on Budget, Tax and GDP (BBG)

Premier Li Keqiang has an “impossible challenge” if he wants to slash China’s budget deficit target, deleverage the economy, and cut taxes, according to Pantheon Macroeconomics. Li on Monday said this year’s deficit goal was cut to 2.6% of gross domestic product, from 3%, the first reduction since 2012. At the same time, he pledged tax cuts of 800 billion yuan ($126 billion) for companies and individuals and set a 6.5% annual economic growth target – the same as last year’s target but slower than the actual performance of 6.9%. “These targets suggest tight monetary conditions and tight fiscal policy, with GDP growth holding up, despite an intensified deleveraging campaign,” said chief Asia economist Freya Beamish in London. “Something’s got to give. We reckon it’s fiscal policy, though monetary policy could also turn out on the easier side, with the yuan also set to weaken.”

[..] While China is aiming for a narrower official deficit, leaders still plan to expand the issuance of special purpose bonds, which are sold by local governments to finance items that aren’t included in the general public budget and not counted in the deficit ratio released annually. Local governments have used special bonds to help pay for highways, railroads and other construction projects in recent years, and the securities are designed to be covered by returns of the projects rather than general revenues. Special purpose bond issuance will jump to 1.35 trillion yuan this year to prioritize “supporting ongoing local projects to see them make steady progress,” the Finance Ministry said Monday. That’s up from 800 billion yuan in 2017 and 400 billion yuan in 2016.

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An entire series of companies guaranteeing each other’s debt. How does that surface in those shadow reports?

China’s Coming Meltdown Will Rapidly Spread to US (Rickards)

The coming credit crisis in China is no secret. China has $1 trillion or more in bad debts waiting to explode. These bad debts permeate the economy. Some are incurred by Chinese provincial authorities trying to get around spending limitations imposed by Beijing. Some are straight commercial loans on bank balance sheets. Some are external dollar-denominated debts owed to foreign creditors. The most dangerous type of debt involves a daisy chain of insolvent corporations buying debt from each other. A single cash advance of $100 million can be passed from corporation to corporation in exchange for a new promissory note, used to extinguish an old unpayable promissory note. Repeated enough times, the $100 million can be used as window dressing to prop up $1 billion or even $2 billion of bad debts.

These kinds of accounting tricks will land you in jail in the U.S., but it’s an accepted practice in China as long as the corporate CEO is a “Princeling” (a politically connected Communist Party insider descended from the old guard) or an oligarch willing to pay bribes. This state of affairs has existed for years. The question investors keep asking is, “How long can this last?” How long can the daisy chain keep operating to gloss over a sea of bad debt and give the Chinese economy an appearance of good health? Well, the answer is the Ponzi will not likely last much longer. Even compliant Chinese regulators are starting to blow the whistle on bad loans and the banks that cover them up. So the good news is that China is starting to address the problem. The bad news is that if China gets serious about cleaning up bad debts, their growth will slow significantly and so will world economic growth.

That’s bad news for global stock markets. Essentially, China is on the horns of a dilemma with no good way out. On the one hand, China has driven growth for the past eight years with excessive credit, wasted infrastructure investment and Ponzi schemes like wealth management products (WMPs). The Chinese leadership knows this, but they had to keep the growth machine in high gear to create jobs for millions of migrants coming from the countryside to the city and to maintain jobs for the millions more already in the cities. The Communist Chinese leadership knew that a day of reckoning would come. The two ways to get rid of debt are deflation (which results in write-offs, bankruptcies and unemployment) or inflation (which results in theft of purchasing power, similar to a tax increase). Both alternatives are unacceptable to the Communists because they lack the political legitimacy to endure either unemployment or inflation. Either policy would cause social unrest and unleash revolutionary potential.

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Americans can’t get away from the money makes you happy syndrome.

Sex, Money & Happiness (Roberts)

“Sex” and “Money” are probably two of the most powerful words in the English language. First, those two words got you to look at this article. They also sell products, books, and services from “How To Have Better Sex” to “How To Make More Money” — ostensibly so you can have more of the former. Unfortunately, they are also the two primary causes of divorce in the country today. But “happiness,” is also an interesting word because it is ultimately derived from the ability to obtain money and the lifestyle with which it will afford. Researchers at Purdue University recently studied data culled from across the globe and found that “happiness” doesn’t rise indefinitely with income. In fact, there were cut-off points at which more annual income had a negative effect on overall life satisfaction.

So, what’s that number? In the U.S., $65,000 was found to be the optimal income for “feeling” happy. In the U.S., despite higher levels of low income (now there’s an oxymoron), inflation-adjusted median incomes have remained virtually stagnant since 1998.

However, the chart above is grossly misleading because the income gains have only occurred in the Top 20% of income earners. For the bottom 80%, they are well short of the incomes needed to obtain “happiness.”

For most American “families”, who have to balance their living standards to their income, the “experience” of “happiness” is more of a function of “meeting obligations” each and every month. Today, more than ever, the walk to the end of the driveway has become a dreaded thing as bills loom large in the dark crevices of the mailbox. If they can meet those obligations, they are “happy.” If not, not so much.

In my opinion, what the study failed to capture was the “change” in what was required to achieve “perceived” happiness following the “financial crisis.” Just as with “The Great Depression,” individuals forever altered their feelings about banks, saving and investing after an entire generation had lost “everything.” It is the same today as sluggish wage growth has failed to keep up with the cost of living which has forced an entire generation into debt just to make ends meet. As the chart below shows, while savings spiked during the financial crisis, the rising cost of living for the bottom 80% has outpaced the median level of “disposable income” for that same group. As a consequence, the inability to “save” has continued.

[..] Not surprisingly, the “financial stress” in American households is leading to other factors which are fueling the “demographic” problem in the future. The equation is very simple – when individuals are stressed over finances they are less active sexually. This was shown in a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Ahead of the past three US recessions, the number of conceptions began to fall at least six months before the economy started to contract. As the FT notes, while previous research has shown how birth rates track economic cycles, the scientific study is the first to show that fertility declines are a leading indicator of recessions. [..] To the researchers’ surprise, they found that falls in conceptions were a far better leading indicator of recessions than many commonly used indicators such as consumer confidence, measures of uncertainty, and purchases of big-ticket items such as washing machines and cars.

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Sheer incompetence. Much more of that to come.

British Can’t Deliver Promises Of Frictionless Trade (Fintan O’Toole)

In 2016, more than 310 million people and nearly 500 million tonnes of freight crossed the UK’s borders. If this continues to happen in a “frictionless” way after Brexit, the disturbances to the status quo in Ireland will be limited. If it doesn’t, hang on to your hats. Frictionless trade is the only condition under which Brexit can happen without inflicting a hard border on Ireland. It is almost certainly a political impossibility if the UK leaves the customs union. But even if it could somehow be agreed in principle, there is another enormous obstacle: the actual capacity of the British to handle it. On Friday, after Theresa May’s big set-piece speech on Brexit, the DUP leader Arlene Foster issued a glowing endorsement. She referred back to a paper issued by the UK government last August: “Those proposals can ensure there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after we exit the EU.”

Foster recognises how much unionism is staking on that document and on the ability of the UK’s bureaucracies to deploy technology to take the sting out of the potentially toxic irritant of the Irish Border. This forces us to consider something that would previously have been of little interest to Irish people: the recent and dismal history of the UK’s adventures in using digital technology to control its borders. In 2003, the British established a spanking new “e-borders” system which was meant to collect and analyse advance passenger information for people travelling into the UK. It had a generous timescale – the full programme was meant to be in place by 2011. In 2010, the Home Office admitted that e-borders was so useless it had to be abandoned. By then, it had spent £340 million (€380 million) on the programme.

The cancellation of the contract led to a legal settlement for another £150 million. The Home Office then spent another £303 million on a new programme, bringing expenditure to £830 million. In 2015, the National Audit Office reported that all of this expenditure “has failed, so far, to deliver the full vision” of what was supposed to be achieved. The current date for completion of the programme is 2019. The whole thing will have taken a mere 16 years. On the same timescale, the new post-Brexit systems on which the future of Ireland may hinge would be delivered in 2035. In 2015, 55 million UK customs declarations were made by 141,000 traders. Once Brexit happens, that will increase fivefold to 255 million. Leaving aside all the issues of political principle, this is the vast logistical challenge that will have to be dealt with if May and Foster are to get the Brexit they want.

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The numbers are interesting, the political stance not so much.

Canada’s Looming Economic Meltdown (GT)

Canada’s Fourth Quarter economic growth was 1.7% following positive signs of growth earlier in the year. This growth, however modest, is attributable to easy credit and the increased consumer spending. At this time, Canadian households are facing one the largest indebtedness when compared to most other countries. For every $1.00 of income, consumers owe $1.68. This is the highest income to debt ratio in the world. For low-income Canadian households, the $1.00 disposable income to $3.33 debt ratio is even worst. Canada, along with other nations, especially emerging markets are carrying records levels of consumer debts, may be facing a serious crash as further growth becomes unsustainable.

Canada combined deficit rose to $18.1 billion in 2016, from $12.9 billion in the previous year. Higher debts and increased spending are causing serious concerns that the Canadian economy is on an unsustainable economic path. A considerable portion of Canada’s future economic growth has been predicated on strengthening and improving the country’s infrastructure. However, Prime Minister Trudeau’s policies are destined to strangle potential economic growth by shifting C$7.2 billion allocated to infrastructure improvements to government programs such as gender equality hiring opportunities. According to the Conference Board of Canada’s Craig Alexander: “This isn’t a budget that’s about growth, as much as it’s about equality and breaking down barriers to opportunity.”

Canada appears to be stunting its own economic growth as a matter of policy. Three major infrastructure projects, The Northern Gateway pipeline ($7.9 billion), the Pacific Northwest LNG project ($36 billion), and possibly the Energy East pipeline ($15.7 billion) would have been instrumental in guaranteeing economic growth for decades to come. However, these have been stymied in favor of Trudeau’s economic egalitarian vision. As a result, investors have been abandoning certain projects. The last time Canada’s saw such heavy-handed government interference in its economy was during the presidency of Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau.

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This could hurt.

Coinbase Accused of Cheating Consumers in More Ways Than One (BBG)

Coinbase was slapped with a pair of lawsuits by disgruntled consumers, one alleging insider trading by employees at the giant digital currency exchange and the other accusing the company of failing to deliver cryptocurrencies to people who didn’t have accounts. The class-action suits come as Coinbase and other crypto startups are beefing up their staffs with regulatory experts to legitimize themselves as they prepare for government authorities to impose stricter rules. The first of the complaints filed in San Francisco federal court centers on Coinbase’s announcement in December that it would enable purchases of the bitcoin spinoff known as Bitcoin Cash. The customer who sued alleges that employees were tipped off a month in advance, allowing them to instantly swamp Coinbase with buy and sell orders and leaving other traders at a great disadvantage.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said at the time that the company would investigate an increase in the price of bitcoin cash in the hours before its Dec. 19 announcement and that any employee or contractor found to have violated internal policies would be terminated. “To date, neither Armstrong nor the company has disclosed the result of its purported investigation,” according to the March 1 lawsuit. In the other suit, two men claim that they were unable to redeem bitcoin that had been transferred to them through Coinbase via their email addresses in 2013. They allege that when they got reminder notices in February, they tried to recover the bitcoin only to discover that the links provided by Coinbase were broken. They accused the company of keeping their funds and say they want to represent “thousands” of other people in the same position.

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As long as the press continue to ignore this, who cares really?

US, UK Support World’s Worst Humanitarian Disaster In 50 Years (CP)

“The situation in Yemen – today, right now, to the population of the country,” UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock told Al Jazeera last month, “looks like the apocalypse.” 150,000 people are thought to have starved to death in Yemen last year, with one child dying of starvation or preventable diseases every ten minutes, and another falling into extreme malnutrition every two minutes. The country is undergoing the world’s biggest cholera epidemic since records began with over one million now having contracted the disease, and new a diptheria epidemic “is going to spread like wildfire” according to Lowcock. “Unless the situation changes,” he concluded, “we’re going to have the world’s worst humanitarian disaster for 50 years”.

The cause is well known: the Saudi-led coalition’s bombardment and blockade of the country, with the full support of the US and UK, has destroyed over 50% of the country’s healthcare infrastructure, targeted water desalination plants, decimated transport routes and choked off essential imports, whilst the government all this is supposed to reinstall has blocked salaries of public sector workers across the majority of the country, leaving rubbish to go uncollected and sewage facilities to fall apart, and creating a public health crisis. A further eight million were cut off from clean water when the Saudi-led coalition blocked all fuel imports last November, forcing pumping stations to close.

[..] As of late January, fuel imports through the country’s main port Hodeidah were still being blocked, with cholera cases continuing to climb as a result. And on 23rd January, the UN reported that there are now 22.2 million Yemenis in need of humanitarian assistance – 3.4 million more than the previous year – with eight million on the brink of famine, an increase of one million since 2017.

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America’s fast becoming a cartoon nation.

Light It Up (Jim Kunstler)

It must be hard on The New York Times editors to set their hair on fire day after day in their effort to start World War Three. Today’s lead story, Russian Threat on Two Fronts Meets Strategic Void in the U.S., aims to keep ramping up twin hysterias over a new missile gap and fear of Russian “meddling” in the 2018 midterm elections. The Times’s world-view begins to look like the script of a Batman sequel with Vlad Putin cast in The Joker role of the cackling psychopath who must be stopped at all costs! America’s generals have switched on the Batman signal beacon, but Donald Trump in the role of the Caped Crusader, merely dithers and broods in the splendid isolation of his 1600 Penn Avenue Bat Cave, suffering yet another of his endless bipolar identity crises.

For God’s sake, The Times, shrieks, do something! The Russians are coming! (Gotham City’s Chief of Police Hillary said exactly that last week in a Tweet!) I think they misunderstood Mr. Putin’s recent message when he announced a new hypersonic missile technology that would, supposedly, cut through any imaginable US missile defense. The actual message, for the non mental defectives left in this drooling idiocracy of a republic, was as follows: Nuclear war remains unthinkable, so kindly stop thinking about it. Mr. Putin’s other strategic position is also misrepresented — actually, not even acknowledged — in Monday’s NYT propaganda blast, namely, to discourage the USA’s decades-long policy of regime change here, there, and everywhere on the planet, creating a debris trail of one failed state after another.

As a true-blue American, I must say these are two admirable propositions. Is it fatuous to add that atomic war is unlikely to benefit anyone? Or that the world has had enough of US military “meddling” in foreign lands? Of course the shopworn trope of Russian “meddling” in the 2016 election still occupies the center ring of the American political circus. Today’s Times story includes another clumsy attempt to set up expectations that the 2018 midterm elections will be hacked by Russia, in order to keep the hysteria at code-red level. As usual, the proposition assumes that the alleged 2016 hacking is both proven and significant when, going on two years, there is no evidence of hacking besides the obviously amateurish Facebook troll farm.

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Sickening to watch.

The Ocean Currents Brought Us In A Lovely Gift Today (G.)

A British diver has captured shocking images of himself swimming through a sea of plastic rubbish off the coast of the Indonesian tourist resort of Bali. A short video posted by diver Rich Horner on his social media account and on YouTube shows the water densely strewn with plastic waste and yellowing food wrappers, the occasional tropical fish darting through the deluge. The footage was shot at a dive site called Manta Point, a cleaning station for the large rays on the island of Nusa Penida, about 20km from the popular Indonesian holiday island of Bali. In a Facebook post on 3 March Horner writes how the ocean currents had carried in a “lovely gift” of jellyfish and plankton, and also mounds and mounds of plastic.

“Plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic sheets, plastic buckets, plastic sachets, plastic straws, plastic baskets, plastic bags, more plastic bags, plastic, plastic,” he says, “So much plastic!” The video shows Horner swimming through the mess for several minutes and also how the waste coagulated on the surface, mixing in with some organic matter to form a slick of floating rubbish. Manta Point is regularly frequented by numerous manta rays that visit the site to get cleaned of parasites by smaller fish, but the video shows just one lone manta in the background. “Surprise, surprise, there weren’t many mantas there at the cleaning station today…” notes Horner, “They mostly decided not to bother.”

Several weeks ago thousands across Bali took part in a mass clean up, in attempt to rid the island’s beaches, rivers and jungles of waste, and raise awareness about the harmful impacts of trash. Rich Horner said that while divers regularly see “a few clouds of plastic” in the rainy season, the slick he identified is the worst yet. Divers returned to the site the next day, he reports, by which time the slick had already moved on, “continuing on its journey, off into the Indian Ocean..”

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Aug 202016
 
 August 20, 2016  Posted by at 9:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


William Henry Jackson New Orleans, “Canal Street from the Clay monument” 1890

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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Scary.

Canadian Debt Slaves Pile it on (WS)

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

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

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

Things Keep Getting Worse For EU Banks (CNBC)

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

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

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For the love of Brexit.

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

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

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

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

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Nobody should be buying a home in Britain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Motorola Need To Go To Rehab? (CCB)

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

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

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

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

Finance is Not the Economy (Hudson/Bezemer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Too much publicity lately?

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

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

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

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The DoD simply does no accounting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 132015
 
 November 13, 2015  Posted by at 10:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Youngstown, Ohio. Steel mill and Mahoning River 1902

Fresh Wave Of Selling Engulfs Oil And Metals Markets (FT)
Fed Officials Lay Case For December Liftoff (Reuters)
China Banks’ Troubled Loans Hit $628 Billion – More Than Sweden GDP (Bloomberg)
China’s Demand For Cars Has Slowed. Overcapacity Is The New Normal. (Bloomberg)
China Apparent Steel Consumption Falls 5.7% From January-October (Reuters)
China Speeds Up Fiscal Spending in October to Support Growth (Bloomberg)
China Panics, Sends Fiscal Spending Sky-High As Credit Creation Tumbles (ZH)
China Learns What Pushing on a String Feels Like (WSJ)
Oil Slumps 4%, Nears New Six-Year Low (Reuters)
OPEC Says Oil-Inventory Glut Is Biggest in at Least a Decade (Bloomberg)
IEA Says Record 3 Billion-Barrel Oil Stocks May Weaken Prices (Bloomberg)
Number of First-Time US Home Buyers Falls to Lowest in Three Decades (WSJ)
Striking Greeks Take To Tension-Filled Streets In Austerity Protest (Reuters)
Europe’s Top Banks Are Cutting Losses Throughout Latin America (Bloomberg)
Collapsing Greenland Glacier Could Raise Sea Levels By Half A Meter (Guardian)
EU Leaders Race To Secure €3 Billion Migrant Deal With Turkey (Guardian)
PM Trudeau Says Canada To Settle 25,000 Syrian Refugees In Next 7 Weeks (G&M)

This has so much more downside to it.

Fresh Wave Of Selling Engulfs Oil And Metals Markets (FT)

A renewed sell-off in oil and metals has shaken investors as fears grow that falling demand for commodities is signalling a sharper slowdown in China’s resource-hungry economy. Copper, considered a barometer for global economic growth because of its wide range of industrial uses, fell to a six-year low below $5,000 a tonne on Thursday. Oil, which has tanked almost 20% since a shortlived rally in October, dropped to under $45 a barrel on Thursday, less than half the level it traded at for much of this decade. The Bloomberg Commodity Index, a broad basket of 22 commodity futures widely followed by institutional investors, has fallen to its lowest level since the financial crisis.

Commodity prices have become a barometer for the health of China’s economy, whose rapid industrialisation over the past 10 years has been the engine of global growth. While markets already endured a commodity sell-off in August, traders and analysts say the drop is more worrying this time as it appears to be driven by concerns about demand rather than a glut of supply. “Whether it was power cable production [in China] or air conditioner data … activity in October continued to show deep contraction”, said Nicholas Snowdon, analyst at Standard Chartered. The slowdown is particularly concerning as many analysts and investors had expected an easing in Chinese credit conditions to stoke a modest increase in consumption in the fourth quarter.

Goldman Sachs said this week that recent data pointed to shrinking demand in China’s “old economy” as Beijing tries to manage a transition to more consumer-led growth. By some measures commodity prices are back where they were before China started on its path to urbanisation more than a decade ago. Other leading commodity indices are back at levels last seen in 2001, while shares in Anglo American fell to their lowest since the company s UK listing in 1999 on Thursday. A stronger US dollar has also weighed on raw material prices. “There are signs that oil demand growth is slowing down significantly relative to earlier this year”, said Pierre Andurand, one of the top performing energy hedge fund managers last year. “World GDP growth will keep on being revised down”.

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Forward narrativeance.

Fed Officials Lay Case For December Liftoff (Reuters)

U.S. Federal Reserve officials lined up behind a likely December interest rate hike with one key central banker saying the risk of waiting too long was now roughly in balance with the risk of moving too soon to normalize rates after seven years near zero. Other Fed policymakers argued that inflation should rebound, allowing the Fed to soon lift rates from near zero though probably proceed gradually after that. In New York, William Dudley said: “I see the risks right now of moving too quickly versus moving too slowly as nearly balanced.” Dudley, who as president of the New York Fed has a permanent vote on the Fed’s policy-setting committee, said the decision still required the central bank to “think carefully” because of the risk that the United States is facing chronically slower growth and low inflation that would justify continued low rates.

But his assessment of “nearly balanced” risks represents a subtle shift in the thinking of a Fed member who has been hesitant to commit to a rate hike, but now sees evidence accumulating in favor of one. For much of Janet Yellen’s tenure as Fed chair, policymakers at the core of the committee, and Yellen herself, have said they would rather delay a rate hike and battle inflation than hike too soon and brake the recovery. But Dudley said the current 5% unemployment rate “could fall to an unsustainably low level” that threatens inflation, while seven years of near-zero rates “may be distorting financial markets.” “I don’t favor waiting until I sort of see the whites in inflation’s eyes,” he said about monetary policy timing. Going sooner and more slowly, he said at the Economic Club of New York, may now be best for the Fed’s “risk management.”

In Washington, Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer said inflation should rebound next year to about 1.5%, from 1.3% now, as pressures related to the strong dollar and low energy prices fade. The second-in-command also noted that the Fed could move next month to raise rates, which could be taken as yet another signal the central bank is less willing to let low inflation further delay policy tightening. “While the dollar’s appreciation and foreign weakness have been a sizable shock, the U.S. economy appears to be weathering them reasonably well,” Fischer told a conference of researchers and market participants at the Fed Board.

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I’d like to know what bad loans are at in the shadow banking sector.

China Banks’ Troubled Loans Hit $628 Billion – More Than Sweden GDP (Bloomberg)

Chinese banks’ troubled loans swelled to almost 4 trillion yuan ($628 billion) by the end of September, more than the gross domestic product of Sweden, according to figures released by the industry regulator. Banks’ profit growth slumped to 2% in the first nine months from 13% a year earlier, according to data released on Thursday night by the China Banking Regulatory Commission. The numbers come as a debt crisis at China Shanshui Cement Group Ltd. prompts lenders including China Construction Bank Corp. and China Merchants Bank Co. to demand immediate repayments and as weakness in October credit growth shows the risk of a deeper economic slowdown. While the official data shows non-performing loans at 1.59% of outstanding credit, or 1.2 trillion yuan, that rises to 5.4%, or 3.99 trillion yuan, if “special mention” loans, where repayment is at risk, are also included.

The amount of bad debt piling up in China is at the center of a debate about whether the country will continue as a locomotive of global growth or sink into decades of stagnation like Japan after its credit bubble burst. “Evergreening,” which is when banks roll over debt that hasn’t been repaid on time, may contribute to the official bad-loan numbers being understated. The Bank for International Settlements cautioned in September that China’s credit to gross domestic product ratio indicated an increasing risk of a banking crisis in coming years. Bad-loan provisions, shrinking lending margins and weakness in demand for credit are eroding banks’ profits just as financial deregulation boosts competition. Ramped-up stimulus, with the central bank cutting interest rates six times in a year, failed to prevent the nation’s broadest measure of new credit slumping to the lowest in 15 months in October.

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“New Chinese factories are forecast to add a further 10% in capacity in 2016—despite projections that sales will continue to be challenged.”

China’s Demand For Cars Has Slowed. Overcapacity Is The New Normal. (Bloomberg)

For much of the past decade, China’s auto industry seemed to be a perpetual growth machine. Annual vehicle sales on the mainland surged to 23 million units in 2014 from about 5 million in 2004. That provided a welcome bounce to Western carmakers such as Volkswagen and General Motors and fueled the rapid expansion of locally based manufacturers including BYD and Great Wall Motor. Best of all, those new Chinese buyers weren’t as price-sensitive as those in many mature markets, allowing fat profit margins along with the fast growth. No more. Automakers in China have gone from adding extra factory shifts six years ago to running some plants at half-pace today—even as they continue to spend billions of dollars to bring online even more plants that were started during the good times.

The construction spree has added about 17 million units of annual production capacity since 2009, compared with an increase of 10.6 million units in annual sales, according to estimates by Bloomberg Intelligence. New Chinese factories are forecast to add a further 10% in capacity in 2016—despite projections that sales will continue to be challenged. “The Chinese market is hypercompetitive, so many automakers are afraid of losing market share,” says Steve Man, a Hong Kong-based analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “The players tend to build more capacity in hopes of maintaining, or hopefully, gain market share. Overcapacity is here to stay.” The carmaking binge in China has its roots in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, when China unleashed a stimulus program that bolstered auto sales.

That provided a lifeline for U.S. and European carmakers, then struggling with a collapse in consumer demand in their home markets. Passenger vehicle sales in China increased 53% in 2009 and 33% in 2010 after the stimulus policy was put in place. But the flood of cars led to worsening traffic gridlock and air pollution that triggered restrictions on vehicle registrations in major cities including Beijing and Shanghai. Worse, the combination of too many new factories and slowing demand has dragged down the industry’s average plant utilization rate, a measure of profitability and efficiency. The industrywide average plunged from more than 100% six years ago (the result of adding work hours or shifts) to about 70% today, leaving it below the 80% level generally considered healthy. Some local carmakers are averaging about 50% utilization, according to the China Passenger Car Association.

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We should use ‘apparent’ for all Chinese offcial data.

China Apparent Steel Consumption Falls 5.7% From January-October (Reuters)

Apparent steel consumption in China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer, fell 5.7% to 590.47 million tonnes in the first 10 months of the year, the China Iron and Steel Association (CISA) said on Friday. The figure was disclosed by CISA vice-secretary general Wang Yingsheng at a conference. China’s massive steel industry has been hit by weakening demand and a huge 400 million tonne per annum capacity surplus that has sapped prices. Producers have relied on export markets to offset the decline in domestic demand, but crude steel output still declined 2.2% in the first 10 months of the year, according to official data.

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“Fiscal spending jumped 36.1% from a year earlier..”

China Speeds Up Fiscal Spending in October to Support Growth (Bloomberg)

China’s government spending surged four times the pace of revenue growth in October, highlighting policy makers’ determination to meet this years’ growth target as a manufacturing and property investment slowdown weigh on the economy. Fiscal spending jumped 36.1% from a year earlier to 1.35 trillion yuan ($210 billion), while fiscal revenue rose 8.7% to 1.44 trillion yuan, the Finance Ministry said Thursday. In the first ten months of the year, spending advanced 18.1% and revenue increased 7.7%. China is turning to increased fiscal outlays as monetary easing, a relaxation on local government financing, and an expansion of policy banks’ capacity to lend, struggle to stabilize growth in the nation’s waning economic engines.

Meantime, government revenue has been strained as companies face overcapacity, factory-gate deflation and the slowest annual economic growth in a quarter century. “With downward economic pressure and structural tax and fee cuts, fiscal revenue will face considerable difficulties in the next two months,” the Ministry of Finance said in the statement. “As revenue growth slows, fiscal expenditure has clearly been expedited to ensure that all key spending is completed.” The stepped-up stimulus effort had taken the fiscal-deficit-to-gross-domestic-product ratio to a six-year high by the end of September, according to an October report by Morgan Stanley analysts led by Sun Junwei in Hong Kong.

“The central government has been taking the lead in fiscal easing to support growth” as local governments’ off budget spending through financing vehicles have slowed, the analysts wrote. The country plans to raise the quota for regional authorities to swap high-yielding debt for municipal bonds by as much as 25%, according to people familiar with the matter. The quota of the bond-swap program will be increased to as much as 3.8 trillion yuan to 4 trillion yuan for 2015, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the move hasn’t been made public. Increases have been made throughout the year from an originally announced 1 trillion yuan.

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“..companies don’t need to invest and they’re already straining under mountainous debt loads they can’t service.”

China Panics, Sends Fiscal Spending Sky-High As Credit Creation Tumbles (ZH)

Earlier this week, MNI suggested that according to discussions with bank personnel in China, data on lending for October was likely to come in exceptionally weak. That would mark a reversal from September when the credit impulse looked particularly strong and the numbers topped estimates handily. “One source familiar with the data said new loans by the Big Four state-owned commercial banks in October plunged to a level that hasn’t been seen for many years,” MNI reported. Given that, and given what we know about rising NPLs and a lack of demand for credit as the country copes with a troubling excess capacity problem, none of the above should come as a surprise. Well, the numbers are out and sure enough, they disappointed to the downside. RMB new loans came at just CNY514bn in October – consensus was far higher at CNY800bn. That was down 6.3% Y/Y. Total social financing fell 29% Y/Y to CNY447 billion, down sharply from September’s CNY1.3 trillion print.

As noted above, this is likely attributable to three factors. First, banks’ NPLs are far higher than the official numbers, as Beijing’s insistence on forcing banks to roll souring debt and the suspicion that nearly 40% of credit is either carried off the books or classified in such a way that it doesn’t make it into the headline print. Underscoring this is the rising number of defaults China has seen this year. Obviously, you’re going to be reluctant to lend if you know that under the hood, things are going south in a hurry. Here’s Credit Suisse’s Tao Dong, who spoke to Bloomberg: “Banks are still unwilling to lend. This is quite weak, even stripping out the seasonality. The rebound in bank lending, boosted by the PBOC’s injection to the policy banks, has been short lived.” Second, it’s not clear that demand for loans will be particularly robust for the foreseeable future. The country has an overcapacity problem. In short, companies don’t need to invest and they’re already straining under mountainous debt loads they can’t service.

Here’s Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis: “The reason is simple: too much leverage.” With those two things in mind, consider thirdly that this comes against the backdrop of lackluster economic growth. As Goldman points out, “China is likely to continue to slow credit growth over the medium to long term given credit growth is still running at roughly double the rate of GDP growth.” In short, it’s not clear why anyone should expect these numbers to rebound. Back to Bloomberg: “The “big miss for China’s credit growth in October rings alarm bells about the strength of the economy and significantly increases the chances of continued aggressive easing,” Bloomberg Intelligence economist Tom Orlik wrote in a note. “It lends support to the idea that a combination of falling profits, the high cost of servicing existing borrowing and uncertainty about the outlook has significantly reduced firms’ incentives to borrow and invest. That’s similar to the problem that afflicted Japan during its lost decades.”

So if these kind of numbers continue to emanate from China, expect the calls for fiscal stimulus to get much louder. Indeed consider that fiscal spending soared 36% on the month (via Bloomberg again): “China’s government spending surged four times the pace of revenue growth in October, highlighting policy makers’ determination to meet this years’ growth target as a manufacturing and property investment slowdown weigh on the economy. Fiscal spending jumped 36.1% from a year earlier to 1.35 trillion yuan ($210 billion), while fiscal revenue rose 8.7% to 1.44 trillion yuan, the Finance Ministry said Thursday. In the first ten months of the year, spending advanced 18.1% and revenue increased 7.7%.”

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“Total credit outstanding was up just 12% from a year earlier, close to its slowest pace in over a decade.” That’s still twice as fast as even the official GDP growth number..

China Learns What Pushing on a String Feels Like (WSJ)

The People’s Bank of China has been easing policy for nearly a year, but the economy hasn’t bounced back. Capital outflows and a tapped out banking system are holding it back. Data out Thursday showed lending in October to be decidedly lackluster. Banks extended 513.6 billion yuan ($80.7 billion) of new loans, down 3.3% from a year earlier. Total social financing, a broader measure of credit that includes various kinds of shadow loans, was also weak. Total credit outstanding was up just 12% from a year earlier, close to its slowest pace in over a decade. This will be disappointing to the central bank, which has been bending over backward to stimulate credit. Since November last year, it has slashed benchmark interest rates six times and cut the required level of reserves, which frees up funds for lending, four times.

Demand for loans is weak, as companies see fewer opportunities for profitable investment in a slowing economy. What’s more, disinflationary pressures mean that real, inflation-adjusted lending rates have fallen by not much or none at all, depending on what price index is used. Banks are also hesitant to lend aggressively, says Credit Suisse economist Dong Tao, as they are already facing a buildup of nonperforming loans. In the third quarter, profit growth at the country’s eight biggest lenders was close to zero, due to rising provisions for bad loans. Capital outflows are also making the PBOC’s job harder. Figures out on Wednesday indicated that there was a massive $224 billion of investment outflows in the third quarter.

Facing this, the PBOC has been intervening to keep the currency from depreciating, selling off dollars and buying up yuan. Unfortunately this shrinks the domestic money supply, thus counteracting much of the PBOC’s easing measures. The alternative would be to let the currency depreciate. That would lead to more outflows in the near term, until the currency falls to a level that would bring money back in. But if the economy keeps stalling, pressure for depreciation may be too strong to resist. Investors who have seen the yuan stabilize since the botched August devaluation shouldn’t rest too easy. The outflow situation appeared to improve in October. The PBOC’s forex reserves unexpectedly ticked up for the month, suggesting it didn’t have to intervene as much in the currency markets.

But economists such as Daiwa’s Kevin Lai believe the central bank was merely intervening more stealthily, for example by borrowing dollars from forward markets instead of spending its reserves. Regardless, unless the Chinese economy surges back soon, outflow pressures are likely to intensify again, especially if the Federal Reserve raises interest rates as expected in December. That will make it even more difficult to stimulate growth in China. Fiscal policy, including more infrastructure stimulus, will likely be needed to supplement monetary easing. Otherwise, the PBOC will just keep pushing on a string.

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The $30 handle is not far away.

Oil Slumps 4%, Nears New Six-Year Low (Reuters)

Oil prices tumbled almost 4% on Thursday, accelerating a slump that threatens to test new six-and-a-half year lows, with traders unnerved by a persistent rise in U.S. stockpiles and a downbeat forecast for next year. Benchmark Brent crude fell below $45 a barrel for the first time since August, its sixth decline of a seven-day losing streak of more than $6 a barrel, or 12%, in a slump that will vex traders who thought the year’s lows had already passed. The latest decline was triggered by data showing that U.S. stockpiles were still rising rapidly toward the record highs reached in April, despite slowing U.S. shale production. Weekly U.S. data showed stocks rose by 4.2 million barrels, four times above market expectations.

In its monthly report, OPEC said its output dropped in October but at current levels it could still produce a daily surplus above 500,000 barrels by 2016. Brent futures settled down $1.75, or 3.8%, at $44.06 a barrel. The tumble of the past week has left Brent less than $2 away from its August lows and a new 6-1/2 year bottom. U.S. crude futures finished down $1.18, or 2.8%, at $41.75. Its low in August was $37.75. “We’re going to have a lot of oil on our hands with the builds we’re seeing, talk of rising tanker storage and the yawning discount between prompt and forward oil,” said Tariq Zahir at New York’s Tyche Capital Advisors.

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And everyone’s pumping.

OPEC Says Oil-Inventory Glut Is Biggest in at Least a Decade (Bloomberg)

Surplus oil inventories are at the highest level in at least a decade because of increased global production, according to OPEC. Stockpiles in developed economies are 210 million barrels higher than their five-year average, exceeding the glut that accumulated in early 2009 after the financial crisis, the organization said in a report. Slowing non-OPEC supply and rising demand for winter fuels could “help alleviate the current overhang,” enabling a recovery in prices, it said. The group’s own production slipped last month because of lower output in Iraq. “The build in global inventories is mainly the result of the increase in total supply outpacing growth in world oil demand,” OPEC’s research department said in its monthly market report. Oil prices have lost about 40% in the past year as several OPEC members pump near record levels to defend their market share against rivals such as the U.S. shale industry.

While inventories peaked in early 2009 before OPEC implemented record production cuts, this time the group has signaled it won’t pare supplies to balance global markets and U.S. output is buckling only gradually in response to the price rout. The current excess is bigger than the surplus of 180 million barrels to the five-year seasonal average that developed in the first quarter of 2009, according to the report. The 2009 glut was the only other occasion in the past 10 years when the oversupply has topped 150 million barrels, it said. “The massive stockpile overhang is one more indicator, along with the ongoing slump in prices, that Saudi Arabia’s oil strategy isn’t working so far,” said Seth Kleinman, head of energy strategy at Citigroup Inc. in London. “The physical oil market is falling apart just as we are hitting the winter, when it’s all supposed to be getting better.”

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The entire market is collapsing, but the IEA sees a positive: ““Brimming crude oil stocks” offer “an unprecedented buffer against geopolitical shocks or unexpected supply disruptions..”

IEA Says Record 3 Billion-Barrel Oil Stocks May Weaken Prices (Bloomberg)

Oil stockpiles have swollen to a record of almost 3 billion barrels because of strong production in OPEC and elsewhere, potentially deepening the rout in prices, according to the International Energy Agency. This “massive cushion has inflated” on record supplies from Iraq, Russia and Saudi Arabia, even as world fuel demand grows at the fastest pace in five years, the agency said. Still, the IEA predicts that supplies outside OPEC will decline next year by the most since 1992 as low crude prices take their toll on the U.S. shale oil industry. “Brimming crude oil stocks” offer “an unprecedented buffer against geopolitical shocks or unexpected supply disruptions,” the Paris-based agency said in its monthly market report. With supplies of winter fuels also plentiful, “oil-market bears may choose not to hibernate.”

Oil prices have lost about 40% in the past year as the OPEC defends its market share against rivals such as the U.S. shale industry, which is faltering only gradually despite the price collapse. Oil inventories are growing because supply growth still outpaces demand, the 12-member exporters group said in its monthly report Thursday. Total oil inventories in developed nations increased by 13.8 million barrels to about 3 billion in September, a month when they typically decline, according to the agency. The pace of gains slowed to 1.6 million barrels a day in the third quarter, from 2.3 million a day in the second, although growth remained “significantly above the historical average.” There are signs the some fuel-storage depots in the eastern hemisphere have been filled to capacity, it said.

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Excuse me? … “..younger households are forgoing the opportunity to accumulate wealth..”

Number of First-Time US Home Buyers Falls to Lowest in Three Decades (WSJ)

The share of U.S. homes sold to first-time buyers this year declined to its lowest level in almost three decades, raising concerns that young people are being left out of an otherwise strong housing-market recovery. First-time buyers fell to 32% of all purchasers in 2015 from 33% last year, the third straight annual decline and the lowest%age since 1987, according to a report released Thursday by the National Association of Realtors, a trade group. The historical average is 40%, according to the group, which has been recording such data since 1981. The housing market is on track for its strongest year for sales since 2007, but the dearth of younger buyers could pose long-term challenges, economists said.

Without them, current owners have difficulty trading up or selling their homes when they retire. If home prices continue to rise sharply it will become even more difficult for new buyers to enter the market. The median price of previously built homes sold in September was $221,900, up 6.1% from a year earlier, according to the NAR. The median price for a newly built home rose to $296,900 in September from $261,500 a year ago, according to the Commerce Department. “The short answer is they can’t afford it,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at Redfin, a real-estate brokerage. By delaying homeownership, younger households are forgoing the opportunity to accumulate wealth, said Ms. Richardson.

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For now, they look stuck with nowhere to turn.

Striking Greeks Take To Tension-Filled Streets In Austerity Protest (Reuters)

Striking Greeks took to the streets on Thursday to protest austerity measures, setting Alexis Tsipras’ government its biggest domestic challenge since he was re-elected in September promising to cushion the impact of economic hardship. Flights were grounded, hospitals ran on skeleton staff, ships were docked at port and public offices stayed shut across the country in the first nationwide walkout called by Greece’s largest private and public sector unions in a year. As Greece’s foreign lenders prepared to meet in central Athens to review compliance with its latest bailout, thousands marched in protest at the relentless round of tax hikes and pension cutbacks that the rescue packages have entailed.

Tensions briefly boiled over in the city’s main Syntagma Square, where a Reuters witness saw riot police fired tear gas at dozens of black-clad youths who broke off from the march to hurl petrol bombs and stones and smash shop windows near parliament. Some bombs struck the frontage of the Greek central bank. Police sources said three people were detained before order was restored. Five years of austerity since the first bailout was signed in 2010 have sapped economic activity and left about a quarter of the population out of work. “My salary is not enough to cover even my basic needs. My students are starving,” said Dimitris Nomikos, 52, a protesting teacher told Reuters. “They are destroying the social security system … I don’t know if we will ever see our pensions.”

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Losses wherever you look.

Europe’s Top Banks Are Cutting Losses Throughout Latin America (Bloomberg)

European banks are on the retreat all across Latin America Societe Generale announced in February that it’s dismissing more than 1,000 workers while exiting the consumer-finance business in Brazil. In August, HSBC sold its unprofitable Brazilian unit, with more than 20,000 employees. Two months later, it was Deutsche Banks turn. The German lender said it’s closing offices in Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Uruguay and moving Brazilian trading activities elsewhere. Barclays is shrinking its operations in Brazil too. The exodus threatens to deepen Latin America’s turmoil, making it harder for companies and consumers to obtain financing. The region already is out of favor as sinking commodity prices drive it toward the worst recession since the late 1990s.

European banks, meanwhile, are looking to cull weak businesses as they struggle to generate profits and meet tougher capital requirements back home. “All large European banks are under great pressure from regulatory changes and low stock prices to change their business models,” Roy Smith, a finance professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said in an e-mail. “These changes have to be quite significant to make enough difference.” The exits are opening opportunities for local rivals and global banks from the U.S., Spain and Switzerland willing to wait out the economic slump. Latin America’s economy will probably contract 0.5% this year, squeezed by falling commodity prices and a slowdown in Brazil that’s predicted to be the longest since the Great Depression.

That would make it the first recession in the region since 2009 and the biggest since 1999. Demand for investment-banking services is tumbling, with fees plunging 45% this year through Oct. 15 to a 10-year low of $817 million, Dealogic said. “European banks have fairly weak profits right now and in some cases low capital levels,” Erin Davis, an analyst from Morningstar, said in an e-mail. That leaves “little wiggle room” to absorb losses or low profits from Latin America, even if they believe in its long-term potential, Davis said.

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“..from 2002 to 2014 the area of the glacier’s floating shelf shrank by a massive 95%..”

Collapsing Greenland Glacier Could Raise Sea Levels By Half A Meter (Guardian)

A major glacier in Greenland that holds enough water to raise global sea levels by half a metre has begun to crumble into the North Atlantic Ocean, scientists say. The huge Zachariae Isstrom glacier in northeast Greenland started to melt rapidly in 2012 and is now breaking up into large icebergs where the glacier meets the sea, monitoring has revealed. The calving of the glacier into chunks of floating ice will set in train a rise in sea levels that will continue for decades to come, the US team warns. “Even if we have some really cool years ahead, we think the glacier is now unstable,” said Jeremie Mouginot at the University of California, Irvine. “Now this has started, it will continue until it retreats to a ridge about 30km back which could stabilise it and perhaps slow that retreat down.”

Mouginot and his colleagues drew on 40 years of satellite data and aerial surveys to show that the enormous Zachariae Isstrom glacier began to recede three times faster from 2012, with its retreat speeding up by 125 metres per year every year until the most recent measurements in 2015. The same records revealed that from 2002 to 2014 the area of the glacier’s floating shelf shrank by a massive 95%, according to a report in the journal Science. The glacier has now become detached from a stabilising sill and is losing ice at a rate of 4.5bn tonnes a year. Eric Rignot, professor of Earth system science at the University of California, Irvine, said that the glacier was “being hit from above and below”, with rising air temperatures driving melting at the top of the glacier, and its underside being eroded away by ocean currents that are warmer now than in the past.

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Wow, really?! Foreigners controlling your borders?: “..a pact that would see Turkey patrolling the EU’s southern border with Greece..”

EU Leaders Race To Secure €3 Billion Migrant Deal With Turkey (Guardian)

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other EU leaders are racing to clinch a €3bn (£2.4bn) deal with Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to halt the mass influx of migrants and refugees into Europe. All 28 national EU leaders are expected to host Erdogan at a special summit in Brussels within weeks to expedite a pact that would see Turkey patrolling the EU’s southern border with Greece and stemming the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees, mainly from Syria. In return, Ankara would get €3bn over two years and the EU would also probably agree to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees in Europe directly from Turkey. No EU country, not even Germany, has committed to paying its share of the €3bn bill except Britain.

In what appears to be a unique event in David Cameron’s chequered history of relations with the EU, the prime minister, while in the Maltese capital of Valletta, offered €400m for the Turkey plan, the only financial pledge yet delivered. That figure is roughly in line with a breakdown of expected national contributions by the European commission and would make Britain the second biggest participant after Germany. The prospect of a breakthrough with Turkey is tantalising for Merkel, for whom the refugee crisis has posed the biggest problem in 10 years of power. This week her finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, likened the arrival of almost 800,000 newcomers in Germany this year to an avalanche and appeared to blame the chancellor for the situation by stating that “careless skiers can trigger avalanches”.

Facing tumult within her governing coalition and her own party, Merkel looks like a leader seeking relief in a hurry. An emergency EU summit in Valletta heard from EU negotiators on Thursday that Erdogan was demanding two quick moves by the Europeans to pave the way for a deal – €3bn over two years and a full summit. Senior EU sources said the message from Ankara was that the price tag would rise if it was not accepted now. Merkel wasted no time in agreeing, witnesses to the closed-door summit exchanges said. She told her fellow EU leaders that she was ready to put money on the table and proposed 22 November as the summit date. She later said the date was not set because it had to be agreed with Ankara, but that it would be around the end of the month.

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It’s a start.

PM Trudeau Says Canada To Settle 25,000 Syrian Refugees In Next 7 Weeks (G&M)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will use his first international trip as an opportunity to show other nations there is an economic – as well as humanitarian – case for welcoming large numbers of Syrian refugees. Less than two weeks after being sworn in as Prime Minister, Mr. Trudeau will participate in a summit of G20 leaders hosted by Turkey, Syria’s northern neighbour that is currently home to more than two million refugees. Mr. Trudeau said he expects Canada’s plan to settle 25,000 Syrian refugees this year will have a greater impact in terms of setting an example to others. “I think one of the things that is most important right now is for a country like Canada to demonstrate how to make accepting large numbers of refugees not just a challenge or a problem, but an opportunity; an opportunity for communities across this country, an opportunity to create growth for the economy,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau is departing on a whirlwind of foreign travel that will test his political skills as he attempts to strike positive first impressions with the world’s most influential leaders. The Liberals are promoting the trips as a message that Canada will now play a more constructive role in international affairs. The Prime Minister said his focus at the G20 will be to encourage global growth through government investment rather than austerity. The G20 pledged last year in Brisbane, Australia, to boost economic growth by 2% partly by increased spending on infrastructure, a plan that is in line with Mr. Trudeau’s successful election platform. The global economy has since moved in the opposite direction. The IMF has lowered its global growth forecasts for this year and next.

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Oct 252014
 
 October 25, 2014  Posted by at 12:12 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


DPC Luna Park, Coney Island 1905

An Economy Based On Property Has Much To Fear (Independent)
Lenders Facing Soaring Costs Shutting Out U.S. Homebuyers (Bloomberg)
It Shouldn’t Hurt This Much to Get a Mortgage (Ritholtz)
Paying For Bad Habits: Hookers And Drugs Lift UK’s EU Bill (Guardian)
UK Chancellor Osborne’s Choice Of Words Is Sounding Alarm Bells (Guardian)
A Mystery Bidder Offers $3 Million for 6,000 of Detroit’s Worst Homes (BW)
Spanish Accuse Goldman, Blackstone Of Hiking Rent For Poor (Independent)
EU Bank Breakup Plan Hits More Hurdles as Danes Reject Idea (Bloomberg)
Citigroup Bets ECB Will Do QE as Morgan Stanley Sees Odds at 40% (Bloomberg)
50% Of American Workers Make Less Than $28,031 A Year (Snyder)
The American Dream Is Still Possible, Just Not in the US (Daily Bell)
Rosenberg Says No Recession Until At Least 2016 (MarketWatch)
China Auto Market Growth To Shrink by 50% This Year: Industry Head (Reuters)
Blood In The Water As Amazon Magic Fades (Reuters)
Putin Accuses U.S of Blackmail, Weakening Global Order (Bloomberg)
NPR Slashes Number Of Environment Reporters To One Part-Timer (HuffPo)
Ebola Epidemic In Africa To Explode Without Rapid, Substantial Aid (Lancet)
‘Official’ Number of Ebola Cases Passes 10,000, With 5,000 Deaths (BBC)

A very smart way to look at it.

An Economy Based On Property Has Much To Fear (Independent)

Believe it or not, the Bank of England isn’t just a bunch of bowler-hatted types stuck behind desks in Threadneedle Street. It has agents up and down the country interviewing business people on how their companies are faring: what goods are selling well, whether they’re hiring or firing, that sort of thing. The monthly bulletins that result rarely get reported, but are useful because they layer anecdotal evidence on top of the regular run of dry economic stats. Superficially, October’s feedback had much to cheer – order books are swelling in most sectors, employment is expected to increase, and access to credit has improved. But it is striking how much of this positive stuff is related, directly or indirectly, to the property market.

Business services firms – accountants, lawyers and the like – are growing because of an increase in construction deals; manufacturing and retail sales are being kept afloat by sales of kitchens, bathrooms and furniture thanks to people moving house; business investment is growing as firms spend more on doing up their premises or moving to new sites. Property, property, property. Exporters, meanwhile, were gloomy, with all, from farmers to manufacturers, complaining of eurozone weakness, Russian belligerence and war in the Middle East. That means we will be reliant on the domestic economy for years to come. With this still clearly so dominated by the world of bricks and mortar, one has to wonder, what would happen if interest rates start to rise? Disaster, that’s what. The Bank’s other document release yesterday – the minutes to the Monetary Policy Committee’s last meeting on rates – show a continuing doveish slant. Good job, too.

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No, prices vs income shuts out potential buyers. So either significantly raise wages or drop prices, and stop whining.

Lenders Facing Soaring Costs Shutting Out U.S. Homebuyers (Bloomberg)

Clem Ziroli Jr.’s mortgage firm, which has seen its costs soar to comply with new regulations, used to make about three loans a day. This year Ziroli said he’s lucky if one gets done. His First Mortgage Corp., which mostly loans to borrowers with lower FICO credit scores and thick, complicated files, must devote triple the time to ensure paperwork conforms to rules created after the housing crash. To ease the burden, Ziroli hired three executives a few months ago to also focus on lending to safe borrowers with simpler applications. “The biggest thing people are suffering from is the cost to manufacture a loan,” said Ziroli, president of the Ontario, California-based firm and a 22-year industry veteran. “If you have a high credit score, it’s easier. For deserving borrowers with lower scores, the cost for mistakes is prohibitive and is causing lenders to not want to make those loans.”

Federal regulations, enacted after the collapse of the subprime market spurred the financial crisis, are boosting mortgage costs this year. Most lenders are responding by providing home loans only to borrowers with near perfect credit, shutting out creditworthy Americans whose loan files are too expensive to review and complete. If banks commit compliance errors in issuing a loan that goes bad, they have to buy it back at a loss from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. During the housing boom between 2004 and 2007, lenders provided about $2 trillion in subprime loans, many to unqualified borrowers. So-called liar loans didn’t require borrowers to provide pay stubs or tax returns to document earnings. Teaser rates as low as 1% offered on mortgages soared when they reset a few years later.

The share of subprime mortgages for which borrowers either provided little documentation of their assets or none at all rose to 38% in 2007 from 32% in 2003, according to a paper published by the Federal Reserve. Almost one in four of those mortgages defaulted by 2008 compared with one in five of fully documented subprime loans. Wall Street firms securitized pools of the loans called collateralized debt obligations and sold them to investors. They also created so-called synthetic CDOs that were derivative instruments designed to mirror the performance of the loan pools. “What started the crisis were these loans that were designed to fail, loans that weren’t underwritten at all,” said Julia Gordon, director of housing finance and policy at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, which has ties to the Democratic Party. “No one quite realized that these loans were then at the bottom of this giant pyramid scheme, where the Wall Street derivative products that were based off of them would just come crashing down and take the whole economy with them.”

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Sorry, Barry, but that’s as wrong as can be. It should very much be this hard, or prices will never find their ‘natural’ floor.

It Shouldn’t Hurt This Much to Get a Mortgage (Barry Ritholtz)

Under normal circumstances, approving my mortgage application should be a no-brainer: High income, no debt, good credit score. The missus also makes a good income, has an almost-perfect credit score and has been working for the same business for 28 years. But these are not normal circumstances. Let me jump to the end: Yes, we got our mortgage. We put 20% down, bought a house that appraised for more than the purchase price and got a 3.25% rate on a mortgage that resets after seven years. We moved in last month.

But the process was surreal. Indeed, it was such a bizarre experience that I started hunting for explanations from people in the industry about why mortgage lending has gone astray. I spoke to numerous experts, many of whom spoke only on background. Today’s column is about what I learned. By just about any measure, credit is tighter today than it has been in decades. Although former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s inability to refinance a mortgage is merely anecdotal, consider instead the gauge CoreLogic developed. It used 1998 as a baseline and considered six quantitative measurements to evaluate how loose or easy mortgage lending is. By those metrics, this is the tightest credit market for mortgage lending in at least 16 years.

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I like my take from yesterday better: French hookers are cheaper than British ones.

Paying For Bad Habits: Hookers And Drugs Lift UK’s EU Bill (Guardian)

Listening to EU officials describe how Britain pays its annual EU contribution brings to mind George W Bush being questioned about one of his administration’s budgets. Flicking the pages before assembled journalists he said: “There’s a lot of pages, a lot of lines and a lot of numbers.” To all but a few, the addings up and subtractings that go on in Brussels make little more sense. One of the few things that does seem clear is that Britain is paying for its bad habits. Brussels needs more cash this year to cope with overspent budgets. And while it might seem unfair to tax a country for needing a bigger crutch than others in the EU club, relatively speaking, the UK’s GDP has jumped courtesy of new estimates of the nation’s consumption of drugs and use of prostitutes. The EU applies its complex calculation of how much member states should pay into its coffers largely on GDP levels. The bigger the national income, the bigger the contribution. So far, so simple.

However, earlier this year the UK’s GDP was given a £10bn boost after officials calculated that sex work generated £5.3bn for the economy in 2013, with another £4.4bn coming from the sale of cannabis, heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines. Other countries have been affected too after the EU calculated how much of their hidden economies should be brought on the books. Greece faces a larger contribution despite losing a fifth of is national income since 2009. Italy is another victim, though arguably it has only included a fraction of the mafia’s business in its GDP calculations. More importantly, Britain is paying more because this year it is simply bigger than 18 months ago while other countries have stood still or contracted. Like soldiers in a lineup who find themselves volunteering for toilet duty after everyone else has taken a step back, the UK Treasury is paying for being one of the few among the EU’s 27 economies to strengthen this year.

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A glitch in the posturing process?!

UK Chancellor Osborne’s Choice Of Words Is Sounding Alarm Bells (Guardian)

George Osborne is clearly worried. Going into a pre-election war-gaming huddle with his advisers, the economic numbers that once sang a happy tune and are so crucial to victory, now sound a little discordant. It seems churlish to strain for the bum notes in the latest GDP figures. All parts of the economy are growing, with the exception of agriculture. And growing more strongly than they are in any of the major European economies. But it is the chancellor’s words that set off the alarm bells. He said: “If we want to avoid a return to the chaos and instability of the past, then we need to carry on working through our economic plan that is delivering stability and security.” Adopting the word “chaos” is at once interesting and alarming. He seems to be saying that any other path than the one he has chosen will bring with it a swirling storm of instability. Billing himself as Lord Protector, Osborne risks overstating his case, especially when the GDP numbers are so strong.

Growth is moderating, but most surveys report that businesses remain confident about the recovery and continue to hire more staff. As a result, unemployment continues to fall. So what can he be worried about? There is the three months of restrained housing market activity. If it’s true, and we don’t fully understand the link, that much of the recovery is connected to the increase in property buying, then any slowdown is a cause for concern. Except the chancellor wanted the housing market to cool. And his policies are largely the reason banks are refusing to dole out loans after he gave regulators instructions in April to clampdown on risky mortgage lending. A slowdown in housebuilding was also a logical knock-on effect, given that a majority of homes are constructed by a private building sector keen to maintain its extraordinary profit levels.

We know he is worried about the slowdown in exports, which didn’t take off four years ago, as he had expected. The eurozone’s impending recession is largely to blame, but a lack of support to exporters, particularly multimillion-pound credit insurance, has also proved a barrier. However, the crucial issue is the government’s finances, which have worsened this year despite the strong recovery. For a man with the electoral cycle stamped on his DNA, it is tragic that businesses and workers are not paying much extra tax.

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What do Detroiters think of this?

A Mystery Bidder Offers $3 Million for 6,000 of Detroit’s Worst Homes (BW)

Three million dollars can barely buy a new townhouse in Brooklyn these days, but it could be enough to purchase a bundle of more than 6,000 foreclosures up for auction in Detroit. The cost of dealing with the many blighted buildings included in the Detroit mega-auction means a $3.2 million bid received last week—roughly the minimum allowable bid of $500 per property—will likely prove too high to turn a profit. “I can’t imagine that you are going to make money on this,” says David Szymanski, chief deputy treasurer of Wayne County, which is selling the properties. So it’s all the more mysterious that the auction, opened with little fanfare earlier this month, has attracted any bidder at all. Still, at least one unidentified party is willing to pay $3.2 million to take control—and responsibility—for scores of dilapidated homes. In fact, winning the bid could cost the lucky winner a small fortune beyond the auction price.

Finding a way to deal with Detroit’s blight is critical for the city’s future. A task force has already called for immediately tearing down 10% of all structures. The group surveyed the condition of every Detroit property and identified neighborhoods at a tipping point at which stripping them of blight could keep certain areas from slipping away entirely. “I had cancer 12 years ago, and this is exactly like cancer,” Szymanski says. “If you don’t get it all, it’s going to come back.” Wayne County has become a major owner of blighted properties, which it can seize when owners fall behind on taxes. The scale of its distressed holdings is unprecedented. When Szymanski joined the treasurer’s office four years ago, he called the treasurer of Cuyahoga County in Ohio to compare notes. His counterpart, whose domain includes Cleveland and was a bellwether during the housing crisis, asked: “Are you sitting down? We are foreclosing on 4,500 properties.” Szymanski says he replied: “I hope you’re laying down.” At the time, Wayne County had 42,000 properties in foreclosure.

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Throw ’em out!

Spanish Accuse Goldman, Blackstone Of Hiking Rent For Poor (Independent)

The London investment arms of Goldman Sachs and Blackstone were accused last night of jacking up the rents of Madrid’s poorest people after they bought thousands of the city’s council flats. Many, unable to afford their new terms, have now been threatened with eviction or moved out. During the financial crisis, the city was advised by the accountants PwC to sell off swathes of its social housing in order to raise desperately needed funds. It sold 5,000 flats to investors including Goldman and Blackstone. Nothing changed in the tenants’ rents until their leases ran out, when, in many cases, the charges shot up dramatically. Reuters interviewed over 40 households who have been thrown into difficulties by the rent rises. They include Jamila Bouzelmat, a mother of six who lives in a four-bed flat now owned by Goldman and a Spanish property firm. She said her family had been paying €58 (£46) a month rent from her husband’s €500 unemployment benefit. But in April, her new landlords suddenly took €436 from her account.

Ms Bouzelmat said she only discovered the problem when she tried to pay an electricity bill: “We went to take money out and there wasn’t a cent left in the bank,” she explained. 1 in 5 adults in Madrid are unemployed. Goldman and Blackstone are entirely within their rights to charge market-price rents. However, a number of lawsuits have now been launched by local politicians against the councils that sold the homes. The problem is particularly bad in Spain because it already had one of the smallest stocks of social housing in Europe. Now 15 per cent of it has been sold off to London banks and private equity firms, there is even less. Goldman’s properties had about 400 households on reduced rents, often negotiated individually with the council and set for up to two years. Goldman referred inquiries to Encasa Cibeles, the local firm set up to manage the flats. A spokesperson said: “Evictions occur in an extremely small number of cases.”

Blackstone’s tenants have been on longer leases but most have been paying below-market rents. As leases approach expiry, rates have risen 40%. Blackstone referred inquiries to Fidere, the local estate management company, which said “some people have lost the public subsidy they received from the council”. It is negotiating with the 2% of its tenants in that situation.

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There’s always another politician to put on the payroll.

Bank Breakup Plan Hits More EU Hurdles as Danes Reject Idea (Bloomberg)

Denmark won’t back a proposal to split Europe’s biggest banks as the region’s first country to enforce bail-in rules questions the value of more regulation. “With all the legislation now in place there really shouldn’t be more worries,” Business Minister Henrik Sass Larsen said in an interview yesterday at the parliament in Copenhagen. A proposal by Michel Barnier, the European Union’s financial services chief, to break up systemically important banks has resurfaced with local regulators trying to defend national interests, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. Italy, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said it was looking for “concrete options for the way forward” after registering “strong concerns” among member states, the document showed. “With the regulation we’ve put in place, we’re fully covered,” Larsen said, characterizing the notion that more may be needed as obsolete. The proposal for reforming bank structures has come under attack on multiple fronts since Barnier presented it in January.

In addition to a narrowly defined proprietary-trading ban, Barnier set out EU-wide standards for splitting up the most systemically important banks that would push certain kinds of derivatives and other trading activities into separately capitalized units. Barnier’s plans require approval from national governments and the European Parliament to take effect, with talks set to continue into next year. Britain’s Jonathan Hill, who will replace Barnier as financial services commissioner on Nov. 1, has said he will “take forward work” on the proposal. Larsen’s position shows some EU nations back industry efforts to block further regulation. Christian Clausen, the president of the European Banking Federation and the chief executive of Nordea Bank AB, said this week plans to add rules to the existing framework are “going beyond reason.” Clausen said he plans to have a “serious talk” with the European Commission and parliament to prevent further regulatory tightening.

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Think Berlin.

Citigroup Bets ECB Will Do QE as Morgan Stanley Sees Odds at 40% (Bloomberg)

Economists are at odds over whether the European Central Bank will do “whatever it takes” to revive inflation in the euro area. More than two years after President Mario Draghi promised to pull out all the stops to protect the euro from a swirling debt crisis, ECB-watchers are split over whether the central bank will buy government bonds to aid the struggling economy. In making forecasts for the possible deployment of full-blown quantitative easing, the pressures of weak growth and sliding inflation are being balanced against Germany’s aversion to purchasing sovereign debt and practical considerations such as how and whether it would work. Draghi said earlier this month that the ECB will use further unconventional monetary policy instruments if needed to support recovery. Goldman Sachs sees one-in-three odds of QE, Morgan Stanley views the chances at 40% and JPMorgan is at 50-50. By contrast, HSBC, Barclays and Bank of Americahave sovereign QE as part of their central scenarios. Citigroup even says it could happen before the end of this year.

Here then is a handy round-up, gleaned from reports and interviews, of where economists at major banks stand. Huw Pill, Goldman Sachs: “Sovereign QE is not part of our baseline scenario, which is for economic activity to go sideways and inflation to remain low. We think the current gloom and doom about the euro area outlook is overdone.” Joerg Kraemer, Commerzbank: “We were one of the first banks to predict at the end of August that the ECB would buy government bonds on a generous scale, envisaging this happening at the start of next year rather than this year.” “It has become far more likely that the bank will act before the end of this year. Concerns about the economy that have triggered the drop in equity prices make it ever more likely that the ECB will have to lower its optimistic growth forecast for 2015 of 1.6%.” “This fact plays into the hands of those on the ECB Council in favour of relaxing the reins, as does our expectation that the end of the bank stress test will not in fact sound the all-clear for weak lending. Long-term inflation expectations have dropped sharply.”

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Gutted like a fish.

50% Of American Workers Make Less Than $28,031 A Year (Snyder)

The Social Security Administration has just released wage statistics for 2013, and the numbers are startling. Last year, 50% of all American workers made less than $28,031, and 39% of all American workers made less than $20,000. If you worked a full-time job at $10 an hour all year long with two weeks off, you would make $20,000. So the fact that 39% of all workers made less than that amount is rather telling. This is more evidence of the declining quality of the jobs in this country. In many homes in America today, both parents are working multiple jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. Our paychecks are stagnant while the cost of living just continues to soar.

And the jobs that are being added to the economy pay a lot less than the jobs lost in the last recession. In fact, it has been estimated that the jobs that have been created since the last recession pay an average of 23% less than the jobs that were lost. We are witnessing the slow-motion destruction of the middle class, and very few of our leaders seem to care. The “average” yearly wage in America last year was just $43,041. But after accounting for inflation, that was actually worse than the year before… American paychecks shrank last year, just-released data show, further eroding the public’s purchasing power, which is so vital to economic growth.

Average pay for 2013 was $43,041 — down $79 from the previous year when measured in 2013 dollars. Worse, average pay fell $508 below the 2007 level, my analysis of the new Social Security Administration data shows. Flat or declining average pay is a major reason so many Americans feel that the Great Recession never ended for them. A severe job shortage compounds that misery not just for workers but also for businesses trying to profit from selling goods and services. Average pay declined in 59 of the 60 levels of worker pay the government reports each October.

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In Canada? Really? What part of the dream is that?

The American Dream Is Still Possible, Just Not in the US (Daily Bell)

Although there are no firm statistics on the number of Americans living outside the US, the US State Department estimates that somewhere between 3 and 6 million Americans now live offshore. I think this is a low estimate and the number is clearly growing. I now live in Canada but often travel back to the United States. Driving through Customs near Buffalo is usually not a big ordeal but it does involve a time-wasting delay much like visiting the post office or any other US government bureaucracy. But governments should police their borders, as this is one of the few legitimate functions of a central government. Still, whenever I’m there I do notice the America I grew up in and once knew has really changed since 9/11. The trend toward a more militarized and aggressive police force continues to quicken. I know most Americans accept this as part of the consequences of the War on Terror just as they do the loss of financial privacy, increased fines and asset seizures.

The Canadian government recently warned citizens to be careful when taking cash to the US because of the risk of police taking their cash for hyped-up offenses. Did you know that in the last 13 years, over $2.5 billion has been stolen by law enforcement in almost 62,000 cash seizures? I have to say that as an American, I’m outraged at the situation and always on guard when in the USSA. I fear many Americans who don’t travel internationally might have become somewhat immune to the intrusive, arbitrary nature of today’s American government and its institutions. Here in Canada, law enforcement is almost always professional and courteous and even the bureaucrats are friendly and helpful, which simply amazes me. So to my American family, friends and business associates, I want you to know it is still possible to achieve the American Dream of a simple life with opportunity for wealth creation, fun, freedom and good times without an overly intrusive, threatening government … just not in the United States.

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Rosy’s started living up to his nickname.

Rosenberg Says No Recession Until At Least 2016 (MarketWatch)

It’s going to take a little bit more than Ebola, eurozone pessimism and a rising U.S. dollar to turn David Rosenberg into a bear. The chief economist and strategist at Gluskin Sheff, in his economic commentary, points out the leading economic indicator released Thursday showed a 0.8% monthly advance and a 6.3% year-over-year gain in September. This rate, he says, is consistent with annual real GDP just under 4.5%. Plus, the one-month diffusion index jumped to a four-year high of 90%. Usually, within six months of a recession, the year-over-year trend turns negative while the diffusion index falls below 30%.

“Looking at the situation another way, based on where both the YoY LEI trend and the diffusion indices are now, and tracing them through the classic business cycle, we are at least two years away from the next recession,” he says. What does that mean for stocks? “The reality is that bear markets do not just pop out of the air,” he said. “They are caused by tight money, recessions, or both. These conditions do not apply, nor will they until 2016 at the earliest.”

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That’s a lot of cars planned for and produced, that are not going to be sold.

China Auto Market Growth To Shrink by 50% This Year: Industry Head (Reuters)

Growth in China’s auto market, the world’s biggest, will halve to 7% this year weighed down by a slowing economy, the head of an industry body said on Saturday. “Personally, I think growth this year can reach 7%,” Dong Yang, secretary general of the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM), told reporters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Shanghai. “The economy is slowing. The auto industry would reflect that but typically lags the economic cycle by a bit.” CAAM had forecast China’s auto market, which grew by 13.9% last year, to expand at 8.3% in 2014. Dong said CAAM will not make any official revisions to its forecast. [..] Nissan has said its China sales fell by 20% in September from a year earlier, the third straight month of decline, due to sluggish sales of light commercial vehicles and increased competition in the passenger car segment. During the first nine months of the year, overall vehicle sales in China rose 7% from the same period a year earlier, according to CAAM data.

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Jeff Bezos has issues.

Blood In The Water As Amazon Magic Fades (Reuters)

Amazon.com’s once fairy-tale ride on Wall Street has hit its most jarring bump yet. The company that for years enthralled investors with improbable growth and earned one of the technology sector’s highest valuations drew widespread ire after a spectacular results letdown on Thursday. Amazon missed expectations across the board – on margins, on its net loss and on revenue. An unaccountably poor 7% to 18% revenue growth forecast for the typically strongest holiday quarter was the final straw for some. Coming just three months after a big letdown in July, the warning may represent a tipping point for investors who are already wary of a triple-digit price-earnings ratio and a persistent unwillingness to throttle back spending.

“They’re becoming much too distracted in all these other efforts” outside core businesses like online retailing and web services, said Matthew Benkendorf, portfolio manager at Vontobel Asset Management. Benkendorf unloaded his Amazon holdings a year ago and said he would be skeptical of future involvement even if the stock falls further. “They are their own worst enemy to success,” he said. “They really need to do some soul searching and get focused.”

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Not a bad analysis.

Putin Accuses U.S of Blackmail, Weakening Global Order (Bloomberg)

The U.S. is behaving like “Big Brother” and blackmailing world leaders, while making imbalances in global relations worse, Russia’s president said. Current conflicts risk bringing world order to collapse, Vladimir Putin told the annual Valdai Club in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. The Cold War’s “victors” are dismantling established international laws and relations, while the global security system has become weak and deformed, with the U.S. acting like the “nouveau riche” as global leader, he said. “The Cold War has ended,” Putin said. “But it ended without peace being achieved, without clear and transparent agreements on the new rules and standards.” Russia has clashed with the U.S. over conflicts from Syria to Ukraine, sending relations between the two countries to levels not seen since Soviet times. Putin, whose nation is on the brink of recession because of U.S. and European sanctions over Ukraine, also offered asylum to fugitive American government intelligence contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

“Global anarchy” will grow unless clear mechanisms are established for resolving crises, Putin told the invited group of foreign and Russian academics and analysts. The U.S.’s “self-appointed” leadership has brought no good for other nations and a unipolar world amounts to a dictatorship, he said. “The United States does not seek confrontation with Russia, but we cannot and will not compromise on the principles on which security in Europe and North America rests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in response today in Washington. Psaki said the U.S. was committed to upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity while continuing to cooperate with Russia on other issues, including destroying nuclear stockpiles and Syria’s chemical weapons cache.

“Our focus is on continuing to engage with Russia on areas of mutual concern, and we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to continue to do that,” Psaki said, “while we still certainly have disagreements on some issues.” Putin also attacked globalization, which he said has “disillusioned” many countries and risks hurting trust in the U.S. and its allies. More nations are trying to escape dependence on the dollar as a reserve currency by forming alternative financial systems, according to the Russian leader. Russia doesn’t want to restore its empire or have a special place in the world, Putin said. While it’s not seeking superpower status in international relations, it wants its interests to be respected, he said.

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Progress!

NPR Slashes Number Of Environment Reporters To One Part-Timer (HuffPo)

National Public Radio is down to just one environment reporter, and he’s only covering the beat part time, InsideClimate News reported Friday. As of early 2014, NPR had three reporters and an editor on the environment beat. Now they have one person, science reporter Christopher Joyce, holding down coverage of the issue, and his stories span a broad range of issues beyond the environment. The other three environment staffers have left NPR or moved to other beats. While other reporters could, of course, fill in with environment coverage, as needed, InsideClimate’s analysis of NPR’s archives finds that the number of environment stories has declined:

The number of content pieces tagged “environment” that NPR publishes (which include things like Q&As and breaking news snippets) has declined since January, according to an analysis by InsideClimate News, dropping from the low 60s to mid-40s every month. A year-to-year comparison shows that the outlet published 68 environment stories in September 2013 and 43 in September 2014. Last month, about 40% of that content was climate-related due to NPR’s cities project, as well as the media-intensive People’s Climate March and the UN climate summit in New York City. The rest was a mix of stories on agriculture and food, land conservation, wildlife, pollution and global health.

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Key line: “90,122 deaths in Montserrado alone by Dec. 15. Of these, the authors estimate 42,669 cases and 27,175 deaths will have been reported by that time.” Less than a third of deaths to be reported.

Ebola Epidemic In Africa To Explode Without Rapid, Substantial Aid (Lancet)

The Ebola virus disease epidemic already devastating swaths of West Africa will likely get far worse in the coming weeks and months unless international commitments are significantly and immediately increased, new research led by Yale researchers predicts. The findings are published in the Oct. 24 issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases. A team of seven scientists from Yale’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Liberia developed a mathematical transmission model of the viral disease and applied it to Liberia’s most populous county, Montserrado, an area already hard hit. The researchers determined that tens of thousands of new Ebola cases — and deaths — are likely by Dec. 15 if the epidemic continues on its present course. “Our predictions highlight the rapidly closing window of opportunity for controlling the outbreak and averting a catastrophic toll of new Ebola cases and deaths in the coming months,” said Alison Galvani, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health and the paper’s senior author.

“Although we might still be within the midst of what will ultimately be viewed as the early phase of the current outbreak, the possibility of averting calamitous repercussions from an initially delayed and insufficient response is quickly eroding.” The model developed by Galvani and colleagues projects as many as 170,996 total reported and unreported cases of the disease, representing 12% of the overall population of some 1.38 million people, and 90,122 deaths in Montserrado alone by Dec. 15. Of these, the authors estimate 42,669 cases and 27,175 deaths will have been reported by that time.

Much of this suffering — some 97,940 cases of the disease — could be averted if the international community steps up control measures immediately, starting Oct. 31, the model predicts. This would require additional Ebola treatment center beds, a fivefold increase in the speed with which cases are detected, and allocation of protective kits to households of patients awaiting treatment center admission. The study predicts that, at best, just over half as many cases (53,957) can be averted if the interventions are delayed to Nov. 15. Had all of these measures been in place by Oct. 15, the model calculates that 137,432 cases in Montserrado could have been avoided. There have been approximately 9,000 reported cases and 4,500 deaths from the disease in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea since the latest outbreak began with a case in a toddler in rural Guinea in December 2013.

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Reality is likely three times worse here as well.

‘Official’ Number of Ebola Cases Passes 10,000, With 5,000 Deaths (BBC)

The number of cases in the Ebola outbreak has exceeded 10,000, with 4,922 deaths, the World Health Organization says in its latest report. Only 27 of the cases have occurred outside the three worst-hit countries, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Those three countries account for all but 10 of the fatalities. Mali became the latest nation to record a death, a two-year-old girl. More than 40 people known to have come into contact with her have been quarantined. The latest WHO situation report says that Liberia remains the worst affected country, with 2,705 deaths. Sierra Leone has had 1,281 fatalities and there have been 926 in Guinea.

Nigeria has recorded eight deaths and there has been one in Mali and one in the United States. The WHO said the number of cases was now 10,141 but that the figure could be much higher, as many families were keeping relatives at home rather than taking them to treatment centres. It said many of the centres were overcrowded. And the latest report also shows no change in the number of cases and deaths in Liberia from the WHO’s previous report, three days ago.

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