Feb 282019
 


René Magritte The endearing truth 1966

 

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)
Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)
Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)
Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)
Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)
Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)
Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)
China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)
Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)
Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)
Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)
The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)
World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)
How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

 

 

No, not even that headline is true. Trump wants full denuclearization, and Kim wants full lifting of sanctions. That is complex, that takes trust, that will take a lot more talk. And that’s fine, as Trump recognizes. These meetings should become so common they don’t make the news anymore.

Trump Says Deal With Kim Thwarted By North Korea’s Sanction Demands (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had walked away from a nuclear deal at his summit with Kim Jong Un because of unacceptable demands from the North Korean leader to lift punishing U.S.-led sanctions. Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal. “It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short. “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.” The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.

Both Trump and Kim left the venue of their talks, the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel, without attending a planned lunch together. “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk”. Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office. Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” during Congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday, though he had told the truth when he said there had been “no collusion” with Russia.

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I watched quite a bit of the ‘testimony’ yesterday, increasingly wondering: what are we watching here? Why is this show put on? It was clear from the ‘leaked’ files that Cohen had nothing, as I said yesterday morning. In the Q&A session he had way less than nothing. So yeah, let’s go with the most absurd headline of the bunch.

Michael Cohen Predicts Revolution If Trump Loses In 2020 (RT)

Trump consigliere turned federal informant Michael Cohen shared his fear that there will “never be a peaceful transition of power” if his former boss loses the 2020 election during a congressional hearing some called a ‘circus.’ “You don’t know him! I do!” Cohen insisted plaintively during his testimony before the Oversight Committee of the House of Representatives, before predicting Trump would refuse to step down even if he was defeated in 2020. “He is a racist. He is a con man. He is a cheat,” declared Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges he lied to Congress regarding the special counsel’s ongoing ‘Russiagate’ probe in November, months after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and tax fraud. He has been busily feeding information to the various Trump probes ever since.

Despite promising big things – proof that Trump had instructed him to commit crimes, evidence of Trump’s racism, even the holy grail of Russian collusion – Cohen failed to deliver anything tangible to the salivating Democrats on the committee, admitting he had no “real examples” of collusion and instead filling his time on the stand with public displays of repentance over his ten years of service to Trump. “Everybody’s job at the Trump organization is to protect Mr. Trump. Every day most of us knew we were coming in and we were going to lie for him on something. And that became the norm, and that’s what’s happening right now in this country,” Cohen intoned. “This destruction of our civility to one another is just out of control.” Republicans, meanwhile, repeatedly reminded the committee that Cohen had already been convicted for perjury. Rep. Carol Miller (R-West Virginia) denounced the entire affair as a “circus.”

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Things don’t magically become ‘explosive’ or ‘bombshell’ just because opinionated reporters say so. And these lines from Cohen don’t exactly save the narrative:

“Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion..”

“There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction..”

Michael Cohen’s Explosive Allegations Spell Danger For Trump On Two Fronts (G.)

Michael Cohen on Wednesday delivered a sharp warning to Donald Trump and the Republican party that the president faces legal and political peril on at least two fronts. First, the Trump-Russia investigation. Cohen became the first Trump associate to allege that, in 2016, Trump knew in advance that his eldest son, Donald Jr, was meeting Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton – and that WikiLeaks would be releasing emails stolen from Democrats by Russian operatives. Moreover, Cohen hinted that Robert Mueller, the special counsel currently wrapping up a two-year inquiry into whether Trump’s team coordinated with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, may have proof.

Cohen was asked by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida Democrat forced to resign as party chairwoman over the WikiLeaks disclosures, how they could corroborate his explosive allegations, which are based on remarks he says he overheard in Trump’s office. “I suspect that the special counsel’s office and other government agencies have the information you’re seeking,” Cohen said. Trump denied both allegations in his written answers to questions from Mueller. Cohen also reiterated that Trump lied repeatedly to the American public during the 2016 campaign by saying he had no dealings with Russia. In fact, Cohen has told prosecutors, Trump was keenly pursuing a lucrative tower in Moscow until June 2016.

Trump’s former fixer cautioned that he could not prove the “collusion” with Moscow that the president vehemently denies. Still there was, Cohen said, “something odd” about the affectionate back-and-forth Trump had with Vladimir Putin in public remarks over the years. “There are just so many dots that seem to lead in the same direction,” he said.

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The Democrats may be intent -again- on swamping the field with candidates, only to end up with the establishment candidate. That would mean they haven’t learned a thing in 4 years. Unless Ocasio rises to the occasion (get it? Ocasio->Occasion). But that’s doubtful, 1 year is short. So maybe they should chew on this a little:

Why Trump Will Likely Be Reelected, And What It Means For Global Security (F.)

Donald Trump’s presidency has been so widely derided in the national media that a casual observer might easily conclude his prospects for reelection are dim. However, that is not what the odds makers are saying. They give Trump a solid edge over any Democratic candidate in 2020. The odds makers are right. Trump will probably be reelected if he chooses to run. What follows is an explanation of why the odds favor Trump, and what eight years of his leadership would mean for global security. Let’s start with the factors favoring a second term. First of all, candidates who get elected to the presidency once tend to get reelected if they run. Only two chief executives seeking reelection over the last 50 years—Carter and Bush 41—failed in their bid for a second term.

Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama all won reelection, even though at least two of them were highly controversial. In fact, the most controversial presidents tend to roll up the biggest reelection victories. Second, Trump has presided over the strongest economy in living memory. Unemployment is at record lows, inflation is nearly non-existent, and new jobs are being created at a startling pace. Anyone who studies presidential politics knows that strong economies are the most important factor driving support for the incumbent. While growth may moderate between now and election day, few economists expect a recession anytime soon. Third, the nation is at peace. Trump has avoided involvement in new overseas adventures, and is pressing to scale back what is left of the operations he inherited from his predecessor.

Critics complain he is too eager to get out of places like Afghanistan and Syria, however the record shows that voters have little patience for foreign military intervention. Unpopular wars are the one issue that can eclipse a good economy in the minds of voters, but at the moment Trump seems to be delivering both peace and prosperity. Fourth, Democrats are busy reminding voters in the middle of the political spectrum why they voted for Trump in 2016. Ever since the Democrats drifted away from their blue-collar base in the 1970s, winning the party’s presidential nomination has required appeals to the Left. While many voters may resent the rich and want more government benefits, those sentiments become muted when the economy is strong.

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What if the entire third world unites against the west?

Regime Change is Urgently Needed…in Washington (OffG)

I am surprised that no one else is saying it, writing it, shouting it at each and every corner: It is not Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Iran that are in dire and crucial need of ‘regime change’. It is the United States of America, it is the entire European Union; in fact, the entire West. And the situation is urgent. The West has gone mad; it has gone so to speak, bananas; mental. And people there are too scared to even say it, to write about it. One country after another is falling, being destroyed, antagonized, humiliated, impoverished. Entire continents are treated as if they were inhabited by irresponsible toddlers, who are being chased and disciplined by sadistic adults, with rulers and belts in their hands yelling with maniacal expressions on their faces: “Behave, do as we say, or else!”

It all would be truly comical, if it weren’t so depressing. But… nobody is laughing. People are shaking, sweating, crying, begging, puking, but they are not chuckling. I see it everywhere where I work: in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. But why? It is because North American and European countries are actually seriously delivering their ultimatum: you either obey us, and prostrate yourself in front of us, or we will break you, violate you, and if everything else fails, we will kill your leaders and all of those who are standing in our way. This is not really funny, is it? Especially considering that it is being done to almost all the countries in what is called Latin America, to many African and Middle Eastern nations, and to various states on the Asian continent.

And it is all done ‘professionally’, with great sadistic craftsmanship and rituals. No one has yet withstood ‘regime change’ tactics, not even the once mighty Soviet Union, nor tremendous China, or proud and determined Afghanistan. Cuba, Venezuela, DPRK and Syria may be the only countries that are still standing. They resisted and mobilized all their resources in order to survive; and they have survived, but at a tremendous price.

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What a failure this has become in a few short weeks.

Venezuela Set For More False Flags (Cunningham)

It seems obvious the whole scenario of delivering US aid into Venezuela from neighboring countries was really intended as a pretext for military intervention by Washington. The government in Caracas had warned of such a contingency in advance, as had Russia, which is allied to President Maduro’s administration. Moscow’s experience in Syria has no doubt given a lot of valuable insights into the American playbook of using false flags for justifying military aggression. The timing of the Lima Group summit – 12 Latin American states along with the US and Canada – was meant to capitalize on the false-flag incident over aid, as well as other deadly clashes at the weekend that resulted in dozens of casualties.

However, the provocation did not go to plan, despite Pence and Guaido’s grandstanding assertions. The other downside for the US regime-change objective in Venezuela is that the Lima Group has for the moment broken ranks over the military option. Pence and Guaido stepped up the rhetoric calling for “all options” on the table – meaning military intervention. But the Lima Group, including US allies Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, issued a statement after the summit Monday rejecting any military action. They are still functioning as lackeys by calling for a “peaceful transition to democracy” and are in favor of the dubious US-anointed opposition figure Guaido, recognizing him as the “interim president” of Venezuela, in accordance with Washington’s desires.

Nevertheless, repudiation of the military option by Washington’s regional allies will be seen as a damper to the momentum for using American force to overthrow the Maduro government. Brazil’s Vice President Hamilton Mourão repeatedly said in interviews that his government would not allow a US military incursion into Venezuela from its territory. The European Union also said it was opposed to any military force being used by the US against Venezuela. The emerging situation therefore puts the regime-change planners in Washington in a quandary. Their sanctions pressure for blackmailing defections in the Venezuelan political and military leadership has failed. So too has the much-vaunted spectacle of delivering US aid.

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So why is capitalism disintegrating? Maybe you should answer that first. Being deeply embedded in academia doesn’t impress me one bit. That same academia has helped lead us to this mess.

Disintegration Of Global Capitalism Could Unleash WWIII (Nafeez Ahmed)

A senior European Commission economist has warned that a Third World War is an extremely “high probability” in coming years due to the disintegration of global capitalism. In a working paper published last month, Professor Gerhard Hanappi argued that since the 2008 financial crash, the global economy has moved away from “integrated” capitalism into a “disintegrating” shift marked by the same sorts of trends which preceded previous world wars. Professor Hanappi is Jean Monnet Chair for Political Economy of European Integration -an European Commission appointment- at the Institute for Mathematical Models in Economics at the Vienna University of Technology. He also sits on the management committee of the Systemic Risks expert group in the EU-funded European Cooperation in Science and Technology research network.

In his new paper, Hanappi concludes that global conditions bear unnerving parallels with trends before the outbreak of the first and second world wars. Key red flags that the world is on a slippery slope to a global war, he finds, include: • the inexorable growth of military spending; • democracies transitioning into increasingly authoritarian police states; • heightening geopolitical tensions between great powers; • the resurgence of populism across the left and right; • the breakdown and weakening of established global institutions that govern transnational capitalism; • and the relentless widening of global inequalities. These trends, some of which were visible before the previous world wars, are reappearing in new forms. Hanappi argues that the defining feature of the current period is a transition from an older form of “integrating capitalism” to a new form of “disintegrating capitalism”, whose features most clearly emerged after the 2008 financial crisis.

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All the way back to 2008. Have we passed China’s peak already?

China Factory Activity At 3-Year Low, Export Orders Worst In A Decade (CNBC)

Factory activity in China contracted to a three-year low in February as export orders fell at the fastest pace since the global financial crisis, highlighting deepening cracks in an economy facing weak demand at home and abroad. The gloomy findings are likely to reinforce views that the world’s second-largest economy is still losing steam, after growth last year cooled to a near 30-year low. Even with increasing government stimulus to spur activity, concerns are growing that China may be at risk of a sharper slowdown if current Sino-U.S. trade talks fail to relieve some of the pressure. The official Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell for the third straight month, dropping to 49.2 in February from 49.5 in January, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Thursday.

The 50-mark separates growth from contraction on a monthly basis. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast the gauge would stay unchanged from January’s 49.5. “Unless the trade war truly turns into an extended truce, the weakening trend may not end quickly,” Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING, said in a note. “As such we expect March’s PMI to fall, too.” Manufacturing output contracted in February for the first time since January 2009, during the depths of the global crisis. Manufacturers also continued to cut jobs, a trend Beijing is closely watching as its weighs more support measures. New export orders shrank for a ninth straight month, and at a sharper rate, amid faltering global demand.

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Exactly what even the central bank in Holland has started warning against.

Denmark Government Wants Stores To Stop Accepting Cash (RT)

The Danish government is considering changing current laws which make it compulsory for the vast majority of stores to accept cash payments. The measure is part of Copenhagen’s push for a completely cashless society by 2030. The law change would allow petrol stations, convenience stores and clothing shops to choose to only accept card and online forms of payment. The anti-crime measure would provide additional security for stores, according to Denmark’s Business Minister Rasmus Jarlov. “Fewer people use cash today, so we think there should be a balance between the difficulty and security risks placed on business owners and the benefits of accepting cash,” Jarlov told the DR broadcaster.

A 2017 law enabled certain types of stores to apply for a dispensation to be cash-free between 10pm and 6am. The minister said that, “If you still want to use cash, I would advise saying so to the stores where you shop. I expect businesses to listen to their customers.” “We are not forcing anyone to stop using cash,” he added. Certain services, including supermarkets, postal services, doctors, pharmacies and other stores with “central societal functions,” will still be required to accept cash. Denmark’s endeavor to move towards a completely cash-free economy has been the subject of heated debate lately; with opponents saying the measure is aimed at placing citizens exclusively under state control. The government has “set a 2030 deadline to completely do away with paper money.”

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OK, this is easy. We get together, UN or something, to make sure such projects don’t happen anymore. We’ll make sure people get electricity from other sources, but we’re done destroying nature for it.

Chinese Dam Project In Guinea Could Kill Up To 1,500 Chimpanzees (G.)

Up to 1,500 chimpanzees could be killed by a new Chinese dam that will swamp a crucial sanctuary for the endangered primate in Guinea, experts have warned. The 294MW Koukoutamba dam will be built by Sinohydro, the world’s biggest hydroelectric power plant construction company, in the middle of a newly declared protected area called the Moyen-Bafing National park. The Chinese company is already facing similar criticism for building a dam in Indonesia that threatens the only known habitat of a newly discovered species of orangutan. Its executives signed a contract this week with local representatives eager to secure a power project that will bring energy and funds to one of Africa’s poorest countries. The flooding of swathes of the park is expected to force the displacement of 8,700 people.

It will also increase the pressure on western chimpanzees, which have declined by 80% in the past 20 years, and are now considered critically endangered – the highest level of risk – by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The highlands of Guinea are home to Africa’s healthiest remaining population of about 16,500 western chimpanzees. In most other countries, this subspecies is either extinct or perilously threatened in populations of less than 100 individuals. The Moyen-Bafing reserve was established in 2016 as a “chimpanzee offset” and funded by two mining companies – Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée and Guinea Alumina Corporation – in return for permission to open mineral excavation sites inside other territories of the primate.

Rebecca Kormos, a primatologist who has been researching the animal for decades, has warned that a dam inside the park would have the biggest impact a development project has ever had on chimpanzees. “I hope Sinohydro will reconsider engaging in a project that could drive the western chimpanzee into extinction. Once a species goes, it’s gone forever,” she said. She estimates 800 to 1,500 chimpanzees will die as a result of the project, either by having their habitats flooded or as a result of territorial conflicts if they try to move.

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Article’s a bit confused about timing, but the idea is one I’ve mentioned before. Stop trading with any country that trades in these materials, and shoot poachers on site.

Kenya Announces Death Penalty for Poachers (SAI)

Najib Balala, the tourism and wildlife minister of Kenya, recently announcedthat those who take the lives of innocent animals through poaching will soon face the death penalty in the African country. While this proposal hasn’t been officially enacted into law yet, Balala told China’s Xinhua news agency that wildlife poaching is on a fast track to becoming a capital offense. Sudan, Kenya’s last Rhino who was 45, lived at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya died last year. The species is now extinct due the Chinese demand for Rhino horn. While this measure may seem extreme, it is a last resort attempt to deter people from slaughtering Kenya’s rapidly decreasing wildlife population. Balala reportedly said:

“We have in place the Wildlife Conservation Act that was enacted in 2013 and which fetches offenders a life sentence or a fine of U.S. $200,000. However, this has not been deterrence enough to curb poaching, hence the proposed stiffer sentence.” As compared to recent years, poaching in Kenya is actually on the decline in the present day. According to the country’s tourism ministers, this decrease can largely be attributed to more serious wildlife law enforcement efforts and increased investment in conservation. “These efforts led to an 85 percent reduction in rhino poaching and a 78 percent reduction in elephant poaching, respectively, in 2017 compared to when poaching was at its peak in 2013 and 2012 respectively,” reported the ministry.

However, as Balala pointed out, wildlife poaching has not yet been completely eradicated in Kenya. The Independent reported, “Last year in the country 69 elephants – out of a population of 34,000 — and nine rhinos – from a population of under 1,000 – were killed.” Furthermore, a poacher killed two black rhinos and a calf earlier this month in Kenya’s Meru National Park.


An ‘ordinary’ ivory shop in Hong Kong

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No more clouds.

The Endless Sunshine of Planetary Death (HmmD)

We’re on course to destroy the clouds, they said now. Not just the coral, not just the insects, not just all the wild vertebrates living on land. The clouds. Quanta Magazine, writing about a new Nature Geoscience study on warming and clouds, described the temperature spike known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, when a sharp increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide led to an even sharper increase in temperature—along with “mass extinctions” of ocean life, immense dislocations of land animals, and “flash floods and protracted droughts.” How did the temperature jump out of normal boundaries into a lethal range? Clouds currently cover about two-thirds of the planet at any moment. But computer simulations of clouds have begun to suggest that as the Earth warms, clouds become scarcer.

With fewer white surfaces reflecting sunlight back to space, the Earth gets even warmer, leading to more cloud loss. This feedback loop causes warming to spiral out of control. In computer simulations, researchers found that at 1,200 parts per million of carbon dioxide, the level at which temperatures would be expected to be 4º C above the historical baseline, the atmosphere would become too warm and too turbulent to allow sheets of stratocumulus clouds to form. If the clouds fell apart, the extra sunlight could bring on an extra 8 degrees of warming—for a total increase of 12º C, or more than 21º F. Like the methane-spilling permafrost or the fracturing Antarctic ice sheet, the clouds can’t come back if they’re broken; the runaway heating effect would linger even after carbon dioxide levels dropped. We would have irrevocably ruined the sky.

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“If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there.”

World’s Deepest Waters Becoming ‘Ultimate Sink’ For Plastic Waste (G.)

The world’s deepest ocean trenches are becoming “the ultimate sink” for plastic waste, according to a study that reveals contamination of animals even in these dark, remote regions of the planet. For the first time, scientists found microplastic ingestion by organisms in the Mariana trench and five other areas with a depth of more than 6,000 metres, prompting them to conclude “it is highly likely there are no marine ecosystems left that are not impacted by plastic pollution”. The paper, published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, highlights the threat posed by non-biodegradable substances in clothes, containers and packaging, which make their way from household bins via dump sites and rivers to the oceans, where they break up and sink to the floor.

The impact of plastic in shallower waters – where it chokes dolphins, whales and seabirds – is already well documented in academic journals and by TV programmes such as David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. But the study shows this problem is far more profound than previously realised. Researchers baited, caught and examined subsea creatures from six of the deepest places in the world – the Peru-Chile trench in the south-east Pacific, the New Hebrides and Kermadec trenches in the south-west Pacific, and the Japan trench, Izu-Bonin trench and Mariana trench in the north-west Pacific. In all six areas, they found ingestion of microparticles by amphipods – a shrimp-like crustacean that scavenges on the seabed. The deeper the region, the higher the rate of consumption. In the Mariana trench – which goes down to the lowest point on earth of 10,890 metres below sea level – 100% of samples contained at least one microparticle.

The materials included polyester-reinforced cotton and fibres made of lyocell, rayon, ramie, polyvinyl and polyethylene. The breadth of substances and broad range of geographic sites prompted the authors to observe that increasing volumes of global plastic waste will find their way from surface gyres into these trenches. “It is intuitive that the ultimate sink for this debris, in whatever size, is the deep sea,” they noted. Once the materials reach these areas the waste has nowhere else to go, said Alan Jamieson of Newcastle University, the lead author of the paper. “If you contaminate a river, it can be flushed clean. If you contaminate a coastline, it can be diluted by the tides. But, in the deepest point of the oceans, it just sits there. It can’t flush and there are no animals going in and out of those trenches.”

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The other side of the spectrum: celebrate and understand what life is. Should have mentioned EO Wilson, though, I think.

“..we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

How To Live Happily With The 5,000 Other Species In Your House (G.)

The good news is that I will never be home alone again. The bad news – well, it’s not in fact bad news, but it is slightly unsettling – is that I share my home with at least 5,000 other species: wasps, flies, spiders, silverfish and an exotic bunch of wild bacteria. All that information is apparently contained in a patch of grey dust I have just swabbed with my right index finger from a door frame in my living room. It’s like a DNA test of my house, says Rob Dunn, a 43-year-old American biologist who has come to my house in Copenhagen to hunt microbial life. He carries no lab gear and his blue crewneck jumper and striped Oxford shirt are hardly the combat suit of an exterminator. But with every discovery we make, with every spider we find lurking in the corner or each swab of dust, he displays an almost childlike sense of excitement.

He swears and smiles, even whoops with delight: “This dust sample contains bacteria, your body microbes, your wife’s body microbes, your child’s body microbes. If you smoke weed we would find marijuana DNA in there. Everything is visible, but it’s also present in every breath. Every time you inhale, you inhale that story of your home.” [..] When he began working as a biologist he went to the jungle to study wild beasts, but now his research is dedicated to species much closer to home: to the flies, spiders and bacteria hidden in every nook and cranny of our kitchens, bathrooms and basements. To the “jungle of everyday life”, as he describes it in his new book.

Never Home Alone tracks how we have been disconnected from the ecosystems of our homes. It’s a book of hard truths – I now know that I shed 50m flakes of skin every day, providing food for thousands of bacteria, and that cockroaches are basically our perfect interspecies Tinder-match. It also confronts our irrational relationship with cleanliness. Our modern instinct might be to swat a spider on the kitchen worktop or blitz creepy crawlies into oblivion with antimicrobial sprays, but we could be killing useful allies, according to Dunn: “The key thing is that your life is going to be full of life. And your only choice is which life. Our default is that we try to kill everything and fill our houses with stuff that’s totally terrible for us. We might kill 99%, but that leaves 1% – and that 1% is never the good stuff.”

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Celebrate life:

Oct 272018
 


Pablo Picasso Mandolin and glass of Pernod 1911

 

Global Selloff Erased $5 Trillion From Stock And Bond Markets In October (MW)
Dow Down 300 Points, S&P 500 1.7% In Another Wild Day On Wall Street (CNBC)
Jeff Bezos Loses $11 Billion In One Day After Amazon Sales Disappoint (F.)
Trump Adds A Global Pricing Plan To Wide Attack On Drug Prices (Tribble)
Swedish Central Bank Makes U-Turn on Cash as NIRP is Ending (DQ)
FBI Reviews Tesla Model 3 Production Numbers As Part Of Criminal Probe (CNBC)
Varoufakis, Bernie Sanders To Launch Progressives International Movement (RT)
Mexico Offers Caravan Migrants Temporary Work Permits, Housing (BBC)
Hundreds Ready To Go To Jail Over Climate Crisis (G.)
US Withdrawal Of Gillnet Protections For Whales, Turtles Ruled Illegal (R.)

 

 

Or $8 trillion, depending on who you ask.

Global Selloff Erased $5 Trillion From Stock And Bond Markets In October (MW)

The recent stampede by investors has erased about $5 trillion in value from global stock and bond markets in October alone. But that shouldn’t be severe enough to affect the economy, for now, according to economists at Deutsche Bank. Still, unless the markets regain their footing soon, the pressure for the Federal Reserve to reassess their monetary policy will continue to mount, they said. “Academic studies of the wealth effect find that households and companies don’t react to short-term fluctuations in their wealth but instead react to a moving average of where their wealth levels are,” said Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, said in a note to clients.

As the chart below illustrates, global markets shed roughly $5 trillion in market cap just this month, but the total value of equity and debt markets has increased $15 trillion from 2017. “The bottom line is that we need a more significant correction before it will begin to have a meaningful impact on the economic outlook,” he said. The Fed said wages and prices are rising in its 12 districts and overall economic activity expanded at a “modest to moderate” pace, according to the Beige Book released on Wednesday. The report, which compiles anecdotal observations about the economy, by and large suggests that the Fed is likely to stay on course to execute its fourth rate rise of 2018 in December and deliver additional increases next year unless there is a more dramatic unwind in the financial markets.

[..] The sharp selloff this month has prompted at least one market expert to suggest that stocks are in the midst of a sustained downward spiral. “With the S&P 500 only five weeks removed from its all-time high, we’ve not been definitive about labeling this move a new cyclical bear market. But it’s very likely we are experiencing one,” said Doug Ramsey, chief investment officer at Leuthold Group, in a report.

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At some point, the word ‘momentum’ will come into play.

Dow Down 300 Points, S&P 500 1.7% In Another Wild Day On Wall Street (CNBC)

Stocks fell sharply on Friday as investors slogged through another volatile session on Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 296.24 points lower at 24,688.31 after dropping 539 points at its lows of the day. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 2.1 percent to 7,167.21. At its lows, the tech-heavy Nasdaq had fallen more than 3 percent. The S&P 500 fell 1.7 percent to 2,658.69 and briefly entered into correction territory, trading more than 10 percent below its record high reached in September. The average stock market correction, since WWII, results in a 13 percent drop and lasts for four months if it does not turn into a full-fledged bear market. Larry Benedict, CEO of The Opportunistic Trader, said traders “don’t want to be long heading into the weekend.”

He added, “S&P now down on the year and people are more afraid to be long today than they were when market was 10 percent higher.” Seven of the 11 S&P 500 sectors are down at least 10 percent from their 52-week highs, including energy, materials and financials. Around three quarters of the index’s stocks are also in a correction. “The 19.7 percent correction in 2011 is as close to a bear market as we’ve had in recent years. I don’t think we’ll get close to that, but I think we’re heading for a deeper correction than the one we had in January and early February,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. He noted investors are realizing that earnings growth will slow down moving forward, thus they are pricing this in.

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How much of Bezos’s wealth comes directly from cheap and easy money?

Jeff Bezos Loses $11 Billion In One Day After Amazon Sales Disappoint (F.)

Easy come, easy go: Jeff Bezos’ fortune dropped by $11 billion on Friday, a day after Amazon came out with quarterly results that fell short of the mark. Shares of the e-commerce behemoth fell almost 8% on Friday, swiftly knocking some $70 billion off the company’s market capitalization. The selloff also dragged down the broader market, which has been flirting with correction territory this week. Bezos’ net worth fell in lockstep, dropping by $11 billion to $135.8 billion. That is down from the $160 billion he was worth as of mid-September. Bezos, who owns 16% of Amazon, is still by far the richest man on the planet. He is trailed by Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, whose fortune clocks in at $94.8 billion.

Amazon, which briefly became the second U.S. company to fetch a $1 trillion valuation in September, shared third quarter results on Thursday that failed to live up to the high expectations that investors and Wall Street have come to adopt. Sales rose by 29% to $56.6 billion in the third quarter. However, that was a far cry from the $73.9 billion that analysts had projected. Amazon also told investors to brace for a slower holiday season. It expects revenue to grow just 10% to 20% in the fourth quarter, reaching $72.5 billion at most. That would make for Amazon’s worst holiday season since 2014. For the last three straight years it has boasted sales increases of more than 20% during the fourth quarter.

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Makes sense: “Trump proposed having Medicare base what it pays for some expensive drugs on the average prices in other industrialized countries, such as France and Germany..”

Trump Adds A Global Pricing Plan To Wide Attack On Drug Prices (Tribble)

President Donald Trump’s new pledge to crack down on “the global freeloading” in prescription drugs had a sense of déjà vu. Five months ago, Trump unveiled a blueprin to address prohibitive drug prices, and his administration has been feverishly rolling out ideas ranging from posting drug prices on television ads to changing the rebates that flow between drugmakers and industry middlemen. Thursday, Trump proposed having Medicare base what it pays for some expensive drugs on the average prices in other industrialized countries, such as France and Germany, where prices are much lower. The proposal is in the early stages of rule-making and awaiting public comments. The U.S., Trump said, will “confront one of the most unfair practices, almost unimaginable that it hasn’t been taken care of long before this.”

The proposal was met with hope and skepticism, with several experts saying they were happy the administration was taking on Medicare Part B’s rising drug prices but questioning its approach. Walid Gellad, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh, said in an online post that the administration’s proposed solutions were unclear. And, he said, they would “face insurmountable challenges.” While some industry watchers pointed to the announcement as a political move, Wells Fargo pharmaceutical analyst David Maris said that this is a broader effort by the president and his administration to attack the root causes of high drug prices. “The reality is he could very easily not take this on and do what other administrations have done and let the prices keep rising.”

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Defeat. Good.

Swedish Central Bank Makes U-Turn on Cash as NIRP is Ending (DQ)

Sweden’s Riksbank has become the first central bank in the 21st century to take concrete measures to ensure that cash does not disappear as a means of payment from the financial system. To that end, the Riksbank proposes, in a document published on its website, to make it mandatory for all banks and financial institutions to offer cash services. The pronouncement comes in response to a recent policy suggestion by the Riksbank Committee that only the country’s six major banks should be obligated to continue offering cash services. That prompted a backlash from Sweden’s competition watchdog, which argued that the plan would distort competition as it would affect only a few of the nation’s banks. In response, the Riksbank has opted to apply the rule to “all banks and other credit institutions that offer payment accounts.”

[..] For years, the government and the Riksbank have been pushing for a “cashless society.” The Riksbank has over 1,000 articles posted on its website on the “cashless society“. The emphasis worked: between 2013 and 2017, the amount of cash in circulation dropped by 35%, earning Sweden a reputation as the world’s “most cashless nation”:

Many of Sweden’s bank branches had stopped handling cash altogether. Now, they will have to begin doing so all over again. Many of them are not happy about it. Nor indeed are Sweden’s competition and financial watchdogs, which both oppose the proposal, arguing that access to cash should be the sole responsibility of the state and not private banks. “To secure access to cash is a collective good that the state should reasonably be responsible for,” the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority said. It’s an opinion that’s shared by ATM provider Bankomat, which argued that it should be the state’s responsibility to ensure that citizens have access to cash since the handing of notes and coins is such an important — and expensive — part of a country’s infrastructure. Bankomat is jointly owned by the five largest banks in Sweden.

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To be continued. Forever.

FBI Reviews Tesla Model 3 Production Numbers As Part Of Criminal Probe (CNBC)

The FBI is reviewing Tesla’s Model 3 production numbers as part of an ongoing criminal probe into whether the company misled investors, according to a Wall Street Journal report published Friday. Federal agents are reviewing Tesla’s stated Model 3 numbers dating back to early 2017, the Journal reports, citing unnamed sources. Tesla had previously said it provided documents to the Department of Justice regarding CEO Elon Musk’s controversial take-private tweet — a blunder that ultimately cost Tesla and Musk a combined $40 million in fraud settlement fees. Now Tesla says it also provided information to the Department of Justice regarding Musk’s public statements regarding production numbers of its Model 3 sedan.

Tesla says the company has not received “a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process,” but the Journal reported Friday that former Tesla employees have received subpoenas and requests for testimony. Tesla struggled to ramp up Model 3 production as promised, plagued by factory issues and reports of unfit working conditions. Musk set lofty goals and insisted on sticking to them, according to countless media reports. Federal agents are probing whether the company knowingly made public statements of impossible production goals, the Journal reported.

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Godspeed.

Varoufakis, Bernie Sanders To Launch Progressives International Movement (RT)

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he and US Senator Bernie Sanders will in a month formally launch a left-wing counterpart to the nationalist movement being forged by Steve Bannon. A Sanders-Varoufakis team-up was suggested in an recent op-ed by the Greek economist published by the Guardian. The formal creation of Progressives International is to happen in Sanders’ home state of Vemont on November 30, Varoufakis announced during a press conference in Rome on Friday. Varoufakis, who led tough negotiation with European lenders in 2015 before resigning after Athens agreed to EU’s austerity terms, says the world today is facing a crisis of leadership similar to what Europe saw in the 1930s.

With the establishment failing the common people, populist nationalist forces are rising to power, offering quick and simple solutions to problems like social inequality, loss of jobs to countries with cheaper labor and mass migration. Steven Bannon, the former strategist for the Donald Trump 2016 campaign, is currently trying to unite such right-wing forces in various nations into a global movement. For Varoufakis figures like Bannon, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Hungarian President Viktor Orban and others pose a threat similar to the fascist movements of the 1930s, according to his Guardian op-ed. He and potential allies like Sanders or UK’s Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn can offer an alternative way out of the crisis, he believes.

But if they are to succeed in a struggle for power against both the globalist establishment and the nationalists, they need to unite across borders. “The financiers are internationalists. The fascists, the nationalists, the racists – like Trump, Bannon, [German Interior Minister Horst] Seehofer, Salvini — they are internationalists,” Varoufakis told BuzzFeed News. “They bind together. The only people who are failing are progressives.”

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Could be part of a solution.

Mexico Offers Caravan Migrants Temporary Work Permits, Housing (BBC)

Mexico has offered temporary work permits to migrants who register for asylum, as a big caravan of Central American migrants makes its way through the country toward the US. The plan also envisages temporary ID cards, medical care and schooling. But to qualify, migrants must remain in Mexico’s southern Chiapas and Oaxaca states. The US has warned that about 800 troops may be sent to the US-Mexico border to stop the migrant caravan. “I am bringing out the military for this National Emergency,” US President Donald Trump said earlier this week. “They [migrants] will be stopped!” The president also threatened cutting aid to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The caravan set off from Honduras several weeks ago.

The scheme, announced by President Peña Nieto, covers Central Americans who have officially asked for a refugee status in Mexico or are planning to do so in the nearest future. It is called Estas en Tu Casa (“This is Your Home” in Spanish). “Today, Mexico extends you its hand,” President Nieto said. But he added: “This plan is only for those who comply with Mexican laws, and it’s a first step towards a permanent solution for those who are granted refugee status in Mexico.” The plan envisages: • Temporary ID cards and work permits • Medical care • Schooling for migrants’ children • Housing in local hostels. But President Nieto failed to explain what would happen to the migrants if they chose to carry on regardless.

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But they confuse climate crisis and species extiction. Not the same thing at all.

Hundreds Ready To Go To Jail Over Climate Crisis (G.)

A new group of “concerned citizens” is planning a campaign of mass civil disobedience starting next month and promises it has hundreds of people – from teenagers to pensioners – ready to get arrested in an effort to draw attention to the unfolding climate emergency. The group, called Extinction Rebellion, is today backed by almost 100 senior academics from across the UK, including the former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. In a letter published in the Guardian they say the failure of politicians to tackle climate breakdown and the growing extinction crisis means “the ‘social contract’ has been broken … [and] it is therefore not only our right, but our moral duty to bypass the government’s inaction and flagrant dereliction of duty, and to rebel to defend life itself.”

Those behind Extinction Rebellion say almost 500 people have signed up to be arrested and that they plan to bring large sections of London to a standstill next month in a campaign of peaceful mass civil disobedience – culminating with a sit-in protest in Parliament Square on 17 November. Roger Hallam, one of the founders of the campaign, said it was calling on the government to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025 and establish a “citizens assembly” to devise an emergency plan of action similar to that seen during the second world war. On top of the specific demands, Hallam said he hoped the campaign of “respectful disruption” would change the debate around climate breakdown and signal to those in power that the present course of action will lead to disaster.

“The planet is in ecological crisis – we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event this planet has experienced,” he said. “Children alive today in the UK will face the terrible consequences of inaction, from floods to wildfires, extreme weather to crop failures and the inevitable breakdown of society. We have a duty to act.”

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Make America Great Again MUST start with American nature, with protecting species. Major flaw.

US Withdrawal Of Gillnet Protections For Whales, Turtles Ruled Illegal (R.)

The Trump administration unlawfully withdrew a plan to limit the number of whales, turtles and other marine creatures permitted to be inadvertently killed or harmed by drift gillnets used to catch swordfish off California, a federal judge has ruled. The decision requires U.S. fisheries managers to take steps to implement the plan, which calls for placing numerical limits on the “bycatch” of bottlenose dolphins, four whale species and four sea turtle species snared in swordfish gillnets. As currently written, the regulation in question also would mandate suspension of swordfish gillnet operations altogether off Southern California if any one of the bycatch limits were exceeded.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council endorsed the plan in 2015, and it was formally proposed for implementation by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service the following year. The rule was expected to gain final approval but was abruptly withdrawn instead in June 2017 under President Donald Trump, whose Commerce Department determined the cost to the commercial fishing industry outweighed conservation benefits. The environmental group Oceana sued, accusing the Commerce Department of violating U.S. fisheries laws and the federal Administrative Procedures Act. Oceana also asked the courts to order the agency to put the bycatch limits into effect.

U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner declined to force the National Marine Fisheries Service to immediately implement the restrictions in a decision handed down Wednesday in Los Angeles. But he sided with environmentalists in finding the agency’s reversal exceeded its authority and was “arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of its discretion.”

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Jul 192018
 
 July 19, 2018  Posted by at 8:16 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »


Félix Vallotton The balloon 1899

 

Is Goldman Sachs Really a Bank? Really? (Whalen)
Everyone Is Smart Except Trump (Fischer)
Russiagate Is Like 9/11, Except It’s Made Of Pure Narrative (CJ)
Kudlow: US Expecting Significant Trade Offer From EU Soon (CNBC)
Mega Tech’s Trillions Of Market Value In Eye-Popping Perspective (MW)
Amazon Now Accounts For 49% Of US Online Retail (ZH)
EU Commissioner On $5 Billion Fine: Google Has To ‘Stop This Behavior’ (CNBC)
How Can We Reverse Brexit When Europe Doesn’t Want Us Back? (Münchau)
Police ‘Identify’ Skripal Suspects (PA)
Cali High Court Orders Proposal To Split Up State Removed From Ballot (R.)
The Cashless Society Is A Con – And Big Finance Is Behind It (G.)
The Most Unbelievable Tax Break Ever (F.)

 

 

No, it’s not.

Is Goldman Sachs Really a Bank? Really? (Whalen)

Most of the largest US banks that reported earnings this week saw interest expense rise by mid-double digits even as interest earnings rose by single digits. Goldman Sachs, for example, saw its funding expenses increase 61% year-over-year (YOY) in Q2’18 while interest income rose just 50%. Citigroup (C), on the other hand, being already positioned in the world of institutional funding, saw interest expense rise only 28%. But the Q2’18 earnings seem to confirm a rising trend in funding costs that could see NIM flatten out and decline by 2019. When Solomon’s ascension to the top spot was announced at Goldman Sachs, our friend Bill Cohan commented on CNBC that this amounted to a takeover of GS by alumni of Bear, Stearns & Co. God does have a sense of humor.

He also reminded Andrew Sorkin et al on Squawk Box that the freewheeling Goldman of old is long gone and that GS is now run and regulated as “a bank.” Well, no, not really. Goldman Sachs is basically a broker-dealer with a small bank in tow. When you compare the net interest margin of GS with its peers, for example, the other members of Peer Group 1 defined by the FFIEC reported NIM of 3.28% vs 0.41% for GS in Q1’18. Because the bank unit of GS is so small, the overall NIM for the group is 1/10th of its peers compared with total assets. Goldman makes less than 2% on earning assets vs almost 4% for its asset peers. So to paraphrase the wisdom of Josh Brown, GS does not make money on interest rates, up or down, but rather earns fees from trading and investment banking. GS profits from the spread, both in terms of price and volume.

The basic problem confronting David Solomon and his colleagues is that GS really is not a bank. It is regulated like a bank and therefore constrained in terms of business activities, but it does not earn the carry on assets that most banks take for granted when they turn on the lights each morning. Talk of expanding the banking side of the business (aka “Marcus”) is fine, but progress in this regard is very slow indeed. Of the $9.4 billion in net revenues reported in Q2’18, just $1 billion represented net interest earnings.

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My Twitter account risks becoming unreadable because of this. I like diverse points of view, but there’s just too much nastiness. People retweeting factoids dozens of times a day.

Everyone Is Smart Except Trump (Fischer)

It really is quite simple. Everyone is smart except Donald J. Trump. That’s why they all are billionaires and all got elected President. Only Trump does not know what he is doing. Only Trump does not know how to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. Anderson Cooper knows how to stand up to Putin. The whole crowd at MSNBC does. All the journalists do. They could not stand up to Matt Lauer at NBC. They could not stand up to Charlie Rose at CBS. They could not stand up to Mark Halperin at NBC. Nor up to Leon Wieseltier at the New Republic, nor Jann Wenner at Rolling Stone, nor Michael Oreskes at NPR, at the New York Times, or at the Associated Press. But — oh, wow! — can they ever stand up to Putin! Only Trump is incapable of negotiating with the Russian tyrant.

Remember the four years when Anderson Cooper was President of the United States? And before that — when the entire Washington Post editorial staff jointly were elected to be President? Remember? Neither do I. The Seedier Media never have negotiated life and death, not corporate life and death, and not human life and death. They think they know how to negotiate, but they do not know how. They go to a college, are told by peers that they are smart, get some good grades, proceed to a graduate degree in journalism, and get hired as analysts. Now they are experts, ready to take on Putin and the Iranian Ayatollahs at age 30. That is not the road to expertise in tough dealing. The alternate road is that, along the way, maybe you get forced into some street fights.

Sometimes the other guy wins, and sometimes you beat the intestines out of him. Then you deal with grown-ups as you mature, and you learn that people can be nasty, often after they smile and speak softly. You get cheated a few times, played. And you learn. Maybe you become an attorney litigating multi-million-dollar case matters. Say what you will about attorneys, but those years — not the years in law school, not the years drafting legal memoranda, but the years of meeting face-to-face and confronting opposing counsel — those years can teach a great deal. They can teach how to transition from sweet, gentle, diplomatic negotiating to tough negotiating. At some point, with enough tough-nosed experience, you figure out Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” yourself.

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Well, it sells. Bigtime.

Russiagate Is Like 9/11, Except It’s Made Of Pure Narrative (CJ)

[..] the current administration has actually been far more aggressive against Russia than the previous administration was, and has worked against Russian interests to a far greater extent. If they wanted to, the international alliance of plutocrats and intelligence/defense agencies could just as easily use their near-total control of the narrative to advance the story that Trump is a dangerous Russia hawk who is imperiling the entire world by inflicting insane escalations against a nuclear superpower. They could elicit the exact same panicked emotional response that they are eliciting right now using the exact same media and the exact same factual situation. They wouldn’t have to change a single thing except where they place their emphasis in telling the story.

The known facts would all remain exactly as they are; all that would have to change is the narrative. Public support for Russiagate depends on the fact that most people don’t recognize how pervasively their day-to-day experience is dominated by narrative. If you are intellectually honest with yourself, you will acknowledge that you think about Russia a lot more now than you did in 2015. Russia hasn’t changed any since 2015; all that has changed is the narrative that is being told about it. And yet now the mass media and a huge chunk of rank-and-file America now view it as a major threat and think about it constantly. All they had to do was talk about Russia constantly in a fearful and urgent way, and now US liberals are convinced that Vladimir Putin is an omnipotent world-dominating supervillain who has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government.

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Juncker to visit Trump next week.

Kudlow: US Expecting Significant Trade Offer From EU Soon (CNBC)

Top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration expects a significant trade offer to come from the European Union soon. In an interview at CNBC’s Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Wednesday, Kudlow said a lot of discussions are being held with individual countries. EU President Jean-Claude Juncker is coming to Washington next week, Kudlow said. “We will be in discussions,” he said. “I am told he’s bringing a very important free trade offer.” Kudlow added he couldn’t confirm that.

President Donald Trump has opened trade discussions on numerous fronts, using tariffs on products like steel and aluminum imports and the threat of tariffs on automobiles to get people to the negotiating table. The tariffs have rankled long-time allies in Europe and elsewhere, and tensions elevated after Trump’s visit to the NATO summit last week. That hasn’t deterred progress, however. “I am told through sources, including our ambassadors, that [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel has been working on that, shaking up the EU,” Kudlow said. “The president has put things on the table. The Europeans are looking at them, okay? And we may be pleasantly surprised.”

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“Value”.

Mega Tech’s Trillions Of Market Value In Eye-Popping Perspective (MW)

A picture is worth a thousand words but a pie chart may be more eloquent, especially when it comes to sizing up the giants of the tech industry. Michael Batnick, director of research at Ritholtz Wealth Management, on Wednesday tweeted out a chart that underscored how absolutely dominant tech companies have become in a world where size seems to increasingly matter. Batnick, in his tweet, noted that the top five S&P 500 companies — Apple, Amazon.com, Alphabet Inc., Microsoft and Facebook — combined are worth $4.095 trillion versus $4.092 trillion for the bottom 282 companies.

As mind-boggling as that may be, Batnick told MarketWatch that this sort of concentration is normal, pointing out that AT&T and General Motors represented 14.5% of the S&P 500 during their heyday in 1965. What is different today, however, is that all the big players are uniformly tech names. “The gains have been extraordinary over the past five years, with Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google growing from $1.2 trillion to near $4 trillion,” wrote Batnick in a recent blog entry.

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At what point do we call it a monopoly?

Amazon Now Accounts For 49% Of US Online Retail (ZH)

Amazon will account for 49.1% of all online retail sales, up from 43% the year before, if they clear an expected $258 billion in sales this year. The stunning figure provided by research firm eMarketer is tempered by the fact that Amazon’s near-majority share of online sales accounts for just 5% of all retail sales. Amazon is set to rake in $258.22 billion in US retail sales in 2018, while annual growth has jumped 29.2% year-over-year, reports Tech Crunch. Fueling Amazon’s rise is a robust network of third-party sellers and a rapidly expanding range of goods from groceries to fashion – made all the more attractive for subscribers of their Prime services.

Now, it is fast approaching a tipping point where more people will be spending money online with Amazon, than with all other retailers — combined. Amazon’s next-closest competitor, eBay, a very, very distant second at 6.6 percent, and Apple in third at 3.9 percent. Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer when counting physical stores, has yet to really hit the right note in e-commerce and comes in behind Apple with 3.7 percent of online sales in the US. -TC

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And more fines coming. But who pays in the end?

EU Commissioner On $5 Billion Fine: Google Has To ‘Stop This Behavior’ (CNBC)

The EU’s commissioner for competition, Margrethe Vestager, said Google has to “stop this behavior” in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday, after a record antitrust fine against the company. “The thing that Google has to do now is of course to stop,” Vestager told “Squawk on the Street.” “This of course will free up the market to allow mobile manufacturers to use other Android systems.” Regulators hit the Alphabet unit with a $5 billion fine for abusing the dominance of its Android mobile operating system – by far the most popular smartphone OS in the world. The EU says Google pushed device makers to bundle Google apps like the Chrome web browser and Gmail, which harms competition. The European Commission, the EU’s executive body, threatened additional fines if Google didn’t put an end to illegal conduct within 90 days.

“They have products that we all like and like to use,” Vestager said. “The only thing we don’t like is when they get to misuse their success and put in place illegal restrictions.” Wednesday’s fine is the largest ever issued to Google, dwarfing even the $2.7 billion penalty from the EU last year for favoring its shopping service over competitors. The company plans to appeal the ruling, according to a statement. The commission is still investigating a third antitrust case against Google’s search advertising service, AdSense. “This is not about Apple, this is not about Android, this is about Google behavior — a behavior that’s illegal for a dominant company because it’s locking down competition and disabling innovation and choice that we would all like to enjoy,” Vestager said.

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Good question. But first more mayhem at home.

How Can We Reverse Brexit When Europe Doesn’t Want Us Back? (Münchau)

What strikes me most about the Brexit discussions in the UK is not the usual Eurosceptic xenophobia, but the lack of understanding of the EU’s position by those who campaign in favour of a Brexit reversal. The leaders of the EU are officially disappointed that Britain is headed for the door; secretly they will be relieved when it goes. In truth, the EU does not really want Brexit to be reversed. Why? Britain has a reputation as an obstreperous “partner” in the institutions, and in the past has sometimes made it harder for Europe to move forward—most notoriously in 2011, when David Cameron used the euro–crisis to try and extract concessions on other things. In the event of a reversal, the Europeans would rightly assume that the ghost of Brexit would never go away.

Ukip would be back in the European Parliament, adding strength to the Salvini and Le Pen factions. Brussels, Berlin and Paris could all do without that. Let’s imagine—and it’s more of a leap than many Remainers acknowledge—that all the legal questions could be swept out of the way. I suppose the EU would ultimately accept a reversal, but without enthusiasm—and with conditions. If a UK prime minister wrote a letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, asking for Brexit to be reversed, he would immediately invoke a special EU summit, in which the other leaders would make at least three demands: the first is an end to the British budget rebate for the next budget period, and perhaps also an end to certain other instances of special treatment, such as on the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Secondly, the EU would insist that the UK could not block decisions they have taken since the UK announced its intention to leave. The third ask would be for a political commitment by the big political parties not to trigger Brexit again after the next elections. Just let that sink in for a minute. And in any second referendum, the Brexiteers could reasonably argue that the UK was not simply remaining, but doing so on much less advantageous terms. Britain, in other words, would inject a whole new wave of political instability and unpleasantness into its own politics, and those of the continent, if—after all the turmoil—it tried to remain. It would become harder, not easier, for Europe to grapple with the really big challenges it faces with the UK back on board.

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No they haven’t. An unnnamed cources alleges the police say it’s the Russians. And that is presented as news. Because waiting for proof is so last century.

Police ‘Identify’ Skripal Suspects (PA)

Police are believed to have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack on Russian former spy Sergei Skripal. Officers think several Russians were involved in the attempted murder of the former double agent and daughter Yulia in Salisbury and are looking for more than one suspect. A source with knowledge of the investigation told the Press Association: “Investigators believe they have identified the suspected perpetrators of the Novichok attack through CCTV and have cross-checked this with records of people who entered the country around that time. They (the investigators) are sure they (the suspects) are Russian.”

The news comes as an inquest is due to open on Thursday for Dawn Sturgess, 44, who died earlier this month, eight days after apparently coming into contact with Novichok from the same batch used in the attempted murder of the Skripals in March. Her partner Charlie Rowley, 45, was left fighting for his life after also being contaminated by the chemical weapon. It is understood Sturgess was exposed to at least 10 times the amount of nerve agent the Skripals came into contact with. Investigators are working to the theory that the substance was in a discarded perfume bottle found by the couple in a park or somewhere in Salisbury city centre and Sturgess sprayed Novichok straight on to her skin, the source said.

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Some rich guy’s hobby.

Cali High Court Orders Proposal To Split Up State Removed From Ballot (R.)

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the November ballot purged of an initiative that seeks to split California into three states, citing significant questions raised about the proposal’s validity. State election officials certified last month that supporters of the so-called Cal3 measure, also known as Proposition 9, had collected enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot in the country’s most populous state. An environmental group, the Planning and Conservation League, challenged the measure in court, arguing it posed a “revision” of the state constitution – as opposed to an amendment – that is too sweeping to be legally subjected to the direct consent of the voters.

Siding with opponents for the time being, the court directed state election officials to keep the measure off the upcoming November ballot to allow the justices sufficient time to review and decide the merits of the case. The court left open the possibility of allowing the initiative to be put before voters in the future, saying the “potential harm in permitting the measure to remain on the ballot outweighs” the harm of its delay. The initiative was launched by billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, who has argued that California’s size makes it ungovernable. He failed in two previous bids to qualify a six-way split of California for the ballot.

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Nudging.

The Cashless Society Is A Con – And Big Finance Is Behind It (G.)

All over the western world banks are shutting down cash machines and branches. They are trying to push you into using their digital payments and digital banking infrastructure. Just like Google wants everyone to access and navigate the broader internet via its privately controlled search portal, so financial institutions want everyone to access and navigate the broader economy through their systems. Another aim is to cut costs in order to boost profits. Branches require staff. Replacing them with standardised self-service apps allows the senior managers of financial institutions to directly control and monitor interactions with customers. Banks, of course, tell us a different story about why they do this.

I recently got a letter from my bank telling me that they are shutting down local branches because “customers are turning to digital”, and they are thus “responding to changing customer preferences”. I am one of the customers they are referring to, but I never asked them to shut down the branches. There is a feedback loop going on here. In closing down their branches, or withdrawing their cash machines, they make it harder for me to use those services. I am much more likely to “choose” a digital option if the banks deliberately make it harder for me to choose a non-digital option. In behavioural economics this is referred to as “nudging”. If a powerful institution wants to make people choose a certain thing, the best strategy is to make it difficult to choose the alternative.

We can illustrate this with the example of self-checkout tills at supermarkets. The underlying agenda is to replace checkout staff with self-service machines to cut costs. But supermarkets have to convince their customers. They thus initially present self-checkout as a convenient alternative. When some people then use that alternative, the supermarket can cite that as evidence of a change in customer behaviour, which they then use to justify a reduction in checkout employees. This in turn makes it more inconvenient to use the checkout staff, which in turn makes customers more likely to use the machines. They slowly wean you off staff, and “nudge” you towards self-service.

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Looks like a good story. But is it?

The Most Unbelievable Tax Break Ever (F.)

Success Street in North Charleston, South Carolina, might be the most misnamed place in America, a path through a weedy, desolate neighborhood with 20% unemployment and a 40% poverty rate. Its biggest claim to fame strolls past the gritty brick apartment buildings and tumbledown bungalows on a muggy morning in late June: Timothy Scott, a local product who grew up to become the first black Republican U.S. senator in more than three decades. Joining Scott is another success story: the frenetic, peripatetic tech billionaire Sean Parker, who flew in by private jet from Los Angeles’ ritzy Holmby Hills for a personal tour of the senator’s hometown.

“I remember so many kids with amazing potential who died on the vine,” Scott says as he surveys the shuttered Chicora Elementary School, where weeds climb the walls and graying plywood shields shattered windows. “The frustration, irritation and low expectations were so pervasive here that I always wanted to make a difference.” He now may get his chance. Today’s visit is less a grim walk down memory lane than a legislative victory lap for Scott and Parker. The unlikely pair are core members of an even more unlikely group of conservatives and liberals, capitalists and philanthropists, U.S. lawmakers and small-town mayors who have successfully created one of the greatest tax-avoidance opportunities in American history, in the service of underperforming American cities and neighborhoods.

For all the focus on drastic tax-rate cuts, the fate of the state and local tax deduction and the exploding federal deficits, it’s the least-known part of last year’s tax-cut law that could be the most consequential. Officially called the Investing in Opportunity Act, it promises to pump a massive amount of cash into America’s most impoverished communities by offering wealthy investors and corporations a chance to erase their tax obligations. [..] The heart of this new law: Opportunity Zones, or “O-zones,” low-income areas designated by each state. Investors will soon be able to plow recently realized capital gains into projects or companies based there, slowly erase the tax obligations on a portion of those gains and, more significantly, have those proceeds grow tax-free. There are almost no limits.

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Feb 192018
 
 February 19, 2018  Posted by at 10:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »


Frank Larson Broadway Billboard Seven Year Itch 1955

 

Global Dividends Hit Record Of $1.25 Trillion In 2017, More To Come (R.)
Jittery US Bond Market Braces For Supply Wave (R.)
How Did America Go Bankrupt? Slowly At First, Then All At Once (CH)
London’s Housing Boom Is Over, Rightmove Says (BBG)
Average Price Of Newly Marketed UK Home Rises Above £300,000 Again (G.)
Ex-CIA Director Thinks US Hypocrisy About Election Meddling Is Hilarious (CJ)
German Carmakers In A Spin Ahead Of Diesel Ban Ruling (R.)
Sweden Is Getting Worried About Its Cashless Society (BBG)
Europe Is A Collection Of Filter Bubbles (BBG)

 

 

As is the case with buybacks, this is all money that execs decide NOT to invest in a company (productivity, modernization, maintenance), but in its stock value.

Global Dividends Hit Record Of $1.25 Trillion In 2017, More To Come (R.)

Global dividends rose 7.7% to an all-time high of $1.25 trillion (1 trillion euros) last year boosted by a buoyant world economy and rising corporate confidence, Janus Henderson said on Monday, predicting another record year ahead. The surge – the strongest since 2014 – was driven by increases in every region and almost every industry with record showings in 11 countries including the United States, Japan, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the Netherlands, the investment manager added. For 2018 Janus Henderson expects dividends to keep the same 7.7% growth rate to reach around $1.35 trillion, as corporate and economic growth remains strong even in more volatile financial markets. “Companies are seeing rising profits and healthy cash flows, and that’s enabling them to fund generous dividends.

The record payout last year was almost three-quarters higher than in 2009, and there is more to come,” Ben Lofthouse, Director of Global Equity Income at Janus Henderson, said. “The next few months are set fair, and we expect global dividends to break new records in 2018.” Adjusting for movements in exchange rates, special one-off dividends and other factors, global dividends rose 6.8% last year and are expected to rise another 6.1% in 2018. Janus said 2017’s dividend growth showed less regional divergence than in previous years, reflecting the broadly based global economic recovery, though Europe lagged behind. European dividends rose just 1.9% to $227 billion, weighed down by cuts from a handful of large companies in France and Spain, lower special dividends and a weak euro during the second quarter, when most dividends are paid, it said.

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How can more debt not be good?

Jittery US Bond Market Braces For Supply Wave (R.)

Bond investors, who have been on edge over signs of growing inflation and a possibly more aggressive Federal Reserve, will have their work cut out for them as the U.S. government seeks to sell $258 billion worth of debt this coming week. The Treasury Department began ramping up its debt issuance earlier this month to fund the expected growth in borrowing tied to the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years and a two-year federal spending package. Last year’s tax reform is expected to add as much as $1.5 trillion to the federal debt load, while the budget agreement would increase government spending by almost $300 billion over the next two years. Analysts worry the combination of a rising budget deficit, faster inflation and more Fed rate increases have ratcheted up the risk of owning Treasuries. Those concerns pushed benchmark 10-year Treasury yields up to 2.944%, a four-year peak last week.

Treasury bill and two-year yields have reached their highest level in more than nine years. The five-year Treasury yield is hovering at its highest levels in nearly eight years, while seven-year yield climbed to levels not seen since April 2011. The increase in U.S. yields may entice investors seeking steady income in the wake of the rollercoaster sessions on Wall Street and other stock markets this month, analysts said. [..] The heavy Treasury supply will kick off on Tuesday with $151 billion worth of bills including record amounts of three-month and six-month T-bills. The rest of the debt sales will spread over a holiday-shortened week with $28 billion of two-year fixed rate notes on Tuesday; $35 billion in five-year debt on Wednesday and $29 billion in seven-year notes on Thursday. The Treasury Department also plans to add $15 billion to an older two-year floating-rate issue.

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Everything is debt. Imagine what would happen if it wasn’t there. Or soon won’t be.

How Did America Go Bankrupt? Slowly At First, Then All At Once (CH)

Clearly, debt has surged since 2000 and particularly since 2008 versus decelerating net full time jobs growth. The number of full time employees is economically critical as, generally speaking, only these jobs offer the means to be a home buyer or build savings and wealth in a consumer driven economy. Part time employment generally offers only subsistence level earnings. But if we look at the change over those periods highlighted, we get a clear picture. Full time jobs are being added at a rapidly declining rate while federal debt is surging in the absence of the growth of full time employees.

And if we look at the federal debt added per full time job added (chart below)…broken arrow…broken arrow!!! That is $1.92 million dollars in new federal debt per net new full time employee since 2008. Compare that to the $30 thousand per net new full time employee from ’70 to ’80…or $140 thousand from ’80 to ’90…and nearly quadruples the $460 thousand per from ’00 to ’08. Despite a far larger total population and after ten years of “recovery” since ’08, this is likely as good as it gets. We are likely at or very near the top of this economic cycle. This pattern is likely to carry forward over the next decade and economic cycle…likely with disastrous results.

[..] US population growth has been decelerating since 1790 and debt to GDP rising (chart below). Originally, the combination of a relatively small population, high immigration, and high birth rates meant annual population growth in excess of 3% and relatively low debt to GDP. Over time, as the population grew, immigration slowed, and birth rates collapsed; US population growth tumbled. Since 1950 total annual population growth (black line in chart below) has decelerated almost 75% (from 2% to 0.6%) but more critically the annual population growth among the under 65 year old population has essentially ceased (as the yellow line in the chart shows) and more debt has been the resounding “solution”. Massive interest rate cuts to incent debt creation have been substituted for the decelerating organic growth.

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About time.

London’s Housing Boom Is Over, Rightmove Says (BBG)

London’s property market has moved out of its boom phase and home sellers need to be more realistic about their price demands, according to Rightmove. The February report from the home-listing website shows that asking prices were down 1% from a year earlier, a sixth consecutive fall. They rose 4.4% on the month, reflecting the usual jump at the start of the spring season. While multiple reports point to a cooling in London housing, the damage is being limited by cautious sellers, who aren’t flooding the market in a panic to dump property. That means the long-running supply-demand imbalance in the city is providing some support to prices. “End-of-the-boom prices normally readjust more quickly if there is an over supply,” Miles Shipside, Rightmove director, said in the report. However, “some would-be sellers are holding back, preventing a glut of competition from forcing prices downward,” he said.

The capital’s housing market was the worst performing in the U.K. in 2017 and there’s little to suggest any upturn is in store. Brexit uncertainty has damped demand, while years of rampant inflation has pushed ownership out of reach for many. The mean asking price in London this month was almost 630,000 pounds ($885,000), more than 20 times average U.K. earnings. For those who need a fast sale, Shipside’s advice is to “sacrifice some of the substantial price gains of the last few years.” The average time to sell a property in London is now 83 days, up from 73 days a year ago. Nationally, asking prices increased 0.8% in February from January, though that was below the 10-year average for the time of year. The average price of 300,000 pounds is up 1.5% year-on-year. That compares with gains of about 6% seen less than two years ago.

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But wait, this quotes Rightmove as well…

Average Price Of Newly Marketed UK Home Rises Above £300,000 Again (G.)

The average price of a UK property coming on to the market has risen by more than £2,400 in a month to just over £300,000 amid evidence of “record” levels of house-hunting activity, according to Rightmove. The website, which tracks 90% of the UK property market, said the national average asking price for a home had increased by 0.8% during the past month, following the 0.7% rise it reported in mid-January. However, some sellers may be over-pricing their properties: the average time to sell has risen once again and is now 72 days, compared with 67 days a month ago and 55 during the summer of 2017. In London, the average has climbed to 83 days. Rightmove said that while it was the norm for new sellers’ asking prices to be buoyant at the start of a new year, “this first complete month in 2018 is seeing more pricing optimism than the comparable period in 2017”.

In general, however, sellers were not being over-ambitious or setting too high a price, it added. The website, which claims to display a stock of more than one million properties to buy or rent, said the average asking price now stood at £300,001, compared with £297,587 a month ago. It described January as its “busiest month ever”, with a record 141m website visits. In all the UK regions it tracks, the typical price of a newly-marketed property rose during the past month, with the exception of south-west England, where the figure slipped back slightly. Scotland saw the biggest monthly increase, at 5.1%, while the north-east and Wales managed 3.6% and 3.5%. However, on a national basis, the annual rate of price growth “remains subdued” at 1.5%, said the website.

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Isn’t it?

Ex-CIA Director Thinks US Hypocrisy About Election Meddling Is Hilarious (CJ)

Take off the terrorist’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the revolutionary’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the Hollywood producer’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the billionaire tech plutocrat’s mask, and it’s the CIA. Take off the news man’s mask, and guess what? It’s the motherfucking CIA. CIA influence is everywhere. Anywhere anything is happening which could potentially interfere with the interests of America’s unelected power establishment, whether inside the US or outside, the depraved, lying, torturing, propagandizing, drug trafficking, coup-staging, warmongering CIA has its fingers in it. Which is why its former director made a cutesy wisecrack and burst out laughing when asked if the US is currently interfering in other democracies.

Fox’s Laura Ingraham unsurprisingly introduced former CIA Director James Woolsey as “an old friend” in a recent interview about Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 alleged members of a Russian troll farm, in which Woolsey unsurprisingly talked about how dangerous Russian “disinformation” is and Ingraham unsurprisingly said that everyone should really be afraid of China. What was surprising, though, was what happened at the end of the interview. “Have we ever tried to meddle in other countries’ elections?” Ingraham asked in response to Woolsey’s Russia remarks. “Oh, probably,” Woolsey said with a grin. “But it was for the good of the system in order to avoid the communists from taking over. For example, in Europe, in ’47, ’48, ’49, the Greeks and the Italians we CIA-”

“We don’t do that anymore though?” Ingraham interrupted. “We don’t mess around in other people’s elections, Jim?” Woolsey smiled and said said “Well…”, followed by a joking incoherent mumble, adding, “Only for a very good cause.” And then they both laughed. They laughed about this. They thought it was funny and cute. They thought it was funny and cute that the very allegation being used to manufacture support for world-threatening new cold war escalations against a nuclear superpower was something they both knew the United States does constantly, usually through Woolsey’s own CIA. The US government’s own data shows that it has deliberately meddled in the elections of 81 foreign governments between 1946 and 2000, including Russia in the nineties. That isn’t even counting the coups and regime changes it facilitated, including right here in my home Australia in the seventies.

The US meddles constantly in other democracies, not “for a good cause” as Woolsey claims, but to advance the agendas of the loosely allied plutocrats, intelligence and defense agencies which comprise America’s permanent government. It does this not to improve or protect the lives of ordinary Americans, but to make the rich richer and the powerful more powerful, usually at the expense of the money, resources, homes, governments, livelihoods and lives of people in other countries. It does this with impunity and without hesitation.

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Carmakers rule the country.

German Carmakers In A Spin Ahead Of Diesel Ban Ruling (R.)

A court will decide on Thursday whether German cities can ban heavily polluting cars, potentially wiping hundreds of millions of euros off the value of diesel cars on the country’s roads. Environmental group DUH has sued Stuttgart in Germany’s carmaking heartland, and Duesseldorf over levels of particulate matter exceeding EU limits after Volkswagen’s 2015 admission to cheating diesel exhaust tests. The scandal led politicians across the world to scrutinize diesel emissions, which contain the matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx) and are known to cause respiratory disease. There are around 15 million diesel vehicles on German streets and environmental groups say levels of particulates exceed the EU threshold in at least 90 German towns and cities.

Local courts ordered them to bar diesel cars which did not conform to the latest standards on days when pollution is heavy, startling German carmakers because an outright ban could trigger a fall in vehicle resale prices, and a rise in the cost of leasing contracts, which are priced on assumed residual values. The German states concerned, where the carmakers and their suppliers have a strong influence, appealed against the decisions, leaving Germany’s federal administrative court – the court of last resort for such matters – to rule on whether such bans can legally be imposed at local level.

“The key question is whether bans can already be considered to be legal instruments,” said Remo Klinger, a lawyer for DUH. “It’s a completely open question of law.” Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centers by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as soon as next year. France and Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040 in a shift to electric vehicles.

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Big Brother is not worried.

Sweden Is Getting Worried About Its Cashless Society (BBG)

‘“No cash accepted” signs are becoming an increasingly common sight in shops and eateries across Sweden as payments go digital and mobile. But the pace at which cash is vanishing has authorities worried. A broad review of central bank legislation that’s underway is now taking a special look at the situation, with an interim report due as early as the summer. “If this development with cash disappearing happens too fast, it can be difficult to maintain the infrastructure” for handling cash, said Mats Dillen, the head of the parliamentary review. He declined to get into more details on what types of proposals could be included in the report. Sweden is widely regarded as the most cashless society on the planet. Most of the country’s bank branches have stopped handling cash; many shops, museums and restaurants now only accept plastic or mobile payments.

But there’s a downside, since many people, in particular the elderly, don’t have access to the digital society. “One may get into a negative spiral which can threaten the cash infrastructure,” Dillen said. “It’s those types of issues we are looking more closely at.” Last year, the amount of cash in circulation dropped to the lowest level since 1990 and is more than 40 percent below its 2007 peak. The declines in 2016 and 2017 were the biggest on record. An annual survey by Insight Intelligence released last month found only 25 percent of Swedes last year paid in cash at least once a week, down from 63 percent just four years ago. A full 36 percent never use cash, or just pay with it once or twice a year.

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There is no such thing as one Europe. And the more the EU promotes the narrative, the more that will become obvious.

Europe Is A Collection Of Filter Bubbles (BBG)

The EU can act in unison at times – for example, on Russia sanctions or, at least so far, on Brexit. But as French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel try for a closer union in the next few years, they will need to be mindful of the fact that there is no single narrative among the publics in different European countries on matters of economic importance. A recent paper for Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank, vividly shows this by analyzing coverage of Europe’s recent financial crisis by four important centrist newspapers: Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung, France’s Le Monde, Italy’s La Stampa and Spain’s El Pais. The total data set encompassed 51,714 news stories. The researchers fed them to a content analysis algorithm and then analyzed the results to construct generalized narratives. Their focus was on how blame for the crisis was attributed.

They found that only El Pais consistently attributed blame to Spain itself for its financial troubles during the euro crisis. “In Spain, the connection between the global financial crisis, the local housing bubble and the mismanagement of a previous period of impressive growth was more visible,” Porcaro explained to me. As one might expect, Sueddeutsche Zeitung blames the crisis on a departure from the traditional German social market economic model. Everyone except Germany seems to have contributed, according to the Munich paper — from greedy financial market players to financially imprudent Greeks to the ECB with its loose monetary policy. Le Monde, too, blamed the banks and speculators, but also German intransigence in handling the indebted southern Europeans.

And La Stampa focused on Italy’s role as a victim of circumstance, namely globalization and German-imposed austerity. Banks and financiers didn’t get much attention as culprits from the Italian newspaper, but the Italian political system and government did get some blame, as in Spain. Le Monde and La Stampa, according to the Bruegel paper, both “embrace a sense of desperation that goes far beyond purely economic considerations but calls into question the entire political system and social fabric.” It’s as if the euro area’s four biggest economies didn’t share a reality. The four quality dailies resemble the blind men in the Indian parable, feeling different parts of an elephant’s body, declaring the whole animal should look like a tree or a snake, then coming to blows when they can’t agree.

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Nov 262017
 


Gallica Great Paris Flood 1910

 

The World’s Twin Asset Bubbles Could Collapse Under Their Own Weight (Filia)
Atlas Stumbles – Inequality And Macroeconomics At A Crossroads (DDMB)
Europeans Still Love Paying Cash, Even if They Don’t Know It (BBG)
Echoes of Weimar Republic as Germans Lose Knack Of Coalition-Building (G.)
EU Demands In Next Round Of Talks Set To Enrage Cabinet Brexiteers (Ind.)
Catalan Leader Doubles Down on Independence Pledge (BBG)
The End of the Age of Benevolence (Marion)
Greeks Cutting Down On Food Due To Overtaxation (K.)
Libya Navy Says Over 30 Migrants Dead, 200 Rescued Off Coast (AFP)
Mexico’s Vast New Ocean Reserve To Protect ‘Galapagos of North America’ (G.)

 

 

Very interesting transcript of a MacroVoices talk with fund manager Francesco Filia. It doesn’t really fit into the Debt Rattle format, so go to Zero Hedge to read it all.

The World’s Twin Asset Bubbles Could Collapse Under Their Own Weight (Filia)

I think the equity bubble is quite uncontroversial, is quite unambiguous. There are a lot of different valuation metrics for those that care to look into them. They’ve been valid for over a hundred years of modern financial markets. And this time is no different in that respect. There are the usual metrics that the valuation guys are looking at, like financial assets to disposable income that shows that this market is way more expensive than at any point in history including the big dot com bubble and the Lehman moment in 2007-2008. But there are other metrics like the Buffett Indicator (market cap on GDP), the median debt on total assets, the corporate debt to GDP, the price on sales, the price to book, enterprise value on sales, enterprise value on EBITDA – there are a number of different metrics. They all convene that this is a market bubble that has not been seen before in history.

But we at Fasanara, we developed our own indicator just to try to add something to what was available already. And we started with one of the most famous of all the indicators in this respect, which is the Shiller adjusted PE ratio, or the CAPE ratio. This is the most famous of them. Professor Shiller got a Nobel Prize in 2013 for it. And for his studies on market inefficiencies and for the ability to infer future expected returns from valuation metrics such as the Shiller PE. And, based on the Shiller PE, what it does is simply to compare current prices to not spot earnings of foreign earnings, but a more reliable measure of the average of the last ten years and adjusted for inflation. So the average of the last ten years of real earnings. And on the basis of this index, we find out that the market is as expensive and just a little bit less expensive than it was in 1929 during the Great Depression, the peak of the market before the biggest collapse in equity prices ever seen, and the year 2000. So just slightly cheaper than the year 2000.

What we do is an evolution of the Hussman PE ratio (which is taken from the Shiller ratio) which is to compare – kind of putting all in the basket. So we put the peak earnings as opposed to average earnings, and for peak earnings we really mean the peak. We take the two top quarters over the last 40 quarters. So we cannot really be seen as being any more generous to the current markets, we take the two peak quarters of the last 40 quarters. And then what we do is we compare these peak earnings to potential growth, or trend growth. Because the point here is that what you pay in terms of stocks, should compare, not just to the past or the earnings of proposition, but also to the overall economy generally. Because if the overall economy has a lower potential growth you should be expecting to be able to pay less in terms of multiples than otherwise. The overall economy has a big correlation to earnings and to profit margins, so you should expect the potential growth rate of the economy to be quite relevant when it comes to PE multiples.

There can be a catalyst. Or there can be no catalyst. If you talk about catalysts, I could argue that can be inflation, for example. At the moment, we have seen that inflation resurfaced. We have seen some tightness in the job market. It has not translated yet into wages growth and therefore inflation. But we could just be about to see that. And, in that case, rates would rise and they would provoke as a catalyst the kind of downfall that we expect. Or the catalyst could be political. A lot of quantitative easing is being created and it is benefiting only the top 1% of the population. And it is resulting in this so-called income inequality concept.

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“Crap in, crap out? That’s how we make policy?”

Atlas Stumbles – Inequality And Macroeconomics At A Crossroads (DDMB)

Here’s a news flash: “We don’t want a boom-bust situation.” If you’ll pardon the cynicism, Janet Yellen has chosen now, the twilight of her time at the Fed to discover the words and wisdom of Ludwig Von Mises, father of the Austrian economic school of thought, detractor of the perils of malinvestment? Now?? More to the point, it’s a real trick to not want something we’ve had for over 30 years. As for being flummoxed on stubbornly low inflation, as Yellen contends, that in 2017 inflation is “more of a mystery” than ever, allow an outtake from Fed Up to shed some light. For the record, Janet Yellen was in attendance at the 2014 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting at which the following scene took place.

“Anything but bashful at his first FOMC meeting, Governor (Stanley) Fischer asked why the Fed relied on the core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) measure of inflation. Fischer said he lived his life by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), as did his children. In his opinion, the only realistic measures of inflation were the CPI and the Dallas Fed Trimmed Mean PCE. (I bet Fisher got a kick out of that, since this relatively young metric had been nurtured under his leadership.) One brave Fed staffer explained that the models the Fed used to set interest rates wouldn’t function if they didn’t use PCE. The no-nonsense Bullard jumped in. “Let me get this straight,” Bullard said, according to a Fed official who was present. “Crap in, crap out? That’s how we make policy?” It’s the model. It’s broken and it has been for years. Stop using it. Mystery solved. Next?

On this Fed Meeting Minutes Wednesday, now that we can safely speak of the end of the Yellen (Greenspan, Bernanke) mega-era, could we please petition Jay Powell and the new regime to stop doctoring the minutes from FOMC meetings in an effort to herald honest and true ‘transparency’ in future Fed communique? After all, it was Yellen herself who brazenly called for manipulating the minutes, in recorded Fed transcripts, no less. She had this to say at the December 2008 meeting at which policymakers voted to take the fed funds rate to the zero bound: “We could also consider using the FOMC minutes to provide quantitative information on our expectations.” Could ‘we’ not instead?

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What you call a leading title. Of course they know. Cashless doesn’t work in Germany at all. Think that’s just some weird coincidence?

Europeans Still Love Paying Cash, Even if They Don’t Know It (BBG)

Digital currencies may be getting all the buzz these days, but notes and coins still reign supreme in most of Europe. Cash made up around 79% of everyday payments across the euro area last year, according to a ECB study. Almost a quarter of consumers also kept some cash at home as a precaution, and 20% said they had a high-denomination note – €200 ($237) or €500 – in their possession in the year before the survey was conducted. As the study notes, the results “challenge the perception that cash is rapidly being replaced by cashless means of payment.” The picture differs across the 19 member states though. Cash is most dominant in southern Europe, Germany, Austria and Slovenia, where it in accounts for 80% of all payment transactions at point-of-sale.

That figures drops to 45-54% in the Netherlands, Estonia and Finland. The study also found that many people don’t actually know their own payment habits. When asked how they prefer to pay, a larger share of respondents said card, not cash. That may be because nearly two-thirds of all transactions are below €15, the report said. Purchases of coffee and lottery tickets don’t stick in the mind as much as, say, a new pair of shoes. The experience of some countries shows how things can change though. While contactless cards accounted for just 1% of payments across the euro area in 2016, the figure was almost 10% for the tech-savvy Netherlands. The authors of the study say that the small size of contactless payments – 81% of transactions are below €25 – give the technology great potential.

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Power blocks fall apart all over. Germany better be careful. Merkel’s wounded, and she’s all they’ve known for 12 years.

Echoes of Weimar Republic as Germans Lose Knack Of Coalition-Building (G.)

For years, German politics were both mocked and admired for being too uneventful to the point of tedium. Only recently the lack of drama inside the reconstructed Reichstag’s circular plenary chamber led to calls for a more confrontational, Westminster-style approach. But as old geopolitical certainties have crumbled over the past 18 months, Berlin’s consensual, unexcitable style of policymaking has won new admirers. The collapse of talks to form the next coalition government have exposed Angela Merkel’s diminished authority. Many are now beginning to wonder if the division wrought on Britain and the US by Brexit and Donald Trump has also descended on Europe’s biggest economy.

With Merkel’s last coalition partners, the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Free Democrats (FDP), more eager on parliamentary opposition than on government posts, and an already ultra-oppositional Alternative für Deutschland hoping to receive a further boost from the political standstill, commentators in Germany have started to evoke the darkest days of the Weimar Republic, when short-lived minority governments ruled by emergency decrees. “Like in Weimar, the federal republic is now a multiparty system in which extreme parties have begun to paralyse the working of the parliamentary democracy,” wrote Stephen Szabo, an expert on US-German relations.

“Germany’s obsession with stability was largely a result of reforms aimed at avoiding the mistakes of the Weimar Republic,” said Anthony Glees, a historian at the University of Buckingham. “In spite of a proportional vote system, a 5% threshold for smaller parties guaranteed that postwar Germany was for decades a two-party state, where the power would lie safely in the centre.” With polls for possible fresh elections next year predicting that both Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union and the SDP could drop below 30% while support for the FDP, the AfD, the Greens and the Left party continues to grow, Glees said, “that system is now biting Germany in the leg”.

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A bitter divorce lurks.

EU Demands In Next Round Of Talks Set To Enrage Cabinet Brexiteers (Ind.)

EU negotiators are already laying the groundwork to hit the UK with demands in the next stage of Brexit talks that are unacceptable to key figures in Theresa May’s Cabinet, The Independent can reveal. Leaked documents show chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier wants to make giving the UK a good transition deal conditional on Britain’s “automatic” acceptance of new Brussels regulations during the likely two-year period after March 2019. The plan, set out to EU leaders behind closed doors, would leave the UK with no say over rules it accepts during the transition and is likely to enrage Brexiteers in the Cabinet like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Liam Fox, who are determined 2019 should be the last year Britain takes new rules from Brussels.

[..] The papers consist of a presentation, drawn up by Mr Barnier for the EU27’s representatives, in which he says any UK transition out of the EU must involve the “automatic application in the UK of new EU rules post-30 March 2019”. The chief negotiator is clear Britain would have “no institutional rights, no presence in the institutions” and “no voting rights” under his plan, meaning the UK would end up following rules made in the interests of the remaining member states and even incorporating them into British law with no control of how they are formed. Any potential conflict over the transition has yet to surface because the EU has said it will not discuss future arrangements on that or trade until the three withdrawal issues have made “sufficient progress”. But the leak shows the direction the bloc is taking behind the scenes and indicates probable obstacles to agreement in future rounds of talks.

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Will Rajoy ban the independence parties altogether?

Catalan Leader Doubles Down on Independence Pledge (BBG)

Ousted Catalan President Carles Puigdemont pitched his candidacy ahead of next month’s regional election, doubling down on his pledge to make the region an independent state. Puigdemont, who maintains he’s the legitimate regional president after being sacked by the central government, will lead a new platform under the banner of Together for Catalonia. He said on Saturday a victory at the polls on Dec. 21 would serve to ratify his mandate and send a signal to the European Union, which has repeatedly sided with the government of Mariano Rajoy against unilateral attempts for independence. “The people of Catalonia have shown the world we have the capacity and the will to become an independent state,” Puigdemont told an audience in Bruges, Belgium, where he’s been staying since declaring independence last month.

“On Dec. 21, we must ratify that.” The independence movement is trying to reshape its message after the Rajoy administration invoked unprecedented constitutional powers to oust the regional government and take direct control of the wealthy region. The Madrid government acted after the ill-fated independence declaration that led thousands of local companies move their registered address. Puigdemont remains in Belgium awaiting a court decision to execute a European arrest order from a Spanish judge on charges of rebellion that could see him jailed for as long as 30 years. He blamed authorities in Madrid for limiting his ability to campaign. Rajoy’s administration has accused him of fleeing the nation to escape legal responsibilities.

Catalonia Deputy President Oriol Junqueras and half the ousted regional cabinet remain in prison, pending trial on the same charges unless a judge opts to release them. The question remains whether they’ll be able to campaign if the Supreme Court, which is handling the case, finds sufficient grounds to order their release while the investigation continues.

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“..we have reached peak denial in our civilization and whether we like it or not reality is about to make a come back.”

The End of the Age of Benevolence (Marion)

Some evenings I sit on the sofa in the family room with my teenage daughter and watch a TV program with her. I leave the choice of the show to her, it matters little to me, and when she finds something she likes she sits next to me, puts her head on my shoulder, and snuggles up for the hour it takes to watch whatever it is she’s chosen. It’s our time. Occasionally we’ll sneak in another twenty or thirty minutes to the objection of her mother but I like my time with her so I put up with the raised eyebrows and the, “She’s got school tomorrow,” scoldings. It’s important to me that she knows I love her, that I want to spend time with her and that she feels safe when she is with me. Someday, when she is a grown woman I want her to find a man that will take care of her and protect her like I do. I expect no less from a suitor and neither should she.

There will be women who read this who will object to my stance. They will say, “She doesn’t need a man to feel safe or validated or content,” but I would disagree. When she gets older she’ll need a good man, not just any man, and that’s as true today as much as it was ten years, twenty years, fifty years, one hundred years and even one thousand years ago. And it will become even more so as time goes on. Indeed, we have reached peak denial in our civilization and whether we like it or not reality is about to make a come back. The freedom that we have enjoyed in the west and the modern democracies that have sprung forth from our evolving and enlightened philosophies over the past few hundred years are not a given. Granted, they are preferable outcomes given our natural state but politically speaking they are an anomaly in the history of mankind and not the norm.

As such, democracy and the systems, social structures and institutions that have grown up around them are grossly misunderstood by the vast majority of the western world. Most of the people living in the west today have been raised to believe that democracy is a moral system of governance and that it is our gift to the rest of mankind. But democracy is not an inherently moral system nor is it a guarantor of linear, progressive political growth. At its root democracy is quite simple. It is the exercise of political power by the majority over the minority. It is the power to choose in matters of politics. This, of course, begs the question: to choose what? Since choices in general (and political ones are no exception) can be either good or bad, in this case, both for the individual and the body politic, then it follows that democracy is neither.

It is nothing more than a tool for decision making where the majority holds the power to make decisions that affect everyone, either for better or for worse. Democracy is, therefore, a reflection of the character of the people who exercise it. Additionally, democracy is also the use of soft force. That is, the minority bends to the will of the majority on political matters and the apparatus of the state is responsible for carrying out its demands. The minority consents, willingly or unwillingly not because violence is present but because, by the state’s presence, it is implied. More importantly, though, democracy is a luxury that is preceded by benevolence but does not necessarily guarantee its continuance or creation if forgotten.

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Tragedy. Entirely unnecessary.

Greeks Cutting Down On Food Due To Overtaxation (K.)

Overtaxation has forced Greeks to cut down on grocery spending, as IRI Hellas researchers have found that supermarket sales in the January-September 2017 period were 6.7% below the level recorded two years earlier and 7.4% below the 2014 level. Consumers have become bargain hunters out of necessity, not only because of the proliferation of special offers at supermarket but also due to the hikes in value-added tax and the special consumption taxes on most everyday products, on top of the direct tax obligations that households have to meet.

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Even more tragic. And just as avoidable.

Libya Navy Says Over 30 Migrants Dead, 200 Rescued Off Coast (AFP)

More than 30 migrants died and 200 were rescued on Saturday after their boats foundered off Libya’s western coast, the Libyan navy said. The coastguard conducted two rescue operations off the city of Garabulli, 60 kilometres (40 miles) east of Tripoli, spokesman Colonel Abu Ajila Abdelbarri said. He added that patrols had found 31 bodies and 60 survivors from one boat, while all 140 passengers had survived in a second boat. “When we arrived at the spot, we found an inflatable dinghy with several people clinging to part of it,” he said. Libyan navy spokesman Ayoub Qassem told AFP that 18 women and three children were among the dead recovered from the sea, while 40 people were missing.

Migrants from Somalia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria and four from Pakistan were among those rescued. Libyan patrol boat commander Nasser al-Ghammoudi said one of the vessels was three-quarters under water when the coastguard arrived. “We looked for other survivors for more than five hours,” he said. “We were able to rescue one woman after we heard her shouts.” A French NGO, SOS Mediterranee, said later Saturday that it had rescued more than 400 people from a stricken wooden boat in international waters further from the Libyan coast. Other rescue operations were ongoing on Saturday evening, the Italian coastguard told AFP. Italy’s coastguard, which coordinates the rescue effort in international waters, reported that a total of 1,500 people had been saved on Thursday and Friday.

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It’s not that vast, really.

Mexico’s Vast New Ocean Reserve To Protect ‘Galapagos of North America’ (G.)

Mexico’s government has created the largest ocean reserve in North America around a Pacific archipelago regarded as its crown jewel. The measures will help ensure the conservation of marine creatures including whales, giant rays and turtles. The protection zone spans 57,000 sq miles (150,000 sq km) around the Revillagigedo islands, which lie 242 miles (390 km) south-west of the Baja California peninsula. Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, announced the decision in a decree that also bans mining and the construction of new hotels on the islands. He said on Saturday that the decree reaffirmed the country’s “commitment to the preservation of the heritage of Mexico and the world”. The four volcanic islands that make up the Revillagigedo archipelago, called the Galapagos of North America, are part of a submerged volcanic mountain range.

The surrounding waters, east of Hawaii, are home to hundreds of species of animals and plants, including rays, humpback whales, sea turtles, lizards and migratory birds. The local ecosystem is central to the lives of some 400 species of fish, sharks and ray that depend on the nutrients drawn up by the ocean. The area is a breeding ground for commercially fished species such as tuna and sierra. However, the various fish populations had suffered, unable to reproduce fast enough for the rate at which they were fished. The creation of a marine reserve is expected to help them to recover, as all fishing activities will now be prohibited. This will be policed by the Mexican navy.

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Aug 152017
 
 August 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Stanley Kubrick Walking the streets of New York 1946

 

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)
We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)
World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)
US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)
Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)
Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)
Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)
Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)
Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)
China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)
North Korea Leader Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)
Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)
Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)
Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)
Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

 

 

Feels like we’re being prepared, or maybe set up is a better way to put it. They’re going to take over everything, criminalize anything they can’t control. All for your own good. Rogoff is one scary dude.

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)

Negative interest rates will be needed in the next major recession or financial crisis, and central banks should do more to prepare the ground for such policies, according to leading economist Kenneth Rogoff. Quantitative easing is not as effective a tonic as cutting rates to below zero, he believes. Central banks around the world turned to money creation in the credit crunch to stimulate the economy when interest rates were already at rock bottom. In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives the professor of economics at Harvard University argues that central banks should start preparing now to find ways to cut rates to below zero so they are not caught out when the next recession strikes. Traditionally economists have assumed that cutting rates into negative territory would risk pushing savers to take their money out of banks and stuff the cash – metaphorically or possibly literally – under their mattress.

As electronic transfers become the standard way of paying for purchases, Mr Rogoff believes this is a diminishing risk. “It makes sense not to wait until the next financial crisis to develop plans and, in any event, it is time for economists to stop pretending that implementing effective negative rates is as difficult today as it seemed in Keynes time”, he said. The growth of electronic payment systems and the increasing marginalisation of cash in legal transactions creates a much smoother path to negative rate policy today than even two decades ago. Countries can scrap larger denomination notes to reduce the likelihood of cash being held in substantial quantities, he suggests. This is also a potentially practical idea because cash tends now to be used largely for only small transactions. Law enforcement officials may also back the idea to cut down on money laundering and tax evasion.

The key consequence from an economic point of view is that forcing savers to keep cash in an electronic format would make it easier to levy a negative interest rate. “With today’s ultra-low policy interest rates – inching up in the United States and still slightly negative in the eurozone and Japan – it is sobering to ask what major central banks will do should another major prolonged global recession come any time soon,” he said, noting that the Fed cut rates by an average of 5.5 percentage points in the nine recessions since the mid-1950s, something which is impossible at the current low rate of interest, unless negative rates become an option. That would be substantially better than trying to use QE or forward guidance as central bankers have attempted in recent years.

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If we don’t take away political power from banks and central banks, we’re doomed.

We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)

The 10th anniversary of the financial crisis has prompted a lot of analysis about what we’ve learned and whether we’re ready for the next one. Pretty much everything you need to know, though, can be found in one chart: the capital ratios of the largest U.S. banks. Capital, also known as equity, is the money that banks get from shareholders and retained earnings. Unlike debt, it has the advantage of absorbing losses, a feature that makes individual banks and the whole system more resilient. Bank executives typically prefer to use less equity and more debt – that is, more leverage – because this magnifies returns in good times. Hence, capital levels can serve as an indicator of the balance of power between bankers and regulators concerned about financial stability. Here’s a chart showing tangible common equity, as a percentage of tangible assets, at the six largest U.S. banks from December 2001 to June 2017:

The downward slope in the first several years demonstrates the extent to which leverage got out of hand before the crisis. As late as 2008, when the financial sector was already in distress, the Federal Reserve was still allowing banks to pay out capital in the form of dividends, even though some had equity of less than 3% of assets. That proved to be a fatal miscalculation: By 2009, forecasts of total losses on loans and securities reached 10% of assets. A crippled banking system tanked the economy and had to be rescued at taxpayer expense. After the crisis, regulators pushed banks to get stronger. The biggest U.S. institutions more than doubled their tangible common equity ratios – to an average of about 8% of assets (or, by international accounting standards, closer to 6% of assets). That’s an achievement, and better than in Europe, but the starting point was so low that they still fall short of what’s needed. Researchers at the Minneapolis Fed, for example, estimate that capital would have to more than double again to bring the risk of bailouts down to an acceptable level.

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How crime got re-defined. Poor conduct. Orwell.

World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)

Fines, legal bills and the cost of compensating mistreated customers reached £264bn for 20 of the world’s biggest banks over the five years to 2016, according to new research that raises doubts about efforts by the major financial services players to restore trust in the sector. This figure is higher than in the previous five-year period – when the costs amounted to £252bn – and is up 32% on the period 2008-12, the first time the data was collated by the CCP Research Foundation, one of the few bodies that analyses the “conduct costs” of banks. The report said the data showed that 10 years on from the onset of the financial crisis, the consequences of misconduct continue to hang over the banking sector. The latest analysis shows that in 2016 the total amount put aside by the banks surveyed rose to more than £28.6bn – higher than in the previous year when there had been a fall from a peak of £63bn in 2014.

Chris Stears, research director of the foundation, writes in the latest report: “Trust in, and the trustworthiness of, the banks must surely correlate to, and be conditional on, banks’ conduct costs. And persistent level of conduct cost provisioning is worrying. “It remains to be seen whether or not the provisions will crystallise in 2017 [or later] and what effect this will have on the aggregated level of conduct costs.” Two UK high street banks – Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group – are in the top five of banks with the biggest conduct costs. RBS set aside extra provisions for fines and legal costs largely related to a forthcoming penalty from the US Department of Justice for mis-selling toxic bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis. That residential mortgage bond securitisation mis-selling scandal is responsible for £66bn of the costs incurred during the five-year period and the single largest factor, according to the foundation.

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The only thing that propped up stocks is vaporizing.

US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)

U.S. stocks have been able to hit fresh highs this year despite a dearth of demand from a key source of buying. Share repurchases by American companies this year are down 20% from this time a year ago, according to Societe Generale global head of quantitative strategy Andrew Lapthorne. Ultra-low borrowing costs had encouraged large firms to issue debt to buy back their own stock, thereby providing a tailwind to earnings-per-share growth. “Perhaps over-leveraged U.S. companies have finally reached a limit on being able to borrow simply to support their own shares,” writes Lapthorne. Repurchase programs account for the lion’s share of net inflows into U.S. equities during this bull market. Heading into 2017, equity strategists anticipated that the buyback bonanza would continue in earnest, fueled in part by an expected tax reform plan that would provide companies with repatriated cash to invest.

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Deflation.

Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen keeps citing consumer confidence and jobs as reasons consumer spending and inflation will pick up. Curiously, the New York Fed Survey on Consumer Spending Expectations keeps trending lower and lower, despite survey-high expectations for wage growth. The report for July 2017 was released today. I downloaded the survey results and produced the following charts.

Household Spending Projections

 

Household Income Projections

 

Income projections are volatile but at least they are trending higher across the board. Spending projections are less volatile and trending lower at every level. At the 25th%ile level, a group that no doubt spends every cent they make, spending expectations are zero. Those projections were in negative territory in April. Fed Chair Janet Yellen does not believe the Fed’s own reports. Instead, she relies on consumer confidence numbers that tend to track the stock market or gasoline prices more than anything else. Perhaps New York Fed President William Dudley does believe in the report.

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If you weren’t scared yet…

Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)

Nowadays, it is easy to get caught up in the day to day of markets with main stream media pumping the hot stock or warning of market crashes that rarely come. Focusing on the longer term cycles is how you stay with the trend, reduce portfolio churn and costs. I am not advocating for a purely passive strategy as I think the current state of passive investing is contributing to over-valuation and a lack of pricing discovery, which is another topic I won’t get into in this piece. Longer term cycles are largely influenced by demographics. Boomers were entering the workforce in the 1970s and started having children (Millennials) in the early 1980s. The surge in home purchases, appliances, and the multitude of things you buy for kids helped drive the economy for 30 years. The giant buildup in credit that I have covered in a previous article is another reason for a 35-year bull market.

The potential problem now is Boomers are hitting retirement, and roughly 10,000 Boomers retire each day. The above chart is the age distribution of the U.S. population by age. You can see the cliff of Boomers that are turning 70 this year. There are a couple ramifications of Boomers retiring. First is the moment they quit their job or sell their business, they are on a finite budget from there on out. Second, fewer people will be available for work down the road leaving less tax payers contributing to already stressed government budgets. Lastly, Boomers are incentivized to retire at 70.5 due to social security rules and will also start drawing on pensions. What makes matters worse is the majority of Boomers have less than $200k saved for retirement and a large portion have less than $50k saved per PWC’s Annual survey. This means that Boomers are heavily relying on Social Security or they have to work longer, which is currently evidenced by the following chart from the BLS.

Boomers have essentially garnered the majority of wage gains and now are working longer either out of necessity or preference. You might be thinking the surge in Millennials entering the work force will save the day, but due to the above facts, younger generations have to wait longer to move up the corporate ladder or have to attain levels of higher education to receive an adequate salary. As a result, student debt has risen exponentially in the U.S. jeopardizing the future of many starting their professional lives.

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“Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.”

Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)

All history now, isn’t it? The credit crisis that began in August 2007, the ensuing banking crash and global recession. One bumper episode from the long-ago past, when the iPhone was a newborn and Amy Winehouse still made records. Now done, dusted, reformed and resolved. Or so one assumes, from the official self-congratulation. The European commission marks the 10th anniversary of the credit crisis by trumpeting: “Back to recovery thanks to decisive EU action.” Yes, the same clapped-out European establishment that has spent the last decade kicking a can down the road. The head of the derivatives industry body, ISDA, admits: “We sometimes forget to articulate the social value of what we do.” Indeed so: before the crash, bankers emailed each other about how the derivatives that they were paid so much to flog were “crap” and “vomit”.

Everyone knows history is written by the victors, but this is something else: bullshit recounted by the bullshitters. Even the banks are back to bragging how many billions they generously chip in to Her Majesty’s Exchequer, presumably hoping no one will point out that they took £1.3tn from taxpayers in just a few months in 2008. Let’s get three things straight. First, it was working- and middle-class Britons who paid for the mess, who are still paying for it now and who will keep paying for it decades from now. Second, the crash has prompted almost no fundamental reckoning or reform. And, most importantly, the combination of those first two factors means the crash that began in 2007 cannot be consigned to the past. Today’s politics – from Brexit to Trump and the collapse of centrism – is just one of its products.

For politicians and financiers to treat the crash as history brings to mind Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Here’s the stuff of historical bad dreams: at the height of the banking crisis in 2008, every man, woman and child in Britain handed over £19,721 each to bankers. The economy tanked, Gordon Brown got booted out – and David Cameron pretended a private banking catastrophe was a crisis of a supposedly profligate public sector. You know what happened next: first the kids’ Sure Start centre closed, then the library; your mum waited ages to get her hip replacement; the working poor had their social security stolen, and the local comp began sending begging letters. Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.

I say that, but we have only had seven years of austerity. If Philip Hammond stays in No 11 and sticks to plan (one must hope he does neither), the cuts will continue until the middle of the next decade. After 2025, who knows what will remain of our councils, our welfare state and our public realm. One truism of this era is that the average British worker earns less after inflation than they did when RBS nearly died. Most of us have seen not a recovery, but a ripping up of our social contract – so that over 7 million Britons are now in precarious employment. But the highest earners are way ahead of where they were in 2008. Finance-sector bonuses are as generous as they were during the boom, while a bad year for the average FTSE boss is one in which he or she pulls in a mere £4.53m.

And so we remain reliant on debt – aptly termed “the raw material for bubbles and crashes” by Daniel Mügge at the University of Amsterdam. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the UK is far deeper in the red now than it was when Northern Rock collapsed. Government debt has shot up under the Conservatives, but so too has household borrowing. Were the UK to crash again, its government no longer has the political capital nor the fiscal headroom to save the financial system.

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“The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.”

Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)

It’s important to observe that if short-term interest rates were still at zero and market internals were favorable, even the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we identify would not be enough to push us to a hard-negative market outlook. That, in a nutshell, is the central lesson from quantitative easing, and is one that could alone have dramatically altered our own challenging experience in the recent speculative half-cycle. At present, however, we observe not only the most obscene level of valuation in history aside from the single week of the March 24, 2000 market peak; not only the most extreme median valuations across individual S&P 500 component stocks in history; not only the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we define; but also interest rates that are off the zero-bound, and a key feature that has historically been the hinge between overvalued markets that continue higher and overvalued markets that collapse: widening divergences in internal market action across a broad range of stocks and security types, signaling growing risk-aversion among investors, at valuation levels that provide no cushion against severe losses.

[..] Again, the principal lesson of the recent half-cycle was that in the face of zero interest rates, even the most extreme “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes were not enough to anticipate steep market losses (as they typically were in prior market cycles). Instead, investors were driven to believe that they had no other alternative but to continue their yield-seeking speculation. In the face of zero interest rates, one had to wait for market internals to deteriorate before adopting a hard negative market outlook. At present, we observe neither zero interest rates, nor uniformly favorable market internals. In the current environment, we expect that obscene valuations and severe “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes are likely to be followed by the same outcomes that have attended similar conditions across history. The chart below shows the percentage of U.S. stocks above their respective 200-day moving averages, along with the S&P 500 Index. The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.

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It’s about Apple and Google.

Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)

President Donald Trump on Monday authorized an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property in the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing, but one that is unlikely to prompt near-term change. Trump broke from his 17-day vacation in New Jersey to sign the memo in the White House at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The investigation is likely to cast a shadow over relations with China, the largest U.S. trading partner, just as Trump is asking Beijing to step up pressure against Pyongyang. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into whether to launch a formal investigation of China’s trade policies on intellectual property, which the White House and U.S. industry lobby groups say are harming U.S. businesses and jobs.

Trump called the inquiry “a very big move.” Trump administration officials have estimated that theft of intellectual property by China could be as high as $600 billion. Experts on China trade policy said the long lead time could allow Beijing to discuss some of the issues raised by Washington without being seen to cave to pressure under the threat of reprisals. Although Trump repeatedly criticized China’s trade practices on the campaign trail, his administration has not taken any significant action. Despite threats to do so, it has declined to name China a currency manipulator and delayed broader national security probes into imports of foreign steel and aluminum that could indirectly affect China.

[..] The Information Technology Industry Council, the main trade group for U.S. technology giants, such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, said it hoped China would take the administration’s announcement seriously. “Both the United States and China should use the coming months to address the issues causing friction in the bilateral trade relationship before Presidents Trump and Xi have their anticipated meeting ahead of the November APEC leaders meeting,” ITI President Dean Garfield said in a statement.

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“On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced..”

China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)

China is introducing a ban on imports of some goods from North Korea in line with a UN Security Council resolution, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said Monday. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on Beijing to increase economic pressure on North Korea as China is Pyongyang’s biggest trade partner. “On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced,” the ministry said in a statement. According to the statement, North Korean products arrived at Chinese ports before the ban would be allowed to enter the country. Import applications of products from North Korea will be halted from September 5. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are still allowed to import coal from third countries via the North Korean port of Rason. However, Chinese importers need to apply for approval from a UN committee set up under the UN Security Council resolution 1718.

Interestingly, Beijing’s move came amid media speculations that Trump is mulling a trade crackdown on China. China is by far the largest trading partner of North Korea. In April, the Chinese General Administration of Customs said trade between the two countries in the first quarter increased 37.4% year-over-year, even despite the UN sanctions on North Korean supplies of coal, the country’s top export earner. The tensions around North Korea have been high over the recent months and they have escalated further after the tightening of economic sanctions against North Korea by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last week in response to July’s launches of ballistic missiles by Pyongyang. On August 5, new UNSC sanctions against North Korea could cut the nation’s annual export revenue by $1 billion.

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Saving face.

Kim Jong-un Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)

North Korea’s leader received a report from his army on its plans to fire missiles toward Guam and said he will watch the actions of the United States for a while longer before making a decision, the North’s official news agency said on Tuesday. North Korea said last week it was finalizing plans to launch four missiles into the waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, and its army would report the strike plan to leader Kim Jong Un and wait for his order. Kim, who inspected the command of the North’s army on Monday, examined the plan for a long time and discussed it with army officers, the official KCNA said in a report. “He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” the report said.

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang’s detailed plans for the strike near Guam prompted a surge in tensions in the region last week, with U.S. President Donald Trump warning he would unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it threatened the Unite States. South Korean and U.S. officials have since sought to play down the risks of an imminent conflict, helping soothe global concerns somewhat on Monday. Kim said the United States should make the right choice “in order to defuse the tensions and prevent the dangerous military conflict on the Korean peninsula,” the KCNA report said.

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Oh, get real: “..poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop.”

Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)

Australia’s central bank renewed its focus on mounting household debt, even as the outlook for the nation’s economy improved, according to the minutes of this month’s policy decision where interest rates were left unchanged. RBA noted “need to balance the risks associated with high household debt in a low-inflation environment” in its decision to stand pat on policy. Better hiring this year meant “forecasts for the labor market were starting from a stronger position”. The bank reiterated GDP growth was expected to rise to around 3% in 2018 and 2019, supported by low rates; faster growth in non-mining business investment is expected. The main change is one of emphasis after the Reserve Bank of Australia removed the labor market and added household balance sheets – where debt is currently at a record 190% of income – to its key areas of concern alongside the residential property market.

But the minutes convey rising confidence that Australia’s economy will strengthen and is poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop. Yet areas of substantial uncertainty remain: how China manages the trade-off between growth and the build-up of leverage; the fact the forecasts for the domestic economy are based on no change in the exchange rate in the period through 2019; and whether better employment would lead to higher household income and increased consumption, or whether ongoing weak wage growth and high household debt would cut into consumption.

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Neither country seems to know how one gets a passport down under. Curious.

Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)

Australia and New Zealand have become embroiled in an extraordinary diplomatic spat over claims the New Zealand opposition colluded with the Australian Labor party (ALP) in an attempt “to try and bring down the government”. During a febrile day of politics in both countries, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said New Zealand’s opposition party was threatening the stability of a usually robust partnership between the two nations. She said she would find it “very hard to build trust” if New Zealand’s opposition Labour party were to win the general election in September. Her comments came only 24 hours after it was revealed that Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, held New Zealand citizenship and may be ineligible to sit in parliament under the Australian constitution, which disqualifies dual nationals.

Malcolm Turnbull’s government currently commands a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives. But Australia’s ruling coalition has now accused the opposition Labor party of planting a question in the New Zealand parliament in order to extract the information about Joyce’s nationality. Australian government minister Christopher Pyne accused the ALP of being part of a conspiracy to bring down the government. “Clearly the Labor party are involved in a conspiracy using a foreign government, in this case New Zealand, to try and bring down the Australian government,” he said. “How many other foreign governments, or foreign political parties in other countries, has the Labor party been colluding with to try to undermine the Australian government? “Has he been talking to the people in Indonesia, or China, or the Labour party in the UK?”

Joyce made the admission after media inquiries on the subject, but it subsequently also emerged that on 9 August the New Zealand Labour MP Chris Hipkins submitted two written questions to the internal affairs minister, Peter Dunne, in parliament, both of an unusual nature. “Are children born in Australia to parents who are New Zealand citizens automatically citizens of New Zealand; if not, what process do they need to follow in order to become New Zealand citizens?” Hipkins asked. He also asked: “Would a child born in Australia to a New Zealand father automatically have New Zealand citizenship?”

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What austerity also does.

Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)

A new study released by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development suggests that Greece is set to lose up to 18% of its population by the middle of the century. The deep economic crisis – which has hit young people especially hard and is identified as a key reason behind the country now having one of the lowest birth rates in the world – is cited as the primary cause of this decline, which has accelerated in recent years. According to the study, Greece had already lost nearly 3% of its population between 2011 and 2016. In 2016, Greece’s population stood at 10.8 million. That is expected to drop to 9.9 million by 2030 and 8.9 million by 2050. That is a nearly 18% decline in the country’s population over the next 33 years. Greece also has a rapidly aging population, with 21% already over the age of 65 and fewer than 100,000 babies being born each year. This percentage is currently the second highest in Europe, after Italy. Greece will have the highest ratio of pensioners to workers in Europe by 2050.

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They’re stuck in hell.

Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

Italy has seen a sharp fall in the number of migrants arriving on its shores, a decline that has left experts scrambling for an explanation. Summer is traditionally the peak season for migrants attempting the hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe. But, to much surprise, only 13,500 have arrived in Italy since July 1, compared to 30,500 over the same period in 2016 – a year-on-year fall of more than 55%. Many migrants are from poor sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing violence in their home country or desperate for a better life in prosperous Europe. “It’s still too early to talk of a real trend,” cautions Barbara Molinario, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

One mooted reason for the fall is tougher action by the Libyan coastguard. The force which has been strengthened by help from the European Union (EU), which trained about 100 personnel over the winter, while Italy has provided patrol vessels, recently supported by Italian warships in Libyan waters. But according to figures from UN’s International Office of Migration (IOM), the Libyan coastguard have intercepted fewer than 2,000 migrants since early July, compared to more than 4,000 in May. Another reason put forward to explain the decline is tougher action by NGOs who have been accused by critics of colluding with smugglers to pick up migrants at sea to prevent them from drowning. But these organisations have been involved in only a fraction of migrant rescues – and three NGO vessels are still operating in the hope of picking up those in need.

[..] Since 2014, 600,000 migrants have landed in Italy, but more than 14,000 have died. Italian newspapers which, just a few weeks ago, were accusing NGOs of abetting an influx that seemed uncontrollable have now switched to reports on the terrifying conditions faced by migrants in Libya. “Sending them back to Libya right now means sending than back to Hell,” the deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, said earlier this month.

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Jul 152017
 


Hieronymus Bosch The Conjurer 1502

 

Big Banks Continue Winning Streak, With Street at Least (BBG)
‘It’s Almost An Embarrassment Being An American’ – Jamie Dimon (G.)
US House Backs Massive Increase In Defense Spending (R.)
US Deficits To Jump $248 Billion Over Next Two Years Due To Tax Shortfall (R.)
We Do These Things Because They’re Easy (CHS)
The New Silk Road Will Go Through Syria (Escobar)
One Of Worst Droughts In Decades Devastates South Europe Crops (R.)
People Not Amused by EU Efforts to “De-Cash” their Lives (DQ)
Just 13% of Greeks Trust Their Government (K.)
World’s Large Carnivores Being Pushed Off The Map (BBC)

 

 

What happens when markets don’t function. Manipulation is the name of the game.

Big Banks Continue Winning Streak, With Street at Least (BBG)

U.S. bank earnings have kicked off without any tumult. Investors should be grateful for that increasing sense of dependability, though they appear to be looking for more. JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and PNC Financial Services each delivered second-quarter results on Friday that topped Wall Street’s expectations. On a measure of earnings per share, each bank has improved its respective streaks of beating or meeting analysts’ estimates:Reliability Factor The U.S. banks that reported earnings on Friday lengthened their streak of surpassing or matching expectations which, to be fair, are managed by bank executives:

The business of fixed-income trading, which has been a bright spot over the past year, has received outsize attention as it has fallen from grace after a long stretch of low volatility and tepid volumes, as expected. Instead, its quarterly gyrations should be accepted by shareholders just as they withstand changes in the weather, according to JPMorgan’s chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon. He has a point – the diversity of JPMorgan combined with the size of its overall corporate and investment bank, which houses the fixed-income trading business, gives the bank a level of flexibility. That defense might not stick if JPMorgan’s other businesses weren’t performing, but they are. The bank posted quarterly net income of $7 billion in the three months ended June 30.

That was its biggest haul ever, driven in part by a significant jump in net interest income, a direct result of the Federal Reserve’s rate increases. Its efforts to bulk up asset and wealth management, where revenues have roughly doubled since 2006, have borne fruit. Net income for the business climbed 20% compared with results in the same period last year to a record $624 million. And for now, despite broad concerns about auto and credit card loans, there’s no need to worry about widespread cracks. The bank’s so-called net charge-off rate, which measures delinquencies, remains minimal. [..] Bank stocks have rallied in part because the expected growth in their respective earnings per share, or EPS, in 2018 far exceeds that of the benchmark index:

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Because you get to make record profits while others only get deeper into debt? Is that what Dimon is talking about?

‘It’s Almost An Embarrassment Being An American’ – Jamie Dimon (G.)

JP Morgan just had the most profitable 12 months ever for a US bank – but it wasn’t enough for Jamie Dimon, the bank’s boss. “It’s almost an embarrassment being an American traveling around the world and listening to the stupid shit Americans have to deal with in this country,” Dimon told journalists after the bank released its latest quarterly results on Friday. The world’s largest bank reported a profit of $7.03bn for the second quarter, 13% higher than last year. It has made $26.5bn over the past 12 months, a record profit for a US bank. But Dimon, who last year turned down Donald Trump’s offer to become treasury secretary, seemed more concerned about low rates of growth in the US and the health of the American body politic.

He blamed bad policy for “holding back and hurting the average American” and financial journalists for concentrating on the bank’s trading results when they should be focusing on policy. “Who cares about fixed-income trading in the last two weeks of June? I mean, seriously,” Dimon said after a reporter asked about the health of the bonds markets. “That is the weather,” he said of changes in the markets. “It goes up and down, this and that, and that’s 80% of what you guys focus on.” Dimon said financial journalists would be better off concentrating on the “bad policies” that are hurting average Americans. “It’s almost an embarrassment being an American traveling around the world and listening to the stupid shit Americans have to deal with,” he said. “At one point, we would have to get our act together, do what we’re supposed to do to the average American.”

[..] “We need infrastructure reform,” he said. “We need corporate tax reform. We need better skills and education. If we don’t focus on these things, we are hurting average Americans every day. “The USA has to start to focus on policy which is good for all Americans, and that is regulation, tax, education, we have to get those things done. You guys [journalists] should be writing a lot more about that stuff. That is holding it back and hurting the average American citizen if we don’t do it.

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Or is Dimon embarrassed over this?

US House Backs Massive Increase In Defense Spending (R.)

The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of a massive annual defense bill on Friday, leaving out controversial amendments on transgender troops and climate policy but backing President Donald Trump’s desire for a bigger, stronger military. The vote was 344-81 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets military policy and authorizes up to $696 billion in spending for the Department of Defense. Underscoring bipartisan support for higher defense spending in Congress, 117 Democrats joined 227 Republicans in backing the measure. Only eight Republicans and 73 Democrats voted no. But the measure faces more hurdles before it can become law, notably because it would increase military spending beyond last year’s $619 billion bill, defying “sequestration” caps on government spending set in the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Trump wants to pay for a military spending increase by slashing nondefense spending. His fellow Republicans control majorities in both the House and Senate, but they will need support from Senate Democrats, who want to increase military spending, for Trump’s plans to go into effect. The House NDAA also increases spending on missile defense by 25%, adds thousands more active-duty troops to the Army, provides five new ships for the Navy and provides a 2.4% salary increase for U.S. troops, their largest pay raise in eight years. And it creates a new Space Corps military service, pushed by lawmakers worried about China and Russia’s activities in space, but opposed by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

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Oh well, money’s cheap after all.

US Deficits To Jump $248 Billion Over Next Two Years Due To Tax Shortfall (R.)

The budget deficit for President Donald Trump’s first two years in office will be nearly $250 billion higher than initially estimated due to a shortfall in tax collections and a mistake in projecting military healthcare costs, budget chief Mick Mulvaney reported on Friday. In a mid-year update to Congress, Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, revised the estimates supplied in late May when the Trump administration submitted its first spending plan. Since then, Mulvaney said, the deficit projected for the current fiscal year has increased by $99 billion, or 16.4%, to $702 billion. For 2018, the deficit will be $149 billion more than first expected, increasing by 33% to $589 billion.

The figures come as the administration is facing widespread doubts among economists and analysts that it can erase government deficits largely by boosting economic growth and changing laws like the Affordable Care Act. ACA reform is facing a difficult path in Congress, and the Congressional Budget Office on Thursday said the administration’s growth and deficit reduction plans were optimistic. The letter from Mulvaney said the bulk of the problem this year and next stems from lower-than-expected tax collections. Individual and corporate income taxes and other collections for this year are expected to be $116 billion less than the administration anticipated in May. Tax receipts in 2018 are expected to be $140 billion less than initially estimated.

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A reference to JFK. Our next discovery will be that debt is a harsh mistress.

We Do These Things Because They’re Easy (CHS)

We are now totally, completely dependent on expanding debt for the maintenance of our society and economy. Every sector of the economy–households, businesses and government–all borrow vast sums just to maintain the status quo for another year. Compare buying a new car with easy, low-interest credit and saving up to buy the car with cash. How easy is it to borrow $23,000 for a new $24,000 car? You go to the dealership, announce all you have to put down is a trade-in vehicle worth $1,000. The salesperson puts a mirror under your nose to make sure you’re alive, makes sure you haven’t just declared bankruptcy to stiff previous lenders, and if you pass those two tests, you qualify for a 1% rate auto loan. You sign some papers and drive off in your new car. Easy-peasy!

Scrimping and saving to pay for the new car with cash is hard. You have to save $1,000 each and every month for two years to save up the $24,000, and the only way to do that is make some extra income by working longer hours, and sacrificing numerous pleasures–being a shopaholic, going out to eat frequently, $5 coffee drinks, jetting somewhere for a long weekend, etc. The sacrifice and discipline required are hard. What’s the pay-off in avoiding debt? Not much–after all, the new auto loan payment is modest. If we take a 5-year or 7-year loan, it’s even less. By borrowing $23,000, we get to keep all our fun treats and spending pleasures, and we get the new car, too. At the corporate level, it’s the same story: borrow a billion dollars and use it to buy back shares.

Increasing the value of the corporation’s shares by increasing profit margins and actual value is hard; boosting the share price with borrowed money is easy. It’s also the same story with politicians and the government: cutting anything is politically painful, so let’s just float a bond, i.e. borrow money to pay for what was once paid out of tax revenues: maintaining parks, repaving streets, funding pensions, etc. This dependence on expanding debt for maintaining the status quo is a global trend. Debt is exploding in China in every sector, and the same is true in other nations, developed and developing alike. Borrowing more money from the future is easy, painless and requires no trade-offs, sacrifices or accountability–until the debt-addicted economy collapses under its own weight of debt service and insolvency.

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“..all those elaborate plans depend on no more war. And there’s the rub.”

The New Silk Road Will Go Through Syria (Escobar)

Amid the proverbial doom and gloom pervading all things Syria, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune sometimes yield, well, good fortune. Take what happened this past Sunday in Beijing. The China-Arab Exchange Association and the Syrian Embassy organized a Syria Day Expo crammed with hundreds of Chinese specialists in infrastructure investment. It was a sort of mini-gathering of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), billed as “The First Project Matchmaking Fair for Syria Reconstruction”. And there will be serious follow-ups: a Syria Reconstruction Expo; the 59th Damascus International Fair next month, where around 30 Arab and foreign nations will be represented; and the China-Arab States Expo in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui province, in September.

Qin Yong, deputy chairman of the China-Arab Exchange Association, announced that Beijing plans to invest $2 billion in an industrial park in Syria for 150 Chinese companies. Nothing would make more sense. Before the tragic Syrian proxy war, Syrian merchants were already incredibly active in the small-goods Silk Road between Yiwu and the Levant. The Chinese don’t forget that Syria controlled overland access to both Europe and Africa in ancient Silk Road times when, after the desert crossing via Palmyra, goods reached the Mediterranean on their way to Rome. After the demise of Palmyra, a secondary road followed the Euphrates upstream and then through Aleppo and Antioch. Beijing always plans years ahead. And the government in Damascus is implicated at the highest levels.

So, it’s not an accident that Syrian Ambassador to China Imad Moustapha had to come up with the clincher: China, Russia and Iran will have priority over anyone else for all infrastructure investment and reconstruction projects when the war is over. The New Silk Roads, or One Belt, One Road Initiative (Obor), will inevitably feature a Syrian hub – complete with the requisite legal support for Chinese companies involved in investment, construction and banking via a special commission created by the Syrian embassy, the China-Arab Exchange Association and the Beijing-based Shijing law firm. Few remember that before the war China had already invested tens of billions of US dollars in Syria’s oil and gas industry. Naturally the priority for Damascus, once the war is over, will be massive reconstruction of widely destroyed infrastructure.

China could be part of that via the AIIB. Then comes investment in agriculture, industry and connectivity – transportation corridors in the Levant and connecting Syria to Iraq and Iran (other two Obor hubs). What matters most of all is that Beijing has already taken the crucial step of being directly involved in the final settlement of the Syrian war – geopolitically and geo-economically. Beijing has had a special representative for Syria since last year – and has already been providing humanitarian aid. Needless to add, all those elaborate plans depend on no more war. And there’s the rub.

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Southern Europe: getting poorer and hotter.

One Of Worst Droughts In Decades Devastates South Europe Crops (R.)

Italian durum wheat and dairy farmer Attilio Tocchi saw warning signs during the winter of the dramatic drought to come at his holding a mile away from the Tuscan coast. “When it still hadn’t rained at the beginning of spring we realized it was already irreparable,” he said, adding that he had installed fans to try and cool his cows that were suffering in the heat. Drought in southern Europe threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops including olives and almonds. Castile and Leon, the largest cereal growing region in Spain, has been particularly badly affected, with crop losses estimated at around 60 to 70%.

“This year was not bad, it was catastrophic. I can’t remember a year like this since 1992 when I was a little child,” said Joaquin Antonio Pino, a cereal farmer in Sinlabajos, Avila. Pino said many of his fields had not even been harvested, because crop revenues would not cover the wages of laborers who gathered them. While the EU is collectively a major wheat exporter, Spain and Italy both rely on imports from countries including France, Britain and Ukraine. Spanish soft wheat imports are expected to rise by more than 40% to 5.6 million tonnes in the 2017-2018 marketing year, according to Agroinfomarket. The drought has helped support EU wheat futures, which have risen around 6% since the beginning of June, although the prospect of a larger harvest in France this year should ensure adequate overall supplies in the trading bloc.

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Germans love cash.

People Not Amused by EU Efforts to “De-Cash” their Lives (DQ)

In January 2017 the European Commission announced it was exploring the option of imposing upper limits on cash payments, with a view to implementing cross-regional measures as soon as 2018. To give the proposal a veneer of respectability and accountability the Commission launched a public consultation on the issue. Now, the answers are in, but they are not what the Commission was expecting. A staggering 95% of the respondents said they were opposed to a cash ceiling at EU level. Even more emphatic was the answer to the following question: “How would the introduction of restrictions on payments in cash at EU level benefit you, or your business or your organisation (multiple replies are possible)?” In the curious absence of an explicit “not at all” option, 99.18% chose to respond with “no answer.”

In other words, less than 1% of the more than 30,000 people consulted could think of a single benefit of the EU unleashing cross-regional cash limits. Granted, 37% of respondents were from Germany and 19% from Austria (56% in total), two countries that have a die-hard love for physical lucre. Even among millennials in Germany, two-thirds say they prefer paying in cash to electronic means, a much higher level than in almost any other advanced economy with the exception of Japan. Another 35% of the survey respondents were from France, a country that is not quite so enamored with cash and whose government has already imposed a maximum cash limit of €1,000. By its very nature the survey almost certainly attracted a disproportionate number of arch-defenders of physical cash.

As such, the responses it elicited are unlikely to be a perfect representation of how all Europeans would feel about the EU’s plans to introduce maximum cash limits. Nonetheless, the sheer strength of opposition should (but probably won’t) give the apparatchiks in Brussels pause for thought. The biggest cited concern for respondents was the threat the cash restrictions would pose to privacy and personal anonymity. A total of 87% of respondents viewed paying with cash as an essential personal freedom. The European Commission would beg to differ. In the small print accompanying the draft legislation it launched in January, it pointed out that privacy and anonymity do not constitute “fundamental” human rights.

Be that as it may, many Europeans still clearly have a soft spot for physical money. If the EU authorities push too hard, too fast in their war on cash, they could provoke a popular backlash. In Germany, trust in Europe’s financial institutions is already at a historic low, with only one in three Germans saying they have confidence in the ECB. The longer QE lasts, the more the number shrinks.

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When they were elected in January 2015, Syriza’s approval rating was some 75%. But when you turn your back on your promises, and then unleash more austerity….

Just 13% of Greeks Trust Their Government (K.)

Just 13% of Greeks trusted the government in 2016, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) biennial Government at a Glance report, placing Greece among the four member states with the sharpest decline in confidence in their administrations. According to the report, which was published by the Paris-based organization on Thursday and shows 2016 data, Greece joins Chile, Finland and Slovenia in recording a significant loss of trust between citizens and the government, slipping to 13% in 2016 from 19% in 2014. Confidence has also declined over the past decade across the OECD’s member states, though at a rate of 3%, coming to 42% in 2016 from 45% in 2007.

In terms of specific sectors, Greeks have lost faith across the board, with the Greek health system having the trust of just 31% of citizens from 35% in the 2015 study for 2014, public education of 44% from 45% and the judicial system of 42% from 44%. A new area added in this year’s survey is the police, where confidence was high last year at 69%. Across the OECD, average confidence in the health system came to 70%, education to 67% and justice to 55%.

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You’d almost wish they would fight back.

World’s Large Carnivores Being Pushed Off The Map (BBC)

Six of the world’s large carnivores have lost more than 90% of their historic range, according to a study. The Ethiopian wolf, red wolf, tiger, lion, African wild dog and cheetah have all been squeezed out as land is lost to human settlements and farming. Reintroduction of carnivores into areas where they once roamed is vital in conservation, say scientists. This relies on human willingness to share the landscape with the likes of the wolf. The research, published in Royal Society Open Science, was carried out by Christopher Wolf and William Ripple of Oregon State University. They mapped the current range of 25 large carnivores using International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List data. This was compared with historic maps from 500 years ago.

The work shows that large carnivore range contractions are a global issue, said Christopher Wolf. “Of the 25 large carnivores that we studied, 60% (15 species) have lost more than half of their historic ranges,” he explained. “This means that scientifically sound reintroductions of large carnivores into areas where they have been lost is vital both to conserve the large carnivores and to promote their important ecological effects. “This is very dependent on increasing human tolerance of large carnivores – a key predictor of reintroduction success.” The researchers say re-wilding programmes will be most successful in regions with low human population density, little livestock, and limited agriculture. Additionally, regions with large networks of protected areas and favourable human attitudes toward carnivores are better suited for such schemes.

“Increasing human tolerance of large carnivores may be the best way to save these species from extinction,” said co-researcher William Ripple. “Also, more large protected areas are urgently needed for large carnivore conservation.” When policy is favourable, carnivores may naturally return to parts of their historic ranges. This has begun to happen in parts of Europe with brown bears, lynx, and grey wolves. The Eurasian lynx and grey wolf are among the carnivores that have the smallest range contractions. The dingo and several types of hyena are also doing relatively well, compared with the lion and tiger.

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Jul 132017
 
 July 13, 2017  Posted by at 8:56 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Vincent van Gogh Vineyards with a View of Auvers 1890

 

‘Investors Underestimate How Low The Bar Is For The Fed’ (CNBC)
Unwinding QE will be “More Disruptive than People Think” (WS)
I Wouldn’t Rule Out Another Financial Crisis – IMF’s Lagarde (CNBC)
The US Stock Market Is 66% Higher Than It Should Be (Kee jr)
Valuation Measures & Forward Returns (Lance Roberts)
Nonprime Mortgages Prove Leery Investors Are Finally Hungry Again (CNBC)
VISA takes its War on Cash to US Retailers (WS)
Greece To Exit EU’s Excessive Deficit Procedure (K.)
Brain Drain Gathers Pace as One in Three Greeks Looks for a Job Abroad
Germany Profits From Greek Debt Crisis (HB)
Defiant Varoufakis Ready to Face ‘Even Martial Court’ Over Plan B (GR)

 

 

What Yellen says is not so interesting. What lies beyond those carefully crafted speeches is.

BTW, no Trump today, but maybe we can start a separate gossip page.

“The Fed says it’s going to hike again this year, markets says 50-50. The Fed says three, four times next year, the market says it’s not going to happen at all..”

‘Investors Underestimate How Low The Bar Is For The Fed’ (CNBC)

Patrick Armstrong, the CIO at Plurimi Investment Managers, believes that very high valuations, an expected tightening in monetary policy and too much optimism over tax cuts and new fiscal spending should leave investors cautious on the United States. “Valuation doesn’t matter in the short term but at current CAPE (cyclically adjusted price to earnings, which gives a more clear indication of a stock price in comparison to average earnings over the last 10 years) of 29 times, U.S. equities have historically delivered negative real returns over periods of two to five years,” he said in an investment outlook published earlier this month. The U.S. Federal Reserve has begun normalizing its policy in the wake of improved economic growth and low unemployment levels.

According to Armstrong, the easy monetary policy of the past had boosted equities but this might change with the Fed’s plans to hike rates and reduce its balance sheet. “I think there was a clear warning in the last (meeting) minutes talking about risk premium, price earnings and investors haven’t acknowledged it, but when the Fed starts worrying about equity markets, as an equity investor they’ve given you that warning,” he told CNBC on Tuesday. The third reason to be “short” – where a trader takes a bet that prices will fall – on U.S. equities is the government’s plans on fiscal policy. President Donald Trump promised tax cuts and big infrastructure spending, which made U.S. equities rally since he took office last November. However, such policies are yet to reach the consultation stage and doubts have emerged over the president’s ability to deliver.

[..] Speaking to CNBC Tuesday, Armstrong suggested that investors aren’t listening to the U.S. Federal Reserve. “What investors are completely underestimating is how low the bar is for the United States Federal Reserve. They have told us what they intend to do, the markets don’t believe any of it,” Armstrong said. “The Fed says it’s going to hike again this year, markets says 50-50. The Fed says three, four times next year, the market says it’s not going to happen at all,” he added.

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Central banks are trying to get out before the blast. But in doing so they bring it forward. Were given far too much power.

Unwinding QE will be “More Disruptive than People Think” (WS)

“We’ve never had QE like this before, and we’ve never had unwinding like this before,” said JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon at the Europlace finance conference in Paris. “Obviously that should say something to you about the risk that might mean, because we’ve never lived with it before.” He was referring to the Fed’s plan to unwind QE, shedding Treasury securities and mortgage-backed securities on its balance sheet. The Fed will likely announce the kick-off this year, possibly at its September meeting. According to its plan, there will be a phase-in period. It will unload $10 billion the first month and raise that to $50 billion over the next 12 months. Then it will continue at that pace to achieve its “balance sheet normalization.” Just like the Fed “created” this money during QE to buy these assets, it will “destroy” this money at a rate of $50 billion a month, or $600 billion a year.

It’s the reverse of QE, with reverse effects. Other central banks are in a similar boat. The Fed, the Bank of Japan, and the ECB together have loaded up their balance sheets with $14 trillion in assets. Unwinding this is going to have some impact – likely reversing some of the asset price inflation in stocks, bonds, real estate, and other markets that these gigantic bouts of asset buying have caused. The Bank of Japan has been quietly tapering its asset purchases for a while to where it buys only enough to keep the 10-year yield barely above zero. And the ECB has tapered its monthly purchases by €20 billion earlier this year and is preparing the markets for more tapering. Once central banks stop buying assets, the phase starts when central banks try to unload some of those assets. The Fed is at the threshold of this phase.

Dimon was less concerned about the Fed’s rate hikes. People are too focused on rate hikes, he said, according to a Bloomberg recording of the conference. If the economy is strong, economic growth itself overcomes the issues posed by higher rates, he said. The economy has been through rate hikes many times before. They’re a known quantity. But “when selling securities in the market place starts,” that’s when it gets serious. “When that happens of size or substance, it could be a little more disruptive than people think,” he said. Whatever it will do, no one knows what it will do – because “it never happened before.”

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Don’t woryy, they serve the same lords.

I Wouldn’t Rule Out Another Financial Crisis – IMF’s Lagarde (CNBC)

The IMF’s Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, has said that she would not rule out another financial crisis in her lifetime, indicating that comments made recently by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen may have been premature. “There may, one day, be another crisis,” Lagarde told CNBC Tuesday on the sidelines of a joint conference with the IMF and the Croatian National Bank in Dubrovnik. Lagarde’s comments responded to a statement made by Yellen a fortnight earlier in which she said she does not expect to see another financial crisis in her lifetime. “I plan on having a long life and I hope she (Yellen) does, too, so I wouldn’t absolutely bet on that because there are cycles that we have seen over the past decade and I wouldn’t exclude that,” Lagarde said.

She, however, noted the unpredictability of financial crises and said that finance ministers and policymakers should act with caution to prepare for such eventualities. “Where it will come from, what form it takes, how international and broad-based it will be is to be seen, and typically the crisis never comes from where we expect it,” she added. “Our duty, and certainly the message that we give to the finance ministers, to the policymakers, is ‘be prepared’. Make sure that your financial sector is under good supervision, that it’s well regulated, that the institutions are rock-solid, and anticipate at home with enough buffers so that you can resist the potential crisis.”

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And we will see undershoot on the way down. The Fed killing off price discovery will be a scourge on society.

The US Stock Market Is 66% Higher Than It Should Be (Kee jr)

I have, in previous articles here on MarketWatch, pointed out the fundamental risks in the U.S. stock market. I have identified the liquidity risks created by the ECB and the Federal Reserve in the tightening of monetary policy, in the reduction of the Fed’s balance sheet, and the likelihood that these risks will prick the asset bubble that the market is in today. Most people I speak and email with agree. The risks are high, as the price-to-earnings multiple of the S&P 500 (about 25, depending on the indicator) is far greater than its historical norm (14.5). The truth, however, is that no one knows for sure. But, still, people are apathetic. In fact, my experience over the past 20 years and through each of the past two major asset bubbles (the internet bubble in 2000 and the credit crisis in 2008-2009), is that the unanimous identification of an asset bubble did not take place until after the asset bubble had burst.

By that time, all of the major indices — the Dow Jones Industrial Average S&P 500, Nasdaq 100 and Russell 2000 — had already fallen. The result largely handcuffed investors to investments that were severely underwater. As luck would have it, though, after the credit crisis, the Fed’s policy-making body printed $2 trillion and, with that money, bought assets to prop up the economy and save investors from destruction. Largely, this perceived savior is probably why investors are so lethargic when it comes to the asset bubble that we are probably in right now. This bubble even seems to include real estate and bonds in addition to stocks, and it has been driven by fabricated central bank liquidity.

Admittedly, I cannot be sure what will happen. I do not know if this bubble will burst, and I do not know if central banks will come running to the rescue again, as they did after the credit crisis. Unfortunately, I do know a great deal of people who believe that the central banks of the world will simply print more money if the going gets tough again, but that is a seriously risky bet. With major indices coming off all-time highs and technical trading patterns (dojis) surfacing in long-term chart patterns last week, potential reversal signals are coming on a technical basis. As much as it is appealing to opt for relaxation and vacationing during the summer months, some time must be spent evaluating the conditions the market is facing right now.

In previous articles, I have offered alternatives to the traditional buy-and-hold methodology, and I think everyone should consider heading that way because strategies like “lock and walk” can work no matter what happens. The risks in the market today are extremely high for buy-and-hold investors because the liquidity picture is changing for the worse, and that is fundamental in nature. But longer-term technical observations point toward serious risks as well. My longer-term macroeconomic analysis, The Investment Rate, is offering warnings that this market is 66% higher than it should be. Given the changes in liquidity and technical observations happening now, those risk warnings should be heard with an acute ear.

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A whole bunch of Lance graphs again. Hard to choose. But pretty as the graphs are, they do not paint a pretty picture. They say BUBBLE.

Valuation Measures & Forward Returns (Lance Roberts)

[..] if the market can reverse the current course of weakness and rally above recent highs, it will confirm the bull market is alive and well, and we will continue to look for a push to our next target of 2500. With portfolios currently fully allocated, we are simply monitoring risk and looking for opportunities to invest “new capital” into markets with a measured risk/reward ratio. However, this is a very short-term outlook which is why “price is the only thing that matters.” “Price measures the current “psychology” of the “herd” and is the clearest representation of the behavioral dynamics of the living organism we call “the market.” But in the long-term, fundamentals are the only thing that matters. I have shown you the following chart many times before. Which is simply a comparison of 20-year forward total real returns from every previous P/E ratio.

I know, I know. “P/E’s don’t matter anymore because of Central Bank interventions, accounting gimmicks, share buybacks, etc.” Okay, let’s play. In the following series of charts, I am using forward 10-year returns just for consistency as some of the data sets utilized don’t yet have enough history to show 20-years of forward returns. The purpose here is simple. Based on a variety of measures, is the valuation/return ratio still valid, OR, is this time really different? Let’s see. Tobin’s Q-ratio measures the market value of a company’s assets divided by its replacement costs. The higher the ratio, the higher the cost resulting in lower returns going forward. Just as a comparison, I have added Shiller’s CAPE-10. Not surprisingly the two measures not only have an extremely high correlation, but the return outcome remains the same.

One of the arguments has been that higher valuations are okay because interest rates are so low. Okay, let’s take the smoothed P/E ratio (CAPE-10 above) and compare it to the 10-year average of interest rates going back to 1900. The analysis that low rates justify higher valuations clearly does not withstand the test of history.

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Substitute nonprime for subprime and you open a whole new can of suckers again. “No, these are fine and upstanding citizens. They just don’t have access to normal bank loans.” Gee, why is that?

Nonprime Mortgages Prove Leery Investors Are Finally Hungry Again (CNBC)

The appetite for riskier mortgages is rising, and a small cadre of investment firms is ready to feed it. Angel Oak Capital Advisors just announced its second rated securitization of nonprime residential mortgages this year, a deal worth just more than $210 million and its largest ever. Its first deal was slightly less, but demand from borrowers and investors alike is growing, and the securitizations are growing with it. Angel Oak is one of very few firms offering these private-label mortgage-backed securities — the ones that were so very popular during the last housing boom and which were later blamed for the financial crisis. Today’s nonprime loans, however, are nothing like the ones of the past. The government cracked down on faulty loan products, those with low teaser rates, negative amortization and no documentation.

Still, for the past decade investors wouldn’t touch anything that wasn’t government-backed. Only now are they seeing value and dipping their toes in again. The number of nonprime mortgage-backed securities “skyrocketed” in the second quarter of this year, according to Inside Mortgage Finance — a total of $1.08 billion of MBS backed by nonprime home loans. That was the strongest quarter for the sector since the financial crisis. It is still, however, nothing compared with the volume that caused the housing crash. “At one point during the housing boom, we had a third of all mortgage originations that were nonprime [subprime or Alt-A, the latter having low or no documentation]. We’re not going to be even 5% of the market if we have a record year this year. It still has a long, long way to go,” said Guy Cecala, CEO of Inside Mortgage Finance.

That is because while investors are hungry for yield, they are still very skeptical. The ratings agencies are as well. That makes it difficult for companies like Angel Oak, and its competitors — Lone Star and Deephaven Mortgage — to issue large quantities of nonprime MBS. Nonprime securitizations today are far less risky, consisting of loans that were underwritten far more stringently. Angel Oaks’ securitization does consist of both fixed- and floating-rate loans. “In addition to borrowers that had prior credit events, our loans are also for borrowers who are self-employed,” said Lauren Hedvat, capital markets director at Angel Oak. “They are of high credit quality, but they are not able to access mortgage products by the more traditional bank routes.”

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Start paying cash everywhere.

VISA takes its War on Cash to US Retailers (WS)

“We’re focused on putting cash out of business,” Visa’s new CEO Al Kelly said on June 22 at Visa Investor Day. Pushing consumers into digital and electronic payments is the company’s “number-one growth lever.” Visa has been dogged by the stubborn survival of cash and checks, despite widespread government and corporate efforts to kill them off. Globally, check and cash transactions totaled $17 trillion in 2016, Visa President Ryan McInerney said. Confusingly, that’s up 2% from a year earlier. So today, Visa rolled out a new initiative on its war on cash. It’s designed “for small business restaurants, cafés, or food truck owners,” and the like. In this trial, it will award up to $10,000 each to 50 eligible businesses (online businesses are excluded) when they commit to refusing cash payments.

Going “100% cashless,” as Visa calls it, means that consumers can only pay with debit or credit cards or with their smartphones. That’ll be the day. You go to your favorite taco truck, and when it comes time to pay, you pull out a wad of legal tender, only to be treated to an embarrassed nod toward a sign that says, “No Cash.” I’d walk. But Visa hopes that other folks will pull out their Visa-branded card or a smartphone with a payment app that uses the Visa system. This would help Visa extract its fees from the transaction. “We have an incredible opportunity to educate merchants and consumers alike on the effectiveness of going cashless,” Jack Forestell, Visa’s head of global merchant solutions, said in the press release, which touted a “study” that Visa recently “conducted” that “found that if businesses in 100 cities transitioned from cash to digital, their cities stand to experience net benefits of $312 billion per year.”

However dubious these “net benefits” may be, one thing is not dubious: Visa gets a cut from every transaction made via Visa-branded cards or digital payment systems that use Visa. The merchant pays the cut and then tries to pass it on to customers via higher prices. The total card fees normally range between 1% and 3%. Among the entities that get to divvy this moolah up are the bank that issued the visa card and the credit card network – such as Visa, MasterCard, and the like. Visa gets just a small piece of the pie, but if it is on every transaction, it adds up. And payments by cash and check seriously get in the way of a lot of money. In 2016, Visa extracted $15 billion from processing transactions globally without even carrying any credit risk (the banks have to deal with that).

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Purely symbolic. Everyone loves to present a meme of recovery, but it’s not there. Ironically, the move from deficit to -forced- surplus guarantees it. Greece should run a deficit now to boost its economy.

Greece To Exit EU’s Excessive Deficit Procedure (K.)

After eight years, Greece emerged on Wednesday from the European Commission’s process for countries with excessive deficit. The Commission proposed Greece’s exit from the process as its general government debt has dropped below the threshold of 3% of GDP. This is a largely symbolic move, but it does have some significance given that the government is planning to return to the bond markets for the first time since 2014. Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici gave a wink to the markets on Wednesday, saying that the disbursement of the tranche of 7.7 billion euros on Monday and the decision on the deficit is “good news that the markets ought to read,” even though he explained that what the investors do is not up to him.

Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis called on Greece to capitalize on its achievements and continue to strengthen confidence in its economy, which is crucial as the country prepares its return to the credit markets. The Commission’s proposal for Greece’s emergence from the deficit procedure has to be ratified by the EU’s finance ministers, but has little practical use. Ultimately, Greece’s fiscal targets are dictated by the bailout agreement and not by the rules that apply to other eurozone members. As one European official told Kathimerini, “nothing changes essentially, the fiscal targets Greece must hit remain high and [yesterday’s] decision is only of a symbolic dimension.”

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Greece can only get worse, for many years into the future.

Brain Drain Gathers Pace as One in Three Greeks Looks for a Job Abroad

A new study highlights the problem in the Greek labor market as more than 30% of Greek unemployed say that they are actively seeking a job abroad. According to the annual survey by the firm Adecco titled “Employability in Greece,” the brain drain phenomenon has been increasing over the last three years. In 2015 only about 11% of unemployed respondents said that they were actively looking for a job abroad. This figure increased to 28% in 2016 and reached 33% this year. The responses show that the unemployed have different reasons to seek work abroad. Whereas in 2005, the main reason was the prospect of a better wage, in 2016 and 2017 the main reason given were better career opportunities.

The study conducted for the third year running, in collaboration with polling company LMG, was based on a sample of 903 people from the age of 18 to 67. According to other findings, 37% of respondents say that they have been out of the labor market for at least 12 months. Despite the slight improvement in official unemployment rates, the Adecco survey finds that there is an increasing number of people who state that they have been at least once without a job – 58% this year compared to 54% in 2016. According to the data, more than 1 out of 4 (28%) are out of the labor market, a higher rate compared with the previous two years.

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Money that could have helped Greece escape the claws of Schäuble et al. The pattern is not coincidental.

Germany Profits From Greek Debt Crisis (HB)

The German government has long been accused by critics of profiting from Greece’s debt crisis. Now there are some new numbers to back it up: Loans and bonds purchased in support of Greece over nearly a decade have resulted in profits of €1.34 billion for Germany’s finance ministry, which confirmed the number in response to a parliamentary query from the Green Party, according to a report by German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung. The profits come from a range of programs, running into the hundreds of billions, that Germany and other euro-zone countries have backed to keep Greece’s government and economy afloat since its massive debt crisis emerged in 2009. It includes, for example, a €393-million profit generated from a 2010 loan by the development bank KfW, which is owned by the German government.

The report also shows that Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, has received profits from the Securities Market Program (SMP), a now-defunct government bond-buying plan initiated by the ECB and run from 2010 to 2012. The ECB collected more than €1.1 billion in 2016 in interest payments on the nearly €20 billion-worth of Greek bonds it bought through the SMP, according to the report. This year, the figure will be €901 million, which will again be redistributed to the euro zone’s 19 member states. Since 2015, Germany has collected a total of €952 million in SMP profits. The new revelations drew strong criticism from the Greens Party, in opposition. “The profits from collecting interest must be paid out to Greece. [Finance Minister] Wolfgang Schäuble cannot use the Greek profits to clean up Germany’s federal budget,” Manuel Sarrazin, EU expert for the Green Party in the parliament, told the Süddeutsche newspaper.

Mr. Schäuble, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, has been cannily keeping Germany’s federal budget balanced over the past four years, taking on no new debt. Berlin’s surplus amounted to €6.2 billion in 2016 alone. Critics complain that Greece’s crisis has helped it achieve that goal. “It might be legal for Germany to profit from the crisis in Greece, but from a moral and solidarity perspective, it is not right,” Sven-Christian Kindler, budget policy spokesperson for the Green Party, also told the paper. Mr. Schäuble has said he is open to reducing Greece’s interest burden but has resisted calls to end them completely. His finance ministry has argued that, with inflation, deferring interest payments would eventually end up costing Greece’s creditors.

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There are many parties not too keen on such an investigation, and Varoufakis is not one of them.

Defiant Varoufakis Ready to Face ‘Even Martial Court’ Over Plan B (GR)

Undeterred over the controversy surrounding the new disclosures over the system of a parallel currency that was apparently considered by the government of Alexis Tsipras in 2015, Yanis Varoufakis said that he is ready to face any court to respond to the charges. Speaking in a radio show, Varoufakis, the finance minister at the time and the instigator of the parallel payments system or Plan B, said that Tsipras had a copy of the proposals from as early as 2012 when he was still in opposition. “I have handed the plan to Tsipras in 2012,” so it could become the government’s plan B if negotiations with Greece’s creditors collapsed.

Mr. Varoufakis said he was willing to accept any kind of judicial investigation into Plan B and his role in drafting it. “Let’s have a special court of inquiry, or even a martial court, or any other court, so all the facts can be revealed,” he said responding to calls from the opposition for a judicial inquiry. He also attacked the SYRIZA-led government for refusing to proceed with an investigation. The Varoufakis Plan B for the Greek economy in the event that the country clashed with creditors and went bankrupt was to partially pay civil servants with coupons. Parts of the plan were revealed last week by his financial advisor Glenn Kim.

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Mar 032017
 
 March 3, 2017  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


DPC North approach, Pedro Miguel Lock, Panama Canal 1915

 

EU Votes To Suspend Visa-Free Travel To Europe For Americans (Tel.)
Snap IPO “The Ultimate Example Of Bubble Trouble” (CNBC)
Snap IPO: A Shareholding Monarchy (G.)
What If The 1980-Secular Bull Is Still Running? (Roberts)
Global Banks Have Paid $321 Billion In Fines Since Financial Crisis (BBG)
Home Ownership In England At A 30-Year Low (G.)
More Than Half Of New-Build Homes In England ‘Have Major Faults’ (G.)
China’s Parliament Is Chock Full Of Billionaires (CNBC)
The Tyranny Of A Cashless Society (Simpson)
A Goat Would Beat Le Pen In France’s Presidential Election (CNBC)
Elephants Are The Shortest Sleeping Mammal (BBC)
Dishwasher Becomes Co-Owner Of World-Famous Restaurant (G.)
Lake Once Worshipped As Birthplace Of The Sun Now A Deadly Garbage Dump (AP)
Greece Requests Loan From World Bank (K.)
Greece’s ‘Desperate Households’ (K.)
EU Threatens Members With Legal Action Over Refugees (K.)
Calais Mayor Bans Distribution Of Food To Refugees (G.)

 

 

Sure, make life harder for your own citizens.

EU Votes To Suspend Visa-Free Travel To Europe For Americans (Tel.)

Americans should be forced to apply for visas to travel to Europe, the European Parliament has said, in response to Washington refusing to allow all Europeans to travel to the States visa-free. The vote by show of hands is the latest in the ongoing “visa war” between Brussels and the US capital, which now looks set to come to a head after MEPs today agreed that US nationals crossing the Atlantic should require additional travel documents as long as citizens from five EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland and Romania) are kept from entering America without a visa. A European Parliament source told Telegraph Travel this was a “serious negative step in the EU-USA visa war”.

The EU Commission now has two months to reintroduce visas for Americans wishing to travel to Europe, after MEPs agreed the EU is now “legally obliged” to suspend the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) with the US for a year after the US administration failed to meet a deadline to respond something called visa reciprocity. Parliament and the European Council will have the chance to object to anything put forward by the Commission. The need to apply for a visa to travel to a country is widely seen as a turn-off to potential visitors, given the extra cost and time an application requires. A country looking to boost its tourism industry will often look at loosening any existing visa requirements. The resolution was passed despite warnings from the European Travel Commission (ETC) of the damage a visa war with the US might have on the continent’s tourism industry.

“We fully understand and respect the visa waiver reciprocity mechanism embedded in European legislation to ensure that all nationals of Member States part of Schengen can benefit on equal terms from exemption of visa requirement,” said Eduardo Santander, executive director of the ETC, in a joint letter with Michael de Blust, secretariat of the Network for the European Private Sector in Tourism, to MEPs. “However, we are very concerned about the economic and political impact of a suspension of visa waiver for US nationals. “Making it more difficult for US citizens to travel to Europe would certainly deprive the European travel and tourism sector of essential revenue, and put thousands of European jobs at stake in one of the few sectors which experiences a strong growth in employment.”

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“Morgan Stanley and Goldman should hang their heads in shame here.”

Snap IPO “The Ultimate Example Of Bubble Trouble” (CNBC)

Top investment banks behind the Snap Inc public listing are being slammed for the lack of voting rights that investors in the stock will receive. Snap Inc priced its initial public offering above its target range at $17 per share on Wednesday, valuing the company at $24 billion when staff stock and deal bonuses are included. The holding company, which owns social media phenomenon Snapchat, will debut on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday but investors have bought shares with no voting power. Stephen Isaacs, chairman of the investment committee at Alvine Capital, says the major investment banks behind Snap’s public debut are pushing through an unusual move that takes liberties with investors’ rights. “Morgan Stanley and Goldman should hang their heads in shame here. I mean not about the valuation but non-voting shares?

“Isn’t that the ultimate example of bubble trouble? So I say we are in a bubble, there is no value and investors should take a lot of risk off the table,” he said Thursday.Isaacs says the Snap Inc IPO could come to symbolize something bigger than just the deal itself as markets continue to bloat ever higher. “There are two views; the Warren Buffett view is that he market isn’t that expensive, the American economy is doing well and the long-term investor should always be engaged. And in the end he’s done a pretty good job of managing other people’s money. “The other view which I’m afraid I agree with is that we are in a cycle, we are at the top of the cycle, valuations show absolutely no value and then Snap comes along,” Isaacs said. “Sometimes a deal at the top of the market can be something that crystallizes the insanity”, he added.

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“They could retire to an ashram in India or spend the rest of their lives writing haikus. No matter, they will still make every major decision for Snap..”

Snap IPO: A Shareholding Monarchy (G.)

It is a paradox that a country that sought freedom from a king, the United States, is today happy to crown monarchs in commerce. Snap, which calls itself a camera company but is in fact a Silicon Valley firm behind a mobile messaging app, floated on the US stock exchange making billionaires of its two under-30 founders. True, 158 million people open the Snapchat app an average 18 times a day. But money and influence are not the only issues here. It’s also about unaccountable power. Snap’s initial public offering marks a turning point in US capitalism: it is the first time that the only shares on offer are those with no voting rights.

This form of techno-aristocratic capitalism means that the founders, 26-year-old Evan Spiegel and 28-year-old Bobby Murphy, will alone make the big decisions about Snap and maintain control over the social media phenomenon even if their employment is terminated. They could retire to an ashram in India or spend the rest of their lives writing haikus. No matter, they will still make every major decision for Snap, from appointing board members to a possible future sale. Only death will release the company from their control. Or if both sell more than 70% of their stock. It’s bizarre that in a country founded on a repudiation of old-world aristocracy, investors are pouring money into creating a nouveau US version of an ancien regime European aristocracy in business, replicating its extravagant and unaccountable wealth.

Snap is the worst example of this trend. Silicon Valley is now dominated by companies with weak or passive public shareholders. Many investors have been silly enough to hand over cash for little say in the running of tech titans such as Google, Facebook and Alibaba. Given how quickly today’s heroes are tomorrow’s zeros in technology, it seems foolhardy to cede control to listed companies that sometimes never make a profit or where incumbent managers cannot be fired to make way for new blood. Are investors so gullible that they believe the guff about new gods who see further than anyone else from Olympian-high pedestals – and are happy to get no dividends from their stock?

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Multiple trends coverging.

What If The 1980-Secular Bull Is Still Running? (Roberts)

[..] I have created the following thought experiment of examining the psychological cycle overlaid on each of the three full-cycle periods in the market.

The first full-market cycle lasted 63-years from 1871 through 1934. This period ended with the crash of 1929 and the beginning of the “Great Depression.” 

The second full-market cycle lasted 45-years from 1935-1980. This cycle ended with the demise of the “Nifty-Fifty” stocks and the “Black Bear Market” of 1974. While not as economically devastating to the overall economy as the 1929-crash, it did greatly impair the investment psychology of those in the market.

The current full-market cycle is only 37-years in the making. Given the 2nd highest valuation levels in history, corporate, consumer and margin debt near historical highs, and average economic growth rates running at historical lows, it is worth questioning whether the current full-market cycle has been completed or not.

The idea the “bull market” which begin in 1980 is still intact is not a new one. As shown below a chart of the market from 1980 to present, suggests the same.

The long-term bullish trend line remains and the cycle-oscillator is only half-way through a long-term cycle. Furthermore, on a Fibonacci-retracement basis, a 61.8% retracement would current intersect with the long-term bullish trend-line around 1000 suggesting the next downturn could indeed be a nasty one. But again, this is only based on the assumption the long-term full market cycle has not been completed as of yet.I am NOT suggesting this is the case. This is just a thought-experiment about the potential outcome from the collision of weak economics, high levels of debt, and valuations and “irrational exuberance.”

Yes, this time could entirely be different.

It just never has been before.

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The amount of fraud some people can engage in without doing time or losing a dime is stunning.

Global Banks Have Paid $321 Billion In Fines Since Financial Crisis (BBG)

Banks globally have paid $321bn in fines since 2008 for an abundance of regulatory failings from money laundering to market manipulation and terrorist financing, according to data from Boston Consulting Group. That tally is set to increase in the coming years as European and Asian regulators catch up with their more aggressive US peers, who have levied the majority of charges to date, BCG said in its seventh annual study of the industry published on Thursday. Banks paid $42bn in fines in 2016 alone, a 68 per cent rise on the previous year, the data showed. “As conduct-based regulations evolve, fines and penalties, along with related legal and litigation expenses, will remain a cost of doing business,” analysts led by Gerold Grasshoff wrote. “Managing those costs will continue to be a major task for banks.”

The era of ever-increasing regulatory requirements is here to stay, BCG said, despite President Donald Trump’s pledge to roll back the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that reshaped US banking in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The number of rule changes that banks must track on a daily basis has tripled since 2011, to an average of 200 revisions a day, according to the report. “Regulation must be considered a permanent rise in sea level – not just a flowing tide that will ebb or even a cresting tsunami that will recede,” the authors wrote. “We expect this theme to hold despite recent political developments in the US.” Almost 10 years after the onset of the financial crisis, the banking industry still hasn’t completely recovered from the losses it suffered by one measure, BCG said.

While finance firms created so-called economic profit of €159bn in 2015, a fifth annual increase, the industry remains €9bn in the red on a cumulative basis for the years 2009 to 2015, the data show. BCG calculated economic profit by taking a bank’s operating results and incorporating its cost of capital.

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Boy, what a mess. They’re going to have to reboot the entire country. Seriously.

Home Ownership In England At A 30-Year Low (G.)

Home ownership in England has fallen to its lowest level for 30 years, while the number of people privately renting is now higher than in the early 1960s, according to official figures. Government data reveals that the private rented sector has doubled in size since 2004, with almost half of all people in England aged 25 to 34 paying a private landlord for their accommodation. Ministers recently admitted England’s housing market was “broken”, with home ownership a distant dream for millions. Labour claimed the figures showed that the government was “out of ideas” and had no long-term plan to fix the housing crisis. The Generation Rent campaign group said runaway house price inflation and the difficulty of saving a deposit had trapped millions in private rented housing, “even more [people] than in the days of slum landlords like Rachman”.

The latest English Housing Survey, produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), found that of the estimated 22.8m households in England, 14.3m – or 62.9% – were owner-occupiers in 2015-16. It stated that owner-occupation rates “remain unchanged for the third year in a row” – but Labour and others were quick to seize on an accompanying table, which showed that the rate had slipped from 63.6% the previous year. This is down from a peak of 70.9% in 2003 and is the lowest figure since 1985, when it was 62.4%. By contrast, the private rented sector has ballooned in size and now accounted for just over 4.5m households – double the 2.3m in 2004. The new figure represents 20% of the total, whereas in 2002 it was 10%.

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No surprise whatsoever.

More Than Half Of New-Build Homes In England ‘Have Major Faults’ (G.)

More than half of the buyers of new homes have experienced major problems with their properties, according to research, which comes after Bovis Homes agreed to pay £7m compensation to customers for poorly built houses. A YouGov survey for the housing charity Shelter found that 51% of homeowners of recent new builds in England said they had experienced major problems including issues with construction, unfinished fittings and faults with utilities. The survey, which polled 4,341 UK adults online, was published alongside a Shelter report that concluded that the housebuilding sector is rigged in favour of big developers and land traders rather than families looking for homes.

The current speculative system of housebuilding is failing families by producing expensive, yet poor-quality homes, according to the report, published after the government branded the housing market “broken” in its recent housing white paper. Eight in 10 working families who are renting privately cannot afford to buy a newly built home – even if they use the government’s Help to Buy scheme, Shelter said. The West Midlands ranked as the worst region, with 93% of families unable to purchase an average-priced new home. In the report, titled New Civic Housebuilding, the charity calls for a return to building good-quality, affordable homes like the model villages for Cadbury workers at Bournville, the red brick developments of the Peabody and Guinness estates, the Victorian and Georgian terraces in Edinburgh and Bath, and the garden cities of Letchworth and Welwyn.

The YouGov poll showed 41% of homeowners disagreed with the statement “I would prefer to live in a new home rather than an older one”; 29% agreed, and 26% neither agreed nor disagreed. And 45% disagreed with the statement “New homes are built to a higher standard than older homes”; 22% agreed and 23% were neutral.

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Communist Party.

China’s Parliament Is Chock Full Of Billionaires (CNBC)

Want to rub elbows with the rich? Go to China, where the country’s parliament could pass for an elite club of the world’s richest, where about 100 delegates are U.S. dollar billionaires. They made their fortune in everything from property to energy, according to data from the Hurun Report, which publishes the China Rich List. A bunch of tech entrepreneurs sit at the top of the list, including Pony Ma of Tencent, Robin Li of Baidu and Lei Jun of Xiaomi. The names are among delegates gathering for their annual meeting in Beijing starting on Friday, a roughly weeklong affair that’s big on posturing, but small on legislating. Delegates always vote to approve proposals from the ruling Communist Party. Here’s another fun fact: The richest 209 parliament delegates are each worth more than 2 billion yuan ($300 million) – their combined wealth is equivalent to the annual GDPs of Belgium and Sweden, using World Bank figures on GDP for those countries.

By comparison, the U.S. doesn’t have a single billionaire in Congress. The wealthiest member, California Republican Darrell Issa, is worth around $440 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. President Donald Trump claims he is a billionaire, though he has refused to release his income taxes to prove it – breaking with a practice followed by U.S. leaders since Richard Nixon. Still, China’s parliament – made up of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – includes delegates from a wide variety of backgrounds, including those who benefited handsomely as China’s economy has grown into the world’s second largest. But there’s another reason to show up – these sessions of China’s “rubber stamp” parliament are a chance to see and be seen. In a country where business and commerce are tightly restricted, a chance to rub elbows with top Communist Party brass could mean the difference between boom and bust.

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“If the minds behind a cashless society are allowed to have their way, America would become little more than a monumental ant farm..”

The Tyranny Of A Cashless Society (Simpson)

Like many people, I am a careful person when it comes to digital commerce, yet nonetheless I had two of my credit cards hacked (twice in the last four years) — one time by a supposedly reliable online retail company, another time when I rented a trailer. And both times, it required an incredible amount of time, police reports, phone calls, etc., just to get back to square one and get my money back. But my experience was not unusual. Nearly 18 million Americans suffered from some form of identity theft in 2014 alone. Digital commerce and credit cards are very problematic and are not the panacea that companies and the government want the public to believe.

Looking to a future in which governments abolish cash in useful denominations, it follows that they will then focus on eliminating personal and commercial commerce through the use of compact high-value commodities such as gold and silver, a natural progression if $100 bills are taken out of circulation in the United States. People today who are living in the legacy of the Barack Obama economy already need a fistful of $20 bills just to buy a week’s supply of groceries. And it’s easy to spend $400 a week on fresh groceries for two people, especially if you buy premium products and organic. If we consider the increasing trend where banks, institutions and big retailers are regularly hacked, combined with identity theft, digital commerce and credit cards aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and in reality are posing an ever-increasing level of liability on all levels through their use.

The relatively few people who may ultimately control all of the digital wealth of Americans will virtually have control of all the people in a cashless society. This results in a definite loss of freedom and liberty. There are many, many other ways for law enforcement to hammer criminals and curtail their enterprises, if that is truly the goal. But any method that inhibits or erodes the freedoms of Americans in any way, including limiting or infringing upon person-to-person commerce and personal privacy in any manner, is to be shunned and runs counter to the intents and spirit of our beloved U.S. Constitution. Digital currency transactions in lieu of cash would allow virtually 100% tracking of all Americans, including law-abiding citizens and all that we do.

We have already learned over the past eight years of the Obama-led government that governments don’t necessarily work for or even represent the will of the people. So how can anyone justify giving the government this much power over Americans? There is no such justification. The vast majority of Americans are not criminals, and therefore any action by government that affects or targets the vast majority of people in order to deal with a small factional percentage of criminals in the population is manifestly unfair. Politicians simply need to do the jobs they are being paid to do, and come up with anti-criminal tactics that strictly focus upon the bad actors, not the majority of law-abiding Americans.

If the minds behind a cashless society are allowed to have their way, America would become little more than a monumental ant farm, where the elitist class studies Americans to a much greater extent than ever before — how we move around and what we do, use, eat, watch and listen to — and then uses this deeply insightful personal information, potentially to plot how to control everyone. Things like if we’re allowed to be born (abortions already control this to some extent), how long we get to live, and what we are allowed to do in between. Orwellian, yes, but possible nonetheless.

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“I want to be perfectly clear for foreigners and for investors in particular, a goat, literally a goat, at the second round against Marine Le Pen, the goat is elected.”

A Goat Would Beat Le Pen In France’s Presidential Election (CNBC)

Those concerned that far-right leader Marine Le Pen will become France’s next president might be worrying too much, according to one political analyst. Thomas Guénolé from the Paris-based institute Sciences Po told CNBC Thursday: “I want to be perfectly clear for foreigners and for investors in particular, a goat, literally a goat, at the second round against Marine Le Pen, the goat is elected.” Guénolé added that there are many French voters who are “allergic” to the far right and would unite in the second round of the election to prevent Le Pen from winning. Le Pen is currently ahead in projections for the first round scheduled for April 23. But she is seen losing the second round to the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron. “Basically the ideology of Mr Macron is opportunism,” Guénolé said. “He waited as long as possible before telling us what his platform is.”

Macron is due to outline his manifesto Thursday morning. This comes after French authorities decided to formally investigate the conservative candidate Francois Fillon for misusing public funds. Fillon who, until the scandal emerged, was well-placed to become the next president, announced Wednesday he is not stepping out of the race, despite previously saying he would if formal investigations were pursued. According to Guénolé, Macron has more to win from Fillon’s downfall than Le Pen. “I don’t think Marine Le Pen will benefit from this because in fact those who are right-wing voters and think Marine Le Pen is better already want to vote for Marine Le Pen. So I don’t think she’s going to win extra voters, but Emmanuel Macron can be an alternative for those who are right-wing voters and do not want to become far-right voters,” he said.

[..] Laura Slimani, spokesperson for the socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, told CNBC on Thursday that Fillon’s scandal “puts a lot of discredit on politics.” The socialist spokesperson said that all candidates to the presidential seat should disclose who’s funding their campaigns, as sentiment surrounding corruption seems to grow. “Who is today financing the campaign of Emmanuel Macron?,” Slimani said. “We know he is supported by big names in finance, in the business industry, so we want to know who is financing his campaign because this will have an impact on what kind of policies he will lead afterwards, at least it will have an impact on whether he will be a free president, if elected,” she added.

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Elephants have strong memories. But they sleep just two hours a night. Given how important we think (REM) sleep is for memory, that poses some major questions.

Elephants Are The Shortest Sleeping Mammal (BBC)

Wild African elephants sleep for the shortest time of any mammal, according to a study. Scientists tracked two elephants in Botswana to find out more about the animals’ natural sleep patterns. Elephants in zoos sleep for four to six hours a day, but in their natural surroundings the elephants rested for only two hours, mainly at night. The elephants, both matriarchs of the herd, sometimes stayed awake for several days. During this time, they travelled long distances, perhaps to escape lions or poachers. They only went into rapid eye movement (REM, or dreaming sleep, at least in humans) every three or four days, when they slept lying down rather than on their feet. Prof Paul Manger of the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, said this makes elephant sleep unique. “Elephants are the shortest sleeping mammal – that seems to be related to their large body size,” he told BBC News.

“It seems like elephants only dream every three to four days. Given the well-known memory of the elephant this calls into question theories associating REM sleep with memory consolidation.” Elephants living in captivity have been widely studied. To find out more about their sleeping habits in the wild, Prof Manger and his research team fitted the scientific equivalent of a fitness tracker under the skin of the animals’ trunks. The device was used to record when the elephants were sleeping, based on their trunk staying still for five minutes or more. The two elephants were also fitted with a gyroscope to assess their sleeping position. Both elephants were followed for five weeks, giving new insights into their natural sleep patterns. “We had the idea that elephants should be the shortest sleeping mammal because they’re the largest,” said Prof Manger. “Why this occurs, we’re not really sure. Sleep is one of those really unusual mysteries of biology, that along with eating and reproduction, it’s one of the biological imperatives. We must sleep to survive.”

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Forgot this yesterday. Feel good news for today then.

Dishwasher Becomes Co-Owner Of World-Famous Restaurant (G.)

A dishwasher described as the “heart and soul” of the world-class Danish restaurant Noma has been made a co-owner of the establishment he has worked in for 14 years. The decision to promote Ali Sonko, who has toiled in the Noma kitchen since it first opened in 2003, was announced at a party in Copenhagen to mark the restaurant’s last day at its waterfront location in Christianshavn. The restaurant, named the world’s best four times by Restaurant magazine and three times in the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best, is due to move to a new location and reopen as an urban farm in December. In a Facebook post, René Redzepi, the chef who runs Noma, said it was “one of the happiest moments of my time at Noma” to announce that Ali was to become one of his new business partners, saying it was in recognition of his hard work and enduring smile.

“I don’t think people appreciate what it means to have someone like Ali in the house,” Redzepi told friends gathered for a party to mark Noma’s move. “He is all smiles, no matter how his 12 children are faring.” Sonko, 62, who moved to Denmark 34 years ago after emigrating from his native Gambia, where he worked as a farmer, described his job as “the best ever”. “I cannot describe how happy I am to work here,” he told the Danish website BT. “There are the best people to work with and I am good friends with everyone. They show enormous respect towards me and no matter what I say or ask them, they are there for me.” Redzepi, whose restaurant also has two Michelin stars, said he planned to surprise other staff “with a piece of the walls they have chosen to work so hard within”.

Alongside Sonko, Lau Richter, Noma’s service director, and James Spreadbury, an Australian who has managed the restaurant since 2009, are also to be made partners in the business. Redzepi said his father, also called Ali, had worked as a dishwasher when he arrived in Denmark as an immigrant from Macedonia.

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The Automatic Earth banner shows Lake Titicaca.

Lake Once Worshipped As Birthplace Of The Sun Now A Deadly Garbage Dump (AP)

Tucked between snow-capped mountains, Lake Titicaca was once worshipped by the Incas, who proclaimed its deep blue waters the birthplace of the sun. These days the shores of South America’s largest lake are littered with dead frogs, discarded paint buckets and bags of soggy trash. Less visible threats lurk in the water itself: toxic levels of lead and mercury. The steady deterioration of the prized tourist destination has caused a rash of health problems among the 1.3 million people in Peru and Bolivia living near Lake Titicaca’s polluted banks. Untreated sewage water drains from two dozen nearby cities and illegal gold mines high in the Andes dump up to 15 tons of mercury a year into a river leading to the lake. “If the frogs could talk they would say, ‘This is killing me,'” said Maruja Inquilla, a local environmental activist who recently showed up at the Puno governor’s house carrying plastic bags filled with hundreds of dead frogs in protest.

Increasing concern about pollution has prompted a series of scientific studies and promises of official action. The governments of Peru and Bolivia signed a pact in January 2016 to spend more than $500 million to attack the problem, though the details were vague. A year later, Peru’s new president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, pledged to construct 10 treatment plants around the lake, putting the cost at $437 million, “so that the most beautiful lake in the world is the cleanest lake in the world.” But details of how the plants would be funded remain unclear and promises by politicians dating back two decades have so far gone unfulfilled. Many of the more than 400,000 tourists who visit Lake Titicaca from Peru each year stop first in Juliaca, a town that produces 200 tons of trash daily, much of it winding up in a river that has turned into a conveyor belt of waste heading into the lake. Hypodermic needles, tires, old shoes and used diapers are scattered among the potato fields that line the giant lake’s shores.

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“Greece’s current creditors “are not too happy about” the fresh request for funds..”

Greece Requests Loan From World Bank (K.)

Greece has requested an unknown amount of “financial assistance” from the World Bank even as bailout talks continue amid government officials and representatives of the country’s international creditors, according to a report in Politico. “The government of Greece has asked the World Bank to provide technical and financial assistance to address pressing challenges including: long-term unemployment, economic competitiveness and growth and social protection,” Politico cited a spokesperson from the World Bank as saying in a statement. “In accordance with World Bank procedures, any final decision on providing loans would be subject to approval by the bank’s board of executive directors,” it said.

The World Bank declined to specify how much money Greece is purported to have requested, Politico reported. Greece’s current creditors “are not too happy about” the fresh request for funds, an EU official was quoted as saying. The report also cited an unnamed government source as saying that negotiations were under way but not confirming the alleged request for a loan. “Preliminary talks have taken place indeed with [the World Bank] but we cannot confirm official application,” the source was quoted as saying.

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The endless litany of bad numbers continues unabated. This is from the ECB itself.

Greece’s ‘Desperate Households’ (K.)

Greek households generally own their home and have a car; they often have a house in the village their family hails from too. However, their bank accounts are shrinking, their loans are not being serviced as promptly as they used to be and their liquidity is close to zero. Unemployment is now changing the structure of households, resulting in young and old being forced to stay under the same roof. These are the main features of Greek households during the economic crisis as recorded by the European Central Bank’s Household Finance and Consumption Survey, which covers the 2010-14 period and was presented in Greece on Thursday in the weekly bulletin of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV).

Under the title “Desperate Households,” the bulletin highlighted that families continue to provide a safety net; however, it showed that their stamina is also running low, as is that of the friend network. The rate of Greek households that said they could seek financial support from relatives and friends dropped to 36.5% in 2014 from 59.4% in 2009. The situation is certain to have deteriorated further in the last couple of years. Few Greeks have the luxury of being able to save money: Just 13.5% of households said they added to savings on a regular basis, down from 21.9% five years earlier. This is by far the lowest rate in the European Union.

The index of liquidity as a ratio of disposable income was at just 2.8% in Greece, down from 4.9% five years earlier, and against a eurozone average of 16.7%. There was a notable decline in the rate of heads of households who are self-employed (from 18.9% to 14.4% within five years) and those who are salary workers (from 39.7% to 36.5%). In contrast, the rate of heads of households who were retired increased from 34.7% to 39.3%, and those who were out of work from 6.6 to 9.8%. Another study by the Cologne Institute for Economic Research showed on Thursday that Greece is top among European countries in terms of poverty growth, as the number of Greeks below the poverty line grew 40% from 2008 to 2015.

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Worked great so far….

EU Threatens Members With Legal Action Over Refugees (K.)

The European Commission is piling the pressure on European Union member-states that are refusing to take in asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, as they had promised in September 2015, threatening, for the first time, to take legal action if they continue to do so. Although relocations increased in February, they are a far cry from the original targets set by the Commission in 2015 when EU countries had agreed to share some 160,000 migrants and refugees who had reached Greek and Italian shores in the previous two years. Of this number, only 13,546 have since been relocated – 9,610 from Greece and 3,936 from Italy. The 2015 agreement between EU countries stipulated that there would be 3,000 relocations from Greece and 1,500 from Italy each month. In total, the agreement provided for the relocation of 63,000 from Greece by September this year.

But at the current rate achieving this target appears highly unlikely, even though Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Thursday that the September target is still within reach. “There are no more excuses for the member-states not to deliver,” he said, insisting that “it is possible and feasible to relocate all those who are eligible from Italy and Greece by September.” Avramopoulos warned that if there are no tangible results by September, then the noncompliant countries will face legal action as the Commission “will not hesitate to make use of its power.” Only three EU states (Luxembourg, Malta and Finland) are close to fully meeting their obligations under the 2015 agreement. However, Hungary, Austria and Poland remain opposed to the agreement, while other countries, including the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia, say they are on board but will only take a limited number of asylum seekers.

With regard to the relocation of migrants and refugees from Turkey, EU countries have so far taken in 14,442 people, of whom 3,565 were Syrians. Meanwhile, the deal signed in March 2016 between Turkey and the EU to stem the flow of migrants into Europe is, so far, bearing results as the rate of daily arrivals on Greek islands has dropped significantly to about 43 per day, compared to as many as 10,000 on one day at the height of the influx in October 2015.

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Refusing to feed children, including thousands who try to reach family in Britain. Words fail.

Calais Mayor Bans Distribution Of Food To Refugees (G.)

The mayor of Calais has banned the distribution of food to migrants as part of a campaign to prevent the establishment of a new refugee camp as hundreds of people return to the port three months after the original one was demolished. Natacha Bouchart, from the centre-right Les Républicains party, said she would implement policies “to prevent the distribution of meals to migrants”, and legal documents setting out the restrictions were put up in the vicinity of the camp on Thursday. Officials have already obstructed attempts by local charities to open showers for teenage migrants in the town. Food distribution volunteers said they had been forced to do so in secret because of a heightened police presence. Refugee charities said they would ignore the ban but were taking legal advice.

The mayoral decree, dated 2 March, said the “regular, persistent and large presence of individuals distributing meals to migrants” in the area around the site of the former camp posed a threat to the peace and security of the area. It banned any “repeated, prolonged gatherings” in the area, in effect making food distribution an offence. Sarah Arrom, who has been helping to distribute food with the charity Utopia56 for the last four months, said police had fired teargas to prevent volunteers from giving breakfast to about 30 teenagers in a field near the motorway outside the city on Thursday. “They wanted to stop the distribution and they wanted to stop people from sleeping in the area,” she said. “There has never been teargas before when we’ve been trying to hand out food.”

[..] Christian Salomé, the president of the Auberge des Migrants charity, said a ban would be catastrophic for refugee children. “Adults will always find a way to buy food in the shops, but for minors it will be a real problem – they have no money at all.” He said no one had precise figures for the number of refugees around Calais. “People are arriving all the time and not many are getting through [to the UK].” Renke Meuwese, who works with Refugee Community Kitchen and Help Refugees, said the kitchens were making about 400 meals a day, up from about 50 last month. He said police seemed to be particularly concerned about reducing the visibility of refugees. “They are trying to make the refugees invisible, so they make it harder to distribute in town than the countryside. We can’t distribute at day so we have to do it at night. They are trying to push them out of sight.”

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Jan 042017
 
 January 4, 2017  Posted by at 10:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Readers browse bomb-damaged library of Holland House, London 1940

The Wrong Things Are Being Forecast (Morgan)
China Calls US ‘A Shooting Star In The Ample Sky Of History’ (G.)
China’s New Year Currency Moves Won’t Make Donald Trump Happy (CNBC)
Banks Create Money From Nothing. And It Gets Worse (ND)
India Government Set To Endorse Universal Basic Income (BI)
US Banks Gear Up To Fight Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule (R.)
Wall Street Banks Have $2 Trillion European Exposure (Martens)
How to Make America Great Again with Other People’s Money (Orlov)
The Trump Effect Will Accentuate Unrest (Nomi Prins)
Anti-Surveillance Clothing Aims To Hide Wearers From Facial Recognition (G.)
Guardian Report On Ailing Greek Health System Sparks Ugly Row (Kath.)
The Necessity of Maintaining Borders (Kath.)

 

 

If all ‘growth’ is borrowed anyway, and then some, as in every dollar of ‘growth’ takes $10 of debt, maybe you should stop calling it growth?!

The Wrong Things Are Being Forecast (Morgan)

It is customary to use the start of the year to set out some forecasts. Though I’ve not previously done this, I’ve decided to make an exception this time – mainly because I’m convinced that the wrong things are being forecast. Central forecasts tend to focus on real GDP, but in so doing they miss at least three critical parameters. The first is the relationship between growth and borrowing. The second is the absolute scale of debt, and our ability to manage it. The third is the impact of a tightening resource set on the real value of global economic output. Most commentators produce projections for growth in GDP, and mine are for global real growth of around 2.3% between 2017 and 2020. I expect growth to slow, but to remain positive, in countries such as the United States, Britain and China.

It’s worth noting, in passing, that these growth numbers do not do much to boost the prosperity of the individual, since they correspond to very modest per capita improvements once population growth is taken into account. Moreover, the cost of household essentials is likely to grow more rapidly than general inflation through the forecast period. What is more intriguing than straightforward growth projections, and surely more important too, is the trajectory of indebtedness accompanying these growth estimates. Between 2000 and 2015, and expressed at constant 2015 dollar values, global real GDP expanded by $27 trillion – but this came at the expense of $87 trillion in additional indebtedness (a number which excludes the inter-bank or “financial” sector). This meant that, in inflation-adjusted terms, each growth dollar cost $3.25 in net new debt.

If anything, this borrowing-to-growth number may worsen as we look forward, my projection being that the world will add almost $3.60 of new debt for each $1 of reported real growth between now and 2020. On this basis, the world should be taking on about $5.8 trillion of net new debt annually, but preliminary indications are that net borrowing substantially exceeded this number in 2016. China has clearly caught the borrowing bug, whilst big business continues to take on cheap debt and use it to buy back stock. Incredible though it may seem, the shock of 2008-09 appears already to be receding from the collective memory, rebuilding pre-2008 attitudes to debt. On my forecast basis, global real “growth” of $8.2 trillion between now and 2020 is likely to come at a cost of $29 trillion in new debt. If correct, this would lift the global debt-to-GDP ratio to 235% in 2020, compared with 221% in 2015 and 155% in 2000.

Adding everything together, the world would be $116 trillion more indebted in 2020 than in 2000, whilst real GDP would have increased by $35 trillion. Altogether, what we are witnessing is a Ponzi-style financial economy heading for end-game, for four main reasons. First, we have made growth dependent on borrowing, which was never a sustainable model. Second, the ratio of efficiency with which we turn borrowing into growth is getting steadily worse. Third, the demands being made on us by the deterioration of the resource scarcity equation are worsening. Fourth, the ageing of the population is adding further strains to a system that is already nearing over-stretch. One thing seems certain – we cannot, for much longer, carry on as we are. y

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This calls for the poet in Trump to respond.

China Calls US ‘A Shooting Star In The Ample Sky Of History’ (G.)

Donald Trump has doubled down on his plans to transform US trade policy, picking a longtime China critic and protectionist to be America’s next chief trade negotiator. Robert Lighthizer, 69, has advocated for increasing tariffs and repeatedly criticised China for failing to adhere to international trade practices, saying tougher methods were needed to change the system. The move is likely to further alarm Beijing, where state-controlled media said on Wednesday “Trump is just fixated on trade” and warned the president elect “not try to boss China around” on economic and security issues. “May the arrogant Americans realise that the United States of America is perhaps just a shooting star in the ample sky of history,” said an editorial in the Communist party-affiliated Global Times newspaper.

It follows the selection by Trump last month of Peter Navarro to lead a new presidential office for US trade and industrial policy. Navarro has previously described China’s government as a “despicable, parasitic, brutal, brass-knuckled, crass, callous, amoral, ruthless and totally totalitarian imperialist power”. Trump has packed his cabinet with tycoons, vowed to renegotiate trade deals and crack down on what he says are China’s unfair policies. Lighthizer is a former Reagan-era trade official and had a previous stint in the Office of the US Trade Representative, where he travelled the world negotiating deals to curb steel imports. He then went on to a career as a trade lawyer, representing giants such as US Steel Corp working to fend off foreign imports.

In 2011, he wrote in an opinion piece for the Washington Times: “How does allowing China to constantly rig trade in its favour advance the core conservative goal of making markets more efficient? Markets do not run better when manufacturing shifts to China largely because of the actions of its government.” While less prone to bombast than Navarro, he and Lighthizer share the view that China’s economic policies are fundamentally flawed. Years of passivity and drift among US policymakers have allowed the US-China trade deficit to grow to the point where it is widely recognised as a major threat to our economy, Lighthizer wrote. Going forward, US policymakers should take these problems more seriously, and should take a much more aggressive approach in dealing with China.

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Excuse me? “China has put a new chip on the table to counter trade adventurism by the Trump administration.” Other than that, the new capital controls seem to work so far, to an extent.

China’s New Year Currency Moves Won’t Make Donald Trump Happy (CNBC)

Call it a New Year’s greeting from the Chinese government to the incoming administration of Donald Trump. As the president-elect rang in 2017 entertaining guests at his opulent Mar-a-Lago estate, China quietly ushered in a series of measures aimed at better controlling the value of its local currency, the yuan. Throughout his campaign, Trump accused China of “manipulating” the yuan to make Chinese exports more competitive in global markets. China’s latest announcement will likely add fuel to that debate. Unlike countries that mostly let markets determine the value of their currencies, Beijing tries to peg the yuan to a basket of other currencies. Starting Jan. 1, the Chinese State Administration of Foreign Exchange will use a new, broader basket of global currencies to benchmark the yuan’s value.

The change will have the effect of reducing the impact of the U.S. dollar on the official valuation. “This is unambiguously bad news for the United States,” High Frequency Economics Chief Economist Carl Weinberg said in a note to clients Tuesday. “China has put a new chip on the table to counter trade adventurism by the Trump administration.” While China has sought to dampen the value of its currency in the past, the People’s Bank of China has more recently been scrambling to support the yuan. Beijing is deeply concerned that the weakening yuan is encouraging Chinese to shift their wealth out of the country into stronger currencies or other, more stable holdings. China needs a lot of capital in the country in order to continue to fund its growth, which is very heavily reliant on borrowing.

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I was thinking about exactly this, the other day. That a basic income scheme may be a Trojan horse AND a wolf in sheep’s clothing if it comes entirely digitized.

Banks Create Money From Nothing. And It Gets Worse (ND)

Richard Werner, the German professor famous for inventing the term ‘quantitative easing’, says the world is finally waking up to the fact that “banks create money out of nothing” – but warns this realisation has given rise to a new “Orwellian” threat. In an exclusive interview with The New Daily, Professor Werner says the recent campaigns around the world, including in India and Australia, to get rid of cash are coordinated attempts by central bankers to monopolise money creation. “This sudden global talk by the usual suspects about the ‘need to get rid of cash’, ostensibly to fight tax evasion etc, has been so coordinated that it cannot but be part of another plan by central bankers, this time to stay in charge of any emerging reform agenda, by trying to control, and themselves run, the ‘opposition’,” he says.

“Essentially, the Bank of England and others are saying: okay, we admit it, you guys were right, banks create money out of nothing. So now we need to make sure that you guys will not be able to set the agenda of what happens in terms of reforms.” [..] The main point is that the banks do not lend existing money, but add to deposits and the money supply when they ‘lend’. And when those loans are repaid, money is removed from circulation. Thus, the supply of money is constantly being expanded and contracted by banks – which may explain why the ‘credit crunch’ of the global financial crisis was so devastating. Banks weren’t lending, so there was a shortage of money. By some estimates, the banks create upwards of 97% of money, in the form of electronic funds stored in online accounts. Banknotes and coins? They are just tokens of value, printed to represent the money already created by banks.

Professor Werner is pleased the world is waking up to the truth of how money is created, but is very displeased with what he sees as the central bankers’ reaction: the death of cash and the rise of central bank-controlled digital currency. This will further centralise what he describes as the “already excessive and unaccountable powers” of centrals banks, which he argues has been responsible for the bulk of the more than 100 banking crises and boom-bust cycles in the past half-century. “To appear active reformers, they will push the agenda to get rid of bank credit creation. This suits them anyway, as long as they can fix the policy recommendation of any such reform, to be … that the central banks should be the sole issuers of money.”

The professor also fears the global push for ‘basic income’, which is being trialled in parts of Europe and widely discussed in the media, will form part of the central bankers’ attempt to kill off cash. ‘Basic income’ is a popular idea that can be traced back to Sydney and Beatrice Webb, founders of the London School of Economics. It proposes we abolish all welfare payments and replace them with a single ‘basic income’ that everyone, from billionaires to unemployed single mothers, receives. Either we accept the digital currency issued by central banks, or we miss out on basic income payments. That is Professor Werner’s theory of what might happen. His solution to this “Orwellian” future is decentralisation, in the form of lots of non-profit community banks, as exist in his native Germany.

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That same basc income danger of course looms large in India.

India Government Set To Endorse Universal Basic Income (BI)

The Indian government is set to endorse Universal Basic Income, according to one of the leading advocates of the scheme. Professor Guy Standing, an economist who co-founded advocate group Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) in 1986, told Business Insider that the Indian government will release a report in January which says the idea is “feasible” and “basically the way forward.” The idea behind universal basic income is simple: a regular state payment made to all citizens (one variation specifies adults), regardless of working status. Advocates say it would provide a vital safety net for all citizens and remove inefficient benefit systems currently in place; critics say it would remove the incentive for citizens to work and prove to be wildly expensive.

It has, however, attracted a growing amount of attention across the world, in both rich and developing countries. Standing, professor of development at the School for African and Oriental Studies, is considered one of the leading proponents of UBI. He has advised on numerous UBI pilot schemes, and recently returned from California, where he consulted on a $20 million trial set to launch in California this year. He was closely involved with three major pilot schemes in India — two in Madhya Pradesh, and a smaller one in West Delhi. The pilots in Madhya Pradesh launched in 2010, and provided every man, woman, and child across eight villages with a modest basic income for 18 months. Standing reports that welfare improved dramatically in the villages, “particularly in nutrition among the children, healthcare, sanitation, and school attendance and performance.”

He also says the scheme also turned out some unexpected results. “The most striking thing which we hadn’t actually anticipated is that the emancipatory effect was greater than the monetary effect. It enabled people to have a sense of control. They pooled some of the money to pay down their debts, they increased decisions on escaping from debt bondage. The women developed their own capacity to make their own decision about their own lives. The general tenor of all those communities has been remarkably positive,” he said. “As a consequence of this, the Indian government is coming out with a big report in January. As you can imagine that makes me very excited. It will basically say this is the way forward.”

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No, someone at Reuters really wrote this: “The Obama administration’s regulators and enforcement agencies have been tough on banks..” And then they printed it.

US Banks Gear Up To Fight Dodd-Frank Act’s Volcker Rule (R.)

Big U.S. banks are set on getting Congress this year to loosen or eliminate the Volcker rule against using depositors’ funds for speculative bets on the bank’s own account, a test case of whether Wall Street can flex its muscle in Washington again. In interviews over the past several weeks, half a dozen industry lobbyists said they began meeting with legislative staff after the U.S. election in November to discuss matters including a rollback of Volcker, part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform that Congress enacted after the financial crisis and bank bailouts. Lobbyists said they plan to present evidence to congressional leaders that the Volcker rule is actually bad for companies, investors and the U.S. economy. Big banks have been making such arguments for years, but the industry’s influence waned significantly in Washington after the financial crisis.

The Obama administration’s regulators and enforcement agencies have been tough on banks, while lawmakers from both parties have seized opportunities to slam Wall Street to score political points. Banks now see opportunities to unravel reforms under President-Elect Donald Trump’s administration and the incoming Republican-led Congress, which appear more business-friendly, lobbyists said. While an outright repeal of the Volcker rule may not be possible, small but meaningful changes tucked into other legislation would still be a big win, they said. “I don’t think there will be a big, ambitious rollback,” said one big-bank lobbyist who was not authorized to discuss strategy publicly. “There will be four years of regulatory evolution.” Proponents of the Volcker rule say lenders that benefit from government support like deposit insurance should not be gambling with their balance sheets. They also argue such proprietary bets worsened the crisis and drove greedy, unethical behavior across Wall Street.

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Darn Europeans. The US would be fine without them.

Wall Street Banks Have $2 Trillion European Exposure (Martens)

Just 17 days from today, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the nation’s 45th President and deliver his inaugural address. Trump is expected to announce priorities in the areas of education, infrastructure, border security, the economy and curtailing the outsourcing of jobs. But Trump’s agenda will be derailed on all fronts if the big Wall Street banks blow up again as they did in 2008, dragging the U.S. economy into the ditch and requiring another massive taxpayer bailout from a nation already deeply in debt from the last banking crisis. According to a report quietly released by the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Financial Research less than two weeks before Christmas, another financial implosion on Wall Street can’t be ruled out.The Office of Financial Research (OFR), a unit of the U.S. Treasury, was created under the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation of 2010.

It says its role is to: “shine a light in the dark corners of the financial system to see where risks are going, assess how much of a threat they might pose, and provide policymakers with financial analysis, information, and evaluation of policy tools to mitigate them.” Its 2016 Financial Stability Report, released on December 13, indicates that Wall Street banks have been allowed by their “regulators” to take on unfathomable risks and that dark corners remain in the U.S. financial system that are impenetrable to even this Federal agency that has been tasked with peering into them. At a time when international business headlines are filled with reports of a massive banking bailout in Italy and the potential for systemic risks from Germany’s struggling giant, Deutsche Bank, the OFR report delivers this chilling statement:

“U.S. global systemically important banks (G-SIBs) have more than $2 trillion in total exposures to Europe. Roughly half of those exposures are off-balance-sheet…U.S. G-SIBs have sold more than $800 billion notional in credit derivatives referencing entities domiciled in the EU.”

When a Wall Street bank buys a credit derivative, it is buying protection against a default on its debts by the referenced entity like a European bank or European corporation. But when a Wall Street bank sells credit derivative protection, it is on the hook for the losses if the referenced entity defaults. Regulators will not release to the public the specifics on which Wall Street banks are selling protection on which European banks but just the idea that regulators would allow this buildup of systemic risk in banks holding trillions of dollars in insured deposits after the cataclysmic results of similar hubris in 2008 shows just how little has been accomplished in terms of meaningful U.S. financial reform.

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“What’s a poor bankrupt former superpower to do?” Lovely from Dmitry. Go after Saudi Arabia.

How to Make America Great Again with Other People’s Money (Orlov)

1. It all started when the US decided to leave the British Empire. This event is often portrayed as a tax revolt by rich landholders, but there is more to it than that: it allowed the former colonies to loot and plunder British holdings by funding and outfitting “privateers”—pirates, that is. This went on for quite some time.

2. Another major boost resulted from the Civil War, which destroyed the agrarian economy of the south and by so doing provided cheap labor and feedstocks to industries in the north. Plenty of people in the south are still in psychological recovery from this event, some 15 decades later. It was the first war to be fought on an industrial scale, and a fratricidal war at that. Clearly, Americans are not above turning on their own if there’s a buck or two to be made.

3. Early in the 20th century, World War I provided the US with a rich source of plunder in the form of German reparations. Not only did this fuel the so-called “roaring twenties,” but it also pushed Germany toward embracing fascism in furtherance of the long-term goal of creating a proxy to use against the USSR.

4. When in 1941 this plan came to fruition and Hitler invaded the USSR, the US hoped for a quick Soviet surrender, only joining the fray once it became clear that the Germans would be defeated. In the aftermath of that conflict, the US reaped a gigantic windfall in the form of Jewish money and gold, which fled Europe for the US. It was able to repurpose its wartime industrial production to make civilian products, which had little competition because many industrial centers of production outside of the US had been destroyed during the war.

5. After the USSR collapsed in late 1991, the US sent in consultants who organized a campaign of wholesale looting, with much of the wealth expropriated from the public and shipped overseas. This was the last time the Americans were able to run off with a fantastic amount of other people’s money, giving the US yet another temporary lease on life.

But after that the takings have thinned out. Still, the Americans have kept working at it. They destroyed Iraq, killed Saddam Hussein and ran off with quite a bit of Iraqi gold and treasure. They destroyed Libya, killed Muammar Qaddafy and ran off with Libya’s gold. After organizing the putsch in the Ukraine in 2014, shooting up a crowd using foreign snipers and forcing Viktor Yanukovich into exile, they loaded Ukrainian gold onto a plane under the cover of darkness and took that too. They hoped to do the same in Syria by training and equipping a plucky band of terrorists, but we all know how badly that has turned out for them. But these are all small fry, and the loot from them is too meager to fuel even a temporary, purely notional rekindling of erstwhile American greatness. What’s a poor bankrupt former superpower to do?

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Only point 10 of 10 in Nomi’s “My Political-Financial Road Map for 2017”. But it fits my format quite well. DO read the whole thing.

The Trump Effect Will Accentuate Unrest (Nomi Prins)

Trump is assembling the richest cabinet in the world to conduct the business of the United States, from a political position. The problem with that is several fold. First, there is a woeful lack of public office experience amongst his administration. His supporters may think that means the Washington swamp has been drained to make room for less bureaucratic decisions. But, the swamp has only been clogged. Instead of political elite, it continues business elite, equally ill-suited to put the needs of the everyday American before the needs of their private colleagues and portfolios.

Second, running the US is not like running a business. Other countries are free to do their business apart from the US. If Trump’s doctrine slaps tariffs on imports for instance, it burdens US companies that would need to pay more for required products or materials, putting a strain on the US economy. Playing hard ball with other nations spurs them to engage more closely with each other.That would make the dollar less attractive. This will likely happen during the second half of the year, once it becomes clear the Fed isn’t on a rate hike rampage and Trump isn’t as adept at the economy as he is prevalent on Twitter. Third, an overly aggressive Trump administration, combined with its ample conflicts of interest could render Trump’s and his cohorts’ businesses the target of more terrorism, and could unleash more violence and chaos globally.

Fourth, his doctrine is deregulatory, particularly for the banking sector. Consider that the biggest US banks remain bigger than before the financial crisis. Deregulating them by striking elements of the already tepid Dodd-Frank Act could fall hard on everyone. When the system crashes, it doesn’t care about Republican or Democrat politics. The last time a deregulation and protectionist businessmen filled the US presidential cabinet was in the 1920s. That led to the Crash of 1929 and Great Depression. Today, the only thing keeping a lid on financial calamity is epic amounts of artisanal money. Deregulating an inherently corrupt and coddled banking industry, already floating on said capital assistance, would inevitably cause another crisis during Trump’s first term.

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Nice.

Anti-Surveillance Clothing Aims To Hide Wearers From Facial Recognition (G.)

The use of facial recognition software for commercial purposes is becoming more common, but, as Amazon scans faces in its physical shop and Facebook searches photos of users to add tags to, those concerned about their privacy are fighting back. Berlin-based artist and technologist Adam Harvey aims to overwhelm and confuse these systems by presenting them with thousands of false hits so they can’t tell which faces are real. The Hyperface project involves printing patterns on to clothing or textiles, which then appear to have eyes, mouths and other features that a computer can interpret as a face. This is not the first time Harvey has tried to confuse facial recognition software. During a previous project, CV Dazzle, he attempted to create an aesthetic of makeup and hairstyling that would cause machines to be unable to detect a face.

Speaking at the Chaos Communications Congress hacking conference in Hamburg, Harvey said: “As I’ve looked at in an earlier project, you can change the way you appear, but, in camouflage you can think of the figure and the ground relationship. There’s also an opportunity to modify the ‘ground’, the things that appear next to you, around you, and that can also modify the computer vision confidence score.” Harvey’s Hyperface project aims to do just that, he says, “overloading an algorithm with what it wants, oversaturating an area with faces to divert the gaze of the computer vision algorithm.” The resultant patterns, which Harvey created in conjunction with international interaction studio Hyphen-Labs, can be worn or used to blanket an area. “It can be used to modify the environment around you, whether it’s someone next to you, whether you’re wearing it, maybe around your head or in a new way.”

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“The lives of patients that are lost are considered collateral damage in the conservation of power.”

Guardian Report On Ailing Greek Health System Sparks Ugly Row (Kath.)

A report by The Guardian on Sunday on the problems faced by Greece’s ailing public healthcare system has sparked an ugly war of words between Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis and unionists. The row started with a social media post made by Polakis on Tuesday, in which he accuses the head of the Panhellenic Federation of Public Hospital Employees (POEDIN), Michalis Giannakos, who is extensively quoted in the report, of “despicable lies.” Polakis went on to say that Giannakos’s comments to Guardian reporter Helena Smith were “slandering to the country and the SYRIZA government, which cut off access to the chow trough and special favors,” and called the unionist a “louse.” In the same post, Polakis also suggested that local media quoting Giannakos’s “vomit-inspiring interview” were lashing out at the leftist-government for cutting advertising revenues from the Center of Disease Prevention and Control (KEELPNO).

“No one who works in a public hospital believes you anymore, just your posse of friends,” Polakis said in his comments, which were directed at Giannakos, adding that the data the unionist cited was from 2012 and no longer valid. “Your time has finished, your place is on history’s trash heap,” Polakis said. His comments prompted an equally vehement response from POEDIN on Tuesday, calling Polakis a “political miasma” and accusing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of appointing him “to do the dirty work.” “With his latest misspelt, badly written and delusional post on Facebook against the president of POEDIN, Mr. Polakis has once more confirmed that he is the political miasma of the country’s civil and social life,” the union said in its statement.

In the interview, Giannakos suggested that cutbacks are putting patients’ lives at risk by over-taxing dwindling staff and curbing hospitals’ access to basic necessities and equipment. “The interview in The Guardian underscores the collapse of the public health system and public hospitals. Why doesn’t the government use the publication as an opportunity in its negotiations with the lenders to exempt healthcare from the memorandums? It is clear from its reaction that the government intends to achieve high primary surpluses by the continued reduction of public healthcare spending,” POEDIN said. “The lives of patients that are lost are considered collateral damage in the conservation of power.” The union also said that it is planning to take legal action against Polakis, accusing the health official of using “degrading, insulting and wholly inappropriate” language in his post.

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Erdogan makes Greeks nervous. And mainatining your borders, like maintaining your culture, is not a bad thing. Nor will it lead to war. Quite the opposite.

The Necessity of Maintaining Borders (Kath.)

Since the failed coup in Turkey on July 15, I have been rather surprised by the silence of the country’s intellectuals, who up until recently had been very talkative. Whether they kept silent out of fear or discomfort, we should respect it. Nevertheless, Orhan Pamuk’s silence, for instance, cannot go unnoticed. The point is not to carry out direct political interventions, but to bare the essential transformations that Turkish society has gone through in the nearly 15 years that Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has been in power – changes that are obvious even to non-Turkish experts like myself. The mere presence (2002-17) of the same party in government for so long makes you wonder about the nature of our neighboring democracy.

I read in Monday’s Corriere della Sera that prior to the attack on Istanbul’s Reina nightclub, Turkey’s director for religious affairs, who represents the state, had accused those preparing to celebrate New Year’s Eve of being “infidels.” Meanwhile, author Burhan Sonmez told the same paper that similar complaints, regarding both Christmas and New Year’s Eve, were made by several leading AKP officials. While Turkey officially condemned the attack, on social media and elsewhere online, many defended the assassin in the name of religion. In a statement claiming responsibility for yet another mass murder, the slaughterers’ group referred to the “apostate Turkish government.” These are the same people Erdogan helped in the past but was forced to drop when he started reaching an understanding with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, abandoning the US, which is helping the Kurds and which forced him to move away from his friend Bashar al-Assad.

There is something wrong with the sultan of democracy. He now claims that Kurdish terrorism is equal to Islamic terrorism. The result of the equation is weekly massacres. How can social cohesion be maintained faced with weekly attacks on civilians from Diyarbakir to Istanbul? How much can you trust a leader who does not hide his autocratic tendencies, who has changed his country’s allies on numerous occasions in the last decade and who undermines his own military and secret service forces? Given that Greece and Europe have based their entire management of the refugee-migrant crisis on Erdogan’s word, should we start worrying? Instead of looking for frigates invading our islets, should we be looking out for dinghies flooding our cities with human despair? Until the world becomes paradise, you need borders, even those at sea.

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