Oct 212017
 
 October 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Robert Doisneau Vitrine, Galerie Romi, Paris 1948

 

Will Trump Oversee The Financial Apocalypse? (Cohan)
Calm Before The Storm (Peter Schiff)
The Big Story: Edge Of The Cliff (RV/ZH)
A $4 Trillion Hole in Bond Market May Start Filling in 2018 (BBG)
US Fiscal Year Deficit Widens To $666 Billion (R.)
Fed’s Yellen Defends Past Policies As Trump Mulls Top Fed Pick (R.)
‘Dr. Doom’, Marc Faber, Removed From More Boards After Comments On Race (R.)
China Still Needs Loans From World Bank (Caixin)
Betrayed by Banks, 40,000 Italian Businesses Are in Limbo (BBG)
Catalan Rebels Say Spain Will Live to Regret Hostile Power Grab (BBG)
A Giant Insect Ecosystem Is Collapsing Due To Humans. It’s A Catastrophe (G.)

 

 

“The bond market determines how much you pay to borrow money to buy a home, a car, or when you use your credit cards.”

Will Trump Oversee The Financial Apocalypse? (Cohan)

Let’s face it: people’s eyes tend to glaze over when someone starts talking about bonds and interest rates. Which is why much of the audience inside the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and those watching the livestream, probably missed the import of Gundlach’s answer. But the bond market is hugely important. The stock markets get most of the attention from the media, but the bond market, four times the size of the stock market, helps set the price of money. The bond market determines how much you pay to borrow money to buy a home, a car, or when you use your credit cards. The Bond King said the returns on bonds have been anemic at best for the past seven years or so.

While the Dow Jones Industrial Average has nearly quadrupled since March 2009, returns on bonds have averaged something like 2.5% for treasuries and something like 8.5% for riskier “junk” bonds. Gundlach urged investors to be “light” on bonds. Of course, that makes the irony especially rich for the Bond King. “I’m stuck in it,” he said of his massive bond portfolio. He said interest rates have bottomed out and been rising gradually for the past six years. (Rising interest rates hurt the value of the bonds you own, as bonds trade in inverse proportion to their yield. Snore . . .) Gundlach said his job now, on behalf of his clients, “is to get them to the other side of the valley.” When the bigger, seemingly inevitable hikes in interest rates come, “I’ll feel like I’ve done a service by getting people through,” he said. “That’s why I’m still at the game. I want to see how the movie ends.”

But it can’t end well. To illustrate his point about the risk in owning bonds these days, Gundlach shared a chart that showed how investors in European “junk” bonds are willing to accept the same no-default return as they are for U.S. Treasury bonds. In other words, the yield on European “junk” bonds is about the same—between 2% and 3%—as the yield on U.S. Treasuries, even though the risk profile of the two could not be more different. He correctly pointed out that this phenomenon has been caused by “manipulated behavior”—his code for the European Central Bank’s version of the so-called “quantitative easing” program that Ben Bernanke, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, initiated in 2008 and that Mario Draghi, the head of the E.C.B., has taken to heart.

Bernanke’s idea was to have the Federal Reserve buy up trillions of dollars of bonds, increasing their price and lowering their yields. He figured lower interest rates would help jump-start an economy in recession. Whereas Janet Yellen, Bernanke’s successor, ended the Fed’s Q.E. program in 2014, Draghi’s version of it is still going, which has led to the “manipulation” that so concerns Gundlach. European interest rates “should be much higher than they are today,” he said, “. . . [and] once Draghi realizes this, the order of the financial system will be turned upside down and it won’t be a good thing. It will mean the liquidity that has been pumping up the markets will be drying up in 2018 . . . Things go down. We’ve been in an artificially inflated market for stocks and bonds largely around the world.”

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Excellent from Schiff. The VIX/CAPE ratio looks to be a valuable tool.

Calm Before The Storm (Peter Schiff)

Before the crisis, there was still a strong belief that stock investing entailed real risk. The period of stock stagnation of the 1970s and 1980s was still well remembered, as were the crashes of 1987, 2000, and 2008. But the existence of the Greenspan/Bernanke/Yellen “Put” (the idea that the Fed would back stop market losses), came to ease many of the anxieties on Wall Street. Over the past few years, the Fed has consistently demonstrated that it is willing to use its new tool kit in extraordinary ways. While many economists had expected the Fed to roll back its QE purchases as soon as the immediate economic crisis had passed, the program steamed at full speed through 2015, long past the point where the economy had apparently recovered. Time and again, the Fed cited fragile financial conditions as the reason it persisted, even while unemployment dropped and the stock market soared.

The Fed further showcased its maternal instinct in early 2016 when a surprise 8% drop in stocks in the first two weeks of January (the worst ever start of a calendar year on Wall Street) led it to abandon its carefully laid groundwork for multiple rate hikes in 2016. As investors seem to have interpreted this as the Fed leaving the safety net firmly in place, the VIX has dropped steadily from that time. In September of this year, the VIX fell below 10. Untethered optimism can be seen most clearly by looking at the relationship between the VIX and the CAPE ratio. Over the past 27 years, this figure has averaged 1.43. But just this month, the ratio approached 3 for the first time on record, increasing 100% in just a year and a half. This means that the gap between how expensive stocks have become and how little this increase concerns investors has never been wider. But history has shown that bad things can happen after periods in which fear takes a back seat.

Investors may be trying to convince themselves that the outcome will be different this time around. But the only thing that is likely to be different is the Fed’s ability to limit the damage. In 2000-2002, the Fed was able to cut interest rates 500 basis points (from 6% to 1%) in order to counter the effects of the imploding tech stock bubble. Seven years later, it cut rates 500 basis points (from 5% to 0) in response to the deflating housing bubble. Stocks still fell anyway, but they probably would have fallen further if the Fed hadn’t been able to deliver these massive stimuli. In hindsight, investors would have been wise to move some funds out of U.S. stocks when the CAPE/VIX ratio moved into record territory. While stocks fell following those peaks, gold rose nicely.

Past performance is not indicative of future results. Created by Euro Pacific Capital from data culled from Bloomberg.

But interest rates are now at just 1.25%. If the stock market were again to drop in such a manner, the Fed has far less fire power to bring to bear. It could cut rates to zero and then re-launch another round of QE bond buying to flood the financial sector with liquidity. But that may not be nearly as effective as it was in 2008. Given that the big problem at that point was bad mortgage debt, the QE program’s purchase of mortgage bonds was a fairly effective solution (although we believe a misguided one). But propping up overvalued stocks, many of which have nothing to do with the financial sector, is a far more difficult challenge. The Fed may have to buy stocks on the open market, a tactic that has been used by the Bank of Japan.

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A whole family of bears.

The Big Story: Edge Of The Cliff (RV/ZH)

Real Vision released a video early today containing interviews with some of the biggest names in the hedge fund universe. Though the interview was shot a few weeks ago, remarks from Hayman Capital’s Kyle Bass resonated with market’s mood. Bass discussed what he sees as the many short- and long-term risks to the US equity market, including the rise of algorithmic trading and passive investment, which have enabled investors to take risks without understanding what they’re doing, leaving the market vulnerable to an “air pocket.” And with so many traders short vol, Bass said investors will know the correction has begun when a 4% or 5% drop in equities snowballs into a 10% to 15% decline at the drop of a hat.

“The shift from active to passive means that risk is in the hands of people who don’t know how to take risk. Therefore we’re likely to have a 1987 air pocket. This is like portfolio insurance on steroids, the way algorithmic trading is now running the market place. Investors are moving from active to passive, meaning they’re taking the wheel themselves all at a time when CTAs are running their own algo strategies where they’re one and a half times long and half short and they all believe they can come out at the same time.” “If you see the equity market crack 4 or 5 points, buckle up, because I think we’re going to see a pretty interesting air-pocket, and I don’t think investors are ready for that,” Bass said.

“Our trade relationship with China is worsening our relationship with north korea whatever it is continually worsens. We’ve got three people at the head of these countries that are trying ot maike their countries great again, I think that’s a real risk geopolitically.” “But when you think about it financially, which is actually easier to calculate, the financial reason is the G-4 central banks going from a period of accommodation to a period of tightening, and that’s net of bond issuance.

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Yeah, that’s right. We’re not issuing enough debt yet. What will central banks purchase?

A $4 Trillion Hole in Bond Market May Start Filling in 2018 (BBG)

A key dynamic that’s been holding down bond yields since the global financial crisis is poised to ease next year – presenting a test to riskier parts of the market, according to analysis by Oxford Economics. In the aftermath of the crisis, banks and shadow financial institutions in developed economies sharply cut back their issuance of bonds, to the tune of about $4 trillion, according to the research group’s tally. That happened thanks to banks shrinking their balance sheets amid a regulatory crackdown, and due to a contraction in supply of mortgages that were regularly securitized into asset-backed bonds. “Against stable demand for fixed-income securities, the large negative supply shock created an increasingly acute shortage of these assets,” said Guillermo Tolosa, an economic adviser to Oxford Economics in London who has worked at the IMF.

The impact of that shock was an “almost decade-long yield squeeze,” he wrote. That compression “may start to ease in 2018,” Tolosa wrote in a report distributed Tuesday. Using slightly different metrics, the chart below shows how the market for financial company debt securities in the Group of Seven nations shrank after the 2009 global recession, and now appears to have flat-lined. Continued demand among mutual funds, pensions and insurance companies for fixed income then created the opportunity for nonfinancial companies to ramp up issuance, Tolosa wrote – a dynamic also seen in the chart. It’s one of a number of supply factors that have been identified explaining why bond yields globally remain historically low. Perhaps the most well documented one is the QE programs by the Fed, ECB and Bank of Japan that gobbled up about $14 trillion of assets.

Tolosa’s analysis suggests that Fed QE has had less of an impact than generally accepted, as the initiative was “more than offset” by increased public-sector borrowing. The large portfolio rebalancing in fixed income was instead “essentially a switch within private sector securities,” he said. There was a “massive shift” from financial securities into Treasuries, along with nonfinancial corporate and overseas debt, Tolosa concluded. “This explains a considerable part of the post-crisis surge in demand for other spread products and the issuance boom for global nonfinancial corporates and emerging-market borrowers,” Tolosa wrote. Over the decade through 2007, 10-year U.S. Treasury yields averaged 4.85%. But since the start of 2009 they’ve averaged just 2.46% – giving investors incentives to find higher rates elsewhere.

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What’s in a number?

US Fiscal Year Deficit Widens To $666 Billion (R.)

The U.S. budget deficit widened to $666 billion for the fiscal year 2017 as record spending more than offset record receipts, the Treasury Department said on Friday. The 2017 deficit increased to 3.5% of gross domestic product. The previous fiscal year deficit was $586 billion, with a deficit-to-GDP ratio of 3.2%. The latest fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, straddled the presidencies of Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, a Republican. Accounting for calendar adjustments, the 2017 fiscal year deficit was $644 billion compared with $546 billion the prior year. Fiscal 2017 revenues increased 1% to $3.315 trillion, while spending rose 3% to $3.981 trillion. Since taking office in January, the Trump administration has sought to overhaul the U.S. tax code with precise details currently being worked on in Congress.

The Republican tax plan currently calls for as much as $6 trillion in tax cuts, which would sharply reduce government revenues. It has prompted criticism that it favors tax breaks for business and the wealthy and could add trillions of dollars to the deficit. The administration contends tax cuts will pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. In addition to the annual deficit, the national debt – the accumulation of past deficits and interest due to lenders to the Treasury – now exceeds $20 trillion. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has said the ever-rising debt levels are unsustainable as the government pays for the medical and retirement costs of the aging Baby Boomer generation.

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We know they don’t know a thing.

Fed’s Yellen Defends Past Policies As Trump Mulls Top Fed Pick (R.)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said on Friday that asset purchases and other unconventional policy tools must remain part of the Fed’s arsenal as long as the economy remains stuck in a low interest-rate economy. Yellen’s remarks offered a contrast between her legacy as Fed chair with the policy views of others who President Donald Trump is considering for her position when her term expires in February. Yellen told the National Economists Club, “We must keep our unconventional policy tools ready to be deployed again.” Reaching the near-zero lower bound would force the Fed to turn to other means to stimulate the economy. Following the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis, the Fed used both a spoken commitment to lower rates and $3.5 trillion in asset purchases to pull rates lower than they would have been otherwise, boosting consumption and growth.

Those asset holdings are now on the decline, the Fed’s policy rate is being increased, and the economy in general is doing well, Yellen said. But she cautioned that the world may not return to its old normal, and “future policymakers” may need to use emergency steps similar to those used in the past decade. Persistent low inflation has caught the Fed by surprise and is “of great concern,” Yellen said. She and other Fed officials are also convinced that the “neutral” rate, which neither stimulates nor discourages economic activity, is much lower than in the past, likely limiting how far the Fed can go during this rate increase cycle. As President Donald Trump mulls a switch at the Fed, Trump is considering several possible replacements for Yellen.

One of the possible nominees Trump has interviewed, former Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, was critical of Fed asset purchases at the time, and argued that Fed has stayed too deeply involved in asset markets. Another, Stanford Economist John Taylor, advocates use of an interest rate rule that would have recommended higher rates through the downturn and recovery. Once rates reach the lower bound, moreover, Taylor’s rule-based approach would likely have to give way to judgment about what steps to take.

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What curious ideas.

‘Dr. Doom’, Marc Faber, Removed From More Boards After Comments On Race (R.)

Marc Faber, the markets prognosticator known as “Dr. Doom,” has been dismissed from three more company boards after comments in his latest newsletter this week suggested the United States had only prospered because it was settled by white people. U.S-based Sunshine Silver Mining, Vietnam Growth Fund managed by Dragon Capital, and Indochina Capital Corporation, had all dismissed him, Faber told Reuters on Friday, Faber has now been fired from six boards with Canadian fund manager Sprott, NovaGold Resources and Ivanhoe Mines letting him go on Tuesday after his remarks went viral on social media platform Twitter. In the October edition of his newsletter, “The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report,” in a section discussing capitalism versus socialism, Faber criticized the move to tear down monuments commemorating the U.S. Civil War military leaders of the Confederacy.

“Thank God white people populated America, not the blacks,” Faber wrote in his newsletter. “Otherwise, the U.S. would look like Zimbabwe, which it might look like one day anyway, but at least America enjoyed 200 years in the economic and political sun under a white majority.” “I am not a racist,” Faber continued, “but the reality – no matter how politically incorrect – needs to be spelled out as well.” Faber, a Swiss investor based in Thailand, who oversees $300 million in assets, said he has not lost any client money, and still stands by his comments and will keep publishing his newsletter. ”My clients all know me for more than 30 years. They know that to call me a racist is inappropriate,” he said. Faber said he has not seen a significant amount of subscribers cancel their subscriptions to his newsletter as a result of the controversy. “No, I think most people actually agree with me and certainly defend freedom of expression even if it does not coincide with their views.”

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Strange indeed.

China Still Needs Loans From World Bank (Caixin)

The World Bank’s former country director for China has defended the organization’s lending to Chinese governments. Yukon Huang, who now serves as a senior fellow at the Carnegie Asia Program, made the remarks after reports said the U.S. has rejected a capital increase plan for the multilateral lender because of dissatisfaction with its loans to wealthier countries, including China. The provincial-level and local governments need the World Bank loans because structural impediments prevent domestic banks from providing sufficient credit to finance public projects, Huang said. Chinese governments that borrow from the World Bank benefit from the support, Huang told Caixin. For example, he said, loans help agencies finance public services without having to rely so much on land sale revenues.

World Bank loans also help those governments improve their debt management. World Bank funds made available in January through its Development Policy Financing program are now helping governments within Hunan province and the municipality of Chongqing “achieve fiscal sustainability through a comprehensive and transparent public finance framework that integrates budget, public investment and debt management,” according to a statement on the World Bank’s website. For two years, the World Bank Group had been working to get member countries to agree on a capital increase plan for its International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) lending arm before the 2017 World Bank and IMF annual meetings, which began last week, according to Reuters.

The IBRD, the world’s largest development bank, is dedicated to helping countries reduce poverty and extending the benefits of sustainable growth by providing them with financial products and policy advice, its official website says. The U.S. is currently the largest IBRD shareholder out of its 189 member nations, with the greatest voting power of 16.28%. China is the third-largest shareholder, after Japan, with 4.53% voting power. The Trump administration was reluctant to endorse the capital increase, with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying in an Oct. 13 statement that “more capital is not the solution when existing capital is not allocated effectively.” “We want to see a significant shift in allocation of funding to support countries most in need of development finance,” Mnuchin said.

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Yes, Italy’s troubles run deep.

Betrayed by Banks, 40,000 Italian Businesses Are in Limbo (BBG)

The Most Serene Republic, as the area around Venice was known for a millennium, is now the troubled epicenter of a banking meltdown that’s threatening to derail one of globalization’s great success stories. The base of brands like Benetton, De’Longhi, Geox and Luxottica, Veneto has also become home to as many as 40,000 small businesses suddenly stranded without access to financing since a pair of regional banks collapsed in June. The implosions of Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca, which also wiped out the life savings of many of their 200,000 shareholders, set off economic and political tremors felt from Rome to Frankfurt. Anger over what many view as lax oversight by national authorities is animating a movement for more autonomy that’s already emboldened by Catalonia’s efforts to split from Spain.

“The pain for Veneto’s banks may be over, but the pain for Veneto’s businesses is just beginning,” said Andrea Arman, a lawyer advising some of the companies and individuals who’ve been hit the hardest. “We’re just starting to see the consequences of the collapse and what we’re seeing is alarming.” Nestled between the Alps and the Adriatic, Veneto is home to about 5 million people. Like Catalonia, it has a seafaring heritage, its own language and incomes far above the national average. Veneto President Luca Zaia, who’s called Italy and its 64 governments in 71 years a “bankrupt state,” plans to use the results of a nonbinding referendum on Oct. 22 to press Rome for more autonomy. Three out of four Veneti want more local power and 15% would support complete independence, according to a Demos poll published by La Repubblica this week.

While Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Italy’s second-largest bank, paid a symbolic sum to acquire the healthiest parts of the two Veneto lenders, the state entity that’s absorbing the 18 billion euros ($21.3 billion) of troubled debt the banks amassed, called SGA, isn’t fully operational yet. That has left small and midsized companies in the lurch—in many cases unable to do business. “Many of these borrowers are profitable companies, but they’re stuck in limbo,” said Mauro Rocchesso, head of Fidi Impresa e Turismo Veneto, a financial firm that provides collateral to companies seeking lines of credit. “They don’t have a counterparty anymore and can’t find fresh capital from a new lender because of their exposure to the two Veneto banks.”

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More violence and Rajoy is out.

Catalan Rebels Say Spain Will Live to Regret Hostile Power Grab (BBG)

Catalan separatists say Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into as he moves to quash their campaign for independence. As the government in Madrid prepares to deploy its most powerful legal weapons, three leading members of the movement in Barcelona said Rajoy isn’t equipped to achieve his goals and risks a damaging entanglement in hostile terrain. They reckon they have enough support among the Catalan civil service and police to thwart Spain’s plan. Rajoy’s cabinet meets in Madrid on Saturday to consider specific measures to reassert control over the rebel region, a process set out in the Spanish Constitution that’s never yet been tested. Among the top priorities is bringing to heel the Catalan police force and deciding what to do with President Carles Puigdemont.

The plan still needs approval by the Senate, so it could be another two weeks before Spain can take any action. “This is a minefield for Rajoy,” said Antonio Barroso, an analyst in London at Teneo Intelligence, a company advising on political risk. “The implementation on the ground is a risk for him when the government may face some regional civil servants who don’t cooperate.” The three Catalan officials – one from the parliament, one from the regional executive and one from the grass-roots campaign organization – spoke on condition of anonymity due to the legal threats against the movement. It all comes down to Article 155 of the constitution, a short passage that gives the legal green light for Spain to revoke the semi-autonomy of Catalonia. Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis said at a press conference in Madrid on Friday that it would be applied in a “prudent, proportionate and gradual manner.”

The problem for Rajoy is that the separatists already proved with their makeshift referendum on Oct. 1 that they can ignore edicts from Madrid with a degree of success. That means he will need to back up his ruling with people on the ground, and it didn’t work as planned the last time around. The Catalan police force, the Mossos d’Esquadra, ignored orders to shut down polling stations before the illegal vote on Oct. 1. After Rajoy sent in the Civil Guard, images of Spanish police beating would-be voters were broadcast around the world. Mossos Police Chief Josep Lluis Trapero is a local hero, his face worn on T-shirts at separatist demonstrations. When he returned this week from an interrogation in Madrid, where he’s facing possible sedition charges, staff greeted him with hugs and applause.

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And we worry about a financial apocalypse. If you value money over life, you will lose both.

A Giant Insect Ecosystem Is Collapsing Due To Humans. It’s A Catastrophe (G.)

They are multitudinous almost beyond our imagining. They thrive in soil, water, and air; they have triumphed for hundreds of millions of years in every continent bar Antarctica, in every habitat but the ocean. And it is their success – staggering, unparalleled and seemingly endless – which makes all the more alarming the great truth now dawning upon us: insects as a group are in terrible trouble and the remorselessly expanding human enterprise has become too much, even for them. The astonishing report highlighted in the Guardian, that the biomass of flying insects in Germany has dropped by three quarters since 1989, threatening an “ecological Armageddon”, is the starkest warning yet; but it is only the latest in a series of studies which in the last five years have finally brought to public attention the real scale of the problem.

Does it matter? Even if bugs make you shudder? Oh yes. Insects are vital plant-pollinators and although most of our grain crops are pollinated by the wind, most of our fruit crops are insect-pollinated, as are the vast majority of our wild plants, from daisies to our most splendid wild flower, the rare and beautiful lady’s slipper orchid. Furthermore, insects form the base of thousands upon thousands of food chains, and their disappearance is a principal reason why Britain’s farmland birds have more than halved in number since 1970. Some declines have been catastrophic: the grey partridge, whose chicks fed on the insects once abundant in cornfields, and the charming spotted flycatcher, a specialist predator of aerial insects, have both declined by more than 95%, while the red-backed shrike, which feeds on big beetles, became extinct in Britain in the 1990s. Ecologically, catastrophe is the word for it.

[..] It seems indisputable: it is us. It is human activity – more specifically, three generations of industrialised farming with a vast tide of poisons pouring over the land year after year after year, since the end of the second world war. This is the true price of pesticide-based agriculture, which society has for so long blithely accepted. So what is the future for 21st-century insects? It will be worse still, as we struggle to feed the nine billion people expected to be inhabiting the world by 2050, and the possible 12 billion by 2100, and agriculture intensifies even further to let us do so. You think there will be fewer insecticides sprayed on farmlands around the globe in the years to come? Think again. It is the most uncomfortable of truths, but one which stares us in the face: that even the most successful organisms that have ever existed on earth are now being overwhelmed by the titanic scale of the human enterprise, as indeed, is the whole natural world.

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Oct 202017
 
 October 20, 2017  Posted by at 7:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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René Magritte Youth 1924

 

Fed Flunks Econ 101: Understanding Inflation (MW)
Meet The Bears Predicting Stock Market Doom (CNN)
Catalan Groups Call For Mass Withdrawal Of Money From Bank ATMs (CN)
The World’s Largest ICO Is Imploding After Just 3 Months (ZH)
Scandal-Hit Nissan Suspends All Production For Japan Market (AFP)
End Of Australia Auto-Making Sector As Holden Closes Doors (AFP)
Top Startup Investors See Mounting ‘Backlash’ Against Tech (R.)
Native American Tribe Holding Patents Sues Amazon And Microsoft (R.)
Putin Slams West for Lack of Respect and Broken Trust (BBG)
Ditch Neoliberalism To Win Again, Jeremy Corbyn Tells EU’s Center-Left (Ind.)
Merkel Comes to May’s Aid on Brexit (BBG)
Italian Regions To Vote In Europe’s Latest Referendums On Autonomy (G.)
Greece Plans Billion Euro Handout For The Poor (R.)
Tensions Rise On Aegean Islands As Migrants Continue To Arrive (K.)
Global Pollution Kills Millions, Threatens ‘Survival Of Human Societies’ (G.)

 

 

As I’ve said 1000 times.

Fed Flunks Econ 101: Understanding Inflation (MW)

The Federal Reserve’s illusive quest to achieve 2% inflation over the medium term is becoming a long-term problem. The institutional anxiety over the chronic inflation undershoot is evident in daily news stories, Fed speeches and the increased focus in internal discussions, as reflected in the minutes of the Sept. 19-20 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). One doesn’t have to read between the lines to appreciate the degree to which policy makers fear the onset of the next recession without adequate “room” to lower interest rates. Hence, normalizing interest rates is “on track,” as the headline above noted, even though the relationship — between unemployment and inflation — is decidedly off track.

So what gives? The persistence of sub-2% inflation in the face of nine years of near-zero interest rates and an economy at what is perceived to be full employment has led to an array of silly explanations, embarrassing excuses and a host of pseudo-theories. Just maybe the Fed’s internal guidance system is flawed. The inverse correlation between unemployment and wages in the U.K. from 1861 to 1957 initially observed by New Zealand economist A.W. Phillips has morphed into a model of causation for Fed chief Janet Yellen and the current crop of U.S. policy makers. It’s not clear why. Just eyeballing the graph of the Fed’s preferred inflation measure and the civilian unemployment rate, one might conclude that the relationship broke down in the 1970s and has yet to reassert itself. Is a half-century malfunction enough to declare a theory null and void?

One would think so. Yet the notion of cost-push inflation as (supposedly) expressed by Phillips Curve lives, although faith in it has started to wane, even among ardent devotees like labor-economist Yellen. Instead, we are confronted with headlines such as, “Nobody seems to know why there is no inflation.” Really? Have they all forgotten Milton Friedman’s axiom that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon? When the central bank creates more money than the public wants to hold, people spend it. The increased demand for goods and services eventually exceeds the economy’s ability to produce or provide them. The result is higher economy-wide prices, or inflation.

That isn’t happening, not just in the U.S. but across the globe. For all the sturm und drang about the Fed debasing the dollar and sowing the seeds of the next great inflation, the public’s demand for money has increased. The increased desire to hold cash and checkable deposits has risen to meet the increased supply. Velocity, or the rate at which money turns over, has plummeted.

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“.. it’s central banks that typically end the party. And central banks are telling you it’s last call.”

Meet The Bears Predicting Stock Market Doom (CNN)

The red-hot stock market may continue its rapid ascent, especially if Trump delivers his promise for “massive” corporate tax cuts. And even if not, healthy economic fundamentals and corporate profits should continue to support stocks. Nonetheless, some bears are fighting the herd mentality on Wall Street by warning of serious trouble brewing just beneath the surface of the stock market. These market skeptics are reassured by the fact that betting against stocks wasn’t popular in 2007, either. “The best time to be a bear is the loneliest time,” Jesse Felder, a money manager and founder of The Felder Report, told CNNMoney. Here are some of the red flags these bears are warning about, including similarities between now and 30 years ago:

In 2007 and 2008, Chris Cole presciently bet that market volatility would skyrocket to levels no one had seen before. He took those crisis-era winnings and started Artemis Capital, a hedge fund that has amassed $210 million. Today, the stock market is unusually quiet. The VIX, a popular barometer of market fear, recently hit a record low. Cole thinks it’s a mirage, partly because popular trading strategies allow investors to bet on the low volatility itself. All those bets lead to even lower volatility – until something unexpected happens, like suddenly higher interest rates. “Any shock to the system could cause this to unravel in the opposite direction, where higher volatility drives higher volatility,” Cole told CNNMoney. “This is a massive risk to the system. The only thing we’re missing is a fire.” [..] “This is a disaster waiting to happen,” said Cole. “In the event there is a fire, this can cause a massive explosion.”

Kyle Bass, founder of Hayman Capital Management, is also having a flashback to 30 years ago. “If you look at the all of the different constituencies of the market today, it resembles the portfolio insurance debacle of 1987 on steroids,” Bass told Real Vision TV in an interview released on Wednesday. Bass fears that, once stock prices decline 4% to 5%, that will quickly morph into a 10% to 15% plunge. He isn’t sure about timing, but pointed to geopolitical trouble and central banks as potential triggers. “Buckle up, because I think you’re going to see a pretty interesting air pocket. And I don’t think investors are ready for that,” he said.

Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, predicts the “overvalued” stock market will run into serious trouble as central banks hit the brakes on the stimulus measures they used to prop up economies after the crisis. He pointed to the Federal Reserve shrinking its balance sheet and the European Central Bank slowing its bond purchases. “Historically speaking, central banks put us into recessions and bear markets. The same will happen this time,” Boockvar said. He estimates that central banks will be pumping $1 trillion less money into markets. “The liquidity spigot is going to be dripping instead of flowing. That’s a really big deal,” said Boockvar. He conceded that stocks could run higher before eventually reversing. “When it happens, I’m not sure,” Boockvar said. “But it’s central banks that typically end the party. And central banks are telling you it’s last call.”

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Chaos.

Catalan Groups Call For Mass Withdrawal Of Money From Bank ATMs (CN)

Civil society organizations in Catalonia call for a mass withdrawal of money from bank ATMs on Friday at 8am in order to pressure the Spanish government. Organizers don’t especify how much money should be taken out nor what to do with it. The action targets the five main banks in Catalonia: Caixa Bank, Sabadell, Bankia, BBVA and Santander. Organizers call on clients of Caixa Bank and Sabadell to show their disagreement with the banks’ recent decision to move their headquarters out of Catalonia due to the escalating political crisis between governments in Barcelona and Madrid.

This is the first “direct and peaceful” action organized by Crida per la Democràcia (Call for Democracy). This is an umbrella group which includes among others the two main pro-independence organizations in Catalonia: the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Òmnium Cultural. The mass withdrawal is also aimed at condemning the imprisonment of ANC and Òmnium presidents, Jordi Sánchez and Jordi Cuixart, held in custody on sedition charges since Monday.

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All’s not well in crypto land.

The World’s Largest ICO Is Imploding After Just 3 Months (ZH)

Earlier this summer, Tezos smashed existing sales records in the white-hot IPO market after the company’s pitch to build a better blockchain for cryptocurrencies made it one of the buzziest ICOs in the world. As we noted at the time, the company capitalized on that buzz by courting VC firms and other institutional investors with a $50 million token pre-sale. After the company opened up selling to the broader public, demand soared as investors greedily bought up tokens in spite of glitches that threatened to derail the sale early on. By the end of its weeks-long token sale in July, Tezos had sold more than $230 million. Now, Tezos is proving that authorities in the US and China were on to something when they decided to crack down on the ICO market, which has become a cesspool of fraud and abuse.

To wit, the company’s management revealed this week that progress on its vaunted product has stalled as it has struggled to recruit engineering talent, and an acrimonious dispute between several of the company’s leading figures has spilled out into the open. As WSJ’s Paul Vigna reports, “a battle between the founders of the company and the head of the Swiss foundation they installed to give it more independence has put most trading of Tezos coins on ice, possibly until early next year.” The shakeup started after Tezos founders Arthur and Kathleen Breitman reported the delays in a blog post published Wednesday. But even more alarming, the pair accused Johann Gevers, the head of a Swiss foundation which oversees their funds, of attempting to overpay himself using the massive pot of investor capital – despite the fact that the company will likely blow through its promised deadline of allocating tokens to buyers by December (the tokens have yet to be created).

In early September we became aware that the president of the Tezos Foundation, Johann Gevers, engaged in an attempt at self-dealing, misrepresenting to the council the value of a bonus he attempted to grant himself. We have been working with the Tezos foundation to resolve the matter and have advocated for his removal from the foundation council. We are confident in the council’s ability to handle this sensitive matter with care and diligence. In the meantime, Johann’s operational role in the foundation has been suspended, pending an investigation by the council’s auditor. The news sent Tezos futures contracts trading on BitMex, an exchange known for its cryptocurrency futures products, tumbling more than 50% as traders unwound bets the project would be launched before the end of the year, as Bloomberg pointed out.

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The final nail in the Made in Japan coffin.

Scandal-Hit Nissan Suspends All Production For Japan Market (AFP)

Nissan said Thursday it was suspending all production destined for the local market, as Japan’s number-two automaker grapples with a mounting inspection scandal that has already seen it recall some 1.2 million vehicles. “Nissan decided today to suspend vehicle production for the Japan market at all Nissan and Nissan Shatai plants in Japan,” it said in a statement, referring to an affiliate. The announcement comes weeks after the company announced the major recall as it admitted that staff without proper authorisation had conducted final inspections on some vehicles intended for the domestic market before they were shipped to dealers. On Thursday, it said a third-party investigator found the misconduct had continued at three of its six Japanese plants even after it took steps to end the crisis.

“Nissan regards the recurrence of this issue at domestic plants – despite the corrective measures taken – as critical,” it said. “The investigation team will continue to thoroughly investigate the issue and determine measures to prevent a recurrence.” Nissan president Hiroto Saikawa offered a blunt assessment, saying that “old habits” were to blame. “You might say it would be easy to stop people who are not supposed to inspect from inspecting,” he told reporters Thursday. “But we are having to take (new measures) in order to stop old habits that had been part of our routine operations at the factories.”

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Lost skills.

End Of Australia Auto-Making Sector As Holden Closes Doors (AFP)

The last car rolled off the production line of Australian automaker Holden on Friday, marking the demise of a national industry unable to stand up to global competition. The closure of the Elizabeth plant in South Australia is the end of an era for Holden, which first started in the state as a saddlery business in 1856 and made the nation’s first mass-produced car in 1948. The brand has long been an Australian household name, with 1970s commercials singing that “football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars” were part of the nation’s identity. “I feel very sad, as we all do, for it’s the end of an era, and you can’t get away from the emotional response to the closure,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Friday.

Holden was marketed as “Australia’s Own Car” and became a symbol of post-war prosperity Down Under despite being a subsidiary of US giant General Motors. At its peak in 1964, Holden employed almost 24,000 staff. But just 950 were able to watch the final car leave the factory floor Friday. “There are a number of people who have been here since the seventies and today will be a very emotional day for some people and a very sad day,” Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary John Camillo told reporters. The union blamed the federal government for causing the closure by withdrawing support to the auto sector. The death of the industry was always on the cards after subsidies were cut off in 2014. Some Aus$30 billion (US$24 billion) in assistance was handed out between 1997 and 2012, according to the government’s Productivity Commission.

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The rich get scared. It’s about power as much as money.

Top Startup Investors See Mounting ‘Backlash’ Against Tech (R.)

Two of the technology industry’s top startup investors took to the stage at a conference on Wednesday to decry the power that companies such as Facebook had amassed and call for a redistribution of wealth. Bill Maris, who founded Alphabet’s venture capital arm and now runs venture fund Section 32, and Sam Altman, president of startup accelerator Y Combinator, said widespread discontent over income inequality helped elect U.S. President Donald Trump and had put wealthy technology companies in the crosshairs. “I do know that the tech backlash is going to be strong,” said Altman. “We have more and more concentrated power and wealth.” The market capitalization of the so-called Big Five technology companies – Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook – has doubled in the last three years to more than $3 trillion.

Silicon Valley broadly has amassed significant wealth during the latest tech boom. Altman and Maris spoke on the final day of The Wall Street Journal DLive technology conference in Southern California. Facebook’s role in facilitating what U.S. intelligence agencies have identified as Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election is an example of the immense power the social media company has amassed, the investors said. “The companies that used to be fun and disruptive and interesting and benevolent are now disrupting our elections,” Maris said.

Altman said people “are understandably uncomfortable with that.” Altman, who unequivocally rebuffed rumors that he would run for governor of California next year, said he expects more demands from both the public and policy makers on data privacy, limiting what personal information Facebook and others can collect. Maris said regulators would have good cause to break up the big technology companies. “These companies are more powerful than AT&T ever was,” he said. [..] Altman and Maris offered few details of how to accomplish a redistribution of wealth. Maris proposed shorter term limits for elected officials and simplifying the tax code. Altman has advocated basic income, a poverty-fighting proposal in which all residents would receive a regular, unconditional sum of money from the government.

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Curious legal battle.

Native American Tribe Holding Patents Sues Amazon And Microsoft (R.)

A Native American tribe sued Amazon.com and Microsoft in federal court in Virginia on Wednesday for infringing supercomputer patents it is holding for a technology firm. The Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe was assigned the patents by SRC Labs LLC in August, in a deal intended to use the tribe’s sovereign status to shield them from administrative review. SRC is also a plaintiff in the case. The tribe, which would receive a share of any award, made a similar deal in September to hold patents for Allergan on its dry eye medicine Restasis. SRC and Allergan made the deals to shield their patents from review by the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, an administrative court run by the U.S. patent office that frequently revokes patents.

The tribe would get revenue to address environmental damage and rising healthcare costs. Companies sued for patent infringement in federal court often respond by asking the patent board to invalidate the asserted patents. Both Microsoft and Amazon have used this strategy to prevail in previous disputes. A federal court in Texas separately invalidated Allergan’s Restasis patents on Monday. The company responded that it would appeal that ruling.Allergan’s deal with the tribe has drawn criticism from a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers, some of whom have called it a “sham.” Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill on Oct. 5 introduced a bill to ban attempts to take advantage of tribal sovereignty.

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“The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as a lack of power and you abused it..”

Putin Slams West for Lack of Respect and Broken Trust (BBG)

President Vladimir Putin has yet to declare his candidacy for re-election next year, but on Thursday the outlines of his campaign were clear, beginning from his strongest suit as the man who restored power and respect to Russia. Putin spent much of his address to an annual gathering of foreign-policy specialists from Russia and abroad recounting his country’s perceived humiliation following the collapse of the Soviet Union, singling out the West and the U.S. for special criticism. “The biggest mistake our country made was that we put too much trust in you; and your mistake was that you saw this trust as a lack of power and you abused it,’’ he said during a question-and-answer session that was carried on national television. What was needed, he said, was “respect.’’

In its portrayal of the U.S., “it was the most negative speech Putin has given’’ at the annual Valdai Club meeting, said Toby Gati, a former U.S. National Security Council and State Department official who is a regular at the event. At the same time, the Russian leader appeared to leave a door open to a rapprochement with U.S. President Donald Trump, saying that he, too, deserved respect as the elected choice of the American people. [..] Even during the Cold War, the U.S. and the Soviet Union had always treated each other with respect, said Putin, lamenting how the Russian flag was recently torn from the country’s consulate in California. “Respect has been the underbelly of the whole conference,’’ said Wendell Wallach, chairman of technology and ethics studies at Yale University.

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The only leftist in Europe left standing. Oh irony.

Ditch Neoliberalism To Win Again, Jeremy Corbyn Tells EU’s Center-Left (Ind.)

Jeremy Corbyn has warned centre-left parties across Europe that they must follow his lead and abandon the neoliberal economics of the imagined “centre ground” if they want to start winning elections again. The Labour leader was given a hero’s welcome at the Europe Together conference of centre-left parties in Brussels, where he was introduced as “the new Prime Minister of Britain” and received two standing ovations from a packed auditorium. Continental centre-left leaders are looking to Mr Corbyn’s Labour as a model to reinvigorate their movement. Across Europe from France to Germany, Austria to Netherlands, and Spain to Greece, once powerful social-democratic parties have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves – with Labour a notable exception.

Mr Corbyn said low taxes, deregulation, and privatisation had not brought prosperity for Europe’s populations and that if social democratic parties continued to endorse them they would continue to lose elections. He berated the longstanding leadership of the centre-left, telling delegates from across the EU: “For too long the most prominent voices in our movement have looked out of touch, too willing to defend the status quo and the established order. “In a desperate attempt to protect what is seen as the centre-ground of politics: only to find the centre ground has shifted or was never where the elites thought it was in the first place.” Citing the rise of the far-right in countries like Austria and France, Mr Corbyn said the abdication of the radical end of politics by the left had created space for reactionary parties.

“Our broken system has provided fertile ground for the growth of nationalist and xenophobic politics,” he said. “We all know their politics of hate, blame and division and not the answer, but unless we offer a clear and radical alternative of credible solutions for the problem we face, unless we offer a chance to change the broken system, and hope for a more prosper future we are clearing the path for the extreme right to make even more far-reaching inroads into our communities. Their message of fear and division would become the political mainstream of our discourse. But we can offer a radical alternative, we have the ideas to make progressive politics the dominant force of this century. But if we don’t get our message right, don’t stand up for our core beliefs, and if we don’t stand for change we will founder and stagnate.”

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Does Angela not like what Corbyn has to say?

Merkel Comes to May’s Aid on Brexit (BBG)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Theresa May the political cover she’s been asking for to take further steps in Brexit talks, calling on both sides to move so that a deal can be reached by year-end. The U.K. prime minister signaled she’s willing to offer more on the divorce bill, according to a U.K. official. May urged leaders at a European summit to help her find a deal she could sell to skeptics at home, and her counterparts responded with words of encouragement – though no concrete concessions. Merkel said there’s “zero indication” that Brexit talks won’t succeed and she “truly” wants an agreement rather than an “unpredictable resolution.” She welcomed the concessions May made in a landmark speech in Florence last month and said she’s “very motivated” to get talks moved on from the divorce settlement to trade by December.

“Now both sides need to move,” she told reporters after hearing May speak at dinner, in a shift of rhetoric for the EU side, which has previously insisted that it’s up to the U.K. alone to make the next move. [..] he chancellor’s upbeat tone on Brexit was in marked contrast to Germany’s portrayal in the U.K. media as the principle obstacle to Britain’s attempts to shift negotiations onto trade and a transition period. In reality, Merkel has rarely commented on Brexit in the past two months or more as she fought for re-election to a fourth term. Even when she has weighed in, the chancellor tended to adopt a matter-of-fact approach that stuck to the facts. “So what I heard today was a confirmation of the fact that, in contrast to what you hear in the British press, the process is moving forward step by step,” Merkel said. “You get the impression that after a few weeks you already have to announce the final product, and I found that – to be very clear – absurd.”

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it’s not about borders, but about decentralizing power. Unstoppable.

Italian Regions To Vote In Europe’s Latest Referendums On Autonomy (G.)

Two of Italy’s richest regions are holding referendums on greater autonomy on Sunday, in the latest push by European regions to wrest more power from the centre. Lombardy and Veneto, between them home to a quarter of Italy’s population, are seeking semi-autonomy, giving them more control over their finances and administration. Although legally non-binding, the exercise is the latest ripple in a wave of votes on greater autonomy across Europe in recent years, from Scotland in 2014 to Brexit last year and Catalonia in September. Although both regions have in the past campaigned for complete independence from Rome, their leaders have made it clear the ballots are about autonomy and not secession.

Some insight into the dynamics can be gleaned from the example of Sappada, a mountainous town in Veneto that straddles the regional border with Friuli-Venezia Giulia. A skiing and hiking paradise, the town is on the verge of becoming the first in Italy to switch regions to become part of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, one of Italy’s five semi-autonomous regions. The plan was approved by the Italian government in September after a lengthy bureaucratic process. “The reasons for people wanting to be part of Friuli are varied: we have our own dialect, which originates from German, and culturally we feel closer to Friuli,” Manuel Piller Hoffer, the mayor of Sappada, told the Guardian. “But the main one is economic: living next door to a semi-autonomous region, people see advantages that they don’t have. They see finances being controlled better, a better health service and sustainable investments being made – they see a better standard of living.”

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Do you need to call it a ‘handout’, Reuters?

Greece Plans Billion Euro Handout For The Poor (R.)

Greece plans to offer handouts worth 1 billion euros to poor Greeks who have suffered during the seven-year debt crisis after beating its budget targets this year, the government said on Thursday. Greece expects to return to nearly 2% growth this year and achieve a primary surplus – which excludes debt servicing costs – of 2.2% of GDP, outperforming the 1.75% bailout target. “The surplus outperformance which will be distributed to social groups that have suffered the biggest pressure during the financial crisis, will be close to 1 billion euros,” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told reporters. It is not yet clear who would be eligible for what the leftist-led government calls a “social dividend.” Hundreds of thousands of Greeks have lost their jobs during a six-year recession that cut more than a quarter of the country’s GDP.

With unemployment 21.3% and youth unemployment at 42.8% many households rely on the income of grandparents – although they have lost more than a third of the value of their pensions since 2010, when Athens signed up to its first international bailout. The government will make final decisions in late November, once it gets full-year budget data, Tzanakopoulos said. Greece’s fiscal performance this year and its 2018 budget is expected to be discussed with representatives from its European Union lenders and the International Monetary Fund next week when a crucial review of its bailout progress starts. Tzanakopoulos reiterated that Athens aims to wrap up the review as soon as possible, ruling out new austerity measures.

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We’re really going to see this play out all over again?

Tensions Rise On Aegean Islands As Migrants Continue To Arrive (K.)

As dozens of migrants continue to land daily on the shores of eastern Aegean islands, and tensions rise in reception centers, local communities are becoming increasingly divided over growing migrant populations. A total of 438 people arrived on the islands aboard smuggling boats from Turkey in the first three days of the week, with another 175 people arriving on the islet of Oinousses yesterday morning. The latter were transferred to a center on nearby Chios which is very cramped with 1,600 people living in facilities designed to host 850. The situation is worse on Samos, where a reception center designed to host 700 people is accommodating 2,850.

The Migration Ministry said around 1,000 migrants will be relocated to the mainland next week. But island authorities said that this will not adequately ease conditions at the overcrowded facilities. Samos Mayor Michalis Angelopoulos on Thursday appealed for European Union support during a meeting of regional authority officials in Strasbourg. He said the Aegean islands “cannot bear the burden of the refugee problem which is threatening to divide Europe.” There are divisions on the islands too. On Sunday rival groups are planning demonstrations on Samos – far-right extremists to protest the growing migrant population and leftists to protest the EU’s “anti-migrant” policy.

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When you think money is more valuable than life.

Global Pollution Kills Millions, Threatens ‘Survival Of Human Societies’ (G.)

Pollution kills at least nine million people and costs trillions of dollars every year, according to the most comprehensive global analysis to date, which warns the crisis “threatens the continuing survival of human societies”. Toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill one in every six people around the world, the landmark report found, and the true total could be millions higher because the impact of many pollutants are poorly understood. The deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined. The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies.

Rich nations still have work to do to tackle pollution: the US and Japan are in the top 10 for deaths from “modern” forms of pollution, ie fossil fuel-related air pollution and chemical pollution. But the scientists said that the big improvements that have been made in developed nations in recent decades show that beating pollution is a winnable battle if there is the political will. “Pollution is one of the great existential challenges of the [human-dominated] Anthropocene era,” concluded the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health, published in the Lancet on Friday. “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies.”

Prof Philip Landrigan, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, US, who co-led the commission, said: “We fear that with nine million deaths a year, we are pushing the envelope on the amount of pollution the Earth can carry.” For example, he said, air pollution deaths in south-east Asia are on track to double by 2050. Landrigan said the scale of deaths from pollution had surprised the researchers and that two other “real shockers” stood out. First was how quickly modern pollution deaths were rising, while “traditional” pollution deaths – from contaminated water and wood cooking fires – were falling as development work bears fruit. “Secondly, we hadn’t really got our minds around how much pollution is not counted in the present tally,” he said. “The current figure of nine million is almost certainly an underestimate, probably by several million.”

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Oct 192017
 
 October 19, 2017  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Joan Miro The sun embracing the lover 1952

 

Don’t Rely on US Consumers to Power Global Growth (DDMB)
Who Has the World’s No. 1 Economy? Not the US (BBG)
Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete – Varoufakis (Ind.)
Something Wicked This Way Comes: McDonald’s Stock Buybacks (Lebowitz)
$1 Trillion In Liquidity Is Leaving: Market’s First Crash-Test In 10 Years (ZH)
Dollar Funding Shortage Never Went Away And Starts To Get Worse Again (ZH)
China’s Central Bank Warns Of Sudden Collapse In Asset Prices (R.)
Xi Jinping Gets His Own School of Thought (G.)
Spain-Catalonia Standoff Set To Intensify As Leaders Take Hard Lines (R.)
Let Catalonia Go (Exp.)
Australia’s First Home Super Scheme Passes The Lower House (D.)
Warning Of ‘Ecological Armageddon’ After 75% Plunge In Insect Numbers (G.)

 

 

“The “something-had-to-give” moment appears to be arriving.”

Don’t Rely on US Consumers to Power Global Growth (DDMB)

U.S. consumers account for 18% of global GDP, and it’s tempting to rely on them to continue carrying the aging recovery to support world growth. The data and growing lender anxiety, though, suggest investors should prepare for what is increasingly looking like an inevitable slowdown in economic growth next year. Although American households managed to maintain their spending levels in the face of dwindling prospects for future economic expansion, they have done so by taking on incremental debts, which could soon prove unsustainable. Headed into the 1960s, consumer credit as apercentage of disposable income was 14%. As baby boomers came of age and started settling down in suburbia to build families under their own roofs, this figure rose to 18% where it largely remained until the early 1990s.

The go-go run of the 1990s, though, was the first major break from history; consumer credit as apercentage of household discretionary spending rose to 24% by the turn of the century and remained there until the recession of 2007-2008. And while there was a movement toward deleveraging, it was short-lived. Today the ratio sits at a high of 26%. The upshot is that when consumer credit is combined with government transfer payments the total amounts to about 43% of all consumer spending. Put differently, almost a third of U.S. growth relies on increasing debt in one form or another.

Economists have long emphasized the historically low debt-service costs households must shoulder as proof that the rebuild in debt levels was not problematic. It was telling that fresh data revealed Americans ploughed more of their income to paying debts last year, the first increase in seven years. Moody’s warned the troubling finding would lead to further increases in default rates. JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup validated the data in their most recent earnings reports in which they boosted their reserves for losses on consumer loans by the most in more than four years. Credit card debt, which clocked a brisk 7% growth rate in August, was specifically cited. Citigroup added that the increase was coming faster than anticipated. The stresses, though, have been growing for almost two years when increases in credit card borrowing began to outpace that of incomes. The “something-had-to-give” moment appears to be arriving.

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“..a more accurate picture of how much a country really produces..” It’s almost too easy.

Who Has the World’s No. 1 Economy? Not the US (BBG)

What’s the most powerful country in the world? There’s a good case to be made that it’s China. There are many kinds of power – diplomatic, cultural, military and economic. So an easier question to ask is: What’s the world’s largest economy? That’s almost certainly China. Many might protest when hearing this. After all, the U.S. still produces the most when measured at market exchange rates:

But this comparison is misleading, because things cost different amounts in different countries. GDP is supposed to measure the amount of real stuff — cars, phones, financial services, back massages, etc. – that a country produces. If the same phone costs $400 in the U.S. but only $200 in China, China’s GDP is getting undercounted by 50% when we measure at market exchange rates. In general, less developed countries have lower prices, which means their GDP gets systematically undercounted.Economists try to correct for this with an adjustment called purchasing power parity (PPP), which controls for relative prices. It’s not perfect, since it has to account for things like product quality, which can be hard to measure. But it probably gives a more accurate picture of how much a country really produces. And here, China has already surpassed the U.S.:

If you don’t trust the murky PPP adjustments, a simple alternative is just to look at the price of a Big Mac. The same burger costs 1.8 times more in the U.S. than in China. Adjusting the market-exchange-rate GDP numbers by that ratio would put China even farther ahead. In some dimensions, China’s lead is even larger. The country’s manufacturing output overtook that of the U.S. almost a decade ago. Its exports are more than a third larger as well.

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“..capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised..” The serpent and the tail.

Capitalism Is Ending Because It Has Made Itself Obsolete – Varoufakis (Ind.)

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has claimed capitalism is coming to an end because it is making itself obsolete. The former economics professor told an audience at University College London that the rise of giant technology corporations and artificial intelligence will cause the current economic system to undermine itself. Mr Varoufakis, who took on EU institutions over Greek debt repayments in 2015, said companies such as Google and Facebook, for the first time ever, are having their capital bought and produced by consumers. “Firstly the technologies were funded by some government grant; secondly every time you search for something on Google, you contribute to Google’s capital,” he said. “And who gets the returns from capital? Google, not you. “So now there is no doubt capital is being socially produced, and the returns are being privatised. This with artificial intelligence is going to be the end of capitalism.”

Warning Karl Marx “will have his revenge”, the 56-year-old said for the first time since capitalism started, new technology “is going to destroy a lot more jobs than it creates”. He added: “Capitalism is going to undermine capitalism, because they are producing all these technologies that will make corporations and the private means of production obsolete. “And then what happens? I have no idea.” Describing the present economic situation as “unsustainable” and fearing the rise of “toxic nationalism”, Mr Varoufakis said governments needed to prepare for post-capitalism by introducing redistributive wealth policies. He suggested one effective policy would be for 10% of all future issue of shares to be put into a “common welfare fund” owned by the people. Out of this a “universal basic dividend” could be paid to every citizen.

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The serpent and the tail. Exhibit no. 1: corporate America in the 21st century.

Something Wicked This Way Comes: McDonald’s Stock Buybacks (Lebowitz)

We have written six articles on stock buybacks to date. While each discussed different themes including valuations, executive motivations, and corporate governance, they all arrived at the same conclusion; buybacks may boost the stock price in the short run but in the majority of cases they harm shareholder value in the long run. Data on MCD provides support for our conclusion. Since 2012, MCD’s revenue has declined by nearly 12% while its earnings per share (EPS) rose 17%. This discrepancy might lead one to conclude that MCD’s management has greatly improved operating efficiency and introduced massive cost-cutting measures. Not so. Similar to revenue, GAAP net income has declined almost 8% over the same period, which rules out the possibilities mentioned above.

To understand how earnings-per-share (EPS) can increase at a double-digit rate, while revenue and net income similarly decline and profit margins remain relatively flat, one must consider the effect of share buybacks. Currently, MCD has about 20% fewer shares outstanding than they did five years ago. The reduction in shares accounts for the warped EPS. As noted earlier, EPS is up 17% since 2012. When adjusted for the decline in shares, EPS declined 7%. Given the 12% decline in revenue and 8% drop in net income, this adjusted 7% decline in EPS makes more sense. MCD currently trades at a trailing twelve-month price to earnings ratio (P/E) of 25. If we use the adjusted EPS figure instead of the stated EPS, the P/E rises to 30, which is simply breathtaking for a company that is shrinking. It must also be noted that, since 2012, shareholder equity, or the difference between assets and liabilities, has gone from positive $15.2 billion to negative $2 billion. A summary of key financial data is shown later in this article.

In addition to adjusting MCD’s earnings for buybacks, investors should also consider that to accomplish this financial wizardry, MCD relied on a 112% increase in their debt. Since 2012, MCD spent an estimated $23 billion on share buybacks. During the same period, debt increased by approximately $16 billion. Instead of repurchasing shares, MCD could have used debt and cash flow to expand into new markets, increase productivity and efficiency of its restaurants or purchase higher growth competitors. MCD executives instead manipulated EPS and ultimately the stock price. To their good fortune (quite literally), the Board of Directors and shareholders appear well-deceived by the costume of a healthy and profitable company. The following table compares MCD’s fundamental data and buyback adjusted data from 2012 to their last reported earnings statement.

The graph below compares the sharp increase in the price of MCD to the decline in revenue over the last five years.

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.. but I ain’t got wings .. coming down .. is the hardest thing ..

$1 Trillion In Liquidity Is Leaving: Market’s First Crash-Test In 10 Years (ZH)

In his latest presentation, Francesco Filia of Fasanara Capital discusses how years of monumental liquidity injections by major Central Banks ($15 trillion since 2009) successfully avoided a circuit break after the Global Financial Crisis, but failed to deliver on the core promise of economic growth through the ‘wealth effect’, which instead became an ‘inequality effect’, exacerbating populism and representing a constant threat to the status quo. Fasanara discusses how elusive, over-fitting economic narratives are used ex-post to legitimize the “fake markets” – as defined previously by the hedge fund – induced by artificial flows.

Meanwhile, as an unintended consequence, such money flows produced a dangerous market structure, dominated by both passive-aggressive investment vehicles and a high-beta long-only momentum community ($8 trn and rising rapidly), oftentimes under the commercial disguise of brands such as behavioral Alternative Risk Premia, factor investing, risk parity funds, low vol / short vol vehicles, trend-chasing algos, machine learning. However as Filia, and many others before him, writes, only when the tide goes out, will we discover who has been swimming naked, and how big of a momentum/crowding trap was built up in the process.

The undoing of loose monetary policies (NIRP, ZIRP), and the transitioning from ‘Peak Quantitative Easing’ to Quantitative Tightening, will create a liquidity withdrawal of over $1 trillion in 2018 alone. The reaction of the passive community will determine the speed of the adjustment in the pricing for both safe and risk assets. And, echoing what Deutsche Bank said last week, when it warned that central bank liquiidty injections will collapse from $2 trillion now to 0 in 12 months, a “most worrying” turn of events, Fasanara doubles down that “such liquidity withdrawal will represent the first real crash-test for markets in 10 years.”

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A global problem.

Dollar Funding Shortage Never Went Away And Starts To Get Worse Again (ZH)

Since last month, the Treasury has rebuilt the balance in its account at the Fed from $38bn on 6 September 2017 to $170bn on 11 October 2017, for a net increase of $132bn…not insignificant. Obviously, if and when the Treasury rebuilds its account at the Fed to the previous level, dollar liquidity could become extremely tight again, especially if the Fed is tapering its balance sheet at the same time. We have been wondering whether the Fed governors fully understand this, although some of the boys at 33 Liberty no doubt do. Credit guys also understand it “there’s another reason the strain is set to grow. The Fed is set to boost the pace of its balance-sheet roll-off each quarter, potentially putting upward pressure on U.S. rates relative to Europe and making it tougher for global investors to get dollar funding,” according to Mark Cabana, head of U.S. short rates strategy at Bank of America Corp.”

Clearly the issue is attracting the attention of investors as BoA analyst, Cabana writes in a recent report, and explains that “we have received a number of client questions recently about the outlook for banking reserves both in the near and medium term due to the Fed’s balance sheet unwind and potential swings in Treasury’s cash balance.” In summary, Cabana expects a large reserve drain in Q2 2018 with banking reserves dropping by more than $1 trillion by the end of 2019, which “highlights the potential for funding strains to emerge around Q2 next year and uncertainties around the Fed’s longer-run policy framework… This reserve drain and the Fed’s portfolio unwind should pressure funding conditions tighter through wider FRA-OIS and more negative XCCY (cross currency basis swaps) levels.”

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Minsky.

China’s Central Bank Warns Of Sudden Collapse In Asset Prices (R.)

China will fend off risks from excessive optimism that could lead to a “Minsky Moment,” central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan said on Thursday, adding that corporate debt levels are relatively high and household debt is rising too quickly. A Minsky Moment is a sudden collapse of asset prices after a long period of growth, sparked by debt or currency pressures. The theory is named after economist Hyman Minsky. China will control risks from sudden adjustments to asset bubbles and will seriously deal with disguised debt of local government financing vehicles, Zhou said. The People’s Bank of China governor was speaking on the sidelines of China’s 19th Communist Party congress.

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Cult, anyone?

Xi Jinping Gets His Own School of Thought (G.)

China’s communist leader Xi Jinping looks to have further strengthened his rule over the world’s second largest economy with the confirmation that a new body of political theory bearing his name will be written into the party’s constitution. On day two of a week-long political summit in Beijing marking the end of Xi’s first term, state-media announced the creation of what it called Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. “The Thought is … a historic contribution to the Party’s development,” Zhang Dejiang, one of the seven members of China’s top ruling council, the politburo standing committee, told delegates at the 19th party congress according to Beijing’s official news agency, Xinhua. Liu Yunshan, another standing committee member, said the elevation of Xi’s Thought into the party’s list of “guiding principles” was of “great political, theoretical and practical significance”.

“All members of the Party should study hard Xi’s ‘new era’ thought,” he was quoted as saying. Experts say the decision to grant Xi his own eponymous school of thought, while arcane-sounding, represents a momentous and highly symbolic occasion in the politics and history of the world’s most populous nation. Only two previous leaders – Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping – have been honoured in such a way with theories called Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory. The names of Xi’s immediate predecessors – Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin – were not attached to the political philosophies they bequeathed to the party. The official inception of Xi Jinping Thought – which now seems certain to be formally added to the party’s charter next week – also reinforces suspicions that Xi will seek to stay in power beyond the end of his second-term, in 2022.

“It is a huge deal,” said Orville Schell, a veteran China expert who has been studying Chinese politics since the late 1950s. “It is sort of like party sky writing. If you get your big think in the constitution it becomes immortal and Xi is seeking a certain kind of immortality.” However, Schell, the head of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations, said the decision to honour Xi was not only noteworthy “because it makes Xi Jinping look like a thought leader comparable to Chairman Mao.” “It also suggests that [China’s political system] Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is a viable counter-model to the presumption of western liberal democracy and capitalism. In a sense, what Xi is setting up here is not only a clash of civilisation and values, but one of political and economic systems,” he said.

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The deadline has passed. Madrid prepares to take over Catalonia on Saturday. This leaves the Catalan parliament time to vote on independence.

Spain-Catalonia Standoff Set To Intensify As Leaders Take Hard Lines (R.)

Spain’s political showdown with Catalonia is set to reach a new level on Thursday when political leaders in Madrid and Barcelona are expected to make good on pledges made to their supporters to stick to their tough positions over the region’s future. In an unprecedented move since Spain returned to democracy in the late 1970s, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will impose direct rule in Catalonia unless the region’s leader Carles Puigdemont retracts by 10 a.m. (0800 GMT) an ambiguous declaration of independence he made last week. Puigdemont told members of his Catalan Democratic Party on Wednesday night that not only he would not back down but that he would press ahead with a more formal declaration of independence if Rajoy suspends Catalonia’s political autonomy.

It is not yet clear how and when this declaration would take place and whether it would be endorsed by the regional assembly, though many pro-independence lawmakers have openly said they wanted to hold a vote in the Catalan parliament to make it more solemn. If Rajoy invokes Article 155 of the 1978 constitution, which allows him to take control of a region if it breaks the law, it would not be fully effective until at least early next week as it needs previous parliamentary approval, offering some last minute leeway for secessionists to split unilaterally. This prospect has raised fears of social unrest, led the euro zone’s fourth-largest economy to cut its growth forecasts and rattled the euro.

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Medieval is the right word.

Let Catalonia Go (Exp.)

Now one businessman has warned enough is enough – as he insisted the Spanish government just “let Catalonia go” or risk being dragged down and destroyed by the enveloping crisis. Xavier Adam, a London-born financial investor who was brought up in Catalonia and considers himself to be a Spaniard, told Express.co.uk he was disgusted by the actions of the Spanish government and its police and military. The Managing Director of AMC network finance firm, Mr Adam says he has decided to cut a planned $450 million investment in Spanish real estate projects in protest at what he sees as Madrid’s “medieval” response to the crisis. He explained he feels his investment would be unsafe until the crisis is solved, as he believes Spain has undone 40 years of democratic progress with the actions of the police – and he warned the instability could send the already fragile country under.

Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk today, he said: “It never had to be this way, going to beat up people in the streets just trying to vote, its been pandemonium. But Spain can’t come to terms with losing Catalonia, and losing the GDP it provides. “Madrid is being worse hit than Catalonia, it is really struggling. Madrid and Spain is facing a crisis. “Every day they’re threatening more violence and its just grubby, people think its just grubby. “It’s so hard to work with these people in government, they have got their ideas and they are fixed on them. “And Catalonia’s independence doesn’t feature in that, so they’re trying to teach them a lesson. “But there will be more and more of these demos and more and more protests and something is going to happen.

“Spain is going down and this government has to go. It is too volatile – you don’t know when it is going to blow.” Mr Adam, 40, says he was so enraged by the response to the referendum, he even wrote to Carlos Bastarreche, Spain’s ambassador to the UK, saying: “As an international investor of some repute and an expert on the Spanish economy, I write to say how appalled I am by the way your country has behaved in Catalonia. “It appears to me, a failure to listen to the will of the Catalan people, state sponsored violence against civilians and a manipulation of the Spanish public and media are ways Spain wants to move through the 21st Century.

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From site of Domain, huge real estate firm. They’re not ready yet to let the bubble pop.

Australia’s First Home Super Scheme Passes The Lower House (D.)

The federal government insists its plan to allow first-home buyers to save for a deposit through their superannuation won’t undermine Australia’s retirement savings system. The coalition used its numbers in parliament’s lower house to pass the measure – announced in the May budget – on Wednesday. The legislation also allows older Australians to contribute the proceeds of the sale of their family home to their super. Labor and the Greens are against the proposal, with the opposition claiming it will do nothing to address housing affordability. Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen argues it will instead work to undermine the country’s superannuation system, labelling it a “sham”. Assistant minister to the treasurer, Michael Sukkar, accused Labor of deliberately peddling misconceptions about the scheme.

He told MPs it was not an attack on superannuation but simply provides people with an opportunity to save more money that wouldn’t otherwise be used for super. “It’s quite shocking and surprising to see any political party take a view that a tax cut for first home buyers is something that they cannot support,” Mr Sukkar said. Labor, however, said it won’t stand in the way of two other housing affordability bills, both of which were announced in the 2017 budget. They include limiting deductions investors can claim in relation to residential properties and imposing an annual fee on foreign owners if their property is vacant for at least six months during a one-year period. Mr Bowen said there was nothing to oppose because the measures were ineffective. “What we see here is some minor tinkering which won’t do anything for housing affordability,” he told parliament.

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This should really make us think. We don’t survive if insects don’t.

Warning Of ‘Ecological Armageddon’ After 75% Plunge In Insect Numbers (G.)

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society. The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role.

The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected. “The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves. When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak. Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

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Oct 162017
 
 October 16, 2017  Posted by at 8:55 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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Marc Riboud Street seen from inside antique dealer’s shop, Beijing 1965

 

US Equities “At Most Offensive Level Of Overvaluation In History” (BI)
Yellen Doubles Down: “Valuations Are At High Levels Historically” (ZH)
Goldman Sachs: 88% Chance We’re Heading Into A Bear Market (BI)
The Mystery Of Weak Wage Growth (BI)
China Factory Prices Jump As Government Reduces Capacity (BBG)
China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)
Interest-only Loans Are A Huge Problem For The Australian Economy (Holden)
Revised Figures Reveal UK Is £490 Billion Poorer Than Previously Thought (FL)
How To Weather Brexit: Focus Less On Trade, More On Investment (Pettifor)
UK Financial Regulator Warns Of Growing Debt Among Young People (BBC)
How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders (Ellen Brown)
Catalan Leader Fails To Spell Out Independence Stance, Calls For Talks (R.)
Electricity Required For Single Bitcoin Trade Could Power Home For A Month (BI)
New Quantum Atomic Clock May Finally Reveal Nature of Dark Matter (USci)
Ai Weiwei On Art, Exile And Refugee Film ‘Human Flow’ (AFP)

 

 

John Hussman correcting Buffett.

US Equities “At Most Offensive Level Of Overvaluation In History” (BI)

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett made a lot of people feel better about historically stretched stock prices earlier this month. Speaking in an interview with CNBC on October 3, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway said, “Valuations make sense with interest rates where they are.” The investment community breathed a sigh of relief. After all, Buffett is arguably the most successful stock investor in world history. An all-clear from him surely gives a green light for adding more equity exposure, right? Wrong, says John Hussman, the president of the Hussman Investment Trust and a former economics professor. In his mind, Buffett only gets half of the equation right. While Hussman acknowledges that low lending rates do, by nature, improve future cash flows, he argues that they must also be accompanied by strong growth — something that he notes the US is not currently enjoying.

To Hussman, the simple idea that “lower interest rates justify higher valuations” is one that gives people false confidence. “It’s an incomplete sentence ,” Hussman wrote in a recent blog post. “Unfortunately, the convenience of investing-by-slogan, rather than carefully thinking about finance and examining evidence, is currently leading investors into what is likely to be one of the worst disasters in the history of the U.S. stock market.” Hussman calculates that stock valuations are stretched 175% above their historic norms, and predicts the S&P 500 will see negative total returns over the next 10 to 12 years. Along the way, the benchmark index will experience an interim loss of more than 60%, he estimates. As touched on above, at the core of Hussman’s bearish argument is a lack of economic growth. He specifically points to slowing expansion in the US labor force, as shown by this chart:

“Put simply, if interest rates are low because growth rates are also low, no valuation premium is ‘justified,'” Hussman wrote. “The long-term rate of return on the security will be low anyway without any valuation premium at all. This observation has enormous implications for current U.S. stock market prospects.” So where does that leave the market at this very moment? In the very near term, Hussman’s neutral, citing the continued speculative impulses of investors. Still, he stresses that traders should be hedging and using other safety nets to protect against potential downside, which he says could materialize quickly. To say he’s less than warm and fuzzy about the stock market is an understatement. And when discussing price levels, he doesn’t exactly pull any punches, saying US equities are now “at the most offensive level of overvaluation in history” — even worse than in 1929 and 2000.

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People like Yellen focus on one activity: explain away the consequences of their blindly taken actions. They grope in the dark.

Yellen Doubles Down: “Valuations Are At High Levels Historically” (ZH)

On the heels of San Franciso Fed Governor John Williams’ warning that The Fed “doesn’t want there to be excesses in financial markets… ” Janet Yellen has reiterated her concerns that markets are a bit toppy… Market valuations “are at high level in historical terms” when assessed on metrics akin to price-earnings ratios, warned Fed Chair Janet Yellen in response to a question on an IMF panel in Washington, but was careful to add that “overall financial stability risks in the U.S. remain moderate.” “Prospects for U.S. fiscal stimulus have buoyed sentiment but not yet had much impact on spending or investment,” she said. “Broader financial stability risks depend on more than just asset prices and it may also be important just why asset valuations are high. So one factor that clearly comes into play is an environment of low interest rates and central bankers like many market participants have been adjusting our notions of what” interest rates are likely to be in the longer term.

So – to sum up – The Fed doesn’t want excesses… Yellen thinks stock valuations are stretched… but don’t worry coz rates are low (although we are dedicated to raising them) and financial stability (despite record high corporate leverage and record low spreads) is not a problem. Well… The market has almost never been this expensive… As Peter Boockvar warns: “Almost there. S&P 500 price to sales ratio is just 4% from March 2000 peak.”

Additionally, Draghi and Kuroda were also said they saw little evidence of frothiness in markets. Others in Washington were less sanguine… The market “feels as benign in 2017 as it felt in 2006,” said Jes Staley, the chief executive of Barclays Plc, referencing the eve of the crisis. Yellen also added in a subtle jab at Trump that while prospects for U.S. fiscal stimulus have buoyed sentiment but not yet had much impact on spending or investment… “It is a source of uncertainty,” Yellen says of fiscal policy changes, “we’ve taken,” as many households have, “a kind of wait-and-see attitude.” Of course, The Fed head being worried about stock valuations is a nothing-burger for the mainstream. Since Janet Yellen’s first warning in July 2014: “Equity market valuations appear stretched”

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So there.

Goldman Sachs: 88% Chance We’re Heading Into A Bear Market (BI)

Goldman Sachs has circulated a fascinating but scary research note to clients suggesting that the probability of stocks entering a bear market in the next 24 months currently stands at about 88%, based on the history of previous bear markets. The note is titled “Bear Necessities. Should we worry now?” It is an exhaustive, 87-page dive through macroeconomic data and stock market activity going all the way back to the early 20th Century. It was written in September by London-based Chief Global Equity Strategist Peter Oppenheimer, and European strategists Sharon Bell and Lilia Iehle Peytavin. Most of their data focus on the US S&P 500 index of stocks – the largest and most-followed of the share indices globally. The S&P is currently the second largest and longest bull run in history.

The index is also relatively expensive, the Goldman trio says. The aggregate valuation of the S&P 500 is now in its 88th percentile, as measured since 1976, according to Goldman’s calculations. The median stock is in the 99th percentile. The trio calculated a risk index based on the Shiller price-earnings ratio (the price of S&P 500 stocks divided by the average of 10 years of earnings, adjusted for inflation), the US ISM manufacturing index, unemployment (very low), the bond yield curve, and core inflation. The resultant “GS Bear Market Indicator” is currently flashing at 67%. The indicator typically hits highs right before a bear market in US stocks appears:

Historically, when the indicator is at 67%, there is an 88% chance of stocks falling into a bear market in two years’ time, the Goldman analysts say:

However, the chance of a bear growling into view in the near-term remains low — just 35%. Bear markets are triggered in three different ways, Oppenheimer et al argue: “Cyclical” bear markets are trigged by rising interest rates and recessions; “Event-driven” bears come from negative economic shocks like war or emerging market crises; “Structural” bears come from financial bubbles. Depending on your point of view, all three of those triggers are hovering on the horizon: The Fed and the Bank of England are both signalling interest rates will rise; US President Trump is threatening military action in North Korea; and plenty of people think the low-interest rate environment of the last 10 years has inflated asset bubbles in stocks, real estate and property in Europe, and private equity tech startup valuations.

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Those for whom this is a mystery are not fit for their jobs. If you export millions of jobs to Asia, take workers’ negotiating powers away and push them into crappy jobs with no benefits, only one outcome is possible.

The Mystery Of Weak Wage Growth (BI)

Many economists say they can’t figure out why US wage growth remains so meager nine years into the economic expansion, especially given a decline in the unemployment rate to a historically low 4.4%. A new study from the IMF might help them out. It finds that shifts in the labor market toward less stable, temporary or contract jobs, including odd hours and often no health insurance, likely play a substantial role in preventing wages from rising. That’s because job uncertainty makes it harder for workers to bargain for higher wages, giving employers a strong upper hand in any salary negotiation. The trend is happening not just in the United States but also in other rich economies, the Fund says. “Labor market developments in advanced economies point to a possible disconnect between unemployment and wages,” IMF staffers write in their latest World Economic Outlook report.

“Subdued nominal wage growth has occurred in a context of a higher rate of involuntary part-time employment, an increased share of temporary employment contracts, and a reduction in hours per worker,” the report adds. That’s not the only factor. The Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, which was a global phenomenon, set labor markets back years, and suppressed wages sharply as unemployment surged, peaking at 10% in the United States. The IMF suggests the policy reaction to that global downturn was underwhelming, particularly when it came to fiscal policies, which were restrictive both in the United States and Europe.

“Whereas in many economies headline unemployment is approaching ratios seen before the Great Recession, or has even dipped below those levels, nominal wage growth rates continue to grow at a distinctly slower pace,” the Fund said. “For some economies, this may reflect policy measures to slow wage growth and improve competitiveness in the aftermath of the global financial crisis and euro area sovereign debt crisis.” [..] “To the extent that declining unemployment rates partly reflect workers forced into part-time jobs, increases in such types of employment may overstate the tightening of the labor market,” the IMF said.

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It’s all for the Party Congress: close industries so air is cleaner, and let scarcity push producer prices higher. But wait till consumers feel those higher prices. It’s just, that is AFTER the Congress.

China Factory Prices Jump As Government Reduces Capacity (BBG)

China’s factory prices jumped more than estimated, as domestic demand remained resilient and the government continued to reduce excess industrial capacity. Consumer price gains matched projections. • The producer price index rose 6.9% in September from a year earlier. • The manufacturing PPI sub-index climbed 7.3%, the most in nine years • The consumer price index climbed 1.6%, versus a prior reading of 1.8%, the statistics bureau said Monday. Aggressive cuts to capacity in industries like steel and cement, coupled with resilient demand, have contributed to factory inflation that’s lasted longer than economists expected. The drive to cut pollution and boost firms’ efficiency will probably continue as the Communist Party begins its 19th Congress this week.

“The economy has pretty strong momentum now, monetary policy remained loose ahead of the 19th Party Congress, and the environmental cleanup has cut the supply of commodities,” said Shen Jianguang, chief Asia economist at Mizuho in Hong Kong and the lone forecaster in Bloomberg’s survey to correctly predict the PPI reading. “But this is not sustainable. Deleveraging will be moving up on the agenda after the congress.” “Strong PPI shows that economic momentum is pretty robust in the second half,” said Liu Xuezhi, an analyst at Bank of Communications in Shanghai. “It was widely expected that factory-gate inflation could slow in the second half, but apparently it’s still quite resilient, which may lead to a more positive outlook.”

“China’s manufacturing industry, upstream in particular, continues to see decent demand,” said Raymond Yeung, chief Greater China economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking in Hong Kong. “This PPI figure foretells a decent growth number to be out later this week. We see GDP of 6.8% at the moment but should be prepared for an upside risk.”

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I don’t normally post 3-week-old articles, but this one (h/t Tyler) is just too good. The Chinese never borrowed much, but now they borrow more than anyone. Scary: “..a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.” It’ll keep the economy going until it doesn’t.

China’s Mortgage Debt Bubble Raises Spectre Of 2007 US Crisis (SCMP)

Young Chinese like Eli Mai, a sales manager in Guangzhou, and Wendy Wang, an executive in Shenzhen, are borrowing as much money as possible to buy boomtown flats even though they cannot afford the repayments. Behind the dream of property ownership they share with many like-minded friends lies an uninterrupted housing price rally in major Chinese cities that dates back to former premier Zhu Rongji’s privatisation of urban housing in the late 1990s. Rapid urbanisation, combined with unprecedented monetary easing in the past decade, has resulted in runaway property inflation in cities like Shenzhen, where home prices in many projects have doubled or even tripled in the past two years. City residents in their 20s and 30s view property as a one-way bet because they’ve never known prices to drop.

At the same time, property inflation has seen the real purchasing power of their money rapidly diminish. “Almost all my friends born since the 1980s and 1990s are racing to buy homes, while those who already have one are planning to buy a second,” Mai, 33, said. “Very few can be at ease when seeing rents and home prices rise so strongly, and they will continue to rise in a scary way.” The rush of millions young middle-class Chinese like Mai into the property market has created a hysteria that eerily resembles the housing crisis that struck the United States a decade ago. Thanks to the easy credit that has spurred the housing boom, many young Chinese have abandoned the frugal traditions of earlier generations and now lead a lifestyle beyond their financial means.

The build-up of household and other debt in China has also sparked widespread concern about the health of the world’s second largest economy. The Chinese leadership headed by President Xi Jinping has taken a note of the problem and launched an unprecedented campaign in the second half of last year to curb home price rises in major cities by raising down payment requirements, disqualifying some buyers and squeezing the bank credit available for home buyers. The campaign is still deepening, with five more cities introducing rules last weekend that will freeze some property deals.

[..] Government policies are also protecting the interests of homeowners. City governments have squeezed land supply to keep land prices high and made secondary market trading less attractive, with new home buyers left to compete for a few new developments. Meanwhile, there is no property tax, which encourages homeowners to hold on to appreciating property assets. The result has been skyrocketing housing prices in Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, where property prices can match those in Hong Kong or London. The lesson was that “if you don’t buy a flat today, you will never be able to afford it”, Wang, 29, said. [..] “The debts are huge to me,” Wang said. “But a person without a flat has no future in Shenzhen.”

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Half of one banker’s loan books are interest-only. Most are 40%. That is an insane amount of principal that is not being paid off.

Interest-only Loans Are A Huge Problem For The Australian Economy (Holden)

I’m not normally a fan of parliament hauling private sector executives before them and asking thorny questions. But when the Australian House of Representatives did so this week with the big banks it was both useful and instructive. And, to be perfectly frank, terrifying. Let’s start with Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer. First, he confirmed the little-known but startling fact that half of his A$400 billion home loan book consists of interest-only mortgages. Yep, half. Of A$400 billion. At one bank. Oh, and ANZ, CBA and NAB are all nearly at 40% interest-only. Hartzer went on to make the banal statement: “we don’t lend to people who can’t pay it back. It doesn’t make sense for us to do so.” So did it make sense for all those American mortgage lenders to lend to people on adjustable rates, teaser rates, low-doc loans, no-doc loans etc. before the global financial crisis?

Of course not. The point is that banks are not some benevolent, unitary actor taking care of their own money. There are top managers like Harzter acting on behalf of shareholders. Those top managers delegate authority to lower-level managers, who are given incentives to write lots of mortgages. And, as we know, the incentives of those who make the loans are not necessarily aligned with those of the shareholders. Those folks may well want to make loans to people who can’t pay them back as long as they get a big payday in the short term. ANZ CEO Shayne Elliot repeated Hartzer’s mantra, saying: “It’s not in our interest to lend money to people who can’t afford to repay.” Recall, this is the man who on ABC’s Four Corners said that home loans weren’t risky because they were all uncorrelated risks (the chances that one loan defaults does not affect the chances of others defaulting).

That is a comment that is either staggeringly stupid or completely disingenuous. Messers Harzter and Elliot must take us all for suckers. They have made a huge amount of interest-only loans, at historically low interest rates, to buyers in a frothy housing market, who spend a large chunk of their income on interest payments. This certainly looks troubling. It may not be US sub-prime, but it could be ugly. Very ugly. To put it in context, there appears to be in the neighbourhood of A$1 trillion of interest-only loans on the books of Australian banks. I say “appears to be” because reporting requirements are so lax it’s hard to know for sure, except when CEOs cough up the ball, like this week. The big lesson of the US mortgage meltdown is that the risks on these mortgages are all correlated. If a few people aren’t paying back an interest-only loan, that is a fair predictor that others won’t pay back their loans either.

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From a “gated” Ambrose Evans-Pritchard article. Troubles grow fast.

Revised Figures Reveal UK Is £490 Billion Poorer Than Previously Thought (FL)

“Global banks and international bond strategists have been left stunned by revised ONS figures showing that Britain is £490bn poorer than had been assumed and no longer has any reserve of net foreign assets, depriving the country of its safety margin as Brexit talks reach a crucial juncture. A massive write-down in the UK balance of payments data shows that Britain’s stock of wealth – the net international investment position – has collapsed from a surplus of £469bn to a net deficit of £22bn. This transforms the outlook for sterling and the gilts markets. “Half a trillion pounds has gone missing. This is equivalent to 25pc of GDP,” said Mark Capleton, UK rates strategist at Bank of America. Making matters worse, foreign direct investment (FDI) by companies is plummeting. It fell from a £120bn surplus in the first half 2016 to a £25bn deficit over the same period of this year.”

The news comes on top of the OBR confessing to a miscalculation of their own last week in UK productivity potential. Not good news for the UK or pound so let’s see if it plays out as the session progresses.

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Too late? Won’t happen under Tories.

How To Weather Brexit: Focus Less On Trade, More On Investment (Pettifor)

“Strong and stable” seems of a world so far, far away. Yesterday’s Daily Mail headline “PM slaps treacherous Chancellor down” portrays a government in political chaos. Thanks to open, unresolved intra-Brexiteer warfare, ministers are unable to agree the basics of how to exit the European Union. This state of uncertainty intensifies just as the risks to British jobs and living standards are becoming starker and more potent. Ironically, just as we teeter towards the cliff, ONS data reveals that exports of goods to the EU grew over the last three months, while those to the rest of world fell back, a fact not devoid of dark humour. Yet while ministers appear obsessed by trade, net trade comprises only a small part of UK GDP. Surely, through the coming period of Brexit chaos, government priority must be to “take back control” and maintain and support the domestic economy.

This means a commitment to support not only investment technically defined as “capital” but also public investment in the health, education, and training of the British people. In that way, Britain will have some chance of weathering the storm. George Magnus highlighted the OBR’s acceptance that UK productivity growth is likely to stay much lower than previously assumed. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that—on present course—the ever-weaker economy will lead this government to continue to slash public revenues. Yet even this gloomy OBR data underestimates the dangers. For the OBR has not yet factored in the far greater damage that will flow from a chaotic, unplanned Brexit in less than 18 months.

[..] Investment in the UK has since 2007 been in the 14 – 18% range as a share of GDP. In 2016, the figure was 17%. France, by contrast, has annual investment of between 22 – 24% of GDP, and Germany around 19 – 21%. The UK in 2016 slumped to 116th place out of 141 countries in terms of capital investment as a percentage of GDP. In the EU, only Greece, Portugal, Lithuania and Cyprus were below us. Low levels of investment by the “timid mouse” that is the private sector is directly a function of low levels of aggregate demand. Firms can’t see future customers coming through the door, and are made timid by volatile financial conditions and political uncertainty. Weak demand and financial instability are exacerbated by low levels of public investment.

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More UK misery: “We should not think this is reckless borrowing, this is directed at essential living costs.”

UK Financial Regulator Warns Of Growing Debt Among Young People (BBC)

The chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority has warned of a “pronounced” build up of debt among young people. In an interview with the BBC, Andrew Bailey said the young were having to borrow for basic living costs. The regulator also said he “did not like” some high cost lending schemes. He said consumers, and institutions that lend to them, should be aware that interest rates may rise in the future and that credit should be “affordable”. Action was being taken to curb long term credit card debt and high cost pay-day loans, Mr Bailey said. The regulator is also looking and charges in the rent-to-own sector which can leave people paying high levels of interest for buying white goods such as washing machines, he added.

“There is a pronounced build up of indebtedness amongst the younger age group,” Mr Bailey said. “We should not think this is reckless borrowing, this is directed at essential living costs. It is not credit in the classic sense, it is [about] the affordability of basic living in many cases.” [..] “There are particular concentrations [of debt] in society, and those concentrations are particularly exposed to some of the forms and practices of high cost debt which we are currently looking at very closely because there are things in there that we don’t like,” Mr Bailey said. “There has been a clear shift in the generational pattern of wealth and income, and that translates into a greater indebtedness at a younger age. “That reflects lower levels of real income, lower levels of asset ownership. There are quite different generational experiences,” he said.

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Haven’t seen anything from Ellen in a while. This makes a ton of sense. But Puerto Rico’s not the only place that needs it.

How to Wipe Out Puerto Rico’s Debt Without Hurting Bondholders (Ellen Brown)

DWiping out Puerto Rico’s debt, they warned, could undermine confidence in the municipal bond market, causing bond interest rates to rise, imposing an additional burden on already-struggling states and municipalities across the country. True, but the president was just pointing out the obvious. As economist Michael Hudson says, “Debts that can’t be paid won’t be paid.” Puerto Rico is bankrupt, its economy destroyed. In fact it is currently in bankruptcy proceedings with its creditors. Which suggests its time for some more out-of-the-box thinking . . . . In July 2016, a solution to this conundrum was suggested by the notorious Goldman Sachs itself, when mom and pop investors holding the bonds of bankrupt Italian banks were in jeopardy. Imposing losses on retail bondholders had proven to be politically toxic, after one man committed suicide.

Some other solution had to be found. Italy’s non-performing loans (NPLs) then stood at 210bn, at a time when the ECB was buying 120bn per year of outstanding Italian government bonds as part of its QE program. The July 2016 Financial Times quoted Goldman’s Francesco Garzarelli, who said, “by the time QE is over – not sooner than end 2017, on our baseline scenario – around a fifth of Italy’s public debt will be sitting on the Bank of Italy’s balance sheet.” His solution: rather than buying Italian government bonds in its quantitative easing program, the ECB could simply buy the insolvent banks’ NPLs. Bringing the entire net stock of bad loans onto the government’s balance sheet, he said, would be equivalent to just nine months’ worth of Italian government bond purchases by the ECB.

Puerto Rico’s debt is only $73 billion, one third the Italian debt. The Fed has stopped its quantitative easing program, but in its last round (called “QE3”), it was buying $85 billion per month in securities. At that rate, it would have to fire up the digital printing presses for only one additional month to rescue the suffering Puerto Ricans without hurting bondholders at all. It could then just leave the bonds on its books, declaring a moratorium at least until Puerto Rico got back on its feet, and better yet, indefinitely. Shifting the debt burden of bankrupt institutions onto the books of the central bank is not a new or radical idea. UK Prof. Richard Werner, who invented the term “quantitative easing” when he was advising the Japanese in the 1990s, says there is ample precedent for it. In 2012, he proposed a similar solution to the European banking crisis, citing three successful historical examples.

One was in Britain in 1914, when the British banking sector collapsed after the government declared war on Germany. This was not a good time for a banking crisis, so the Bank of England simply bought the banks’ NPLs. “There was no credit crunch,” wrote Werner, “and no recession. The problem was solved at zero cost to the tax payer.” For a second example, he cited the Japanese banking crisis of 1945. The banks had totally collapsed, with NPLs that amounted to virtually 100% of their assets: But in 1945 the Bank of Japan had no interest in creating a banking crisis and a credit crunch recession. Instead it wanted to ensure that bank credit would flow again, delivering economic growth. So the Bank of Japan bought the non-performing assets from the banks – not at market value (close to zero), but significantly above market value.

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Set for confrontation. Combine with Brexit and Austria’s push to the right, and you get an EU with crumbling foundations.

Catalan Leader Fails To Spell Out Independence Stance, Calls For Talks (R.)

Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont failed to clarify on Monday whether he had declared Catalonia’s independence from Spain last week, paving the way for the central government to take control of the region and rule it directly. The wealthy region’s threatened to break away following a referendum in Oct. 1 that Spain’s Constitutional Court said was illegal. That plunged the country into its worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981. Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday, but suspended it seconds later and called for negotiations with Madrid on the region’s future. Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave him until Monday 10:00 a.m. (0800 GMT) to clarify his position, and until Thursday to change his mind if he insisted on a split – and said Madrid would suspend Catalonia’s autonomy if he chose independence.

Rajoy had said Puigdemont should answer the formal requirement with a simple “Yes” or “No” and that any ambiguous response would be considered a confirmation that a declaration of independence had been made. Puigdemont did not directly answer the question in his letter to Rajoy, made public by local Catalan media. The Catalan leader said instead that the two should meet as soon as possible to open a dialogue over the next two months. “Our offer for dialogue is sincere and honest. During the next two months, our main objective is to have this dialogue and that all international, Spanish and Catalan institutions and personalities that have expressed the willingness to open a way for dialogue can explore it,” Puigdemont said in the letter.

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And this will go up as the blockchain grows.

Electricity Required For Single Bitcoin Trade Could Power Home For A Month (BI)

Bitcoin transactions use so much energy that the electricity used for a single trade could power a home for almost a whole month, according to a paper from Dutch bank ING. Bitcoin trades use a lot of electricity as a means to make verifying trades expensive, therefore making fraudulent transactions costly and deterring those who would seek to misuse the currency. “By making sure that verifying transactions is a costly business, the integrity of the network can be preserved as long as benevolent nodes control a majority of computing power,” wrote ING senior economist Teunis Brosens. “Together, they will dominate the verification (mining) process. To make the verification (mining) costly, the verification algorithm requires a lot of processing power and thus electricity.”

Comparing the amount of energy used for a bitcoin transaction to running his home in the Netherlands, Brosens says: “This number needs some context. 200kWh is enough to run over 200 washing cycles. In fact, it’s enough to run my entire home over four weeks, which consumes about 45 kWh per week costing €39 of electricity (at current Dutch consumer prices).” Not only does Bitcoin use a vast amount of electricity to complete transactions, it uses an almost exponentially larger amount than more traditional forms of electronic payment. “Bitcoin’s energy costs stand in stark contrast to payment systems that have the luxury of working with trusted counterparties. E.g. Visa takes about 0.01kWh (10Wh) per transaction which is 20000 times less energy,” Brosens notes, pointing to the chart below:

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3-dimensional quantum clocks. Much of our electronic infrastructure already relies on atomic clocks.

New Quantum Atomic Clock May Finally Reveal Nature of Dark Matter (USci)

Physicists have created a quantum atomic clock that uses a new design to achieve unprecedented levels of accuracy and stability. Its broad range of potential applications could even stretch to research into dark matter. Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder’s JILA (formerly the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) have developed an incredibly precise quantum atomic clock based on a new three-dimensional design. The project has set a new record for quality factor, a metric used to gauge the precision of measurements. The clock packs atoms of strontium into a cube, achieving 1,000 times the density of prior one-dimensional clocks. The design marks the first time that scientists have been able to successfully utilize a so-called “quantum gas” for this purpose.

Previously, each atom in an atomic clock was treated as a separate particle, and so interactions between atoms could cause inaccuracies in the measurements taken. The “quantum many-body system” used in this project instead organizes atoms in a pattern, which forces them to avoid one another, no matter how many are introduced to the apparatus. A state of matter known as a degenerate Fermi gas — which refers to a gas comprised of Fermi particles — allows for all of the atoms to be quantized. [..] It’s been suggested that monitoring minor inconsistencies in the ticking of an atomic clock might offer insight into the presence of pockets of dark matter. Previous research has shown that a network of atomic clocks, or even a single highly-sensitive system, might register a change in the frequency of vibrating atoms or laser light in the clock if it passed through a dark matter field.

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Ai himself grew up in miserable conditions due to Mao.

Ai Weiwei On Art, Exile And Refugee Film ‘Human Flow’ (AFP)

In the most tender moments of “Human Flow,” Ai Weiwei’s epic documentary on the worldwide migrant crisis, he is seen hugging, cooking with and cutting the hair of refugees. An ordinary filmmaker might be accused of getting too close to his subject but, as far as the Chinese dissident and internationally renowned artist is concerned, he is the subject. “When I look at people being pushed away from their home because of war, because of all kinds of problems, because of environmental problems, famine, I don’t just have sympathy for them,” he tells AFP. “I do feel that they are part of me and I am part of them, even with very different social status.”

[..] “Human Flow,” his powerful expression of solidarity with refugees around the world, demonstrates the staggering scale of the refugee crisis and its profoundly personal human impact. Captured over a year in 23 countries, it follows a chain of human stories that stretches from Bangladesh and Afghanistan to Europe, Kenya and the US-Mexico border. Ai travels from teeming refugee camps to barbed-wire borders, witnessing refugees’ desperation and disillusionment as well as hope and courage. “I’m so far away from their culture, their religion or whatever the background. But with a human being, you look at him, you know what kind of person he is,” says Ai.

“I have this natural understanding about human beings. So I try to grab them with this kind of approach, a very intimate approach. They can touch me, cut my hair. I can cut their hair. I can cook in their camp.” “Human Flow” is far from Ai’s first work on the refugee crisis. Just last week he scattered over 300 outdoor works across New York as part of a new illustration of his empathy for refugees worldwide. Ai dismisses a common criticism that his work has little artistic merit and that he is more of a campaigner, telling AFP “a good artist should be an activist and a good activist should have the quality of an artist.”

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Oct 152017
 
 October 15, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Piet Mondriaan Composition in color A 1917

 

Tesla Shareholders: Are You Drunk On Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid? (Lewitt)
ECB Suffers from “Corporate Capture at its Most Extreme” (DQ)
ECB Still Believes In Eventual Inflation, Wage Rise: Draghi (R.)
China Credit Growth Exceeds Estimates Despite Debt Curb Vow (BBG)
PBOC Governor Zhou Says China’s 6.9% Growth ‘May Continue’ (BBG)
In China, The War On Coal Just Got Serious (SMH)
IMF Steering Committee Warns Global Growth Is At Risk Of Faltering (BBG)
Corbyn Has A Washington Ally On Taxing The Rich. But No, It’s Not Trump (G.)
Brexit Has Made The UK The Sick Man Of Europe Once More (NS)
UK MPs Move To Block May From Signing ‘No Deal’ Brexit (G.)
Forget Catalonia, Flanders Is The Real Test Case Of EU Separatism! (OR)
Europe’s Migration Crisis Casts Long Shadow As Austria Votes (R.)

 

 

Funny but very serious. Recommend the whole article.

Tesla Shareholders: Are You Drunk On Elon Musk’s Kool-Aid? (Lewitt)

Tesla shareholders (and bullish Wall Street analysts) are either geniuses or delusional and I am betting on the latter. Typical of the lack of gray matter being applied to this investment is a recent post on Seeking Alpha, often a place where amateurs go to pump stocks they own. Someone calling himself “Silicon Valley Insights” issued an ungrammatical “Strong Buy” recommendation on October 11 based on the following syllogism: (1) “Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated very firmly that they can and will reach his goal of producing 5,000 cars per week by the end of this year.” (2) “Musk has a history of setting aggressive targets (more for his staff than investors) [Editors’s Note: That is a lie.] and then missing them on initial timing but reaching them later. [Editor’s Notes: That is another lie–Musk has NEVER reached a production target.]

(3) “Reaching anything [sic] significant portion of that 5K target (say 1-2K) by the end of December could drive TSLA shares significantly higher.” This genius then suggests that investors stay focused on the Model 3 ramp as the key price driver over the coming weeks and months and argues that the announcement that only 260 Model 3s were produced in the third quarter leaves “much of the risk…now in the stock price.” He is correct – there is a great deal of risk embedded in a stock trading at infinity-times earnings with no prospect of profitability , a track record of breaking promises, a reluctance to sell equity to fund itself even at price levels above the targets of most analysts, and a market cap larger than rivals that are pouring tens of billions of dollars into putting it out of business.

Undeterred, he offers two investment strategies. The first he terms a “reasonable and conservative” one that waits to invest in TSLA shares until the early November third quarter earnings call. In my world, a reasonable and conservative strategy would be to run for the hills or short the stock (as I am doing). A “more aggressive and risky strategy” (compared to skydiving or bungee jumping) would be “to buy shares before that third quarter report and call on the bet that the Model 3 production update will be taken positively.” No doubt investors like Mr. Silicon Valley Insights will put a positive spin on whatever fairy tales Elon Musk spins on that call, but that is a big bet indeed.

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Bankers involved in LIbor and other scandals regulate themselves. This is the exact opposite of an independent central bank. It’s a criminal racket.

ECB Suffers from “Corporate Capture at its Most Extreme” (DQ)

No single institution has more influence over the lives of European citizens than the European Central Bank. It sets the interest rates for the 19 Member States of the Eurozone, with a combined population of 341 million people. Every month it issues billions of euros of virtually interest-free loans to hard-up financial institutions while splashing €60 billion each month on sovereign and corporate bonds as part of its QE program, thanks to which it now boasts the biggest balance sheet of any central bank on Planet Earth. Through its regulatory arm, the Single Supervisory Mechanism, it decides which struggling banks in the Eurozone get to live or die and which lucky competitor gets to pick up the pieces afterwards, without taking on the otherwise unknown risks. In short, the ECB wields a bewildering amount of power and influence over Europe’s financial system.

But how does it reach the decisions it makes? Who has the ECB’s institutional ear? The ECB has 22 advisory boards with 517 seats in total that provide ECB decision-makers with recommendations on all aspects of EU monetary policy. A new report by the non-profit research and campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) reveals that 508 of the 517 available seats are assigned to representatives of private financial institutions. In other words, 98% of the ECB’s external advisors have some sort of skin in the game. Of the nine seats not taken by the financial sector, seven have gone to non-financial companies such as German industrial giant Siemens and just two to consumer groups, according to the CEO report. In response to questions by CEO, the ECB said that its advisory groups help it to gather information, effectively “discharge its mandate”, and “explain its policy decisions to citizens.”

[..] Many of the above institutions were implicated in two of the biggest financial crimes of this century, the Forex and Libor scandals. In fact, according to CEO, banks involved in a separate forex manipulation scandal that emerged in 2013 have been heavily represented on the ECB’s Foreign Exchange Contact Group. In other words, these banks are supposed to be under direct ECB supervision, and yet they have been repeatedly caught committing serious financial crimes. And now it turns out that they enjoy more influence over ECB decision making than anyone else..

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Spot the nonsense: ”..already bought over 2 trillion euros worth of bonds to cut borrowing costs and induce household and corporate spending..”

They buy bonds and magically households will start spending. They don’t belive that themselves either.

ECB Still Believes In Eventual Inflation, Wage Rise: Draghi (R.)

Wages and inflation in the 19-country euro zone will eventually rise but more slowly than earlier thought, requiring continued patience from policymakers, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said on Saturday. Wage growth has failed to respond to stimulus for a list of reasons but the ECB remains convinced that labor markets and not a structural change in the nature of inflation is the chief culprit behind low prices, Draghi told a news conference on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund annual meeting. Having fought low inflation for years, the ECB is due to decide at its Oct. 26 meeting whether to prolong stimulus, having to reconcile rapid economic expansion with weak wage and price growth.

Sources close to the discussion earlier told Reuters that the ECB will likely extend asset purchases but at lower volumes, signaling both confidence in the outlook but also indicating that policy support will continue for a long time. “The bottom line in terms of policy is that we are confident that as the conditions will continue to improve, the inflation rate will gradually converge in a self-sustained manner,” Draghi said. “But together with our confidence, we should also be patient because it’s going to take time.” Even as the euro zone has enjoyed 17 straight quarters of economic growth, wage growth has underperformed expectations, due in part to hidden slack in the labor market and low wage demands from unions.

Some policymakers also argue that globalization and technological changes have made value chains more international, making low inflation a global phenomenon and limiting central banks’ ability to control prices in their own jurisdiction. Draghi acknowledged the debate but said the ECB was convinced the main problem was the labor market and even if there was a broader issue, it would not lead to policy change. The ECB has kept interest rates in negative territory for years and already bought over 2 trillion euros worth of bonds to cut borrowing costs and induce household and corporate spending.

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They say one thing and do another.

China Credit Growth Exceeds Estimates Despite Debt Curb Vow (BBG)

China’s broadest gauge of new credit exceeded projections, signaling that the funding taps remain open even as the government pushes to curb excessive borrowing. Aggregate financing stood at 1.82 trillion yuan ($276 billion) in September, the People’s Bank of China said Saturday, compared with an estimated 1.57 trillion yuan in a Bloomberg survey and 1.48 trillion yuan the prior month. New yuan loans stood at 1.27 trillion yuan, versus a projected 1.2 trillion yuan. The broad M2 money supply increased 9.2%, exceeding estimates and picking up from the prior record low. Policy makers have been clamping down on shadow banking while also working to keep corporate borrowing intact to avoid impeding growth.

The central bank said Sept. 30 it will reduce the amount of cash some banks must hold as reserves from next year, with the size of the cut linked to lending to parts of the economy where credit is scarce. “Momentum continues to be very strong,” said Kenneth Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings and a former Asia vice chairman for Goldman Sachs. “Loan demand of the private sector has finally turned up in recent months.” “This means that there is little hope of further policy easing in the fourth quarter as the monetary policy is very accommodative,” said Zhou Hao, an economist at Commerzbank in Singapore. “There could be even a tightening bias.”

“Household short-term loans have increased too rapidly, with some funds being invested in stock and property markets,” said Wen Bin, a researcher at China Minsheng Banking Corp. in Beijing. “Regulators have started to pay attention to the sector and required banks to strengthen credit review. I think the momentum will show signs of slowing in the fourth quarter.” “Deleveraging is not happening if we look at any measure of credit growth,” according to Christopher Balding, an associate professor at the HSBC School of Business at Peking University in Shenzhen. “Lending in 2017 has actually accelerated significantly from 2016.”

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Yeah. Financed by debt.

PBOC Governor Zhou Says China’s 6.9% Growth ‘May Continue’ (BBG)

Economic indicators show “stabilized and stronger growth” and the momentum of a 6.9% expansion in the first six months of 2017 “may continue in the second half,” People’s Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan said. Imports and exports increased rapidly, fiscal income grew, and prices have been steady, Zhou said, according to a statement the central bank released Saturday after he attended meetings of global finance chiefs this week in Washington. The effects of a campaign to rein in leverage are showing, and China will monitor and prevent shadow banking and real estate risk, he said. China’s broadest gauge of new credit, released Saturday, exceeded projections, signaling that the funding taps remain open even as the government pushes to curb excessive borrowing. “Positive progress has been achieved in economic transformation,” the statement said.

“China will continue to pursue a proactive fiscal policy and a prudent monetary policy, with a comprehensive set of policies to strengthen areas of weakness.” Zhou’s comments, delivered before a gathering of Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers, come before the release of third-quarter GDP, scheduled for Oct. 19. Economists project a moderation to 6.8% growth from the 6.9% pace in the second quarter amid government efforts to reduce overcapacity and ease debt risk. Steady growth in the world’s second-largest economy gives policy makers additional room to push ahead with reforms. Zhou recently made a fresh call to further open up the financial sector, warning that such an overhaul will become more difficult if the window of opportunity is missed. Some analysts say they expect reforms will pick up should President Xi Jinping further consolidate power after the 19th Party Congress starting next week.

The IMF this week increased its global growth forecast amid brightening prospects in the world’s biggest economies. It also raised its China growth estimate to 6.8 percent this year and 6.5 percent in 2018, up 0.1 percentage point in each year versus July. “We expect that the authorities can and will maintain a sufficiently expansionary macro policy mix to meet their policy target of doubling 2010 GDP by 2020,” Changyong Rhee, the fund’s Asia and Pacific director, said at a briefing Friday in Washington. “However, as this expansionary policy comes at the cost of a further large increase in debt, it also implies that there’s more downside risk in the medium-term due to this rapid credit expansion.”

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Beijing seems to be getting scared of people’s reactions. Still, when you think about it, closing down 50% of steel production says something about the country’s needs for steel.

In China, The War On Coal Just Got Serious (SMH)

Beijing: In Australia, politicians continue to debate the existence of climate change. Donald Trump’s Environment Protection Agency declared this week that the “war on coal is over”. In China, the outlook could not be more different. The war on coal reached fever pitch here this month. As a deadline looms to achieve clean air targets by the end of 2017, October has seen unprecedented measures come into force to curb air pollution and reduce emissions. Steel production has been halved in major steel cities, coal banned in China’s coal capital, factories closed down for failing pollution inspections, and hundreds of officials sacked for failing to meet environmental targets. The complete shutdowns, or 50% production cuts, will stay in place for an unprecedented five months.

The winter heating season in China is approaching, when coal use has traditionally spiked, worsening northern China’s notorious air pollution. But cities are under pressure to meet important domestic targets for clean air, set five years ago by the State Council in response to a public outcry over pollution. China can’t allow a repeat of last winter, when, after several years of improvement, air quality suddenly worsened in some cities. For a few days in January 2016, the sky darkened and it looked possible that the “airpocalypse” of 2013 – which first drew global attention to Beijing’s severe air pollution – was back. Social media went into overdrive. Fighting air pollution is a matter of social stability, Environment Protection Minister Li Ganjie said a fortnight ago. So now the Chinese government has brought out the “iron fist”.

That was the phrase used by the environment protection bureau in China’s most polluted province, Hebei, as 69 government officials were sacked and 154 handed over to police for investigation last month for failing to implement pollution control measures. Meeting emissions targets has become a key performance indicator for local Communist Party bosses and mayors alike. Local governments that don’t enforce the pollution controls will have environmental assessments for new property developments suspended by the Ministry for Environment Protection, effectively blocking deals. A battle plan has been drawn up by the ministry to cover 28 northern cities, including Beijing and Tianjin, where 7000 pollution inspectors will be deployed to expose violations and look for data fraud. The curbs on industry, particularly steel making, are hitting world resources prices, including Australia’s biggest exports, as demand for iron ore and coal fall.

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Let me guess. They want more reforms.

IMF Steering Committee Warns Global Growth Is At Risk Of Faltering (BBG)

The IMF’s steering committee warned that global growth is at risk of faltering in coming years given uncomfortably low inflation and rising geopolitical risks, injecting a cautious note into an otherwise improving economic outlook. “The recovery is not yet complete, with inflation below target in most advanced economies, and potential growth remains weak in many countries,” the International Monetary and Financial Committee said in a communique released Saturday in Washington. “Near-term risks are broadly balanced, but there is no room for complacency because medium-term economic risks are tilted to the downside and geopolitical tensions are rising.” The panel didn’t specify which geopolitical risks it was most concerned about.

In the past few weeks the U.S. and North Korea have engaged in shrill rhetoric about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons. And on Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump took steps to confront Iran and renegotiate a 2015 multinational accord to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. At the same time, the U.K. is in the middle of negotiations on the terms of its exit from the EU. The panel nonetheless described the global outlook as strengthening, with rising investment, industrial output and confidence – conditions that make it ripe for nations to “tackle key policy challenges” and enact policies that boost the speed limit of their economies. “It’s when the sun is shining that you need to fix the roof,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said at a press briefing to discuss the statement.

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The best part of the iMF is not the front office, it’s the anonymous workers.

Corbyn Has A Washington Ally On Taxing The Rich. But No, It’s Not Trump (G.)

The IMF has been on quite a journey from the days when it was seen as the provisional wing of the Washington consensus. These days the IMF is less likely to harp on about the joys of liberalised capital flows than it is to warn of the dangers of ever-greater inequality. The fund’s latest foray into the realms of progressive economics came last week when it used its half-yearly fiscal monitor – normally a dry-as-dust publication – to make the case for higher taxes on the super-rich. Make no mistake, this is a significant moment. For almost 40 years, since the arrival of Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street and Ronald Reagan in the White House, the economic orthodoxy on taxation has been that higher taxes for the 1% are self-defeating.

Soaking the rich, it was said, would punish initiative and lead to lower levels of innovation, investment, growth and, therefore, reduced revenue for the state. As the Conservative party conference showed, this line of argument is still popular. Minister after minister took to the stage to warn that Jeremy Corbyn’s tax plans would lead to a 1970s-style brain drain. The IMF agrees that a return to the income tax levels seen in Britain during the 1970s would have an impact on growth. But that was when the top rate was 83%, and Corbyn’s plans are far more modest. Indeed, it is a sign of how difficult it has become to have a grown-up debate about tax that Labour’s call for a 50% tax band on those earning more than £123,000 and 45% for those earning more than £80,000 should be seen as confiscatory.

The IMF’s analysis does something to redress the balance, making two important points. First, it says that tax systems should have become more progressive in recent years in order to help offset growing inequality, but have actually become less so. Second, it finds no evidence for the argument that attempts to make the rich pay more tax would lead to lower growth. There is nothing especially surprising about either of the IMF’s conclusions: in fact, the real surprise is that it has taken so long for the penny to drop. Growth rates have not picked up as taxes have been cut for the top 1%. On the contrary, they are much weaker than they were in the immediate postwar decades, when the rich could expect to pay at least half their incomes – and often substantially more than half – to the taxman.

If trickle-down theory worked, there would be a strong correlation between growth and countries with low marginal tax rates for the rich. There is no such correlation and, as the IMF rightly concludes, “there would appear to be scope for increasing the progressivity of income taxation without significantly hurting growth for countries wishing to enhance income redistribution”. With a nod to the work of the French economist Thomas Piketty, the fiscal monitor also says that countries should consider wealth taxes for the rich, to be levied on land and property.

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Why am I thinking it’s the Brit(on)s themselves who’ve done that?

Brexit Has Made The UK The Sick Man Of Europe Once More (NS)

Though it didn’t feel like it at the time, the years preceding 2017 now resemble an economic golden age for the UK. After the damage imposed by the financial crisis and excessive austerity, Britain recovered to become the fastest growing G7 country. Real earnings finally rose as wages increased and inflation fell (income per person grew by 3.5% in 2015). And then the Brexit vote happened. Though the immediate recession that the Treasury and others forecast did not materialise, the UK has already paid a significant price. Having previously been the fastest growing G7 country, Britain is now the slowest. Real earnings are again in decline owing to the inflationary spike caused by the pound’s depreciation (the UK has the lowest growth and the highest inflation – stagflation – of any major EU economy).

Firms have delayed investment for fear of future chaos and consumer confidence has plummeted. EU negotiator Michel Barner’s warning of a “very disturbing” deadlock in the Brexit talks reflects and reinforces all of these maladies. While Leavers plead with Philip Hammond to set money aside for “a no-deal scenario”, the referendum result is daily harming the public finances. The Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a £15bn budgetary hit (the equivalent of nearly £300m a week). To the UK’s existing defects – low productivity, low investment and low pay – new ones have been added: political uncertainty and economic instability. The Conservatives, to annex former Chancellor George Osborne’s phrase of choice, failed to fix the roof when the sun was shining.

Rather than taking advantage of record-low borrowing rates to invest in infrastructure (and improve the UK’s dismal productivity), the government squandered money on expensive tax cuts. The Sisyphean pursuit of a budget surplus (now not expected until at least 2027) reduced the scope for valuable investment. Productivity in quarter two of this year was just 0.9% higher than a decade ago – the worst performance for 200 years. Having softened austerity, without abandoning it, the Conservatives are now stuck in a political no man’s land.

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Cross-party action against May. It’s quite something. But it’ll just be more fighting.

UK MPs Move To Block May From Signing ‘No Deal’ Brexit (G.)

A powerful cross-party group of MPs is drawing up plans that would make it impossible for Theresa May to allow Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal in 2019. The move comes amid new warnings that a “cliff-edge” Brexit would be catastrophic for the economy. One critical aim of the group – which includes the former Tory chancellor Kenneth Clarke and several Conservative ex-ministers, together with prominent Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Green MPs – is to give parliament the ability to veto, or prevent by other legal means, a “bad deal” or “no deal” outcome. Concern over Brexit policy reached new heights this weekend after the prime minister told the House of Commons that her government was spending £250m on preparations for a possible “no deal” result because negotiations with Brussels had stalled.

Several hundred amendments to the EU withdrawal bill include one tabled by the former cabinet minister Dominic Grieve and signed by nine other Tory MPs, together with members of all the other main parties, saying any final deal must be approved by an entirely separate act of parliament. If passed, this would give the majority of MPs who favour a soft Brexit the binding vote on the final outcome they have been seeking and therefore the ability to reject any “cliff-edge” option. A separate amendment tabled by Clarke and the former Labour minister Chris Leslie says Theresa May’s plan for a two-year transition period after Brexit – which she outlined in her recent Florence speech – should be written into the withdrawal bill, with an acceptance EU rules and law would continue to apply during that period. If such a transition was not agreed, the amendment says, exit from the EU should not be allowed to happen.

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Some nice history, but a weird anti-Islam stance. And a somewhat dubious conclusion.

Forget Catalonia, Flanders Is The Real Test Case Of EU Separatism! (OR)

To concisely summarize, there’s a very distinct possibility that the EU’s liberal-globalist elite have been planning to divide and rule the continent along identity-based lines in order to further their ultimate goal of creating a “federation of regions”. Catalonia is the spark that could set off this entire process, but it could also just be a flash in the pan that might end up being contained no matter what its final result may be. Flanders, however, is much different because of the heightened symbolism that Belgium holds in terms of EU identity, and the dissolution of this somewhat artificially created state would be the clearest sign yet that the EU’s ruling elite intend to take the bloc down the direction of manufactured fragmentation. Bearing this in mind, the spread of the “Catalan Chain Reaction” to Belgium and the inspiration that this could give to Flanders to break off from the rest of the country should be seen as the true barometer over whether or not the EU’s “nation-states” will disintegrate into a constellation of “Balkanized” ones.

{..] It’s important to mention that the territory of what would eventually become Belgium had regularly been a battleground between the competing European powers of the Netherlands, the pre-unification German states, France, the UK, and even Spain and Austria during their control of this region, and this new country’s creation was widely considered by some to be nothing more than a buffer state. The 1830 London Conference between the UK, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia saw the Great Power of the time recognize the fledgling entity as an independent actor, with Paris even militarily intervening to protecting it during Amsterdam’s failed “Ten Day’s Campaign” to reclaim its lost southern province in summer 1831.

[..] Flanders contributes four times as much to Belgium’s national economy as Catalonia does to Spain’s, being responsible for a whopping 80% of the country’s GDP as estimated by the European Commission, and it also accounts for roughly two-thirds of Belgium’s total population unlike Catalonia’s one-sixth or so. This means that Flemish independence would be absolutely disastrous for the people living in the remaining 55% of the “Belgian” rump state, which would for all intents and purposes constitute a de-facto, though unwillingly, independent Wallonia.

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Austria is as much of a threat to the EU as Flanders is. The Visograd anti-migrants idea is moving west. This worries Germany, which shares quite a long border with Austria.

Europe’s Migration Crisis Casts Long Shadow As Austria Votes (R.)

Austria holds a parliamentary election on Sunday in which a young conservative star hopes to beat the far right at its own game with a hard line on refugees and pledging to prevent a repeat of Europe’s migration crisis. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who is just 31, propelled his conservative People’s Party (OVP) to the top of opinion polls when he became its leader in May, dislodging the far-right Freedom Party from the spot it had held for more than a year. He is now the clear favorite to become Austria’s next leader. Kurz has pledged to shut down migrants’ main routes into Europe, through the Balkans and across the Mediterranean. Many voters now feel the country was overrun when it threw open its borders in 2015 to a wave of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Chancellor Christian Kern’s Social Democrats (SPO) are currently in coalition with Kurz’s OVP, but Kurz called an end to the alliance when he took over the helm of his party, forcing Sunday’s snap election. Opinion polls have consistently shown the OVP in the lead with around a third of the vote, and second place being a tight race between the Social Democrats and the Freedom Party (FPO), whose candidate came close to winning last year’s presidential election. “We must stop illegal immigration to Austria because otherwise there will be no more order and security,” Kurz told tabloid daily Oesterreich on Friday night. Campaigning has been dominated by the immigration issue. Kurz plans to cap benefit payments for refugees at well below the general level and bar other foreigners from receiving such payments until they have lived in the country for five years.


Now or never

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Oct 142017
 
 October 14, 2017  Posted by at 9:12 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Georgia O’Keeffe Manhattan 1932

 

Central Bankers Use Moment of Calm to Debate How to Fight the Next Crisis (DJ)
BOJ’s Kuroda Says No Signs Of Excesses Building In Markets (R.)
What Keeps Poor Americans From Moving (Atlantic)
Prepare for a Chinese Maxi-Devaluation (Rickards)
The Cost of Missing the Market Boom Is Skyrocketing (BBG)
Are You Better Off Than You Were 17 Years Ago? (CH Smith)
As Crisis At Kobe Steel Deepens, CEO Says Cheating Engulfs 500 Firms (R.)
Worse Than Big Tobacco: How Big Pharma Fuels the Opioid Epidemic (Parramore)
Tesla Fired Hundreds Of Employees In Past Week (R.)
No-Deal Brexit: It’s Already Too Late (FCFT)
‘They Have To Pay’, EU’s Juncker Says Of Britain (R.)
EU Intervention In Catalonia Would Cause Chaos – Juncker (G.)
Blade Runner 2049: Not The Future (Kunstler)

 

 

This really is the firefighter setting his own house on fire so he can play the hero. There’s often talk of central bankers taking away the punch bowl, but we need to take away the punch bowl from them. Urgently.

Central Bankers Use Moment of Calm to Debate How to Fight the Next Crisis (DJ)

Central bankers, basking in a moment of synchronized growth and a global economy less dependent on easy-money policies, are thinking about what they will do when the next economic meltdown happens. ECB President Mario Draghi said Thursday that central banks might need to reuse some of the weapons employed to fight the last war, most notably negative interest rates. Federal Reserve and ECB officials, who are gathered in Washington for the fall meetings of the IMF and World Bank, are using a tranquil period to debate the type of monetary policies central banks might pursue. The world’s two most influential central banks signaled no shifts in strategy – in the Fed’s case, to raise rates gradually and shrink its bond portfolio, and in the ECB’s, to announce a slowdown of its bond-purchase program as soon as its next policy meeting on Oct. 26.

But while current policies are stepping away from the bond-purchase programs known as quantitative easing, central bankers are opening the door for a future that could include more negative interest rates and periods of higher inflation following recession. The discussions are still largely hypothetical. Ever since the global financial crisis of 2007-09, central bankers have wished for more moments when they could gather in calm and openly spitball monetary policy ideas without the risk of derailing recovery. That moment has finally arrived. Mr. Draghi said that negative interest rates, an untested policy for the ECB until 2014, had been a success, and that the decision to push the ECB’s target rate into negative territory hadn’t hurt bank profitability as critics suggested it would.

“We haven’t seen the distortions that people were foreseeing,” Mr. Draghi said at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “We haven’t seen bank profitability going down; in fact, it is going up.” Mr. Draghi reiterated that the ECB would maintain its negative target rate “well past” the time it steps back from its bond-purchase program, underscoring growing comfort in the negative-rate strategy. And while Mr. Draghi endorsed negative rates, current and former Fed officials engaged in an unusually open discussion about changing the target for 2% inflation. That discussion was kicked off by former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who presented a paper Thursday morning at the Peterson Institute arguing the Fed could overshoot its target for 2% inflation to make up for periods of recession in which inflation ran too low.

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And this is just pure insanity.

BOJ’s Kuroda Says No Signs Of Excesses Building In Markets (R.)

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said on Friday he did not see any signs of bubbles or excesses building up in U.S., European and Japanese markets as a result of heavy money printing by their central banks. Kuroda also dismissed some analysts’ criticism that the BOJ’s purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETF) were distorting financial markets or dominating Japan’s stock market. “I don’t think we have a very big share” of Japan’s total stock market capitalisation, he told reporters after attending the Group of 20 finance leaders’ gathering. The IMF painted a rosy picture of the global economy in its World Economic Outlook earlier this week, but warned that prolonged easy monetary policy could be sowing the seeds of excessive risk-taking.

Kuroda said that while policymakers should not be complacent about their economies, he did not see huge risks materializing as a result of their policies. Although major central banks deployed massive stimulus programmes to battle the global financial crisis, they have always scrutinized whether their policies were causing excessive risk-taking, he said. “I don’t think we’re seeing excesses building up and emerging as a big risk,” Kuroda said, adding that recent rises in global stock prices reflected strong corporate profits in Japan, the United States and Europe. He added that Japan’s economy was on track for a steady recovery that will likely gradually push up inflation and wages. “I don’t see any big risk for Japan’s economy. But there could be external risks, such as geopolitical ones, so we’re watching developments carefully,” he said.

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Bubbles shape (distort) the space around them. It’s like a miniature version of Einstein’s gravitational waves.

What Keeps Poor Americans From Moving (Atlantic)

Seccora Jaimes knows that she is not living in the land of opportunity. Her hometown has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, at 9.1%. Jaimes, 34, recently got laid off from the beauty school where she taught cosmetology, and hasn’t yet found another job. Her daughter, 17, wants the family to move to Los Angeles, so that she can attend one of the nation’s top police academies. Jaimes’s husband, who works in warehousing, would make much more money in Los Angeles, she told me. But one thing is stopping them: The cost of housing. “I don’t know if we could find a place out there that’s reasonable for us, that we could start any job and be okay,” she told me. Indeed, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Merced, in California’s Central Valley, is $750. In Los Angeles, it’s $2,710.

America used to be a place where moving one’s family and one’s life in search of greater opportunities was common. During the Gold Rush, the Depression, and the postwar expansion West millions of Americans left their hometowns for places where they could earn more and provide a better life for their children. But mobility has fallen in recent years. While 3.6% of the population moved to a different state between 1952 and 1953, that number had fallen to 2.7% between 1992 and 1993, and to 1.5% between 2015 and 2016. (The share of people who move at all, even within the same county, has fallen too, from 20% in 1947 to 11.2% today.) Of course, it wasn’t simply “moving” that mattered—it was that they moved to specific areas that were growing.

When farming jobs were plentiful in the Midwest, for example, people moved there—in 1900, states including Iowa and Missouri were more populous than California. Black men who moved from to the North from the South earned at least 100% more than those who stayed, according to work by Leah Platt Boustan, an economist at Princeton. Additionally, for most of the 20th century, both janitors and lawyers could earn a lot more living in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut than they could living in the Deep South, so many people moved, according to Peter Ganong, an economist at the University of Chicago. With less labor supply in the regions that they left, wages would then increase there, and fall in the regions they were moving to, as the supply of workers increased.

As a result, for more than 100 years, the average incomes of different regions were getting closer and closer together, something economists call regional income convergence. Wages in poorer cities were growing 1.4% faster than wages in richer cities for much of the 20th century, according to Elisa Giannnone, a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton. But over the past 30 years, that regional income convergence has slowed. Economists say that is happening because net migration—the tendency of large numbers of people to move to a specific place—is waning, meaning that the supply of workers isn’t increasing fast enough in the rich areas to bring wages down, and isn’t falling fast enough in the poor areas to bring wages up.

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Well argued.

Prepare for a Chinese Maxi-Devaluation (Rickards)

In August 2015, China engineered a sudden shock devaluation of the yuan. The dollar gained 3% against the yuan in two days as China devalued. The results were disastrous. U.S. stocks fell 11% in a few weeks. There was a real threat of global financial contagion and a full-blown liquidity crisis. A crisis was averted by Fed jawboning, and a decision to put off the “liftoff” in U.S. interest rates from September 2015 to the following December. China conducted another devaluation from November to December 2015. This time China did not execute a sneak attack, but did the devaluation in baby steps. This was stealth devaluation. The results were just as disastrous as the prior August. U.S. stocks fell 11% from January 1, 2016 to February 10. 2016. Again, a greater crisis was averted only by a Fed decision to delay planned U.S. interest rate hikes in March and June 2016. The impact these two prior devaluations had on the exchange rate is shown in the chart below.


Major moves in the dollar/yuan cross exchange rate (USD/CNY) have had powerful impacts on global markets. The August 2015 surprise yuan devaluation sent U.S. stocks reeling. Another slower devaluation did the same in early 2016. A stronger yuan in 2017 coincided with the Trump stock rally. A new devaluation is now underway and U.S. stocks may suffer again.

[..] China escaped the impossible trinity in 2015 by devaluing their currency. China escaped the impossible trinity again in 2017 using a hat trick of partially closing the capital account, raising interest rates, and allowing the yuan to appreciate against the dollar thereby breaking the exchange rate peg. The problem for China is that these solutions are all non-sustainable. China cannot keep the capital account closed without damaging badly needed capital inflows. Who will invest in China if you can’t get your money out? China also cannot maintain high interest rates because the interest costs will bankrupt insolvent state owned enterprises and lead to an increase in unemployment, which is socially destabilizing. China cannot maintain a strong yuan because that damages exports, hurts export-related jobs, and causes deflation to be imported through lower import prices. An artificially inflated currency also drains the foreign exchange reserves needed to maintain the peg.

[..] Both Trump and Xi are readying a “gloves off” approach to a trade war and renewed currency war. A maxi-devaluation of the yuan is Xi’s most potent weapon. Finally, China’s internal contradictions are catching up with it. China has to confront an insolvent banking system, a real estate bubble, and a $1 trillion wealth management product Ponzi scheme that is starting to fall apart. A much weaker yuan would give China some policy space in terms of using its reserves to paper over some of these problems. Less dramatic devaluations of the yuan led to U.S. stock market crashes. What does a new maxi-devaluation portend for U.S. stocks?

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See my article yesterday: The Curious Case of Missing the Market Boom .

The Cost of Missing the Market Boom Is Skyrocketing (BBG)

Skepticism in global equity markets is getting expensive. From Japan to Brazil and the U.S. as well as places like Greece and Ukraine, an epic year in equities is defying naysayers and rewarding anyone who staked a claim on corporate ownership. Records are falling, with about a quarter of national equity benchmarks at or within 2% of an all-time high. “You’ve heard people being bearish for eight years. They were wrong,” said Jeffrey Saut, chief investment strategist at St. Petersburg, Florida-based Raymond James Financial Inc., which oversees $500 billion. “The proof is in the returns.” To put this year’s gains in perspective, the value of global equities is now 3 1/2 times that at the financial crisis bottom in March 2009.

Aided by an 8% drop in the U.S. currency, the dollar-denominated capitalization of worldwide shares appreciated in 2017 by an amount – $20 trillion – that is comparable to the total value of all equities nine years ago. And yet skeptics still abound, pointing to stretched valuations or policy uncertainty from Washington to Brussels. Those concerns are nothing new, but heeding to them is proving an especially costly mistake. Clinging to such concerns means discounting a harmonized recovery in the global economy that’s virtually without precedent — and set to pick up steam, according to the IMF. At the same time, inflation remains tepid, enabling major central banks to maintain accommodative stances. “When policy is easy and growth is strong, this is an environment more conducive for people paying up for valuations,” said Andrew Sheets, chief cross-asset strategist at Morgan Stanley.

“The markets are up in line with what the earnings have done, and stronger earnings helped drive a higher level of enthusiasm and a higher level of risk taking.” The numbers are impressive: more than 85% of the 95 benchmark indexes tracked by Bloomberg worldwide are up this year, on course for the broadest gain since the bull market started. Emerging markets have surged 31%, developed nations are up 16%. Big companies are becoming huge, from Apple to Alibaba. Technology megacaps occupy all top six spots in the ranks of the world’s largest companies by market capitalization for the first time ever. Up 39% this year, the $1 trillion those firms added in value equals the combined worth of the world’s six-biggest companies at the bear market bottom in 2009. Apple, priced at $810 billion, is good for the total value of the 400 smallest companies in the S&P 500.

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“If we define “winning the war” by counting dead bodies, then the dead bodies pile up like cordwood.”

Are You Better Off Than You Were 17 Years Ago? (CH Smith)

If we use GDP as a broad measure of prosperity, we are 160% better off than we were in 1980 and 35% better off than we were in 2000. Other common metrics such as per capita (per person) income and total household wealth reflect similarly hefty gains. But are we really 35% better off than we were 17 years ago, or 160% better off than we were 37 years ago? Or do these statistics mask a pervasive erosion in our well-being? As I explained in my book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform, we optimize what we measure, meaning that once a metric and benchmark have been selected as meaningful, we strive to manage that metric to get the desired result. Optimizing what we measure has all sorts of perverse consequences. If we define “winning the war” by counting dead bodies, then the dead bodies pile up like cordwood.

If we define “health” as low cholesterol levels, then we pass statins out like candy. If test scores define “a good education,” then we teach to the tests. We tend to measure what’s easily measured (and supports the status quo) and ignore what isn’t easily measured (and calls the status quo into question). So we measure GDP, household wealth, median incomes, longevity, the number of students graduating with college diplomas, and so on, because all of these metrics are straightforward. We don’t measure well-being, our sense of security, our faith in a better future (i.e. hope), experiential knowledge that’s relevant to adapting to fast-changing circumstances, the social cohesion of our communities and similar difficult-to-quantify relationships. Relationships, well-being and internal states of awareness are not units of measurement.

While GDP has soared since 1980, many people feel that life has become much worse, not much better: many people feel less financially secure, more pressured at work, more stressed by not-enough-time-in-the-day, less healthy and less wealthy, regardless of their dollar-denominated “wealth.” Many people recall that a single paycheck could support an entire household in 1980, something that is no longer true for all but the most highly paid workers who also live in locales with a modest cost of living.

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How on earth is it possible these people still have jobs?

As Crisis At Kobe Steel Deepens, CEO Says Cheating Engulfs 500 Firms (R.)

The cheating crisis engulfing Kobe Steel just got bigger. Chief Executive Hiroya Kawasaki on Friday revealed that about 500 companies had received its falsely certified products, more than double its earlier count, confirming widespread wrongdoing at the steelmaker that has sent a chill along global supply chains. The scale of the misconduct at Japan’s third-largest steelmaker pummeled its shares as investors, worried about the financial impact and legal fallout, wiped about $1.8 billion off its market value this week. As the company revealed tampering of more products, the crisis has rippled through supply chains across the world in a body blow to Japan’s reputation as a high-quality manufacturing destination. A contrite Kawasaki told a briefing the firm plans to pay customers’ costs for any affected products.

“There has been no specific requests, but we are prepared to shoulder such costs after consultations,” he said, adding the products with tampered documentation account for about 4% of the sales in the affected businesses. Yoshihiko Katsukawa, a managing executive officer, told reporters that 500 companies were now known to be affected by the tampering. Kobe Steel initially said 200 firms were affected when it admitted at the weekend it had falsified data about the quality of aluminum and copper products used in cars, aircraft, space rockets and defense equipment. Asked if he plans to step down, Kawasaki said: “My biggest task right now is to help our customers make safety checks and to craft prevention measures.”

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“The manufacturers can now exploit their monopoly positions, created by the patents, by marketing their drugs for conditions for which they never got regulatory approval.”

Worse Than Big Tobacco: How Big Pharma Fuels the Opioid Epidemic (Parramore)

Once again, an out-of-control industry is threatening public health on a mammoth scale Over a 40-year career, Philadelphia attorney Daniel Berger has obtained millions in settlements for investors and consumers hurt by a rogues’ gallery of corporate wrongdoers, from Exxon to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. But when it comes to what America’s prescription drug makers have done to drive one of the ghastliest addiction crises in the country’s history, he confesses amazement. “I used to think that there was nothing more reprehensible than what the tobacco industry did in suppressing what it knew about the adverse effects of an addictive and dangerous product,” says Berger. “But I was wrong. The drug makers are worse than Big Tobacco.”

The U.S. prescription drug industry has opened a new frontier in public havoc, manipulating markets and deceptively marketing opioid drugs that are known to addict and even kill. It’s a national emergency that claims 90 lives per day. Berger lays much of the blame at the feet of companies that have played every dirty trick imaginable to convince doctors to overprescribe medication that can transform fresh-faced teens and mild-mannered adults into zombified junkies. So how have they gotten away with it? The prescription drug industry is a strange beast, born of perverse thinking about markets and economics, explains Berger. In a normal market, you shop around to find the best price and quality on something you want or need—a toaster, a new car. Businesses then compete to supply what you’re looking for.

You’ve got choices: If the price is too high, you refuse to buy, or you wait until the market offers something better. It’s the supposed beauty of supply and demand. But the prescription drug “market” operates nothing like that. Drug makers game the patent and regulatory systems to create monopolies over every single one of their products. Berger explains that when drug makers get patent approval for brand-name pharmaceuticals, the patents create market exclusivity for those products—protecting them from competition from both generics and brand-name drugs that treat the same condition. The manufacturers can now exploit their monopoly positions, created by the patents, by marketing their drugs for conditions for which they never got regulatory approval. This dramatically increases sales. They can also charge very high prices because if you’re in pain or dying, you’ll pay virtually anything.

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How much longer?

Tesla Fired Hundreds Of Employees In Past Week (R.)

Luxury electric vehicle maker Tesla fired about 400 employees this week, including associates, team leaders and supervisors, a former employee told Reuters on Friday. The dismissals were a result of a company-wide annual review, Tesla said in an emailed statement, without confirming the number of employees leaving the company. “It’s about 400 people ranging from associates to team leaders to supervisors. We don’t know how high up it went,” said the former employee, who worked on the assembly line and did not want to be identified.

Though Tesla cited performance as the reason for the firings, the source told Reuters he was fired in spite of never having been given a bad review. The Palo Alto, California-based company said earlier in the month that “production bottlenecks” had left Tesla behind its planned ramp-up for the new Model 3 mass-market sedan. The company delivered 220 Model 3 sedans and produced 260 during the third quarter. In July, it began production of the Model 3, which starts at $35,000 – half the starting price of the Model S. Mercury News had earlier reported about the firing of hundreds of employees by Tesla in the past week.

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Behind closed doors, the EU is already talking to Jeremy Corbyn. But that’s too late too.

No-Deal Brexit: It’s Already Too Late (FCFT)

As things stand at the moment, eighteen months from now the UK will leave the EU without any agreement on trade regulation or tariffs, either with the EU or any of the other countries with which it currently has trade agreements. The arrangements which assure the smooth running of 60 percent of our goods trade will disappear. Once we are outside the regulatory framework, many products, particularly in highly regulated areas like agriculture and pharmaceuticals, will no longer be accredited for sale in Europe. Aeroplanes will be unable to fly to and from the EU to the UK. Those goods which can still legally be traded with the EU will face lengthy customs checks. Integrated supply chains and just-in-time manufacturing processes will be severely disrupted and, in some cases, damaged beyond repair. Unless politicians do something, that’s where we are heading.

International trade and commerce doesn’t just happen. It is facilitated by a framework of agreements on tariffs, quotas and regulations. Without these, trade is either very expensive or, in some cases, simply illegal. Therefore, if the UK were to leave the EU without concluding a trade deal, things wouldn’t simply stay the same. They would be very different and very damaging. Of course, it would be disruptive for the rest of the EU too, although it is much easier to find new suppliers and customers in a bloc of 27 countries than it is in a stand alone country with no trade deals. Even so, most of us have assumed that common sense will prevail at some point. No-one in their right mind would let such a thing happen so surely both sides will do what is necessary to between now and March 2019 to avoid it.

Incredibly, though, our government, egged on by ideologues on its own back benches, has been talking up the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, apparently as a negotiating ploy to make the EU realise that we are serious about walking away. Almost as soon as the no-deal idea was suggested, Phillip Hammond said that he was not willing to set aside any money to fund it. In any organisation, that’s a sure-fire sign of a project that’s going nowhere. If the finance director won’t even stump up the cash for the planning phase, you might as well forget the whole thing. Mr Hammond said that he would wait until “the very last moment” before committing any money to prepare for a no-deal scenario. Which means it’s not going to happen because the very last moment passed some time ago, most probably before we even had the referendum.

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“They have to pay, they have to pay, not in an impossible way.”

‘They Have To Pay’, EU’s Juncker Says Of Britain (R.)

Britain must commit to paying what it owes to the European Union before talks can begin about a future relationship with the bloc after Brexit, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday. “The British are discovering, as we are, day after day new problems. That’s the reason why this process will take longer than initially thought,” Juncker said in a speech to students in his native Luxembourg. “We cannot find for the time being a real compromise as far as the remaining financial commitments of the UK are concerned. As we are not able to do this we will not be able to say in the European Council in October that now we can move to the second phase of negotiations,” Juncker said. “They have to pay, they have to pay, not in an impossible way. I‘m not in a revenge mood. I‘m not hating the British.” The EU has told Britain that a summit next week will conclude that insufficient progress has been made in talks for Brussels to open negotiations on a future trade deal.

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Summary: EU countries can use whatever force they want against their European citizens. Because anything else would threaten Brussels.

EU Intervention In Catalonia Would Cause Chaos – Juncker (G.)

The president of the European commission has spoken of his regret at Spain’s failure to follow his advice and do more to head off the crisis in Catalonia, but claimed that any EU intervention on the issue now would only cause “a lot more chaos”. Speaking to students in Luxembourg on Friday, Jean-Claude Juncker said he had told the Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, that his government needed to act to stop the Catalan situation spinning out of control, but that the advice had gone unheeded. “For some time now I asked the Spanish prime minister to take initiatives so that Catalonia wouldn’t run amok,” he said. “A lot of things were not done.” Juncker said that while he wished to see Europe remain united, his hands were tied when it came to Catalan independence.

“People have to undertake their responsibility,” he said. “I would like to explain why the commission doesn’t get involved in that. A lot of people say: ‘Juncker should get involved in that.’ “We do not do it because if we do … it will create a lot more chaos in the EU. We cannot do anything. We cannot get involved in that.” Juncker said that while he often acted as a negotiator and facilitator between member states, the commission could not mediate if calls to do so came only from one side – in this case, the Catalan government. Rajoy has rejected calls for mediation, pointing out that the recent Catalan independence referendum was held in defiance of the Spanish constitution and the country’s constitutional court. “There is no possible mediation between democratic law and disobedience or illegality,” he said on Wednesday.

Despite his refusal to intervene, however, Juncker warned the international community that the political crisis in Spain could not be ignored. “OK, nobody is shooting anyone in Catalonia – not yet at least. But we shouldn’t understate that matter, though,” he added. he commission president also spoke more generally about the fragmentation of national identities within Europe, saying he feared that if Catalonia became independent, other regions would follow. “I am very concerned because the life in communities seems to be so difficult,” he said. “Everybody tries to find their own in their own way and they think that their identity cannot live in parallel to other people’s identity. “But if you allow – and it is not up to us of course – but if Catalonia is to become independent, other people will do the same. I don’t like that. I don’t like to have a euro in 15 years that will be 100 different states. It is difficult enough with 17 states. With many more states it will be impossible.”

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“The people who deliver that way of life, and profit from it, are every bit as sincerely wishful about it as the underpaid and overfed schnooks moiling in the discount aisles. ”

Blade Runner 2049: Not The Future (Kunstler)

The original Mad Max was little more than an extended car chase — though apparently all that people remember about it is the desolate desert landscape and Mel Gibson’s leather jumpsuit. As the series wore on, both the vehicles and the staged chases became more spectacularly grandiose, until, in the latest edition, the movie was solely about Charlize Theron driving a truck. I always wondered where Mel got new air filters and radiator hoses, not to mention where he gassed up. In a world that broken, of course, there would be no supply and manufacturing chains. So, of course, Blade Runner 2049 opens with a shot of the detective played by Ryan Gosling in his flying car, zooming over a landscape that looks more like a computer motherboard than actual earthly terrain.

As the movie goes on, he gets in and out of his flying car more often than a San Fernando soccer mom on her daily rounds. That actually tells us something more significant than all the grim monotone trappings of the production design, namely, that we can’t imagine any kind of future — or any human society for that matter — that is not centered on cars. But isn’t that exactly why we’ve invested so much hope and expectation (and public subsidies) in the activities of Elon Musk? After all, the Master Wish in this culture of wishful thinking is the wish to be able to keep driving to Wal Mart forever. It’s the ultimate fantasy of a shallow “consumer” society. The people who deliver that way of life, and profit from it, are every bit as sincerely wishful about it as the underpaid and overfed schnooks moiling in the discount aisles.

In the dark corners of so-called postmodern mythology, there really is no human life, or human future, without cars. This points to the central fallacy of this Sci-fi genre: that technology can defeat nature and still exist. This is where our techno-narcissism comes in fast and furious. The Blade Runner movies take place in and around a Los Angeles filled with mega-structures pulsating with holographic advertisements. Where does the energy come from to construct all this stuff? Supposedly from something Mr. Musk dreams up that we haven’t heard about yet. Frankly, I don’t believe that such a miracle is in the offing.

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Oct 112017
 
 October 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  10 Responses »
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Georgia O’Keeffe New York night 1929

 

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)
Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)
Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)
Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)
China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)
Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)
Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)
51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)
Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)
Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)
10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)
The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)
How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)
I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)
Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

 

 

You don’t say.

Stock Record Ride ‘Has Reached Epic Proportions’ – Morgan Stanley (MW)

Wall Street isn’t just in a bull market, it’s in an “epic” one. That is according to Morgan Stanley, which on Tuesday wrote that the equity market rally “has reached epic proportions.” “We say this not as hyperbole, but based on a quantitative perspective,” the investment bank explained. “Dispersions in valuations and growth rates are among the lowest in the last 40 years; stocks are at their most idiosyncratic since 2001; and equity hedge fund beta is at its highest since March 2008.” Simply from the perspective of price moves, the “epicness” of recent trading activity should come as no surprise to investors. The Dow DJIA, S&P 500 SPX, Nasdaq COMP, and Russell 2000 RUT have all hit repeated records this year alone, notching dozens of all-time highs. Those gains have been widespread and “perpetual,” to use Morgan Stanley’s description.

Only two of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors are in negative territory for the year, and for broader indexes, even mild pullbacks of 3% have basically been nonexistent for months. Volatility is near record lows. Beta refers to a measure of an assets tendency to fluctuate compared against a benchmark like the S&P 500. [..] “While investors have at times appeared reluctant to embrace the recent rally, there is evidence from last month that risk appetites are increasing,” Morgan Stanley wrote. The investment bank noted that cyclical sectors, which are more closely correlated to the pace of economic growth, have been outperforming defensive ones, just as small-capitalization stocks have outperforming larger companies. “Momentum is now strongly correlated with high beta globally, and the presence of this cohort of investors could produce continued risk-seeking behavior,” wrote the team of analysts, led by Brian Hayes, an equity strategist.

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“The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong.”

Janet Yellen Has Finally Come To Her Senses – Somewhat (Crudele)

I’ve been telling you for years that the employment data produced by the US government were misleading people into thinking the economy was performing better than it really was. Now Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen — finally! — agrees. Yellen, speaking before the National Association of Business Economics on Sept. 26, said, “My colleagues and I may have misjudged the strength of the labor market, the degree to which longer-run inflation expectations are consistent with our inflation objective or even the fundamental forces driving inflation.” That’s what she said. Internet news sites picked up that statement, but none of the major newspapers did. And the story behind Yellen’s admission and its importance would be way over the heads of TV news anchors — so they ignored it as well.

Yet Yellen’s statement is important as heck. It means that the Fed has been screwing up in thinking that the US economy was, as Yellen has often said, near full employment. But here’s the kicker — Yellen has been overestimating the strength of the job market and underestimating the amount of inflation in the economy. The big question is whether Yellen was just misreading the data or whether the data she was reading were wrong. There will need to be years of investigation to determine that, but I’ll give you a clue now. Anyone who lives in the real world knows that the unemployment rate is far higher than the 4.2% that the Labor Department reports. And that the job growth each year — as I’ve been harping on — is mostly driven by guesstimates and adjustments made by government statisticians who apparently don’t live in the real world.

And, of course, the economy has been creating crappy-paying, benefit-lacking jobs that don’t come close to replacing the higher-quality employment that went bye-bye after the last recession. Last Friday, Labor said the jobless rate dipped in September to 4.2% from 4.4% in August — and its number crunchers also reported that 33,000 jobs were lost last month. It blamed the hurricanes. The experts were expecting the US economy to have added 100,000 new jobs despite the storms. Labor also announced that it revised August’s figures lower — from growth of 189,000 jobs to just 138,000. So instead of being reasonably good, August was blah, with nary a hurricane to blame.

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An award for not understanding?! If you ask me, the very fact that someone gets an award for ‘finding out’ that human behavior affects economies, says all you need to know about economics.

Nobel Economist Thaler Says He’s Nervous About Stock Market (BBG)

A buoyant and complacent stock market is worrying Richard H. Thaler, the University of Chicago professor who this week won the Nobel Prize in economics. “We seem to be living in the riskiest moment of our lives, and yet the stock market seems to be napping,” Thaler said, speaking by phone on Bloomberg TV. “I admit to not understanding it.” The S&P 500 index has been reaching repeated records since President Donald Trump’s election last November amid steady growth in the U.S. economy and labor market, as well as expectations for lower taxes, though policy action in Washington has been limited. Thaler, who has made a career of studying irrational and temptation-driven actions among economic actors and won the Nobel for such contributions to behavioral economics, expressed misgivings about the low volatility and continued optimism among investors.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m nervous, and it seems like when investors are nervous, they’re prone to being spooked,” Thaler said, “Nothing seems to spook the market” and if the gains are based on tax-reform expectations, “surely investors should have lost confidence that that was going to happen.” The economist said that he didn’t know “where anyone would get confidence” that tax reform is going to happen. “The Republican leadership does not seem to be interested in anything remotely bipartisan, and they need unanimity within their caucus, which they don’t have,” Thaler said. “And the president’s strategy of systematically insulting the votes he needs doesn’t seem to be optimizing anything I can think of, but maybe he’s a deeper thinker than me.”

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Schrödinger’s State. On Wikipedia, someone last night put Catalonia at no. 1 on the List of Shortest-Lived States. At 8 seconds, which is how long the applause lasted when Puigdemont said he had the mandate, only to say right after that he would hold off on executing the mandate. Wikipedia took it down.

Catalans Call Time Out on Independence Bid, Seek Spain Talks (BBG)

Catalan President Carles Puigdemont said that he’ll seek talks with the government in Madrid over the future of his region in Spain, rowing back from an immediate declaration of independence that threatened to turn a constitutional crisis into an economic one. Addressing the regional parliament in Barcelona on Tuesday evening after days of tension in Catalonia, Puigdemont said the result of an Oct. 1 referendum had given him the mandate to pursue independence, but he would hold off for “weeks” for dialogue on the way forward with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s administration. Rajoy convened an extraordinary meeting of his cabinet in Madrid on Wednesday at 9 a.m. to discuss his next move, and is due to address the Spanish Parliament on the crisis in Catalonia later in the day.

“Today Mr. Puigdemont has plunged Catalonia into the highest level of uncertainty,” Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria told reporters in Madrid late on Tuesday. “Neither Mr. Puigdemont nor anyone else can draw conclusions from a law that doesn’t exist, from a referendum that hasn’t taken place and from the wishes of the Catalan people which it’s trying to take over.” Pressure has piled on Puigdemont as the Spanish government and Catalan business leaders demand that he desist from pitching the region further down a path to independence that they warn would wreck the economy and tear apart Spain’s social fabric. Rajoy has consistently ruled out talks until the Catalans drop the threat of a declaration of independence that is illegal under Spanish law.

“Today I assume the mandate for Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic,” Puigdemont said to cheers from the packed assembly, with Catalan police deployed around the parliament perimeter. “We propose the suspension of the effects of the declaration of independence for a few weeks, to open a period of dialogue.”

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When equity is debt.

China Debt-for-Equity Swaps Turn Out More Like Debt-for-Debt (BBG)

A key Chinese initiative to rein in the world’s largest corporate-debt load has been a program swapping some loans into equity stakes. As the initiative gets going, however, it’s becoming clear the debt isn’t really going away. In a late-summer notice, central government officials said that new bonds should be used to finance the swaps, effectively moving the debt off the balance sheets of the original lenders onto those buying the new debt. The first such deal came last month, according to China Lianhe Credit Rating Co., a domestic rating firm. Shaanxi Coal and Chemical Industry Group Co., a troubled old-line industrial company, was targeted for a debt-for-equity swap. Then the Shaanxi provincial government in northwest China set up an asset-management company to raise new debt to pay off the existing lending that was designated to be swapped for an equity stake.

One criticism of the debt-for-equity initiative, which was launched a year ago, is that it keeps afloat struggling enterprises, leaving excess capacity intact and pulling down productivity. The Shaanxi example shows a further weakness: while the company won’t need to service debt any more, the new asset-management unit will – without any new source of revenue having been generated. “If the funding comes from debt, it’s really not solving the issue here because the capital is not permanent capital,” Christopher Lee, managing director of corporate ratings at S&P Global Ratings in Hong Kong. “In fact, you are adding more debt just to refinance the debt that was going to be swapped.”

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Australia lives off its bubble. It’s all that’s left.

Chinese Investors Keep Pouring Money Into Australian Housing (BBG)

Property-hungry Chinese investors have shrugged off the impact of tighter capital controls and continue to pour money into Australian housing. Foreign buyers are acquiring about a quarter of new housing supply in New South Wales, and China accounts for about 90% of that demand, according to Credit Suisse analysis of tax office data. Foreigners are buying 17% of new housing in Victoria, and 8% in Queensland, Credit Suisse said. While local property agents say higher state taxes on foreigners are deterring buyers, Credit Suisse isn’t so sure they will have a big impact on prices.

They point to even-higher taxes in other global cities, the relative cheapness of Australian property compared to Chinese cities, and the growing stock of wealth in China. “Local incomes are becoming less relevant in determining the outlook for house prices and regional wealth is becoming more relevant,’’ Credit Suisse analysts Hasan Tevfik and Peter Liu said in the report. “We see no evidence of a slowdown in foreign demand because of the stronger capital controls introduced by Chinese authorities.” That’s not good news for locals already struggling to break into the booming housing market.

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WHy would anyone still want to buy a car or plane made with Kobe metals? Imagine the lawsuits if accidents happen.

Kobe Steel Shares Plunge As Data Fabrication Concerns Deepen (R.)

Kobe Steel shares tumbled a further 16% on Wednesday after it admitted it may have fabricated data on iron powder products and media reported the possible sale of its real estate business. The latest disclosure comes after Japan’s No.3 steelmaker said on the weekend it had falsified data to show that its aluminum and copper products had met customer specifications, and suggests the problems could be widespread. Japanese manufacturers were thrown into turmoil by the revelation, with implications for materials used in cars, aircraft and possibly a space rocket and defense equipment.

Shares in Kobe Steel were down 15.73% at 900 yen as of 0114 GMT on Wednesday, underperforming the broader market which was steady. They fell 22% the previous day. A Kobe Steel spokesman confirmed a report on Wednesday in the Yomiuri newspaper saying the firm may have fabricated data on iron powder products used in components such as automotive gears. He said the company was investigating the issue. The Nikkei business daily meanwhile reported that Kobe Steel intended to put its real estate business on the block in an effort to shore up already shaky finances now threatened by the data falsification scandal.

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And that’s after all those trillions in support.

51 Eurozone Banks Vulnerable To Rate Shocks – ECB (R.)

Fifty-one large euro zone banks are leaving themselves exposed to a sudden change in interest rates and may need to aside more capital against that risk, the European Central Bank said on Monday. The ECB is preparing to start dialing back its monetary stimulus after years of ultra-low interest rates and massive bond purchases, paving the ground for rate hikes further down the line. After simulating scenarios ranging from a sudden monetary tightening to the kind of lending freeze that followed Lehman Brothers’ collapse, the ECB found that most of the 111 euro zone banks it tested are well prepared for interest rates shocks. But it cautioned it needed “intense discussions” with 51 of them after finding they may be making themselves vulnerable via large bets on derivative instruments and overly aggressive models for calculating risk.

A hike in interest rates could mean the banks suddenly need more capital. “What we need to do is have intense discussions and check with the banks if they’re aware of the… risk and if they have enough capital if things go wrong,” Korbinian Ibel, a senior supervisor at the ECB, said. Results of the test, which started in February, are incorporated into the ECB’s guidance on how much capital each lender on its watch should hold. Ibel said the 51 banks may, in principle, see their capital demands rise by up to 25 basis points, although any decision would depend on the individual circumstances of each firm. Similarly, the remaining 60 banks could see their guidance reduced by the same amount.

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Crypto makes it too easy for money to leave a country.

Russian Central Bank To Ban Websites Offering Crypto-Currencies (R.)

Russia will block access to websites of exchanges that offer crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin, Russian Central Bank First Deputy Governor Sergei Shvetsov said on Tuesday. He called them “dubious”. Russian financial authorities initially treated any sort of money issued by non-state approved institutions as illegal, saying they could be used to launder money. Later the authorities accepted the globally booming market of crypto-currencies but want to either control the turnover or to limit access to the market “We cannot stand apart. We cannot give direct and easy access to such dubious instruments for retail (investors),” Shvetsov said, referring to households.

Speaking at a conference on financial market derivatives, Shvetsov said the central bank sees rising interest in crypto-currencies because of high returns from buying into such instruments. He warned, however, that crypto-currencies gradually transform into high-yielding assets from being a mean of payment. “We think that for our citizens, for businesses the usage of such crypto-currencies as an investment object carries unreasonably high risks,” he said. Russian authorities said earlier this year they would like to regulate the use of crypto-currencies by Russian citizens and companies.

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$4 million? That’s the damage?

Fukushima Court Rules Tepco, Government Liable Over 2011 Disaster (R.)

A district court in Fukushima prefecture on Tuesday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power and the Japanese government were liable for damages totaling about 500 million yen ($4.44 million) in the largest class action lawsuit brought over the 2011 nuclear disaster, Kyodo news agency said. A group of about 3,800 people, mostly in Fukushima prefecture, filed the class action suit, marking the biggest number of plaintiffs out of about 30 similar class action lawsuits filed across the nation. This is the second court ruling that fixed the government’s responsibility after a Maebashi district court decision in March.

All the three district court decisions so far have ordered Tepco to pay damages. Only the Chiba court decision last month did not find the government liable for compensation. The plaintiffs in Fukushima case have called on defendants for reinstating the levels of radioactivity at their homes before the disaster, but the court rejected the request, Kyodo said. Tepco has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and the company and the government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.

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Incredible. You’d expect to see this in Bombay perhaps, or Lagos.

10% of New York City Public School Students Were Homeless Last Year (NYT)

The number of homeless students in the New York City public school system rose again last year, according to state data released on Tuesday. The increase pushed the city over a sober milestone: One in every 10 public school students was homeless at some point during the 2016-17 school year. More than 111,500 students in New York City schools were homeless during the last academic year, a 6% increase over the year before and enough people to populate a small city. Of the overall figure, 104,000 students attended regular district public schools, while the rest were in charter schools. Statewide, 148,000 students were homeless, or about 5% of the state’s public school population.

The data was released by the New York State Technical and Education Assistance Center for Homeless Students, a project of Advocates for Children of New York funded by the state Education Department. The plight of homeless students is part of the entrenched and growing problem of homelessness confronting New York City and Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is pushing a controversial plan to expand the city’s shelter system. After rising steadily for about five years, the number of homeless students reported to the state shot up in the 2015-16 school year, reaching nearly 100,000 children, and in the last school year the numbers crossed that threshold. The count this year is the highest since the state began keeping records.

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Not great title for interesting article.

The European Union Is Doomed to Fail (FEE)

Have you ever heard of Deutsch Jahrndorf? No? I don’t blame you. The tiny Austrian village, which is situated four miles from the Danube, is utterly unremarkable, except for the fact that it sits on the border of three countries. To the east is Slovakia. To the south lies Hungary. As such, within shouting distance of one another, live three peoples speaking completely unintelligible languages. Austria belongs to the West Germanic language group, Hungary to Finno-Ugric and Slovakia to West Slavic. I thought about the exquisitely rich tapestry of European languages, cultures, customs, and nationalities as I watched the sad spectacle of Spanish riot police and Catalan separatists confronting one another on the streets of Barcelona. How on earth can the European Union unite that which history forced asunder?

The European Union, French President Emmanuel Macron has recently declared to almost universal acclaim, needs more unity, including the creation of “a eurozone budget managed by a eurozone parliament and a eurozone finance minister”. The need for the centralization of power in Brussels is, apparently, the lesson that the EU establishment has learned from the outcome of the British referendum on EU membership. Meanwhile, in Catalonia, millions of people have set their sights on independence from Spain. Foremost among their complaints is that the Catalan budget is influenced by Madrid. Independence, the Catalans feel, will rectify a grave injustice occasioned by the French capture of Barcelona in 1714. The conqueror, Duke of Anjou, became the first Bourbon king of Spain under the name of Philip V. His descendant, Philip VI, is on the throne today. In Europe, ancient lineages last as long as ancient resentments.

Therein lies the conundrum of European unification. On the one hand, people throughout much of Europe desire greater autonomy. Madrid has the vexing problem of the Basque Country to worry about as well as Catalonia. In Italy, Padania and South Tyrol in the North don’t feel like they have very much in common with the Mezzogiorno in the South. Corsica does not want to be French and Britain has only recently revisited a territorial arrangement that dates back to 1707. On the other hand, every separatist movement in Europe declares its support for the project of European unification. But, how likely is it that people annoyed by Madrid, Rome, Paris, and London will be happy to have their affairs decided upon in Brussels? Will the Catalans, resentful of subsidizing farmers in Andalusia, quietly have no problem with subsidizing Polish peasants in Lower Silesia?

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Monbiot has some nice ideas, but underestimates the degree to which our societies profit from carbon. And why bring in Labour?

How Labour Could Lead The Global Economy Out Of The 20th Century (G.)

We are still living in the long 20th century. We are stuck with its redundant technologies: the internal combustion engine, thermal power plants, factory farms. We are stuck with its redundant politics: unfair electoral systems, their capture by funders and lobbyists, the failure to temper representation with real participation. And we are stuck with its redundant economics: neoliberalism, and the Keynesianism still proposed by its opponents. While the latter system worked very well for 30 years or more, it is hard to see how it can take us through this century, not least because the growth it seeks to sustain smacks headlong into the environmental crisis. Sustained economic growth on a planet that is not growing means crashing through environmental limits: this is what we are witnessing, worldwide, today.

A recent paper in Nature puts our current chances of keeping global heating to less than 1.5C at just 1%, and less than 2C at only 5%. Why? Because while the carbon intensity of economic activity is expected to decline by 1.9% a year, global per capita GDP is expected to grow by 1.8%. Almost all investment in renewables and efficiency is cancelled out. The index that was supposed to measure our prosperity, instead measures our progress towards ruin. But the great rupture that began in 2008 offers a chance to change all this. The challenge now is to ensure that the new political movements threatening established power in Britain and elsewhere create the space not for old ideas (such as 20th-century Keynesianism) but for a new politics, built on new economic and social foundations.

There may be a case for one last hurrah for the old model: a technological shift that resembles the second world war’s military Keynesianism. In 1941 the US turned the entire civilian economy around on a dime: within months, car manufacturers were producing planes, tanks and ammunition. A determined government could do something similar in response to climate breakdown: a sudden transformation, replacing our fossil economy. But having effected such a conversion, it should, I believe, then begin the switch to a different economic model.

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Featuring Dwayne Johnson? All we need then is a ferret to play Dijsselbloem.

I Will Make A Film Based On Adults in the Room (Costa Gavras)

When the crisis began, the tragedy that the Greek people are still living through, I began to gather material and information in an attempt to make sense of the reasons and the people – published, filmic and oral. However, what I was missing were the goings on behind the closed doors, where the representatives of the European Union and the Greek people met. On 16th July 2015, just after his resignation, I sent a text message to Yanis Varoufakis, whom I did not know personally. In that message I wrote: “Reading your interview in the New Statesman, I believe I found what I have been looking for a long time: the subject for a film, a piece of fiction, about a Europe governed by a group of cynical people disconnected from human, political and cultural concerns – obsessed with numbers and them alone.”

Soon, the arrangements were made and Michele, my wife, and I visited Yanis and Danae in Greece a few weeks later. Meanwhile I read two of his books, The Global Minotaur (London: Zed Books, 2011,2015) and the manuscript of a book he was completing at that time entitled And The Weak Suffer What They Must? (London: The Bodley Head, 2016). I was impressed by the quality and originality of their content, as well as the prose. When we met we had long conversations, in the context of which he let me know that he was about to begin writing his own account of his tenure as Greece’s finance minister, a tale of being an outsider in politics, of the negotiations in the Eurogroup – that illegitimate but ultra powerful EU body. I asked to read the manuscript. He agreed and began sending it to me chapter by chapter, as the book was being written.

Immediately I was convinced by the text’s seriousness and the accuracy of the description of the behaviour of each of the tragedy’s protagonists. Reading it saddened me, and I found myself often angered, indeed enraged, by the violence and the indifference of Eurogroup members, especially the German side, to the drama and unsustainable situation in which the people of Greece lived, and live. I decided to make a film out of this tragedy. Yanis Varoufakis gave me the rights to his book and absolute freedom to adapt it.

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Words fail.

Self-Harm, Suicide Attempts Rise In Greek Refugee Camps (Reuters)

A mental health emergency is unfolding in migrant camps on Greece’s islands, fueled by poor living conditions, neglect and violence, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Tuesday. Medical staff have seen a sharp increase in people trying to get help after attempting suicide, harming themselves or suffering psychotic episodes, the humanitarian organization said in a report. More than 13,000 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians and Iraqis fleeing years of war, are living in five camps on Greek islands close to Turkey, government figures show. Four of those camps are holding two to three times as many people as they were designed for. “Every day our teams treat patients who tell us that they would prefer to have died in their country than be trapped here,” said Jayne Grimes, manager of MSF’s mental health activities on Samos.

The organization said six or seven new patients had visited its clinic on the nearby island of Lesvos each week over the summer following suicide attempts, self-harm or psychotic episodes, 50% more than the previous three months. Violence which many experienced on the journey or in Greece was one factor aggravating mental distress, MSF said. “I know I need to find hope, but when the night falls and I see where I am, I feel like I’m going crazy,” it quoted a Syrian man as saying. The 25-year-old said he was haunted by the images of people dying of hunger in front of him in the long-besieged town of Madaya. “I still remember the taste of the leaves and the smell of death,” he said. On Samos, more than 3,000 people are crammed into facilities designed to hold 700, and about 400 live in the woods. In one Lesvos camp, about 1,500 people are in makeshift shelters or tents without flooring or heating, the UN refugee agency says.

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Oct 102017
 
 October 10, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Camille Pissarro Rue Saint-Lazare, Paris 1897

 

Britain Can’t Cope With A Fall In House Prices (Ind.)
A Remarkable Run for Stocks Gets More Extraordinary (BBG)
Bill Gross Blames Fed For ‘Fake Markets’ (R.)
ECB’s Knot Warns of Market Correction as Risk May Be Underpriced (BBG)
Catalan President To Declare “Gradual Independence” On Tuesday (ZH)
Dear Catalans – A Message From The Chairman (Ren.)
The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron (Steve Keen)
Kobe Steel Faked Data For Metals Used In Planes And Cars (BBG)
Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, Theresa May Warns Britain (Ind.)
The Rising Of Britain’s ‘New Politics’ (John Pilger)
Saudi Arabia In Huge Arms Deals With US AND Russia (N.au)
India Had The Most Confident Consumers. Then Their Cash Disappeared (BBG)
The Big Amazon Subsidy is Doomed (WS)
No Joy in Trumpville (Kunstler)

 

 

Britain and many other countries. Their economies are propped up by bubbles.

Britain Can’t Cope With A Fall In House Prices (Ind.)

[..] most properties in the UK still belong to households. Families, by and large, don’t need to sell. So what would falling property prices mean for them? First, many pension funds and investment bonds rely on UK property to generate income for their beneficiaries. Second, we have what economists call the wealth effect. Economists have long associated consumers’ perceived real estate wealth with spending behaviour: if you believe your house is worth a lot, you feel financially secure. And then you allow yourself to save less and spend more. Just consider the rising number of people who plan to subsidise their retirement with wealth generated by their homes. If their assumed valuations start to look shaky, these people will spend less to build up their savings. The pain would be felt by many: about 64% of households in England are owner-occupiers.

The wealth effect is important in most developed economies but even more so in the UK which relies on ever-rising levels of consumer spending for its growth. A 10% fall in the value of dwellings in the UK would correspond to a loss of wealth equivalent to more than the value of all the cars exported from the UK in a decade. The climate of economic uncertainty, reduced consumption and falling real estate values brings an additional problem for the UK. Britain has long had a trade deficit, but it has also benefited from positive foreign direct investment. The current account itself has been in the red for nearly 20 years now but the hundreds of billions of inward foreign investment channelled to UK property over the same period meant that this deficit remained manageable – just about.

According to the Bank of England, overseas companies have accounted for roughly half of all UK commercial real estate transactions since 2013. If international investors expect prices to fall in any sustained way, the inflow of money would stop and many would sell up. Why buy or hold an asset just at the start of what might be a long decline? This would not only put pressure on real estate prices but would affect UK GDP, reduce government revenues and worsen the UK current account position. The credit rating of the UK would come under more pressure, and trillions of UK government debt would cost more to refinance. Then the UK government deficit would deteriorate further, taxes might rise to cover for this and the domino effect would be in full cry, spreading to all sectors of the economy, similar to events in Greece.

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Bloated. No heartbeat.

A Remarkable Run for Stocks Gets More Extraordinary (BBG)

With a 2% gain in September, the S&P 500 Index has set a record: positive returns in each of the first 10 months of the year. There’s never been a full calendar year when this has happened every month. Going back to November 2016, the index has ripped off 12 consecutive monthly gains. The S&P hasn’t had a down quarter since the third quarter of 2015, a streak of eight in a row without a loss. Since the start of 2013, 18 of the past 19 quarters have been positive. And it’s not like stocks are melting up either. They are going up slowly as volatility is slowly going down. Not only have stocks been consistently profitable recently, but they have done so with remarkably low volatility. This year, there has yet to be a 2% move up or down on the S&P 500.

For a frame of reference, in 2009, there were 55 separate 2% up or down days and there were 35 in 2011. The annualized volatility of daily returns on stocks since 1928 has been 18.7%. For 2017, that number is 7%, a little more than one-third of the long-term average. The average absolute daily price change this year on the S&P 500 is just 31 basis points. If the year ended right now, that would be the lowest daily price change on record since 1965. The worst peak-to-trough drawdown is just 2.8% this year. Over the past 100 years, the average intrayear drawdown in stocks has been around 16%. The shallowest calendar-year peak-to-trough drawdown was in 1995, when the worst loss in stocks was just 3.3% for the year.

So investors in U.S. stocks have had double-digit gains three-quarters of the way through the year, with increases every month, nonexistent volatility, and nothing even approaching a 5% correction. It’s looking like a record-breaking year in terms of a calm market. As far as investing in stocks goes, this year has been about as good as it gets – so far. It’s worth remembering that stocks are cyclical, even if those cycles don’t run on set schedules. The following shows the historical drawdown profile of the S&P 500 going back to just before the Great Depression:

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There are no investors: “There is no real advantage in the global marketplace. Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.”

Bill Gross Blames Fed For ‘Fake Markets’ (R.)

Influential bond investor Bill Gross of Janus Henderson Investors said on Monday that financial markets are artificially compressed and capitalism distorted because of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s loose monetary policy. “I think we have fake markets,” Gross said at a Janus Henderson event. Investors should brace for higher Treasury bond yields as the Fed begins to unwind its quantitative easing program but yields will edge up “only gradually,” he said. Gross, who oversees the $2.1 billion Janus Henderson Global Unconstrained Bond Fund, said the Fed’s loose monetary policy had resulted in investors chasing yield and thus producing tight corporate spreads everywhere around the globe.

“Even China and South Korea – perfect examples of the risk trade – are at very narrow (corporate spread) levels. There is no real advantage in the global marketplace. Everything is so tight, it is hard to pick a winner from a group that is fake.” Gross reiterated his warning that Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other global policy makers should not rely on historical models such as the Taylor Rule and the Phillips curve “in an era of extraordinary monetary policy.” Economists John Taylor and A.W. Phillips devised models for guiding interest-rate policy based, respectively, on inflation and the unemployment rate. Those models disregard the importance of private credit in the economy, according to Gross.

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In complete denial of what they have wrought.

ECB’s Knot Warns of Market Correction as Risk May Be Underpriced (BBG)

Financial markets may be underpricing global risks, leaving them vulnerable to a major correction, according to European Central Bank Governing Council member Klaas Knot warned. As global stocks surge, measures of volatility suggest unprecedented calm even as crises around the world – including the Catalan separatists in Spain, Turkey’s diplomatic row with the U.S., North Korea’s missile tests and the danger of a hard Brexit – make political headlines. “It increasingly feels uncomfortable to have low volatility in the markets on the one hand while on the other hand there are risks in the global economy,” said Knot, who is also the president of the Dutch Central Bank.

Similarly, a sooner-than-expected normalization of U.S. monetary policy – where financial markets see a slower pace of rate hikes than what the Federal Reserve communicates – would quickly turn investor sentiment, the DNB wrote in a report on financial stability which Knot presented in Amsterdam on Monday. That makes the “risk of sharp market corrections real,” it said. Still, Knot said there’s “no one within the context of the ECB already talking about an increase of interest rates. Rates will “stay low for a long time.” In the run-up to the next policy decision on Oct. 26, ECB officials are showing differing preferences for the way forward with quantitative easing, which is set to run at €60 billion a month and total almost €2.3 trillion by the end of December.

Executive Board member Peter Praet, who crafts the policy proposals, said last week that calm markets may allow the final stages of the bond-buying plan to be dragged out. “The program has achieved what realistically could be expected from it,” Knot said about QE, adding that it supported growth, reduced investment costs and ended deflationary risks.

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Talk!

Catalan President To Declare “Gradual Independence” On Tuesday (ZH)

In the latest twist ahead of tomorrow’s much anticipated “next step” announcement to be made by the Catalan secessionists, which is still to be formalized, Spain’s EFE newswire reports that Catalonian President Carles Puigdemont has reportedly drafted a declaration of “gradual independence”, that will be “gradually effective” and which will plan to start a constituent process. The declaration, which will cap what El Periodico dubbed “the most critical moment for Catalonia” will allegedly insist on Catalonia’s wish to negotiate with central government and the need for mediation, although in an indication that Puigdemont may be back tracking from his hard-line “binary” stance, EFE adds that the Declaration won’t lead to parliamentary vote, and as such may be non-binding. The news is the latest development in a fast-paced day, in which as we reported earlier this morning, the ruling People’s Party issued a thinly veiled death threat to the President of Catalonia.

“Let’s hope that nothing is declared tomorrow because perhaps the person who makes the decalartion will end up like the person who made the declaration 83 years ago.” Additionally, perhaps as a Plan B, Catalan secessionists opened a second-front in their campaign against the government in Madrid, urging the opposition Socialists to forge a coalition to oust Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Bloomberg reported and added that while the Socialists have so far refused to sign up to the plan, the Catalan groups pushing it have already persuaded the populist Podemos party to back and accept a Socialist-only government. Should the Socialists get on board, the alliance would have 172 seats in the 350-strong chamber and would look to add the Basque Nationalists to form a majority. Rajoy heads a minority administration with 134 deputies and can be toppled with a no-confidence motion.

Meanwhile, as reported overnight, Catalan secessionist leader Carles Puigdemont faced increased pressure on Monday to abandon plans to declare independence from Spain, with France and Germany expressing support for the country’s unity. The Madrid government, grappling with Spain’s biggest political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981, said it would respond immediately to any such unilateral declaration.

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But then there’s this.

Dear Catalans – A Message From The Chairman (Ren.)

Dear Catalans, I must confess that I feel rather like St. Paul must have felt when he wrote to the Corinthians – the need to address an entire region is a grave affair. But the matter I must address today is of great importance to our community of nations: Enough is enough. We need to get a few things cleared up before this regrettable idea of independence goes any further. There are a number of things that have been rather opaque since we set up the EU. This was deliberate – there was simply no reason for you to know until now. There should never have been any need to disclose this information, and indeed there wouldn’t have been, were it not for those tiresome Brits setting such a terrible example for everyone last year. We must resolve this matter quickly so that we can all get back to the business of being one big happy family again. Here’s what you need to know: We ‘own’ Spain, and Spain ‘owns’ you.

Since you have seen reason to doubt the binding nature of this arrangement, perhaps I should explain to you how it works: Catalonia is a wholly owned subsidiary of Spain – this is all covered in the constitution, and is totally binding, although you may not have realised that when you voted upon it. 1) It was democratic you see – one simply must read the small print, but of course one never does, does one? 2) Spain is a subsidiary of the EU – this is all covered by EU treaty, which of course is also binding, as has been explained on a number of occasions by our Head of European Political Operations, dear Jean-Claude. The following points may be difficult for you to understand, because we’ve never had to explain the structure beyond this point.

3) The EU is not owned by anyone, but of course ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ are really the same thing, but without all the legal drudgery that has become so tiresome of late. 4) The EU is controlled by the monetary system that we put in place. I am not referring to the euro, which is simply the local mechanism for this region. I am referring to the banking system, which over-arches everything. The banks are the organisations that loan the money into existence in the first place. You didn’t know that did you? Don’t worry, very few people do…and that’s worked very well until now. This is how it works: a) Governments don’t actually buy anything with taxes. They spend money that the banks loan to them by buying their IOUs, AKA sovereign bonds. b) When governments eventually get round to collecting taxes they use them to cancel some of their IOUs, plus they pay interest on all of them – naturally.

c) Since all politicians inevitably make promises that they can’t afford in order to get elected – a practice that we encourage by funding both sides – there is never enough taxation collected to fully redeem the IOUs, and there never will be. Why not? Because of the 8th wonder of the world – compound interest! Governments across the globe are paying the banks interest on interest on interest on money that they could have just printed for themselves in the first place!

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Major demo’s all over France today. Macron plans to fire 100,000+ civil servants.

The Rise and Fall of Emmanuel Macron (Steve Keen)

Since his election, Macron’s popularity has plunged faster than any French president in history. Attempts to explain this decline have focused on his pompous approach to governance—literally professing to want to govern like Jupiter. But there is a deeper cause. He has misdiagnosed the origins of the French economic malaise, and therefore his Jovian economic thunderbolts will do more harm than good. It’s easy to show the blatant errors in the president’s perspective by merely looking at the data. Macron’s economic agenda cites an excessively large public sector as the fundamental cause of France’s malaise, and the main ‘Evidence for the Prosecution’ is the towering level of government debt: as of March 2017, this was 111% of GDP, almost twice the 60% of GDP maximum allowed by the Maastricht Treaty.

But private liabilities are worse still: 187% of GDP. So, why does Macron, in common with politicians of almost all stripes, not worry about this far higher level of debt? The reason is that, given he was schooled in mainstream economics for his Master’s degree at ENA (École Nationale d’administration), Macron accepts the argument that private debt doesn’t matter. It’s just a “pure redistribution”, to quote Ben Bernanke, which “absent implausibly large differences in marginal spending propensities” between savers and lenders, “should have no significant macroeconomic effects.” This comforting belief is sharply contradicted by the data for countries which, like France, have a private debt ratio well in excess of 100% of GDP. If Bernanke’s assumption were correct, there would be little or no correlation between credit (the annual change in private debt) and unemployment.

However, in his home country of the USA, the relationship between credit and unemployment since 1990 is minus 0.91: meaning rising credit reduces unemployment, and falling credit increases it. In France’s case, the correlation is lower but still substantial at minus 0.62, when according to mainstream economics, it should be close to zero. So credit matters, not merely because savers are much less likely to consume than debtors, but because bank credit creates new money. Since this new cash is spent by the borrowers, it adds to aggregate demand. And falling credit over time—which France has generally been experiencing since the early 1970s—therefore implies rising unemployment.

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This could spiral out of control. Why would any company take the risk of deadly incidents, instead of demanding recalls?

Kobe Steel Faked Data For Metals Used In Planes And Cars (BBG)

Kobe Steel unleashed an industrial scandal that reverberated across Asia’s second-largest economy after saying its staff falsified data related to strength and durability of some aluminum and copper products used in aircraft, cars and maybe even a space rocket. The Japanese company’s stock ended 22% lower in Tokyo as customers including Toyota, Honda and Subaru said they had used materials from Kobe Steel that were subject to falsification. Boeing, which gets some parts from Subaru, said there’s nothing to date that raises any safety concerns. Rival aluminum makers gained. Kobe Steel’s admission raises fresh concern about the integrity of Japanese manufacturers, and follows Takata misleading automakers about the safety of its air bags, and last week’s recall by Nissan of cars after regulators discovered unauthorized inspectors approved vehicle quality.

Kobe Steel said on Sunday the products were delivered to more than 200 companies but didn’t disclose customer names, with the falsification intended to make the metals look as if they met client quality standards. Chief Executive Officer Hiroya Kawasaki is now leading a committee to probe quality issues. The fabrication of figures was found at all four of Kobe Steel’s local aluminum plants in conduct that was systematic, and for some items the practice dated back some 10 years ago, Executive Vice President Naoto Umehara said on Sunday. Toyota said it has found Kobe Steel materials, for which the supplier falsified data, in hoods, doors and peripheral areas. “We are rapidly working to identify which vehicle models might be subject to this situation and what components were used,” Toyota spokesman Takashi Ogawa said. “We recognize that this breach of compliance principles on the part of a supplier is a grave issue.”

Kobe Steel said it discovered the falsification in inspections on products shipped from September 2016 to August 2017, adding there haven’t been any reports of safety issues. The products account for 4% of shipments of aluminum and copper parts as well as castings and forgings. “The incident is serious,” said Takeshi Irisawa at Tachibana Securities. “At the moment, the impact is unclear but if this leads to recalls, the cost would be huge. There’s a possibility that the company would have to shoulder the cost of a recall in addition to the cost for replacement.”

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We might be in for some crazy surprises in the UK. They’ve lost the script.

Prepare For No-Deal Brexit, Theresa May Warns Britain (Ind.)

Theresa May has warned the British public to prepare for crashing out of the EU with no deal, setting out emergency plans to avoid border meltdown for businesses and travellers. As hopes of an agreement appeared to fade at home and abroad, the Prime Minister – for the first time – set out detailed “steps to minimise disruption” on Brexit day in 2019. They included plans for huge inland lorry parks to cope with the lengthy new customs checks that will be needed – to avoid ports becoming traffic-choked. The move came as Ms May admitted she expected the deadlocked negotiations to drag on for another year before any possible breakthrough. At Westminster, Brexiteer Tories exploited the Prime Minister’s weakness – after last week’s attempted coup – to demand that Chancellor Philip Hammond, and other voices of compromise, be sidelined.

Bernard Jenkin attacked the EU for “refusing to discuss the long term relationship between the EU and the UK”, asking the Prime Minister: “When does she call time?” Meanwhile, in Brussels, Ms May’s insistence that she would make no further compromises in the talks – she told the EU “the ball’s in their court” – was firmly rebuffed. “There has been, so far, no solution found on step one, which is the divorce proceedings, so the ball is entirely in the UK’s court for the rest to happen,” said Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s chief spokesman. Laying bare the impasse, Brexit Secretary David Davis did not attend the first day of the resumed talks, although he is expected to be in Brussels on Tuesday.

In the Commons, the Prime Minister continued to insist that “real and tangible progress” towards an agreement had been made since her high-profile speech in Florence last month. But she also made clear that new policy papers on trade and customs were intended to show Britain could operate as an “independent trading nation” – even if no trade deal was reached.

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Always Pilger.

The Rising Of Britain’s ‘New Politics’ (John Pilger)

Delegates to the recent Labour Party conference in Brighton seemed not to notice a video playing. The world’s third biggest arms manufacturer, BAE Systems, supplier to Saudi Arabia, was promoting guns, bombs, missiles, naval ships and fighter aircraft. It seemed a perfidious symbol of a party in which millions of Britons now invest their political hopes. Once the preserve of Tony Blair, it is now led by Jeremy Corbyn, whose career has been very different and is rare in British establishment politics. Addressing the conference, the campaigner Naomi Klein described the rise of Corbyn as “part of a global phenomenon. We saw it in Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign in the US primaries, powered by millennials who know that safe centrist politics offers them no kind of safe future.”

In fact, at the end of the US primary elections last year, Sanders led his followers into the arms of Hillary Clinton, a liberal warmonger from a long tradition in the Democratic Party. As President Obama’s Secretary of State, Clinton presided over the invasion of Libya in 2011, which led to a stampede of refugees to Europe. She gloated at the gruesome murder of Libya’s president. Two years earlier, Clinton signed off on a coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of Honduras. That she has been invited to Wales on 14 October to be given an honorary doctorate by the University of Swansea because she is “synonymous with human rights” is unfathomable. Like Clinton, Sanders is a cold-warrior and “anti-communist” obsessive with a proprietorial view of the world beyond the United States.

He supported Bill Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s illegal assault on Yugoslavia in 1998 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, as well as Barack Obama’s campaign of terrorism by drone. He backs the provocation of Russia and agrees that the whistleblower Edward Snowden should stand trial. He has called the late Hugo Chavez – a social democrat who won multiple elections – “a dead communist dictator”. While Sanders is a familiar American liberal politician, Corbyn may be a phenomenon, with his indefatigable support for the victims of American and British imperial adventures and for popular resistance movements. [..] And yet, now Corbyn is closer to power than he might have ever imagined, his foreign policy remains a secret. By secret, I mean there has been rhetoric and little else. “We must put our values at the heart of our foreign policy,” he said at the Labour conference. But what are these “values”?

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Stop!

Saudi Arabia In Huge Arms Deals With US AND Russia (N.au)

Saudi Arabia has been quietly planning to build its own military empire and over the last week, it’s announced how it plans to do so. With Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s help. Despite increasing criticism over the United States’ military sales to Saudi Arabia, the US State Department has paved the way for the potential purchase of controversial — and expensive — military equipment. On Saturday, the US State Department announced the approval to sell Saudi Arabia 44 THAAD anti-missile defence systems, 360 interceptor missiles, 16 mobile fire-control and communication stations and seven THAAD radars at an estimated price tag of $US15 billion, according to a press release from the Pentagon’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency.

The sale, supplied by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon – also includes 43 trucks, generators, electrical power units, communications equipment, tools, test and maintenance equipment and “personnel training and training equipment”. The department said the sale of the equipment to the Saudi people would help provide a balance to a relatively unstable environment in the Gulf and to help the US forces enlarge its allied grip on the region. “THAAD’s exo-atmospheric, hit-to-kill capability will add an upper-tier to Saudi Arabia’s layered missile defence architecture.” Meanwhile, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has entered into a preliminary agreement to purchase Russia’s S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system, he announced in Moscow last week. The king has been visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin in talks over oil and Syria, Saudi’s al Arabiya television reported. It is the first visit of a Saudi monarch to visit Mr Putin. It is expected the sale will beef-up security in the nuclear-hungry Middle East.

The US sale has not yet “concluded”, it confirmed. US Congress has 30 days to object. The THAAD – Terminal High Altitude Area Defence – missile system is used to defend against incoming missile attacks and “is one of the most capable defensive missile batteries in the US arsenal and comes equipped with an advanced radar system”, according to AFP. “This sale furthers US national security and foreign policy interests, and supports the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian and other regional threats,” the State Department said in a statement.

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“Manufacturing jobs are forecast to fall about 30% this year..”

India Had The Most Confident Consumers. Then Their Cash Disappeared (BBG)

Consumption was India’s big story. Its 1.3 billion population was expected to guzzle everything from iron to iPhones, driving global growth and cheering investors such as Apple and Goldman Sachs. For a while everything seemed smooth. Indians were the world’s most confident consumers and the $2 trillion economy was the fastest-growing big market. Then, last November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi voided 86% of currency in circulation, worsening a slowdown that had started earlier in the year. Climbing global oil prices and a tightening Federal Reserve could also complicate domestic policy making. “There are a number of uncertainties which are clouding the short-term outlook of the Indian economy,” said Kaushik Das, Mumbai-based chief economist at Deutsche Bank. “Risk of policy error remains high.”

Indians fell off the top of Mastercard’s Asia Consumer Confidence Index in the first half of 2017, and a report from the nation’s central bank last week confirmed the bleak outlook. About 27% of Indians surveyed said incomes have fallen, pushing overall sentiment into the “pessimistic zone.” Employment “has been the biggest cause of worry,” the Reserve Bank of India said. Government data show food price deflation, hurting rural incomes, and supply of new houses in India’s top eight cities falling 33% January-September, hit by a demand slowdown. Convincing Indians to consume would first require assuring them they’ll have a job. It won’t be easy for Modi to do so. Manufacturing jobs are forecast to fall about 30% this year and broader surveys show the hiring outlook is near a 12-year low. There was an absolute decline in employment between March 2014 and 2016, “perhaps happening for the first time in independent India”.

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Politics can’t and won’t keep up.

The Big Amazon Subsidy is Doomed (WS)

Amazon battled states for years to avoid having to collect sales taxes. Walmart was on the other side of the fight, along with state revenue offices. Walmart had to add sales taxes to all its sales in California, whether online or brick-and-mortar, which at the time ranged from 7.25% to 9.75% depending on location. For shoppers, that price difference was reason enough to switch to Amazon. It was in essence a massive taxpayer subsidy for Amazon. But Amazon lost that battle and started charging sales taxes in California in September, 2012. State after state followed. By early 2017, Amazon was charging sales taxes in all 45 states that have state-wide sales taxes and in Washington DC.

Still, even in 2016, online retailers dodged paying $17.2 billion in sales taxes on out-of-state sales, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. For them, it’s a massive price advantage that other retailers didn’t get. The fight over sales taxes is based on a Supreme Court case of 1992 – Quill Corp. v. North Dakota – that barred states from forcing companies to collect sales taxes if they didn’t have physical facilities in those states, such as stores or warehouses. For Amazon, this got increasingly complicated as it is building out its distribution network, with warehouses and facilities around the country. So now Amazon is collecting sales taxes. Problem solved? Nope.

Amazon only collects sales taxes on sales of inventory that it owns (first-party sales). But Amazon is also a platform that sells merchandise owned by other sellers (third-party sales). About half of the goods sold on the Amazon platform fall into this category. Amazon leaves sales tax collections to the 2 million merchants on its platform. But they claim that it’s not their job to collect sales taxes, and most of them don’t collect them. Hence, third-party sales still get the taxpayer subsidy. Amazon isn’t the only out-of-state retailer or platform. It’s just the biggest one. eBay and many others are impacted by it too. Legally, this remains murky. But states and brick-and-mortar retailers are fighting to get the subsidy scrapped. “It’s a fairness issue,” Minnesota Senator Roger Chamberlain told Bloomberg. “Right now, there’s an unlevel playing field that disadvantages brick-and-mortar stores.”

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“History is a trickster.”

No Joy in Trumpville (Kunstler)

I took advantage of the calm before the storm, to pay a visit on Saturday to my hometown, Trumpville, a.k.a. Manhattan. My college buddy had a son who was acting in an off-Broadway play (closing night, so don’t bother asking). The city I knew as a kid — which, frankly, I never liked very much — seemed as lost and far away as Peter Stuyvesant’s quaint Dutch colonial outpost did to me in 1962. That lost city of my childhood was one in which a boy could breeze right into the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a weekday afternoon — my school was one block away from it — without the least hindrance. The place was free. There was no “donation” shakedown at the entrance. And hardly anyone was there. Do you know why? Answer: because most of the adults on the island were at work. It was a mostly middle-class city back then.

I know. It’s hard to believe, given the more recent developments in American life — the salient one being the extreme and perverse financialization of the economy. That is actually what you see manifested on-the-ground (and up-in-the-air) when you visit New York these days. To be specific, what I saw sitting on a bench along the High Line — a walking trail built on an old railroad trestle through the former Meatpacking District into Chelsea — was all the wealth of the flyover states funneled into a few square miles of land on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean. As I watched the endless stream of tourists and hipsters stride by in their selfie raptures, I pictured the various downtowns of the Midwest I’ve visited over the years — St Louis, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Detroit, Akron, Dayton, Cleveland, Louisville, Tulsa, and many more — and remembered the incredible desolation of their centers.

There was no one there, certainly no tourists or hipsters, really no activity to speak of. They were ghost cities. The net effect of financialization has been the asset-stripping of every other place in America for the benefit of a very few cities on the coasts, and especially the financial engineers within them. Thus, the ironic rise of New Yorker Trump as the avatar and supposed savior of all those people “out there” in their dying hometowns and beyond. And their tremendously bitter enmity against the “blue” coastal elites, of which Trump is a nonpareil exemplar. History is a trickster.

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Oct 092017
 
 October 9, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Joan Miro The tilled field 1924

 

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)
The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)
Flatliners (NT)
Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)
EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)
Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)
Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)
Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)
Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)
Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)
Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)
Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)
Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

 

 

And the parasite is killing its host.

CEO Stock Buybacks Parasitize the Economy (Ralph Nader)

The monster of economic waste—over $7 trillion of dictated stock buybacks since 2003 by the self-enriching CEOs of large corporations—started with a little noticed change in 1982 by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under President Ronald Reagan. That was when SEC Chairman John Shad, a former Wall Street CEO, redefined unlawful ‘stock manipulation’ to exclude stock buybacks. Then after Clinton pushed through congress a $1 million cap on CEO pay that could be deductible, CEO compensation consultants wanted much of CEO pay to reflect the price of the company’s stock. The stock buyback mania was unleashed. Its core was not to benefit shareholders (other than perhaps hedge fund speculators) by improving the earnings per share ratio. Its real motivation was to increase CEO pay no matter how badly such burning out of shareholder dollars hurt the company, its workers and the overall pace of economic growth.

In a massive conflict of interest between greedy top corporate executives and their own company, CEO-driven stock buybacks extract capital from corporations instead of contributing capital for corporate needs, as the capitalist theory would dictate. Yes, due to the malicious, toady SEC “business judgement” rule, CEOs can take trillions of dollars away from productive pursuits without even having to ask the companies’ owners—the shareholders—for approval. What could competent management have done with this treasure trove of shareholder money which came originally from consumer purchases? They could have invested more in research and development, in productive plant and equipment, in raising worker pay (and thereby consumer demand), in shoring up shaky pension fund reserves, or increasing dividends to shareholders.

The leading expert on this subject—economics professor William Lazonick of the University of Massachusetts—wrote a widely read article in 2013 in the Harvard Business Review titled “Profits Without Prosperity” documenting the intricate ways CEOs use buybacks to escalate their pay up to 300 to 500 times (averaging over $10,000 an hour plus lavish benefits) the average pay of their workers. This compared to only 30 times the average pay gap in 1978. This has led to increasing inequality and stagnant middle class wages. [..] In a review of 64 companies, including major retailers such as JC Penny and Macy’s, these firms spent more dollars in stock buybacks “than their businesses are currently worth in market value”! [..] The scholars concluded that “Buybacks are a way of disinvesting – we call it ‘committing corporate suicide’..

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How much time do I have?

The Economy Is Humming. Bankers Are Cheering. What Could Go Wrong? (NYT)

For decades, the global economy has been defined by dissonance. There has been the Japanese recession. The financial crises in the United States and Europe. And drama in emerging markets throughout. But as central bankers, finance ministers and money managers descend on Washington this week for the fall meetings of the IMF, they will confront an unusual reality: global markets and economies rising in unison. Never mind political turmoil, populist uprisings and threats of nuclear war. From Wall Street to Washington, economists have been upgrading their forecasts for the global economy this year, with the consensus now pointing to an expansion of more than 3% — up noticeably from 2.6% in 2016. Economists from the IMF are likely to follow suit when the fund releases its biannual report on the global economy on Tuesday.

The rosy numbers are noteworthy. But what’s more startling is that virtually every major developed and emerging economy is growing simultaneously, the first time this has happened in 10 years. “In terms of positive cycles, it is difficult to find very many precedents here,” said Brian Coulton, the chief economist at Fitch, the debt ratings agency. “It is the strongest growth we have seen since 2010.” In Japan, a reform-minded government and aggressive action by the central bank have pushed growth to 1.5% — up from 0.3% three years ago. In Europe, strong domestic demand in Germany and robust recoveries in countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy are expected to spur 2.2% growth in the eurozone. That would be more than double its average annual growth in the previous five years.

Aggressive infrastructure spending by China; bold economic reforms by countries including Brazil, Indonesia and India; and rising commodities prices (helping countries such as Russia) have spurred growth in emerging markets. And in the United States, despite doubts about President Trump’s ability to pass a major tax bill, the economy and financial markets chug along. In fact, one of the few large economies not following an upward path is Britain, whose pending exit from the European Union is taking a toll. Having grown at an average annual pace of just over 2% from 2012 to 2016, the British economy is expanding just 1.5% this year. [..] “We are in a boom today, but we should not forget that the financial system is still relatively unstable,” said Jim Reid, a credit strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Mr. Reid, who spices up his market analyses by regaling clients with pop songs on the piano, recently published a detailed study on what he expects will be the causes of the next global financial crisis. Pick your poison: an abrupt slowdown in China, the rise of populism, debt problems in Japan or an ugly outcome to Britain’s move to leave the European Union. His overriding worry, though, is that investors and policy makers aren’t prepared for what will happen when global central banks put a halt to their easy-money policies. Since the 2008 crisis, Mr. Reid noted, central banks have accumulated more than $14 trillion in assets — an amount that exceeds the annual output of China by $3 trillion. What happens when the central banks all start to sell? “This is unprecedented,” Mr. Reid said. “And no one knows what the outcome will be.”

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Compressed volatility.

Flatliners (NT)

We find ourselves in a very unique point in history and in a world dominated by false narratives. It is a challenge to keep an analytical grip on reality, but I’ll try to tie a few threads together here to put everything in a macro context. Firstly the underlying base reality: Free money, easy money, whatever you want to call it, permeates everything we see in financial markets. Indeed I would argue price appreciation has been paid for with unprecedented and, in my view, unsustainable volatility compression. A couple of charts really highlight this. Most clearly perhaps is the precise trend line tagging we can observe in the correlated picture of price appreciation and volatility compression since the February 2016 lows:

The $VIX’s corollary, the inverse $XIV, embarked on an explosive near one way journey since the US election coinciding with over $2 trillion central bank intervention in just the first 9 months of 2017:

And it has continued to this day and just made another all time high this past week on a massive negative divergence. It is the magnitude of this volatility compression that explains the current trading environment we find ourselves in. Aside from the obvious artificial liquidity avalanche we’ve had speculated about the driver of all this and the answer may simply be the promise of even more free money, specifically tax cuts. As some of you may recall from my analysis over the past year I’ve been very clear that math ultimately will bring out truth in any narrative. In this case that notion that tax cuts pay for themselves is a fantasy. It always has been. Can it result in a short term bump in spending or even growth? Yes it is possible, especially if structured right.

But any historical analysis will show you that tax cuts, especially already coming from a relatively low base, will just add to debt via larger deficits. Recently the White House budget director finally acknowledged this very reality: “a tax plan that doesn’t add to the deficit won’t spur growth” My criticism has been that all this marketing talk is simply a lie and will structurally put the country further at risk of trillion dollar deficits and a massive debt explosion that is already baked in even without tax cuts.

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But he makes no attempt to apologize?!

Schäuble: Another Financial Crisis Is Coming Due To Spiraling Global Debt (ZH)

Schauble warned that the world was in danger of “encouraging new bubbles to form”. “Economists all over the world are concerned about the increased risks arising from the accumulation of more and more liquidity and the growth of public and private debt. I myself am concerned about this, too,” he said echoing the concern voiced just one day earlier by IMF head Christine Lagarde, said the world was enjoying its best growth spurt since the start of the decade, but warned of “threats on the horizon” from “high levels of debt in many countries to rapid credit expansion in China, to excessive risk-taking in financial markets”. Schäuble also echoed the latest warning from the BIS, which last month said that the world had become so used to cheap credit that higher interest rates could derail the global economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Schäuble defended austerity, saying the word was, “strictly speaking, an Anglo-Saxon way of describing a solid financial policy which doesn’t necessarily see more, or higher deficits as a good thing.” The soon to be former finance minister also took a pot shot at the UK: “The UK always made fun of Rhineland capitalism,” he said, contrasting Germany’s consensus-driven, social market model with Anglo-American free markets and deregulation. “[But] we have seen that the tools of the social market economy were more effective at dealing with the [financial] crisis…than in the places where the crisis arose.”

Of course, Germany’s success – almost entirely a function of the common currency which has effectively kept the Deutsche Mark from soaring – has come at the expense of crisis after crisis among Europe’s southern states. Unfortunately it has resulted in an entire generation of unemployed youth in countries like Greece, Italy and Spain. Still, in keeping with his dour image, Schäuble’s last words were pessimistic: “We have to ensure that we will be resilient enough if we ever face a new economic crisis,” he added. “We won’t always have such positive economic times as we have now” concluded the jolly 75-year-old. Perhaps Wolfi is worrying too much: after all, according to Janet Yellen, “we will not see another crisis in our lifetime.” And if we do, well central banks are primed and ready to injects trillions more to keep the artificial “recovery” and market “all time highs” can kicked just a little bit further.

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They’ll screw this one up, too.

EU Plan To Prevent Bank Runs Could Backfire, Create Panic (BBG)

Three years since their banking union began to take shape, European Union regulators are seeking fresh powers to deal with lenders in trouble. Their plan would let them stop withdrawals from a failing bank for a few days while they address the problem, with the aim of preventing a run. But this approach could easily have the opposite effect, spreading panic to the whole financial system. There’s a better way. Instead of freezing bank accounts, EU governments should enable regulators to keep a bank going while they restructure it and search for a new owner. This will require EU governments to commit additional resources for the task. The ECB and the euro zone’s Single Resolution Board have been calling for the power to freeze bank accounts – a so-called moratorium – since the swift resolution of Banco Popular in June.

They succeeded in winding down the troubled Spanish lender by selling it to rival Banco Santander, but had to do it on a weekday night with a run on deposits in progress. The regulators say that next time it might be impossible to find a buyer overnight. A moratorium would relieve that pressure and perhaps allow them to sell the bank at a better price. This approach would mirror an arrangement which is currently in place in Germany, and it’s superficially appealing: Closing a bank would certainly stop a run. But it could also have unintended consequences. Depositors may run from a bank in trouble sooner — fearing that if they wait too long they may not be able to withdraw their money. It could also lead depositors to empty their accounts as soon as the bank re-opens. Most dangerous of all, freezing accounts in one bank could spread panic to the rest of the system, as other depositors fear the same will happen to them.

The idea also puts international cooperation on bank resolution at risk. The EU regulators’ plan threatens to disrupt measures put in place after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Bank of England economists recently warned in a working paper that adopting the new moratorium might prompt banks to back out of the existing arrangements for handling financial emergencies.

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An extensive look at crypto. Much better than the headline makes you think.

Hackers And Fraudsters Are Causing Cryptocurrency Chaos (Ind.)

Cryptocurrencies were supposed to offer a secure, digital way to conduct financial transactions but they have been dogged by doubts. Concerns have largely focused on their astronomical gains in value and the likelihood of painful price crashes. Equally perilous, though, are the exchanges where virtual currencies are bought, sold and stored. These exchanges, which match buyers and sellers and sometimes hold traders’ funds, have become magnets for fraud and mires of technological dysfunction, posing an underappreciated risk to anyone who trades digital coins. Huge sums are at stake. As the prices of bitcoin and other virtual currencies have soared this year – bitcoin has quadrupled – legions of investors and speculators have turned to online exchanges.

Billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies, which aren’t backed by any governments or central banks, are now traded on exchanges every day. “These are new assets. No one really knows what to make of them,” said David L Yermack, chairman of the finance department at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “If you’re a consumer, there’s nothing to protect you.” Regulators and governments are still debating how to handle cryptocurrencies, and Mr Yermack says the US Congress will ultimately have to take action. Some of the freewheeling exchanges are plagued with poor security and lack investor protections common in more regulated financial markets. Some Chinese exchanges have falsely inflated their trading volume to lure new customers, according to former employees.

There have been at least three dozen heists of cryptocurrency exchanges since 2011; many of the hacked exchanges later shut down. More than 980,000 bitcoins have been stolen, which today would be worth about $4bn. Few have been recovered. Burned investors have been left at the mercy of exchanges as to whether they will receive any compensation. Nearly 25,000 customers of Mt. Gox, once the world’s largest bitcoin exchange, are still waiting for compensation more than three years after its collapse into bankruptcy in Japan. The exchange said it lost about 650,000 bitcoins. Claims approved by the bankruptcy trustee total more than $400m.

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Not without China, no.

Is This The Geopolitical Shift Of The Century? (OP)

The geopolitical reality in the Middle East is changing dramatically. The impact of the Arab Spring, the retraction of the U.S. military, and diminishing economic influence on the Arab world – as displayed during the Obama Administration – are facts. The emergence of a Russian-Iranian-Turkish triangle is the new reality. The Western hegemony in the MENA region has ended, and not in a shy way, but with a long list of military conflicts and destabilization. The first visit of a Saudi king to Russia shows the growing power of Russia in the Middle East. It also shows that not only Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but also Egypt and Libya, are more likely to consider Moscow as a strategic ally.

King Salman’s visit to Moscow could herald not only several multibillion business deals, but could be the first real step towards a new regional geopolitical and military alliance between OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and Russia. This cooperation will not only have severe consequences for Western interests but also could partly undermine or reshape the position of OPEC at the same time. Russian president Vladimir Putin is currently hosting a large Saudi delegation, led by King Salman and supported by Saudi minister of energy Khalid Al Falih. Moscow’s open attitude to Saudi Arabia—a lifetime Washington ally and strong opponent of the growing Iran power projections in the Arab world—show that Putin understands the current pivotal changes in the Middle East.

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Direct result of Turkey’s deal with Russia on Syria.

Tensions Rise As US, Turkey Halt Visitor Visas, Send Lira Tumbling (BBG)

The U.S. and Turkey each suspended visa services for citizens looking to visit the other country, a sharp escalation of a diplomatic spat that sent the lira down more than 6% against the U.S. dollar. The moves followed the Oct. 4 arrest of a Turkish national who works at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul for alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hours after the Trump administration halted visa services in Turkey on Sunday, Erdogan’s government responded in kind, even repeating verbatim much of the U.S. statement. Both sides said “recent events” had forced them to “reassess the commitment” of the other to the security of mission facilities and personnel.

Only two weeks ago, U.S. President Donald Trump had heaped praise on Erdogan when they met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, saying the Turkish leader “is becoming a friend of mine” and “frankly, he’s getting high marks.” The U.S. on Thursday called charges against the man “wholly without merit,” saying it was “deeply disturbed” by the arrest and “by leaks from Turkish government sources seemingly aimed at trying the employee in the media rather than a court of law.” Turkey responded by saying the arrested Turkish citizen wasn’t part of the U.S. Consulate’s staff but a “local employee.” The lira was at 3.7323 per dollar as of 10:37 a.m. in Singapore on Monday, down more than 3% from Friday’s close, and touched as low as 3.8533. The currency is heading for a seventh day of declines, the longest stretch since May 2016.

Relations between Turkey, a NATO member, and some Western countries soured after the failed 2016 coup. Erdogan has accused U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen of organizing the attempted overthrow, and has become increasingly impatient with the U.S. for not turning him over. “I would expect that there will be some sort of de-escalation at the leadership level – Trump and Erdogan will speak or meet,” said Murat Yurtbilir, who specializes in Turkish affairs at the Australian National University. “But the underlying problems won’t go away: the Gulen issue, Turkey’s slow switch toward Russia’s policy in Syria and the economy. ”

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But but but….

Sanctions Against Russia Have Cost European Union €30 Billion (RT)

New research by the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO) suggests the EU’s economic sanctions against Russia introduced three years ago have cost European countries billions of euro. The survey, which was conducted at the request of the European Parliament and published on Friday, showed EU exports to Russia declining annually by 15.7% since 2014. Up to 40% of that decrease was due to sanctions, it said. As a result of the penalties, Russia has lost its place as EU’s fourth largest trading partner and currently ranks fifth behind the US, Switzerland, China, and Turkey. WIFO calculated EU exports to Russia nosedived from €120 billion four years ago to €72 billion in 2016. According to the research, Cyprus was hit most as exports to Russia plunged 34.5% over the past two years. Greece suffered a 23.2% fall; Croatia’s exports were down 21%.

Austrian exports to Russia dropped by almost ten% or by €1 billion, WIFO said. Poland and the UK have lost €3 billion each. The researchers said the impact of sanctions was most damaging during the first year, as “not much progress has been made in switching trade flows to other countries.” EU sanctions against Russia were introduced in 2014 over the country’s alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The penalties targeted Russia’s financial, energy, and defense sectors, along with some government officials, businessmen, and public figures. Moscow responded by imposing an embargo on agricultural produce and food and raw materials on countries that joined the anti-Russian sanctions. Since then the sides have repeatedly broadened and extended the restrictive measures.

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“You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical.”

Moreover, it contradicts the UN Charter.

Spain is the Blueprint for How All Governments Will Act (Martin Armstrong)

What is going on in Spain is the blueprint what what other governments will do. The Spanish people themselves outside of Catalonia are deeply divided. Many see this as offensive and others see the government as offensive. We are looking at the breakup of the USA as well and do not forget the civil war to prevent separatists in America. The real issue is that people ban together for creating society and civilization and then government abuses its power and the process of decline begins. This is throughout history and it really does not matter what culture or country. It is all the same. Spain’s Constitutional Court, the puppet of Rajoy, on Thursday ordered the suspension of Monday’s session of the regional Catalan parliament. Rajoy is demonstrating that government will not tolerate losing power.

You can always write a law and claim it is unconstitutional to separate. That does not make it legal, moral, or ethical. Reuters reported: “The suspension order further aggravated one of the biggest crises to hit Spain since the establishment of democracy on the 1975 death of General Francisco Franco. But Spanish markets rose on perceptions the order might ward off, at least for now, an outright independence declaration.” The structure of the EU in attempting to federalize Europe required a single federal debt. That is what they failed to do so you ended up with a half-baked cake. This is why we have the problems in Europe as we do. But make no mistake about it, this is a political problem and what happens in Europe will be a contagion as it was in 1931. This will eventually cause major problems politically in the States as well.

Justice Scalia I greatly admired. However, his letter on the separatist movement in the USA said that the civil war decided there was no right to separate. I disagree with that opinion, but that is my opinion. There are those who object to my writing about Catalonia from the Madrid side. They create a list of hateful names directed at me personally and then say I know nothing of Spain. They are making the same mistake as government. They assume that government and Rajoy is Spain. The people are the sovereign of Spain – not Rajoy nor his Constitutional Court. If you cannot see that government is supposed to be “elected” by the people, they are not to be the ruler of the people as some monarch, they you have missed the entire point of history. You can hate me all you want, but it is your life you are surrendering to government and that of your posterity. We have a choice. We either understand that government when unchecked will go too far and surrender as sheep, or we stand up and try to make the future better for our posterity.

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Someone better intervene.

Catalans Call for Talks as Spain Enters Crunch Week (BBG)

A senior member of the Catalan administration called for dialogue with Spain, warning that all of Europe faces economic damage unless a resolution is found to his region’s standoff with the central government in Madrid. After a weekend of mass demonstrations in favor of Spanish unity, Raul Romeva, foreign affairs chief for the separatist government in Barcelona, insisted that the door was open for talks if Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy would grasp the chance of dialogue. “We need two to tango, we need the other side to be at the table,” Romeva said in an interview in Barcelona on Sunday. “We’re always going to be at the negotiation table, but to start negotiations we need the other party to negotiate with.”

The hint of an olive branch came as both sides hurtle toward crunch time in a dispute that threatens the breakup of Spain. Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has vowed to press ahead with his independence drive in a declaration due as soon as Tuesday, while Rajoy pledged that “national unity will be maintained” by using all instruments available to him. “The risk of this getting a lot worse, with correspondingly bad market development for Spanish assets, is still too great for my risk appetite,” said Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit. He predicted at least another week of pressure on Spanish and Catalan debt and assets before “things will eventually normalize.”

[..] Romeva invoked the crisis in the euro area that sent yields soaring on Spanish government debt and curbed access to finance, warning that the economic fallout of any worsening of the situation won’t be limited to Catalonia. “This simply won’t affect the Catalan economy, it’s going to affect the Spanish economy, it’s going to affect the European economy,” Romeva said. He blamed Madrid for causing the political uncertainty that’s prompted a stampede for the exit. “What causes uncertainty is the incapability of the political central state – or the Spanish state – to provide a political solution,” he said.

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Since Greece entered the bailout mechanism, foreclosures are down by 89%. Good.

Greece Foreclosures Target Seems Unattainable (K.)

Foreclosures, which have been practically frozen for the last eight years, represent the credit system’s Achilles’ heel. The impact from the paralysis of the auction system is already obvious in banks’ financial results on the reduction of nonperforming loans and threatens to undermine the target set for containing nonperforming exposures (NPEs). The ECB’s Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) has asked Greek lenders to bring down their NPEs by €11.5 billion through liquidations (property auctions) up to 2019. Meeting this target requires foreclosures worth €5.5 billion per year while takings from auctions have been poor.

The foreclosures scheduled for this year only concern 5,600 properties, worth €1.1 billion. This is the smallest number of auctions in recent years, given that 2016 (when auctions were held for 4,800 properties) was practically wasted due to protracted strikes by Greece’s lawyers and notaries. This year’s figures actually concern mostly auctions demanded by the state or private lenders, while banks have only instigated few auctions, mainly concerning commercial or industrial properties. For comparison purposes, one has to see the statistics from 2009, before Greece entered the bailout mechanism, when foreclosures numbered 52,000 and their value reached €4.2 billion. This means an 89% drop since then.

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I’ve said it before: the EU is the mafia.

Nearly There, But Never Further Away (FP)

The guard forced the migrants to kneel and began barking orders in Arabic, a language that few of the once-hopeful souls who had traveled to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa spoke. A gaunt, elderly man in ripped jeans and a tattered T-shirt failed to comply. The guard, wearing a crisp new uniform emblazoned with the insignia of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police division, raised his wooden club and brought it down hard on the man’s back, driving him face down into the ground with the first blow. It was early May, three weeks after the staff at the Triq al-Sikka migrant detention center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had received human rights training from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The guard struck the elderly man again on the back and clubbed the back of his legs.

Then he moved methodically down the line of kneeling migrants, beating each man as if he were responsible for his fellow prisoner’s infraction. Cries of pain echoed through the barren, warehouse-like facility, where more than 100 half-starved migrants were locked away in crowded cells. Some had been there for months, enduring regular beatings and surviving on a few handfuls of macaroni and a single packet of juice each day. Others had recently been rounded up off the streets in raids targeting black African migrants. Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police.

Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency. Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. “Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?” Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. “Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?”

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya — now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe — migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed — abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The detention-industrial complex that has taken hold in war-torn Libya is not purely the result of a breakdown in order or the work of militias run amok in a state of anarchy. Visits to five different detention centers and interviews with dozens of Libyan militia leaders, government officials, migrants, and local NGO officials indicate that it is the consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged and anticipated support from European nations as they try to stem the flow of unwanted migrants toward their shores.

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Oct 082017
 
 October 8, 2017  Posted by at 8:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Georgia O’Keeffe Street of New York II 1926

 

Bleak Legacy Of The Greek Crisis (K.)
The Truth Is Catching Up With Tesla (WSJ)
DOD, HUD Defrauded US Taxpayers Of $21 Trillion From 1998 To 2015 (MPN)
1.34 Million Chinese Officials Have Been Punished For Graft Since 2013 (R.)
The Coming Pension Storm May Be The End Of Europe As We Know It (Mauldin)
Uncle Sam’s Unfunded Promises (Mauldin)
How I Learnt To Loathe England (Joris Luyendijk)
Imperialism Still Stops Britain From Grasping How It Looks To The World (PM)
Federal Police Stay, No Talks & No Independent Catalonia – Spanish PM (RT)
Splits In EU Could See Bloc Topple: Polish President (PAP)
Antibiotic Apocalypse (G.)
Want To Avert The Apocalypse? Take Lessons From Costa Rica (G.)

 

 

From the Read and Weep department.

Bleak Legacy Of The Greek Crisis (K.)

Quarterly figures released by Greece’s statistical authority (ELSTAT) last week point to a range of interesting, albeit worrying, trends. Beyond the economy (the surpluses, the debt and the gross domestic product, which appears to be on the slow path of recovery after a decade of constant decline), ELSTAT’s “Greece in Numbers” survey highlights a multitude of structural shortcomings and widespread impoverishment that are undermining the country’s long-term prospects. Demographic trends are among ELSTAT’s most alarming findings. According to the survey, Greece’s dependency ratio – which acts as an indicator of the balance between the working population and older people typically supported by it – has increased from 51.8 in 2011 to 55.2 in 2015 (most recent data).

Meanwhile, the aging index, or the proportion of persons aged 60 years and above per 100 persons under the age of 15, rose from 132.9 in 2011 to 145.5 in 2015. Over the same period, the fertility index dropped from 1.5 to 1.3. (2.1 live births per woman is considered the replacement level in developed countries). Greece had a negative birth to death ratio every year in the past five years, as the deficit rose from 16,297 in 2012 to 29,365 in 2015 (the number last year declined to 25,894). In 2016, moreover, the Greek unemployment rate was 23.5% of the workforce (1.195 million people) – the lowest in five years. However, jobless numbers remain extremely high, with the highest figure being recorded in 2013 at 1.33 million unemployed persons, or 27.5% of the workforce.

ELSTAT data on long-term unemployment expose another dramatic dimension of the crisis, as the rate of people out of work for 12 months or more climbed from 59.1% in 2012 to 72% in 2016. The overwhelming majority of these people receive no state benefits. The belt-tightening imposed by the country’s lingering recession is confirmed by data on average monthly household spending on goods and services. Spending has plunged from 1,824.02 euros in 2011 to 1,419.57 euros in 2015. Meanwhile, annual household expenditure on health (which tends to be inelastic) dipped from 114.58 euros to 107.06 euros over the same period. However, annual spending on food has seen a sharp decline from 355.05 euros to 293.30 euros, while spending on hotels, cafes and restaurants has also dropped from 189.11 euros to 141.05 euros.

ELSTAT figures also show a spike in the share of the population that is deprived of at least three out of nine material necessities due to financial difficulties – the ability to pay unexpected expenses, to take a one-week annual holiday away from home, to enjoy a meal involving meat, chicken or fish every second day, to have adequate heating for their home, to purchase durable goods like a washing machine, color television, telephone or car, to cover payment arrears for the mortgage or rent, utility bills, hire purchase installments or other loan payments. This figure rose from 28.4% in 2011 to 38.5% last year (42.3% among persons aged up to 17 years old).

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Jim Kunstler not long ago published a book entitled World Made by Hand. Turns out Tesla’s are made by hand. There’s poetic justice in there somewhere.

The Truth Is Catching Up With Tesla (WSJ)

New revelations about Tesla’s production of the highly anticipated Model 3 sedan should shock, but not surprise, investors. The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Tesla has recently been building major portions of the Model 3 by hand. This comes less than a week after Tesla announced it fell short of its third-quarter production guidance of 1,500 cars by more than 80%. At the time, Tesla attributed the shortfall to “production bottlenecks.” On Friday, Tesla said it would postpone its launch event for a new truck to November to deal with Model 3 issues and to help provide assistance to Puerto Rico. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is known as a risk-taker, which has endeared him to Wall Street analysts and investors alike.

There is a fine line, however, between setting aggressive goals and misleading shareholders. Tesla is inching closer to that line. Tesla was making three Model 3s on an average day in the third quarter. Mr. Musk should have known in August, when production guidance was reiterated, that the company wasn’t going to produce 1,500 Model 3s by the end of September. There are other examples. At the Model 3 launch event in July, he told reporters that Tesla had received more than 500,000 customer deposits for the car. Five days later, after a series of questions from The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Musk revised that number to 455,000 on a conference call with investors. The earlier, higher figure he quoted had been “just a guess.”

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Creative accounting gone berserk.

DOD, HUD Defrauded US Taxpayers Of $21 Trillion From 1998 To 2015 (MPN)

Last year, a Reuters article brought renewed scrutiny to the budgeting practices of the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), specifically the U.S. Army, after it was revealed that the department had “lost” $6.5 trillion in 2015 due to “wrongful budget adjustments.” Nearly half of that massive sum, $2.8 trillion, was lost in just one quarter. Reuters noted that the Army “lacked the receipts and invoices to support those numbers [the adjustments] or simply made them up” in order to “create an illusion that its books are balanced.” Officially, the DOD has acknowledged that its financial statements for 2015 were “materially misstated.” However, this was hardly the first time the department had been caught falsifying its accounting or the first time the department had mishandled massive sums of taxpayer money.

The cumulative effect of this mishandling of funds is the subject of a new report authored by Dr. Mark Skidmore, a professor of economics at Michigan State University, and Catherine Austin Fitts, former assistant secretary of housing. Their findings are shocking. The report, which examined in great detail the budgets of both the DOD and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), found that between 1998 and 2015 these two departments alone lost over $21 trillion in taxpayer funds. The funds lost were a direct result of “unsupported journal voucher adjustments” made to the departments’ budgets. According to the Office of the Comptroller, “unsupported journal voucher adjustments” are defined as “summary-level accounting adjustments made when balances between systems cannot be reconciled.

Often these journal vouchers are unsupported, meaning they lack supporting documentation to justify the adjustment [receipts, etc.] or are not tied to specific accounting transactions.” The report notes that, in both the private and public sectors, the presence of such adjustments is considered “a red flag” for potential fraud. The amount of money lost is truly staggering. As co-author Fitts noted in an interview with USA Watchdog, the amount unaccounted for over this 17 year period amounts to “$65,000 for every man, woman and child resident in America.” By comparison, the cost per taxpayer of all U.S. wars waged since 9/11 has been $7,500 per taxpayer. The sum is also enough to cover the entire U.S. national debt, which broke $20 trillion less than a month ago, and still have funds left over. What’s more, the actual amount of funds lost — measured at $21 trillion – is likely to be much higher, as the researchers were unable to recover data for every year over the period, meaning the assessment is incomplete.

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Corruption rules the world.

1.34 Million Chinese Officials Have Been Punished For Graft Since 2013 (R.)

China’s anti-graft watchdog said roughly 1.34 million lower-ranking officials have been punished since 2013 under President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive. Xi, who is preparing for a major Communist Party leadership conference later this month, has made an anti-graft campaign targeting “tigers and flies,” both high and low ranking officials, a core policy priority during his five-year term. China is preparing for the 19th Congress later this month, a twice-a-decade leadership event where Xi is expected to consolidate power and promote his policy positions.

Those punished for graft since 2013 include 648,000 village-level officials and most crimes were related to small scale corruption, said the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) on Sunday. While much of the country’s anti-graft drive has targeted lower ranking village and county officials, several high-ranking figures have been taken down. In August the head of the anti-graft committee for China’s Ministry of Finance was himself put under investigation for suspected graft.

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John Mauldin is doing a series on pensions. He covered the US a few weeks ago, this is a chapter from his analysis of Europe.

The Coming Pension Storm May Be The End Of Europe As We Know It (Mauldin)

Switzerland and the UK have mandatory retirement pre-funding with private management and modest public safety nets, as do Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland, and Hungary. Not that all of these countries don’t have problems, but even with their problems, these European nations are far better off than some others. The European nations noted above have nowhere near the crisis potential that the next group does: France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Spain. They are all pay-as-you-go countries (PAYG). That means they have nothing saved in the public coffers for future pension obligations, and the money has to come out of the general budget each year. The crisis for these countries is quite predictable, because the number of retirees is growing even as the number of workers paying into the national coffers is falling.

Let’s look at some details. Spain was hit hard in the financial crisis but has bounced back more vigorously than some of its Mediterranean peers did, such as Greece. That’s also true of its national pension plan, which actually had a surplus until recently. Unfortunately, the government chose to “borrow” some of that surplus for other purposes, and it will soon turn into a sizable deficit. Just as in the US, Spain’s program is called Social Security, but in fact it is neither social nor secure. Both the US and Spanish governments have raided supposedly sacrosanct retirement schemes, and both allow their governments to use those savings for whatever the political winds favor.

The Spanish reserve fund at one time had €66 billion and is now estimated to be completely depleted by the end of this year or early in 2018. The cause? There are 1.1 million more pensioners than there were just 10 years ago. And as the Baby Boom generation retires, there will be even more pensioners and fewer workers to support them. A 25% unemployment rate among younger workers doesn’t help contributions to the system, either. Overall, public pension plans in the pay-as-you-go countries would now replace about 60% of retirees’ salaries. Plus, several of these countries let people retire at less than 60 years old. In most countries, fewer than 25% of workers contribute to pension plans. That rate would have to double in the next 30 years to make programs sustainable. Sell that to younger workers.

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Here’s Mauldin on US pensions etc. I added a graph which shows that individuals save less just as Uncle Sam loses control of promises made.

Uncle Sam’s Unfunded Promises (Mauldin)

I have to warn you: You may be hopping mad when you finish reading this. In the United States we have two national programs to care for the elderly. Social Security provides a small pension, and Medicare covers medical expenses. All workers pay taxes that supposedly fund the benefits we may someday receive. That’s actually not true, as we will see in a little bit. Neither of these programs is comprehensive. Living on Social Security benefits alone is a pretty meager existence. Medicare has deductibles and copayments that can add up quickly. Both programs assume people have their own savings and other resources. Nevertheless, the programs are crucial to millions of retirees, many of whom work well past 65 just to keep up with their routine expenses. This chart from my friend John Burns shows the growing trend among generations to work past age 65. Having turned 68 a few days ago, I guess I’m contributing a bit to the trend:

Limited though Social Security and Medicare are, we attribute one huge benefit to them: They’re guaranteed. Uncle Sam will always pay them – he promised. And to his credit, Uncle Sam is trying hard to keep his end of the deal. In fact, he’s running up debt to do so. Actually, a massive amount of debt. Federal debt as a percentage of GDP has almost doubled since the turn of the century. The big jump occurred during the 2007–2009 recession, but the debt has kept growing since then. That’s a consequence of both higher spending and lower GDP growth. In theory, Social Security and Medicare don’t count here. Their funding goes into separate trust funds. But in reality, the Treasury borrows from the trust funds, so they simply hold more government debt.

The Treasury Department tracks all this, and you can read about it on their website, updated daily. Presently it looks like this: • Debt held by the public: $14.4 trillion • Intragovernmental holdings (the trust funds): $5.4 trillion • Total public debt: $19.8 trillion. Total GDP is roughly $19.3 trillion, so the federal debt is about equal to one full year of the entire nation’s collective economic output. In fact, it’s even more when you consider that GDP counts government spending as “production,” even when Uncle Sam spends borrowed money. Of course, that total does not count the $3 trillion-plus of state and local debt, which in almost every other country of the world is included in their national debt numbers. Including state and local debt in US figures would take our debt-to-GDP above 115%. And rising.

An old statute requires the Treasury to issue an annual financial statement, similar to a corporation’s annual report. The FY 2016 edition is 274 enlightening pages that the government hopes none of us will read. Among the many tidbits, it contains a table on page 63 that reveals the net present value of the US government’s 75-year future liability for Social Security and Medicare. That amount exceeds the net present value of the tax revenue designated to pay those benefits by $46.7 trillion. Yes, trillions. Where will this $46.7 trillion come from? We don’t know. Future Congresses will have to find it somewhere. This is the fabled “unfunded liability” you hear about from deficit hawks. Similar promises exist to military and civil service retirees and assorted smaller groups, too. Trying to add them up quickly becomes an exercise in absurdity.

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Must read. Dutch anthropologist Joris wrote about the City for the Guardian. You’d almost wish this had been his topic instead for those 5 years.

How I Learnt To Loathe England (Joris Luyendijk)

When I came to live in London with my family in 2011 I did not have to think of a work or residency permit. My children quickly found an excellent state primary school, and after a handful of calls we enjoyed free healthcare, and the right to vote in local elections. The only real bureaucratic hassle we encountered that warm summer concerned a permit to park. It all seemed so smooth compared to earlier moves to the United States, Egypt, Lebanon and Israel/Palestine. Then again, this time we were moving in with our cousins—weren’t we? We had arrived as fellow Europeans, but when we left this summer to return to the Netherlands we felt more like foreigners: people tolerated as long as they behave. At best we were “European Union nationals” whose rights would be subject to negotiations—bargaining chips in the eyes of politicians.

As we sailed from Harwich, it occurred to me that our departure would be counted by Theresa May as five more strikes towards her goal of “bringing down net immigration to the tens of thousands.” The Dutch and the British have a lot in common, at first sight. Sea-faring nations with a long and guilty history of colonial occupation and slavery, they are pro free-trade and have large financial service industries—RBS may even move its headquarters to Amsterdam. Both tend to view American power as benign; the Netherlands joined the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Shell, Unilever and Elsevier are just three examples of remarkably successful Anglo-Dutch joint ventures. I say “remarkably” because I’ve learned that in important respects, there is no culture more alien to the Dutch than the English (I focus on England as I’ve no experience with Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland).

Echoing the Calvinist insistence on “being true to oneself,” the Dutch are almost compulsively truthful. Most consider politeness a cowardly form of hypocrisy. Bluntness is a virtue; insincerity and backhandedness are cardinal sins. So let me try to be as Dutch as I can, and say that I left the UK feeling disappointed, hurt and immensely worried. We did not leave because of Brexit. My wife and I are both Dutch and we want our children to grow roots in the country where we came of age. We loved our time in London and have all met people who we hope will become our friends for life. But by the time the referendum came, I had become very much in favour of the UK leaving the EU. The worrying conditions that gave rise to the result—the class divide and the class fixation, as well as an unhinged press, combine to produce a national psychology that makes Britain a country you simply don’t want in your club.

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Also from Prospect magazine, like the previous article.

Imperialism Still Stops Britain From Grasping How It Looks To The World (PM)

Amongst politicians as well as writers, a passing reference to fallen empires could invoke the aura of national decline far more efficiently than any statistic. As the 1950s gave way to the 60s, decolonisation picked up pace, and Ian Macleod, the pragmatic Colonial Secretary, did not stand in the way. But he did—perhaps ruefully—recall how the vanishing empire had once brought “consolation” to “this bright little, tight little island.” What was at stake was not any specific longing for a particular colonial enclave, but a generalised feeling of relegation to the confined spaces of England. Many a contemporary British observer advocated “going into Europe” as the only way to break this cycle of confusion and self-hatred. It took three attempts, with first Harold Macmillan and then Wilson being given the “Non” before Edward Heath finally secured entry in 1973.

With a bold commitment to a new corporate enterprise, it was hoped Britain’s lost latitude could at last be restored. Any material prosperity at stake seemed almost incidental to the emotional shock therapy that lay in store. The deed was done with little regard for the future of Australian butter or New Zealand lamb, but these were sentimental hankerings that most in Britain could happily do without. More recently, however, the tables have turned. The once liberating tonic of “Europe” has come to be seen as the cause of Britain’s confinement. What the likes of Hartley would have made of the current fetish for “Global Britain” leaves little to the imagination. Despite the passing of nearly 60 years, concerns about the proper scale of Britain not only permeate the airwaves but also play directly into political decision-making.

Take the overwhelming support for Trident in the House of Commons, for example, and the widespread belief, which defies publicly-available information about how its maintenance entirely depends on US goodwill, that it constitutes an “independent” nuclear deterrent. Consider, too, the endlessly-repeated claim, earnestly mouthed by ministers of all stripes as a self-evident truth, that the UK must somehow “punch above its weight on the world stage.” And consider, most pressingly, the suggestion that the rest of the world will be excited by the chance to haggle a bespoke British trade deal, despite ample indications to the contrary and the obvious perils of jeopardising access to the world’s largest single market for such risky returns.

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Main protests this weekend are aimed at getting parties to talk. Can Rajoy continue to resist that? Will Merkel let him?

Federal Police Stay, No Talks & No Independent Catalonia – Spanish PM (RT)

Madrid will use all legal means to stop Catalonia’s secession, PM Mariano Rajoy said, ruling out talks with separatists and vowing to keep federal police in the region, where 800 people were injured in a crackdown on last week’s independence referendum. In an interview with El Pais newspaper on Saturday, Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy indicated that he is not going to back down from his tough stance on Catalonia’s independence, reiterating that until the regional government abandons its intention to proclaim independence, no talks can take place. “As long as it does not go back to legality, I certainly will not negotiate,” Rajoy said, adding that while the Spanish government appreciates proposals to mediate between the national and Catalan governments, it will have to reject them.

“I would like to say one thing about mediation: we do not need mediators. What we need is that whoever is breaking the law and whoever has put themselves above the law rectifies their position,” the PM said. Rajoy further said that the national government will do whatever it takes to ensure that an independent Catalonia never happens. “We are going to prevent independence from occurring. That is why I can tell you with absolute frankness that it will not happen,” he said, adding that Madrid is within its rights to “take any decisions that the laws allow us,” depending on the way the crisis unravels. One of the actions that the Spanish government is considering taking if necessary is the enforcement of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution, which enables the prime minister to dissolve the Catalonian government and call for snap local elections.

“I do not rule out anything that the law says,” Rajoy said of the option, adding that there is “no risk at all” that Spain will disintegrate. “Spain will not be divided and national unity will be maintained. We will use all the instruments that the legislation gives us,” he said. [..] The Catalonia dispute should be considered a challenge not only to Spain but also to the “great European project,” Rajoy argued, calling it “the battle of Europe.” “The battle of European values is under way and we have to win it,” he said, drawing parallels between such challenges to the European project from populist and separatist sentiments that have been gaining traction in Europe recently.

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January 1 2018, Bulgaria takes over EU presidency. They don’t want any immigrants.

Splits In EU Could See Bloc Topple: Polish President (PAP)

Poland does not agree to the European Union ordering countries to accept “forcibly relocated” migrants, President Andrzej Duda has said, warning that splits in the bloc could bring about its collapse. After Thursday’s talks with his Bulgarian counterpart in Warsaw, Duda said the European Union’s rules of unity mean “we work together … we do not try to force other countries into acting against their will and against their people”. “Which is why we do not agree to being dictated to, against the Polish people’s will, as regards the quota system, as regards forcible relocation of people to Poland,” Duda added.

In September 2015, when an earlier government was in power in Warsaw, EU leaders agreed that each country would accept a number of migrants over two years to alleviate the pressure on Greece and Italy, which have seen the arrival of tens of thousands of people from the Middle East. EU leaders agreed to relocate a total of about 160,000 migrants of more than two million people who arrived in Europe since 2015. But after coming to power in 2015, Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party, from which Duda hails, refused to honour that commitment. Poland now faces action from Brussels, which has threatened possible sanctions.

Speaking at a press conference after his meeting with Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, Duda said the future of the European Union was the main topic of talks, as Bulgaria prepares to take over the rotating presidency over the bloc at the beginning of next year. He added that Poland and Bulgaria had “the same position” on Europe’s migration crisis. Duda said that both countries want “preventative action”, which means protecting the European Union’s borders and sending aid to refugees and potential migrants “close to their countries”.

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Standard hospital procedures will become impossible.

“The world will face the same risks as it did before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928.”

Antibiotic Apocalypse (G.)

Scientists attending a recent meeting of the American Society for Microbiology reported they had uncovered a highly disturbing trend. They revealed that bacteria containing a gene known as mcr-1 – which confers resistance to the antibiotic colistin – had spread round the world at an alarming rate since its original discovery 18 months earlier. In one area of China, it was found that 25% of hospital patients now carried the gene. Colistin is known as the “antibiotic of last resort”. In many parts of the world doctors have turned to its use because patients were no longer responding to any other antimicrobial agent. Now resistance to its use is spreading across the globe. In the words of England’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies: “The world is facing an antibiotic apocalypse.”

Unless action is taken to halt the practices that have allowed antimicrobial resistance to spread and ways are found to develop new types of antibiotics, we could return to the days when routine operations, simple wounds or straightforward infections could pose real threats to life, she warns. That terrifying prospect will be the focus of a major international conference to be held in Berlin this week. Organised by the UK government, the Wellcome Trust, the UN and several other national governments, the meeting will be attended by scientists, health officers, pharmaceutical chiefs and politicians. Its task is to try to accelerate measures to halt the spread of drug resistance, which now threatens to remove many of the major weapons currently deployed by doctors in their war against disease.

The arithmetic is stark and disturbing, as the conference organisers make clear. At present about 700,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections. However, this global figure is growing relentlessly and could reach 10 million a year by 2050. The danger, say scientists, is one of the greatest that humanity has faced in recent times. In a drug-resistant world, many aspects of modern medicine would simply become impossible. An example is provided by transplant surgery. During operations, patients’ immune systems have to be suppressed to stop them rejecting a new organ, leaving them prey to infections. So doctors use immunosuppressant cancer drugs. In future, however, these may no longer be effective.

Or take the example of more standard operations, such as abdominal surgery or the removal of a patient’s appendix. Without antibiotics to protect them during these procedures, people will die of peritonitis or other infections. The world will face the same risks as it did before Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928. [..] “In the Ganges during pilgrimage season, there are levels of antibiotics in the river that we try to achieve in the bloodstream of patients,” says Davies. “That is very, very disturbing.”

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What are we waiting for?

Want To Avert The Apocalypse? Take Lessons From Costa Rica (G.)

A beautiful Central American country known for its lush rainforests and stunning beaches, Costa Rica proves that achieving high levels of human wellbeing has very little to do with GDP and almost everything to do with something very different. Every few years the New Economics Foundation publishes the Happy Planet Index – a measure of progress that looks at life expectancy, wellbeing and equality rather than the narrow metric of GDP, and plots these measures against ecological impact. Costa Rica tops the list of countries every time. With a life expectancy of 79.1 years and levels of wellbeing in the top 7% of the world, Costa Rica matches many Scandinavian nations in these areas and neatly outperforms the United States. And it manages all of this with a GDP per capita of only $10,000, less than one fifth that of the US.

In this sense, Costa Rica is the most efficient economy on earth: it produces high standards of living with low GDP and minimal pressure on the environment. How do they do it? Professors Martínez-Franzoni and Sánchez-Ancochea argue that it’s all down to Costa Rica’s commitment to universalism: the principle that everyone – regardless of income – should have equal access to generous, high-quality social services as a basic right. A series of progressive governments started rolling out healthcare, education and social security in the 1940s and expanded these to the whole population from the 50s onward, after abolishing the military and freeing up more resources for social spending. Costa Rica wasn’t alone in this effort, of course.

Progressive governments elsewhere in Latin America made similar moves, but in nearly every case the US violently intervened to stop them for fear that “communist” ideas might scupper American interests in the region. Costa Rica escaped this fate by outwardly claiming to be anti-communist and – horribly – allowing US-backed forces to use the country as a base in the contra war against Nicaragua. The upshot is that Costa Rica is one of only a few countries in the global south that enjoys robust universalism. It’s not perfect, however. Relatively high levels of income inequality make the economy less efficient than it otherwise might be. But the country’s achievements are still impressive. On the back of universal social policy, Costa Rica surpassed the US in life expectancy in the late 80s, when its GDP per capita was a mere tenth of America’s.

Today, Costa Rica is a thorn in the side of orthodox economics. The conventional wisdom holds that high GDP is essential for longevity: “wealthier is healthier”, as former World Bank chief economist Larry Summers put it in a famous paper. But Costa Rica shows that we can achieve human progress without much GDP at all, and therefore without triggering ecological collapse. In fact, the part of Costa Rica where people live the longest, happiest lives – the Nicoya Peninsula – is also the poorest, in terms of GDP per capita. Researchers have concluded that Nicoyans do so well not in spite of their “poverty”, but because of it – because their communities, environment and relationships haven’t been ploughed over by industrial expansion.

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