Jul 152017
 
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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 »
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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 »
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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 »
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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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 December 11, 2016  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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‘Daly’ Somewhere in the South, possibly Miami 1941

The ECB Is Creating A World Of Zombie Banks And Zombie Companies (HandBl.)
Stocks Have Only Been This Expensive During Times Of Crisis (BI)
UK Government Faces New Brexit Court Case (R.)
Senate Quietly Passes “Countering Disinformation And Propaganda Act” (ZH)
Does Krugman Really Support The Working Class? (Dean Baker)
Non-OPEC Oil States Agree To Cuts In ‘Historic’ Deal (AFP)
Quebec Paves Way For More Oil And Gas Exploration (BBG)
Goa Goes Cashless: ‘Who Buys Fish With A Credit Card?’ (G.)
Greece Passes Austerity 2017 Budget, Eyes 2.7% Growth (AP)
The Icelandic Minister Who Refused To Help The FBI Frame Assange (Katoikos)
WikiLeaks Emails ‘Link Turkey Oil Minister To Isis Oil Trade’ (Ind.)
Russian Bombardment ‘Forces ISIS Out Of Palmyra’ Hours After Re-Entry (AFP)

 

 

“A large part of the European banking sector would be on the brink of collapse and no stress test could anticipate the magnitude of that kind of credit risk..”

The ECB Is Creating A World Of Zombie Banks And Zombie Companies (HandBl.)

Next year could turn out to be a make-or-break year for Europe. But unlike in 2008, neither the governments nor the central banks have sufficient means to deal with another crisis. And it’s not entirely clear whether their intervention last time actually made things better or worse. Take Mr. Draghi, for instance. By lowering interest rates in the euro zone and buying up debt en masse, he has been trying to give the European economy a much needed shot in the arm. Yet despite all of his efforts, the specter of deflation still looms over the bloc, the future of the common currency is uncertain and lenders in southern Europe are still fighting for their existence. At the same time, the negative effects of Mr. Draghi’s policies are becoming more apparent. The STOXX Europe 600 index may have closed at its highest level in more than two months earlier this week, but it’s still 65% lower than where it was before the financial crisis.

The IMF has even said it feared a third of European banks wouldn’t be able to become profitable again even if the economy were to recover. The weird thing about the way the European economy has fared after the financial crisis is that even though businesses have been struggling, not a lot of them are going under. Insolvencies have been below the historical average. In Germany, for instance, the%age of companies declaring bankruptcy was the same right before the Lehman Brothers crash as it was in the 1990s – between 1.5 and 2%. Since the crisis began, that metric has fallen steadily. In 2015, the last full year for which data is available, it stood at 0.6%. Insolvency rates have even dropped in the euro zone’s weakest members along its southern periphery. Common sense would have one believe that the number of bankruptcies increases in times of crisis – especially during crises as protracted as financial ones.

“With its zero interest rate policy and the massive purchasing of bonds, the ECB is undermining the process of creative destruction, which is so important to a market economy,” said Markus Krall at Goetz Partners in Frankfurt. The ECB, for its part, was willing to do anything to prevent the economy from tanking. The central bank flooded the banks with money, and that deluge reduced companies’ capital costs to practically nothing. Even the most inefficient businesses can survive in that environment. Mr. Krall did the math on what it would mean for the balance sheets of European banks if insolvency rates had been at the historical average all along. He discovered that the €1 trillion in bad loans the ECB identified in its latest report would be closer to the tune of €2.5 trillion in that hypothetical scenario. “A large part of the European banking sector would be on the brink of collapse and no stress test could anticipate the magnitude of that kind of credit risk,” Mr. Krall said. “The ECB is creating a world of zombie banks and zombie companies,” he added.

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1929, 1999, 2007.

Stocks Have Only Been This Expensive During Times Of Crisis (BI)

Stocks are getting a bit pricey. All three major indexes break though their all-time highs on a seemingly daily basis, and this has pushed earnings multiples higher and higher. The current 12-month trailing price-to-earnings ratio of the S&P 500 sits at 25.95x, while the forward 12-month price-to-earnings is roughly 17.1x, according to FactSet data. Each of these is higher than its long-term average. In fact, based on one measure of valuation, the market hasn’t been this expensive anytime other than before a massive crash. The cyclical adjusted price-to-earnings ratio, better known as Shiller P/E, which adjusts the price-to-earnings ratio for cyclical factors such as inflation, stands at 27.86 as of Friday.

There have only been a few instances in history when stocks have been this expensive: just before the crash of 1929, the years leading up to the tech bubble and its bursting, and around the financial crisis of 2007-09. This does not necessarily mean that a crash is imminent — during the tech bubble, the Shiller P/E made it well into the 30s before coming back down. Additionally, there are some criticisms that Shiller P/E is generally more backward-looking since it adjusts for the cycle, so it may not be as accurate. Another caveat is that, during the three previous instances, investors have been incredibly bullish on stocks (there’s a reason Robert Shiller’s book is titled “Irrational Exuberance”) and most indicators of sentiment — from the American Association of Individual Investors to Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s sell-side sentiment indicator — are still depressed. Still, an elevated level for the Shiller P/E certainly isn’t going to make it any easier to sleep at night.

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As the EU descends into chaos, some of these people are going to remember something about a gift horse’s mouth.

UK Government Faces New Brexit Court Case (R.)

Opponents to Britain leaving the EU will launch a fresh legal action this week, which could further hamper Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans, The Sunday Times reported. The newspaper said campaigners will write to the UK government on Monday saying they are taking it to the High Court in an effort to keep Britain in the single market. It said the claimants will seek a judicial review in an attempt to give lawmakers a new power of veto over the terms on which Britain leaves the EU. They argue the government “has no mandate” to withdraw from the single market because it was not on the referendum ballot paper on June 23 and was not part of the ruling Conservative Party’s manifesto for the 2015 general election.

May has said she wants to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, kicking off up to two years of exit negotiations. However the High Court ruled last month that Article 50 cannot be triggered without parliament’s assent. That ruling is being challenged by the government in Britain’s Supreme Court. The Sunday Times said the new court case hinges on whether the government would also have to trigger another legal measure — Article 127 of the European Economic Area agreement — in order to quit the single market. It said ministers argue Britain automatically exits the single market when it quits the EU. But, it said if the claimants win the new case, the government would have to gain the approval of lawmakers.

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Sanity evaporates in the US. And it’s not Trump.

Senate Quietly Passes “Countering Disinformation And Propaganda Act” (ZH)

While we wait to see if and when the Senate will pass (and president will sign) Bill “H.R. 6393, Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017”, which was passed by the House at the end of November with an overwhelming majority and which seeks to crack down on websites suspected of conducting Russian propaganda and calling for the US government to “counter active measures by Russia to exert covert influence … carried out in coordination with, or at the behest of, political leaders or the security services of the Russian Federation and the role of the Russian Federation has been hidden or not acknowledged publicly,” another, perhaps even more dangerous and limiting to civil rights and freedom of speech bill passed on December 8.

Recall that as we reported in early June, “a bill to implement the U.S.’ very own de facto Ministry of Truth has been quietly introduced in Congress. As with any legislation attempting to dodge the public spotlight the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016 marks a further curtailment of press freedom and another avenue to stultify avenues of accurate information. Introduced by Congressmen Adam Kinzinger and Ted Lieu, H.R. 5181 seeks a “whole-government approach without the bureaucratic restrictions” to counter “foreign disinformation and manipulation,” which they believe threaten the world’s “security and stability.” Also called the Countering Information Warfare Act of 2016 (S. 2692), when introduced in March by Sen. Rob Portman, the legislation represents a dramatic return to Cold War-era government propaganda battles.

“These countries spend vast sums of money on advanced broadcast and digital media capabilities, targeted campaigns, funding of foreign political movements, and other efforts to influence key audiences and populations,” Portman explained, adding that while the U.S. spends a relatively small amount on its Voice of America, the Kremlin provides enormous funding for its news organization, RT.“Surprisingly,” Portman continued, “there is currently no single U.S. governmental agency or department charged with the national level development, integration and synchronization of whole-of-government strategies to counter foreign propaganda and disinformation.”

Long before the “fake news” meme became a daily topic of extensive conversation on wuch mainstream fake news portals as CNN and WaPo, H.R. 5181 would rask the Secretary of State with coordinating the Secretary of Defense, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to “establish a Center for Information Analysis and Response,” which will pinpoint sources of disinformation, analyze data, and — in true dystopic manner — ‘develop and disseminate’ “fact-based narratives” to counter effrontery propaganda.

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I don’t really want to mention Krugman ever again, but maybe just this once…

Does Krugman Really Support The Working Class? (Dean Baker)

Paul Krugman told readers that intellectual types like him tend to vote for progressive taxes and other measures that benefit white working class people. This is only partly true. People with college and advanced degrees tend to be strong supporters of recent trade deals [I’m including China’s entry to the WTO] that have been a major factor in the loss of manufacturing jobs in the last quarter century, putting downward pressure on the pay of workers without college degrees. They also tend to support stronger and longer patent and copyright protections (partly in trade deals), which also redistribute income upward. (We will pay $430 billion for prescription drugs this year, which would cost 10-20% of this amount in a free market. The difference is equal to roughly five times annual spending on food stamps.)

Educated people also tended to support the deregulation of the financial sector, which has led to some of the largest fortunes in the country. They also overwhelmingly supported the 2008 bailout which threw a lifeline to the Wall Street banks at a time when the market was going to condemn them to the dustbin of history. (Sorry, the second Great Depression story as the alternative is nonsense — that would have required a decade of stupid policy, nothing about the financial collapse itself would have entailed a second Great Depression.)

His crew has also been at best lukewarm on defending unions. However they don’t seem to like free trade in professional services that would, for example, allow more foreign doctors to practice in the United States, bringing their pay in line with doctors in Europe and Canada. The lower pay for doctors alone could save us close to $100 billion a year in health care expenses.

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OPEC members cheat. What do you think non-members will do? Still, prices can remain ‘high-ish’ until we find out.

Non-OPEC Oil States Agree To Cuts In ‘Historic’ Deal (AFP)

11 countries agreed on Saturday to cut their oil output, teaming up with the OPEC cartel in an exceptional bid to end the world’s glut of crude and reverse a dramatic fall in income. Russia and 10 other non-OPEC states will reduce their production by more than half a million barrels per day (bpd), OPEC announced. The deal will take effect from the start of 2017 and last for six months, though it may be extended depending on market conditions. “I am happy to announce that a historic agreement has been reached,” said Qatar’s Energy Minister Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the OPEC. The cut will contribute to OPEC’s own initiative to ease a saturated market and end a price slump that has brutally affected the economies of many oil producers.

On November 30 its members announced a slash in output by 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) beginning in January, to 32.5 million bpd. Under that deal, OPEC called on non-member producer states to lower their output by 600,000 bpd. Saturday’s deal approves cuts totalling 558,000 bpd. Russia had already signalled it would provide half of that production cut in the first half of 2017. Among the other countries that will contribute cuts Kazakhstan agreed to reduce production by 20,000 bpd, Mexico 100,000 bpd, Oman 40,000 bpd and Azerbaijan 35,000 bpd, according to Bloomberg. The deal also includes Malaysia, Bahrain, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, South Sudan and Brunei.

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Québec is powered by hydro. All this is just for export to the US. Turn ‘La Belle Province’ into a moonscape. It’s up to the First Nations again to stop the mess. You still like Justin?

Quebec Paves Way For More Oil And Gas Exploration (BBG)

Quebec’s legislature passed a bill that will pave the way for more oil and gas exploration, providing a boost to drillers such as Junex Inc. while drawing criticism from environmental, aboriginal and citizen groups. Bill 106 passed Quebec’s National Assembly in a 62-38 vote early Saturday after an overnight debate ahead of the holiday break. The legislation is meant to implement Quebec’s clean energy plan but also contains provisions allowing for energy exploration, potentially including fracking. “Quebec’s government just voted down an amendment to ban fracking in a triumph of science over ‘leave it in the ground’ lunacy,” Calgary-based Questerre Energy tweeted early Saturday morning. Shares of companies that hold exploration rights, including Questerre and Junex, based in Quebec City, surged last week as passage of the legislation looked likely.

Questerre holds about 1 million acres and has drilled test wells in the Utica shale formation along the St. Lawrence River, according to its website. Questerre’s shares rose the most in more than eight years on Thursday and inched up again on Friday. Junex’s stock increased 30%, the most in almost two years. Bill 106 creates a new agency to promote Quebec’s transition to cleaner energy yet also lays out a framework for oil and gas development in the Canadian province. Environmental, aboriginal and citizen groups argued that the bill’s mandate is contradictory, that debate was rushed and that it should have included a moratorium on fracking as well as greater protection for landowners. [..] Bill 106 strips power from landowners who will be powerless to stop exploration by companies with drilling claims, Carole Dupuis at Regroupement vigilance hydrocarbures Quebec, said by phone.

That, in turn, will hurt property values, especially if exploration leads to fracking. “If there was not the fracking issue, the landowner issue would not be a problem. It’s an access issue,” she said. “What’s the value of your land if someone has been drilling one kilometer from you and you don’t know if your drinking water is safe?” [..] Bill 106 goes against aboriginal rights to self-determination and to establish the best use of their lands, Mi’gmaq Chief Darcy Gray said in an e-mail Saturday. “The bill also opens up our lands to exploration that we feel could have long-lasting, detrimental and irreparable damage,” he wrote “especially with regards to hydraulic fracturing and or other types of well stimulation.” “Why this would even be considered, or how it could be construed as a favorable initiative, is beyond me,” he said.

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When will Modi’s support crash?

Goa Goes Cashless: ‘Who Buys Fish With A Credit Card?’ (G.)

It’s 11 o’clock, and Laxman Chauhan still hasn’t sold any fish. His stall in the central market in the west Indian city of Panjim has been open for three hours, but none of his usual clients have come today. He checks his watch, and then takes a walk to see if other vendors have had any customers. “Sold anything yet?” he asks Ramila Pujjar, who has set her stall up with a glistening display of the morning’s catch. She hasn’t either. “I’m losing 2,000-3,000 rupees (£23-£35) a day,” says Chauhan. “I’m throwing fish away every day.” The low footfall at Panjim’s fish market is unusual; fish is a staple in Goan cuisine but, for the past month, since the prime minister, Narendra Modi, abolished the 500 and 1,000 rupee notes, business has suffered. “I’m losing money because of the government,” says Pujjar.

“The government only takes care of the rich, the poor will always be poor.” Modi’s surprise announcement wiped out 86% of the nation’s currency overnight, leaving the vendors at Panjim’s fish market to suffer heavy losses. “Nobody has cash, so they’re not buying fish.” Panjim is no different to the rest of India. Long queues wind around banks and ATMs in every city as people scramble to exchange their high-value banknotes. The cash crisis has hit millions of traders, as people tighten purse strings and save up precious banknotes. But now, this sleepy tourist town is going to become the laboratory for a radical new experiment. From January, Goa’s government has announced that the city will go “cashless”, meaning every street vendor, rickshaw driver and shopkeeper must offer their customers the option to pay using a debit card or mobile phone. The cash-free drive will attempt to close down India’s thriving parallel economy of untaxed cash transactions.

A government circular at the beginning of the month instructed traders: “Goa is likely to become the state in India to go for cashless transactions from 31 December. Even though cash transactions are not being banned, it is in the interest of the government to encourage cashless transactions.” The policy, announced by India’s defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, is in line with Modi’s vision for a cash-free India. Last week, the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, announced a series of discounts on digital transactions for petrol, railway tickets and insurance policies. Modi has urged young people to support his “less cash” economy in a radio broadcast: “I need the help of young people in India … There are many people in your families or neighbourhoods who may not know how to use technologies such as e-wallets and payments through mobiles. I urge you to spend some time … to teach this technology to at least 10 families who may not know it,” he said.

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Sure. Just get your most creative accountants out. A “landmark year”?

Greece Passes Austerity 2017 Budget, Eyes 2.7% Growth (AP)

Greece’s Parliament has passed a budget of continued austerity as mandated by the country’s creditors, but which forecasts robust growth for 2017. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says it will mark Greece’s “final exit” from its nearly decade-long financial crisis. The budget adds more than €1 billion in new taxes, mostly indirect taxes on items from phone calls to alcohol. It also cuts spending by over €1 billion. The budget was backed by the left-dominated ruling coalition and opposed by all other parties. It passed by a vote of 152-146 on Saturday. Despite the continued austerity, Tsipras predicted that 2017 will be a “landmark year” with 2.7% economic growth. He said his government has achieved a higher-than-forecast 2016 primary surplus.

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Interesting long interview.

The Icelandic Minister Who Refused To Help The FBI Frame Assange (Katoikos)

You are “the minister” who refused to cooperate with the FBI because you suspected their agents on mission in Iceland were of trying to frame Julian Assange. Do you confirm this? Yes. What happened was that in June 2011, US authorities made some approaches to us indicating they had knowledge of hackers wanting to destroy software systems in Iceland. I was a minister at the time. They offered help. I was suspicious, well aware that a helping hand might easily become a manipulating hand! Later in the summer, in August, they sent a planeload of FBI agents to Iceland seeking our cooperation in what I understood as an operation set up to frame Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

Since they had not been authorised by the Icelandic authorities to carry out police work in Iceland and since a crack-down on WikiLeaks was not on my agenda, to say the least, I ordered that all cooperation with them be promptly terminated and I also made it clear that they should cease all activities in Iceland immediately. It was also made clear to them that they were to leave the country. They were unable to get permission to operate in Iceland as police agents, but I believe they went to other countries, at least to Denmark. I also made it clear at the time that if I had to take sides with either WikiLeaks or the FBI or CIA, I would have no difficulty in choosing: I would be on the side of WikiLeaks.

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Erdogan’s son-in-law, “groomed to be Mr Erdogan’s successor”. Parliament certain to vote to hand Erdogan much increased powers. Seen any false flags lately?

WikiLeaks Emails ‘Link Turkey Oil Minister To Isis Oil Trade’ (Ind.)

WikiLeaks has released a cache of thousands of personal emails allegedly from the account of senior Turkish government minister Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which it says shows the extent of links between Mr Albayrak and a company implicated in deals with Isis-controlled oil fields. The 60,000 strong searchable cache, released on Monday, spans the time period between April 2000 – September 23 2016, and shows Mr Albayrak had intimate knowledge of staffing and salary issues at Powertrans, a company which was controversially given a monopoly on the road and rail transportation of oil into the country from Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish media reported in 2014 and 2015 that Powertrans has been accused of mixing in oil produced by Isis in neighbouring Syria and adding it to local shipments which eventually reached Turkey, although the charges have not been substantiated by any solid evidence. The emails were apparently obtained by Redhack, a Turkish hactivist collective. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that they were published in response to the Turkish government’s widening crackdown on dissent. Mr Albayrak, one of the most powerful individuals in Turkey, is widely seen as being groomed to be Mr Erdogan’s successor. The hardline president has been consolidating his grip on power by implementing emergency powers and arresting thousands of journalists, activists and academics in the wake of a failed military coup in July.

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Reported without any added anti-Putin innuendo?!

Russian Bombardment Forces ISIS Out Of Palmyra Hours After Re-Entry (AFP)

A Russian aerial onslaught forced Islamic State fighters to withdraw from Palmyra at dawn on Sunday, only hours after the jihadis had re-entered the ancient Syrian city, a monitor said.“Intense Russian raids since last night forced IS out of Palmyra, hours after the jihadists retook control of the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.The raids killed a large number of militants in the desert city in central Syria, Abdel Rahman told AFP. “The army brought reinforcements into Palmyra last night, and the raids are continuing on jihadist positions around the city.”Isis began an offensive last week near Palmyra, which is on Unesco’s world heritage list. In May last year, the Sunni Muslim extremist group seized several towns in Homs province including Palmyra, where they caused extensive damage to many of its ancient sites. They were ousted from Palmyra in March by Syrian regime forces backed by Russia.

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Oct 182016
 
 October 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Russell Lee Hollywood, California. Used car lot. 1942

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)
US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)
China’s Bad Credit (Balding)
Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)
The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)
Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)
Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)
State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)
RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)
The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)
Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)
We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

 

 

As Gilts sell off… Very reassuring.

US Bondholders Risk a $1.1 Trillion Hit if Rates Spike (BBG)

First they came for the yield, then they came for the duration. A Goldman Sachs analysis says investors could be mired in a world of pain if yields on long-dated assets snap higher. Just a modest backup in rates could inflict outsized losses on bond portfolios — a sobering prospect in light of the recent jump in longer-dated bond yields that’s already eating into bondholders’ capital returns. A 1% increase in interest rates could inflict a $1.1 trillion loss to the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Index, analysts at Goldman calculate, representing a larger loss for bondholders than at any other point in history. With the bank predicting the selloff in bonds has further to run, that remains “far from a tail scenario,” its analysts write.

Bets on longer-maturity obligations had paid off handsomely for most of the year amid a global bond rally triggered by expectations that weak economic activity will persuade central banks in advanced economies to postpone tightening monetary policy. Asset purchases by the BOJ, BOE and the ECB helped the average maturity of new U.S. corporate bonds climb to a peak of 11.3 years in August. With average bond maturities worldwide now more than double the inflation-adjusted level of 2009, and three times that of 1994, Goldman says there’s an elevated risk of losses if rates spike higher. “We see potential for the rates market to continue to sell off, and the notional amount of duration dollars at risk is unprecedentedly large,” Goldman fixed-income analysts, led by Marty Young, wrote in the report on Monday.

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“..lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball..”

US First Home Buyers Even More Leveraged Than During Housing Bubble (MW)

Ever since the shock of the financial crisis ebbed and buyers began to return to the housing market, one truth has dominated: mortgage lending is tight. But is it? It’s true that only the borrowers with the highest credit scores get home loans now. So much lending to people with higher credit scores and so little to those on the lower end of the spectrum has shifted the average FICO score up about 40 points since before the bubble burst. But measured in another way, lending is shockingly loose. And, according to one economist, that tells us a lot not just about the housing market, but about the economy as a whole. The 20% down payment may linger in Americans’ imagination, but it’s even less real today than Jimmy Stewart’s small-town banker from 1946.

American homeowners, particularly those at the lower end of the market, are increasingly leveraged to pay for their houses, says Sam Khater, deputy chief economist at data provider CoreLogic. In fact, owners of entry-level homes, those in the $150,000 to $300,000 range — have more debt and less equity now than they did in 2005, at the height of mortgage mania. For Khater, that says less about credit markets and more about another defining feature of the post-recession housing market — its lack of affordability. “We have our eye on the wrong ball,” he told MarketWatch. “What I worry about is the leverage not from a default perspective but from an affordability perspective. Demand for credit has been weak. But the much bigger issue is the supply of housing, not supply of credit.”

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Swaps won’t rescue China’s bad debt. It’s just multiple state-owned firms selling each other the things.

China’s Bad Credit (Balding)

There is good news when it comes to China’s scary and still-growing pile of debt: At least the government recognizes the problem. Its attempts to mitigate those risks, however, seem doomed to fall short. The government’s recent decision to create a market for credit default swaps is a case in point. The idea, as elsewhere, is to give banks and investors a means of pricing and trading the risk of Chinese companies defaulting on their debts. The need is obvious: Official measures of non-performing loans are worsening, while unofficial estimates say their share may have reached anywhere from 8% to 20%. Anything that spreads that risk should improve financial stability. Yet, as envisioned, this new CDS market is unlikely to do much to improve the situation.

For one thing, all but the largest companies already have to purchase credit insurance when taking out loans from giant state banks. There’s no pricing differential on this insurance, of course. But for the new system to function effectively, the government would have to let markets freely set the price of credit risk. China doesn’t exactly have a stellar record of allowing markets to set prices in any field, whether in stocks, real estate or currencies. If credit default swaps started to indicate a rising risk of default at a major state-owned company, it’s hard to imagine officials wouldn’t intervene to reverse that impression. This is dangerous on multiple levels. Already, several Chinese credit insurance firms have collapsed because they underestimated credit risk, forcing government bailouts. Continuing to underprice risk will only encourage the over-allocation of credit that’s gotten China into trouble thus far.

There’s also little reason to think that creating a CDS market would shift risk away from the most vulnerable banks. In a heavily concentrated banking and lending market such as China, where major financial institutions all trade with each other, swaps are likely to produce no net change to risk levels. Think of a simple example. Assume that Bank A has loans totaling 100 billion yuan but wants to protect itself against the risk of default by buying a CDS from Bank B that covers these companies. Now assume that Bank B does the same to cover its 100 billion yuan of loans, with A as the counter-party. If we assume these are similar baskets of loans – a reasonable assumption for major banks within a single country – then there’s been no net change in credit risk for either bank.

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It doesn’t get much more serious than this: “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis..”

Foreigners Shun Gilts On Hard Brexit Talk, As Hallowe’en Verdict Awaits (AEP)

The bond vigilantes are sharpening their knives. The last five trading sessions have seen a sudden and potentially ominous shift in the reflexes of the Gilts market, a sign that ‘hard Brexit’ rhetoric has rattled global debt managers. “For the first time, foreign investors are beginning to question the credit-worthiness of the United Kingdom,“ said Vatsala Datta, UK rates strategist at RBC. We will find out how serious it is on October 31 – Hallowe’en day – when the UK Debt Management Office publishes its monthly data on foreign holdings of Gilts. Central banks, sovereign wealth funds, and the like, currently hold £503bn of British public debt or 27pc of the total, a bigger share than UK pension funds and insurance companies.

Yields on 10-year Gilts have spiked by 62 basis points to 1.14pc from their trough in August. Until last week this was pure a ‘reflation trade’, a turbo-charged variant of what has been happening in the US and other parts of the world as markets price in accelerating global growth and a commodity rebound. Britain got a double-dose because the sharp fall in sterling automatically pushed up the likelihood of future inflation, and that is what bondholders hate most. It is easy to measure the inflation component of moves by tracking how the ‘break-even inflation rate’ rises in tandem with the headline bond yield. “The correlation was exact. It has now broken down,” said Ms Datta. Break-even rates stopped rising last week, yet this time Gilt yields spiked higher, a divergence of 18 basis points.

RBC said the pattern in the interlocking currency and debt markets is clear: sterling is no longer trading like a bona fide reserve currency. “The parallel sell-off in gilts and sterling is potentially a worrying development, consistent with the UK’s having growing difficulty funding its internal and external deficits,” it said. What typically happens when a blue chip currency like the US dollar or the Swiss franc falls is that central banks and fund managers buy more of that country’s bonds to keep a constant weighting. This is a mechanical practice. It happens unless managers take a conscious decision to override their model. It is why foreign holdings of UK Gilts have risen by 20pc over the last year, and why they surged at an even faster rate after the referendum.

This foreign rush into Gilts happened not in spite of the falling pound, but because of it. All of a sudden this has stopped. Loose proxies such as ‘swap spreads’ suggest an outright exodus from Gilts even as the pound weakens. It is symptomatic that the Japanese bank Nomura has issued a string of tough reports about what could happen if the British government opts to leave the EU single market, warning that an erratic UK can no longer count on the “kindness of strangers” to fund its current account deficit. “The UK faces a balance of payments crisis,” it says, menacingly.

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“..if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.”

The Cashless Society Is a Creepy Fantasy (BBG)

It’s fun to imagine a world without cash. Liberated from the burden of physical currency, consumers could make purchases from the convenience of a mobile device. Every transaction would come equipped with fraud protection, reward points and a digital record of its time and location. Comprehensive tracking could help the Internal Revenue Service reclaim billions of tax dollars lost to unreported income, like the $80 I made selling a used refrigerator on Craigslist. Drug dealers, helpless without an anonymous medium of exchange, would acquire wholesome professions. El Chapo might become a claims adjuster. Such is the utopia recently described by Nathan Heller in the New Yorker and by a former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, in a new book, “The Curse of Cash.”

But this universe is missing one of the fundamental aspects of human civilization. A world without cash is a world without money. Money belongs to its current holder. It doesn’t matter if a banknote was lost or stolen at some point in the past. Money is current; that’s why it’s called currency! A bank deposit, however, grants custody of money to the bank. An account balance is not actually money, but a claim on money. This is an important distinction. A claim is only as good as its enforceability, and in a cashless society every transaction must pass through a financial gatekeeper. Banks, being private institutions, have the right to refuse transactions at their discretion. We can’t expect every payment to be given due process.

This means that politically unpopular organizations could easily be deprived of economic access. Past attempts to curb money laundering have already inadvertently cut off financial services for legitimate individuals, businesses, and charities. The removal of paper currency would undoubtedly leave similar collateral damage. The crime-fighting case against cash is overstated. Last year, a risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing conducted by the U.K. government found that regulated institutions such as banks (like HSBC) and accountancy service providers (like the Panamanian tax-shelter specialist Mossack Fonseca) posed the highest risk of facilitating the illicit storage or movement of funds. Cash came in a close third, but if we’re going to cite unlawful transactions as a rationale for banning cash, it only makes sense to ban banks and accounting firms first.

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Extrapolating trends is a pretty much useless exercise.

Greece in 2050: A Country For Old Men (Kath.)

By 2050, Greece’s population is expected to shrink by 800,000 to 2.5 million people to between 8.3 and 10 million, and one in three of its residents will be over the age of 65 (30-33% compared to the present 21% and 7% in 1951), while under-14s will represent just 12-14.8% from 15% today and 28% in 1951. This dystopian view of the country – with empty schools and offices – emerges from a recent study on Greece’s demographic prospects, presented by the Athens-based Dianeosis research organization. The study explored eight different scenarios, all of which calculated a significant drop in the population by 2050. The most optimistic saw a reduction of 800,000 people and the rapid aging of society. The median age is seen reaching 49-52 years from 44 today and 26 in 1951.

By then, the study says, 50-year-olds will be the young ’uns. The number of school-age children (3-17) will drop from 1.6 million today to 1.4 million in the optimistic scenario and 1 million in the pessimistic one and the economically active population will shrink from 4.7 million people today to between 3 and 3.7 million, meaning that a much lower number of people will be able to work to cover the country’s needs. The study by Dianeosis reflects trends that are already being noted: On January 1, 2015, Greece’s population came to 10.8 million from 11.1 million in 2011, marking the first time since 1951 that the number of the country’s residents has gone down.

There are three factors that affect population fluctuations – births, deaths and migration – which can be separated into two categories, the natural process of births and deaths, and the migration factor, which includes both inflows and outflows. Today, births are decreasing and deaths going up due to sliding standards of living and a crumbling public healthcare system. Meanwhile, the outflow of mainly young Greeks and foreigners from the country is on the rise, while, despite the arrival of thousands of migrants, the crisis is preventing their numbers from being made up by fresh inflows.

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It helps when politicians actually know the law.

Judge Rejects Riot Charges For Journalist Amy Goodman On Pipeline Protest (G.)

A North Dakota judge rejected prosecutors’ “riot” charges against Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman for her reporting on the oil pipeline protests, a decision that advocates hailed as a major victory for freedom of the press. After the award-winning broadcast journalist filmed security guards working for the Dakota access pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters, authorities issued a warrant for Goodman’s arrest and alleged that she participated in a “riot”, a serious offense that could result in months in jail. On Monday, judge John Grinsteiner ruled that the state lacked probable cause for the riot charge, blocking prosecutors from moving forward with the controversial prosecution.

“I feel vindicated. Most importantly, journalism is vindicated,” Goodman told reporters and supporters on a live Facebook video Monday afternoon. “We have a right to report. It’s also critical that we are on the front lines. Today, the judge sided with … freedom of the press.” The case stems from a 3 September report when Goodman traveled to the Native American-led protest against a controversial $3.8bn oil pipeline that the Standing Rock Sioux tribe says is threatening its water supply and cultural heritage. Goodman’s dispatch on the use of dogs went viral and has since garnered 14m views on Facebook and also prompted coverage from many news outlets, including CBS, NBC, NPR and CNN.

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I picked the Reuters take on this. There are many others, some much more negative. The crux: This is getting way out of hand. Trying to interfere with classified material is crazy and desperate. And very illegal.

State Department Official Pressured FBI To Declassify Clinton Email (R.)

A senior State Department official sought to shield Hillary Clinton last year by pressuring the FBI to drop its insistence that an email on the private server she used while secretary of state contained classified information, according to records of interviews with FBI officials released on Monday. The accusation against Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s most senior manager, appears in the latest release of interview summaries from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s year-long investigation into Clinton’s sending and receiving classified government secrets via her unauthorized server.

Although the FBI decided against declassifying the email’s contents, the claim of interference added fuel to Republicans’ belief that officials in President Barack Obama’s administration have sought to protect Clinton, a Democrat, from criminal liability as she seeks to succeed Obama in the Nov. 8 election. The FBI recommended against bringing any charges in July and has defended the integrity of its investigation. Clinton has said her decision to use a private server in her home for her work as the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 was a mistake and has apologized. One FBI official, whose name is redacted, told investigators that Kennedy repeatedly “pressured” the various officials at the FBI to declassify information in one of Clinton’s emails.

The email was about the deadly 2012 attack on a U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, and included information that originated from the FBI, which meant that the FBI had final say on whether it would remain classified. The dispute began in the summer of 2015 as officials were busy reviewing the roughly 30,000 emails Clinton returned to the State Department ahead of their court-ordered public release in batches in 2015 and 2016. The official said the State Department’s office of legal counsel called him to question the FBI’s ruling that the information was classified, but the FBI stood by its decision. Soon after that call, one of the official’s FBI colleagues received a call from Kennedy in which Kennedy “asked his assistance in altering the email’s classification in exchange for a ‘quid pro quo.'”

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From the Times (behind paywall): “The state-owned bank withdrew its planned punitive action after Moscow claimed it would freeze the BBC’s finances in Russia and report Britain to international watchdogs for breaching commitments to freedom of speech.”

RBS Backtracks Over Closure Of RT Bank Accounts (RT)

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) appears to have backtracked from its earlier statement that the looming closure of RT accounts is not up for discussion. In a letter to RT, the bank said the situation is being reviewed and the bank is contacting the customer. The e-mailed response began with apologies for the delay in the reply. These decisions are not taken lightly. We are reviewing the situation and are contacting the customer to discuss this further. The bank accounts remain open and are still operative,” Sarah Hinton-Smith, Head of Corporate & Institutional, Commercial & Private Media at RBS Communications, wrote. However, the response by Hinton-Smith contradicted an earlier statement by RBS, which said that the decision to suspend banking services to RT was final and not up for discussion.

The broadcaster addressed the Royal Bank of Scotland representative over the contradiction, pointing out that “your statement seems to suggest that the bank will contact RT and that there will be a review and further discussion.” “There’s not much more of a steer I can give other than what is in the statement,” Hinton-Smith replied via email. Earlier Monday, the National Westminster Bank (NatWest), which is part of RBS Group, informed RT UK’s office in London that it will no longer have the broadcaster among its customers, without providing any explanation for the decision.

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“..the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.”

The Odor of Desperation (Jim Kunstler)

It must be obvious even to nine-year-old casual observers of the scene that the US national election is hacking itself. It doesn’t require hacking assistance from any other entity. The two major parties could not have found worse candidates for president, and the struggle between them has turned into the most sordid public spectacle in US electoral history. Of course, the Russian hacking blame-game story emanates from the security apparatus controlled by a Democratic Party executive establishment desperate to preserve its perks and privileges . (I write as a still-registered-but-disaffected Democrat).

The reams of released emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and other figures in HRC’s employ, depict a record of tactical mendacity, a gleeful eagerness to lie to the public, and a disregard for the world’s opinion that are plenty bad enough on their own. And Trump’s own fantastic gift for blunder could hardly be improved on by a meddling foreign power. The US political system is blowing itself to pieces. I say this with the understanding that political systems are emergent phenomena with the primary goal of maintaining their control on the agencies of power at all costs. That is, it’s natural for a polity to fight for its own survival. But the fact that the US polity now so desperately has to fight for survival shows how frail its legitimacy is.

It wouldn’t take much to shove it off a precipice into a new kind of civil war much more confusing and irresolvable than the one we went through in the 1860s. Events and circumstances are driving the US insane literally. We can’t construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and therefore we can’t form a set of coherent plans for doing anything about it. The main event is that our debt has far exceeded our ability to produce enough new wealth to service the debt, and our attempts to work around it with Federal Reserve accounting fraud only make the problem worse day by day and hour by hour. All of it tends to undermine both national morale and living standards, while it shoves us into the crisis I call the long emergency.

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If anything ever smelled like a flase flag, it was this. Mere days after the world turned on the US and its Saudi friends for bombing a funeral procession, the Houthis supposedly shot at a US destroyer, missed by a mile and a half, and next thing you knew all of a sudden the US was itself involved in the so-called war, which is really just slaughter.

Pentagon Backtracks, Voices Caution On Latest Yemen Missile Incident (R.)

The Pentagon declined to say on Monday whether the USS Mason destroyer was targeted by multiple inbound missiles fired from Yemen on Saturday, as initially thought, saying a review was under way to determine what happened. Any determination that the USS Mason guided-missile destroyer was targeted on Saturday could have military repercussions, since the United States has threatened to retaliate again should its ships come under fire from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters. The United States carried out cruise missile strikes against radar sites in Yemen on Thursday after two confirmed attempts last week to hit the USS Mason with coastal cruise missiles. “We are still assessing the situation. There are still some aspects to this that we are trying to clarify for ourselves given the threat – the potential threat – to our people,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told a news briefing.

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Unfortunately, Curtis’ film Hypernormalization is for now still only available in Britain. Far as I know.

We Have To Begin To Look Outside. Because There Is More Out There (Adam Curtis)

Power is all around us. It’s just that it has shifted and mutated into a massive system of management and control, whose tentacles reach into all parts of our lives. But we can’t see it because we still think of power in the old terms – of politicians telling us what to do. The aim of the film I have made – HyperNormalisation – is to bring that new power into focus, and show its true dimensions. It ranges from a giant computer high up in the mountains of northeast America that manages and controls over 7% of the worlds total wealth, to the complex algorithms that constantly monitor every move and choice you make online, to modern scientific ideas about what the normal human being should be – in their weight and in their feelings and moods.

What links all these systems is an overriding aim is to keep the world stable. To avoid all change. The giant computer constantly compares events happening around the world to events in the past. If it sees a dangerous pattern, it immediately adjusts its trillions of dollars to keep things stable. That is real power. The algorithms on social media constantly look at the patterns of what you like and then feed you more of that – so you enter into an echo chamber that constantly feeds you back to you. So again nothing changes – and you learn nothing new that would contradict how you feel. That too is real power. What results is a system which cocoons us and makes us feel safe. And that means we have become terrified of all change.

But that fear of change is in the interest of a system that wants to hold everything stable. And stops us from ever challenging it. But it is impossible to keep things frozen forever. The world is dynamic. Things happen that you can never predict just by reading the past. This is why more and more we are being hit by events – the horror in Syria, Brexit, Trump, the waves of refugees – that neither we nor our leaders have the mental map to understand let alone deal with. Because we have bought into the dream that the world can be held stable and safe. The short film I have made for VICE is about how, if you pull back and look at the everyday life all around you, you can see the cracks appearing through the shiny surface of the cocoon we are living in.

So much of the modern world is beginning to feel odd, unreal and sometimes fake. I think these are the dynamic forces outside beginning to pierce through as the system begins to fail. It will fail – because a system of power that has no vision of the future can never last. It cannot deal with change. We have to begin to look outside. Because there is more out there…

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Sep 182016
 
 September 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:15 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 18 2016
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John Collier FSA housing project for Martin aircraft workers, Middle River, MD 1943

Rogoff’s Cashless Society Proposal Is An Admission Of US Insolvency (Sprott)
How A ‘Twist’ By The Bank Of Japan Could Upstage The Fed (MW)
China ‘Tulip Fever’ Sees House Prices Skyrocket 76% (CNBC)
Italian Banking Crisis Turns into Mission Impossible (DQ)
Most Likely Scenario For Hanjin Is Liquidation (WSJ)
US Bombs Assad’s Troops, ISIS Makes Dramatic Advance as Result (McAdams)
Italian PM Renzi Says He Is Tired Of Wasting Time At European Summits (DW)
Greek Public Assets Being Sold For A Fraction Of Their Actual Value (Kath.)
Hundreds Of Thousands Take To Streets In Germany To Protest TTiP (CNBC)
France Bans All Plastic Cups, Plates And Cutlery (Ind.)

 

 

“..the US government and the Federal Reserve have spent, borrowed, and printed so much that there is no future left to mortgage.”

Rogoff’s Cashless Society Proposal Is An Admission Of US Insolvency (Sprott)

Ken Rogoff is by all accounts a brilliant man. The Harvard professor and former IMF chief economist is a chess grandmaster. His thesis committee included current Fed vice-chair Stanley Fischer. But like many survivors of Ivy League hoop jumping, the poor fellow appears to have emerged punch drunk. That’s the only conclusion to be drawn from Rogoff’s new book, The Curse of Cash , which, in effect, proposes a ban on paper currency. It’s terrifying piece of work, for several reasons. [..]

Rogoff’s “cashless society” is an elegant solution to a key problem bedeviling the Federal Reserve: with interest rates at the zero bound, the US central bank has no ammunition left to fight the next recession – because if cuts rates below zero, savers will withdraw their cash and put it under their mattresses. “In principle, cutting interest rates below zero ought to stimulate consumption and investment in the same way as normal monetary policy,” Rogoff writes. “Unfortunately, the existence of cash gums up the works.” That argument is spurious at best. By now, it is fairly clear from experiences in Japan and the US since 2008 that below neutral level interest rates provide little or no net new economic stimulus. At best, easy monetary policy brings forward spending and investment from the future into the present.

However, the US government and the Federal Reserve have spent, borrowed, and printed so much that there is no future left to mortgage. Rogoff, one of the country’s top economists, knows this; which is an important clue that there is much more to his proposals than meet the eye. It seems clear that Rogoff’s negative interest rate/cashless society proposal is structured to engineer a back-door US government debt default. Over the long term, by forcing savers, businesses, and banks to give the US government their money, and allowing Washington to repay less of that money each year, the US can legally default – on all that it owes. More worrying for investors: the fact that Rogoff, Ben Bernanke and others are proposing negative rates despite the considerable evidence that they will do no economic good suggests that they believe that the US government cannot pay back its debts – that it is already insolvent.

[..] maybe Rogoff is just as good a player on the public policy front as he is on the chess board. There is a possibility that he wrote The Curse of Cash as a quasi-job application for a higher government post, possibly as Treasury Secretary in a Clinton Administration. “If you give me the job, I’ll help make sure that government can borrow all it wants and it won’t have to pay any of it back,” may be the sub-text to Rogoff’s book. There is a precedent for this. Ben Bernanke’s 2002 “helicopter money” speech is widely credited with having set the ground for his appointment as Fed Chairman several years later. Brilliant? Cynical? Delusional? Or maybe all three? Take your pick. Either way, you haven’t heard the last of Ken Rogoff.

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“Speculation has mounted that the Bank of Japan could undertake an “inverse twist,” shifting its bond purchases away from the longer end of the yield curve. ..”

How A ‘Twist’ By The Bank Of Japan Could Upstage The Fed (MW)

News reports paint a picture of a Bank of Japan board that remains solidly in favor of maintaining an ultra-easy monetary policy, but is sharply divided over the best way to proceed as the country’s banking sector feels the pinch of low rates and a flat yield curve. Ideas the Bank of Japan could ultimately move to adjust its program in a way designed to further steepen the yield curve are behind recent market moves, analysts said, and could pave the way for further steepening of yield curves around the world, including U.S. Treasurys. Speculation has mounted that the Bank of Japan could undertake an “inverse twist,” shifting its bond purchases away from the longer end of the yield curve.

That would be a mirror image of a Federal Reserve maneuver dubbed “Operation Twist” that the central bank used in 1961 and 2011 to flatten the yield curve by buying long-term debt and selling short term debt. Bond yields move inversely to prices. There are other measures the Bank of Japan could take to try to steepen the yield curve, including simply changing the mix of maturities it buys or setting a yield target. Christoph Rieger at Commerzbank urged against undertaking an inverse twist, noting that Kuroda has expressed concerns that a “bear steepening” of the yield curve—a phenomenon in which long-term rates rise faster than short term rates—tends to tighten monetary conditions. Obviously, that would blunt the impact of the BOJ’s easing efforts and prove unwelcome in an economy that’s contracting.

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“The (stock) market exploded to the upside and then crashed dramatically. That money had to go somewhere, so it washed around the system … so a lot of it has gone into housing.”

China ‘Tulip Fever’ Sees House Prices Skyrocket 76% (CNBC)

Housing in major cities in China has seen price hikes over the last year that resemble the famous Dutch “Tulip Fever” bubble of 1637, according to new research by economic consultancy firm Longview Economics. “I think what’s going on in China is troubling … some of the valuations there are really quite extraordinary,” Chris Watling, the CEO of Longview Economics, told CNBC Thursday. “We’ve double checked these numbers about seven times, because I found them quite hard to believe.” The firm’s research found that only San Jose in the Silicon Valley is more expensive than Shenzhen. The Chinese city has seen prices rise 76% since the start of 2015, with the acceleration beginning in April 2015 as the country’s stock market was nearing its peak.

The situation in Beijing and Shanghai is similar, albeit less extreme, the company states. “Housing in some of the tier 1 cities is more expensive than it is in London, which I think itself is on a bubble, Watling added. “The (stock) market exploded to the upside and then crashed dramatically. That money had to go somewhere, so it washed around the system … so a lot of it has gone into housing.” The analysis suggests that the typical home in Shenzhen costs approximately $800,000. Watling said that the house-income ratio in Shenzhen is now running at 70 times, compared to around 16 times in somewhere like London.

China, the biggest economic story of the last 30 years, has soured in the eyes of many analysts. A stock market crash that began in the country last summer has highlighted the vast difficulties Chinese lawmakers are now facing. Watling said Chinese housing was a story built on credit, lots of liquidity and lots of debt. He added that all bubbles, though, once established, will eventually burst and deflate. “It’s simply a question of when,” Watling said in a research note earlier this week, adding that the removal of cheap money would be the likely scenario that would lead to the beginning of the tightening and subsequent prices falls.

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“.. the collapse of Unicredit, which has vast, sprawling operations across Germany and Eastern Europe, would threaten the stability of the entire Eurozone.”

Italian Banking Crisis Turns into Mission Impossible (DQ)

[..] for Monte dei Paschi’s latest rescue plan to have any chance of working, both parts of the plan — Part A and Part B — must succeed. Part A consists of a €28 billion bad-loan sale for which JP Morgan Chase, Citi and Italian investment bank Mediobanca are already assembling a bridge loan, in return for very handsome fees. Atlante, Italy’s deeply opaque, Luxembourg-based bank rescue fund, has reportedly agreed to buy the so-called mezzanine tranche in Monte dei Paschi’s bad loan securitization. Apparently demand for heavily discounted, slowly-decomposing bank debt in Italy is high, which is great news considering Italy is purportedly home to roughly a third of all of the bad debt at EU banks.

In a perfect sign of our yield-starved times, last week saw around 250 global investors converge on Venice to attend Banca Ifi s SpA’s “Non-performing Loan” conference. That’s twice as many as last year, reports Bloomberg. In other words, Part A of the rescue plan seems to be coming along nicely — as long as no one asks who will make up the difference between the book value of the bank’s toxic assets and the discount value at which they’re now being sold. As for Part B of the Plan — MPS’ €5 billion cash call scheduled for the end of this year — it’s going nowhere fast. Twice-bitten, thrice-shy investors are no longer buying the hype. Gennaro Pucci at London-based PVE Capital said that even if a significant proportion of MPS’ bad loans were “spun off into a special vehicle,” he would not buy more MPS shares out of fear that the bank could suffer further losses from the remaining soured debt.

This is a serious problem in today’s Italy: as long as the economy continues to stagnate, much of the supposedly good debt currently on the banks’ books will also, sooner or later, end up putrefying. It’s already happened to Banca Popolare di Vicenza, a regional lender that was rescued from bankruptcy late last year by the Atlante fund, but which is already in need of fresh funds. So, too, is Italy’s biggest and only global systemically important financial institution, Unicredit, which has a staggering €80 billion in bad debt on its balance sheets — more than any other European bank. While the downfall of MPS would be enough to cause serious damage to Italy’s already fragile financial system, the collapse of Unicredit, which has vast, sprawling operations across Germany and Eastern Europe, would threaten the stability of the entire Eurozone.

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But first a fire sale.

Most Likely Scenario For Hanjin Is Liquidation (WSJ)

Debt-ridden Hanjin Shipping is working on a restructuring plan that calls for the drastic reduction of its owned fleet and returning the vast majority of the ships it charters to their owners, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. Despite the efforts, these people say the most likely scenario is still that the Korean operator— the world’s seventh-biggest in terms of capacity—will be liquidated, marking one of the shipping industry’s biggest failures. Hanjin filed for bankruptcy protection last month. The South Korean government has strongly indicated it has no plans to bail out the company. A Korean court will decide in December whether to accept the plan or let the company go under, according to court officials in Seoul.

One person with knowledge of Hanjin’s efforts to restructure said the operator is considering a number of scenarios but focusing on one that involves Hanjin keeping up to 15 of its 37 ships, and returning to owners almost all of the 61 chartered vessels. Under that scenario, which is subject to approval by the bankruptcy court, “Hanjin will emerge as a small regional operator in Asia that will move a small part of Korea’s exports,” the person said. [..] Hanjin’s main charterers, including Danaos, Navios and Seaspan, with a combined exposure of more than $1 billion to Hanjin, were hoping for a last-minute intervention by the Korean government that would allow Hanjin to honor its vessel-leasing commitments. That looks less and less likely.

“Hanjin now has two alternatives: either to drastically downsize or to liquidate,” said Iraklis Prokopakis, Danaos’s COO. “We have eight ships chartered to Hanjin and five will be returned. The other three still have cargo on them so I don’t know what will happen.” Danaos has a $560 million exposure to Hanjin. Mr. Prokopakis said the key issue at the December court hearing will be whether Hanjin has enough cash to continue operating, even at a much smaller scale.

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“Yesterday, US-backed FSA “moderate” opposition troops chased US Special Forces out of one town in Syria.”

US Bombs Assad’s Troops, ISIS Makes Dramatic Advance as Result (McAdams)

The US military has bombed Syrian government positions in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour today, where the Syrian military had been battling ISIS. According to the report, the US attack on Syrian troops “enabled an [ISIS] advance on the hill overlooking the air base.” This is the second time US forces have directly targeted Syrian government troops inside Syria. It would be the first time such an attack produced a battlefield advantage to ISIS. The US attack has killed at least 62 and perhaps as many as 100 Syrian government troops. Earlier today it was reported that the Syrian government had sent some 1,000 members of the elite Republican Guard into the Deir el-Zour province, as battles with ISIS in the area increase.

This US attack has wiped out perhaps 10% of this force and has obliterated Syrian army weapons and other materiel. The US government has admitted to the attack, but claims it was all a mistake. As some observers have pointed out, however, ISIS does not behave as traditional military units. They do not generally gather in large numbers like this or establish “bases.” The US Central Command released a statement earlier today claiming that the US coordinated the strike with the Russians, but Moscow has vehemently denied the claim. In fact, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova was quoted by the state news agency Tass as saying that “after today’s attack on the Syrian army, we come to the terrible conclusion that the White House is defending the Islamic State.”

This dramatic development comes as the latest ceasefire begins to crumble. Russia has condemned Washington’s refusal to implement a key component of the agreement, to press US-backed rebels to cease fighting alongside al-Qaeda; and the main US-backed “moderate” Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham, has refused to take part in the ceasefire at all. Yesterday, US-backed FSA “moderate” opposition troops chased US Special Forces out of one town in Syria. Is today’s attack a turning point in the war, where the US will begin to strike Syrian government forces more frequently? If so, how will Russia and Iran react to this overt shift in US strategy? Is this the flashpoint?

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But that’s all he’s going to get.

Italian PM Renzi Says He Is Tired Of Wasting Time At European Summits (DW)

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi blasted the latest European Union summit in Bratislava on Saturday, effectively labeling Friday’s high-level meeting a waste of time. “I don’t think it would be right for Italy to pretend not to notice when things are not getting any better,” Renzi said at a conference in Florence. Hours earlier, he criticized the summit in an interview with TV broadcaster RTV38. “As Italy, we strongly believe that the EU has a future, but we need to be doing things for real, because we have no use for staged events,” he said. Renzi also said he did not partake in the closing press conference with Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande because he was unhappy with the decisions reached concerning economic and migrant policy.

Renzi said Italy would not “serve as a fig leaf” for the likes of France or Germany. In what was the first European summit without the United Kingdom in over four decades, European leaders sought to show unity in the wake of this summer’s Brexit vote. This, Renzi said, “signals a small step forward, but it is still a rather long way away from the idea of Europe that we have in mind.” Renzi castigated the summit for not raising the African migrant issue. The documents “didn’t even mention Africa,” he said. As the first European destination for migrants arriving from Africa, Italy has been left to cope with the influx of refugees largely on its own while politicians debate how to address refugees in Turkey and along the so-called Balkan Route though Greece, eastern and central Europe.

Italy has long pushed for an international agreement with African states that would close migrant routes to Europe in exchange for increased investment. Renzi repeated his critiques of the EU’s austerity policy. While the country is respecting the EU’s strict budget disciplinary rules, he said Italy retains the right to stress that the rules are not working and it is not prepared “to pretend not to notice.”

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Insult to injury. It never stops. Electricity prices were raised 4-5% in Greece. Who can afford that?

Greek Public Assets Being Sold For A Fraction Of Their Actual Value (Kath.)

Public properties, including real estate assets, are very often sold for extremely low prices, as the political risk factor supersedes even the crucial financial risk that comes with investing in Greece. The Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) this week commented on the issue, saying that this institutional shortfall of the Greek state and the lack of trust this generates in the three pillars of power (legislative, executive, judiciary) have turned the optimum utilization of state property into “a political point-scoring battle among parties.” As SEV pointed out, “in many instances we see the state’s assets devalued, owing to the delays that political tensions bring about in privatizations, so that they are sold off at particularly low prices. In other instances the prevailing criterion becomes the price of the privatization, without taking into consideration any distortions created in the market from incomplete planning.”

For the industrialists’ association there is no doubt that “the correct utilization of public property along clear and stable rules and terms of economic efficiency, both for state revenues and for the operation of markets, can become a key growth factor for the economy.” All this becomes clearer when one considers the tenders that the state privatization fund (TAIPED) has been conducting for the concession of real estate assets. As property market professionals observe, in most cases the prices investors offer – particularly in instances of plot development – are just a fraction of each asset’s actual value. The reason for that is not to be found in the financial crisis and the drop in market prices, but in investors’ need to factor the political risk into their calculations regarding the sustainability of their chosen investment, in order to secure the desired returns.

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CNBC tries an odd twist by claiming it’s not really a TTiP protest, but a form of general ‘easy anti-Americanism’. The same tactics as used in Brexit and the US elections. Curious to see when these people will realize these are losing tactics.

Hundreds Of Thousands Take To Streets In Germany To Protest TTiP (CNBC)

Hundreds of thousands of Germans took to the streets Saturday, in protest of pending trade deals with the United States and Canada. The deals in question are the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and the European Union and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) for the Canadian-EU relationship. Neither free trade agreement has been ratified yet, but popular outcry has been growing for the last few years. The demonstrations took place in seven cities throughout Germany: Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart. Organizers told CNBC that the official estimate is 320,000 demonstrators across Germany.

In Berlin, where discussions of trade policy are frequently overheard in cafes and most available surfaces are plastered in posters and stickers against the deals, the largest demonstration of the day took place with about 70,000 attendees, according to the organizers. Earlier, local reports had indicated there could be as many as 80,000 in the German capital, but a heavy downpour close to the start time may have depressed turnout. A broad coalition of organizations helped plan the event, but the stated rationale for opposing the agreements centers on the belief that such deals “primarily serve the interests of powerful economic interest groups, and thus only cement the imbalance between the common good and economic interests,” according to one organization.

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Under TTiP, this would have been impossible.

France Bans All Plastic Cups, Plates And Cutlery (Ind.)

France has passed a new law to ensure all plastic cups, cutlery and plates can be composted and are made of biologically-sourced materials. The law, which comes into effect in 2020, is part of the Energy Transition for Green Growth – an ambitious plan that aims to allow France to make a more effective contribution to tackling climate change. Although some ecologists’ organisations are in favour of the ban, others argue that it has violated European Union rules on free movement of goods. Pack2Go Europe, a Brussels-based organization representing European packaging manufacturers, says it will keep fighting the new law and hopes it doesn’t spread to the rest of the continent. “We are urging the European Commission to do the right thing and to take legal action against France for infringing European law,” Pack2Go Europe secretary general Eamonn Bates told AP. “If they don’t, we will.”

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