Feb 042018
 
 February 4, 2018  Posted by at 11:17 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


John William Waterhouse Hylas and the Nymphs 1896

 

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)
Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)
The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)
Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)
Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)
The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)
Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)
Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)
Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)
‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)
Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)
Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

 

 

As I said yesterday: the divisions it causes are much bigger than the memo itself. It’s what happens in echo chambers.

A Tale Of Two Americas (Axios)

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow was literally laughing. Over on Fox News, Sean Hannity put up his dukes. At 9 last night, Axios points out that you could just flip between the two and see an encapsulation of our two Americas – total dismissal of the memo’s import, versus the assertion that it’s “only about 15 percent of what’s coming.”

So, Rachel, how was your day? “This thing?! This was two weeks of: This memo is going to end everything. This memo, have you heard about the memo? Hashtag: Release the memo! This memo will make Donald Trump innocent. This memo will put Robert Mueller in jail. It will abolish the FBI. The Justice Department will have to rename itself the Donald J. Trump & Family Private Security Task Force.” “I mean, I can’t believe this is it.” “I don’t really believe in the whole Cable News Wars idea. I know people who work across the street at the Fox News Channel. I’ve got friends that work there. I think we’re all doing our own thing in our own way best we can.”

“But, oh my God, right? … [T]his … hyping and huffing and puffing and working their audience up into a frenzy for two solid weeks.” “And apparently, despite all of that, … they either didn’t know or they didn’t notice that this thing they have been clamoring for and hyping for two solid weeks, … it actually disproves their whole point.” “They release this memo to prove that the dossier started everything. The memo says the dossier didn’t actually start anything.”

What’s up, Sean? “[W]hen you put all this information together, here’s what it all means. The FBI misled and purposely deceived a federal court while using an unverified, completely phony opposition research bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton.” “We have never, ever in history seen anything like this, and it was spearheaded not by rank-and-file members of the FBI intelligence community and Department of Justice. No. High-ranking officials: James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, likely Loretta Lynch.”

“But here’s the bottom line: Crimes have been committed. There is no way that they did not know that the FBI was lying to a FISA court in order to spy on an opposition campaign during an election year. They have aided and abetted what is a massive constitutional violation.” “Comey, McCabe, Rosenstein and others all need to be investigated and, in many cases, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” “Now, of course, Comey is running scared. He’s out of his mind right now, now that he is exposed with this memo.” “[T]he special counsel must be disbanded immediately.” “And, by the way — nobody else will say this — all charges against Paul Manafort and General Michael Flynn need to be dropped. It’s that simple.” “This scandal is only in Phase 1. … Stay tuned! Tick tock! “

Read more …

“..when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.”

Today’s Market Is Biding Its Time Until It Becomes Normal Again (Bonner)

On Planet Earth, we can find our direction by reference to the Magnetic North. For investing, we use the most reliable force in finance – the relentless return to “normal” – to get our bearings. And searching for normal, we may have stumbled upon what could be the Trade of the Century. More on that later… As economists describe it, reversion to the mean is merely a recognition of the tendency for things to stay in a range that we recognize as “normal.” Trees do not grow 1,000 feet high. People don’t run 100 mph. You don’t get something for nothing. Normal exists because things tend to follow certain familiar patterns, shapes, and routines. When people go out in the morning, they know, generally, whether to wear a winter coat or a pair of shorts.

The temperature is not 100 degrees one day and zero the next. Occasionally, of course, odd things happen. And sometimes, things change in a fundamental way. But usually, when people say “this time is different”… it’s time to bet on normal. This phenomenon – reversion to the mean – has been thoroughly tested and studied in the investment world. It seems to apply to just about everything – stocks, bonds, strategies, markets, sectors… you name it. But let’s push on. What is unusual in the chart below? What is so abnormal that the mean is likely to revert against it? You will note that global debt was only $30 trillion in 1994. Now it is $230 trillion. That $200 trillion in extra credit is probably the whirlwind that sent equities spinning up to the top right.

Those gusts blew stock and other asset prices up to heights never seen before. The Dow reached over 26,000. Houses went on the market for more than $100 million. Gold rose above $1,900. But while stocks and bonds may have the wind at their backs, it seems to blow in the economy’s face… making forward progress almost impossible. The real economy – as depicted by GDP at the bottom of the chart – has grown in a rather normal way, but at a slower and slower rate. Its steady, plodding increase gives no hint of the chaos going on above it. The real economy and the financial world are as different as the eye of a hurricane and the swirling clouds and storms around it. Another thing you notice is that until the mid-’90s… and again between 2008 and 2012… the average investor got essentially no benefit in exchange for the added risk of putting his money into equities (the chart above includes dividends). He might just as well have left his money in U.S. Treasury bonds.

[..] there is a time to be in stocks… and a time to be out of them. Without knowing the future, you can still know when something is not normal. And when something is not normal… it is just biding its time until it becomes normal again.

Read more …

Who or what can restore flexibility when everything’s maxed out to the point of bursting?

The Market System Is Tight In All Directions (Fas.)

The Four Pillars Holding Markets Up Are Strained, All At The Same Time. Viewed as a combination of intertwined components, each component is showing growing signs of pressure and seem to be running out of road for further advancing. The synchronicity of them, more than any single component taken independently, is what should draw attention, as it compounds systemic risk. Here are the four components, characterizing the basin of chaotic attraction for markets nowadays:

What happens when the system is tight in its key possible directions of expansion? That it expands no more. Stochastically, on one of the components a tipping point is reached, which jumpstarts the autolytic effect, spreading back through the vectors of the complex system, and snapping the unstable equilibrium into an alternative stable state. That is our thesis. In [a] recent interview, we discuss the impending tipping points for markets due to a synchronicity of excess valuations, excess indebtedness, excessively low cash balances and a drawback in excessive public flows. Let’s give a cursory look across the four components. Again, the list is by no means exhaustive, but rather a work-in-progress (seemingly endless) collecting of data points, following on to our previous work of ‘a long list of anomalies’

Read more …

In a country so divided it doesn’t take much to let things get out of hand.

Bond Market’s Debt-Ceiling Alarm Bell Is Ringing Loud and Clear (BBG)

In the $2 trillion Treasury-bill market, where the U.S. government turns for short-term funding, investors are showing they’re plenty nervous about the approaching deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. With Treasury expected to exhaust its borrowing authority as early as the first half of March, a four-week bill sale on Tuesday will serve as the latest gauge of investor anxiety. There’s growing concern that the impasse over the debt limit will become entangled with efforts to keep the government open. Current federal funding expires Feb. 8, and the Republican-led Congress has been working on a stopgap measure to extend that into late March.

Treasury has deployed extraordinary measures to stay under the debt cap since it was reinstated in early December, but investors are wary. The new securities mature March 8, around when the Congressional Budget Office expects Treasury to run out of room. Traders are asking for higher yields to own previously issued bills maturing March 8. What’s more, an auction last week of bills due March 1 drew the weakest demand since May. “People are kind of getting skeptical of March 8 bills,” said Joseph Abate at Barclays Capital in New York. “You might argue that the March 1 bill isn’t necessarily vulnerable to payment delay because the Treasury probably has sufficient resources to meet outflows and thus might be able to last until” March 5.

Treasury has placed the drop-dead date around the end of February. But investors are leaning toward the projection from the nonpartisan CBO, which said last week that the U.S. may run the risk of default without a debt-ceiling increase in the first half of March. After the Jan. 30 auction of bills maturing March 1, the rate on those securities was higher than debt due a week later. Since then, the rate on debt expiring March 8 has climbed to 1.40%, exceeding that on bills due a week later.

Read more …

In a country where 70% of people live paycheck to paycheck, the best the central bank president can muster is “they should diversify their investments..” And people are praising her for doing such a good job.

Yellen: “I Don’t Want To Label What We’re Seeing As A Bubble” (ZH)

While her term ended – for all practical purposes – with the conclusion of this week’s January FOMC meeting, former Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen’s last official day at the helm of the world’s most important central bank was marked by an explosion of volatility in the Dow, with the blue chips recording their worst single-day selloff since the collapse of Lehman brothers. And even though it’s tempting to suspect Friday’s selloff might foreshadow what’s to come during the Powell era, Yellen admitted during an interview with PBS Newshour that she was disappointed to not be reappointed for a second term by President Trump – and that, if she had her druthers, she would’ve opted to stay. “I would have liked to serve an additional term and I did make that clear, so I will say I was disappointed not to be reappointed,” Yellen said Friday. “I think things are looking very strong.”

Despite the volatility of the past week and the first nascent signs of wage growth in years – which should worry a central bank whose primary responsibility is to put a floor under plunging markets – Yellen says she expects interest rate hikes to proceed as planned. “The Federal Reserve has been on a path of gradual rate increases and if conditions continue as they have been, that process is likely to continue,” she said. “And as it happens we would expect long rates to move up.” Unlike fellow former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan – who this week declared that both stocks and bond valuations are in bubble territory – Yellen was careful not to use such strident language. “I don’t want to label what we’re seeing as a bubble.”

“But I would say that asset valuations are generally elevated…for the stock market, the ratio of price to earnings…is near the high end of its historical range. If we look at for example commercial real estate and other assets, we’re seeing high valuations.” But should Americans be worried about the markets? “They should be careful and I would say diversified in their investments. What we look at is the likely resilience of the economy and the financial system… In that regard, we have a banking system that is much stronger and better capitalized and better able to withstand a shock than prior to the financial crisis.” Stlll, Yellen is refusing to rule out another selloff. “Asset valuations could change I’m not predicting that that would happen and I wouldn’t rule that out,” she said.

Read more …

Powelll will be cleaning up Bernanke and Yellen’s shit.

The Fed’s Dilemma Isn’t Going Away Under Powell (Shilling)

[..] the Fed is confronted with a serious dilemma: Inflation and wage increases continue to undershoot its expectations at the same time the central bank confronts forces pressuring it toward credit tightening. The new chairman, Jerome Powell, who isn’t a trained economist, may change the central bank’s tone, but his soon-to-be predecessor Janet Yellen and the other academic economists who have dominated monetary policy, believe fervently in the theoretical Phillips Curve. It posits that a declining unemployment rate should spur inflation, despite evidence to the contrary. Rather than increase as the unemployment rate declined since the recession, the rate of inflation has largely stayed the same.

Nevertheless, the Fed wants to tighten credit slowly due to chronic low inflation and memories of the May 2013 “taper tantrum,” when a mere mention by then-Chairman Ben Bernanke of reducing the Fed’s rate of asset purchases sent financial markets into tailspins as interest rates leaped. Another reason for the Fed to tighten is to keep commercial banks from lending out the more than $2 trillion in excess reserves the Fed has given them through quantitative easing. These are simply an asset of the banks and a liability on the Fed balance sheet with little financial or economic consequences. But as economic growth picks up as a result of the tax cuts followed by likely massive fiscal stimulus, creditworthy borrowers will want to borrow, banks will be happy to lend, and these excess reserves could turn into tons of money that would threaten major inflation.

Read more …

Fat chance.

Theresa May Says Brexit Transition Deal Will Be Agreed In Seven Weeks (R.)

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Friday that a Brexit transition period will be agreed with the European Union in seven weeks as she tries to ease concerns that a deal may take longer to reach. The EU has offered Britain a status quo transition until the end of 2020 after Brexit. Both sides are aiming to reach a transition agreement by the end of March that will form part of the final withdrawal treaty to be agreed later this year. But there is disagreement inside May’s Conservative Party over some details such as the status of EU citizens during the transition and the scope of European Court of Justice jurisdiction. Many businesses and banks are concerned a battle over the terms of a transition could delay or even sink an agreement just months before Britain exits the EU on March 29, 2019.

“In seven weeks time, we will have an agreement with the European Union, that is the timetable they have said on an implementation period,” May told the BBC in an interview in China. “What the British people voted for is for us to take back control of our money, our borders and our laws and that’s exactly what we are going to do,” May said of Brexit. The EU and Britain hope to hammer out a deal on Britain’s exit and the outline of a trade package by October 2018. But some EU officials have begun to voice concern that a plan to have the leaders endorse negotiating guidelines for a new phase of talks to begin in April on a future trade agreement may be in danger of slipping if May does not spell out what Britain’s demands are for that trade pact.

Read more …

Britain is as divided as the US is.

Tory Former Attorney General Says “Time is Now” To Reverse Brexit (Ind.)

Dominic Grieve has warned the public it is running out of time to change its mind on Brexit, saying the next few months are “decision time”.The former Attorney General told The Independent it would soon be too late to reverse the decision to leave the EU, and urged people to make their minds up in the next six months.“The six months we have between now and the autumn are so important,” he said. “It is going to be decision time. And decision time in the sense of what happens in the next six months being a final decision.“If people do want to change their mind, and they could if they wanted to, the time is now. It cannot be after 29 March 2019, and frankly it cannot be after the end of the autumn of this year.”

While he did not endorse calls for a second EU referendum, Mr Grieve said it was important to give people the chance to change their minds on Brexit. “I’m not calling for a second referendum,” he said. “But we should not exclude the possibility that people’s opinion may change. And to start from an opinion on an issue that was expressed 18 months ago, where people are bound to have had their opinion influenced since, we must be very careful to listen about what it is they want.”He continued: “It the most extraordinary conundrum. We have an instruction from the electorate, by a small but significant majority, to do something that many of us [in Parliament] think is going to be very hard to achieve without serious damage to the wellbeing of every citizen in this country. It is an ethical conundrum and it is a practical conundrum.”

Read more …

And here is why the country is so divided.

Anger Over Glut Of ‘Posh Ghost Towers’ Planned For London (G.)

London councils have granted property developers planning permission to build more than 26,000 luxury flats priced at more than £1m each, despite fears that there are already too many half-empty “posh ghost towers” in the capital. Builders are currently constructing towers containing 7,749 homes priced between £1m and £10m, and have planning rights to build another 18,712 high-end apartments and townhouses, the Observer can reveal. Politicians and housing campaigners said the figures show councils are prioritising the needs of the super-rich over those of hardworking young Londoners. The boom in developments of luxury flats, which often include private cinemas, gyms, swimming pools and concierge facilities, comes as the capital faces a growing crisis in the availability of affordable housing, with nurses, police officers and other essential workers struggling to get on to the housing ladder.

Research shows that a fifth of aspiring first-time buyers have moved in with their parents to save money, and a quarter of them will need to stay there for at least five years to amass enough for a deposit. The proportion of English first-time buyers who rely on help from families and friends for their deposit has increased from 22% in 1996 to 29% in 2016, according to the government’s English Housing Survey. Anne Baxendale of Shelter said: “The UK is in the grip of a housing crisis and nowhere is this more apparent than in the capital – and these luxury developments are certainly not the types of homes most Londoners need. The government must close loopholes which make it easy for developers to build high-priced homes that are way out of reach of ordinary families, rather than the affordable ones most people actually need and can afford.”

David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, said the figures “reveal a travesty being played against the working class and young Londoners”. “The public keep being told we are building more affordable housing, and people can see cranes up all over London,” he said. “But this shows that councils are prioritising the fancies of overseas millionaires and billionaires before the needs of hardworking young Londoners.” Just 6,423 affordable homes were built in London during the 2016-2017 financial year (the latest figures available), a 5% decline on the previous year and a big drop from the 19,622 built in 2014-15.

Read more …

Plus, of course, Britain suffers from what brought Trump to power. Where globalization goes to die.

‘We Made The Finest Steel In The World – Now We Make Lattes’ (G.)

Wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Fighting for the community” underneath an image of Redcar’s mothballed steelworks, Frankie Wales is preparing to take a training session at the town’s boxing club. Young men are sparring in the rings; others are hitting punchbags. “Nothing gets you fit like boxing,” says one, exhausted from the ring. Wales, who set up the club 20 years ago and funds it on a shoestring with various small grants, is proud to be doing his bit for Redcar’s young people. He is a livewire in a community struggling to get off the floor after a series of near knockout blows. The local steelworks ceased production in 2015 with the loss of 3,000 jobs. Someone, he insists, has to help them. “It is incredibly sad,” he says. “Not long ago they would go and work in the steelworks after school.

Men round here made the finest steel in the world. Now they are making lattes and sandwiches on zero-hours contracts. We have lots of entrepreneurial kids, but the only entrepreneurial activity going on around here is selling fags and drugs.” Few young people care what those who are supposed to run their country – politicians and civic and business leaders – say any more because they feel so let down. “We have lost the steel industry, lost the local shipbuilding, lost the coal. What’s the point? There is nothing left,” says Wales. “We just have to make the best of what we have got and get on with it ourselves.” Like many communities in England’s north-east, the people of this North Yorkshire town, which bears the scars of industrial decline, and has a youth unemployment rate more than double the national average, made their unhappiness known in June 2016.

They fought back. In Redcar, there was a hefty 66% vote for Brexit, similar to that in areas further north up the coast, from Teesside to Tyneside. “We have to get our country back to where it needs to be,” says Geoff Holding, a caretaker at a government office in the town who voted Leave and whose brother lost his job at the steelworks. He wants an end to cheap imports of foreign goods, like the Chinese steel that did for the local plant. There is a still a thriving chemicals sector in Redcar, but not enough manufacturing. “We need to bring things back in-house, get industry back on its own feet, make things ourselves.”

Read more …

“Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags..”

Illicit Foreign Casino Cash Often Goes Straight Into Vancouver Housing (VSun)

It’s almost hard to believe the dismaying stories that Postmedia investigative reporter Sam Cooper has been producing about the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars of East Asian cash through Metro Vancouver casinos and the funnelling of much of it into the city’s pricey real estate. Yet Cooper continues to clearly map out, using impeccable high-level sources, the trans-national connections between Chinese drug traffickers, B.C. casinos and the city’s housing market. He has been so effective that NDP Attorney General David Eby ended years of B.C. Liberal inaction on casino fraud to launch an investigation by money-laundering specialist Peter German. Global intelligence agents have come to call the Asian-Pacific network of corruption, drugs, tax avoidance and real estate that Cooper is exposing “The Vancouver Model.”

Metro’s casinos have become infamous for the way B.C.’s former Liberal government allowed them to be exploited to help make possibly billions of dollars in “dirty” money appear “clean” – particularly by injecting it into residential housing and condo development. Cooper says his sources “took a lot of risks” to unveil how high-stakes Chinese gamblers, called “whales,” have been funnelling illicit cash into gambling chips, especially at Richmond’s River Rock Casino. Using freedom-of-information law, Cooper obtained reports in which an official with the B.C. Lottery Commission noted that 97 of its 100 top rollers were East Asian. Cooper also dug up reports suggesting one out of four of China’s major 100 alleged financial fugitives were living in Canada, with many of them believed to be in B.C.

One Metro Vancouver gambler was accused Lai Changxing, alleged mastermind of a billion-dollar drug-smuggling operation in China, who owned property in Richmond. An audit of 800 “VIP” gamblers at River Rock Casino found their most common profession was “real estate.” Almost half their $53 million worth of transactions in one year were flagged as “suspicious.” The second and third most common professions among the biggest gamblers were “business owner” and “construction.” Many high-stakes gamblers at River Rock also declared themselves as “housewife” or “student” – with one youth forking over $819,000 in cash to buy casino chips. Investigators believe housewives and offspring are often used as fake “nominees” to hide the true source of wealth in money-laundering and real-estate schemes. Staggering volumes of dirty cash, including hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of $20-dollar bills stuffed in hockey bags, have been flowing through Metro casinos and then been shifted into real-estate.

Read more …

A major and undoubtedly heated protest today. Topic: A former Yugoslav province wants to call itself Macedonia. But there already is a Greek province called macedonia. So Greece has refused to accept that name for a foreign country, and has for years halted access for that country to international organizations. The legacy of Alexander the Great plays a big role too. There are negotiations ongoing, but 70% of Greeks want no referral to Macedonia in the country’s eventual name. So no New Macedonia etc. Just call it the Republic of Skopje.

Greece On Edge For ‘Macedonia’ Protest In Athens (K.)

With United Nations-mediated negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name at a sensitive juncture, the government is bracing for Sunday’s Athens rally protesting the use of the term “Macedonia” in a solution amid signs that the turnout will be significant. Around 1,500 buses have been chartered to bring demonstrators from the provinces to the capital where the rally is to begin at Syntagma Square at 2 p.m. Most conservative New Democracy MPs are expected to attend. ND leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the party respects both those who do choose to attend and those who do not.

“We respect all choices,” he said. Former conservative premier Antonis Samaras endorsed the demo, saying Sunday will be “a great day for the country.” The main speaker will be veteran Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, who is to address the crowd in person rather than sending a video message as originally planned. Speeches will also be delivered by three clerics representing the Church of Greece, which has backed the rally following initial reservations by Archbishop Ieronymos. The Greek Police plans to erect barriers to keep demonstrators at Syntagma apart from anarchists who are to stage their own counter-rally, starting at noon outside Athens University.

Read more …

Sep 262017
 
 September 26, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Cézanne Curtains 1885

 

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)
Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)
China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)
The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)
King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)
The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)
Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)
‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)
Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)
EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)
EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)
ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)
French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)
Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)
Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

 

 

The last step before the fall.

Lenders Loosen Mortgage Standards as Demand Falls (WS)

The toxic combination of “competition from other lenders” and slowing mortgage demand is cited by senior executives of mortgage lenders as the source of all kinds of headaches for the mortgage lending industry. Primarily due to this competition amid declining of demand for mortgages, the profit margin outlook has deteriorated for the fourth quarter in a row, according to Fannie Mae’s Q3 Mortgage Lender Sentiment Survey. And the share of lenders that blamed this competition as the key reason for deteriorating profits “rose to a new survey high.” Demand is down for all three types or mortgages: • Mortgages eligible for guarantees by Government Sponsored Enterprises, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (“GSE Eligible”), indirectly backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages not eligible for GSE guarantees (“Non-GSE Eligible”), not backed by taxpayers. • Mortgages guaranteed by Government agencies, such as Ginnie Mae, directly backed by taxpayers.

And how are lenders combating this lack of demand and the deteriorating profit margins that are being pressured by competition? They’re loosening lending standards. Fannie Mae’s report: Lenders further eased home mortgage credit standards during the third quarter, continuing a trend that started in late 2016. In particular, both the net share of lenders reporting easing on GSE-eligible loans for the prior three months and the share expecting to ease standards on those loans over the next three months increased to survey highs. Lenders’ comments suggest that competitive pressure and more favorable guidelines for GSE loans have helped to bring about more easing of underwriting standards for those loans. This chart shows the net share of lenders reporting loosening their lending standards for each type of loan (= the share of lenders reporting loosening credit standards minus those reporting tightening standards):

In many urban markets home prices have soared far beyond their peaks during the prior crazy housing bubble. That bubble ended with such spectacular results, in part because lending standards had been loosened so that more people could be stuffed into more homes, and more expensive homes that they couldn’t afford, and whose prices then plunged when the scheme fell apart. This time around, home prices, according to the national Case-Shiller Home Price Index, are now about 5% above the prior crazy bubble peak that imploded with such fanfare:

Read more …

Everything’s a casino now.

Levered Loan Volumes Soar Past 2007 Levels As “Cov-Lite” Deals Surge (ZH)

If a surge in covenant-lite levered loans is any indication that debt and equity markets are nearing the final stages of their bubbly ascent, then perhaps now is a good time for investors to take their profits and run. As the Wall Street Journal points out this morning, levered loans volumes in the U.S. are once again surging, eclipsing even 2007 levels, despite the complete implosion of bricks-and-mortar retailers and continued warnings that “the market is getting frothy.” Volume for these leveraged loans is up 53% this year in the U.S., putting it on pace to surpass the 2007 record of $534 billion, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD unit. n Europe, recent loans offer fewer investor safeguards than in the past. This year, 70% of the region’s new leveraged loans are known as covenant-lite, according to LCD, more than triple the number four years ago.

Covenants are the terms in a loan’s contract that offer investor protections, such as provisions on borrowers’ ability to take on more debt or invest in projects. “If feels like the market is getting frothy,” said Henrik Johnsson at Deutsche Bank. “We’re overdue a correction.” Meanwhile, volumes are surging even as traditional lender protections have become basically nonexistent. As S&P LCD points out, over 70% of levered loans issued so far in 2017 are considered “covenant-lite” versus only 30% of those issued in 2007. Before the financial crisis, the boom in leveraged loans was one of the signs of markets overheating. As the crisis intensified in 2008, investors in U.S. leveraged loans lost nearly 30%, according to the S&P/LSTA Leveraged Loan Index.

Regulators are taking note. In its last quarterly report, the Bank for International Settlements noted the growth of covenant-lite loans and pointed out that U.S. companies are more leveraged than at any time since the beginning of the millennium. That could harm the economy in the event of a downturn or a rise in interest rates, said the BIS consortium of central banks.

Read more …

Not quite yet. But they will.

China’s Crackdown Brings Developers Crashing Back to Earth (BBG)

The world’s most extreme stock rally is getting a reality check. After share price gains at Chinese property developers accelerated at a breathtaking pace in the past month, led by an 87% surge in Sunac, the momentum has started to turn as authorities have taken a harder line on reining in financial risks. Six of the 10 best performers on the MSCI All-Country World Index in the one month through Sept. 21 were Chinese real estate firms. Chinese developers had their biggest slump in six years on Monday, before some rebounded on Tuesday. Record home sales and buoyant earnings helped spur an unprecedented rally this year for Chinese developers, especially large firms positioned to wrest market share through debt-fueled acquisitions.

Top of that list are the nation’s two most indebted developers – China Evergrande Group and Sunac – whose shares swelled 459% and 391% respectively. Some investors were starting to question how long the astonishing share gains could last, even before a raft of housing curbs over the weekend. “The drop of property stocks today brings a reality check,” Andy Wong at Pictet Asset Management said in a briefing Monday. “In the past few months investors have been focusing purely on growth. But it’s never wise to totally ignore the risk of leverage.” Sunac shares have plunged almost 16% from a Sept. 19 high, amid the general pall over the sector and news that a financial firm is scrutinizing its loans to Sunac, China’s most leveraged developer.

Evergrande shares have tumbled more than 12% in the past three trading sessions, matching the decline in a Bloomberg index of 22 mainland developers. Even with the recent selloff, Chinese developers remain among the world’s best-performing stocks this year. Evergrande and Sunac two top stocks in the MSCI All-Country World Index this year. Part of that rally was stoked by a housing market boom that buoyed developers’ earnings in the first half, sending sales soaring and boosting profit margins to the highest levels in three years, according to calculations based on earnings reports.

Read more …

It’s where the excess cash has gone.

The Next Crisis Will Start in Silicon Valley (BBG)

Since 2007, a tremendous wave of innovation has swept across the financial sector, affecting almost every aspect of finance. New robo-adviser startups like Betterment and Wealthfront have begun dispensing financial advice based on algorithmic calculations, with little to no human input. Crowdfunding firms like Kickstarter and Lending Club have created new ways for companies and individuals to raise money from dispersed networks of individuals. New virtual currencies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have radically changed our understanding of how money can and should work. These financial technology (or “fintech”) markets are populated by small startup companies, the exact opposite of the large, concentrated Wall Street banks that have for so long dominated finance.

And they have brought great benefits for investors and consumers. By automating decision-making and reducing the costs of transactions, fintech has greased the wheels of finance, making it faster and more efficient. It has also broadened access to capital to new and underserved groups, making finance more democratic than it has ever been. But revolutions often end in destruction. And the fintech revolution has created an environment ripe for instability and disruption. It does so in three ways. First, fintech companies are more vulnerable to rapid, adverse shocks than typical Wall Street banks. Because they’re small and undiversified, they can easily go under when they hit a blip in the market. Consider the case of Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, which was the world’s biggest bitcoin exchange until an apparent security breach took it down in 2014, precipitating losses that would be worth more than $3.5 billion in today’s prices.

Second, fintech companies are more difficult to monitor than conventional financial firms. Because they rely on complex computer algorithms for many of their essential functions, it’s hard for outsiders to get a clear picture of the risks and rewards. And because many of their technologies are so new and innovative, they may fall outside the reach of old and outdated regulatory structures. The recent proliferation of “initial coin offerings,” for example, has left regulators around the world scrambling to figure out how to respond. Third, fintech has not developed the set of unwritten norms and expectations that guide more traditional financial institutions.

In 2008, when Lehman Brothers was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the heads of the largest Wall Street investment banks gathered in New York to coordinate their actions and prevent further panic. It’s hard to imagine something like that happening in the fintech world. The industry is so new, and the players so diverse, that companies have little incentive to cooperate for the greater good. Instead, they prioritize aggressive growth and reckless behavior.

Read more …

If this is not a wake-up call for you…

King Cash May Reign For Weeks In Storm-Ravaged Puerto Rico (BBG)

In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese. But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards. “Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.” The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed.

The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules. The situation further frustrates one of the many challenges already facing a government that has sought a form of bankruptcy protection after its debts swelled past $70 billion: boosting revenue by collecting money that slips through the cracks. In fact, the power blackout only exacerbates a situation that has always been, to a degree, a fact of life in Puerto Rico. Outside the island’s tourist hubs, many small businesses simply never took credit cards, with some openly expressing contempt for tax collectors and others claiming it was just a question of not wanting to deal with the technology.

But those were generally vendors of bootleg DVDs, fruit stands, barbers — not major supermarkets. Now, the better part of the economy is in the same boat. Cash was in short supply. Many Puerto Ricans were still living off what money they thought to withdraw ahead of the storm. Most ATMs on the island still weren’t working because of the power outage or because no one had refilled them. In Fajardo, a hard-hit coastal area, the paper printouts taped to sheet metal storm shutters read: “Cash only, thank you.”

Read more …

Washington has been a casino for decades.

The White House as Donald Trump’s New Casino (Nomi Prins)

During the 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly emphasized that our country was run terribly and needed a businessman at its helm. Upon winning the White House, he insisted that the problem had been solved, adding, “In theory, I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this.” Sure enough, while Hillary Clinton spent her time excoriating her opponent for not releasing his tax returns, Americans ultimately embraced the candidate who had proudly and openly dodged their exposure. And why not? It’s in the American ethos to disdain “the man” – especially the taxman. In an election turned reality TV show, who could resist watching a larger-than-life conman who had taken money from the government?

Now, give him credit. As president, The Donald has done just what he promised the American people he would do: run the country like he ran his businesses. At one point, he even displayed confusion about distinguishing between them when he said of the United States: “We’re a very powerful company – country.” Of course, as Hillary Clinton rarely bothered to point out, he ran many of them using excess debt, deception, and distraction, while a number of the ones he guided personally (as opposed to just licensing them the use of his name) – including his five Atlantic City casinos, his airline, and a mortgage company – he ran into the ground and then ditched. He escaped relatively unscathed financially, while his investors and countless workers and small businesses to whom he owed money were left holding the bag.

We may never fully know what lurks deep within those tax returns of his, but we already know that they were “creative” in nature. As he likes to put it, not paying taxes “makes me smart.” To complete the analogy Trump made during the election campaign, he’s running the country on the very same instincts he used with those businesses and undoubtedly with just the same sense of self-protectiveness. Take the corporate tax policy he advocates that’s being promoted by his bank-raider turned Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. It’s focused on lowering the tax rate for multinational corporations from 35% to 15%, further aiding the profitability of companies that already routinely squirrel away profits and hide losses in the crevices of tax havens far removed from public disclosure.

Read more …

People are being left behind everywhere.

Large Parts Of America Are Being Left Behind (ZH)

Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but in an interesting report on Distressed Communities, from The Economic Innovation Group, it is increasingly clear that economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating. As Axios noted, this isn’t a Republican or Democratic problem. At every level of government, both parties represent distressed areas. But the economic fortunes of the haves and have-nots have only helped to widen the political chasm between them, and it has yet to be addressed by substantial policy proposals on either side of the aisle.

Economic Prosperity Quintiles

As MishTalk.com’s Mike Shedlock writes below, the study notes: “America’s elite zip codes are home to a spectacular degree of growth and prosperity. However, millions of Americans are stuck in places where what little economic stability exists is quickly eroding beneath their feet.” Distress is based on an evaluation of seven metrics.
• No high school diploma
• Housing vacancy rate
• Adults not working
• Poverty rate
• Median income ratio
• Change in employment
• Change in business establishments

Change in Distress Quintiles

Read more …

Merkel acts like an empress.

‘A Lot Of People Feel Left Behind’ – Why Far Right Won In Germany (G.)

Despite gains made by the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), the breaking up of the ‘grand coalition’ could mark a positive step for Germany, according to voters who responded to our online callout. Here voters in Germany tell us why they think the AfD made gains, and what hopes they have for the future of the country’s politics.

‘A lot of people feel left behind’ – Sarah, 37, teacher, Bonn My second vote was a tactical one. I gave it to the Linke. I knew that we’ll need a very strong voice against the AfD. I am pleased though, that the SPD decided to go into opposition to redefine themselves. A lot of people feel left behind. They are looking for scapegoats. It is the easy way to deal with problems. The AFD makes use of this feeling. With the grand coalition, there was no real debating culture left. The CDU went too much into the middle, leaving the right out. Just like the SPD under Schröder left the left-wing out.

The impact of the newly arrived is big. Some people are scared. Some that have been living in Germany for a long time feel disadvantaged. We can live together and be united in our diversity. I see this in school every day. If we treat each other with respect, then we do not need to fear. It is a long and strenuous way. But it is also very rewarding and fun to walk down that lane. At dinner I really had to get hold of myself to not cry in front of my children. I physically felt sick. A Nazi party being the third biggest party in Germany! I am still devastated.

Read more …

More Europe is dead.

Macron Presses Ahead With His Vision for Europe As Merkel Calls For Calm (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel already faces complex coalition negotiations with at least three other parties. Now French President Emmanuel Macron wants in on the act. In a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris on Tuesday, Macron will make proposals for re-shaping Europe that he acknowledges will require Merkel’s support to push through. While he isn’t seeking to interfere in German domestic politics, it makes sense to air the ideas before a coalition is formed rather than after, an official in his office told reporters. Macron needs Germany’s backing for planned overhauls of areas ranging from defense and immigration to the economy. Yet with Merkel weakened in Germany’s vote and her potential Free Democratic coalition partner even more hostile to aspects of euro-area integration than her own party, the prospect of radical change in Europe looks to have diminished.

“There was this expectation that the election would strengthen the German-French alliance, all kinds of reforms would be tackled and then we’re on the road to fiscal union,” Oliver Adler, head of economic research at Credit Suisse in Zurich, said in an interview. “This now seems politically very unlikely.” Macron will press ahead with his vision of remaking European institutions anyway, seeking to set the direction of debate. While a key element of his reform package is intended to reinforce the euro against future shocks, his speech won’t be all about the single currency area. Macron will propose as many as 10 projects in his speech, including a European agency for innovation and a system to improve start-up funding, a larger Erasmus student-exchange project, increased anti-terrorism cooperation, and a “digital plan” that includes a joint effort to push the EU Commission for a plan to tax Internet giants such as Apple and Google.

The goal is to have a roadmap in place by the summer of 2018 that will equip the EU for its next decade, according to the French official. Macron intends to discuss his plans with fellow EU leaders at a summit in the Estonian capital Tallinn at the end of this week. He may struggle to engage Merkel after Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic election challenger, upset her own plans by announcing his intention not to renew their respective parties’ coalition of the past four years.

Read more …

Politicians don’t understand technology.

EU Presidency Calls For Massive Internet Filtering (EDRi)

A Council of the European Union document leaked by Statewatch on 30 August reveals that during the summer months, that Estonia (current EU Presidency) has been pushing the other Member States to strengthen indiscriminate internet surveillance, and to follow in the footsteps of China regarding online censorship. Standing firmly behind its belief that filtering the uploads is the way to go, the Presidency has worked hard in order to make the proposal for the new copyright Directive even more harmful than the Commission’s original proposal, and pushing it further into the realms of illegality. According to the leaked document, the text suggests two options for each of the two most controversial proposals: the so-called “link tax” or ancillary copyright and the upload filter. Regarding the upload filter, the text offers two alternatives:

Option A maintains the Commission’s original proposal of having in place an upload filter which will be under the control of platforms and other companies that are hosting online content. Although it removes mentions to “content recognition technologies”, in reality, there is no way to “prevent the availability” (another expression which remains in the text) of certain content without scanning all the content first. Option B is, at best, a more extreme version of Option A. In fact, it seems so extreme that it almost makes the first option look like a reasonable compromise. This may, of course, be the “diplomatic” strategy. In this extreme option, the text attacks again the liability regime of the e-commerce Directive – which, bizarrely, would not be repealed, leaving us with two contradictory pieces of EU law but adds a “clarification” of what constitutes a “communication to the public”.

This clarification establishes that platforms (and its users) would be liable for the copyright infringing content uploaded by its users. The proposals in this leak highlight a very dangerous roadmap for the EU Member States, if they were to follow the Presidency’s lead. The consequences of these flawed proposals can only be prevented if civil society and EU citizens firmly raise their voices against having a censorship machine in the EU. We will be turning on our call tool at savethememe.net before each of the key votes in the European Parliament. Make use of the tool, and call your representatives to stop the #censorshipmachine!

Read more …

Oh, get real: “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

EU Officially Ends Excessive Deficit Procedure Against Greece (R.)

European Union states decided on Monday to close disciplinary procedures against Greece over its excessive deficit after improvements in Greece’s fiscal position, confirming the country’s recovery is on the right track. The move, although largely symbolic, sends a new signal that Greece’s public finances are again under control, facilitating the country’s plans to tap markets after a successful issue of bonds in July which ended a three-year exile. EU fiscal rules oblige member states to keep their budget deficits below 3% of their economic output or face sanctions that could entail hefty fines, although so far no country has received a financial penalty.

Greece had a 0.7% budget surplus in 2016, and is projected to maintain its fiscal position within EU rules’ limits this year. “In the light of this, the Council (of EU states) found that Greece fulfils the conditions for closing the excessive deficit procedure,” the EU said in a note. “After many years of severe difficulties, Greece’s finances are in much better shape. Today’s decision is therefore welcome”, Estonia’s finance minister Toomas Toniste said. The EU states’ decision confirmed a proposal by the EU executive commission in July to end the disciplinary procedure for Greece. The economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the decision was “a recognition of the tremendous efforts and sacrifices the Greek people have made to restore stability to their country’s public finances.”

Read more …

Good cop bad cop. Rinse and repeat.

ECB May Frontload 2018 Bank Stress Tests With View To Greece – Draghi (R.)

The ECB may ‘frontload’ its bank stress test next year, ECB President Mario Draghi said on Monday, when asked if supervisors plan any early checks on the health of Greek lenders. The IMF has been pushing for a fresh asset quality review at Greek banks, possibly as part of an bailout review that is slated to start soon. The ECB has rejected the call, saying that the next check is the regular 2018 stress test, but Draghi’s words suggest that ECB may be somewhat flexible with its timeline. “The SSM (Single Supervisory Mechanism) will take its decision with full independence,” Draghi told members of the European Parliament. “And what the SSM plans to do next year is to have a stress test, possibly frontloading the stress test, and basically the SSM sent a letter to the IMF concerning exactly this expected line of action,” Draghi said.

Read more …

Maybe Macron can do some good too.

French Government Declares War On Pesticides (AFP)

France is planning to cut back on use of all pesticides, the government said Monday, though it rowed back on an announcement of an outright ban on controversial chemical glyphosate. Government spokesman Christophe Castaner had said earlier Monday that France – Europe’s biggest food producer a- intended to phase out glyphosate completely by 2022 over fears that it may cause cancer. But he later reversed his comments, saying that by the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term “the government is committed to seeing significant progress on all pesticides”. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in one of the world’s most widely used weedkillers, Roundup, produced by the US agro-chemicals giant Monsanto. The European Commission has proposed extending the licence for the use of the chemical for 10 years, which France has said it will vote against and try to block.

France’s biggest farming union, the FNSEA, said Monday that it was “out of the question” for the country to go it alone, worrying that a French ban could put them at a disadvantage against European competitors. “A sudden ban, no — a path for reducing it and finding solutions, if the solutions are good economically and technically, we can see it happening,” said FNSEA chief Christiane Lambert. Europe limited use of glyphosate last year pending further research. The EU’s chemical agency said glyphosate should be not be classified as cancer-causing. But this is challenged by scientists and environmentalists who point to a finding by the International Agency for Research on Cancer that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. Some 1.3 million people have signed an online petition calling for a ban on the chemical.

Read more …

Can mankind rid the earth of its presence? Stay tuned.

Our Food Crops Face Mass Extinction Too (G.)

A “sixth mass extinction” is already under way, scientists are now warning us. Species such as the Bengal tiger and blue whale are vanishing at an alarming rate, and mournful eulogies are being written on how those born in 20 years’ time may never see an African elephant. But who is writing the eulogy for our food? Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply -known as agrobiodiversity- are just as endangered and are getting almost no attention. Take some consumer favourites: chips, chocolate and coffee. Up to 22% of wild potato species are predicted to become extinct by 2055 due to climate change. In Ghana and Ivory Coast, where the raw ingredient for 70% of our chocolate is grown, cacao trees will not be able to survive as temperatures rise by two degrees over the next 40 years. Coffee yields in Tanzania have dropped 50% since 1960.

These crops are the tip of the iceberg. Across the world, 940 cultivated species are threatened. Agrobiodiversity is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change. According to the World Health Organisation, poor diet is the biggest cause of early death and disability. Globally, 2 billion people are undernourished, while 2 billion are obese and at risk of contracting diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Focusing on large-scale intensive production of starchy crops for calories rather than nutritious diets has led to serious levels of obesity around the world, from the US to Kenya. Our agrobiodiversity base can be a source of affordable, nutritious food – provided we don’t let it disappear.

[..] About 33% of the world’s farmland is estimated to be degraded, lacking the nutrients essential for growing crops. Agrobiodiversity once again has a solution. Planting cold-tolerant legumes and forages throughout winter has helped farmers in France naturally reduce weed infestation as well as increasing soil’s nutrient content and capacity to hold water. Natural remedies such as this can enhance the sustainability of farms worldwide, reducing the sector’s impact on the environment.

Read more …

“Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species”. In India, there used to be 100,000 varieties of rice. Today, there’s a big struggle going on to preserve a few dozen. There are many different banana species, but we all eat just one, the Cavendish. Which is under severe threat from a global fungus and could be gone in 5-10 years.

Sixth Mass Extinction Of Wildlife Also Threatens Global Food Supplies (G.)

The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts. “Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday. “If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”

Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising. There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth.

The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered. Tutwiler said saving the world’s agrobiodiversity is also vital in tackling the number one cause of human death and disability in the world – poor diet, which includes both too much and too little food. “We are not winning the battle against obesity and undernutrition,” she said. “Poor diets are in large part because we have very unified diets based on a narrow set of commodities and we are not consuming enough diversity.”

Read more …

Jun 172016
 
 June 17, 2016  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Unknown Dutch Gap, Virginia. Bomb-proof quarters of Major Strong 1864

Stocks, Sterling Surge After British MP’s Death (ZH)
’I’d Risk Life And Limb For My Babies’: Jo Cox (G.)
There’s A New Kind Of Housing Crisis in America (MW)
US Housing Bubble 2.0: Shadow Demand vs Shelter-Buyer Fundamentals (Hanson)
America’s Dying Shopping Malls Have Billions in Debt Coming Due (BBG)
Sell The Stocks, Sell The Bonds, Get Out Of The Casino: Stockman (Fox)
Default Cycle: ‘It’s Only A Matter Of Time Before Many Of Them Blow Up’ (ZH)
China’s Debt Is 250% of GDP And ‘Could Be Fatal’, Says Government Expert (G.)
The Fed Has Brought Back ‘Taxation Without Representation’ (Black)
Forget Brexit, It’s Italy’s Turn (Stelter)
Austerity Kills! Greeks’ Health Deteriorating, Life Expectancy Shrinks (KTG)
Antarctic CO2 Hits 400ppm For First Time In 4 Million Years (G.)

The world drowns in cynicism.

Stocks, Sterling Surge After British MP’s Death (ZH)

The devastating news that British MP Jo Cox has died following the shooting incident earlier today by a mentally unstable man…

“U.K. Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox died after being attacked as she met constituents in her electoral district in West Yorkshire in the north of England. Campaigning ahead of next week’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was suspended for the rest of Thursday by both sides after the attack, which happened just before 1 p.m. Jo was attacked by a man who inflicted serious and, sadly, ultimately fatal injuries,” West Yorkshire Police Temporary Chief Constable Dee Collins said in a televised press conference in Wakefield.

…has sparked a bullish buying binge in stocks as Sterling rallies on the market’s “hope” that the Brexit vote will be delayed. This evening’s major speech at Mansion House by Bank of England Governor Carney has been cancelled due to her death…

Bank of England says Governor Mark Carney will no longer deliver planned speech in London. BOE cites “dreadful attack today on Jo Cox MP” Governor will attend event and deliver a “short speech reflecting on today’s events”

Read more …

No further comment. Perhaps complete silence would be the most appropriate answer, but all we’ll hear all day and then some is comments and opinions. Spin doctors and conspiracies work overtime.

’I’d Risk Life And Limb For My Babies’: Jo Cox (G.)

Labour MP Jo Cox, who died on Thursday after being attacked in her constituency of Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire by an armed man, makes a speech in parliament about the need for the UK to help child migrants stranded unaccompanied in Europe. The speech was part of a debate on the issue which took place in April 2016.

Read more …

Unaffordability. Known to pop many a bubble.

There’s A New Kind Of Housing Crisis in America (MW)

America has a housing crisis, and most Americans want policy action to address it. That’s the conclusion of an annual survey released Thursday by the MacArthur Foundation. The “crisis” is no longer defined by the layers of distress left behind after the subprime bubble burst, but about access to stable, affordable housing. A vast majority of respondents – 81% – said housing affordability is a problem, and one-third said they or someone they know has been evicted, foreclosed on, or lost their housing in the past five years. Over half the respondents, 53%, said they’d had to make sacrifices over the past three years to be able to pay their mortgage or rent. Yet most respondents believe the housing problem is solvable, and want policymakers to address it.

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents from both parties say housing hasn’t received enough attention in the 2016 campaign. Most people supported a range of proposed policies to support affordable housing, both rentals and purchase. But people increasingly believe that owning a home is a “an excellent long-term investment.” Some 60% agreed with that statement, up from 56% a year ago and 50% in 2014. Access to stable, affordable housing – whether to rent or buy – is “about more than shelter,” the MacArthur Foundation noted in a release. “It is at the core of strong, vibrant, and healthy families and communities.”

Read more …

“If 2006 was a known bubble with housing prices at “X”, affordability never better, easy availability of credit, unemployment in the 4%’s, total workforce at record highs, and growing wages, then what do you call today with house prices at X+ 5% to 20%, worse affordability and credit, higher unemployment, weakening total workforce, and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than “X”.

US Housing Bubble 2.0: Shadow Demand vs Shelter-Buyer Fundamentals (Hanson)

[..] if everybody always had to purchase owner-occupied properties using the same down payment amount and a market rate, fixed-rate mortgage then house prices would always reflect the employment, income, and macro-economic conditions of the surrounding area. But, when ‘Shadow Demand’ cohorts enter the market using cheap and easy credit and liquidity prices can detach from local-area economics, especially if the Shadow Demand continues to gain market share. Heck, in the greater Phoenix region, over 50% of all households can’t afford the going rate on a two-bedroom apartment, yet house prices are some of the strongest in the nation. Obviously, this isn’t due to strong end-user, shelter-buyer fundamentals.

As Shadow Demand continues to gain share over end-user buyers, they settle for lower respective returns on their housing investments and prices continue to rise. Then, when appraisers use properties purchased by Shadow buyers — for unconventional purposes with cheap and easy credit and liquidity — as comparable sales, all property values rise. Sure, there are end-user, shelter-buyers who will be able to chase the market all the way up. But, the larger the bubble blows the more the end-user, shelter-buyer demand will get crowded out and/or turn into increased supply as they liquidate. We are seeing this happen all over the nation.

In Bubble 1.0, Shadow Demand continued to gain market share until it blew up. And we know that beginning in 2011 the four pillars of unorthodox, Shadow Demand — beginning with the distressed market — controlled housing demand and still does. The implosion of the mortgage securitization market in 2007 didn’t crash housing. Rather, when the Shadow Demand – reliant on cheap and easy credit and liquidity largely driven by securitization — left the market, housing “reset to end-user, shelter-buyer fundamentals”. In other words, the pendulum swung back to the fundamental, end-user, shelter-buyer with 20% down and a market-rate 30-year fixed mortgage, which was 30% lower. Again, this isn’t a housing crash per se, rather a demand-shift and a reset, or reattachment, to real fundamentals.

Bottom line: History will repeat because the drivers are identical. Bubble 2.0 will end with house prices once again “resetting to end-user fundamentals”, or to what the end-user shelter buyer can afford with a typical down payment and 30-year fixed rate mortgage. And it doesn’t have to be an MBS market blowing up to cause house prices to reattach to end-user fundamentals. It could be anything that swings this pendulum from being driven by Shadow Demand, which is where we are today.

Read more …

Erosion.

America’s Dying Shopping Malls Have Billions in Debt Coming Due (BBG)

Suburban Detroit’s Lakeside Mall, with mid-range stores such as Sears, Bath & Body Works and Kay Jewelers, is one of the hundreds of retail centers across the U.S. being buffeted by the rise of e-commerce. After a $144 million loan on the property came due this month, owner General Growth Properties Inc. didn’t make the payment. The default by the second-biggest U.S. mall owner may be a harbinger of trouble nationwide as a wave of debt from the last decade’s borrowing binge comes due for shopping centers. About $47.5 billion of loans backed by retail properties are set to mature over the next 18 months, data from BofAML show. That’s coinciding with a tighter market for commercial-mortgage backed securities, where many such properties are financed.

For some mall owners, negotiating loan extensions or refinancing may be difficult. Lenders are tightening their purse strings as unease surrounding the future of shopping centers grows, with bleak earnings forecasts from retailers including Macy’s and Nordstrom, and bankruptcy filings by chains such as Aeropostale and Sports Authority. Older malls in small cities and towns are being hit hardest, squeezed by competition from both the Internet and newer, glitzier malls that draw wealthy shoppers. “For many years, people thought the retail business in the U.S. was a bit overbuilt,” said Tad Philipp at Moody’s. “The advent of online shopping is kind of accelerating the separation of winners and losers.” Landlords that can’t refinance debt may either walk away from the property or negotiate for an extension of the due date. It can be hard to save a failing mall, leading to high losses for lenders on soured loans, Philipp said.

Read more …

“.. (low) interest rates are the mothers milk of speculation..”

Sell The Stocks, Sell The Bonds, Get Out Of The Casino: Stockman (Fox)

Read more …

“..central banks in their infinite wisdom have made the cost of money so cheap that it has created an environment that forces a complete misallocation of capital in the market ..”

Default Cycle: ‘It’s Only A Matter Of Time Before Many Of Them Blow Up’ (ZH)

It’s been a tough year for traders and bankers alike, as layoffs have gripped firms due to difficult trading environments and an overall sluggish economy. However, there is one area that is starting to actually pick up. As the number of bankruptcies begin to increase, firms are expanding their turnaround teams in order to handle all of the work headed their way – bankers with experience in turnarounds and restructuring are now in high demand. “Firms are hungry for experienced restructuring professionals, who are increasingly in short supply. You need to reach deep into your Rolodex to find people you know who are capable, and you need to move fast.” said Richard Shinder, hired by Piper Jaffray in March to help build out its restructuring team.

Both the number of bankruptcies and the amount of liabilities associated with them have picked up significantly, as Bloomberg points out. With the amount of companies in distress, firms such as Lazard, Guggenheim, Perella Weinberg and Alix are all hiring in anticipation of even more bankruptcies. “Cycles come and go, but when a wave hits, you want to make sure you are in the right seat with the right group of people. We are putting the band back together.” said Ronen Bojmel, who is helping to build the restructuring team at Guggenheim. Moody’s is forecasting high default rates in sectors that are largely expected given commodity prices, such as Metals & Mining and Oil & Gas, however trouble looks to be spilling over into other sectors such as Construction, Media, Durable Consumer Goods, and even Retail.

As we have discussed for quite some time, central banks in their infinite wisdom have made the cost of money so cheap that it has created an environment that forces a complete misallocation of capital in the market as the search for yield continues down every rabbit hole it can find. This will (and already is) inevitably catch up to the economy in the form of defaults and bankruptcies. “The wave is already here. Many risky debt deals have been done as people chased yield, and it’s a matter of time before many of them blow up.” said Tim Coleman, head of PJT Partners.

Read more …

Local governments = shadow banks. Would like to see someone dig into who owns them.

China’s Debt Is 250% of GDP And ‘Could Be Fatal’, Says Government Expert (G.)

China’s total debt was more than double its GDP in 2015, a government economist has said, warning that debt linkages between the state and industry could be “fatal” for the world’s second largest economy. The country’s debt has ballooned to almost 250% of GDP thanks to Beijing’s repeated use of cheap credit to stimulate slowing growth, unleashing a massive, debt-fuelled spending binge. While the stimulus may help the country post better growth numbers in the near term, analysts say the rebound might be short-lived. China’s borrowings hit 168.48 trillion yuan ($25.6 trillion) at the end of last year, equivalent to 249% of economic output, Li Yang, a senior researcher with the leading government think-tank the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), has told reporters.

But the huge number, which includes government, corporate and household borrowings, was lower than some non-government estimates. The consulting firm McKinsey Group said earlier this year that the country’s total debt had quadrupled since 2007 and was likely as high as $28 trillion by mid-2014. The debt-to-GDP ratio is not the highest in the world. The US has a ratio of 331%, for example, much of which is accounted for by federal debt. But part of the concern about China’s massive debt binge is that the most worrying risks lie in the non-financial corporate sector, where the debt-to-GDP ratio was estimated at 156%. This sector includes the liabilities of local government financing vehicles, Li said.

Read more …

Interesting observation.

The Fed Has Brought Back ‘Taxation Without Representation’ (Black)

In February 1768, a revolutionary article entitled “No taxation without representation” was published London Magazine. The article was a re-print of an impassioned speech made by Lord Camden arguing in parliament against Britain’s oppressive tax policies in the American colonies. Britain had been milking the colonists like medieval serfs. And the idea of ‘no taxation without representation’ was revolutionary, of course, because it became a rallying cry for the American Revolution. The idea was simple: colonists had no elected officials representing their interests in the British government, therefore they were being taxed without their consent. To the colonists, this was tantamount to robbery.

Thomas Jefferson even included “imposing taxes without our consent” on the long list of grievances claimed against Great Britain in the Declaration of Independence. It was enough of a reason to go to war. These days we’re taught in our government-controlled schools that taxation without representation is a thing of the past, because, of course, we can vote for (or against) the politicians who create tax policy.

But this is a complete charade. Here’s an example: Just yesterday, the Federal Reserve announced that it would keep interest rates at 0.25%. Now, this is all part of a ridiculous monetary system in which unelected Fed officials raise and lower rates to induce people to adjust their spending habits. If they want us little people to spend more money, they cut rates. If they want us to spend less, they raise rates. It’s incredibly offensive when you think about it– the entire financial system is underpinned by a belief that a committee of bureaucrats knows better than us about what we should be doing with our own money.

Read more …

It’s too late to even try bridging the gaps.

Forget Brexit, It’s Italy’s Turn (Stelter)

If the Germans really want to avoid a Brexit or the exit of other countries from the Eurozone, they will have to change their policies. Unfortunately, German politicians and economists prefer to criticize the other countries instead of doing their homework. They oppose spending more money at home, they oppose a debt restructuring, they oppose debt monetization by the ECB, they oppose exits from the eurozone. In doing so, they increase the pressure in the system as Europe remains locked in recession. Irrespective of how the British vote next week, the problems of Europe keep on growing. It is only a question of when, not if, a euroskeptic party gets into power in one of the largest EU economies, promising to solve all problems by exiting the Euro and the EU.

I continue to see Italy as the prime candidate for such a move. The country suffers under a recession which has by now lasted longer than the recession of the 1930s. It still has not managed to get back to 2008 GDP levels. Unemployment is high, government debt is out of control. Closing the competitive gap to Germany by lowering wages by 30% is a ridiculous idea and an impossible task. The alternative is to leave the eurozone. Italy could then devalue the new lira and regain competitiveness overnight. An Italian uscita (exit) – or “Uscitaly” in the latest clever term of art – is the true risk for the eurozone. And it would be too late when Der Spiegel comes up with a new cover: “Mon dio, Italia. Si prega di non uscire!”

Read more …

This is the EU Britain must vote for or against. This is what it does. It turns member states into third world nations. Greece had a great health care system. But nobody can afford it anymore.

Austerity Kills! Greeks’ Health Deteriorating, Life Expectancy Shrinks (KTG)

The economic crisis and the strict austerity bound to the loan agreement kill. They kill Greeks. The Bank of Greece may not write it in such a melodramatic way on its Monetary Policy Report 2015-2016. However, the conclusions in the chapter about “Reforms in health, economic crisis and impact on the health of population” are shocking and confirm what we have been hearing and reading around from relatives and friends in the last years: that the physical and mental health of Greeks has been deteriorating – partly due to economic insecurity, high unemployment, job insecurity, income decrease and constant exposure to stress. Partly also due to economic problems that have patients cut their treatment, partly due to the incredible cuts and shortages in the public health system. The Report notes that “while it takes longer to record the exact effect, trends show a deterioration of the health of Greeks in the years of loan agreements and austerity cuts.”

The BoG states:
• Suicides increased. “The risk of suicidal behavior increases when there are so-called primary risk factors (psychiatric-medical conditions), while the secondary factors (economic situation) and tertiary factors (age, gender) affects the risk of suicide, but only if primary risk factors pre-exist.
• Infant mortality increased by nearly 50%, mainly due to increase of deaths of infants younger than one year, and the decline of births by 22,1%. Infant mortality increase: 2.65% in 2008 and 3.75% in 2014
• Increase of parts of population with mental illness, especially with depression. Increase: 3.,3% in 2008 to 6.8% in 2009, to 8.2% in 2011 and to 12.3% in 2013. In 2014, a 4.7% of the population above 15 years old declared it suffered form depression – that was 2.6% in 2009.
• Chronic diseases increased by approximately 24%.

The BoG notes that “the large cuts in public expenditure have not been accompanied by changes and improvement of the health system in order to limit the consequences for the weakest citizens and vulnerable groups of the society.” [..] Citing OECD data of 2013, the BoG underlines that 79% of the population in Greece was not covered with insurance and therefore without medical and medicine due to long-term unemployment, while self-employed could not afford to pay their social contributions.

[..] One of the neighborhood pharmacists has been telling me on and off about the dramatic number of patients who cannot afford the self-participation in prescription medicine. Many of his clients cut their treatment into half – like 1 tablet for cholesterol not daily but every other day basis – and that some have given up the whole treatment. “For some people the choice is: either have treatment or food.” And this has been going on since 2012, when then Greek Health Minister adopted the German model of “self-participation in prescription medicine, laboratory tests” and cut some primary health services but forgot to adopt also that aspect of the German model that provides that patients would not spend more than 2% of their income for medical services and medication.

Read more …

4 million years ago is well before anything closely resembling man appeared. That makes this so dangerous for us. It creates an environment that we did not evolve in. As more and more of what was there when we did evolve will also disappear.

Antarctic CO2 Hits 400ppm For First Time In 4 Million Years (G.)

We’re officially living in a new world. Carbon dioxide has been steadily rising since the start of the Industrial Revolution, setting a new high year after year. There’s a notable new entry to the record books. The last station on Earth without a 400 parts per million (ppm) reading has reached it. A little 400 ppm history. Three years ago, the world’s gold standard carbon dioxide observatory passed the symbolic threshold of 400 ppm. Other observing stations have steadily reached that threshold as carbon dioxide spreads across the planet’s atmosphere at various points since then. Collectively, the world passed the threshold for a month last year.

In the remote reaches of Antarctica, the South Pole Observatory carbon dioxide observing station cleared 400 ppm on May 23, according to an announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday. That’s the first time it’s passed that level in 4 million years (no, that’s not a typo). There’s a lag in how carbon dioxide moves around the atmosphere. Most carbon pollution originates in the northern hemisphere because that’s where most of the world’s population lives. That’s in part why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit the 400 ppm milestone earlier in the northern reaches of the world.

But the most remote continent on earth has caught up with its more populated counterparts. “The increase of carbon dioxide is everywhere, even as far away as you can get from civilization,” Pieter Tans, a carbon-monitoring scientist at the Environmental Science Research Laboratory, said. “If you emit carbon dioxide in New York, some fraction of it will be in the South Pole next year.”

Read more …

May 182016
 
 May 18, 2016  Posted by at 8:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Russell Lee South Side market, Chicago 1941

US Debt Dump Deepens In 2016 (CNN)
The Humungous Depression (Gore)
Negative Rates Are A Form Of Tax (MW)
The Negative Interest Rate Gap (Dmitry Orlov)
The EU Has “Run Its Historical Course” (ZH)
Italy Wins Brussels’ ‘Flexibility’ On Debt Reduction Targets (FT)
US Raises China Steel Taxes By 522% (BBC)
Chinas Debt Bubble Is Getting Only More Dangerous (WSJ)
China To Curb Shadow Banking Via Checks On Fund House Subsidiaries (R.)
Abenomics: The Reboot, Rebooted (R.)
Trump and Sanders Shift Mood in Congress Against Trade Deals (BBG)
Smugglers Made $5-6 Billion Off Refugees To Europe In 2015 (R.)
Refugees Will Repay EU Spending Almost Twice Over In Five Years (G.)

“There’s still this fear of ‘everything is going to fall apart.'”

US Debt Dump Deepens In 2016 (CNN)

China, Russia and Brazil sold off U.S. Treasury bonds as they tried to soften the blow of the global economic slowdown. They each sold off at least $1 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds in March. In all, central banks sold a net $17 billion. Sales had hit a record $57 billion in January. So far this year, the global bank debt dump has reached $123 billion. It’s the fastest pace for a U.S. debt selloff by global central banks since at least 1978, according to Treasury Department data published Monday afternoon. Treasuries are considered one of the safest assets in the world, but some experts say a sense of panic about the global economy drove the selloff.

“It’s more of global fear than anything,” says Ihab Salib, head of international fixed income at Federated Investors. “There’s still this fear of ‘everything is going to fall apart.'” Judging by the selloff, policymakers across the globe were hitting the panic button often and early in the year as oil prices fell, concerns about China’s economy rose and stock markets were very volatile. In response, countries may be selling Treasuries to prop up their currencies, some of which lost lots of value against the dollar last year. By selling U.S. debt, central banks can get hard cash to buy up their local currency and prevent it from losing too much value.

Also, as investors have pulled money out of developing countries, central bankers seek to replenish those lost funds by selling their foreign reserves. The leader in the selloff: China. “We’ve seen Chinese central bank foreign reserves fall dramatically,” says Gus Faucher, senior economist at PNC Financial. “Their currency is under pressure.” Between December and February, China’s central bank sold off an alarming $236 billion to help support its currency, which China is slowly letting become more controlled by markets and less by the government. In March, China sold $3.5 billion in U.S. Treasury bonds, Treasury data shows. Experts say the sell off may be slowing down now that global concerns have eased. If anything, demand is still high for U.S. Treasury bonds – it’s just coming from private investors.

Read more …

ZIRP and NIRP feed the casino.

The Humungous Depression (Gore)

Economic depressions unfold slowly, which obscures their analysis, although they are simple to understand. Governments and central banks turn recessions into depressions, which are preceded by unsustainable expansions of debt untethered from the real economy. The reduction and resolution of excess debt takes time, and governments and central banks usually act counterproductively, retarding necessary adjustments and lengthening the adjustment, and consequently, the depression. If one dates the beginning of a depression from the beginning of the unsustainable expansion of debt that preceded it, then the current depression began in 1987. Newly installed chairman of the Fed Alan Greenspan quelled a stock market crash, flooding the financial system with fiat liquidity. It was a well from which he and his successors would draw repeatedly.

Throughout the 1990s he would pump whenever it appeared the market and the US economy were about to dump. In 1999, he pumped because the Y2K computer transition might adversely affect the economy and financial system (it didn’t). If one dates the beginning of a depression from the time when the benefits of debt are, in the aggregate, outweighed by its burdens, the depression began in 2000, with the implosion of the fiat-credit fueled, high-tech and Internet stock market bubble. Unsustainable debt and artificially low interest rates lower the rate of return on productive investment and saving, increasing the relative attractiveness of speculation. Central bankers and their minions refer to this as “forcing investors out on the risk curve,” crawling way out on a limb for fruitful returns. They have no term for when markets saw off the branch, as they did in 2000 and again in 2008.

Most people don’t see 2000 as the beginning of a depression, but Washington and Wall Street cloud their vision. Stock markets were once essential avenues for raising capital and valuing corporations. Since central bankers’ remit was broadened to their care and feeding, stock markets have become engines of obfuscation. The “wealth effect” supposedly justified solicitude for markets: a rising stock market would increase wealth, spending, and economic growth. For seven years a rising market has coexisted with an anemic rebound and one hears little about the wealth effect anymore. The stock market is the preeminent symbol of economic health, so keeping it afloat has become a political exercise. Sure, central bankers and governments know what they’re doing, just look at those stock indices.

Read more …

“They impose a levy on the banking system that has to be paid by someone..”

Negative Rates Are A Form Of Tax (MW)

Central banks have slashed interest rates to nothing. They have printed money on a vast scale. Where that has not quite worked, and if we are being honest that is most places, they now have a new tool. Negative interest rates. Across a third of the global economy, money you put in the bank does not only generate nothing in the way of a return. You actually get charged for keeping it there. That is already producing strange, Alice-in-Wonderland economics, where nothing is quite what it seems. Governments want you to delay paying taxes as long as possible, the mortgage company pays you to stay in the house, and cash becomes so sought after there is even talk of abolishing it. But the real problem with negative rates may be something quite different.

As a fascinating new paper from the St. Louis Fed argues, they are in fact a form of tax. They impose a levy on the banking system that has to be paid by someone — and that someone is probably us. That may explain why central banks and governments are so keen on them. Hugely indebted governments are always in the market for a new tax, especially one that their voters probably won’t notice. But it also explains why they don’t really work — because most of the economics in trouble, especially in Europe, are already suffocating under an impossible high tax burden. Negative interest rates have, like a fast-mutating virus, started to spread across the world. The Swiss first tried them out all the way back in the 1970s.

In June 1972 it imposed a penalty rate of 2% a quarter on foreigners parking money in Swiss francs amid the turmoil of the early part of that decade, but the experiment only lasted a couple of years. In the modern era, the ECB kicked off the trend in June 2014 with a negative rate on selected deposits. Since then, they have spread to Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland (again), and more recently Japan, while the ECB has cut even deeper into negative territory. They already cover about a third of the global economy, and there is no reason why they should not reach further. The Fed might be raising rates this year, but it is the only major central bank to do so, and if, or rather when, there is another major downturn, it may have no choice but to impose negative rates as well.

Read more …

“..how can an interest rate be negative? Does it become a “disinterest rate”?

The Negative Interest Rate Gap (Dmitry Orlov)

Back in the early 1980s the US economy was experiencing stagflation: a stagnant economy and an inflating currency. Paul Volcker, who at the time was Chairman of the Federal Reserve, took a decisive step and raised the Federal Funds Rate, which determines the rate at which most other economic players get to borrow, to 18%, freezing out inflation. This was a bold step, not without negative consequences, but it did get inflation under control and, after a while, the US economy stopped stagnating. Well, not quite. Wages didn’t stop stagnating; they’ve been stagnant ever since. But the fortunes of the 1% of the richest Americans have certainly improved nicely! Moreover, the US economy grew quite a bit since that time.

Of course, most of this growth came at the expense of staggering structural deficits and an explosion of indebtedness at every level, but so what? Sure, the national debt went exponential and the government’s unfunded liabilities are now over $200 trillion, but that’s OK. You just have to like debt. Keep saying to yourself: “Debt is good!” Because if everyone started thinking that debt is bad, then the entire financial house of cards would implode and we would be left with nothing. But once interest rates peaked in the early 1980s, they’ve been on a downward trend ever since, with little ups and downs now and again but an unmistakable overall downward trend.

The Federal Reserve had to do this in order to, in Fed-speak, “support economic activity and job creation by making financial conditions more accommodative.” Once it started doing this, it found that it couldn’t stop. The US had entered a downward spiral—of sloth, obesity, ignorance, substance abuse, expensive and disastrous foreign military adventures, bureaucratic insanity, massive corruption at every level—and under these circumstances it needed ever-cheaper money in order to keep the financial house of cards from imploding. And then, in late 2008, the Fed finally reached the ultimate target: the Fed Funds Rate went all the way to zero. This is known as ZIRP, for Zero Interest Rate Policy. And, unfortunately, it stayed there.

It stayed there, instead of continuing to gently drift down as before, because of a conceptual difficulty: how can an interest rate be negative? Does it become a “disinterest rate”? How can that work? After all, lenders are “interested” in lending because they get back more than they lend out (accepting some amount of risk); and depositors are “interested” in keeping money in banks because they get back more than they put in. And if these activities become “of zero interest,” why would lenders lend and depositors deposit? They wouldn’t, now, would they? They’d buy gold, or Bitcoin, or bid up real estate.

Read more …

As long as we can see things only in terms of money nothing we do has any real value.

The EU Has “Run Its Historical Course” (ZH)

None other than the former head of MI6 (the British Secret Intelligence Service) Richard Dearlove expressed his quite candid thoughts on the immigration crisis, as well as the possibility of a British exit from the EU during a speech recently at the BBC. The speech is well worth the listen. Here are some notable quotes from the speech as it relates to the immigration crisis. The former head of intelligence is quick to point out that despite what the public perception may be, the reality is that there are terrorists already among us.

“When massive social forces are at work, and mass migration is such a force, a whole government response is required, and a high degree of international cooperation.” “In the real world, there are no miraculous James Bond style solutions. Simply shutting the door on migration is not an option. History tells us that human tides are irresistible, unless the gravitational pull that causes them is removed. Edward Gibbon elegantly charted how Rome, with all it’s civic and administrative sophistication and military prowess, could not stop its empire from being overrun by the mass movement of Europe’s tribes.”

“We should not conflate the problem of migration with the threat of terrorism. High levels of immigration, particularly from the Middle East, coupled with freedom of movement inside the EU, make effective border conrol more difficult. Terrorists can, and do exploit these circumstances as we saw recently in their movement between Brussels and Paris, and to and from Syria. With large numbers of people on the move, a few of them will inevitably carry the terrorist virus.” A number of the most lethal terrorists are from inside Europe, including the UK. They are already among us.” “The EU, as opposed to its member states, has no operational counter-terrorist capability to speak of. Many of the European states look to the UK for training.”

“The argument that we would be less secure if we left the EU, is in reality rather difficult to make. There would in fact be some gains if we left, because the UK would be fully master of its own house. Counter-terrorist coordination across Europe would certainly continue, and the UK would remain a leader in the field. The idea that the quality of that cooperation depends in any significant way on our EU membership is misleading.” “Is the EU, faced with the problem of mass migration, able to coordinate an effective response from its member countries. Should the UK stay in and continue struggle for fundamental change, or do we conclude that the effort would be wasted, and that the EU in its extended form has run its historical course. For each of us, this is possibly the most important choice we may ever have to make.”

“Whether we will each be worse off, whether our national security might be damaged, even whether the economy might falter, and sterling be devalued, are subsidiary to the key question, which is whether we have confidence in the EU to manage Europe’s future. If Europe cannot act together to persuade a majority of its citizens that it can gain control of its migrant crisis, then the EU will find itself at the mercy of a populist uprising which is already stirring. The stakes are very high, and the UK referendum is the first roll of the dice in a bigger geopolitical game.”

Read more …

Unlike Greece, Italy is so big it can make or break the EU. So goalposts are moved as they go along.

Italy Wins Brussels’ ‘Flexibility’ On Debt Reduction Targets (FT)

Brussels has granted Italy “unprecedented” flexibility in meeting EU debt reduction targets, using its political leeway to the full as it cautiously polices the eurozone’s fiscal rule book. Italy has emerged as a big winner from the European Commission’s latest review of national budget policies, which is set to pull back from — or postpone — painful corrective measures it had the power to impose. The decisions have sparked an intense debate within the commission over what critics see as its record of tolerating fiscal lapses by countries such as France, Italy and Spain. Some officials were on Tuesday pushing to delay parts of the package to avoid punishing Spain and Portugal before Spain’s election on June 26.

The need for the debate on timing shows the commission under Jean-Claude Juncker has acted as a self-described political body, even at the risk of undermining the credibility of the eurozone’s strengthened fiscal regime. After months of heavy lobbying from Matteo Renzi, the Italian premier, Rome secured most of the “budgetary flexibility” it sought, helping it avoid so-called excessive deficit procedures for failing to bring down its debt levels fast enough. Italy would be allowed extra fiscal room equivalent to 0.85%of GDP — or about €14bn — this year compared with the target mandated under EU budget rules. Such “flexibility” approaches the 0.9% of GDP Italy demanded in drawn-out negotiations with Brussels.

Valdis Dombrovskis and Pierre Moscovici, the two European commissioners responsible for eurozone budget issues, said in a letter to Rome that “no other member state has requested nor received anything close to this unprecedented amount of flexibility”. Zsolt Darvas of the Bruegel think-tank said that “if the rules were taken literally” Italy would be placed under the excessive deficit procedure. Overall the EU fiscal rules “have very low credibility”, he added. “Many countries are violating the rules almost constantly from one year to the next.” Mr Renzi’s government is not completely in the clear, however. In exchange for the flexibility, the commission demanded a “clear and credible commitment” that Italy would respect its budget targets in 2017 to reduce the country’s high debt-to-GDP ratio, which stood at 132.7%of GDP last year.

Read more …

Brilliant! What’s not to like? Can’t wait for the response.

US Raises China Steel Taxes By 522% (BBC)

The US has raised its import duties on Chinese steelmakers by more than five-fold after accusing them of selling their products below market prices. The taxes specifically apply to Chinese-made cold-rolled flat steel, which is used in car manufacturing, shipping containers and construction. The US Commerce Department ruling comes amid heightened trade tensions between the two sides over several products, including chicken parts. Steel is an especially sensitive issue. US and European steel producers claim China is distorting the global market and undercutting them by dumping its excess supply abroad. The ruling itself is only directed at what is small amount of steel from China and Japan and won’t have much of an impact – but it is the politics of the ruling that’s worth noting.

It is an election year, and US presidential candidates have been ramping up the rhetoric on what they say are unfair trade practices by China. US steel makers say that the Chinese government unfairly subsidises its steel exports. Meanwhile China has been under pressure to save its steel sector, which is suffering from over-capacity issues because of slowing demand at home. China’s Ministry of Finance has not directly responded to the US ruling but on its website this morning it has said that China will maintain its tax rebate policy for steel exports as part of its efforts to help the bloated steel sector recover. These tax rebates are seen as favourable policies to shore up ailing steel companies in China, and to avoid massive job losses. Expect more fiery rhetoric from the US on China’s unfair trading practices soon.

Read more …

“..China’s richest man — at least on paper — lost half of his wealth in less than half an hour.”

Chinas Debt Bubble Is Getting Only More Dangerous (WSJ)

It would be like finding out Warren Buffett’s financial empire may have been, quite possibly, a sham. That’s what happened last year when China’s richest man — at least on paper — lost half of his wealth in less than half an hour. It turned out that his company Hanergy may well just be Enron with Chinese characteristics: Its stock could only go up as long as it was borrowing money, and it could only borrow money as long as its stock was going up. Those kind of things work until they don’t. The question now, though, is how much the rest of China’s economy has come down with Hanergy syndrome, papering over problems with debt until they can’t be anymore. And the answer might be a lot more than anyone wants to admit. Although we should be careful not to get too carried away here.

Hanergy is now a nothing that used debt to look like a very big something, while China’s economy actually is a very big something that is using debt to look even bigger. In other words, one looks like a boondoggle and the other a bubble. But in both cases, excessive borrowing — especially from unregulated “shadow banks,” such as trading firms — has made things look better today at the expense of a worse tomorrow. In Hanergy’s case, there will, of course, be no tomorrow. To step back, the first thing to know about Hanergy is that it’s really two companies. There’s the privately owned parent corporation Hanergy Group, and the publicly traded subsidiary Hanergy Thin Film Power (HTF). The latter, believe it or not, started out as a toymaker, somehow switched over to manufacturing solar panel parts, and was then bought by Hanergy Chairman Li Hejun.

And that’s when things really got strange. The majority of HTF’s sales, you see, were to its now-parent company Hanergy — and supposedly at a 50% net profit margin! — but it wasn’t actually getting paid, you know, money for them. It was just racking up receivables. Why? Well, the question answers itself. Hanergy must not have had the cash to pay HTF. Its factories were supposed to be putting solar panels together out of the parts it was getting from HTF, but they were barely running — if at all. Hedge-fund manager John Hempton didn’t see anything going on at the one he paid a surprise visit to last year. It’s hard to make money if you’re not making things to sell. But it’s a lot easier to borrow money and pretend that you’re making it. At least as long as you have the collateral to do so — which Hanergy did when HTF’s stock was shooting up.

Indeed, it increased 20-fold from the start of 2013 to the middle of 2015. But it was how more than how much it went up that raised eyebrows. It all happened in the last 10 minutes of trading every day. Suppose you’d bought $1,o00 of HTF stock every morning at 9 a.m. and sold it every afternoon at 3:30 p.m. from the beginning of 2013 to 2015. How much would you have made? Well, according to the Financial Times, the answer is nothing. You would have lost $365. If you’d waited until 3:50 p.m. to sell, though, that would have turned into a $285 gain. And if you’d been a little more patient and held on to the stock till the 4 p.m. close, you would have come out $7,430 ahead. (Those numbers don’t include the stock’s overnight changes).

Read more …

Problem is: curb shadow banks and you curb local governments. Not at all what Xi is looking for.

China To Curb Shadow Banking Via Checks On Fund House Subsidiaries (R.)

China plans to tighten supervision over fund houses’ subsidiaries and rein in the expansion of a sector worth nearly 10 trillion yuan ($1.53 trillion) as regulators target a key channel for so-called shadow banking to contain financial risks, according to a copy of the draft rules seen by Reuters. The Asset Management Association of China (AMAC) will set thresholds for fund houses to establish subsidiaries and use capital ratios to limit the subsidiaries’ ability to expand businesses, the draft rules said. Loosely-regulated subsidiaries set up by mutual fund firms have grown rapidly over the past year, managing 9.8 trillion yuan worth of assets by the end of March, according to the AMAC, and becoming a key channel for shadow banking activities.

Under the proposed rules, fund houses applying to set up subsidiaries must manage at least 20 billion yuan in assets excluding money-market funds, and have a minimum 600 million yuan in net assets. Current thresholds are much lower. The new rules would also require that a subsidiary’s net capital not be lower than the company’s total risk assets, while net assets must not be lower than 20% of its liability, in effect slashing the leverage ratio of the business. China’s prolonged crackdown on riskier practices in the lesser-regulated shadow banking system has taken on fresh urgency amid a growing number of corporate defaults as the economy struggles, and as top policymakers appear increasingly worried about the risks of relying on too much debt-fuelled stimulus.

Read more …

You don’t have to watch it to know it’s a failure. That was clear from the start.

Abenomics: The Reboot, Rebooted (R.)

Abenomics has over-promised and under-delivered. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to revive anaemic growth, reverse falling prices and rein in government debt has relied too heavily on the central bank and been sideswiped by a global slowdown. Keeping the project alive now requires fresh boldness. When he took office in December 2012, Abe set out to lift real economic growth to 2% a year, with consumer prices rising at the same rate. His main weapons were the famous “three arrows” of aggressive monetary policy, a flexible fiscal stance, and widespread structural reform. Abe has achieved some success. Unemployment is just 3.2%, a low last seen in 1997. In his first three calendar years in office, the economy expanded about 5% in nominal terms.

A weaker yen has helped deliver record corporate earnings; as of May 13 the Topix stock index had returned 70% including dividends. Prices have inched upwards. But the core targets remain out of reach. The IMF expects Japan’s GDP to grow just 0.5% this year. Even after cutting out volatile prices for fresh food and energy, the Bank of Japan’s preferred measure of inflation is running at just 1.1%. And the central bank keeps delaying its deadline for hitting the 2% target, which it now expects to reach in the year ending March 2018. Analysts still think that optimistic. Meanwhile, the yen has rallied unhelpfully and the BOJ faces accusations it is ineffective, after unexpectedly making no change to policy at its last meeting.

One snag is psychological: the deflationary mindset is hard to shake. Firms can borrow very cheaply yet hoard lots of cash and resist big pay rises. Workers are not pushy about wage hikes, and reluctant to spend. There were errors, too. Abe faced concerns that Japan’s government debt, at 2.4 times GDP, could become unsustainable. So he kept fiscal policy relatively orthodox, promising that taxes would cover public spending, excluding interest payments, by 2020. He hiked the country’s sales tax in 2014, denting growth and confidence. And he relied heavily on BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, whose institution now buys an extraordinary 80 trillion yen a year ($740 billion) of bonds. Meanwhile, structural reforms remain far from complete – in everything from encouraging more women into the workforce to reconsidering a deep aversion to immigration.

Read more …

We can hope…

Trump and Sanders Shift Mood in Congress Against Trade Deals (BBG)

Congress has embraced free trade for two generations, but the protectionist bent of the 2016 election campaign may mark the end of that era. The first casualty may be the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was already facing a skeptical Congress. A European trade pact in the works may also be in trouble. Lawmakers from both parties are taking lessons from the insurgent campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, which have harnessed a wave of discontent on job losses by linking them to free-trade deals. Even Hillary Clinton has stepped up criticism of the pacts. While past presidential candidates have softened their stance on trade after winning election, the resonance of the anti-free-trade attacks among voters in the primaries may create a more decisive shift. Opponents of these deals are already sensing new openings.

“The gravity has shifted,” said Representative Marcy Kaptur, an Ohio Democrat. She said it could give new traction to proposals like one she’s put forth that would reopen trade deals with nations that have a trade deficit of $10 billion with the U.S. for three years in a row. The success of Trump and Sanders in Rust Belt states and elsewhere will make it even harder, if not impossible, for Congress to back TPP, even in a lame-duck session after the election. Lawmakers say it could also hamper a looming agreement between the U.S. and the EU if it looks like the next president would change course. “It’s a very heavy lift at this point,” said Representative Charlie Dent, a Pennsylvania Republican and longtime free-trade advocate, noting that all three remaining presidential contenders have expressed reservations about the TPP.

Read more …

We never stood a chance. They’re oh so cunning and devious: “..smugglers ran their proceeds through [..] grocery stores..”. My question would be: how much of this went to the Erdogan family?

Smugglers Made $5-6 Billion Off Refugees To Europe In 2015 (R.)

People smugglers made over $5 billion from the wave of migration into southern Europe last year, a report by international crime-fighting agencies Interpol and Europol said on Tuesday. Nine out of 10 migrants and refugees entering the European Union in 2015 relied on “facilitation services”, mainly loose networks of criminals along the routes, and the proportion was likely to be even higher this year, the report said. About 1 million migrants entered the EU in 2015. Most paid 3,000-6,000 euros ($3,400-$6,800), so the average turnover was likely between $5 billion and $6 billion, the report said. To launder the money and integrate it into the legitimate economy, couriers carried large amounts of cash over borders, and smugglers ran their proceeds through car dealerships, grocery stores, restaurants or transport companies.

The main organisers came from the same countries as the migrants, but often had EU residence permits or passports. “The basic structure of migrant smuggling networks includes leaders who coordinate activities along a given route, organisers who manage activities locally through personal contacts, and opportunistic low-level facilitators who mostly assist organisers and may assist in recruitment activities,” the report said. Corrupt officials may let vehicles through border checks or release ships for bribes, as there was so much money in the trafficking trade. About 250 smuggling “hotspots”, often at railway stations, airports or coach stations, had been identified along the routes – 170 inside the EU and 80 outside.

Read more …

People understand things only when expressed in monetary terms. Maybe we need a real deep collapse to change that. Meanwhile, it looks like refugees make everyone rich except for themselves.

Refugees Will Repay EU Spending Almost Twice Over In Five Years (G.)

Refugees who arrived in Europe last year could repay spending on them almost twice over within just five years, according to one of the first in-depth investigations into the impact incomers have on host communities. Refugees will create more jobs, increase demand for services and products, and fill gaps in European workforces – while their wages will help fund dwindling pensions pots and public finances, says Philippe Legrain, a former economic adviser to the president of the European commission. Simultaneously refugees are unlikely to decrease wages or raise unemployment for native workers, Legrain says, citing past studies by labour economists.

Most significantly, Legrain calculates that while the absorption of so many refugees will increase public debt by almost €69bn (£54bn) between 2015 and 2020, during the same period refugees will help GDP grow by €126.6bn – a ratio of almost two to one. “Investing one euro in welcoming refugees can yield nearly two euros in economic benefits within five years,” concludes Refugees Work: A Humanitarian Investment That Yields Economic Dividends, a report released on Wednesday by the Tent Foundation, a non-government organisation that aims to help displaced people.

A fellow at the London School of Economics, Legrain says he hopes the report will dispel the myth that refugees will cause economic problems for western society. “The main misconception is that refugees are a burden – and that’s a misconception shared even by people who are in favour of letting them in, who think they’re costly but it’s still the right thing to do,” said Legrain in an interview. “But that’s incorrect. While of course the primary motivation to let in refugees is that they’re fleeing death, once they arrive they can contribute to the economy.” While their absorption puts a short-term strain on public finances, Legrain says, it also increases short-term economic demand, which acts as a welcome fiscal stimulus in countries where demand would otherwise be low.

Read more …

May 042016
 
 May 4, 2016  Posted by at 9:20 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Myrtle Beach, S.C. Air Service Command Technical Sergeant Choken 1943

US Dollar Plunges As World Plays Dangerous Game Of Pass The Parcel (AEP)
90% of Americans Worse Off Today Than in 1970s (VW)
High Anxiety: Markets Get Roiled (WSJ)
China’s Improbable Commodities Frenzy Leaves Stocks in the Dust (BBG)
Commodities Are China’s Hottest New Casino (FT)
China’s $1 Trillion In Bad Debt Makes A Sharp Slowdown Inevitable (BI)
$571 Billion Debt Wall Points to More Defaults in China (BBG)
The Global Economy is at Stall Speed, Rapidly Losing Lift (Stockman)
Fed Expected To Drag Hedge Funds Into Plan To Halt Next Lehman (BBG)
Barclays Launches First 100% Mortgages Since Crisis (FT)
Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking, It’s an Act of Resistance (Snowden)
Whistle-Blower Needed a Smoke Before Giving Up LuxLeaks Data (BBG)
The Kleptocrats’ $36 Trillion Heist Keeps Most of the World Impoverished (DB)
France Threatens To Block TTiP Deal (G.)
TTIP Has Been Kicked Into The Long Grass … For A Very Long Time (G.)
After The Leaks Showing What It Is, This Could Be The End For TTIP (Ind.)
Spain, France, Italy, Portugal To Miss EU Deficit, Debt Reduction Targets (R.)
Theft Of Sausage And Cheese By Hungry Homeless Man ‘Not A Crime’ (G.)

“..the Fed is pursuing a “weak dollar policy” [..] “They are forcing currency appreciation onto weaker economies. It is irrational..” No, it’s not irrational, but it certainly is short term only. “.. the soaring euro is in the end self-correcting since the eurozone cannot withstand the pain for long..”

US Dollar Plunges As World Plays Dangerous Game Of Pass The Parcel (AEP)

The US dollar has plunged to a 16-month low in the latest wild move for the global financial system, tightening the currency noose on the eurozone and Japan as they struggle to break out of a debt-deflation trap. The closely-watched dollar index fell below 92 for the first time since January 2015, catapulting gold through $1300 an ounce in early trading and setting off steep falls on stock markets in Asia and Europe. The latest data from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission shows that speculative traders have switched to a net “short” position on the dollar. This is a massive shift in sentiment since the end of last year when investors were betting heavily that the US Federal Reserve was on track for a series of rate rises, which would draw a flood of capital into dollar assets.

Markets have now largely discounted a rate rise in June, and are pricing in just a 68pc likelihood of any increases this year. The dollar slide has been a lifeline for foreign borrowers with $11 trillion of debt in US currency, notably companies in China, Brazil, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey that feasted on cheap US liquidity when the Fed spigot was open, and were then caught in a horrible squeeze when the Fed turned to tap off again and the dollar surged in 2014 and 2015. But it increases the pain for the eurozone and Japan as their currencies rocket. The world is in effect playing a high-stakes game of pass the parcel, with over-indebted countries desperately trying to export their deflationary problems to others by nudging down exchange rates. The Japanese yen appreciated to 105.60, the strongest since September 2014 and a shock to exporters planning on an average of this 117.50 this year.

The wild moves over recent weeks have blown apart the Japan’s reflation strategy. Analysts from Nomura said Abenomics is now “dead in the water”. The eurozone is also in jeopardy, despite enjoying a sweet spot of better growth in the first quarter. The euro touched $1.16 to the dollar early in the day. It has risen over 7pc in trade-weighted terms since the Europe Central Bank first launched quantitative easing in a disguised bid to drive down the exchange rate. Prices fell by 0.2pc in April and deflation is becoming more deeply-lodged in the eurozone economy, with no safety buffers left against an external shock. The European Commission this week slashed its inflation forecast to 0.2pc this year from 1.0pc as recently as November.

There is little that the Bank of Japan or the ECB can do to arrest this unwelcome appreciation. The Obama Administration warned them at the G20 summit in February that any further use of negative interest rates would be regarded by Washington as covert devaluation, and would not be tolerated. “These central banks have reached the limits of what they can do with monetary policy to influence their exchange rates, and this is putting their entire models at risk,” said Hans Redeker, currency chief at Morgan Stanley. “Europe and Japan are operating in a Keynesian liquidity trap. We are nearing a danger point like 2012 when it could lead to an asset market sell-off. We’re not there yet,” he said.

Stephen Jen from SLJ Macro Partners said the Fed is pursuing a “weak dollar policy”, reacting to global events in a radical new way. “They are forcing currency appreciation onto weaker economies. It is irrational,” he said. Yet it may not last long if the US economy comes roaring back in the second quarter a after a soft patch. “I doubt this is really the end of multi-year run for the dollar,” he said. Neil Mellor from BNY Mellon says the soaring euro is in the end self-correcting since the eurozone cannot withstand the pain for long, and as this becomes evident the currency will start sliding again.

Read more …

“Many believe that globalization is largely to blame.”

90% of Americans Worse Off Today Than in 1970s (VW)

A recent study in March from the Levy Economics Institute found that 90% of Americans were worse off financially in 2015 than at any time since the early 1970s. Furthermore, for the vast majority of Americans, the nation’s economy is in a prolonged stagnation, far worse than that of Japan. Worse than Japan? When we think of the Japanese economy, we think of the “Lost Decades.” Japan’s economy was the envy of the world in the 1980s, but starting in 1991, it fell into a prolonged recession and deflation which lasted from then to 2010. Japan’s GDP fell from $5.33 trillion to $4.36 trillion during that period, which saw wages fall by apprx. 5%. So are we really worse off today than Japan? The Levy Economics Institute at Bard College thinks the answer is YES, when it comes to real income – that is, income adjusted for inflation.

According to their findings, 90% of Americans earn roughly the same real income today as the average American earned back in the early 1970s. As a result of this stagnation in incomes and the plunge in housing values during the Great Recession, 99% of American households have seen their net worth fall since 2007 according to the study. Economic stagnation hasn’t reached the remaining 1% of the US population, which has seen a recovery in their real incomes over the same period to near new highs. The chart below has not been updated to include results for 2015, but the trends are clear. The bottom 99% of US income-earning households have seen their net worth decline since the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Once upon a time, the American economy worked for nearly everybody, and even the middle class got richer. Things were quite different in the decades preceding the 70s, a period that stretches back to the late 1940s, when real incomes rose for both groups. Simply put, for the vast majority of Americans, the dream of a steady increase in income was lost back in the early 1970s. What can explain this big shift in the income distribution in the last four decades? One clue is in the timeframe of the shift, which coincides with the growing openness of the American economy to international trade and investments. Many believe that globalization is largely to blame.

Read more …

The game is getting dangerous. But it’s the only game in town.

High Anxiety: Markets Get Roiled (WSJ)

Stocks and oil futures tumbled and Japan’s yen hit its highest intraday level against the dollar since October 2014, as investors struggled to reconcile recent market gains with unease over the pace of global growth. The latest tumult erupted after the Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday cut its benchmark rate by one-quarter of a percentage point to 1.75%. The move reflects soft inflation and economic sluggishness driven in part by weak demand from China, the largest buyer of Australian exports. Adding to concerns were a drop in Chinese manufacturing and signals that eurozone growth is slowing more than previously forecast, traders said.

Tuesday’s developments reflect worries that have shadowed a surprising 2016 recovery in the prices of stocks and many commodities. Global growth has slowed this year, prompting major forecasters to cut their outlooks. Yet in recent months the decline of the U.S. dollar and easier policy from global central banks have helped fuel gains in many riskier assets, allowing the Dow industrials to recover from a decline of as much as 10% earlier this year. The action has vexed many portfolio managers and traders, who came into the year expecting the dollar to gain against the yen and euro as the Fed prepared to further tighten its policy and its peers loosened theirs. Instead, both currencies have surged against the dollar.

The dollar fell as low as ¥105.53 during trading Tuesday before retracing to ¥106 later in the session. The dollar traded at ¥120 at the start of the year, according to CQG. The gains threaten to add to economic turmoil in the world’s third-largest economy while deepening investors’ anxiety. “The financial markets are on edge,’’ said Jack McIntyre at Brandywine Global Investment Management. ”Economic growth is still hard to come by.’’

Read more …

Hard to imagine that this still has legs..

China’s Improbable Commodities Frenzy Leaves Stocks in the Dust (BBG)

The wild ride in China’s commodity futures is making the nation’s $5.9 trillion stock market look docile. Compared with the stock market, even eggs have been a better investment in China in 2016, with futures climbing 27%. That’s as the cost of a dozen eggs in the U.S. slumped 24% in the first quarter. The epicenter of the commodities boom, however, has been steel reinforcement bars, which have surged 38%. The dizzying increase in speculative activity prompted the head of the world’s largest metals exchange to say that some traders probably don’t even know what they are buying or selling. The Shanghai Composite Index is down 15% this year.

Fluctuations in steel futures have sent a gauge of price swings to the highest level on record. Rebar surged 29% in Shanghai from the end of March through April 22, before dropping about 11%. Bourses in Dalian, Shanghai and Zhengzhou have announced measures to cool the commodities boom including higher fees and a reduction in night hours. Meanwhile, volatility on the Shanghai Composite, which saw gut-wrenching moves over the summer and the start of 2016, has fallen to the lowest level in more than a year as the market turned flat. The intensity of futures trading on Chinese commodities exchanges is making some of the world’s most liquid markets look leisurely. The average iron ore and steel rebar contracts on the Shanghai Futures Exchange are held for less than four hours, compared with almost 40 hours for WTI crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Read more …

Time to get out. The House wins.

Commodities Are China’s Hottest New Casino (FT)

China’s market regulator may have succeeded in taking much of the froth off the country’s surging commodities markets last week, but the message is not filtering down to many dedicated retail traders. As Chinese markets reopened on Tuesday after the May Day holiday, a few dozen young traders in Shanghai crowded into a small room provided by a local brokerage. The mostly 20-something male traders, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, were looking forward to another week of fevered risk-taking in China’s hottest new casino. “It’s better for futures traders to be young because they can learn faster,” said Zhang Jun, 26, who has been trading commodities on the Shanghai Futures Exchange for three years but has only recently begun to make any money.

“This is not relevant to anything you study before you get here. I don’t know anyone who studied a relevant major,” said Mr Zhang, a mechanical engineer by training. On April 29, the China Securities Regulatory Commission ordered the country’s three commodities futures exchanges to curb speculation. The exchanges had already taken steps in that direction, by increasing margin requirements and transaction fees while reducing trading hours. The measures appeared to be aimed primarily at large institutional traders who have contributed to price surges for commodities ranging from steel to eggs, which have increased 50% and 10% respectively over recent months. Liu Shiyu, the CSRC’s new boss, wants to avoid the fate of his recently sacked predecessor, who last year presided over a boom and bust on the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges.

Poor economic data helped Mr Liu’s cause on Tuesday, with the price of the Shanghai exchange’s most popular steel rebar contract falling 4.52% to Rmb2,451 a tonne. Futures for iron ore, the key ingredient in steel production, also took a hit. The most actively traded contract on the Dalian Futures Exchange, which largely trades steel industry inputs, dropped 2.96% to Rmb442.5 per tonne. At the peak of last month’s China commodities fever, the number of steel rebar contracts traded in Shanghai exceeded volumes for the world’s two most important crude oil benchmarks, Brent and West Texas Intermediate.

Read more …

More dangerous by the day, but nothing to stop it.

China’s $1 Trillion In Bad Debt Makes A Sharp Slowdown Inevitable (BI)

The amount of debt being carried in the Chinese economy – mostly by state-owned “zombie” companies – is now so high that it could lead to a financial crisis, according to Macquarie analyst Viktor Shvets and his team. “Unless this vicious cycle is broken, financial crisis or at least a sharp slowdown is an inevitable ultimate outcome,” he wrote in a note to investors on April 29. The China debt problem is simple, at least in concept. To grow its economy, the Chinese government and its central bank have extended credit generously to all sorts of Chinese companies. Many of those are “state owned enterprises,” which are often old-fashioned, uncompetitive, or kept alive by political will rather than economic necessity.

These “zombie” companies exist largely to pay back those debts, but as time goes by some of them default, or fail to pay back all if their loans. This was not much of a problem until recently, Shvets argues, because China’s economy was growing so robustly that it eclipsed the rate of non-performing loans (NPLs). But as the economy has grown, so has its debt, to roughly $35 trillion, or nearly 350% of GDP. If too many companies fail to repay their debts, private lenders and banks will become fearful of lending more. And when that happens, it would plunge China into a financial crisis as liquidity dries up. The size of the debt at risk is so large – and the Chinese economy is such a global driving force – that such a crisis would cause a contagion into the markets of the rest of the world.

Read more …

It can’t be called an accident, but it sure is waiting to happen.

$571 Billion Debt Wall Points to More Defaults in China (BBG)

Chinese debt investors are turning bearish at just the wrong time for the nation’s corporate borrowers, which face a record 3.7 trillion yuan ($571 billion) of local bond maturities through year-end. With this year’s biggest note payments concentrated in some of the country’s most-cash strapped industries, China needs buoyant markets to help its companies refinance. Instead, yields in April rose at the fastest pace in more than a year and issuance tumbled 43% as borrowers canceled 143 billion yuan of planned debt sales. Deteriorating investor sentiment has heightened the risk of defaults in a market that’s already seen at least seven companies renege on obligations this year, matching the total for all of 2015.

While government-run banks may step in to help weaker borrowers, missed debt payments by three state-owned firms in the past three months suggest policy makers are becoming more tolerant of corporate failures as the economy slows. “The biggest risk to the onshore bond market is refinancing risk,” said Qiu Xinhong at First State Cinda Fund. “With such a big amount of bonds maturing, if Chinese issuers can’t sell new bonds to repay the old, more will default.”Repayment pressures are most extreme in China’s “old economy” industries, the biggest losers from the nation’s slowdown. Listed metals and mining companies, which generated enough operating profit to cover just half of their interest expenses in 2015, face principal payments of 389 billion yuan through year-end.

Power generation firms owe 332 billion yuan, while maturities at coal companies have swelled to 292 billion yuan. SDIC Xinji Energy, a state-owned coal producer that canceled a bond sale on March 11, must repay 1 billion yuan of notes on May 15, according to Bloomberg-compiled data. China International Capital highlighted the company as one of the riskiest onshore issuers in the second quarter. Fei Dai, SDIC’s board secretary, said Tuesday that the firm will arrange bank loans and other measures to avoid a default. The shares fell 5% to the lowest level since December 2014 in Shanghai on Wednesday. [..] “If you have a large number of companies in high-risk sectors that lose access to financing, there will be defaults or restructuring,” said Raja Mukherji, head of Asian credit research at PIMCO.

Read more …

“China can’t be growing at 6.7% when its export machine has run out of gas..”

The Global Economy is at Stall Speed, Rapidly Losing Lift (Stockman)

South Korea’s exports tumbled to $41 billion in April, marking the 16th consecutive month of declining foreign sales. Last month’s result represented a 11.2% decline from prior year, and an 18% drop from April 2014. Moreover, within that shrinking total, exports to China were down by 18.4% last month, following a 12.2% drop in March. The Korean export slump is no aberration. The same pattern is evident in the entire East Asia export belt. That’s because the Red Ponzi is in its last innings. Beijing is furiously pumping on the credit accelerator, but to no avail. As can’t be emphasized enough, printing GDP by means of wanton credit expansion does not create wealth or growth; it just results in an eventual day of reckoning when the speculative excesses inherent in central bank money printing collapse in upon themselves.

China is surely close to that kind of implosion. During Q1 total credit, or what Beijing is please to call “social financing”, expanded at a $4 trillion annualized rate. This was up 57% over prior year and represented debt growth at a 38% of GDP annual rate. Stated differently, during the first 90 days of 2016 China piled another $1 trillion of debt on its existing $30 trillion debt mountain, while its nominal GDP expanded by less than $175 billion. That’s right. The Red Ponzi is generating barely $1 of GDP for every $6 of new debt. And much of the “GDP” purportedly generated during Q1 reflected new construction of empty apartments and redundant public infrastructure. By now it ought to be evident that the Chinese economy is a brobdingnagian freak of nature that is destined for a collapse, and that its economic statistics are a tissue of fabrications and delusions.

Even its export figures, which are constrained toward minimum honesty because they can be checked against Chinese imports reported by the rest of the world, are padded to some considerable degree by phony export invoicing designed to hide illegal capital flight. Still, the implication of its export trends are unmistakable. When you put aside the statistical razzmatazz of the Chinese New Year’s timing noise in the data, exports were down by 10% in Q1 as a whole. That is the worst quarterly drop since 2009 amidst the global Great Recession, and was nearly twice the rate of decline during Q4 and Q3 2015. Here’s the thing. China can’t be growing at 6.7% when its export machine has run out of gas, as is so starkly evident in the graph below.

Read more …

Still festering in the dark.

Fed Expected To Drag Hedge Funds Into Plan To Halt Next Lehman (BBG)

Hedge funds, insurers and other companies that do business with Wall Street megabanks will pay a price for regulators’ efforts to make sure any future collapse of a giant lender doesn’t tank the entire financial system. The Federal Reserve is set to propose so-called stays on derivatives and other contracts that would prevent counterparties from immediately pulling collateral from a failed bank. The plan released Tuesday is meant to give authorities ample time to unwind a firm, hopefully heading off the frantic contagion that spread through markets when Lehman Brothers toppled in 2008. Though the world’s largest banks have already made strides to include such protections in transactions with each other, the Fed’s proposal insists that the shield be expanded to more contracts – including with non-bank firms.

The curbs would apply to any new contract signed by eight of the biggest and most complex U.S. bank holding companies and the U.S. arms of major foreign banks. So, hedge funds and asset managers that want to keep doing business with such lenders would have to comply. Fed Governor Daniel Tarullo said the proposal is “another step forward in our efforts to make financial firms resolvable without either injecting public capital or endangering the overall stability of the financial system.” Industry groups representing firms such as Citadel, BlackRock and MetLife have resisted efforts to rewrite financial contracts, arguing that it abuses investors’ rights and could make things worse by encouraging trading partners to try to pull away from a bank at the first whiff of trouble, even before a failure. But asset managers and insurers would face a tough task in persuading the Fed to change course.

Read more …

Party! It’ll be Britain’s last for a while…

Barclays Launches First 100% Mortgages Since Crisis (FT)

Barclays has become the first high street bank since the financial crisis to launch a 100% mortgage in the latest sign of a return to riskier lending. The bank is allowing some buyers to take out a mortgage to 100% of the value of the property, without needing a deposit. Most banks require at least a 5-10% lump sum. Barclays said the mortgage only needed to be supported by a family member or guardian, who must set aside 10% of the purchase price in cash for three years in return for interest. It said the new mortgage was designed to remove the issue of borrowers drawing from the “bank of Mum and Dad” to stump up a deposit. Ray Boulger, of broker John Charcol, said: “It is the first true 100% mortgage since the financial crisis.” The move marks a shift back to higher loan-to-value lending reminiscent of the boom times before the crisis of 2008, when 100% mortgages were widely available.

The defunct bank Northern Rock became renowned for its aggressive lending, with its “Together” mortgages offering 125% of the property value. Regulators have since clamped down on risky lending through regulation in 2014, called the Mortgage Market Review, designed to ensure borrowers can repay — although it does not prohibit 100% loans. The Bank of England would also be likely to take a dim view of any widespread return to deposit-free mortgage lending. So far, no other bank has offered such loans. “We haven’t seen a resurgence of 100% mortgages; I don’t think regulation would allow that,” said Charlotte Nelson, of consumer site Moneyfacts. “I don’t think it’s something many other banks will take on. If they’re seen to be lending at 100%, even with a guarantee, it doesn’t look great. Seeing 100% deals back on the market can come off as negative.”

Read more …

The attitude towards whistleblowers still feels medieval.

Whistleblowing Is Not Just Leaking, It’s an Act of Resistance (Snowden)

“I’ve been waiting 40 years for someone like you.” Those were the first words Daniel Ellsberg spoke to me when we met last year. Dan and I felt an immediate kinship; we both knew what it meant to risk so much — and to be irrevocably changed — by revealing secret truths. One of the challenges of being a whistleblower is living with the knowledge that people continue to sit, just as you did, at those desks, in that unit, throughout the agency, who see what you saw and comply in silence, without resistance or complaint. They learn to live not just with untruths but with unnecessary untruths, dangerous untruths, corrosive untruths. It is a double tragedy: What begins as a survival strategy ends with the compromise of the human being it sought to preserve and the diminishing of the democracy meant to justify the sacrifice.

But unlike Dan Ellsberg, I didn’t have to wait 40 years to witness other citizens breaking that silence with documents. Ellsberg gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times and other newspapers in 1971; Chelsea Manning provided the Iraq and Afghan War logs and the Cablegate materials to WikiLeaks in 2010. I came forward in 2013. Now here we are in 2016, and another person of courage and conscience has made available the set of extraordinary documents that are published in The Assassination Complex, the new book out today by Jeremy Scahill and the staff of The Intercept. We are witnessing a compression of the working period in which bad policy shelters in the shadows, the time frame in which unconstitutional activities can continue before they are exposed by acts of conscience.

And this temporal compression has a significance beyond the immediate headlines; it permits the people of this country to learn about critical government actions, not as part of the historical record but in a way that allows direct action through voting — in other words, in a way that empowers an informed citizenry to defend the democracy that “state secrets” are nominally intended to support. When I see individuals who are able to bring information forward, it gives me hope that we won’t always be required to curtail the illegal activities of our government as if it were a constant task, to uproot official lawbreaking as routinely as we mow the grass. (Interestingly enough, that is how some have begun to describe remote killing operations, as “cutting the grass.”)

Read more …

Case in point.

Whistle-Blower Needed a Smoke Before Giving Up LuxLeaks Data (BBG)

The man who uncovered secret Luxembourg deals that helped companies slash tax rates was actually looking for training documents when he stumbled upon the files on his computer at PricewaterhouseCoopers. On the eve of his departure from the accounting firm in 2010, Antoine Deltour wasn’t fully aware of what he had discovered. He copied the folder and within half an hour had about 45,000 pages detailing confidential tax agreements that became known as the LuxLeaks. Deltour’s discovery triggered the first in a wave of scandals over how thousands of international companies, including Walt Disney, Microsoft’s Skype and PepsiCo, moved money around the globe to avoid taxes. It also landed him in trouble after PwC sued and prosecutors charged him and two other men with theft and violation of business secrets.

“I had discovered gradually the administrative practice of these deals,” Deltour, 30, told a three-judge panel at his trial in Luxembourg Tuesday. “The opportunity to have stumbled over this folder led me to copy it at that moment without a clear goal in mind,” knowing about the “sensitive and highly confidential nature of these files.” Deltour “felt a bit surprised by the volume of the” files and “didn’t immediately do anything with this mass of information,” he told the court. He felt “isolated” and “alone” and unsure of who to turn to. Months later he was contacted by journalist Edouard Perrin, who was working on a documentary about tax practices. The pair met only once, at Deltour’s home in Nancy, France, where Deltour said he needed a moment before handing over the files. “Of course I hesitated,” Deltour told the judge. “I went to smoke a cigarette on the balcony to think a few moments about this.”

The resulting 2012 documentary by Perrin, who is also a defendant in the case, led to interest from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The group put the documents online in 2014, triggering the LuxLeaks scandal. Perrin, 44, another French citizen, was charged in April 2015 with being the accomplice of Raphael Halet, another ex-PwC staffer who is accused of stealing 16 corporate tax returns from the accounting firm and giving them to the journalist. Perrin is also accused of having urged Halet to search for specific documents, a charge both men rejected.

Read more …

Grand Theft Auto. Redux.

The Kleptocrats’ $36 Trillion Heist Keeps Most of the World Impoverished (DB)

For the first time we have a reliable estimate of how much money thieving dictators and others have looted from 150 mostly poor nations and hidden offshore: $12.1 trillion. That huge figure equals a nickel on each dollar of global wealth and yet it excludes the wealthiest regions of the planet: America, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. That so much money is missing from these poorer nations explains why vast numbers of people live in abject poverty even in countries where economic activity per capita is above the world average. In Equatorial Guinea, for example, the national economy’s output per person comes to 60 cents for each dollar Americans enjoy, measured using what economists call purchasing power equivalents, yet living standards remain abysmal.

The $12.1 trillion estimate—which amounts to two-thirds of America’s annual GDP being taken out of the economies of much poorer nations—is for flight wealth built up since 1970. Add to that flight wealth from the world’s rich regions, much of it due to tax evasion and criminal activities like drug dealing, and the global figure for hidden offshore wealth totals as much as $36 trillion. In 2014 the net worth of planet Earth was about $240 trillion, which means about 15% of global wealth is in hiding, significantly reducing the capital available to spur world economic growth. That $12.1 trillion figure for money looted from poorer countries has been hiding in plain sight. It comes from numbers in the global economic data—derived by comparing statistics from the IMF and the World Bank, supplemented by some figures from the United Nations and the CIA—that do not match up, but which until now no one had bothered to analyze.

You might think that with their vast staffs of economists and analysts the IMF, the World Bank, and other institutions would have run the numbers long ago, but no. Instead, one determined person combed 45 years of official statistics from around the world to calculate the flight wealth for nearly 200 countries that publish comparable economic data. That’s Jim Henry, who was a rising corporate star until he gave it all up to document illicit flows of money and the damage they do to billions of people. Henry has been the chief economist at McKinsey, arguably the world’s most influential business consultancy, and worked directly under Jack Welch at General Electric. A Harvard-educated economist and lawyer, Henry calls himself an investigative economist. His approach is simple: “Just look at the effing data and solve the puzzle” of mismatches between the various official sources.

Read more …

Seems like a bad time to keep on pushing through ever more deals people obviously don’t want.

France Threatens To Block TTiP Deal (G.)

Doubts about the controversial EU-US trade pact are mounting after the French president threatened to block the deal. François Hollande said on Tuesday he would reject the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership “at this stage” because France was opposed to unregulated free trade. Earlier, France’s lead trade negotiator had warned that a halt in TTIP talks “is the most probable option”. Matthias Fekl, the minister responsible for representing France in TTIP talks, blamed Washington for the impasse. He said Europe had offered a lot but had received little in return. He added: “There cannot be an agreement without France and much less against France.” All 28 EU member states and the European parliament will have to ratify TTIP before it comes into force.

But that day seems further away than ever, with talks bogged down after 13 rounds of negotiations spread over nearly three years. The gulf between the two sides was highlighted by a massive leak of documents on Monday, first reported by the Guardian, which revealed “irreconcilable” differences on consumer protection and animal welfare standards. The publication of 248 pages of negotiating texts and internal positions, obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian, showed that the two sides remain far apart on how to align regulations on environment and consumer protection. Greenpeace said the leak demonstrated that the EU and the US were in a race to the bottom on health and environmental standards, but negotiators on both sides rejected these claims.

The European commission, which leads negotiations on behalf of the EU, dismissed the “alarmist headlines” as “a storm in a teacup”. But Tuesday’s comments from the heart of the French government reveal how difficult TTIP negotiations have become. France has always had the biggest doubts about TTIP. In 2013 the French government secured an exemption for its film industry from TTIP talks to try to shelter French-language productions from Hollywood dominance. Hollande, who is beset by dire poll ratings, indicated on Tuesday that the government has other concerns about TTIP. Speaking at a conference on the history of the left, Hollande said he would never accept “the undermining of the essential principles of our agriculture, our culture, of mutual access to public markets”. Fekl told French radio that the agreement on the table is “a bad deal”. “Europe is offering a lot and we are getting very little in return. That is unacceptable,” he said.

Read more …

With growth gone, so is the desire for deals. Too much domestic backlash.

TTIP Has Been Kicked Into The Long Grass … For A Very Long Time (G.)

As talks to broker a global trade deal entered a second tortuous decade, the US and the European Union came up with an idea. Since it was proving impossible to find agreement among the 150 or so members of the World Trade Organisation about how to tear down barriers to freer commerce, they would strike their own agreement. Talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) began in the summer of 2013 with officials in Washington and Brussels confident they could iron out any difficulties by the time American voters decide on who should succeed Barack Obama as president in November this year. This always looked a ridiculously tight timetable and so it has proved. Cutting trade deals is an agonisingly slow process. The last successful global deal – the Uruguay Round – took seven years before being concluding in 1993.

Talks continued on the Doha Round from 2001 until 2015 before terminal boredom and frustration set in. Was it really feasible that TTIP could be pushed through in little more than three years? Not a chance. There are three reasons for that. First, the main barriers to trade between the US and the EU are not traditional tariff barriers, which have been steadily whittled away in the decades since the second world war, but the differing regulatory regimes that operate on either side of the Atlantic. America and Europe have different views on everything from GM food to safety standards on cars so harmonising standards was always going to take a lot of time. Second, the talks have involved controversial issues and have been taking place when trust in politicians and business has rarely been lower. The main driving forces behind TTIP have been multinational corporations and business lobby groups, who stand to gain from harmonised regulations.

With information about the secret negotiations having to be chiselled out by groups hostile to TTIP, voters have drawn the obvious conclusion: the aim of the talks is to enrich big business even if it means playing fast and loose with environmental and health standards. Which leads to the final and most important factor: there are no votes in trade. It would have been no surprise had Angela Merkel voiced strong opposition to the state of the TTIP negotiations, given the level of public antipathy to the trade deal in Germany and her delicate position in the polls ahead of elections next year. Instead, the German chancellor was beaten to it by François Hollande (also facing a showdown with the voters in 2017) who has made it clear he will not sign TTIP in its current form. Years not months of hard slog lie ahead, by which time the US is likely to have a president much less wedded to the idea of striking trade deals. TTIP has just been kicked into the long grass for a very long time, and perhaps for good.

Read more …

Can we have no more of this please?! “The European Commission slapped a 30-year ban on public access to the TTIP negotiating texts at the beginning of the talks in 2013..”

After The Leaks Showing What It Is, This Could Be The End For TTIP (Ind.)

Today’s shock leak of the text of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) marks the beginning of the end for the hated EU-US trade deal, and a key moment in the Brexit debate. The unelected negotiators have kept the talks going until now by means of a fanatical level of secrecy, with threats of criminal prosecution for anyone divulging the treaty’s contents. Now, for the first time, the people of Europe can see for themselves what the European Commission has been doing under cover of darkness – and it is not pretty. The leaked TTIP documents, published by Greenpeace this morning, run to 248 pages and cover 13 of the 17 chapters where the final agreement has begun to take shape.

The texts include highly controversial subjects such as EU food safety standards, already known to be at risk from TTIP, as well as details of specific threats such as the US plan to end Europe’s ban on genetically modified foods. The documents show that US corporations will be granted unprecedented powers over any new public health or safety regulations to be introduced in future. If any European government does dare to bring in laws to raise social or environmental standards, TTIP will grant US investors the right to sue for loss of profits in their own corporate court system that is unavailable to domestic firms, governments or anyone else. For all those who said that we were scaremongering and that the EU would never allow this to happen, we were right and you were wrong.

The leaked texts also reveal how the European Commission is preparing to open up the European economy to unfair competition from giant US corporations, despite acknowledging the disastrous consequences this will bring to European producers, who have to meet far higher standards than pertain in the USA. According to official statistics, at least one million jobs will be lost as a direct result of TTIP – and twice that many if the full deal is allowed to go through. Yet we can now see that EU negotiators are preparing to trade away whole sectors of our economies in TTIP, with no care for the human consequences.

The European Commission slapped a 30-year ban on public access to the TTIP negotiating texts at the beginning of the talks in 2013, in the full knowledge that they would not be able to survive the outcry if people were given sight of the deal. In response, campaigners called for a ‘Dracula strategy’ against the agreement: expose the vampire to sunlight and it will die. Today the door has been flung open and the first rays of sunlight shone on TTIP. The EU negotiators will never be able to crawl back into the shadows again.

Read more …

That must be over half the eurozone right there.

Spain, France, Italy, Portugal To Miss EU Deficit, Debt Reduction Targets (R.)

Three of the euro zone’s four biggest economies look set to break European Union deficit and debt reduction targets this year and next unless they take urgent action, European Commission forecasts showed on Tuesday. The Commission forecast that the three – France, Italy and Spain – were likely to miss goals set for them set by EU finance ministers under a disciplinary procedure for those that run excessive budget deficits and have too high public debt. Portugal would also likely be in breach of EU budget rules. The euro zone’s biggest economy Germany, was in rude fiscal health, the forecasts showed. The Commission’s forecasts, together with medium-term fiscal consolidation plans submitted by governments last month will be the basis for a Commission decision, in the second half of May, on whether to step up the disciplinary procedure against those in breach of the rules.

Read more …

“..for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered blasphemy in America..”

Theft Of Sausage And Cheese By Hungry Homeless Man ‘Not A Crime’ (G.)

Italy’s highest court has ruled that the theft of a sausage and piece of cheese by a homeless man in 2011 did not constitute a crime because he was in desperate need of nourishment. The high court judges in the court of cassation found that Roman Ostriakov, a young homeless man who had bought a bag of breadsticks from a supermarket but had slipped a wurstel – a small sausage – and cheese into his pocket, had acted out of an immediate need by stealing a minimal amount of food, and therefore had not committed a crime. The case, which drew comparisons to the story of Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, was hailed in some media reports as an act of humanity at a time when hundreds of Italians are being added to the roster of the country’s “hungry” every day, despite improvements in the economy.

One columnist writing in La Stampa said that, for supreme court judges, the right to survive still trumped property rights, a fact that would be considered “blasphemy in America”. But others commented that the case highlighted Italy’s notoriously inefficient legal system, in which the theft of food valued at about €4.70 (£3.70) was the subject of a three-part trial – the first hearing, the appeal, and the final supreme court ruling – to determine whether the defendant had in fact committed a crime. “Yes, you read that right,” an opinion column in Corriere della Sera said, “in a country with a burden of €60bn in corruption per year, it took three degrees of proceedings to determine ‘this was not a crime’.”

Ostriakov, who was described as a homeless 30-year-old from Ukraine, had been sentenced to six months in jail and a €100 fine by a lower court in Genoa, but that punishment was vacated by the supreme court. “The supreme court has established a sacrosanct principle: a small theft because of hunger is in no way comparable to an act of delinquency, because the need to feed justifies the fact,” said Carlo Rienzi, president of Codacons, an environmental and consumer rights group, told Il Mesaggero. “In recent years the economic crisis has increased dramatically the number of citizens, especially the elderly, forced to steal in supermarkets to be able to make ends meet.”

Read more …

Jul 262015
 
 July 26, 2015  Posted by at 11:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Jewish stores in Colchester, Connecticut 1940

The Last Bubble Standing – Amazon’s Same Day Trip Through The Casino (Stockman)
Europe Braces Itself For Revolutionary Leftist Backlash After Greece (Telegraph)
Varoufakis – A New Kind Of Politics? (Paul Tyson)
Varoufakis Claims He Had Approval To Plan Parallel Banking System (Kathimerini)
Greece, The Sacrificial Lamb (Joe Stiglitz)
Depression’s Advocates (J. Bradford DeLong)
The Latest Rising Greek Political Star Who Says No To Austerity (HuffPo)
How the Euro Turned Into a Trap (NY Times Ed.)
Greek Bailout Talks Pushed Back By A Few Days On Logistics (Reuters)
Renewed Bailout Talks Between Greece And Creditors Hit Snags (FT)
Greek Gov’t Braces For Talks With Creditors Amid Upheaval In SYRIZA (Kath.)
Greek Bank Boldholders Fear Portuguese-Style “Bad Bank” Split (Reuters)
Chancellor George Osborne Takes EU Reform Campaign To Paris (Reuters)
Puerto Rico: Austerity For Residents, But Tax Breaks For Hedge Funds (Guardian)
What A Federal Financial Control Board Means To Puerto Rico (The Hill)
Judge Finds Chicago’s Changes To Pension Funds Unconstitutional (Tribune)
Foreign Criminals Use London Real Estate To Launder Billions Of Pounds (Guardian)
The – Goldman-Related – Scandal That Ate Malaysia (Bloomberg)
Olive Oil Prices Surge Due To Drought And Disease In Spain And Italy (Guardian)
The Future of Food Finance (Barron’s)
Archaeologists Find Possible Evidence Of Earliest Human Agriculture (Guardian)

“..the Wall Street brokers’ explanation for AMZN’s $250 billion of bottled air is actually proof positive that the casino has become unhinged.”

The Last Bubble Standing – Amazon’s Same Day Trip Through The Casino (Stockman)

Right. Amazon is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Like millions of others, I use it practically every day. And it was nice to see that it made a profit -thin as it was at 0.4% of sales- in the second quarter. But the instantaneous re-rating of its market cap by $40 billion in the seconds after its earnings release had nothing to do with Amazon or the considerable entrepreneurial prowess of Jeff Bezos and his army of disrupters. It was more in the nature of financial rigor mortis – the final spasm of the robo-traders and the fast money crowd chasing one of the greatest bubbles still standing in the casino. And, yes, Amazon’s $250 billion market cap is an out and out bubble. Notwithstanding all the “good things it brings to life” daily, it is not the present day incarnation of General Electric of the 1950s, and for one blindingly obvious reason.

It has never made a profit beyond occasional quarterly chump change. And, what’s more, Bezos -arguably the most maniacal empire builder since Genghis Khan- apparently has no plan to ever make one. To be sure, in these waning days of the third great central bank enabled bubble of this century, GAAP net income is a decidedly quaint concept. In the casino it’s all about beanstalks which grow to the sky and sell-side gobbledygook. Here’s how one of Silicon Valley’s most unabashed circus barkers, Piper Jaffray’s Gene Munster, explains it: “Next Steps For AWS… SaaS Applications? We believe AWS has an opportunity to move up the cloud stack to applications and leverage its existing base of AWS IaaS/PaaS 1M + users. AWS dipped its toes into the SaaS pool earlier this year when it expanded its offerings to include an email management program and we believe it will continue to extend its expertise to other offerings. We do not believe that this optionality is baked into investors’ outlook for AWS.”

Got that? Instead, better try this. AMZN’s operating free cash flow in Q2 was $621 million -representing an annualized run rate right in line with its LTM figure of $2.35 billion. So that means there was no cash flow acceleration this quarter, and that AMZN is being valued at, well, 109X free cash flow! Moreover, neither its Q2 or LTM figure is some kind of downside aberration. The fact is, Amazon is one of the greatest cash burn machines ever invented. It’s not a start-up; it’s 25 years old. And it has never, ever generated any material free cash flow – notwithstanding its $96 billion of LTM sales. During CY 2014, for example, free cash flow was just $1.8 billion and it clocked in at an equally thin $1.2 billion the year before that.

In fact, beginning with net revenues of just $8.5 billion in 2005 it has since ramped its sales by 12X, meaning that during the last ten and one-half years it has booked $431 billion in sales. But its cumulative operating free cash flow over that same period was just $6 billion or 1.4% of its turnover. So, no, Amazon is not a profit-making enterprise in any meaningful sense of the word and its stock price measures nothing more than the raging speculative juices in the casino. In an honest free market, real investors would never give a quarter trillion dollar valuation to a business that refuses to make a profit, never pays a dividend and is a one-percenter at best in the free cash flow department -that is, in the very thing that capitalist enterprises are born to produce. Indeed, the Wall Street brokers’ explanation for AMZN’s $250 billion of bottled air is actually proof positive that the casino has become unhinged.

Read more …

We may hope so.

Europe Braces Itself For Revolutionary Leftist Backlash After Greece (Telegraph)

A pre-revolutionary fervour is sweeping Europe. “The atmosphere is a little similar to the time after 1968 in Europe. I can feel, maybe not a revolutionary mood, but something like widespread impatience”. These were the words of European council president Donald Tusk, 48 hours after Greece’s paymasters imposed the most punishing bail-out measures ever forced on a debtor nation in the eurozone’s 15-year history. A former Polish prime minister and a politician not prone to hyperbole, Tusk’s comments revealed Brussels’ fears of a bubbling rebellion across the continent. “When impatience becomes not an individual but a social experience of feeling, this is the introduction for revolutions” said Tusk. “I am really afraid of this ideological or political contagion”.

His unease reflects a widespread conviction that Europe’s elites had no choice but to make an example out of Greece. Alexis Tsipras was forced to submit to a deal that punished his government’s insolence, so the argument goes, and destroy the fantasy that a “new eurozone” could be forged for the economies of the southern Mediterranean. Having emerged from the talks, Tusk declared victory, dismissing the “radical leftist illusion that you can build some alternative to this traditional European vision of the economy.” Syriza’s unprecedented rise to power in January marked a watershed in post-crisis Europe, hitherto dominated by conservative-leaning governments from Portugal to Finland.

The first radical-Left regime in Europe’s post-war history, Syriza vowed to tear up the Troika’s austerity contract, forge a Mediterranean alliance against the dominant creditor-bloc, and transform the terms of Greece’s euro membership. Seven months later, these dreams are in tatters. A tortuous 30-hour weekend in Brussels led to Tsipras capitulating to austerity terms more egregious than any negotiated by Greece’s previous centre-right and Socialist governments. Greek assets will now be sequestered into a private fund to pay off debts, external monitors will return to the country, and everything from the price of milk and bakery bread will be subject to Brussels’ scrutiny. “Syriza was the big Leftist experiment and it has gone disastrously wrong in a short period of time,” says Luke March, author of Radical Left Parties in Europe and lecturer at Edinburgh University.

“The Left elsewhere are now being forced to take stock and say “we are not Greece””. But the shadow of 1968 – a year when Europe was gripped by mass discontent, student rebellions, and labour strikes – looms over Europe’s institutions. Over the course of the next 10 months, the entire complexion of the European south could be transformed. General elections in Portugal, Spain and Ireland are poised to bring anti-austerity, Left leaning parties to power. It is the wildfire of political contagion that spooks Europe’s federalists. Greece’s humiliation, rather than cowing the revolutionary Left, is set to embolden the southern calls for mass debt relief and cease the enforcement of the euro’s contractionary dogma.

Read more …

“..it seems all too likely that the ‘logic’ of Eurozone finance is a function of Thucydides’ description of primal human barbarity. Here the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must.”

Varoufakis – A New Kind Of Politics? (Paul Tyson)

Strangely, one of the most disturbing aspects of Varoufakis’ stint as a Finance Minister concerns the fact that he is an economist. One thing we now readily assume is that economics is the language of power. This gives academic economists a status somewhat like a theologian in relation to the practical priestcraft of public office. However, there are very few professors of economics that actually get into office as politicians, just as you seldom get institutionally savvy bishops or mega-church leaders who are serious theologians. When an economist becomes a politician, this is going to be interesting.

In a few short months, Varoufakis completely exploded the idea that economics is the language of power. What we saw when an actual economist landed in the middle of the Eurozone crisis is that the most basic truths about economic reality have nothing to do with power. The idea that asphyxiating Greek banks and killing the Greek state is good for its economy makes no economic sense at all. The idea that continuing to pursue a savagely contractionary austerity agenda will make it possible to generate sustained state surpluses large enough to repay impossible debt burdens, defies any sort of economic rationality. The conviction that it is somehow both moral and necessary to fiscally execute the Greek polity or eject Greece in order to preserve the financial integrity of the Eurozone, is not a stance grounded in economic science.

Yet these agenda commitments are, obviously, immovable Eurogroup dogmas. When Varoufakis patiently, logically and persuasively sought to point out the economic problems with the sacred Eurozone dogmas, this got him into trouble for “lecturing” his peers. Somehow, the economic irrationality of what the Eurogroup must do was obvious to the Eurogroup, and they could not for the life of them see why Varoufakis didn’t understand this. So Varoufakis became branded as “combative” and “recalcitrant” due to his refusal to be on the same page as all the other European finance ministers, when all along it was the Eurogroup who would not talk about obvious economic realities with Varoufakis. Varoufakis’ failed attempt to negotiate even a modicum of constructive economic and political sanity with Brussels strongly suggests that the governing principles of financial power in Europe are not grounded in economic science or democratic politics.

Indeed, it seems all too likely that the ‘logic’ of Eurozone finance is a function of Thucydides’ description of primal human barbarity. Here the strong do as they will and the weak suffer as they must. The complete lack of impact which Varoufakis’ economic arguments achieved leads one to fear that when it comes to economics and politics, we are being conned: the main purpose of economic speak in politics is obfuscation. If that is indeed the case, then having someone point out the obvious elephant in the room – the economic impossibility of the prevailing dogmas governing high finance and domestic politics – is just too much. It looks like our ruling elites do not want a real economist meddling with power.

Read more …

A story that seems to surprise many people. But V already told it ages ago. Only thing new is that it started in December.

Varoufakis Claims He Had Approval To Plan Parallel Banking System (Kathimerini)

Former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed that he was authorized by Alexis Tsipras last December to look into a parallel payment system that would operate using wiretapped tax registration numbers (AFMs) and could eventually work as a parallel banking system, Kathimerini has learned. In a teleconference call with members of international hedge funds that was allegedly coordinated by former British Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont, Varoufakis claimed to have been given the okay by Tsipras last December – a month before general elections that brought SYRIZA to power – to plan a payment system that could operate in euros but which could be changed into drachmas “overnight” if necessary, Kathimerini understands.

Varoufakis worked with a small team to prepare the plan, which would have required a staff of 1,000 to implement but did not get the final go-ahead from Tsipras to proceed, he said. The call took place on July 16, more than a week after Varoufakis left his post as finance minister. The plan would involve hijacking the AFMs of taxpayers and corporations by hacking into the General Secretariat of Public Revenues website, Varoufakis told his interlocutors. This would allow the creation of a parallel system that could operate if banks were forced to close and which would allow payments to be made between third parties and the state and could eventually lead to the creation of a parallel banking system, he said.

As the general secretariat is a system that is monitored by Greece’s creditors and is therefore difficult to access, Varoufakis said he assigned a childhood friend of his, an information technology expert who became a professor at Columbia University, to hack into the system. A week after Varouakis took over the ministry, he said the friend telephoned him and said he had “control” of the hardware but not the software “which belongs to the troika.” [..] The work was more or less complete: We did have a Plan B but the difficulty was to go from the five people who were planning it to the 1,000 people that would have to implement it. For that I would have to receive another authorisation which never came.”

Read more …

“..The Germans say there is to be no debt write-off and that the IMF must be part of the program. But the IMF cannot participate in a program in which debt levels are unsustainable”

Greece, The Sacrificial Lamb (Joe Stiglitz)

As the Greek crisis proceeds to its next stage, Germany, Greece and the triumvirate of the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission (now better known as the troika) have all faced serious criticism. While there is plenty of blame to share, we shouldn’t lose sight of what is really going on. I’ve been watching this Greek tragedy closely for five years, engaged with those on all sides. Having spent the last week in Athens talking to ordinary citizens, young and old, as well as current and past officials, I’ve come to the view that this is about far more than just Greece and the euro. Some of the basic laws demanded by the troika deal with taxes and expenditures and the balance between the two, and some deal with the rules and regulations affecting specific markets.

What is striking about the new program (called “the third memorandum”) is that on both scores it makes no sense either for Greece or for its creditors. As I read the details, I had a sense of déjà vu. As chief economist of the World Bank in the late 1990s, I saw firsthand in East Asia the devastating effects of the programs imposed on the countries that had turned to the IMF for help. This resulted not just from austerity but also from so-called structural reforms, where too often the IMF was duped into imposing demands that favored one special interest relative to others. There were hundreds of conditions, some little, some big, many irrelevant, some good, some outright wrong, and most missing the big changes that were really required. Back in 1998 in Indonesia, I saw how the IMF. ruined that country’s banking system.

I recall the picture of Michel Camdessus, the managing director of the IMF at the time, standing over President Suharto as Indonesia surrendered its economic sovereignty. At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur in December 1997, I warned that there would be bloodshed in the streets within six months; the riots broke out five months later in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia. Both before and after the crisis in East Asia, and those in Africa and in Latin America (most recently, in Argentina), these programs failed, turning downturns into recessions, recessions into depressions. I had thought that the lesson from these failures had been well learned, so it came as a surprise that Europe, beginning a half-decade ago, would impose this same stiff and ineffective program on one of its own.

Whether or not the program is well implemented, it will lead to unsustainable levels of debt, just as a similar approach did in Argentina: The macro-policies demanded by the troika will lead to a deeper Greek depression. That’s why the IMF’s current managing director, Christine Lagarde, said that there needs to be what is euphemistically called “debt restructuring” – that is, in one way or another, a write-off of a significant portion of the debt. The troika program is thus incoherent: The Germans say there is to be no debt write-off and that the IMF must be part of the program. But the IMF cannot participate in a program in which debt levels are unsustainable, and Greece’s debts are unsustainable.

Read more …

Geez, I’m even quoting Brad DeLong now?

Depression’s Advocates (J. Bradford DeLong)

Back in the early days of the ongoing economic crisis, I had a line in my talks that sometimes got applause, usually got a laugh, and always gave people a reason for optimism. Given the experience of Europe and the United States in the 1930s, I would say, policymakers would not make the same mistakes as their predecessors did during the Great Depression. This time, we would make new, different, and, one hoped, lesser mistakes. Unfortunately, that prediction turned out to be wrong. Not only have policymakers in the eurozone insisted on repeating the blunders of the 1930s; they are poised to repeat them in a more brutal, more exaggerated, and more extended fashion. I did not see that coming.

When the Greek debt crisis erupted in 2010, it seemed to me that the lessons of history were so obvious that the path to a resolution would be straightforward. The logic was clear. Had Greece not been a member of the eurozone, its best option would have been to default, restructure its debt, and depreciate its currency. But, because the European Union did not want Greece to exit the eurozone (which would have been a major setback for Europe as a political project), Greece would be offered enough aid, support, debt forgiveness, and assistance with payments to offset any advantages it might gain by exiting the monetary union. Instead, Greece’s creditors chose to tighten the screws.

As a result, Greece is likely much worse off today than it would have been had it abandoned the euro in 2010. Iceland, which was hit by a financial crisis in 2008, provides the counterfactual. Whereas Greece remains mired in depression, Iceland – which is not in the eurozone – has essentially recovered. To be sure, as the American economist Barry Eichengreen argued in 2007, technical considerations make exiting the eurozone difficult, expensive, and dangerous. But that is just one side of the ledger. Using Iceland as our measuring stick, the cost to Greece of not exiting the eurozone is equivalent to 75% of a year’s GDP – and counting.

It is hard for me to believe that if Greece had abandoned the euro in 2010, the economic fallout would have amounted to even a quarter of that. Furthermore, it seems equally improbable that the immediate impact of exiting the eurozone today would be larger than the long-run costs of remaining, given the insistence of Greece’s creditors on austerity. That insistence reflects the attachment of policymakers in the EU – especially in Germany – to a conceptual framework that has led them consistently to underestimate the gravity of the situation and recommend policies that make matters worse.

Read more …

Tsipras can’t afford to lose her.

The Latest Rising Greek Political Star Who Says No To Austerity (HuffPo)

Greece’s charismatic head of parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, is one of the most dynamic and outspoken members of the country’s ruling Syriza party. This week, she sent shockwaves through the party by refusing to approve a financial reform bill proposed by her supposed Syriza ally, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras – for the second time. Konstantopoulou considers measures proposed by Tsipras as part of an agreement with Greece’s European lenders to unlock fresh loans for the country a “violent attack on democracy,” she wrote in a letter to Tsipras and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. Konstantopoulou’s adamant opposition to the newest austerity reforms is resonating with Greeks who feel the Europe-imposed reforms are excruciatingly harsh.

Konstantopoulou, 38, is the daughter of renowned lawyer Nikos Konstantopoulos, who led of one of Syriza’s largest factions, and well-known journalist Lina Alexiou. She studied law at the University of Athens, La Sorbonne in Paris and Columbia University in New York before becoming a lawyer in Greece in 2003, focusing on international criminal law and human rights. Konstantopoulou first ran for Syriza in 2009 and was elected to the Greek parliament in 2012. She was elected head of the parliament in 2015, the youngest person to hold the position. As parliament chief, her forthright remarks and dedication to formal legal procedure have gained her passionate praise as well as fierce opposition. Her forceful interventions have annoyed some politicians, especially those in opposition parties.

Stavros Theodorakis, leader of To Potami (The River), for example, has called her arrogant and has demanded her resignation. Others have praised her fiery energy, saying her forceful defense of her convictions is invigorating. Despite Konstantopoulou’s rising favor, she remains far less popular than other Syriza politicians, especially Tsipras. Her blunt rejection of the prime minister’s reforms has raised speculation she may leave the party and go her own way, according to Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini. Konstantopoulou denies that scenario. After a one-hour meeting with Tsipras on Thursday, she told reporters that both share “an understanding built on camaraderie and honesty, along with the common wish to protect the rights of the people as well as the unity of Syriza, which some would want to see shattered.”

Read more …

NY Times ed staff changing its tack.

How the Euro Turned Into a Trap (NY Times Ed.)

When they introduced the euro in 1999, European leaders said the common currency would be irreversible and would lead to greater economic and political integration among their countries. That pledge of permanence, long doubted by euro-skeptics, seems ever less credible. While the eurozone may have temporarily avoided a Greek exit, it is hard to see how a deal that requires more spending cuts, higher taxes and only vague promises of debt relief can restore the crippled economy enough to keep Greece in the currency union. On Thursday, the Greek Parliament passed a second set of reforms required by the country’s creditors. Other changes, like higher taxes on farmers, are expected later in the year.

The combative finance minister of Germany, Wolfgang Schäuble, has further undermined confidence in the euro’s cohesion by saying that Greece would be better off leaving the common currency for a five-year “timeout.” As a practical matter, an exit from the currency union would almost certainly be permanent, since readmission involves a grueling process. The eurozone requires new members to keep inflation below 2% and to have a maximum fiscal deficit of 3% of GDP and a public debt that is no more than 60% of GDP. The plight of the Greeks has made countries that do not use the euro, like Poland and Hungary, far less eager to join the currency union, which has come to mean a loss of sovereignty and a commitment to austerity, regardless of economic reality.

Of course, the euro was never entirely about economics. European leaders believed the single currency was a big step toward creating an irrevocable alliance among countries on the continent. But many experts warned that it could make its members less stable unless it was followed by a tighter political and budgetary union. Since that did not happen, the currency union was left fully vulnerable to economic crises and to the will of Europe’s more powerful economies. All those fears have played out in Greece, even as the threat of exits from the euro hangs over other weakened countries, like Italy, Portugal and Spain. Senior leaders in Germany, Finland and Slovakia who have publicly suggested a Greek exit seem to think it would scare weaker economies into accepting more austerity.

That may not be necessary; some radical parties in those countries are already openly talking about leaving the euro. The question now is what is the cost of leaving? Can a modern economy withstand the immediate damage of an abrupt currency change if the benefits of devaluation and regaining full control over fiscal and monetary policies could be limited and could take years to realize?

Read more …

Not enough 5-star hotel rooms?

Greek Bailout Talks Pushed Back By A Few Days On Logistics (Reuters)

Talks between Greece and its international creditors over a new bailout package will be delayed by a couple of days because of organisational issues, a finance ministry official said on Saturday. The meetings with officials from the EC, ECB and IMF were supposed to start on Monday after being delayed for issues including the location of talks and security last week. A finance ministry official, who declined to be named, said talks between the technical teams of the lenders will start on Tuesday, while the mission chiefs will arrive in Athens with a delay of a couple of days for technical reasons. “The reasons for the delay are neither political, nor diplomatic ones,” the official added.

Greeks have viewed inspections visits by the lenders in Athens as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and six months of acrimonious negotiations with EU partners took place in Brussels at the government’s request. Another finance ministry official denied earlier on Saturday that the government was trying to keep the lenders’ team away from government departments and had no problem with them visiting the General Accounting Office.. Asked if the government would now allow EU, IMF and ECB mission chiefs to visit Athens for talks on a new loan, State Minister Alekos Flabouraris said: “If the agreement says that they should visit a ministry, we have to accept that.”

The confusion around the expected start to the talks on Friday underlined the challenges ahead if negotiations are to be wrapped up in time for a bailout worth up to €86 billion to be approved in parliament by Aug. 20, as Greece intends. Already, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is struggling to contain a rebellion in his left-wing Syriza party that made his government dependent on votes from pro-European opposition parties to get the tough bailout terms approved in parliament. One of Tsipras’ closest aides said that the understanding with the opposition parties could not last long and a clear solution was needed, underlining widespread expectations that new elections may come as soon as September or October. “The country cannot go on with a minority government for long. We need clear, strong solutions,” State Minister Nikos Pappas told the weekly Ependysi in an interview published on Saturday.

Apart from the terms of a new loan, Greece and its lenders are also expected to discuss the sustainability of its debt, which is around 170% of GDP. Greece has repeatedly asked for a debt relief and the IMF has said this is needed for the Greek accord to be viable. [..] Tsipras, who is by far the most popular politician in Greece according to opinion polls, has said his priority is to secure the bailout package before dealing with the political fallout from the Syriza party rebellion.

Read more …

“..the decision to pursue a new IMF program means euro zone leaders may have to open talks on granting Greece significant debt relief much earlier than originally anticipated..”

Renewed Bailout Talks Between Greece And Creditors Hit Snags (FT)

Talks to agree a new €86bn bailout for Greece ran into trouble on Friday after Athens raised hurdles for negotiators in the Greek capital, forcing them to postpone their arrival amid renewed acrimony. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, agreed last week to “fully normalize” talks with creditors on the ground in Athens after resisting their presence for months — a key demand made by euro zone leaders when they agreed to reopen rescue talks after coming close to pushing Greece out of the euro zone. But three senior officials from Greece’s bailout monitors said Athens had instead demanded restrictions on negotiators, including on whom creditors could meet and what topics were to be discussed in the talks.

Two of the officials said Greek authorities had also insisted negotiators no longer use the Athens Hilton as their base — a hotel close to central Syntagma Square and a short drive to the finance ministry — instead proposing hotels far from the capital’s government quarter. “It is fundamentally more of the same,” said a senior official from one of the bailout monitors,colloquially known as the “troika” after the three institutions originally involved in the talks, the EC, ECB and IMF. “They don’t want to engage with the troika.” Greek officials insisted the renewed stand-off was only a temporary delay and that talks would resume over the weekend or Monday at the latest.

George Stathakis, economy minister, said he was confident the negotiations would be finished by mid-August, when Athens needs the bailout cash to pay off a €3.2bn bond held by the ECB. Mr Stathakis said Greece and its creditors had already found common ground on many of the main issues,including fiscal targets, stabilizing the banking sector, liberalization of product markets and professions, labor market reforms and privatizations of state assets. “We have three weeks,and I’m confident that it’s enough for the existing agenda,” Mr Stathakis told the Financial Times. “We agree in certain areas. In others, there are different views and some distance needs to be covered. But the last European summit gave a framework that indicates which directions to follow, and that’s why I think three weeks will be enough.”

Still, one creditor official said negotiating teams were “sitting on their suitcases” and had no plans to go to Athens until the logistical issues were resolved. Adding another potential complication, the Greek government on Friday lodged a formal request with the IMF to begin discussions on a new, third bailout program. The request came after officials at the IMF determined that the current Greek program, which still has about €16.5bn to disburse and was due to expire in March, had become outdated. Those negotiations between Athens and the IMF could take months. But the decision to pursue a new IMF program means euro zone leaders may have to open talks on granting Greece significant debt relief much earlier than originally anticipated, since the IMF will not sign on to a new program unless euro zone lenders agree to restructure their bailout loans.

Read more …

Syriza differences are being magnified by the press.

Greek Gov’t Braces For Talks With Creditors Amid Upheaval In SYRIZA (Kath.)

Even as Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras grapples with serious divisions within SYRIZA, government officials are bracing for the launch of face-to-face negotiations with representatives of the country’s creditors which are expected to begin next week. The government is hoping to seal a deal with creditors by mid-August and certainly before August 20 when a €3.2 billion debt repayment to the ECB is to come due. Greece does not have the money to repay the debt and is hoping for a deal to be reached, allowing the partial disbursement of some funding, either from a new program or from residual funding from the recapitalization of Greek banks. But sources indicate that creditors are less optimistic about a deal being finalized so soon.

As a result officials are said to be considering the possibility of a second bridge loan to Greece, which would allow it to cover the ECB debt and other obligations, before an agreement on a third bailout is finalized. Although officials from countries that have taken a hard line opposite Greece, including Germany and some north European states, reportedly want Athens to commit to more prior actions, European Economy and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has indicated that this will not be necessary. Creditors are expected to seek additional measures at some point, however, to plug a widening fiscal gap.

Tsipras is also struggling to keep a lid on dissent within SYRIZA as a bloc of around 30 of the party’s 149 MPs object to his compromise with creditors, which foresees more austerity. The premier has indicated that a party congress should be held in September to refocus SYRIZA. Early elections, which are considered inevitable in view of the upheaval within the party, are expected to take place immediately after the congress, either later in September or in October or even November. In comments on Saturday, State Minister Nikos Pappas acknowledged that the country cannot continue indefinitely with a minority government, referring to the mass defections by SYRIZA MPs in recent parliamentary votes. A meeting of SYRIZA’s political secretariat is due on Monday.

Read more …

As long as small depositors are left alone, fine by me.

Greek Bank Boldholders Fear Portuguese-Style “Bad Bank” Split (Reuters)

National Bank of Greece bondholders are nervous that they will suffer heavy losses if authorities decide to siphon off all of the bank’s healthy assets leaving a “bad bank” to deal with their claims, a source close to a creditor group said. A group of senior bondholders in NBG sent a letter to European institutions last week saying they were concerned about measures that may be taken to revitalise the Greek banking sector after months of economic upheaval. After drawn-out negotiations, Greece is close to clinching a third bailout deal but has kept in place the capital controls it used to prevent a bank run last month.

The investors, who hold a significant portion of a €750 million NBG senior bond issued last year, are worried the bank may be split into a good bank and a bad bank as was the case for Portugal’s Banco Espirito Santo last year. Portugal separated out and pumped money into the healthy part of the bank creating a new entity “Novo Banco”, while remaining BES shareholders and subordinated bondholders were left with near worthless investments in the remaining bad bank. NBG bondholders are concerned that such a split in Greece could require a level of recapitalisation that would also see senior bondholders left behind in the bad bank.

Under current Greek law, junior bondholders should contribute to a bail-in, while new legislation passed on Wednesday will also force senior bondholders to contribute from January 1 2016. Recapitalisations of Greek banks may be needed before then, however, leaving the option of a bad bank solution on the table. ECB governing council member Christian Noyer said an initial injection of capital for Greek banks would be preferable before stress tests in the autumn.

Read more …

To talk to Le Pen?

Chancellor George Osborne Takes EU Reform Campaign To Paris (Reuters)

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne will take Britain’s case for European Union reform to Paris on Sunday, seeking support from his French counterpart for a deal the Conservative government can put before voters in a promised in-out referendum. British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to renegotiate ties with the European Union ahead of a vote on the country’s continuing membership by the end of 2017. Osborne’s trip to Paris, the first in a series of visits to European capitals, will seek to build on Cameron’s meetings with all 27 leaders of the bloc earlier this year, the government said. He will argue that with public support for reform rising across the EU, now is the time to deliver lasting change. “The referendum in Britain is an opportunity to make the case for reform across the EU,” he will say, according to excepts of his speech.

“I want to see a new settlement for Europe, one that makes it a more competitive and dynamic continent to ensure it delivers prosperity and security for all of the people within it, not just for those in Britain.” Cameron’s promise of a referendum was made before national elections in May to neutralise a threat from the anti-EU UK Independence Party and to pacify Euro sceptics in his own party. The possibility that Britain could leave the European Union as a result of the tactic has worried allies such as the United States and opposition parties in Britain. U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday that a Britain within the European union gave Washington much greater confidence in the strength of the transatlantic union. Some lawmakers were angered by his intervention in the debate, saying he was lecturing Britain.

Read more …

What a refreshing MO.

Puerto Rico: Austerity For Residents, But Tax Breaks For Hedge Funds (Guardian)

Caught between the demands of billionaires, pro-bankruptcy activists and more than three million people plagued by unemployment, poverty and government debt, who would you choose? As Puerto Rico confronts the quagmire of its $72bn financial crisis, it has come up with an answer: humouring a few very wealthy people. The island has for three years courted some of Wall Street’s richest citizens, from solitary investors to hedge fund elites. Last year it sold at auction hundreds of millions of its debt to various funds, displeasing many who believe the “vulture funds” only want a quick profit off Puerto Rico as it desperately tries to repay debt with high local taxes and austerity cuts.

Hedge fund manager John Paulson, best known for making billions off the 2008 subprime loan market crash, led the charge last year when he declared the island “the Singapore of the Caribbean”. His fund bought more than $100m of Puerto Rico’s junk-rated bonds last year. The most visible effect has been a rush to buy property akin to the buying spree by two billionaires in Detroit as that city filed for bankruptcy. Detroit’s woes are often held up for comparison to Puerto Rico’s but the island lacks the statehood or permission from Congress it would need to file for bankruptcy and follow Michigan’s decision to declare Motor City bust. While funds have inched away from Puerto Rico’s debt debacle, Paulson has bought into land.

In 2014 he spent more than $260m to buy three of the island’s largest resort properties, and announced plans to develop $500m-worth of “residences and resort amenities” to add to the existing beachfront condos and golf courses. He has a fellow cheerleader in billionaire Nicholas Prouty, who has invested more than $550m into turning San Juan’s marina into a bastion of the elite that includes an exclusive club and slips for “megayachts of 200 feet or larger”. As in Detroit, ultra-high-end developments abut scores of empty buildings, either for sale or abandoned by owners searching for work. With unemployment more than twice the US national average, the island’s median household income is nearly $7,000 less than that in Detroit, and less than half the US average.

Read more …

Feudalism?

What A Federal Financial Control Board Means To Puerto Rico (The Hill)

Puerto Rico is spiraling out of control and the Federal government will not break the fall. Island leaders may not have the will, popular support, or financial tools to pay down the $72 billion debt. So it is no surprise that calls for a federal financial control board intensified after Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced that Puerto Rico’s debt is unpayable. Establishing a control board may be the easy way out for a wary Congress but it is not as simple as it seems and could backfire. A federal financial control board for Puerto Rico was first proposed a year ago by supporters of Doral Bank in its dispute with the Puerto Rican government over a $230 million tax refund. Most of Doral’s supporters are affiliated with the conservative Koch brothers.

They include Republican Reps. Jeff Duncan (SC), Scott Garrett (NJ), Darrell Issa (CA) and Matt Salmon (AZ) who received Koch Industries PAC contributions and who prior to Doral had never been involved with Puerto Rico. Last month, Duncan recommended to his House colleagues that a control board be established. The 60 Plus Association, another Koch funding recipient, is lobbying for a control board. While frustrated Puerto Ricans are increasingly talking about the need for a control board, the majority of the Island opposes it with good reason. First, Puerto Ricans feel that given the right tools, they can fix the fiscal crisis on their own. Right now the most important tool is access to Chapter 9 federal bankruptcy. From 1933 until 1984, Puerto Rico could allow its municipalities and public corporations to declare bankruptcy in the same way as the 50 states.

In 1984 Congress amended the bankruptcy code and excluded Puerto Rico for reasons unknown. Most agree that overall losses to investors will be higher if Puerto Rico is not given access to Federal bankruptcy and defaults. To avoid this scenario Puerto Rico passed its own bankruptcy law which was challenged by bondholders of electricity provider PREPA which owes $9 billion. The law was recently struck down in Federal court. The Puerto Rican government may appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The same group of creditors is fighting bankruptcy legislation introduced in Congress. Issa, who sits in the subcommittee reviewing the bill, opposes it. The conservative Heritage Foundation calls it a bailout even though it supported Chapter 9 for Detroit.

Second, Puerto Ricans are distrustful of any financial control board established by a national government that has denied it political representation for 117 years. The distrust is heightened by knowledge that the chief supporters of a control board are members of the conservative Koch brothers’ network and creditors whose objective is to make money off Puerto Rico rather than enable Puerto Rico to remake itself.

Read more …

It’s not easy being Rahm.

Judge Finds Chicago’s Changes To Pension Funds Unconstitutional (Tribune)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration said it will appeal a Cook County judge’s decision Friday that ruled unconstitutional a state law reducing municipal worker pension benefits in exchange for a city guarantee to fix their underfunded retirement systems. The 35-page ruling by Judge Rita Novak, slapping down the city’s arguments point by point, could have wide-ranging effects if upheld by the Illinois Supreme Court. Her decision appeared to also discredit efforts at the state and Cook County levels to try to curb pension benefits to rein in growing costs that threaten funding for government services. The issue of underfunded pensions, and how to restore their financial health, is crucial for the city and its taxpayers.

The city workers and laborers funds at issue in Friday’s ruling are more than $8 billion short of what’s needed to meet obligations – and are at risk of going broke within 13 years – after many years of low investment returns fueled by recession and inadequate funding. Without reducing benefits paid to retired workers, or requiring current workers to pay more, taxpayers could eventually be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars more in annual payments to those city funds — before the even worse-funded police and fire retirement accounts are factored into the taxing equation. Friday’s ruling also could further harm the city’s rapidly diminishing credit rating. Even before the decision, Moody’s Investors Service had downgraded the city’s debt rating to junk status based on pension concerns.

And after Novak’s ruling, Standard & Poor’s Ratings Service warned that it would lower the rating on city debt within the next six months without a fix. Novak’s ruling was not unexpected because of a decision in May by the Illinois Supreme Court on a similar pension case. The state’s high court unanimously struck down a law changing state pensions, saying the Illinois Constitution’s protection against “diminished or impaired” pension benefits for public workers and current retirees was absolute. City officials had argued that an agreement reached with 28 of 31 labor unions to alter retirement benefits out of the municipal and laborers pension funds – two of the city’s four pension plans – was different from the plan struck down by the Supreme Court.

Read more …

Color me stunned.

Foreign Criminals Use London Real Estate To Launder Billions Of Pounds (Guardian)

Foreign criminals are using the London housing market to launder billions of pounds, pushing up house prices for domestic buyers, a senior police officer has warned. Donald Toon, the director of economic crime at the National Crime Agency, spoke after a spike in receipts from a tax on homes bought up by companies, trusts and investment funds rather than individuals. Such corporations, usually based in offshore tax havens, are sometimes used by buyers keen to hide ownership of assets from their own countries’ tax authorities. The secrecy they offer can equally be used to squirrel away ill-gotten gains. Toon told the Times: “I believe the London property market has been skewed by laundered money. Prices are being artificially driven up by overseas criminals who want to sequester their assets here in the UK.”

He spoke after provisional tax receipts showed the Treasury had made £142m from the annual tax on enveloped dwellings in just the first three months of the financial year. The tax, introduced last year, is payable every year by companies that own a UK residential property valued above a certain amount. The City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea accounted for 82% of the revenue, but inflation at the top of the market is thought to ripple down to cheaper properties as wealthy buyers are pushed down the housing chain. Toon’s comments come amid increasing concern that billions of pounds of corruptly gained money has been laundered by criminals and foreign officials buying upmarket London properties through anonymous offshore front companies.

Experts say that London, with its myriad links to tax haven crown dependencies, is arguably the global capital of money laundering. This month a Channel 4 investigation found that estate agents in Britain’s wealthiest postcodes are willing to turn a blind eye to apparent money laundering by corrupt foreign buyers. In the documentary, titled From Russia With Cash, two undercover reporters posed as an unscrupulous Russian government official called Boris in London to purchase an upmarket property for his mistress. The couple viewed five properties ranging in price from £3m to £15m, on the market with five estate agents in Kensington, Chelsea and Notting Hill.

Despite being made aware they are dealing with apparently laundered money, the estate agents agreed to continue with a potential purchase. In several instances the estate agents recommended law firms to help a buyer hide his identity. The agents suggested that secretive purchases of multimillion-pound houses were common in the capital. One claimed that 80% or more of his transactions were with international, overseas-based buyers and “50 or 60%” of them were conducted in “various stages of anonymity … whether it be through a company or an offshore trust”.

Read more …

Blowing up one country at a time.

The – Goldman-Related – Scandal That Ate Malaysia (Bloomberg)

In the spring of 2013, Song Dal Sun, head of securities investment at Seoul-based Hanwha Life Insurance, sat down to a presentation by a Goldman Sachs banker. The young Goldman salesman, who had flown in from Hong Kong, made a pitch for bonds to be issued by 1Malaysia Development Bhd., a state-owned company closely tied to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. It was enticing. The 10-year, dollar-denominated bonds offered an interest rate of 4.4%, about 100 basis points higher than other A-minus-rated bonds were yielding at the time, he recalls. But Song, a veteran of 25 years in finance, sensed something was amiss. With such an attractive yield, 1MDB could easily sell the notes directly to institutional investors through a global offering.

Instead, Goldman Sachs was privately selling 1MDB notes worth $3 billion backed by the Malaysian government. “Does it mean ‘explicit guarantee’?” he recalls asking the Goldman salesman, whom he declined to name. “I didn’t get a straight answer,” Song says. “I decided not to buy them.” The bond sale that Song passed up is part of a scandal that has all but sunk 1MDB, rattled investors, and set back Malaysia’s quest to become a developed nation. Najib, who also serves as Malaysia’s finance minister, sits on 1MDB’s advisory board as chairman. The scandal’s aftershocks have rocked his office, his government, and the political party he leads, United Malays National Organisation, or UMNO.

A state investment company trumpeted as a cornerstone of Najib’s economic policy after he became prime minister in April 2009, 1MDB is now mired in debts of at least $11 billion. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a one-time political mentor who’s turned on Najib, says “vast amounts of money” have “disappeared” from 1MDB funds. 1MDB has denied the claim and said all of its debts are accounted for. From the moment in 2009 when Najib took over a sovereign wealth fund set up by the Malaysian state of oil-rich Terengganu and turned it into a development fund owned by the federal government, 1MDB has been controversial. Since the beginning of this year—with coverage driven by the Sarawak Report, a blog, and The Edge, a local business weekly—the scandal has moved closer and closer to the heart of government, sparking calls for Najib’s ouster and recalling Malaysia’s long struggle with corruption and economic disappointment.

Read more …

“..a bacterial disease nicknamed “olive ebola”..”

Olive Oil Prices Surge Due To Drought And Disease In Spain And Italy (Guardian)

Salads have rarely been so expensively dressed after a combination of drought and disease pushed the price of olive oil up 10% so far this year, amid warnings from suppliers that harvests are the worst they have seen. The Italian government has declared a “state of calamity” in the provinces of Lecce and Brindisi on the heel of the country, where olive groves are being attacked by a bacterial disease nicknamed “olive ebola”. Up to 1m centuries-old olive trees could be felled in one of the most picturesque tourist spots of Italy in an attempt to contain the problem. The cost of the raw material has been increasing for two years as crops have been hit by drought in Spain, the world’s biggest producer of the oil, and the bacterial disease Xylella fastidiosa, which is destroying trees in Italy.

Analysts are expecting prices to remain high in coming months as demand is increasing. Retailers and distributors wanted to buy 12% more olive oil than exporters were able to deliver last month, according to industry insiders. Buyers in Latin America have turned to Europe in the wake of poor harvests over the Atlantic, while eastern Europeans have also been using increasing amounts of olive oil. The next harvest from southern Europe is not expected until September, but fears of a third poor harvest in a row in Spain and Italy continue to push up wholesale prices of remaining stocks over the summer. The other two large olive oil producers, Greece and Tunisia, had good yield and production, but not enough to compensate for Spain and Italy.

In the UK, heavy price competition between retailers, led by the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl, has helped keep prices relatively low for shoppers. But this year, retailers and processors have been forced to pass on increases as the cost of the raw material from Italy has hit a 10-year high. The average retail price of a litre of extra virgin olive oil has risen from £6.32 in December to £6.95 this month, according to data from trade journal the Grocer.

Read more …

Humane society.

The Future of Food Finance (Barron’s)

The way people produce and eat food is changing in major ways, presenting both risks and opportunities for those invested in the sustenance sector. Historically, much of our protein has come from animals, but producing just one pound of meat means feeding an animal up to 16 pounds of grains and other crops. The caloric conversion is weak, too: According to a recent report produced in collaboration with the World Bank, even the most efficient sources of meat convert only around 11% of gross feed energy into human food. As global population and per capita meat consumption have grown, this inefficient system has become overburdened. In 1950, the total number of farm animals in the U.S. was somewhere near 100 million; by 2007, that number was roughly 9.5 billion.

To accommodate the enormous demand, nearly all of those animals were moved from farms to factories. According to Agriculture Department data, during the same period that the number of farm animals increased by 9,400%, the number of farmers producing those animals decreased by 60%. So many more animals being reared by so few farmers has come with consequences for consumers, animals, producers, and investors. Take pig production. Over the past several decades, the vast majority of breeding pigs have been moved into “gestation crates,” which are tiny cages that confine animals so tightly they can’t even turn around. The cages are iron maidens for sows. Not surprisingly, some consumers have responded with anger. “Cruel and senseless” is what the New York Times called the cages. “Torture on the farm,” reported the American Conservative magazine.

This outcry has led major food companies to demand changes. More than 60 of the world’s largest food retailers – McDonald’s, Nestlé, Burger King, Oscar Mayer, Safeway, Kroger, Costco, and dozens more – have announced plans to eliminate gestation crates from their pork-supply chains. Addressing animal welfare in corporate-responsibility programs is becoming the norm. “Active concern about how we treat the world around us has moved from the left of center to the mainstream, and savvy businesses are playing a part,” noted an editorial in Nation’s Restaurant News. “The growing number of animal-welfare-related commitments made by companies large and small reflect well-thought-out business –strategies.”

Read more …

“11,000 years before the generally recognised advent of organised cultivation..”

Archaeologists Find Possible Evidence Of Earliest Human Agriculture (Guardian)

Israeli archaeologists have uncovered dramatic evidence of what they believe are the earliest known attempts at agriculture, 11,000 years before the generally recognised advent of organised cultivation. The study examined more than 150,000 examples of plant remains recovered from an unusually well preserved hunter-gatherer settlement on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel. Previously, scientists had believed that organised agriculture in the Middle East, including animal husbandry and crop cultivation, had begun in the late Holocene period – around 12,000 BC – and later spread west through Europe. The new research is based on excavations at a site known as Ohalo II, which was discovered in 1989 when the water level in the sea of Galilee dropped because of drought and excessive water extraction.

Occupied by a community of hunter-gatherers at the height of the last ice age 23,000 years ago, it revealed evidence of six brush huts with hearths as well as stone tools and animal and plant remains. A series of fortuitous coincidences led to the site’s preservation. The huts had been built over shallow bowls dug by the occupants and later burned. On top of that a deposit of sandy silt had accumulated before the rising lake had left it under 4 metres of water. The study looked for evidence of early types of invasive weeds – or “proto-weeds” – that flourished in conditions created by human cultivation. According to the researchers, the community at Ohalo II was already exploiting the precursors to domesticated plant types that would become a staple in early agriculture, including emmer wheat, barley, pea, lentil, almond, fig, grape and olive.

Significantly, however, they discovered the presence of two types of weeds in current crop fields: corn cleavers and darnel. Microscopic examination of the edges of stone blades from the site also found material that may have been transferred during the cutting and harvesting of cereal plants. Prof Ehud Weiss, head of the archaeological botany lab at the Department of Land of Israel Studies, told the Guardian: “We know what happened ecologically: that these wild plants, some time in history, became weeds. Why? The simple answer is that because humans changed the environment and created new ecological niches, that made it more comfortable for species that would become weeds, meaning they only have to compete with one species.”

According to Weiss, the mixture of “proto-weeds” and grains that would become domesticated mirrors plant findings from later agricultural communities. The site also revealed evidence of rudimentary breadmaking from starch granules found on scorched stones, and that the community may have been largely sedentary, with evidence of consumption of birds throughout the year, including migrating species. “This botanical find is really opening new windows to the past,” Weiss said. “You have to remember Ohalo is a unique preservation. Between Ohalo and the beginning of the Neolithic we have a blank. And when the early Neolithic arrives people start [agriculture again] from scratch.

Read more …

Jul 242015
 
 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 8:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Harris&Ewing WSS poster, Washington DC 1917

Why The Casino Is In For A Rude Awakening, Part I (David Stockman)
Gold Is In Its Worst Slump Since 1996 (CNN)
Cheap Money Is Here to Stay (Pesek)
A 50% Stock Market Plunge Would Not Be A Surprise (Blodget)
Forced Austerity Will Take Greece Back 65 Years (Jim Fouras)
Greece Braces For Troika’s Return To Athens (Guardian)
Italy’s Plan B For An Exit From The Euro (Beppe Grillo)
Beppe Grillo Wants Nationalisation Of Italian Banks, Exit From Euro (Guardian)
Grillo Calls For Italy To Throw Off Euro ‘Straitjacket’ (FT)
Italy Leans While Greece Tumbles (Bloomberg)
Interview: Yanis Varoufakis (ABCLateline)
“Why I Voted ‘YES’ Tonight” (Yanis Varoufakis)
Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit (Daniel Munevar)
The Eurozone’s German Problem (Philippe Legrain)
The Return of the Ugly German (Joschka Fischer)
Schäuble – The Man Behind the Throne (Martin Armstrong)
German FinMin Schäuble’s Tough Tone Heightens Uncertainty Over Bailout (WSJ)
Greece: Out of the Mouth of “Foreign Affairs” Comes the Truth (Bruno Adrie)
Greek Store Closures Spike As Recession, Austerity Return (AP)
A Few Thoughts On Greek Shipping And Taxes (Papaeconomou)
Greek Financial Crisis Makes Its Migration Crisis Worse. EU Must Help. (WaPo)
Abenomics Needs To Be ‘Reloaded’, Warns IMF (CNBC)
Australia Weighs Steps to Rein In Sydney Property (WSJ)

“..to understand the potentially devastating extent of the coming asset deflation cycle, it is important to reprise the extent of the just completed and historically unprecedented global capital investment boom.”

Why The Casino Is In For A Rude Awakening, Part I (David Stockman)

The reason that the Bloomberg index will now knife through the 100 index level tagged on both the right- and left-hand side of the chart is the law of supply and demand – along with its first cousin called variable cost pricing and a destructive interloper best described as zombie finance. The latter is what becomes of central bank driven bubble finance when the cycle turns, as it is now doing, from asset accumulation and inflation to asset liquidation and deflation. But to understand the potentially devastating extent of the coming asset deflation cycle, it is important to reprise the extent of the just completed and historically unprecedented global capital investment boom.

Thus, in the case of the global mining industries, CapEx by the top 40 miners amounted to $18 billion in 2001. During the original boom cycle it soared to $42 billion by 2008, and then after a temporary pause during the financial crisis, reaccelerated once again, reaching a peak of $130 billion in 2013. Owing to the collapse of commodity prices as shown above, new projects and greenfield investments have pretty much ground to a halt in iron ore, met coal, copper and the other principal industrial materials, but there is a catch. Namely, that big projects which were in the pipeline when commodity prices and profit margins began to roll-over in 2012, are being carried to completion owing to the sunk cost syndrome. This means that available, on-line capacity continues to soar.

The poster child for that is the world’s largest iron ore port at Hedlund, Australia. The latter set another shipment record in June owing to still rising output in mines it services – a record notwithstanding the plunge of iron ore prices from a peak of $190 per ton in 2011 to $47 per ton a present. The ramp-up in E&P investment for oil and gas was similar. Global spending was $100 billion in the year 2000, but had risen to $400 billion by 2008 and peaked at $700 billion in 2014. In the case of hydrocarbon E&P investment, however,the law of variable cost pricing works with a vengeance because “lifting costs” even for shale and tar sands are modest compared to the front-end capital investment. Accordingly, the response of production to plunging prices has been initially limited and will be substantially prolonged.

Read more …

“All of that is creating an anti-inflationary environment that sucks the air out of the gold market.”

Gold Is In Its Worst Slump Since 1996 (CNN)

So much for predictions that gold would spike to $2,000 an ounce. The yellow metal is in a deep slump. It’s down more than 40% from its 2011 peak and crashing back toward $1,000. The slide just keeps getting worse. Gold has declined for 10 straight days. That’s the longest losing streak for gold since September 1996. To put that into perspective, back then oil prices were fetching just $19 a barrel, New York Yankees rookie shortstop Derek Jeter was nearing his first World Series title and rap fans were mourning the death of Tupac Shakur. So why is gold getting creamed? It comes down to three key factors: a strong U.S. dollar, China slowing down its gold purchases and little worry about inflation anymore.

1. Strong dollar: A strong greenback hurts commodities that are measured in dollars because it makes them more expensive for overseas buyers. It’s a double negative for gold because the precious metal is supposed to be a hedge against inflation and the devaluing of currency. “Gold has taken it on the chin with the strength in the dollar. Over the past week or so, it was almost like a perfect storm,” said Bob Alderman, head of wealth management at Gold Bullion International, a provider of precious metals. The U.S. dollar lost ground against most currencies on Thursday, giving gold a short reprieve. Gold prices ticked up 0.2% to $1,093 an ounce. But over the coming months, the dollar is expected to keep climbing.

2. China, Iran & Greece: Gold plummeted by as much as $40 an ounce in mere minutes after China’s central bank gave a rare update on how much gold it’s hoarding. The numbers showed the world’s largest gold producer has been stockpiling gold reserves at a slower pace than previously thought, spooking gold investors. Gold has also been hurt by easing tensions in Europe and the Middle East. Iran’s landmark nuclear agreement with the West has lessened some fears about a conflict in that volatile region. Those fears had allowed gold, and more so oil, to trade at a premium. Likewise, Greece landed a last-minute deal with its creditors that allows the crisis-ravaged country to stay in the euro. Investors are no longer speculating about a Greek exit or the long-term implications for the currency union. “The new bailout softened the fear of contagion. That was not a good thing for gold,” said Alderman.

3. What inflation? Inflation worries also remain muted. When gold topped $1,900 in September 2011, some investors bought gold because they feared the Federal Reserve’s money printing would cause runaway inflation. But inflation continues to undershoot the Fed’s goals despite extremely low interest rates and years of massive bond purchases. “Over the last 5,000 years gold has been a store of value that will be there for a time when there is inflation. There is no inflation now,” said George Gero at RBC Capital Markets. In fact, the recent collapse in the commodities complex is only lowering inflation and inflation expectations. Everything from coffee, sugar, beans to crude oil is heading south. Industrial metals like copper and aluminum have renewed their tumble in recent days as soft global economic growth hurts demand and supply gluts deepen. All of that is creating an anti-inflationary environment that sucks the air out of the gold market.

Read more …

Does China have a choice?

Cheap Money Is Here to Stay (Pesek)

For decades, central banks lorded over markets. Traders quivered at the omnipotence of monetary authorities – their every move, utterance and wink a reason to scurry for safe havens or an opportunity to score huge profits. Now, though, markets are the ones doing the bullying. Take New Zealand and Australia. Yesterday, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand slashed borrowing costs for the second time in six weeks even as housing prices continue to skyrocket. A day earlier, its counterpart across the Tasman Sea (already wrestling with an even bigger property bubble of its own) said a third cut this year is “on the table.” Just one year ago, it seemed unthinkable that officials in Wellington and Sydney, more typically known for their hawkishness and stubborn independence, would join the global race toward zero.

But with commodity prices sliding, China slowing and governments reluctant to adopt bold reforms, jittery markets are demanding ever-bigger gestures from central banks. Even those presiding over stable growth feel the need to placate hedge funds, lest asset markets falter. When this dynamic overtakes countries such as New Zealand (growing 2.6%) and Australia (2.3%), it’s hard not to conclude that ultralow rates will be the global norm for a long, long time. Indeed, the major monetary powers that are easing – Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand – have all suggested rates may stay low almost indefinitely. Those angling to return to normalcy, meanwhile – the Fed and Bank of England – are pledging to move very slowly. Even nations with rising inflation problems, like India, are hinting at more stimulus.

“As interest rates continue to fall across most of the globe, central banks are also united in their main message: Once rates have come down, they’re likely to stay down,” says Simon Grose-Hodge of LGT Bank. “And when they finally do tighten, the ‘normal’ rate is going to be a lot lower than it used to be.” Could the People’s Bank of China be next? “With underlying GDP growth still looking weak, more monetary policy moves are likely,” says Adam Slater of Oxford Economics. “And China may even face the prospect of short-term rates dropping towards the zero lower bound.”

Read more …

But Henry expects a resurge. On what basis, though?

A 50% Stock Market Plunge Would Not Be A Surprise (Blodget)

As regular readers know, for the past ~21 months I have been worrying out loud about US stock prices. Specifically, I have suggested that a decline of 30% to 50% would not be a surprise. I haven’t predicted a crash. But I have said clearly that I think stocks will deliver returns that are way below average for the next seven to 10 years. And I certainly won’t be surprised to see stocks crash. So don’t say no one warned you! So far, these concerns have just made me sound like Chicken Little. The S&P 500 is up strongly from where I first sounded the alarm. That’s actually good for me, because I own stocks. But my concerns haven’t changed. Earlier this year, for the first time, I even put (some) money where my mouth is!

In February, I changed the “dividend reinvestment” policy on my S&P 500 fund. (I’m an indexer — I think stock-picking is generally a lousy strategy for individuals.) Specifically, I stopped reinvesting dividends. I’m a long-term investor, so I don’t really care what stocks do next. This dividend change was a bet that, at some point in the future, I will be able to reinvest the cash from these dividends in stocks at lower prices than today. If stock prices never fall below today’s level, this will cost me money. It will also make me feel dumb for (sort of) trying to time the market. But at some point you’ve got to put some money behind what your analysis is telling you. What my analysis is telling me is:

1) stocks are extremely expensive and will eventually revert toward historical means, probably via a sharp correction of 30% to 50%

2) long-term stock returns from today’s level will be about 2% per year — nothing to write home about

So if I think there’s risk of a crash, why don’t I just sell everything? For the reasons outlined below. Again, I don’t care if the stocks I own tank, as long as they don’t tank permanently. A crash will just give me a chance to buy more at lower prices.

Read more …

Jim Fouras is a former speaker of the Queensland Parliament.

Forced Austerity Will Take Greece Back 65 Years (Jim Fouras)

It’s hard to believe that in the last five years, Greece’s financial situation is comparable to those dark days when Germany invaded Greece. For example: a 25% decline in GDP; 25% unemployment (50% among youth); 40% of children living below the poverty line; soaring suicides rates; people cannot afford basic medicines and health care. Austerity measures are suffocating Greece and causing a brain drain that will damage it for generations. German leader Angela Merkel, in unison with the Troika, has forced austerity programs on the Greeks. For five years, Merkel has dominated the crisis management of the Greek economy through her insistence on fiscal rigour and cuts despite a huge economic slump and impoverishment of Greek society.

The IMF has argued internally for at least three years that the organisation was breaching its own rules by taking part in any bailout that held little prospect of achieving the debt sustainability that the IMF rescues prescribed. IMF boss Christine Lagarde ignored this advice. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stigliz argues that “when the IMF arrives in a country, they are only interested in one thing. How do we make sure that banks and the financial institutions are paid … they are not interested in development or what helps a country get out of poverty”. The Troika has assumed their bailout programs would reduce Greece’s debt to well below 110% (of GDP) by 2022. The Guardian has published IMF documents showing that under the best-case scenario, which includes a growth projection of 4% per year for the next five years (a ridiculous assumption), the country’s debt level will drop to 124% Greece’s debt level is now 175% and the nation slid back into recession.

The Greek economy will continue to slide unless there is a significant reduction of its debt and policies that allow Greece to grow at a rate to service those debts. Two days before the recent referendum, the IMF conceded that the crisis-ridden country needs up to 60 billion euros of extra funds over the next three years and large-scale debt relief. Germany will not accept debt relief, consequently it is not the Troika’s agenda. Greece is being forced to sell assets worth €50 billion with the proceeds earmarked for a trust fund supervised by its creditors — foreign leaders demanding almost total surrender of its national fiscal sovereignty. It would be difficult to imagine any sensible seller taking part in such a fire sale. The Greek Parliament will now vote for their country to be poorer.

Read more …

“How Greeks will react remains unclear, with much depending on media coverage.”

Greece Braces For Troika’s Return To Athens (Guardian)

Greece is bracing for the return to Athens of officials representing the reviled “troika” of creditors as the debt-stricken country prepares to start negotiations for a third bailout. Mission chiefs with the EU, ECB and IMF fly into the Greek capital on Friday for talks on a proposed €86bn (£60bn) bailout, the third emergency funding programme for Athens since 2010. The return of the triumvirate, a day after internationally mandated reforms were pushed through the parliament by MPs, marks a personal defeat for the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, who had pledged never to allow the auditors to step foot in Greece again. How Greeks will react remains unclear, with much depending on media coverage.

“The press will almost certainly make a big deal out of this and the government will try to play it down,” said Aristides Hatzis, a leading political commentator. “But given what people have gone through recently it might seem rather trivial and that is to Tsipras’ advantage. Their presence will definitely reinforce the realisation that another bailout is here.” Much has changed for Tsipras, the young firebrand catapulted into office on promises to eradicate the biting austerity policies that over five years have created record levels of unemployment and poverty. In the six months since his election, the radical leftist has been brought face-to-face with the brute force of fiscal rectitude and a German-dominated Europe.

Addressing parliament ahead of the crucial vote, Tsipras, who succumbed to the demands of foreign lenders earlier this month – accepting an ultimatum to find €12bn of savings, by far the heaviest austerity package to date – conceded that his government had been defeated. But he insisted the alternative – bankruptcy and exit from the euro – would have been catastrophic. He told MPs: “We chose a difficult compromise to avert the most extreme plans by the most extreme circles in Europe.” [..] “We are turning our back on our common battles when in essence we say … austerity and giving into blackmail is a one-way street,” said Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads the Left Platform, the far-left faction around which mutinous MPs rally around. “Greece does not have a future as a blackmailed eurozone colony under memorandum [bailout],” added the former minister who now advocates a return to the drachma.

Read more …

” The drama of the Euro will keep going as long as the Americans want it to, that is until the definitive approval of the TTIP by which the USA will place Europe in subjugation..”

Italy’s Plan B For An Exit From The Euro (Beppe Grillo)

Tspiras couldn’t have done a worse job of defending the Greek people. Only profound economic short-sightedness together with an opaque political strategy could transform the enormous electoral consensus that brought him into government in January into the victory for his adversories, the creditor countries, only six months later, in spite of winning the referendum in the mean time. An a priori rejection of a Euroexit has been his death sentence. Like the PD, he was convinced that it’s possible to break the link between the Euro and Austerity. Tsipras has handed over his country into the hands of the Germans, to be used like a vassal. Thinking that it’s possible to oppose the Euro only from within and presenting oneself without an explicit Plan B for an exit, he has in fact ended up by depriving Greece of any negotiating power in relation to the Euro.

So it was clear from the beginning that Tsipras would have crashed even though Varoufakis did try to react a few times. Only Vendola, the PD and the media inspired by the Scalfari-style lies (among many) of the United States of Europe and of those who are nostalgic about the Ventotene Manifesto could have believed in a Euro without Austerity. And they are obliged to go on believing in this so as not to have to admit that there is an exit opportunity after seven years of economic disasters. The consequence of this political disaster is before everyone’s eyes:
– Explicit Nazi-ism on the part of those that have reduced the periphery of Europe to a protectorate by using the debt, with alarming echoes of historical parallels.
– Mutism or explicit support for Germany by the oher European countries perhaps because of opportunism (north) or because of subordination (periphery).
– Financial markets that are celebrating the end of democracy with new highs.
– Expropriation of the national wealth by mortgaging €50 billlion of Greek property that ended up in the fund created by Adolf Schauble so as to get to rake in the cash from the war debts.

It was all thought out, foreseen, and planned down to the last detail. The drama of the Euro will keep going as long as the Americans want it to, that is until the definitive approval of the TTIP by which the USA will place Europe in subjugation in a way that is not dissimilar to how Germany is subjugating the periphery. By now the Euro is an explicit battle between the creditors and the debtors. It’s not useful for our government to try to appear to be on the virtuous side of the winners – those supporting the Euro – and supporting reform. It’s not possible to reform the Euro from within but the fight must be fought on the outside and we must abandon this anti-democratic straitjacket. Our debt and lack of growth together with deflation, place us neatly in the category of those who are beaten by debt. Thus we’d do well to prepare ourselves with a government that is explicitly anti-Euro to defend ourselves from the final assault on the wealth of the Italian people who are ever more at risk, unless we reclaim our monetary sovereignty.

Read more …

“[This] is how not to lose the first battle we will face when the time comes to break away from the union and the ECB..”

Beppe Grillo Wants Nationalisation Of Italian Banks, Exit From Euro (Guardian)

The populist leader of Italy’s second largest political party has called for the nationalisation of Italian banks and exit from the euro, and said the country should prepare to use its “enormous debt” as a weapon against Germany. Former comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, who transformed Italian politics when he launched his anti-establishment Five Star Movement in 2009, has long been a bombastic critic of the euro. But his stance hardened significantly in a blogpost on Thursday in which he compared the Greek bailout negotiations to “explicit nazism”. Grillo constructed what he called a “Plan B” for Italy, which he said needed to heed the lessons of Greece so that it was ready “when the debtors come round”.

His plan called for Italy to adopt a clear anti-euro stance and to shake off its belief that – if forced to accept tough austerity – other “peripheral” countries would come to its aid. Grillo said Italy had to use its enormous €2tn (£1.4bn) debt as leverage against Germany, implying that the potential global damage of an Italian default would stop Germany from “interfering” with Italy’s “legitimate right” to convert its debt into another currency. He said Greece’s hand had been forced by the threat of bankruptcy to its banks, and that Italy therefore needed to nationalise its banks and shift to another currency. “[This] is how not to lose the first battle we will face when the time comes to break away from the union and the ECB,” Grillo wrote.

Setting aside Grillo’s colourful language and analogies, analyst Vincenzo Scarpetta of Open Europe said there was some merit to his arguments. “That blogpost does have some elements of truth,” Scarpetta said. “The lesson from Greece was that if you want to be in the eurozone you have to agree to rules of austerity.” The strength of anti-euro sentiment in Italy is easy to overlook since Matteo Renzi, the centre-left prime minister and head of the Democratic party, is a strong defender of Italy’s role in the eurozone. But Scarpetta pointed out that supporters of the Five Star Movement, coupled with supporters of the rightwing Northern League, which is also anti-euro, means that about 40% of Italians are at least sympathetic to anti-euro sentiments.

Read more …

No, really, M5S was the biggest single party in the latest elections. Renzi got in because of a ‘vote link’ between his party and another one.

Grillo Calls For Italy To Throw Off Euro ‘Straitjacket’ (FT)

Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement, has launched a full-throated attack on the euro, saying Rome should abandon what he called an “anti-democratic straitjacket”. Mr Grillo, whose party is the second most popular in Italy, demanded the government formulate a “plan B” to exit the single currency and “take back our monetary sovereignty”. The comedian has become an increasingly trenchant critic of the euro at a time of rising euroscepticism across the Italian political landscape, spurred in part by the agonies of Greece and its prolonged bailout talks. But his attack on the single currency in an extensive blog post was nonetheless remarkable for its ferocity.

It suggests Mr Grillo sees a political opportunity in doubling down on his anti-euro message in the wake of Greece’s last-minute acceptance of exacting terms for a third bailout. It is also a sign of political contagion, or concerns that populist forces might gain traction from the Greek crisis. The Five Star Movement has been rising steadily in the polls since March. It is now garnering the support of nearly 25% of Italian voters and has narrowed the gap with the ruling centre-left Democratic party led by Matteo Renzi, the prime minister. Mr Grillo was particularly scathing about Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, whom he had professed to admire before the deal was reached. “It would be difficult to defend the interests of the Greek people worse than Tsipras did,” Mr Grillo wrote.

“His refusal to exit the euro was his death sentence. He was convinced that he could break the marriage between the euro and austerity, but ended up delivering his country into Germany’s hands, like a vassal.” To avoid that fate, Mr Grillo said Italy should use its heavy debt load — worth more than €2tn, or 130% of GDP — as a threat. “[The debt] is an advantage that allows us to be on the offensive in any future negotiation, it is not a bogeyman that should make us bite at any request from our creditors,” he said.

Read more …

“Its €2.3 trillion debt, more than 132% of GDP, is second only to Greece in the euro area. Italy has lost a quarter of its industrial output, and GDP has contracted by 9% since 2007.“

Italy Leans While Greece Tumbles (Bloomberg)

Viewed from Berlin or London, the financial woes of Italy and Greece can look dangerously similar. Both sit on mountains of public debt and suffer from double-digit unemployment. So why hasn’t Italy had to shutter banks, submit to austerity measures in return for emergency loans, and contemplate an exit from the euro? For now Italy is chugging along, paying its debts and selling bonds. Its benchmark stock index is up 25% this year. It’s emerging from a record recession even as Greece enters a new slump after a brief rebound in 2014. Rome-based Eni, Europe’s No. 4 oil company, is pumping 1.7 million barrels per day globally and says output will keep rising. Finmeccanica sells helicopters to corporations and armed forces from the U.K. to China. Carnival cruise liners are made in Fincantieri’s Trieste shipyard.

Italian luxury goods, from Fendi to Ferrari, are at the top of consumer shopping lists. Among European manufacturers, Italy trails only Germany in production. The Greeks? They’ve got tourism and shipping and little else, says Marc Ostwald, a fixed income strategist at ADM Investor Service in London. Greek exports fell 7.5% in the first quarter, while Italy’s rose more than 3%. Tourism in Italy generated about €34 billion last year, almost triple what it did in Greece. With 60 million residents, Italy is more than five times as populous as Greece. History makes a difference, too. Rebuilding from World War II, Italy set off on the Dolce Vita boom years, popularizing the Vespa scooter and making a mark in international design.

Nutella, a nut-based chocolate spread introduced after the war, had annual sales of €8.4 billion last year, making the Ferrero family one of Italy’s richest. Greece, by contrast, went from government by junta in the 1960s and 1970s to a republic run by a political elite and a bloated government in the 1980s. Cutting its civil service and pension costs down to an appropriate size lies at the heart of the struggle between Greece and Europe on economic reform. Italy’s strength as an industrial exporter has provided stability, helping the country build up gold reserves of $90 billion—the world’s third-biggest stash after the U.S. and Germany and more than 20 times what Greece holds. Just a single Italian bank needed a public bailout after the 2008 crisis, even as dozens of lenders in northern Europe had to dip into state coffers to stay open.

[..] Italy may yet become another Greece. Aside from the recent uptick in growth, its numbers are grim. The global financial crisis of 2008-09, followed by the euro debt crisis, triggered the deepest and longest recessions in Italy’s postwar history. Its €2.3 trillion debt, more than 132% of GDP, is second only to Greece in the euro area. Italy has lost a quarter of its industrial output, and GDP has contracted by 9% since 2007. As a member of the euro zone, Italy can’t counter falling foreign demand by devaluing its currency, as it often did when the lira was in use. Unemployment is 12.5%, and 45% among youth—many of whom flee abroad. “Some of my best pupils, who speak English and other languages, have had to move to the U.K. or Germany to find jobs and a better future,” says Ivo Pezzuto at Università Cattolica in Milan

Read more …

“..we don’t believe in it and we should not be trying to implement a program whose logic we contest.”

Interview: Yanis Varoufakis (ABCLateline)

EMMA ALBERICI: What was the point of the referendum then? The Greek people told you they didn’t want you to cave in to the demands from your eurozone partners and the IMF, but then that’s exactly what you’ve ended up doing.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: That’s an excellent question, isn’t it? Let me remind you that on that night, the night of the referendum when I discovered that my prime minister and my government were going to move in the direction that you’ve mentioned, I resigned my post. That was the reason why I resigned, not because anybody else demanded it.

EMMA ALBERICI: So would it surprise you if you were forced back to the polls and indeed if you lost the next election?

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Nothing would surprise me these days in Europe. We seem to be doing the wrong thing consistently. It’s a comedy of errors, from 2010 onwards. It’s my considered opinion that the responsible thing to do for our party will be to hand over the keys of government to those who believe in this program, in this fiscal consolidation reform program and the new loan, ’cause we don’t believe in it and we should not be trying to implement a program whose logic we contest.

EMMA ALBERICI: And it’s curious because at a time when Australia is debating a rise in the GST from 10 to 15%, the Greek people have seen their GST go up from 13 to 23% on public transport and processed foods. I mean, you didn’t get voted in to government – you actually got voted into government promising the opposite: no more austerity.

YANIS VAROUFAKIS: Precisely. It’s the reason why I resigned. To increase VAT in a broken economy like Greece to 23%, in an economy where the problem is not that the tax rates were too low, but the tax take was too low because of tax evasion. I spent five months in the Ministry of Finance trying to devise ways of having a new social contract between the state and the Greek people, the basis of which would be: we will reduce the rates for you, but you will pay it and you will not evade. And then you have the troika of lenders, the creditors, ruthlessly, effectively implementing the policies of a coup d’etat and putting our Prime Minister in a position where he had to choose between measures like the ones you mentioned, pushing VAT up to exorbitant heights, and therefore condemning our tax take to be reduced significantly or having our banks remain shut forever. This is a major assault both on rationality and on European democracy.

Read more …

“with the hope that my comrades will gain some time, and that we, all of us, united, will plan a new resistance to autocracy, misanthropy, and the (facilitated) acceleration and deepening of the crisis.”

“Why I Voted ‘YES’ Tonight” (Yanis Varoufakis)

[..] .. in the document that I had sent to the institutions, I was merely accepting the responsibility of a “new Civil Code” and certainly not the one they would dictate. Nor would I have ever imagined that our government (under the supervision of the Troika) would accept to submit all those changes to the Parliament under the label “urgent”, thus negating all the adjustments and annulling the Parliament. Last Wednesday I had no other choice but to vote with a thunderous NO. Mine came to stand beside the NO that 61.5% of our compatriots answered to a capitulation under the infamous TINA (there is no alternative). I

have denied this for the past 35 years in all 4 continents where I have lived. Today, tonight, those two measures, which I had myself proposed on February, are introduced to the Greek Parliament in a manner that I had never imagined; a manner which adds no credit to the government of SYRIZA. My disagreement with the way we handled the negotiations after the referendum is essential. And yet, my main goal is to protect the unity of SYRIZA, to support A.Tsipras, and to stand behind E.Takalotos. I have already explained all that in my article with the title Why I voted NO published in EfSyn .

Accordingly, today I will vote YES, for two measures that I, myself, had proposed, albeit under radically different conditions and requirements. Unfortunately I am certain that my vote will not be of any help to the government towards our common goals. And that is because the Euro Summit “prior actions’ deal was designed to fail. I will, however offer my vote with the hope that my comrades will gain some time, and that we, all of us, united, will plan a new resistance to autocracy, misanthropy, and the (facilitated) acceleration and deepening of the crisis. (i) This morning, while participating at the Financial Committee of the parliament, I ascertained that no colleague of mine, not even the Minister of Justice, agreed with the new civil code. It was a sad spectacle.

Read more …

Daniel Munevar is a 30-year-old post-Keynesian economist from Bogotá, Colombia. From March to July 2015 he worked as a close aide to former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis”

Why I’ve Changed My Mind About Grexit (Daniel Munevar)

What do you make of the latest bailout agreed between Greece and its creditors? Well, first of all it’s still not clear that there will be an actual agreement – there are several parliaments that need to approve their country’s participation in an ESM bailout. And even if they somehow reach an agreement, there is simply no way it can work. The economics of the program are just insane. They haven’t announced the precise fiscal targets yet, but if we look at the Debt Sustainability Analyses (DSAs) published by the IMF and the Commission, they both state that the target should be a 3.5% primary surplus in the medium term.

But if you look at what has happened over the course of the past five years, Greece has managed to ‘improve’ its structural balance by 19 points of GDP. During that same time, GDP has collapsed by about 20% – that’s an almost one-to-one relation. So if you start from -1% – which is the general assumption for this year – to make it to 3.5 means you need an adjustment of over 4% of GDP, which means GDP will collapse by another 4 points between now and 2018. This brings us to another point, which is that the current agreement is just a taste of things to come. The final Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) is definitely going to contain much harsher austerity measure than the ones currently on the table, to offset the drop in GDP that we have witnessed in the past months as a result of the standoff with the creditors.

The problem is that these Memorandums are turning Greece into a debt colony: you’re basically creating a set of rules which, as the government misses its fiscal targets – knowing for a fact that it will –, will force the government to keep retrenching even more, which will cause GDP to collapse even further, which will mean even more austerity, etc. It’s a never-ending vicious circle. This underscores one of the core problems of this whole situation: i.e., that the institutions have always disentangled the fiscal targets from the debt sustainability analyses. The logic of having debt relief is that it allows you to basically have lower fiscal targets and distribute over time the impact of fiscal consolidation. But in Greece’s case, even if there is debt relief on the scale that they are suggesting – which is unlikely – Greece will still have to implement massive consolidation, on top of everything that has been already done.

Read more …

“.. in exchange for these loans, Merkel obtained much greater control over all eurozone governments’ budgets through a demand-sapping, democracy-constraining fiscal straitjacket..”

The Eurozone’s German Problem (Philippe Legrain)

The eurozone has a German problem. Germany’s beggar-thy-neighbor policies and the broader crisis response that the country has led have proved disastrous. Seven years after the start of the crisis, the eurozone economy is faring worse than Europe did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The German government’s efforts to crush Greece and force it to abandon the single currency have destabilized the monetary union. As long as German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s administration continues to abuse its dominant position as creditor-in-chief to advance its narrow interests, the eurozone cannot thrive – and may not survive. Germany’s immense current-account surplus – the excess savings generated by suppressing wages to subsidize exports – has been both a cause of the eurozone crisis and an obstacle to resolving it.

Before the crisis, it fueled German banks’ bad lending to southern Europe and Ireland. Now that Germany’s annual surplus – which has grown to €233 billion, approaching 8% of GDP – is no longer being recycled in southern Europe, the country’s depressed domestic demand is exporting deflation, deepening the eurozone’s debt woes. Germany’s external surplus clearly falls afoul of eurozone rules on dangerous imbalances. But, by leaning on the European Commission, Merkel’s government has obtained a free pass. This makes a mockery of its claim to champion the eurozone as a rules-based club. In fact, Germany breaks rules with impunity, changes them to suit its needs, or even invents them at will. Indeed, even as it pushes others to reform, Germany has ignored the Commission’s recommendations.

As a condition of the new eurozone loan program, Germany is forcing Greece to raise its pension age – while it lowers its own. It is insisting that Greek shops open on Sundays, even though German ones do not. Corporatism, it seems, is to be stamped out elsewhere, but protected at home. Beyond refusing to adjust its economy, Germany has pushed the costs of the crisis onto others. In order to rescue the country’s banks from their bad lending decisions, Merkel breached the Maastricht Treaty’s “no-bailout” rule, which bans member governments from financing their peers, and forced European taxpayers to lend to an insolvent Greece. Likewise, loans by eurozone governments to Ireland, Portugal, and Spain primarily bailed out insolvent local banks – and thus their German creditors.

To make matters worse, in exchange for these loans, Merkel obtained much greater control over all eurozone governments’ budgets through a demand-sapping, democracy-constraining fiscal straitjacket: tougher eurozone rules and a fiscal compact.
Germany’s clout has resulted in a eurozone banking union that is full of holes and applied asymmetrically. The country’s Sparkassen – savings banks with a collective balance sheet of some €1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) – are outside the European Central Bank’s supervisory control, while thinly capitalized mega-banks, such as Deutsche Bank, and the country’s rotten state-owned regional lenders have obtained an implausibly clean bill of health.

Read more …

Fischer (German Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998-2005) is still a major voice in Germany. But he’s been awkwardly silent.

The Return of the Ugly German (Joschka Fischer)

In terms of foreign policy, Germany rebuilt trust by embracing Western integration and Europeanization. The power at the center of Europe should never again become a threat to the continent or itself. Thus, the Western Allies’ aim after 1945 – unlike after World War I – was not to isolate Germany and weaken it economically, but to protect it militarily and firmly embed it politically in the West. Indeed, Germany’s reconciliation with its arch-enemy, France, remains the foundation of today’s European Union, helping to incorporate Germany into the common European market, with a view to the eventual political unification of Europe. But in today’s Germany, such ideas are considered hopelessly “Euro-romantic”; their time has passed.

Where Europe is concerned, from now on Germany will primarily pursue its national interests, just like everybody else. But such thinking is based on a false premise. The path that Germany will pursue in the twenty-first century – toward a “European Germany” or a “German Europe” – has been the fundamental, historical question at the heart of German foreign policy for two centuries. And it was answered during that long night in Brussels, with German Europe prevailing over European Germany. This was a fateful decision for both Germany and Europe. One wonders whether Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble knew what they were doing. To dismiss the fierce criticism of Germany and its leading players that erupted after the diktat on Greece, as many Germans do, is to don rose-tinted glasses.

Certainly, there was nonsensical propaganda about a Fourth Reich and asinine references to the Führer. But, at its core, the criticism articulates an astute awareness of Germany’s break with its entire post-WWII European policy. For the first time, Germany didn’t want more Europe; it wanted less. Germany’s stance on the night of July 12-13 announced its desire to transform the eurozone from a European project into a kind of sphere of influence. Merkel was forced to choose between Schäuble and France (and Italy). The issue was fundamental: Her finance minister wanted to compel a eurozone member to leave “voluntarily” by exerting massive pressure.

Greece could either exit (in full knowledge of the disastrous consequences for the country and Europe) or accept a program that effectively makes it a European protectorate, without any hope of economic improvement. Greece is now subject to a cure – further austerity – that has not worked in the past and that was prescribed solely to address Germany’s domestic political needs. But the massive conflict with France and Italy, the eurozone’s second and third largest economies, is not over, because, for Schäuble, Grexit remains an option. By claiming that debt relief is “legally” possible only outside the eurozone, he wants to turn the issue into the lever for bringing about a “voluntary” Grexit.

Read more …

“Behind the curtain, the federalization of Europe is the ultimate goal, although politicians always denied that in front of the curtain.”

Schäuble – The Man Behind the Throne (Martin Armstrong)

Many Europeans are starting to see a very hard-line German position championed by Schäuble, which they are characterizing behind the curtain as a more selfish edge by demanding painful measures from Athens and resisting any firm commitment to granting the Greek relief from crippling debt, despite the fact that it was such debt relief that enabled Germany to recover. Yet the position of Schäuble from the outset was his vision that the other nations must coordinate with the core, of which the other nations were not actually regarded. That perception of a selfish Germany has been fueled by Schäuble’s statement suggesting that Greece would get its best shot at a substantial cut in its debt ONLY if it was willing to give up membership in the European common currency. Schäuble is expected to take his tough stance once again with the next crash candidate. For many, that appears to be Italy, which is now considered the greatest risk within Euroland. Yet, his views are spelled out in his 1994 paper.

Schäuble seems to have foresaw the crisis back in 1994, distinguishing between core members and non-core members. Therefore, his thinking is quite different from that of France. Paris has jumped the gun after the Greece disaster and now want a core Europe push, but clearly with Italy as a full-fledged member into a new federalized Europe. Behind the curtain, the federalization of Europe is the ultimate goal, although politicians always denied that in front of the curtain. The curtain is starting to be drawn, but the equal federalization of Europe was never part of the German mindset. There seems to be a conflict emerging between Germany and France because France wiped out its economy with insane taxation. It too will fall in this next downward cycle.

Read more …

Schäuble has of course been at least as detrimental as Varoufakis to the conversation, but he’s still in place. Go figure.

German FinMin Schäuble’s Tough Tone Heightens Uncertainty Over Bailout (WSJ)

Germany’s finance chief departed for his annual vacation on a posh North Sea island on Thursday, leaving the capital to mull a summer mystery that could decide Greece’s fate: What’s going on with Wolfgang Schäuble? Over the past two weeks, the 72-year-old Mr. Schäuble has puzzled even German officials who know the finance chief well with remarks questioning the wisdom of a new bailout for Greece. He has also hinted he might resign over differences with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The comments mark a shift to a more hawkish tone for Germany’s longest-serving national politician, whose career has been defined by loyalty to his political allies and to the idea of European integration.

They also underscore the fragility of last week’s agreement among eurozone leaders to work toward a new bailout deal for Greece, which governments will need to sign off on as early as next month. A person who works closely with Mr. Schäuble said the minister remained guided by a commitment to European interests—and that giving in to Greek demands, for instance, by forgiving debt would damage the EU’s credibility. The Finance Ministry is working to lay the groundwork for a new bailout, the person said, even though Mr. Schäuble’s preferred solution would have been for Greece to agree to a temporary “timeout” from the euro.

But Mr. Schäuble’s open skepticism over whether a new bailout would work has heightened uncertainty over what would happen once officials representing international creditors reached a preliminary deal with Athens, which is expected in the middle of next month. Over the weekend, Mr. Schäuble mused in response to a German magazine interviewer’s question about his differences on Greece with Ms. Merkel that he would resign if someone forced him to violate the responsibilities of his office. “I could go to the president and ask for my dismissal,” Mr. Schäuble told Der Spiegel, before adding that he wasn’t, in fact, considering resigning.

Read more …

“Greece was only a pipe through which French and German banks, for the most part, saved themselves.”

Greece: Out of the Mouth of “Foreign Affairs” Comes the Truth (Bruno Adrie)

In an article by Mark Blyth titled “A Pain in the Athens: Why Greece Isn’t to Blame for the Crisis” and published on July 7th 2015 in Foreign Affairs, one discovers surprising statements, which are all the more surprising when one knows that this magazine is published by the Council on Foreign Relations that gathers the American élite, the New-Yorker banking élite being there for the most part. According to the author, “Greece has very little to do with the crisis that bears its name”. And, to make us understand this, he invites us to “follow the money—and those who bank it”. According to him, the origins of the crisis are not to be looked for in Greece but “in the architecture of European banking”.

Indeed, during the first decade of the euro, European banks, attracted by easy money, granted massive loans in what the author calls “the European periphery”, and, in 2010, in the middle of the financial crisis, banks had accumulated impaired periphery assets corresponding to €465 billion for French banks and €493 billion for German banks. “Only a small part of those impaired assets were Greek”, but the problem is that, in 2010, Greece published a revised budget equivalent to 15% of the GDP. Nothing to be afraid of actually since it only represented 0.3% of the Eurozone’s GDPs put together. But, because of their periphery assets and above all a leverage rate* twice as high—that is to say twice as risky—as the American banks’, European banks feared that a Greek default would make them collapse.

This is what really happened. The banks’ insatiable voracity led them, as always, to act carelessly, and, as they did not accept their failure, as always, they made sure that others would foot the bill. Nothing new under the golden sky of the Banking Industry, unless, this time, it went a bit further than usual. These banks set up the Troïka program in order to “stop the bond market bank run”. And no matter if it increased unemployment by 25% and destroyed the third of the country’s GDP. It doesn’t make much difference to the bankers. This is what the rescue plans have been used for. Apparently aimed at Greece, they were created by and for the major European banks. Today, given that the Greek can no longer pay French and German banks, even the European taxpayers are solicited.

Greece was only a pipe through which French and German banks, for the most part, saved themselves. On the total amount of €203 billion that represents the two rescue plans (2010-2013 and 2012-2014), 65% went right to the banks’ vaults. Some people even go so far as to say that 90% of the loans did not pass through Greece. This approach, expressed in the columns of Foreign Affairs, cannot be seen as heterodox. It is even confirmed by the ex-director of theBundesbank, Karl Otto Pöhl, who acknowledged that the rescue plan was meant to save the banks, and especially the French banks, from their rotten debts.

Read more …

The idea is to get the whole population on its kness.

Greek Store Closures Spike As Recession, Austerity Return (AP)

Running a business in Koukaki is becoming a struggle. Shop-owners in the central Athens neighborhood, one of the capital city’s most financially diverse, are finding it a lot more difficult to get by. They could be cutting hair or selling extra-large shirts – it makes no difference. Their tales of hardship can be repeated up and down the country of nearly 11 million people. Empty storefronts are again a feature of Greeces towns and cities amid a crisis that put Greece’s future in the euro in doubt. The downturn worsened after the late-June decision by the Greek government to impose a series of strict controls on the free flow of money, with a paltry 60-euro a day limit on daily withdrawals from ATMs. Though banks reopened this week for the first time in more than three weeks, the ATM withdrawal limit is unchanged and cash is becoming scarce.

For an economy where cash payments are the norm, that’s a problem. In Koukaki, about 2 kilometers south of downtown Athens, 65-year-old mechanic Giorgos Prasinoudis is angry. His wife and 11-year-old daughter have already moved to Germany – the country that’s ironically blamed for many of the economic and social problems afflicting Greece. On Wednesday, he sat drinking coffee on the sidewalk outside his motorcycle repair shop, with posters of bikes and children’s drawings pinned to the wall. Hes closed the store after 32 years. A “For Sale” sign is taped to the window. “It’s over for Greece. We won’t recover for another 50 years,” he said. “The country borrowed so much money, those who benefited left the country, and ordinary people have been handed the bill …

I hope my daughter learns German and doesn’t come back. Not even for a holiday.” Prasinoudis is one of the countless victims of Greeces economic crisis. Locked out of international bond markets in the spring of 2010, the country has relied on foreign rescue money to pay its debts – on condition that tough austerity measures, such as cuts to spending and increases in taxes were imposed. The cost has been huge. A million jobs, mostly in the private sector, have been lost since then ? around a fifth of the country’s workforce. But after appearing to stabilize last year, the Greek economy has gone into reverse but unemployment remains high. At last count, unemployment was still over 25% and more than 50% for the under-25s.

Alongside the capital controls, the government imposed a new round of austerity, raising sales taxes and levies on businesses, while maintaining emergency taxes on households that have eaten up disposable incomes. Early Thursday, parliament approved a second round of measures demanded by rescue creditors for a new bailout. Retail associations fear a return to the peak levels of unemployment around 2012 when they were hit by a surge of business failures.

Read more …

“The argument that shipping companies will migrate to substantially higher cost locations to avoid tonnage taxes seems ludicrous.”

A Few Thoughts On Greek Shipping And Taxes (Papaeconomou)

We have all witnessed a lot of Greek drama during the past few weeks as the impasse between the Greek government and its international creditors reached its climax. It now appears that after months of terse negotiations between the two parties, Greece has finally agreed to pass and implement austerity measures in exchange for financial aid. One of the innocent bystanders in all this has been the Greek shipping community. As part of the broad agreement between Athens and the Eurozone, the Greek government has undertaken to increase the tonnage tax, a flat tax that is assessed each year on all ships that are managed by shipping companies based in Greece.

As expected the shipping community has been up in arms crying foul over the proposed tax and threatening to leave to more tax-friendly locales like Monaco, Dubai, or Singapore. This has made me wonder: what would be the effect of increased tonnage tax on a shipping company’s running costs?

[..] Let’s assume for example that the Greek government unilaterally doubles the tonnage tax in accordance with the agreement provision. Star Bulk Carriers will have to pay an additional $129 per ownership day. Is this amount really the straw that will break the camel’s back and force a mass exodus of Greek shipping companies to greener pastures? I don’t think so. But let’s further assume that Greek shipping companies do decide to move to Monaco, Dubai, Singapore, or even London or New York. Have shipping executives done a cost of living comparison between say Monaco or New York City and Athens? The argument that shipping companies will migrate to substantially higher cost locations to avoid tonnage taxes seems ludicrous.

I believe the lobbying on behalf of Greek ship-owners is not about tonnage taxes, but about keeping their income tax-free status. Greek ship-owners are some of the hardest-nosed traders you can find. I don’t believe a tempest in a teapot will cloud their business acumen. I suspect that they will cut a deal with the taxman sooner or later, and if I may add, for the benefit of both sides.

Read more …

EU doesn’t want to help.

Greek Financial Crisis Makes Its Migration Crisis Worse. EU Must Help. (WaPo)

Greece’s problems are many. Thanks to the financial crisis, citizens have endured long ATM lines and shortages in stores. Greece may be the last place in Europe equipped to handle its newest problem: record numbers of migrants, particularly Syrians, arriving daily by boat. Since the beginning of 2015, an astounding 79,338 migrants have arrived by sea, 60% of whom are Syrian. Slightly more migrants have transited to Greece than to Italy, a reversal from 2014, when Italy received 170,100 migrants and Greece only 34,442 total, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration. These migrants pay traffickers exorbitant fees and risk their lives on dangerous journeys. Once arrived, they find the small communities on Greece’s many islands totally overwhelmed and unable to help. Most try to move northwards, to states like Hungary, via the Balkans.

Other migrants remain in hungry squalor throughout Greece. UNHCR recently reported more than 3,000 refugees in makeshift accommodations at a site on the northern Aegean island of Lesbos. Refugees kept in detention centers have limited access to electricity and water. Dozens sleep on makeshift pallets in the Kos police station courtyard. Greece’s financial crisis exacerbates xenophobia and discrimination against migrants. While many Greeks have rallied to help the migrants, the far-right portrays these migrants as taking precious resources and sullying Greek culture. Golden Dawn, a far-right party, said “We will do everything we can to protect the Greek homeland against immigrants.” Even before the 2015 surge, 84% of adults in Greece wanted decreased immigration — the highest proportion in the world — according to 2012 and 2014 Gallup interviews.

And Greece’s No. 1 industry, tourism, could suffer. Migrants crowd the sidewalks of island resort towns beside vacationers, but the contrast could hardly be starker between the wet and hungry arrivals from Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, and the European tourists who dine on fine meals and rest in posh surroundings. Many migrants fleeing conflict-ridden states have walked almost 40 miles across Greece, sick, exhausted and sometimes pregnant, because they were not allowed to take public or private transportation due to a law that equated anyone assisting migrants with human smugglers. The law — overturned this month — kept both private citizens and public buses from driving migrants that landed in Greece without being rescued by coast guards.

Read more …

It needs to be abandoned.

Abenomics Needs To Be ‘Reloaded’, Warns IMF (CNBC)

Japan needs to reduce its reliance on a weak yen to reflate its economy, the IMF warned, as it called on authorities to speed up “high impact” structural reforms and prepare for further monetary easing. “The Bank of Japan needs to stand ready to ease further, provide stronger guidance to markets through enhanced communication, and put greater emphasis on achieving the 2% inflation target in a stable manner,” the IMF said in its 2015 Article IV Consultation with Japan published late Wednesday. Under current policies, the central bank won’t meet its 2% inflation target in the medium-term, or over a five-year horizon, according to the international lender. After rising to 1.5% in mid-2014, core inflation – excluding fresh food and the effects of the consumption tax increase – has declined rapidly and has been close to zero since February 2015.

“Abenomics needs to be reloaded so that policy shortcomings do not become a drag on growth and inflation,” the IMF said. Abenomics refers to three-pronged economic revival plan launched by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late 2012, consisting of monetary easing, fiscal expansion and structural reforms. Deeper structural reforms must accompany further easing if the government is to achieve its inflation goal, the IMF stressed. “With the exception of corporate governance and some progress on female labor force participation, structural reforms have not yet been in areas that could provide the biggest bang for the buck,” it said.

Read more …

Much too late.

Australia Weighs Steps to Rein In Sydney Property (WSJ)

Fast-rising house prices are prompting regulators in New Zealand and Australia to try, or consider, measures to prick nascent bubbles in single cities, an unusual move for any country. In Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, property prices have jumped 17% over the past year, compared with a nationwide average of 9.3%, and now are more than 50% higher than eight years ago. Sydney prices have risen about four times as fast as those in almost all other Australian state capitals in the past 12 months. It is rare for countries to focus tough new clamps on a single city or district. But a surge in homegrown speculators, and of buyers from countries such as China, has left too many people chasing too few properties in Sydney and Auckland.

Policy makers are increasingly concerned that a sudden crash could derail their economies. In Australia, Sydney-specific regulation is merely under discussion. But in New Zealand, measures to limit the impact of a price surge in Auckland are in place already: From October, real-estate investors in the city will be required to put down deposits of at least 30% on properties they want to purchase. No such rules will apply to property investment in other cities. Until now, Australian policy makers have sought to temper house-price growth by restricting lending to speculators and making it costlier to provide mortgages to residential buyers generally, anywhere in the country. In the past several weeks, however, the central bank has made clear it sees the issue as essentially a local one, describing soaring prices in the nation’s most populous city as “crazy.”

The narrowing focus on Sydney has triggered speculation that similar moves to New Zealand’s may be in the offing, steered by the banking regulator. “The boom is now quite singularly in Sydney,” said George Tharenou at UBS. “It’s difficult and very micro to target Sydney house prices, but it’s getting to the point where it needs to be considered.” Earlier this month, Citigroup said the risk of a crash had become so real that it was time to stop banks lending so freely to Sydney property investors specifically. “The horse has already bolted,” said Paul Brennan at Citi Research, Australia. “Additional prudential measures directed at the Sydney market may be unavoidable, even if it is late in the cycle.”

Read more …

Nov 132014
 
 November 13, 2014  Posted by at 11:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


John Collier Trucks on highway en route to Utica, New York Oct 1941

With Regret And Sadness We Announce The Death Of Money On Nov 16 2014 (Rapier)
Spreading Deflation Across East Asia Threatens Fresh Debt Crisis (AEP)
Gold Demand in China Slumps 37% Amid Drive to Root Out Graft (Bloomberg)
Carney-Yellen Neck-and-Neck on Being First to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)
Fed’s Dudley: Expectations For Mid-2015 Rate Lift-Off Reasonable (Reuters)
Abe Poised to Gamble Political Future on Snap Election (Bloomberg)
US Companies Now Stashing $2 Trillion Overseas (CNBC)
Barclays May Face Massive New Penalty Over Currency Rigging (Guardian)
Rig A Market, Go To Jail (Bloomberg ed.)
Fines Don’t Deter Bad Banks. So Ban Them From Trading (Guardian)
G-20 Stimulus Plans May Boost Growth by Extra 2.1%, OECD Says (Bloomberg)
China Slowdown Deepens as Leaders Said to Mull Cutting Growth Target (Bloomberg)
China’s Central Bank Resists Calls For Stimulus (FT)
Stockman: Central Banks Setting Up World for Bad Time (Bloomberg)
Cash-Burning Bets on Oil Rebound Surge in U.S. ETF Market (Bloomberg)
Saudi Oil Minister: There Is No ‘Price War’ (CNBC)
Oil Tankers Stream Toward China as Price Drop Sparks Boom (Bloomberg)
Russia-China Gas Accord to Pressure LNG in Canada, Australia (Bloomberg)
‘What’s Happening in Britain at the Moment Is Really Ugly’ (Spiegel)
Twilight of the Oligarchs (Dmitry Orlov)

Do take note.

With Regret And Sadness We Announce The Death Of Money On Nov 16 2014 (Rapier)

It is with regret and sadness we announce the death of money on November 16th 2014 in Brisbane, Australia.

In the musical Cabaret, Sally Bowles and the Emcee sing about money from the perspective of those witnessing its collapse in value in real terms in the great German hyperinflation of 1923. Less than a decade later, and a continent away, a young lawyer from Youngstown, Ohio noted on July 25th 1932 how money’s value could also fall in nominal terms:

“A considerable traffic has grown up in Youngstown in purchase and sale at a discount of Pass-Books on the Dollar Bank, City Trust and Home Savings Banks. Prices vary from 60% to 70% cash. All of these banks are now open but are not paying out funds.”
– The Great Depression – A Diary: Benjamin Roth (1932, first published 2009)

In Youngstown the bank deposit, an asset previously referred to as “money”, had fallen by up to 40% relative to the value of cash. The G20 announcement in Brisbane on November 16th will formalize a “bail in” for large-scale depositors raising the spectre that their deposits are, as many were in 1932, worth less than banknotes. It will be very clear that the value of bank deposits can fall in nominal terms. On Sunday in Brisbane the G20 will announce that bank deposits are just part of commercial banks’ capital structure, and also that they are far from the most senior portion of that structure. With deposits then subjected to a decline in nominal value following a bank failure, it is self-evident that a bank deposit is no longer money in the way a banknote is. If a banknote cannot be subjected to a decline in nominal value, we need to ask whether banknotes can act as a superior store of value than bank deposits? If that is the case, will some investors prefer banknotes to bank deposits as a form of savings? Such a change in preference is known as a “bank run.”

[UK] deposits larger than £85,000 will rank ahead of the bond holders of banks, but they will rank above little else. Importantly, both borrowings of the banks of less than 7 days maturity from other financial institutions and sums owed by banks in their role as counterparties to OTC derivatives will rank above large deposits. Large deposits at banks are no longer money, as this legislation will formally push them down through the capital structure to a position of material capital risk in any “failing” institution. In our last financial crisis, deposits were de facto guaranteed by the state, but from November 16th holders of large-scale deposits will be, both de facto and de jure, just another creditor squabbling over their share of the assets of a failed bank.

If we have another Lehman Brothers collapse, large-scale depositors could find themselves in the courts for years before final adjudication on the scale of their losses could be established. During this period would this illiquid asset, formerly called a deposit and now subject to an unknown capital loss, be considered money? Clearly it would not, as its illiquidity and likely decline in nominal value would make it unacceptable as a medium of exchange. From November 16th 2014 the large-scale deposit at a commercial bank is, at best, a lesser form of money, and to many it will cease to be money at all as its nominal value can fall and it could cease to be accepted as a medium of exchange.

Read more …

“Some 82pc of the items in the producer price basket are deflating in China. The figure is 90pc in Thailand, and 97pc in Singapore. These include machinery, telecommunications, and electrical equipment, as well as commodities.”

Spreading Deflation Across East Asia Threatens Fresh Debt Crisis (AEP)

Deflation is becoming lodged in all the economic strongholds of East Asia. It is happening faster and going deeper than almost anybody expected just months ago, and is likely to find its way to Europe through currency warfare in short order. Factory gate prices are falling in China, Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Taiwan and Singapore. Some 82pc of the items in the producer price basket are deflating in China. The figure is 90pc in Thailand, and 97pc in Singapore. These include machinery, telecommunications, and electrical equipment, as well as commodities. Chetan Ahya from Morgan Stanley says deflationary forces are “getting entrenched” across much of Asia. This risks a “rapid worsening of the debt dynamic” for a string of countries that allowed their debt ratios to reach record highs during the era of Fed largesse. Debt levels for the region as a whole (ex-Japan) have jumped from 147pc to 207pc of GDP in six years.

These countries face a Sisyphean Task. They are trying to deleverage, but the slowdown in nominal GDP caused by falling inflation is always one step ahead of them. “Debt to GDP has risen despite these efforts,” he said. If this sounds familiar, it should be. It is exactly what is happening in Italy, France, the Netherlands, and much of the eurozone. Data from Nomura show that the composite PPI index for the whole of emerging Asia – including India – turned negative in September. This was before the Bank of Japan sent a further deflationary impulse through the region by driving down the yen, and before the latest downward lurch in Brent crude prices. The Japanese know what it is like to be on the receiving end. A recent study by Naohisa Hirakata and Yuto Iwasaki from the Bank of Japan suggests that China’s weak-yuan policy – a polite way of saying currency manipulation to gain export share – was the chief cause of Japan’s deflation crisis over its two Lost Decades.

The tables are now turned. China itself is now one shock away from a deflation trap. Chinese PPI has been negative for 32 months as the economy grapples with overcapacity in everything from steel, cement, glass, chemicals, and shipbuilding, to solar panels. It dropped to minus 2.2pc in October. The sheer scale of over-investment is epic. The country funnelled $5 trillion into new plant and fixed capital last year – as much as Europe and the US combined – even after the Communist Party vowed to clear away excess capacity in its Third Plenum reforms. Old habits die hard. Consumer prices are starting to track factory prices with a long delay. Headline inflation dropped to 1.6pc in October. This is so far below the 3.5pc target of the People’s Bank of China that it looks increasingly like a policy mistake. Core inflation is down to 1.4pc.

Read more …

So how does deflation link with gold? Ugly numbers, and certainly not all manipulation.

Gold Demand in China Slumps 37% Amid Drive to Root Out Graft (Bloomberg)

Gold demand in China shrank for a third quarter as slumping prices failed to boost the purchases of bars, coins and jewelry in the world’s biggest user and officials pressed on with a nationwide anti-graft campaign. Buying by Asia’s largest economy tumbled 37% to 182.7 metric tons in the three months to September from the same period in 2013 as last year’s price-driven surge in demand wasn’t repeated, the World Gold Council said in a report today. India was the only Asian economy tracked by the producer-funded group that bought more bullion than China as usage across the biggest consuming region contracted 15% to 473.4 tons. An anti-graft drive in China this year hurt demand for luxury goods including bullion, while volatility that sank to a four-year low damped interest in the metal as an alternative investment.

Banks including Goldman Sachs expect prices to extend losses, in part as the buying frenzy that accompanied gold’s drop into a bear market in April 2013 hasn’t been sustained. China surpassed India as the world’s largest gold user last year as prices retreated 28%. “The scale of 2013’s exceptional buying continued to overshadow the market,” the London-based council said in the quarterly report that surveys global demand patterns. “The quiet environment provided China’s notoriously price-savvy investors with a further reason to stay out of the market.” Jewelry consumption in China fell 39% to 147.1 tons in the quarter, while demand for bars and coins slid 30% to 35.6 tons, the council said. Usage in the nine months to September was 638.4 tons, according to Bloomberg calculations based on figures in quarterly WGC reports in May, August and today. Last year, mainland demand was a record 1,275.1 tons, according to the council at a briefing in Shanghai today.

“China’s jewelry market continued to normalize following last year’s rapid expansion,” the council said. “Chinese investment demand this year has paused to catch its breath. Fourth-quarter bar and coin demand is shaping up to be much the same – steady, but unremarkable.” Buying in Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest economy, plunged 45% in the period as the Presidential election in July created a degree of political instability, according to the council. Japan’s bullion purchases fell 45% as a new sales tax damped demand, while consumption in Thailand fell 42% amid the unstable political climate, it said.

Read more …

A lot of these ‘experts’ are going to get duped, and their clients hammered.

Carney-Yellen Neck-and-Neck on Being First to Raise Rates (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen may just beat Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to the first interest-rate increase since the financial crisis. Investors extended bets yesterday on how long the BOE will keep its benchmark at a record-low 0.5% after officials cut their growth and inflation forecasts. Markets are now pricing in a quarter-point increase by November next year, Sonia forwards show. As recently as August, wagers were for around February. In the U.S., the Fed is seen acting by September. “This is almost going to be like a horse race to the finish line on who’s going to go first now, whereas only three or four months ago that wouldn’t have even been close,” said Andrew Goldberg, a global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management in London. “The key in both countries is going to be to see what happens in wages and because of that the U.S. is now in the lead.”

Presenting the BOE’s quarterly Inflation Report, Carney cited the “specter of economic stagnation” in the euro area, the biggest market for British exports, and said U.K. inflation could slow to below 1% within months. [..] “Whereas in the middle of the year the BOE was happy to go ahead of the Fed, now we’re in a world where the BOE will likely follow the Fed,” said Mike Amey, a fund manager at Pimco in London. Investors are betting the first rate increase from the Fed will come in 10 months, Morgan Stanley index data show. Policy makers have kept their benchmark target for overnight lending between banks in a range of zero to 0.25% since December 2008. “We are behind the Fed in terms of timing,” said Ian Winship, head of sterling bond portfolios at BlackRock the world’s biggest money manager with more than $4 trillion of assets. In the UK, “we’re looking at September or October for a full hike,” he said. “The impact of the disappointment we’ve had globally is having an impact on U.K. monetary policy.”

Read more …

Better do it when nobody expects it.

Fed’s Dudley: Expectations For Mid-2015 Rate Lift-Off Reasonable (Reuters)

Market expectations that U.S. interest rates will start to lift off sometime in mid-2015 are reasonable, New York Federal Reserve President William Dudley said on Thursday. Dudley, answering questions at a luncheon hosted by the United Arab Emirates central bank in Abu Dhabi, also said recent U.S. non-farm payrolls data had been very consistent with previous releases, and had not changed his policy outlook in any meaningful way. “What I can tell you is that we are making progress toward our objectives but there is considerable further progress still to go,” he said. “I think the market expectations that expect us to lift off sometime around the middle or somewhat later next year are reasonable expectations.”

Dudley said, however, that he could not give the likely timing for when the Fed would start raising interest rates, as it would depend on how the U.S. economy was evolving and how financial markets were reacting. “No, I cannot give you more specifics and the long answer is: because I do not know. It really depends on how the economy evolves and how we progress toward our objectives of maximum sustainable employment in the context of price stability.”

Read more …

I wouldn’t discount the option that Abe WANTS to lose an election, and save at least some face while the Japanese economy plummets further. If he’s not PM when the whip really comes down, he can claim innocence. Only, the opposition in Japan is so weakened it seems unlikely he can lose even if he tried. Either way, Japan is not a good place to be for the foreseeable future. A deepening deflationary recession, nationalist rhetoric and gun-slingering, the restart of nuclear plants in a shaky quaky setting, it doesn’t add up to a nice living environment.

Abe Poised to Gamble Political Future on Snap Election (Bloomberg)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is poised to gamble his political future on a plan to call a snap election next month, halfway into his current term. “It’s always risky to dissolve the house when you’re the prime minister,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo. “Unless you win a crushing victory, you have nowhere to go but down.” Abe is likely to go to the people on Dec. 14 after postponing an unpopular sales-tax increase slated for October 2015, according to people with knowledge of his plan, who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to speak. Abe is less than two years into his four-year term and elections aren’t due until 2016.

For Abe, postponing the tax would buy him goodwill with voters, increasing his chances of winning a broader mandate to push through unpopular security legislation next year. The risk is that Abe’s strategy backfires and rather than increasing his majority in the lower house, his ruling Liberal Democratic Party loses seats. That would leave him vulnerable to a leadership challenge from within his own ranks. “It’s far from certain,” he will pick up support, said Koichi Nakano, professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo. “His government may end up with fewer seats, and he may even face calls to step down as prime minister as a result.” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga yesterday denied reports that Abe told party leaders he planned to dissolve the Diet and delay the tax increase.

Read more …

” .. during the 2004 tax holiday “most of that cash was used to fund dividend payouts and share buybacks rather than to boost investment.” A Democratic congressional report indicated that the biggest companies receiving the benefits of $360 billion in repatriated funds actually cut a net 20,000 jobs”.

US Companies Now Stashing $2 Trillion Overseas (CNBC)

U.S. companies are for the first time holding more than $2 trillion overseas, according to an analysis that paints a bleak picture of whether that money will make its way home and the limited economic impact it would have even if it does. Corporate cash has hit $2.1 trillion, a sixfold increase over the past 12 years, Capital Economics said, citing its own database as well as that of Audit Analytics and other sources. There is no official total, but the firm also used regulatory filings that included “indefinitely reinvested foreign earnings” to glean the total sitting outside U.S. borders. “The latest signs suggest that, as business confidence improves in light of the continued economic recovery, U.S. firms are starting to hold less cash domestically,” Capital economists Paul Dales and Andrew Hunter said in a report for clients. “However, the foreign cash piles of the largest firms have almost certainly continued to grow.”

That total, while daunting in its own right, is now greater than the amount held on U.S. shores, which totals just under $1.9 trillion, according to the latest Federal Reserve flow of funds tally. Such numbers are bound to get attention in Washington, which for years has been debating so-called repatriation measures that would allow companies to bring their cash back home at drastically reduced tax rates. The new Republican-controlled Congress is expected to take up the issue quickly when it convenes in January. But the Capital analysis provides little optimism in that regard. Dales and Hunter pointed out that during the 2004 tax holiday “most of that cash was used to fund dividend payouts and share buybacks rather than to boost investment.” A Democratic congressional report indicated that the biggest companies receiving the benefits of $360 billion in repatriated funds actually cut a net 20,000 jobs, and that the holiday cost Treasury coffers $3.3 billion.

Read more …

“I don’t know if corruption is a strong enough word for it”.

Barclays May Face Massive New Penalty Over Currency Rigging (Guardian)

Barclays could face a huge new penalty for rigging currency markets after pulling out at the 11th hour from the settlement talks that led to £2.6bn of fines being slapped on six other big players in the currency markets. Barclays will not be eligible for the 30% discount on the fines handed to its rivals in exchange for settling early after its surprise move not to participate in the settlement with US and UK regulators. The bank, which was the first to be fined for rigging Libor in 2012, is reported not to have agreed to the settlement with the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and the US commodity futures trading commission because of continuing talks with another US regulator. It was the only one of the banks involved in talks over the ground-breaking settlement that is also regulated by the New York State department of financial services (DFS), run by Benjamin Lawsky, the American attorney who has in the past taken a tough stance over wrongdoing at banks.

Barclays said it had considered a settlement with the FCA and the CFTC on terms similar to the other banks – Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC, UBS, JP Morgan and Citigroup. “However, after discussions with other regulators and authorities, we have concluded that it is in the interests of the company to seek a more general coordinated settlement,” the bank said. [..] In Britain, UBS was handed the biggest fine, at £233m, followed by £225m for Citibank, JP Morgan at £222m, RBS at £217m and £216m for HSBC. In the US, the regulator fined Citibank and JP Morgan $310m (£196m) each, $290m (£184m) each for RBS and UBS, and $275m (£174m) for HSBC. The Swiss regulator – which also found issues with UBS’s metal trading – also punished the Swiss bank for having failed to investigate warnings of currency market manipulation. Another US regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, also imposed fines on JP Morgan, Citi and Bank of America, taking the day’s tally to £2.6bn.

The banks face further fines from regulators whose investigations are continuing. The FCA and the CFTC published hundreds of pages of documents alongside their findings against five banks. Chatroom talk between traders showed them discussing information about their clients’ orders with names such as “3 musketeers” and the “A-team”. The City minister, Andrea Leadsom, said those who had done wrong “will not be back in a dealing room on a big salary”. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s completely disgusting. I think taxpayers will be horrified … I don’t know if corruption is a strong enough word for it.”

Read more …

Well, there’s a plan.

Rig A Market, Go To Jail (Bloomberg ed.)

Regulators in the U.K., the U.S. and Switzerland have moved with impressive speed to extract about $4.3 billion from some of the world’s largest banks for their role in rigging global currency markets. Now comes the hard part: identifying and punishing the people who actually did the manipulating. The settlements with six banks – UBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Royal Bank of Scotland and HSBC – paint a picture that has become depressingly familiar from previous market-manipulation scandals, ranging from commodities to interest rates. Foreign-exchange traders profited at their clients’ expense by abusing information about orders, and they conspired to influence London-based financial benchmarks that affected trillions of dollars in transactions and investments worldwide. The relevant transgressions went on from 2008 through late 2013, persisting even as some of the same banks were reaching settlements over the rigging of the London interbank offered rate, or Libor.

At least one more bank, Barclays, is still working on a deal with authorities. Details presented by regulators illustrate just how commonplace the manipulation of global benchmarks had become. Traders formed groups – with names such as “the players,” “the 3 musketeers” and “the A-team” – that focused on specific currencies. Using private chat rooms, they routinely shared information about their clients’ orders with the aim of pushing the WM/Reuters benchmark exchange rates, set at 4 p.m. London time, in the desired direction. “Hooray nice team work,” one trader wrote after an apparently successful attempt to “whack” the British pound. Misbehavior on such a scale could not have happened without the participation – or at least the willful blindness – of numerous actual people, most likely including senior managers. So it’s encouraging that the U.K. Serious Fraud Office and the U.S. Department of Justice are conducting criminal investigations, which the latter expects to result in charges sometime next year.

Unfortunately, the prosecutors won’t be able to build cases as strong as they could have been. They came late to the game, starting their investigations only after Bloomberg News published its first reports on the manipulation in 2013. Beyond that, London’s foreign-exchange markets have existed in a legal gray area, where no laws expressly prohibit manipulation.

Read more …

Ban them from trading and break them up. What are we waiting for?

Fines Don’t Deter Bad Banks. So Ban Them From Trading (Guardian)

The rigging of foreign exchange markets is a bigger scandal than Libor. It lacks the element of surprise since it is no longer news that some traders will lie and cheat when inadequately supervised. But that’s what makes it bigger. Forex-rigging continued to happen after the Libor scandal broke. Note the end-date of the investigations overseen by the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the US’s commodities futures and trading commission: 15 October 2013. The deterrent impact of Libor seems to have been zero. What were these banks’ managements doing to honour their worthy words about cleansing the rotten culture in trading rooms? As FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley noted wearily, monitoring employees’ chat rooms “is not a complex thing to do”. Quite. The existence of potential conflicts of interest between a bank and its clients is obvious in currency markets. So too is the scope for collusion.

You do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to suspect that chat-room exchanges such as these might indicate dodgy practices: “how can I make free money with no fcking heads up”; “just about to slam some stops”; “lets double team em”. Yet this garbage was bandied about for years. Did managements really not know, or even suspect, something was wrong? Did they just turn a blind eye? Or did they take comfort in the false notion that the forex market is so big and so liquid that it would be impossible to rig? All possible explanations are alarming. In a rational world, the customers would move their business to firms with higher standards. That is not going to happen because investment banking is almost a closed shop. The five firms involved in today’s settlement plus Barclays, which is yet to settle, are six of the biggest banks in the world. But if fines (paid by shareholders anyway) don’t improve behaviour, and if bank managements can’t, or won’t, police their trading floors competently, what’s left?

Criminal convictions for fraudulent behaviour are one great hope – rightly so because the threat of time in jail is the surest way to concentrate minds on trading floors. We wait to see what the Serious Fraud Office delivers. But regulators must also look beyond endless fines. The FCA, we are told, considered imposing suspensions on the banks from trading forex on behalf of clients but decided against. Some of the offending acts were considered too ancient and there was a fear of disrupting a critical financial market. OK, but a three-month temporary ban on trading forex would improve behaviour faster than any fine. Managements would fear being sacked. Shareholders might wake up and demand proof of root-and-branch reform. Or big banks might break themselves up into easier-to-manage units. Heavy-handed? You bet, but six years after the financial crash, some of the world’s biggest banks are still out of control. In other fields, firms with shoddy practices fear the loss of their licence to operate. Big banks don’t, but should.

Read more …

The prediction nonsense takes on grotesque forms.

G-20 Stimulus Plans May Boost Growth by Extra 2.1%, OECD Says (Bloomberg)

Group of 20 economies will surpass their 2% additional growth target if stimulus plans are fully implemented, according to the OECD. Global GDP could expand by an additional 2.1% by 2018, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said today in Brisbane, where the G-20 summit takes place this weekend. “The big ‘if’ is full implementation, and that’s not always something that one can assume,” he said in an interview. G-20 members have submitted plans to achieve the target of lifting the group’s collective GDP by an additional 2%, or more, over five years. Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey said at a meeting of finance ministers in September that measures proposed at that time by member economies had brought the G-20 about 90% of the way to achieving the target. “There is a heavy burden on the shoulders of leaders and finance ministers to deliver on the plan to grow economic growth right across the world, and therefore create jobs for millions and millions of people,” Hockey told reporters in Brisbane today.

Read more …

Beijing feeds its people the misery one bite at a time.

China Slowdown Deepens as Leaders Said to Mull Cutting Growth Target (Bloomberg)

China’s slowdown deepened in October as policy makers refrained from economy-wide stimulus, with industrial output and investment trailing estimates. Factory production rose 7.7% from a year earlier, the second weakest pace since 2009, a government report showed today. Investment in fixed assets such as machinery expanded the least since 2001 from January through October, and retail sales gains also missed economists’ forecasts last month. The government has kept to targeted steps to shore up the economy this year, rather than a broader response such as nationwide interest-rate cuts, to avert a repeat of a buildup in debt from the record 2008-2009 credit surge. With the focus instead on structural changes, leaders have discussed lowering their economic growth target for 2015.

“The data highlights downward pressure,” said Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist at Credit Agricole SA in Hong Kong. “It will encourage further monetary easing.” After the figures, reports spread of a fresh initiative by the central bank to target liquidity injections. The People’s Bank of China is gauging city commercial banks’ demand for funds to support lending to small enterprises, according to an official with knowledge of the matter. The PBOC didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Financial institutions in some provinces, including Jiangsu and Zhejiang, are submitting applications for collateralized central bank loans, according to the official. The PBOC will later decide the total size of the injections, which could run into tens of billions of yuan, the official said.

Read more …

After all, what good would it do?

China’s Central Bank Resists Calls For Stimulus (FT)

Even as Japan and the EU embark on fresh rounds of quantitative easing to ward off deflation, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) is holding the line against major stimulus. China’s central bank is resisting a rising chorus appealing for more aggressive easing to arrest a slowdown in the economy. Instead it is taking a gritted-teeth approach that accepts short-term pain as the price of structural reform that will support sustainable long-term growth. At first glance calls for easing in China appear justified. Consumer price inflation remained mired near a five-year low in October, while the government’s purchasing managers’ index hit a five-month low. That followed growth in economic output in the third quarter that was the slowest since the financial crisis.

Yet a year after the Communist party revealed a landmark economic reform blueprint, the PBoC wants to avoid steps that would be viewed as undermining the effort to reduce the economy’s reliance on debt and investment to fuel growth. “The central bank has become wary of using its traditional monetary tools like cuts in the required reserve ratio and benchmark interest rates. They’ve basically shelved them,” says Wang Yingfeng, investment director at Shanghai Yaozhi Asset Management, which runs a bond fund. The shifting approach is in part a matter of style over substance. Even as it held off on a reserve ratio cut, in September and October the PBoC injected Rmb770 billion ($125 billion) into the banking system via a new monetary policy tool called the Medium-term Lending Facility.

That is more money than would have entered the system through a 0.5 percentage-point RRR cut, traditionally the central bank’s main tool for managing the money supply. But the low-key nature of these fund injections – which went unannounced at the time – allows the central bank to avoid sending a strong easing signal. “The PBoC can lower actual market rates by injecting liquidity without cutting bank benchmark rates,” Lu Ting, chief China economist at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, wrote in a note last week. “Cutting rates is perceived as anti-reform and kind of politically incorrect.”

Read more …

” .. what does Bill Dudley and the rest of the Fed have wrong? They have wrong the idea that 2% inflation is going to accomplish anything. There is no historical or scholastic basis.”

Stockman: Central Banks Setting Up World for Bad Time (Bloomberg)

It has gotten worse. Much worse. The Bank Of Japan trumps all with massive accommodation. They try to reverse deflation and spur growth. That brings us to my chart of the year. This is from the team’s strategic. This is back to the Draghi speech of 2012. All you need to know is one of the banks, it is not like the others. The austerity of the ECB and everybody else has a punch bowl seal – filled to the brim. This is the method. None of this is in the textbook. This is monetary madness off the deep end. They started with 50%. They will be adding 80 trillion to the balance sheet. What is the purpose? To trash the yen. They have a process started that is going to up end – what does Bill Dudley and the rest of the Fed have wrong? They have wrong the idea that 2% inflation is going to accomplish anything. There is no historical or scholastic basis.

Read more …

All the world is no longer a stage as it was in Shakespeare’s day, it’s a casino.

Cash-Burning Bets on Oil Rebound Surge in U.S. ETF Market (Bloomberg)

While calling a bottom in oil is proving a tricky, and costly, exercise for contrarian investors, they are undeterred. After pouring the most money into funds that track oil prices in two years last month, investors are ramping up the bet even further this month, moving cash in at twice the October pace. The four biggest U.S. exchange-traded products tied to oil had 70.5 million shares outstanding yesterday, the most since May 2013, according to exchange data compiled by Bloomberg. More than 1 million shares in the ETFs are being created on average each day this month, the result of soaring demand.

The trade has gone terribly since investors first started adding to oil ETF positions at the start of October. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, has tumbled 15% over that time, swelling its selloff since a June peak to 28% as soaring U.S. output and a slowdown in global demand growth created a supply glut. “Price momentum is still negative, and yet someone is buying,” said Stoyan Bojinov, a Chicago-based analyst at ETF Database. “Either they are wrong and they are hoping for the reversal, or they are establishing a position while everybody else is still selling.” The inflows have almost been non-stop since Oct. 1, with more shares being added to the four biggest oil ETFs than redeemed on all but four days.

Read more …

It’s just business.

Saudi Oil Minister: There Is No ‘Price War’ (CNBC)

Saudi Arabia’s oil minister publicly knocked talk of an OPEC “price war” but did little in the way of clarifying what the cartel will do about falling prices.Ali al-Naimi, speaking in Mexico, said Saudi oil policy is not changing and has been stable for decades. He said the market, not Saudi Arabia, sets prices, and that the kingdom is doing what it can with other producers to ensure stability, according to Reuters.The oil market has become laser focused on the Nov. 27 OPEC meeting, and there is speculation its much-divided members will have to agree to cut production if they want to see the roughly 30% decline in prices start to reverse.Oil prices continued to grind lower Wednesday, with Brent crude futures falling further after Naimi spoke, breaking $80 per barrel for the first time since September, 2010. Brent ended the day at $80.38, down 1.6%, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate was also lower, falling more than 1% to $77.18 per barrel.

Read more …

Given its slowing economy, one should wonder if China now does with oil what it did with copper. With that economy set to keep slowing, that would mean much less Chinese demand for oil going forward, further pressuring prices..

Oil Tankers Stream Toward China as Price Drop Sparks Boom (Bloomberg)

Add oil shippers to the list of winners from this year’s collapse in crude. The price plunge has spurred China, the world’s second-biggest importer after the U.S., to accelerate bookings of oil cargoes. It will also shave almost $20 billion a year in fuel costs across the maritime industry if prices that dropped 18 percent since last November hold around current levels, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. While the oil slide is hurting nations from Saudi Arabia to Iran that depend on energy for revenues, companies including airlines and cement makers are benefiting as their fuel costs decline. Ship owners serving the industry’s benchmark Middle East-to-Asia trade routes are reaping the best returns from charters in years as the slump drives down the industry’s single biggest expense.

“We’ve seen the Chinese buying a lot from the Middle East and that’s really let rates cook,” Erik Stavseth, an analyst at Arctic Securities in Oslo whose recommendations on shippers returned 15 percent in the past year, said by phone Nov. 11. “With oil prices low going into winter, that’s likely to continue.” The number of supertankers sailing toward China’s ports matched a record on Oct. 17 and is still close to that level now. The increase reflects China taking advantage of falling prices to fill its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, according to Richard Mallinson, a London-based analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd.

Read more …

LNG is not a great business to be in. Upfront investment has been huge, and look now.

Russia-China Gas Accord to Pressure LNG in Canada, Australia (Bloomberg)

Russia’s move to broaden its energy ties to China is clouding the outlook for natural gas export projects on the drawing board in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Companies looking to approve liquefied natural gas plants in the next couple of years and start shipments at the end of the decade will probably experience delays, according to energy consultants Tri-Zen International Inc. Gas-supply agreements between Russia, the world’s largest energy exporter, and China, the biggest consumer, are adding to pressure on projects that are already facing increasing competition, rising costs and the prospect of lower prices.

“It’s just bad news generally” for LNG around the world, said Peter Howard, president of the Canadian Energy Research Institute. “It’s going to get really crowded.” China and Russia signed an initial gas accord two days ago, after a $400 billion deal earlier this year. The tie-up means that only one-in-20 proposed LNG projects targeting the 2020 market will be needed, while one-in-five seeking 2025 sales will be required, according to a Macquarie Group Ltd. report. “It’s not good news for projects hoping to get to a final investment decision in the next year or two,” Tony Regan, a consultant at Singapore-based Tri-Zen, said today. “Those developers will need to think about the post 2020 market.”

Read more …

Historical fiction writer Hilary Mantel (“The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”) doesn’t like what she sees.

‘What’s Happening in Britain at the Moment Is Really Ugly’ (Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: How is the Britain of today different from the country you grew up in?

Mantel: I was born into a working class family in a village near Manchester. My grandmother worked as a weaver in a mill when she was 12, my mother at 14. That was what you did: As soon as you left school, you had to work in the mill. By the time I was a child, the mills were closing and I was lucky to get a government grant for university. In the years after the war, both big parties, Labour and the Conservatives, were becoming ever-more centrist, drawing together on a social democratic path — a period known as the postwar consensus. Maybe it couldn’t have lasted, but we perceive Ms. Thatcher as the person who knocked it down. Going to university is a seriously expensive business now.

SPIEGEL: It seems as though Britain today wants to retreat from the world, as though it has become war-weary, disinterested in global affairs and obsessed with immigration. Where does this come from?

Mantel: It’s a retreat into insularity, into a mood of harshness. When people feel they’re being mistreated, they lash out against people who are weaker than themselves, immigrants for example. What’s happening here at the moment is really ugly. The government portrays poor and unfortunate people as being morally defective. This is a return to the thinking of the Victorians. Even in the 16th century, Thomas Cromwell was trying to tell people that a thriving economy has casualties and that something must be done by the state for people out of work. Even back then, you saw the tide turning against this idea that poverty was a moral weakness. Who could have predicted that it would come back into style? It’s myth making on a grand scale, and it’s poisonous.

Read more …

Dmitry looks at the future.

Twilight of the Oligarchs (Dmitry Orlov)

Last week I published a brave prediction: “I see the political elites and their oligarch puppet-masters becoming endangered species in the United States before too long as the populace, including their own bodyguards, turns against them.” As usual, I made no attempt to specify what I mean by “before too long” because making predictions as to timing is a fool’s game. And, as usual, I got a flurry of emails expressing a wide range of rationalizations but all adding up to the same sentiment: “not any time soon.” Some people thought that the populace, consisting as it does of zombified overfed clowns addicted to Facebook and internet porn is unlikely to stage the revolution.

Others thought that the oligarchy will manage to manipulate financial markets, destroy one country after another in order to drain all remaining wealth out of the world and consume it, and by so doing manage to placate the populace with bread and circuses, well into the future. The bodyguards are unlikely to rebel, some said, because they are so well paid. Getting back to basics, it is a fairly obvious and increasingly well-recognized fact that the American empire, the empire of military bases, the Federal Reserve, the IMF and the World Bank, is on its way out. And it is a well-known fact about empires that when they fail those who held positions of power and privilege within them are quickly recycled into punching bags and pincushions. Oddly, nobody mentioned any of the mechanisms by which this transformation tends to take place, so I thought I’d mention them briefly.

First, when empires start falling apart, this is manifested in a few ways. One is loss of control over the periphery, as a shrinking pool of resources is used to shore up the center. Another is loss of control over the use of violence, as a wide variety of violent entrepreneurs enter the scene and the center is forced to play them against each other and make deals with them. And as the unraveling progresses, the violent entrepreneurs develop agendas of their own, which, inevitably, involve having the cooperation flow the other way: instead of cooperating with those formerly in charge, they demand that those formerly in charge start cooperating with them. And it is here that the scene turns bloody.

Read more …

Oct 122014
 
 October 12, 2014  Posted by at 8:30 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange 4 families, 15 children, from Texas Dust Bowl, in roadside camp, Calipatria, CA Mar 1937

Ebola was until a few weeks ago mostly a forgotten affliction in the western world. Something that flared up in the Congo or thereabouts, parts of the world we’re aware of only because of the horrors of machete attacks and other mayhem induced by our own secret services in order to keep ‘our’ access to their mind-boggling amounts of resources going, while their populations live in conditions many miles below squalor.

We have applied divide and rule in the Congo better, or more ferociously, depending on your point of view, than anywhere else, ever. Hardly a word about western cruelty seeps through to our own media. A true imperium success story.

But the present ebola epidemic is not taking place where the disease was mostly raging. It’s in western Africa now. Where immense segments of native forest have been cut down, which in turn brought long-time ebola carrying fruit bats closer to other animals, and in turn to humans long dependent on bushmeat for survival.

Somewhere in that chain of events it was probably inevitable that an epidemic would break out. Of ebola or any other of a long list of viral or bacterial diseases. It’s also inevitable that a next epidemic will follow.

Until recently, my own personal knowledge of ebola was limited to the idea that it was one of, if not the worst way for a human being to die. Intense internal bleeding will do that. Something I find sorely missing in western media coverage of the people dying by the side of the road in west Africa. How they’re dying, that is.

It’s treated in a very detached way, as if it doesn’t really concern us until it might spread our way. ‘Western’ cases get treated with experimental drugs, while 4000+ Africans so far have been left to perish by the side of dirt roads in excruciating pain.

The ones that did receive treatment were attended to by local doctors, and that has led to dozens of the best and bravest doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia succumbing to ebola themselves, a major feat in countries where per capita access to a doctor is mostly a tenth or a hundredth of what it is where we live. Take away doctors out of that situation, and that’s not even including nurses, and you have a disaster on your hands.

I’m not an expert on ebola or infectious diseases in general by any means, but I can read, and I can think, and occasionally I manage to bo both simultaneously. And what I see so far is a sweet mix of complacency, denial, stupidity and human error.

There’s a lot of political interest in downplaying the danger ebola poses. There’s even more economic interest in doing that, but then the two are Siamese twins. As of today in America, and last week in continental Europe, that attitude has become a threat to potentially millions of people.

I saw someone comparing HIV deaths to Ebola deaths, with the intent to downplay the threat, 1 million HIV deaths, ‘only’ 4000 ebola deaths. But ebola’s just getting started, and it’s much more contagious. Which makes such comparisons as irrelevant as it makes them dangerous.

The first Ebola infection on US soil that was announced today developed in the exact same way the one in Spain last week did: a health care worker tending to a confirmed ebola case got him/herself infected. Both ‘2nd generation’ cases have no idea how they were infected. The US nurse was allegedly wearing full-body protective gear all the time, while the Spanish nurse herself said she had no clue how she could have gotten the disease.

In the US case, we know that the first deadly victim, Thomas Duncan, had been in Liberia. He was sent home by several medical services after both reporting symptoms, and stating he’d been in ebola infected territory.The very same thing happened to the Spanish nurse, who was sent away from at least 3 clinics with a Tylenol prescription, after she had said she’d been attending to an ebola patient.

The patient she had been nursing was a priest who had been flown in from Africa after exhibiting symptoms. He was, however, the second Spanish priest in that situation. The first one reportedly died in the same hospital in Madrid as long ago as August.

Madrid got a lot of flack for the infected nurse: it was accused of not having its precautions properly in place. We should now review how well the Texas Presbyterian is doing in that regard. Given the fact that the Texas nurse diagnosed, or rather confirmed, today, was allowed to lead a normal personal life, socializing, shopping etc., until (s)he started exhibiting obvious symptoms, should make us feel queasy.

There will always be plenty political voices more than willing to declare that ‘there is no need to panic’ or ‘now is not the time to panic’, but we need to realize that what politicians and media say is inevitable based on economic grounds.

It might be worth contemplating to isolate western Africa from the rest of the world, halt flights etc., and meanwhile give them all the support we can, no matter what the cost. We choose instead to do everything related to support on the ground on the cheap, bleeding WHO coffers dry while we’re at it, and we let transportation options continue, because it would cost ‘too much’ not to. Money will rule our approach to ebola, like to everything else, until it’s too late.

Ironically, it was George W. Bushmeat government’s bio-terrorist anthrax and flu paranoia in the wake of 9/11 that injected a lot of money into America’s epidemiology protection layers. If not for those paranoid billions, I kid you not, G-d help us. His epitaph will read not only that he was an accomplishes portrait painter, he may well also have saved America from a much worse epidemic than it’s yet to get. America could sure use some of that paranoia right now.

And so could Europe, where everyone to a man solemnly declares that the chances of ebola appearing in their country are slim to none. And where dozens of flights arrive daily from west Africa. To paraphrase the CDC’s Mike Osterholm: the virus moves at virus time, we move at bureaucrat time.

The nurse is Madrid is reportedly healing, she’s been given the experimental ZMapp drug. We better get a million doses of that to Liberia and Sierra Leone. But we’ll probably fight over the economics of that until we need 10 million doses.

We’ve maybe grown so accustomed to living in a casino economy that we think the world is a crap table. But some things had better not be wagered on. Remember the Spanish Flu. Or should I say: Remember the Spanish Flu? Again, we tell ourselves no major epidemic could hurt us. We understand viruses as poorly as we do the exponential function. Which happen to have lots in common.

Judging from what we’ve seen so far, our health care systems are woefully unprepared for even single cases of ebola infection occurring on our soil. What’s going to happen when there’s dozens? Are we just going to say that there’s ‘only’ a 25% chance of that, based on some computer model? Or are we going to make sure we do what we can to keep ebola away from our lands?

There’s only one way to make sure: get into western Africa now, with all we have. Good for us, and good for our karma.