Oct 222015
 
 October 22, 2015  Posted by at 11:09 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jack Delano Spectators at annual barrel rolling contest, Presque Isle, ME 1940

Iceland Sentences 26 Bankers To A Combined 74 Years In Prison (USUncut)
HSBC: These Are the Economies That Could Run Into Trouble (Bloomberg)
Jim Chanos Nails the Link Between Debt and Energy (Bloomberg)
Saudis Risk Draining Financial Assets in 5 Years, IMF Says (Bloomberg)
Who on Wall Street is Now Eating the Oil & Gas Losses? (WolfStreet)
China Steel Output May Collapse 20%, Baosteel Chairman Says (Bloomberg)
China Slowdown Sees Investment In Africa Plummet 84% (ValueWalk)
Defiant Portugal Shatters The Eurozone’s Political Complacency (AEP)
ECB Haunted by Paradox as Draghi Weighs Risk of QE Signaling (Bloomberg)
Diesel Cars Emit Up To Four Times More Toxic Pollution Than A Bus (Guardian)
3 Million Volkswagen Cars Need Costly Hardware Fixes In Europe Alone (Bloomberg)
The EU Is Emitting Way More Greenhouse Gases Than It Says (Quartz)
The Strongest El Niño in Decades Is Going to Mess With Everything (Bloomberg)
The Graphic That Shows Why 2015 Global Temperatures Are Off The Charts (SMH)
UK Must Resettle Refugees Who Arrived On Cyprus Military Base: UN (Guardian)
EU Calls Mini-Summit On Refugee Crisis As Slovenia Tightens Border (Guardian)
Slovenia Asks For EU Police Help To Regulate Migrant Flow (Reuters)
A Cultural Revolution To Save Humanity (Serge Latouche)
Why Too Much Choice Is Stressing Us Out (Guardian)

Envy of the entire world. “We introduced currency controls, we let the banks fail, we provided support for the poor, and we didn’t introduce austerity measures like you’re seeing in Europe.”

Iceland Sentences 26 Bankers To A Combined 74 Years In Prison (USUncut)

In a move that would make many capitalists’ head explode if it ever happened here, Iceland just sentenced their 26th banker to prison for their part in the 2008 financial collapse. In two separate Icelandic Supreme Court and Reykjavik District Court rulings, five top bankers from Landsbankinn and Kaupping — the two largest banks in the country — were found guilty of market manipulation, embezzlement, and breach of fiduciary duties. Most of those convicted have been sentenced to prison for two to five years. The maximum penalty for financial crimes in Iceland is six years, although their Supreme Court is currently hearing arguments to consider expanding sentences beyond the six year maximum.

After the crash in 2008, while congress was giving American banks a $700 billion TARP bailout courtesy of taxpayers, Iceland decided to go in a different direction and enabled their government with financial supervisory authority to take control of the banks as the chaos resulting from the crash unraveled. Back in 2001, Iceland deregulated their financial sector, following in the path of former President Bill Clinton. In less than a decade, Iceland was bogged down in so much foreign debt they couldn’t refinance it before the system crashed. Almost eight years later, the government of Iceland is still prosecuting and jailing those responsible for the market manipulation that crippled their economy. Even now, Iceland is still paying back loans to the IMF and other countries which were needed just to keep the country operating.

When Iceland’s President, Olafur Ragnar Grimmson, was asked how the country managed to recover from the global financial disaster, he famously replied, “We were wise enough not to follow the traditional prevailing orthodoxies of the Western financial world in the last 30 years. We introduced currency controls, we let the banks fail, we provided support for the poor, and we didn’t introduce austerity measures like you’re seeing in Europe.” Meanwhile, in America, not one single banking executive has been charged with a crime related to the 2008 crash and U.S. banks are raking in more than $160 billion in annual profits with little to no regulation in place to avoid another financial catastrophe.

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Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Australia. And the rest of the emerging markets.

HSBC: These Are the Economies That Could Run Into Trouble (Bloomberg)

“Forecasters spend much of their time finessing central projections. But sometimes by focusing on the most likely outlook for growth we lose track of vulnerabilities that are accumulating,” HSBC Economist James Pomeroy writes in the latest edition of the bank’s “Macro Health Check.” And while global markets may have stabilized since the volatile days of summer, there seems to be no shortage of potential vulnerabilities worth keeping an eye on. Here are the major trends Pomeroy is watching:

• Weakness in Asia: Lower commodity prices as well as capital flight is hurting a number of Asian economies, not to mention lowering their growth prospects. In particular, HSBC says it’s newly concerned about Malaysia and Indonesia thanks to their proximity to China – both geographically and in terms of trade. As Pomeroy puts it: “The downturn in Chinese data has hit sentiment. Currencies have weakened and borrowing costs have risen, putting the sustainability of the corporate sector at risk.”

• Bubbles in developed economies: Asset prices that are historically high as well as household debt levels well above the norm is concerning, according to Pomeroy. He notes that in Sweden and Norway, high levels of household debt and rising house prices are combining with central banks that have already cut interest rates to record lows. “This leaves them vulnerable to financial stability risks that could leave the economies exposed to any downturn or, at some later stage, a rise in rates,” he says.

• Commodities continue to struggle: Energy is still a huge topic for the world and emerging markets in particular, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on track to see big hits to their economies, the HSBC economist noted. There are also worries over the macroeconomic backdrops in countries like Brazil, Russia, Colombia, and Chile, where 50% of exports are commodities -related, Pomeroy adds.

Based on these concerns, HSBC presents a “diagnosis” showing how a number of economies are and are not seeing impacts from these and other macro factors. New entries on the bank’s list of concerns include the previously-mentioned Malaysia, Indonesia, Sweden and Norway, while New Zealand also makes the cut thanks to its links to China, rising asset prices and tumbling milk prices. “Although low risk, New Zealand may be one to watch,” Pomeroy says.

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Losing money way before the oil price crash… “..cash flow from operations has not covered capital expenditure since 2010 at some of the most prominent exploration and production companies since 2010..”

Jim Chanos Nails the Link Between Debt and Energy (Bloomberg)

“Energy Investments After The Fall: Opportunity Or Slippery Slope?” So begins the latest presentation from renowned short-seller Jim Chanos. What follows is a powerful outlining of the spirally debt dynamics now dominating the future of the oil industry. At the heart of Chanos’s thesis is the contention that years of low interest rates, cheap financing, over-eager investors and ambitious managers have helped propel the boom in U.S. shale and imbue it with near unstoppable momentum; U.S. oil production is expected to grow 6% in 2015 despite a stunning 59% drop in the U.S. rig count over the past year. The extent of the capital market’s support for energy over the past half-decade is laid bare in the financial figures.

According to Chanos, cash flow from operations has not covered capital expenditure since 2010 at some of the most prominent exploration and production companies since 2010, meaning the firms have consistently outspent their income. That trend is present even at the larger “big oil” firms such as Exxon, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, Chanos claims, with cash flow following distributions to shareholders also firmly in the red. The question hovering over the energy sector now is whether the continuous flow of capital investment that has propped up shale firms for so long continues. There are signs that it might not. Spreads on the bonds issued by energy companies are currently 480 basis points wider than average yield on the debt of junk-rated companies, meaning investors are (finally) demanding extra return to compensate them for the added risk of E&P.

Many oil companies have large revolving credit facilities from which they could draw financing to help replace the hole left by suddenly skittish investors – an argument that has been picked up by energy bulls and managers with some aplomb. However, Chanos says that even the most reliable E&P firms will be reluctant to tap such revolvers, given the negative publicity around such a move. And while banks have so far largely continued to renew and extend credit lines to energy firms (opting perhaps to keep such companies afloat rather than cut them off and suffer the consequences on their own balance sheets) those renewals have been accompanied by a tightening of terms. It’s a reversal of an historic trend that has seen the balance of power firmly in favor of energy firms as the sheer amount of investors and bankers willing to lend to exploratory shale has meant the vast majority of debt and loans sold and issued in recent years came with far fewer protections for lenders, known as “covenants.”

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Trouble brewing. A very imbalanced society.

Saudis Risk Draining Financial Assets in 5 Years, IMF Says (Bloomberg)

Saudi Arabia may run out of financial assets needed to support spending within five years if the government maintains current policies, the IMF said, underscoring the need of measures to shore up public finances amid the drop in oil prices. The same is true of Bahrain and Oman in the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, the IMF said in a report on Wednesday. Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have relatively more financial assets that could support them for more than 20 years, the Washington-based lender said. Saudi authorities are already planning spending cuts as the world’s biggest oil exporter seeks to cut its budget deficit.

Officials have repeatedly said that the kingdom’s economy, the Arab world’s biggest, is strong enough to weather the plunge in crude prices as it did in similar crises, when its finances were under more strain. But the IMF said measures being considered by oil exporters “are likely to be inadequate to achieve the needed medium-term fiscal consolidation,” the IMF said. “Under current policies, countries would run out of buffers in less than five years because of large fiscal deficits.” Saudi Arabia accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars in the past decade to help the economy absorb the shock of falling prices. The kingdom’s debt as a percentage of GDP fell to less than 2% in 2014, the lowest in the world.

The recent decline in the price of crude, which accounts for about 80% of Saudi’s revenue, is prompting the government to delay projects and sell bonds for the first time since 2007. Net foreign assets fell to the lowest level in more than two years in August, with the kingdom fighting a war in Yemen and avoiding economic policies that could trigger social or political unrest. The IMF expects Saudi’s budget deficit to rise to more than 20% of gross domestic product this year after King Salman announced one-time bonuses for public-sector workers following his accession to the throne in January. The deficit is expected to be 19.4% in 2016.

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Pension funds, mom and pop.

Who on Wall Street is Now Eating the Oil & Gas Losses? (WolfStreet)

Banks, when reporting earnings, are saying a few choice things about their oil-and-gas loans, which boil down to this: it’s bloody out there in the oil patch, but we made our money and rolled off the risks to others who’re now eating most of the losses. On Monday, it was Zions Bancorp. Its oil-and-gas loans deteriorated further, it reported. More were non-performing and were charged-off. There’d be even more credit downgrades. By the end of September, 15.7% of them were considered “classified loans,” with clear signs of stress, up from 11.3% in the prior quarter. These classified energy loans pushed the total classified loans to $1.32 billion. But energy loans fell by $86 million in the quarter and “further attrition in this portfolio is likely over the next several quarters,” Zions reported.

Since the oil bust got going, Zions, like other banks, has been trying to unload its oil-and-gas exposure. Wells Fargo announced that it set aside more cash to absorb defaults from the “deterioration in the energy sector.” Bank of America figured it would have to set aside an additional 15% of its energy portfolio, which makes up only a small portion of its total loan book. JPMorgan added $160 million – a minuscule amount for a giant bank – to its loan-loss reserves last quarter, based on the now standard expectation that “oil prices will remain low for longer.” Banks have been sloughing off the risk: They lent money to scrappy junk-rated companies that powered the shale revolution. These loans were backed by oil and gas reserves.

Once a borrower reached the limit of the revolving line of credit, the bank pushed the company to issue bonds to pay off the line of credit. The company could then draw again on its line of credit. When it reached the limit, it would issue more bonds and pay off its line of credit…. Banks made money coming and going. They made money from interest income and fees, including underwriting fees for the bond offerings. It performed miracles for years. It funded the permanently cash-flow negative shale revolution. It loaded up oil-and-gas companies with debt. While bank loans were secured, many of the bonds were unsecured. Thus, banks elegantly rolled off the risks to bondholders, and made money doing so. And when it all blew up, the shrapnel slashed bondholders to the bone.

Banks are only getting scratched. Then late last year and early this year, the hottest energy trade of the century took off. Hedge funds and private equity firms raised new money and started buying junk-rated energy bonds for cents on the dollar and they lent new money at higher rates to desperate companies that were staring bankruptcy in the face. It became a multi-billion-dollar frenzy. They hoped that the price of oil would recover by early summer and that these cheap bonds would make the “smart money” a fortune and confirm once and for all that it was truly the “smart money.” Then oil re-crashed.

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Coming from a steel man, this can only mean it’ll be much worse.

China Steel Output May Collapse 20%, Baosteel Chairman Says (Bloomberg)

China’s steel industry, the largest in the world, is bleeding cash and every producer is feeling the pain, according to the head of the country’s second-biggest mill by output, which raised the prospect that nationwide production may shrink 20%. Losses for the industry totaled 18 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) in the first eight months of the year compared with a profit of 14 billion yuan in the same period a year earlier, Shanghai Baosteel Group Corp. Chairman Xu Lejiang said on Wednesday. Output may eventually contract by a fifth, matching the experience seen in the U.S. and elsewhere, he said. After decades of expansion, China’s steel industry has been thrown into reverse as local demand contracts for the first time in a generation amid slowing economic growth and a property downturn.

The slowdown has pummeled steel and iron ore prices and prompted Chinese mills to seek increased overseas sales, boosting trade tensions. The country is the linchpin of the global industry, accounting for half of worldwide production. “If we extrapolate the previous experience in Europe, the United States, Japan, their steel sectors have all gone through painful restructuring in the past, with steel output all contracting by about 20%,” Xu told reporters at a forum in Shanghai. “China will eventually get there as well, regardless how long it takes.” Crude-steel output in China surged more than 12-fold between 1990 and 2014, and the increase was emblematic of the country’s emergence as Asia’s largest economy. Output probably peaked last year at 823 million metric tons, according to the China Iron & Steel Association.

The country produced 608.9 million tons in the first nine months, 2.1% less than the same period last year, the statistics bureau said on Monday. “The whole steel sector is struggling and no one can be insulated,” Xu said. “The sector is facing increasing pressure on funding as banks have been tightening lending to the sector – both loans and the financing provided for steel and raw material stockpiles.” Losses in China’s steel industry are unprecedented, Macquarie Group Ltd. said in a report on Monday that summarized deteriorating sentiment in the industry. While small mills have already cut production significantly, big mills are still holding out, the bank said, forecasting further cuts.

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When you can’t afford empire anymore.

China Slowdown Sees Investment In Africa Plummet 84% (ValueWalk)

The slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy has seen Chinese cross-border investment in Africa plunge. Beijing has invested just $568 million in greenfield projects and expansion of existing projects in the first 6 months of 2015, down from $3.54 billion the previous year. That investment has been focused on China’s primary interest in Africa, namely its raw materials, writes Adrienne Klasa for The Financial Times. While overall investment plunged, investment in extractive industries almost doubled from $141.4 million to $288.9 million over the period. Chinese investment in Africa has at times been controversial, but has played a major role in regional growth. The African growth story has been complicated by global headwinds such as low prices of oil and other commodities.

Many African states rely on raw materials for large parts of their revenues. Although foreign direct investment has fallen, China has been Africa’s main trade partner since 2009. In 2013 there was more than $170 billion in trade between China and sub-Saharan Africa, compared to less than $10 billion in 2002. “FDI has dipped across the board from emerging markets into other emerging markets, and into Africa in particular,” says Vera Songwe, the IFC’s director for West and Central Africa. FDI reflects changing patterns of investment. There are some concerns that a bursting Chinese real estate bubble could see demand for African raw materials reduce even further. This could have a knock-on effect on investment in the sector, and in Africa in general.

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“..if the Portuguese people have to choose between “dignity and the euro”, then dignity should prevail. “Any government that refuses to obey Wolfgang Schauble must be prepared to see the ECB close down its banks..”

Defiant Portugal Shatters The Eurozone’s Political Complacency (AEP)

The delayed fuse on the eurozone’s debt-deflation policies has finally detonated in a second country. Portugal has joined the revolt against austerity. The rickety scaffolding of fiscal discipline and economic surveillance imposed on southern Europe by Germany is falling apart on its most vulnerable front. Antonio Costa, Portugal’s Socialist leader and son of a Goan poet, has refused to go along with further pay cuts for public workers, or to submit tamely to a Right-wing coalition under the thumb of the now-departed EU-IMF ‘Troika’. Against all assumptions, he has suspended his party’s historic feud with Portugal’s Communists and combined in a triple alliance with the Left Bloc. The trio have demanded the right to govern the country, and together they have an absolute majority in the Portuguese parliament.

The verdict from the markets has been swift. “We would be very reluctant to invest in Portuguese debt,” said Rabobank, describing the turn of events as a political shock. The country’s president has the constitutional power to reappoint the old guard – and may in fact do so over coming days – but this would leave the country ungovernable and would be a dangerous demarche in a young Democracy, with memories of the Salazar dictatorship still relatively fresh. “The majority of the Portuguese people did not vote for the incumbent coalition. They want a change,” said Miriam Costa from Lisbon University. Joseph Daul, head of conservative bloc in the European Parliament, warned that Portugal now faces six months of chaos, and risks going the way of Greece.

Mr Costa’s hard-Left allies both favour a return to the escudo. Each concluded that Greece’s tortured acrobatics under Alexis Tspiras show beyond doubt that it is impossible to run a sovereign economic policy within the constraints of the single currency. The Communist leader, Jeronimo de Sousa, has called for a “dissolution of monetary union” for the good of everybody before it does any more damage to the productive base of the European economy. His party is demanding a 50pc write-off of Portugal’s public debt and a 75pc cut in interest payments, and aims to tear up the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and the Fiscal Compact. It wants to nationalize the banks, reverse the privatisation of the transport system, energy, and telephones, and take over the “commanding heights of the economy”.

Catarina Martins, the Left Bloc’s chief, is more nuanced but says that if the Portuguese people have to choose between “dignity and the euro”, then dignity should prevail. “Any government that refuses to obey Wolfgang Schauble must be prepared to see the ECB close down its banks,” she said. She is surely right about that. The lesson of the Greek drama is that the ECB is the political enforcer of monetary union, willing to bring rebels to their knees by pulling the plug on a nation’s banking system.

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Any real action will send the message that there are problems.

ECB Haunted by Paradox as Draghi Weighs Risk of QE Signaling (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi’s challenge on Thursday is to show that he’s readier than ever to step up stimulus, without panicking investors over the euro area’s health. In the run-up to the European Central Bank’s meeting in Malta, the institution’s president and most of his Governing Council said it’s too early to decide whether to expand their €1.1 trillion bond-buying program. Yet with economists seeing the need for a fresh boost before year-end, he’ll probably be pressured to provide reassurance that the penultimate monetary-policy session of 2015 won’t leave the ECB behind the curve. Officials sitting down to talk will have to deal with a complex scenario of mixed domestic economic signals, an uncertain global outlook, and divergent opinions on what’s needed to combat feeble inflation.

The paradox for Draghi is that when he holds his regular press conference, he may find himself addressing the risks to the recovery without yet committing to action. “The ECB seems more worried about the economy yet less inclined to act; markets are more confident in the economy yet expect something will be done,” said Francesco Papadia, chairman of Prime Collaterised Securities and a former director general of market operations at the ECB. “For Draghi, it’ll be difficult to even hint that something was discussed because it would send two messages: ‘Good, they’re doing something, and wait, the situation is worse than we thought.’

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Full insanity.

Diesel Cars Emit Up To Four Times More Toxic Pollution Than A Bus (Guardian)

A modern diesel car pumps out more toxic pollution than a bus or heavy truck, according to new data, a situation described as a “disgrace” by one MEP. The revelation shows that effective technology to cut nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution exists, but that car manufacturers are not implementing it in realistic driving conditions. Diesel cars tested in Norway produced quadruple the NOx emissions of large buses and lorries in city driving conditions, according to a report from the Norwegian Centre for Transport Research. A separate study for Transport for London showed that a small car in the “supermini” class emitted several times more NOx than most HGVs and the same amount as a 40-tonne vehicle.

“It is crackers,” said emissions expert James Tate from the University of Leeds. His own research, which uses roadside equipment to measure passing traffic, also shows the latest diesel models cars produce at least as much NOx as far heavier buses and trucks. The issue of NOx pollution, thought to kill 23,500 people a year in the UK alone, gained prominence when VW diesels were discovered to be cheating official US emissions tests. The scandal also led to revelations that the diesels of many car manufacturers produce far more NOx on the road than in EU lab tests, though not via illegal means. The UK government say the failure to keep NOx from vehicles low in the real world means road transport is “by far the largest contributor” to the illegal levels of NOx in many parts of the country.

“It is disgraceful that car manufacturers have failed to reduce deadly emissions when the technology to do so is affordable and readily available,” said Catherine Bearder, a Liberal Democrat MEP and a lead negotiator in the European parliament on the EU’s new air quality law. “The dramatic reduction in NOx emissions from heavier vehicles is a result of far stricter EU tests, in place since 2011, that reflect real-world driving conditions. If buses and trucks can comply with these limits, there’s no reason cars can’t as well.”

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VW is set to shrink a lot.

3 Million Volkswagen Cars Need Costly Hardware Fixes In Europe Alone (Bloomberg)

Volkswagen will need hardware fixes for about 3 million cars in Europe affected by the diesel-emission manipulations as the region’s largest automaker scrambles to meet demands from regulators. Cars featuring a 1.6-liter engine require technical tweaks, while software updates are sufficient to make the other affected engines compliant, a VW spokesman said by phone. VW said last week it will recall about 8.5 million cars across Europe through 2016 and acknowledged efforts to fix all cars might drag on until 2017. VW has also stated the fallout from the scandal will cost more than the €6.5 billion already set aside.

Worldwide some 11 million cars with diesel engines are affected by the wide-ranging emissions rigging that was uncovered by U.S. regulators and triggered the resignation of Chief Executive Officer Martin Winterkorn. Moody’s Investors Service said Wednesday that uncertainties about the potential impact on VW’s reputation, earnings and cash flows could weigh on the manufacturer’s credit profile into 2017. New CEO Matthias Mueller said last week protecting the company’s credit rating is a top priority. The manufacturer can recover from the scandal in two-to-three years if the right decisions are made now to make VW more efficient, agile and cost competitive, he said.

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“The logic of the EU rules holds that burning a tree doesn’t actually create new carbon emissions; it just releases the old. The carbon balance is therefore zero.”

The EU Is Emitting Way More Greenhouse Gases Than It Says (Quartz)

One of the planet’s exemplars in preventing climate change, the EU has instituted tough emissions rules and strong support for renewable energy. Yet this doesn’t necessarily mean more solar panels or wind turbines dotting Europe’s skyline. Nope, the EU’s biggest source of renewable energy is old-school: burning wood. There’s just one problem with this. Torching wood has the potential to warm the atmosphere faster than burning coal does. So why does Europe get nearly half of its renewable energy that way? As Climate Central argues in this three-part piece, a legal loophole in the EU’s climate rules means it turns a blind eye to tens of millions of CO2 emissions that it pumps into the atmosphere each year. Worse, this policy means European governments issue hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to encourage power plants to burn even more wood.

The core issue lies in how to count the CO2 pollution released when wood is burned for electricity and heat. Because trees grow back, EU law deems wood a “renewable energy” just like solar or wind (a source of fuel, in other words, that can be used to meet its fairly tough climate action target of sourcing 20% of its final energy consumption to come from renewable energy by 2020). But in many ways, wood is more like coal or oil—it must be burned to generate power. This process releases a lot of CO2, which traps heat in the atmosphere, warming the planet. But since trees also absorb CO2, they act as what’s been described as a “brake” on the rate of global warming. The logic of the EU rules holds that burning a tree doesn’t actually create new carbon emissions; it just releases the old. The carbon balance is therefore zero.

This makes complete sense—provided the wood you’re burning comes from already-dead wood that would release its carbon as it decomposed anyway. This includes dust and chips from sawmills, for example. And since the energy created when that wood is burned isn’t coming from fossil fuels, it’s ultimately a net positive for the atmosphere, as the CarbonBrief explains. However, that equation changes once you start clear-cutting forests for the sole purpose of fueling power plants. Wood tends to emit more carbon than fossil fuels to generate the same amount of energy, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (pdf). Eventually, trees grow back and absorb this carbon. However, a growing body of peer-reviewed research suggests it can take decades—or even centuries—before a forest grows back enough to balance out the atmospheric CO2 created when its trees were burned.

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Like the Bloomberg title.

The Strongest El Niño in Decades Is Going to Mess With Everything (Bloomberg)

It has choked Singapore with smoke, triggered Pacific typhoons and left Vietnamese coffee growers staring nervously at dwindling reservoirs. In Africa, cocoa farmers are blaming it for bad harvests, and in the Americas, it has Argentines bracing for lower milk production and Californians believing that rain is finally, mercifully on the way. El Nino is back and in a big way. Its effects are just beginning in much of the world – for the most part, it hasn’t really reached North America – and yet it’s already shaping up potentially as one of the three strongest El Nino patterns since record-keeping began in 1950. It will dominate weather’s many twists and turns through the end of this year and well into next. And it’s causing gyrations in everything from the price of Colombian coffee to the fate of cold-water fish.

Expect “major disruptions, widespread droughts and floods,” Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. In principle, with advance warning, El Nino can be managed and prepared for, “but without that knowledge, all kinds of mayhem will let loose.” In the simplest terms, an El Nino pattern is a warming of the equatorial Pacific caused by a weakening of the trade winds that normally push sun-warmed waters to the west. This triggers a reaction from the atmosphere above. Its name traces back hundreds of years to the coast of Peru, where fishermen noticed the Pacific Ocean sometimes warmed in late December, around Christmas, and coincided with changes in fish populations. They named it El Nino after the infant Jesus Christ. Today meteorologists call it the El Nino Southern Oscillation.

The last time there was an El Nino of similar magnitude to the current one, the record-setting event of 1997-1998, floods, fires, droughts and other calamities killed at least 30,000 people and caused $100 billion in damage, Trenberth estimates. Another powerful El Nino, in 1918-19, sank India into a brutal drought and probably contributed to the global flu pandemic, according to a study by the Climate Program Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As the Peruvian fishermen recognized in the 1600s, El Nino events tend to peak as summer comes to the Southern Hemisphere. The impact can be broken down into several categories. Coastal regions from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest in the U.S., as well as Japan, Korea and China may all have warmer winters. The southern U.S., parts of east Africa and western South America can get more rain, while drier conditions prevail across much of the western Pacific and parts of Brazil.

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Strong graphs. More El Niño.

The Graphic That Shows Why 2015 Global Temperatures Are Off The Charts (SMH)

If there is one chart that might finally put to rest debate of a pause or “hiatus” in global warming, this chart created by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has just supplied it. For years, climate change sceptics relied on a spike in global temperatures that occurred during the monster 1997-98 El Nino to say the world had stopped warming because later years struggled to set a higher mark even as greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise. Never mind that US government scientists found the hiatus was an illusion because the oceans had absorbed most of the extra heat that satellites could tell the Earth was trapping. Nor that 2005, 2010 and 2014 all set subsequent records for annual heat.

Those record years were too incrementally warmer compared with the 1997 mark to satisfy those who wanted to believe climate change was a hoax. But it is 2015, which is packing an El Nino that is on track to match the record 1997-98, that looks set to blow away previous years of abnormal warmth. “This one could end the hiatus,” said Wenju Cai, a principal research scientist specialising in El Nino modelling at the CSIRO. “Whether it beats [the 1997-98 El Nino] will be academic – it’s already very big.” NOAA data released overnight backs up how exceptional this year is in terms of warming, with September alone a full quarter of a degree above the corresponding month in 1997. As the chart above shows, for the first nine months, 2015 has easily been the hottest year on record, with sunlight second.

[..] El Ninos typically add 0.1-0.2 degrees to the background global warming. US climate expert John Abraham has estimated how year-to-date temperatures are adding another step-up to temperatures, as seen in this chart published by Think Progress. Climate change sceptics will probably not concede in their battle to avoid action to curb emissions. Satellite or meteorological data must have been manipulated, the oceans might be producing chemical compounds never detected before that counter carbon dioxide, or perhaps the sun is about to burn a lot less brightly. Still, they now have one more inconvenient chart they have to find a reason to ignore.

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114 people. That’s the whole story. But the UK won’t have none of it.

UK Must Resettle Refugees Who Arrived On Cyprus Military Base: UN (Guardian)

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, has said that the UK is legally obliged to resettle more than a hundred Syrian refugees who arrived by boat at a British military base in Cyprus, contradicting claims from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that they were a Cypriot responsibility. Two overloaded wooden boats carrying 114 refugees from Syria, including 28 children, have been transferred to a temporary reception area in the sovereign base at Akrotiri on the southern coast of the Mediterranean island. According to the Cypriot coastguard, the refugees were abandoned offshore by people smugglers and left to fend for themselves.

The arrival on British territory of asylum seekers fleeing the Syrian conflict intensifies the scrutiny on the UK’s response to Europe’s worst refugee crisis since the second world war. David Cameron has offered to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years – significantly less than most other western European countries, though the government has pointed out it gives more aid for refugee camps along Syria’s borders. Reacting to the arrivals at Akrotiri, the MoD said: “At the moment our key priority is ensuring everybody on board is safe and well. We have had an agreement in place with the Republic of Cyprus since 2003 to ensure that the Cypriot authorities take responsibility in circumstances like this.”

Asked whether the refugees would be able to claim asylum in Britain, an MoD official said: “That’s not our understanding.” A spokeswoman for the Home Office also stated: “The resettlement of refugees landing on the southern bases in Cyprus is not the responsibility of the United Kingdom.” But the UNHCR said in a statement that the 2003 UK-Cyprus memorandum made it clear that “asylum seekers arriving directly on to the SBA [Sovereign Base Area] are the responsibility of the UK but they would be granted access to services in the republic at the cost of the SBA.”

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They’ll throw -promises of- more money around. And that’ll be it, again.

EU Calls Mini-Summit On Refugee Crisis As Slovenia Tightens Border (Guardian)

The EU has called a mini summit with Balkan countries on the migrant crisis as Slovenia became the latest state to buckle under a surge of refugees desperate to reach northern Europe before winter. The leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania and Slovenia will meet in Brussels on Sunday with their counterparts from non-EU states Macedonia and Serbia, the office of EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said. “In view of the unfolding emergency in the countries along the western Balkans migratory route, there is a need for much greater cooperation, more extensive consultation and immediate operational action,” a statement said. The continent has been struggling to find a unified response on how to tackle its biggest migration crisis since 1945.

More than 600,000 migrants and refugees, mainly fleeing violence in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, have braved the dangerous journey to Europe so far this year, the UN said. Of these, more than 3,000 have drowned or gone missing as they set off from Turkey in inflatable boats seeking to reach Greece, the starting point for the migrants’ long trek north. With the crisis showing no sign of abating, France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve reinforced security in the port city of Calais from where migrants and refugees try to cross to Britain. He also announced that women and children would be given heated tents, as arrivals in a makeshift camp face a dip in temperature.

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EU police? Don’t think that exists. So, German and French cops patrolling in Slovenia? Really?

Slovenia Asks For EU Police Help To Regulate Migrant Flow (Reuters)

Slovenia has asked the European Union for police to help regulate the inflow of migrants from Croatia, Interior Minister Vesna Gyorkos Znidar told TV Slovenia. Over the past 24 hours, more than 10,000 migrants, many fleeing violence in Syria, have arrived in Slovenia, the smallest country on the Balkan migration route, on their way to Austria. “Slovenia has already asked other EU member states for police units,” Znidar said late on Wednesday. European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos on Thursday will visit Slovenia to discuss the migrant crisis, while Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called an extraordinary meeting of several European leaders for Sunday.

Juncker invited the leaders of Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia. Slovenia’s parliament has given more power to the army which is helping police control the border, while the country also plans to rehire retired police to help. Huge number of migrants started coming to Slovenia on Saturday after Hungary on Friday sealed its border with Croatia with a bottleneck building up through the Balkans.

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I’m all for it, but not for the We Must.. It will take a lot more than that.

A Cultural Revolution To Save Humanity (Serge Latouche)

We’ve reached a point that means we can no longer go on as we are doing! Everyone’s talking about crisis and it’s slightly paradoxical because I’ve always been hearing about a crisis ever since 1968 when there was a cultural crisis, then in 1972, with the publication of the work by The Club of Rome, there was talk of an ecological crisis, then there was the neoliberal counter-revolution and the social crisis with Margaret Thatcher and Reagan, and now there’s the financial crisis and the economic crisis after the collapse of Lehmann Brothers. Finally, all these crises are getting mixed up and we re seeing a crisis of civilisation, an anthropological crisis. At this point, the system can no longer be reformed – we have to exit from this paradigm – and what is it? It s the paradigm of a growth society.

Our society has been slowly absorbed by an economy based on growth, not growth to satisfy needs – and that would be a good thing – but growth for the sake of growth and this naturally leads to the destruction of the planet because infinite growth is incompatible with a finite planet. We need a real reflection when we talk about an anthropological crisis. We need to take this seriously because we need a decolonisation of the imagination. Our imagination has been colonised by the economy. Everything has become economics. This is specific to the West and it’s fairly new in our history. It was in the seventeenth century when there was a great ethical switch with the theory expounded by Bernard Mandeville. Before, people said that altruism was good and then: “no, we have to be egoists, we have to make as much profit as possible; greed is good . Yes – to destroy our “oikos (our home) more quickly. And we have actually got to that point.

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“Monstromart’s slogan was “where shopping is a baffling ordeal”.

Why Too Much Choice Is Stressing Us Out (Guardian)

Once upon a time in Springfield, the Simpson family visited a new supermarket. Monstromart’s slogan was “where shopping is a baffling ordeal”. Product choice was unlimited, shelving reached the ceiling, nutmeg came in 12lb boxes and the express checkout had a sign reading, “1,000 items or less”. In the end the Simpsons returned to Apu’s Kwik-E-Mart. In doing so, the Simpsons were making a choice to reduce their choice. It wasn’t quite a rational choice, but it made sense. In the parlance of economic theory, they were not rational utility maximisers but, in Herbert Simon’s term, “satisficers” – opting for what was good enough, rather than becoming confused to the point of inertia in front of Monstromart’s ranges of products.

This comes to mind because Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis seems bent on making shopping in his stores less baffling than it used to be. Earlier this year, he decided to scrap 30,000 of the 90,000 products from Tesco’s shelves. This was, in part, a response to the growing market shares of Aldi and Lidl, which only offer between 2,000 and 3,000 lines. For instance, Tesco used to offer 28 tomato ketchups while in Aldi there is just one in one size; Tesco offered 224 kinds of air freshener, Aldi only 12 – which, to my mind, is still at least 11 too many. Now Lewis is doing something else to make shopping less of an ordeal and thereby, he hopes, reducing Tesco’s calamitous losses. He has introduced a trial in 50 stores to make it easier and quicker to shop for the ingredients for meals.

Basmati rice next to Indian sauces, tinned tomatoes next to pasta. What Lewis is doing to Tesco is revolutionary. Not just because he recognises that customers are time constrained, but because he realises that increased choice can be bad for you and, worse, result in losses that upset his shareholders. But the idea that choice is bad for us flies in the face of what we’ve been told for decades. The standard line is that choice is good for us, that it confers on us freedom, personal responsibility, self-determination, autonomy and lots of other things that don’t help when you’re standing before a towering aisle of water bottles, paralysed and increasingly dehydrated, unable to choose.

That wasn’t how endless choice was supposed to work, argues American psychologist and professor of social theory Barry Schwartz in his book The Paradox of Choice. “If we’re rational, [social scientists] tell us, added options can only make us better off as a society. This view is logically compelling, but empirically it isn’t true.”

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 May 23, 2015  Posted by at 10:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


G. G. Bain Hudson-Fulton celebration. Union League Club. New York. 1909

Our $58 Trillion Love Affair With Debt, In One Crazy Chart (CNBC)
Fed On Track To Hike Rates As Economic Headwinds Wane: Yellen (Reuters)
BRICS To Establish New Multi-Currency Financial Order (RT)
How ‘Mathiness’ Made Me Jaded About Economics (Bloomberg)
Jim Chanos Thinks China Could Be The Next Greece (MarketWatch)
Greece and Creditors Struggle for Elusive Deal (WSJ)
Eurozone Says No Greek Deal Without IMF (FT)
Yanis Varoufakis Is More Than His Clothes (AlJazeera)
How Politics Will Seal The Fate Of Greece (FT)
German Business Morale Weakens And Trade Dampens Q1 Growth (Reuters)
The Strikes Sweeping Germany Are Here To Stay (Guardian)
Bank Of England Secretly Investigates Financial Fallout Of Brexit (Guardian)
GM Inquiry Said to Find Criminal Wrongdoing (NY Times)
Ireland Says Yes To Same-Sex Marriage By Up To 2:1 Margin (Ind.ie)
‘March Against Monsanto’ in 38 Countries, 428 Cities (RT)
Bayer CEO: The World Needs An Antibiotics Bailout (Reuters)
California Accepts Offer By Farmers To Cut Water Usage By 25% (Guardian)
Attacks On The Last Elephants And Rhinos Threaten Entire Ecosystems (Monbiot)
Yet Another Antarctic Ice Mass Is Becoming Destabilized (WaPo)

The one area where the US sees actual growth.

Our $58 Trillion Love Affair With Debt, In One Crazy Chart (CNBC)

Those having a hard time finding growth in the U.S. economy are looking in the wrong places. Forget about real estate, technology or manufacturing: The real American growth industry is debt. While gross domestic product has lingered in the 2 to 2.5% growth range for years, the level of debt as measured through credit market instruments has exploded. As the nation entered the 1980s, there was comparatively little debt—just about $4.3 trillion. That was only about 1.5 times the size of gross GDP. Then a funny thing happened. The gap began to widen during the decade, and then became basically parabolic through the ’90s and into the early part of the 21st century.

Though debt took a brief decline in 2009 as the country limped its way out of the financial crisis, it has climbed again and is now, at $58.7 trillion, 3.3 times the size of GDP and about 13 times what it was in 1980, according to data from the Federal Reserve’s St. Louis branch. (The total debt measure is not to be confused with the $18.2 trillion national debt, which is 102% of GDP and is a subset of the total figure.) Of the total debt, nonfinancial debt leads the way at $41.4 trillion, which breaks down as household and nonprofits holding just shy of $13.5 trillion, nonfinancial business debt at $12 trillion and total government debt at $15.9 trillion.

Growth, such as it is, has been present in all debt categories: In the fourth quarter of 2014, when GDP was growing at just a 2.2% rate, business debt jumped 7.2%, federal government debt surged 5.4% and household debt rose 2.7%, with overall domestic nonfinancial debt up 4.7. So while many economists have bemoaned the 0.2% GDP growth in the first quarter and the dimming prospects for growth the remainder of the year, the debt engine is keeping things humming along—until, of course, the next crisis comes and we start all over again.

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What was it? 0.2% GDP growth in Q1? That can’t be the reason. The Fed made up its mind a long time ago.

Fed On Track To Hike Rates As Economic Headwinds Wane: Yellen (Reuters)

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was clearer than ever on Friday that the central bank was poised to raise interest rates this year, as the U.S. economy was set to bounce back from an early-year slump and as headwinds at home and abroad waned. Yellen spoke amid growing concern at the Fed about volatility in financial markets once it begins to raise rates, and a desire to begin coaxing skeptical investors toward accepting the inevitable: that a 6-1/2-year stretch of near-zero interest rates would soon end. In a speech to a business group in Providence, Rhode Island, Yellen said she expected the world’s largest economy to strengthen after a slowdown due to “transitory factors” in recent months, and noted that some of the weakness might be due to “statistical noise.”

The confident tone suggested the Fed wants to set the stage as early as possible for its first rate rise in nearly a decade, with Yellen stressing that monetary policy must get out ahead of an economy whose future looks bright. While cautioning that such forecasting is always highly uncertain, and citing room for improvement in the labor market, the Fed chief said delaying a policy tightening until employment and inflation hit the central bank’s targets risked overheating the economy. “For this reason, if the economy continues to improve as I expect, I think it will be appropriate at some point this year to take the initial step to raise the federal funds rate target,” and begin normalizing monetary policy, Yellen told the Providence Chamber of Commerce.

In a speech in March, Yellen said only that a rate hike “may well be warranted later this year,” though the Fed was at the time giving “serious consideration” to making the move. Investors globally are attempting to predict when the Fed will modestly tighten policy. Most economists point to September, while traders in futures markets held firm on December. Ahead of a three-day U.S. holiday weekend, Treasury yields hit session highs after Yellen spoke on Friday, and short-term interest rate futures extended losses, hitting session lows. U.S. stocks were largely flat. “This is probably the most telegraphed Fed lift-off in some time,” said Bruce Zaro at Bolton Global. “I think they’re concerned about the market’s reaction – they don’t want to have a period of volatility that causes the market to react in a crash-type form.”

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At some point it will reach critical mass.

BRICS To Establish New Multi-Currency Financial Order (RT)

The new BRICS initiatives break the monopoly of existing western institutions over the financial order – a very important symbolic change, as it’s the first time a global financial institution is led by developing countries, said experts to RT. “If the new development bank experiment succeeds, it will show the world that the emerging countries can do and manage a multilateral economic institution by themselves,” Akshay Mathur, geo-economic fellow head of research at the Indian Council on Global Relations, told RT at the BRICS academic forum. While talking about the bank’s challenge to western-dominated financial system, he said that one of its goals is to stimulate lending to countries in local currencies for the new projects in that region.

“Right now the bank has clauses in its charter to encourage lending in local currencies. It can do it for lending in the new projects in the East, for Russian projects in the ruble,” he said. BRICS has already employed tools to move away from US dollar dominance, believes H.H.S. Viswanathan, Distinguished Fellow at India’s Observer Research Foundation. “A lot of trade between China and Russia is already taking place in local currencies. As far as India is concerned, it’s not that advanced, but in some areas – yes, we are using local currencies,” he said adding that the main advantage of the banks’ moving away from the dollar is that trading in local currencies reduces the operational cost.

Akshay Mathur also pointed out the potential risks the bank may face, cautioning that China, the largest of the five BRICS economies, could end up dominating the new financial institution. China has already shown notable success in internationalizing yuan. It is issuing foreign loans in its national currency and has currency swaps with 21 countries. “China is lending now more than the World Bank and the IMF combined in Africa and Latin America. So, what I mean about the risk of Chinese financial architecture is that we want to move to a more multilateral multi-currency equitable architecture, because now we have been moving from the risks of one currency to the risks of another,” he said.

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“..math is central to everything that economists do. But the way math is used in macroeconomics isn’t the same as in the hard sciences..”

How ‘Mathiness’ Made Me Jaded About Economics (Bloomberg)

Economics has a lot of math. In no other subject except mathematics itself will you see so many proofs and theorems. Some branches of econ, such as game theory, could legitimately be housed in university math departments. But even in fields such as macroeconomics, which ostensibly deal with real-world phenomena, math is central to everything that economists do. But the way math is used in macroeconomics isn’t the same as in the hard sciences. This isn’t something that most non-economists realize, so I think I had better explain.

In physics, if you write down an equation, you expect the variables to correspond to real things that you can measure and predict. For example, if you write down an equation for the path of a cannonball, you would expect that equation to let you know how to aim your cannon in order to actually hit something. This close correspondence between math and reality is what allowed us to land spacecraft on the moon. It also allowed engineers to build your computer, your car and most of the things you use. Some economics is the same way, especially in microeconomics, or the study of individuals’ actions — you can predict which kind of auction will fetch the highest prices, or how many people will ride a train. But macroeconomics, which looks at the broad economy, is different.

Most of the equations in the models aren’t supported by evidence. For example, something called the consumption euler equation is at the core of almost every modern macroeconomic model. It specifies a relationship between consumption growth and interest rates. But when researchers looked at real data on consumption growth and interest rates, they found that the equation gives exactly the wrong predictions! Yet it continues to be used as the core of almost every macro model. If you read the macro literature, you see that almost every famous, respected paper is chock full of these sort of equations that don’t match reality. This paper predicts that everyone will hold the same amount of cash. This paper predicts that people buy financial assets that only pay off if people are able to change the wage that they ask to receive.

These and many other mathematical statements don’t remotely correspond to observable reality, nor do they have any evidence in support of them. Yet they are thrown into big multi-equation models, and those models are then judged only on how well they fit the aggregate data (which usually isn’t very well). That whole approach would never fly in engineering. Engineering is something you expect to work. But macroeconomists often treat their models as simply ways, in the words of David Andolfatto, vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, to “organize our thinking” about the world. In other words, macroeconomists use math to make their thoughts concrete, to persuade others, and to check the internal consistency of their (sometimes preposterous) ideas, but not to actually predict things in the real world.

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So do I: .

Jim Chanos Thinks China Could Be The Next Greece (MarketWatch)

China could be the next Greece and its debt woes may even exceed the European country’s in the next few years, predicts prominent hedge-fund manager Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates. “I joke to my Chinese friends, somewhat half-seriously, another three-four years they are going to be like my homeland Greece,” said Chanos in an interview, which will air this weekend on Wall Street Week, a show hosted by Anthony Scaramucci, co founder of investment-management firm SkyBridge Capital. The perennial China bear pointed to China’s debt-to-GDP ratio of nearly 300% and projected that the ratio is likely to balloon to 400% over the next few years. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“The problem is the credit story,” Chanos said. “China’s banking system is bloated and it’s basically taking on more and more leverage.” Chanos declined to elaborate further when contacted for comments but he has been an unabashed critic of China’s debt-fueled economic growth and has been sounding alarm bells of possible hard landing for the world’s second largest economy for several years. A so-called hard landing can refer to a rapid economic slowdown that occurs typically as a government’s central bank is attempting to tighten fiscal policy and combat inflation. China’s total debt hit $28.2 trillion in 2014, equivalent to 280% of its gross domestic product, according to The Wall Street Journal. Chinese monetary officials earlier this month lowered interest rates to combat a worse-than-expected economic slowdown as companies and governments struggled under heavy debt. China’s GDP rose 7% in the first quarter, slowing from the 7.3% growth in the fourth quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics said in April.

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As I predicted, the June 5 date is no longer a stumbling block. The 16th looks darker, though.

Greece and Creditors Struggle for Elusive Deal (WSJ)

Greece and its lenders are casting around for ways to prevent the country from defaulting on debts to the International Monetary Fund in June, as negotiations to unlock bailout aid barely inch forward and the Athens government runs dangerously low on cash. Greece needs financial help in some form by mid-June in order to repay a series of IMF loans falling due, several officials from the country and its creditors said. The Greek government is expected to be able to cover pensions and public-sector wages in May, and it can probably scrape together enough cash to repay a €300 million IMF loan on June 5, these people said.

But three subsequent IMF payments totaling €1.25 billion due in mid-June pose a severe challenge to Athens’s bare treasury, the officials say, and could force the government to either take politically costly measures such as raiding pension funds or delay the payments and risk an unpredictable fallout at home and abroad. Missing an IMF payment would signal that Athens’s coffers are empty. That could spark heavy deposit withdrawals from Greek banks and force capital controls, deepening the country’s economic crisis, said Jacob Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

The looming IMF payments are putting massive pressure on the government, led by the left-wing Syriza party, to agree by early June to the economic-overhaul demands of its creditors. The IMF itself, which is withholding fresh loans pending a deal on policy measures, wants tough pension cutbacks and labor deregulation, without which it believes Greece can’t achieve sustainable growth or solvency. Those measures are anathema to Syriza, elected in January on an antiausterity platform, leaving Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras faced with only unappealing options. Signing the creditors’ terms and putting them to parliament could split his party. A referendum or elections would need time, which is fast running out, and could trigger uncertainty, bank runs and capital controls.

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The White House will be needed to get the IMF in line.

Eurozone Says No Greek Deal Without IMF (FT)

European leaders have told Greece there will be no deal to release desperately needed bailout aid without approval from the more hardline IMF, setting up a stand-off that could leave cash-strapped Athens without funds well into June. The message, delivered by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to Alexis Tsipras, her Greek counterpart, at a private meeting in Riga, Latvia’s capital, as well as by lower-level European officials to their Greek interlocutors, comes as the IMF has been weighing whether to withhold its €3.6bn portion of the €7.2bn bailout tranche Athens needs to avoid default. Eurozone and Greek negotiators have been pushing to complete a deal by the end of the month to free up bailout funds before the first in a series of loan repayments owed the IMF totalling €1.5bn falls due June 5.

But securing IMF approval for a bailout deal significantly complicates that timeline. IMF officials believe Mr Tsipras’s government has reversed many of the economic reforms the IMF had agreed with previous Greek governments and do not feel Athens will be able to hit budget targets that would allow its growing debt pile to be reduced quickly. IMF staff have told their board they would not disburse aid without a “comprehensive” deal that started to lower debt levels. They also want EU assurances that Greece will be able to pay its bills for the next 12 months, a demand that could require eurozone governments to commit to another bailout programme. “It has to be a comprehensive approach, not a quick and dirty job,” Christine Lagarde, IMF chief, said at an event in Rio de Janeiro on Friday..

Greek officials have told their eurozone counterparts they are worried about the IMF’s hardline stance and have argued their conditions are politically undeliverable, especially when it comes to the pension reforms, which remain the biggest stumbling block. The IMF has clashed with the European Commission over how tough a line to take, with the commission going so far as to moot cutting the IMF out of a deal. But German officials have bristled at the commission’s interventions and have made clear all three bailout monitors — the IMF, the commission and the ECB — must approve any deal. “The deal must be concluded with the three institutions,” Ms Merkel said at a gathering of leaders from the EU and former Soviet states on Friday. “There is very, very intensive work to be done.”

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“..when close to a solution, the EU goes back to the table with demands that make no sense in the current context..”

Yanis Varoufakis Is More Than His Clothes (AlJazeera)

As the media picked apart Varoufakis, from his smirk to his casual footwear, ugly stereotypes about Greeks resurfaced. In a German daily, the reporter wrote that while “the other finance ministers looked pale and tired, Varoufakis looked as if he had just come back from vacation.” The fallacy of hardworking northerners and lazy southerners should have been put to rest with the 20th century but is still around in 2015. The press briefings cited in most media — which come almost exclusively from unofficial, anonymous sources — said that the discussions that took place over the past few months were no better. They spoke of Greece having no viable proposals and of living in an alternative reality.

They accused Varoufakis of being an ideologue, as though German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s notion of “expansionary contraction,” which was used to justify the austerity dogma, wasn’t in and of itself an ideological intervention (let alone a contradiction in terms). They even complained that Varoufakis was lecturing them on macroeconomics. He was, in a way. “One of the great ironies of the Eurogroup is that there is no macroeconomic discussion. It’s all rules based, as if the rules are God given and as if the rules can go against the rules of macroeconomics,” Varoufakis said in The Irish Times, in response to a criticism by Ireland’s finance minister that he was “too theoretical.”

For now, Varoufakis, like Greece, enjoys too much unwanted attention. While support for Syriza is growing and the party is now leading with 21 percentage points over New Democracy, everyone from everyday supporters of the party (as recent polls have shown) to Greek businesses agrees that the negotiations have gone on too long. But it’s also becoming obvious that when close to a solution, the EU goes back to the table with demands that make no sense in the current context. Earlier this week The Wall Street Journal reported that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble “showed no willingness to compromise in the negotiations to unlock the final installment of Greece’s €245 billion bailout.”

And in late-night talks on Thursday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras met with his counterparts from France and Germany; the atmosphere, Bloomberg reported, was convivial, but the team failed to reach an agreement to release additional bailout funds. We’re running out of time, as we’re only a few weeks before Greece is forced to default on billions of euros in debt repayments. Europe and the international media should stop talking about its finance minister’s clothes and address his nation’s needs and the ideas that he is putting on the table.

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Wait, who said that before? “The Greek crisis was always as much about politics as economics. Now it is all about politics.” I sure didn’t use the same ‘logic’, however: Greece Is Now Just A Political Issue .

How Politics Will Seal The Fate Of Greece (FT)

Forget debt ratios, fiscal balances, liquidity crunches and the rest. The EU and IMF technicians negotiating with Athens are going through the motions. The Greek crisis was always as much about politics as economics. Now it is all about politics. There are two theories of the Syriza government led by Alexis Tsipras. One presents a cast of bungling amateurs who have spent the past several months digging Greece into an ever deeper economic hole — all the while squandering the trust and goodwill of its eurozone partners. The other says the antics of Yanis Varoufakis, finance minister, are an elaborate political charade calculated to set Greece free from the shackles of merciless creditors.

The first hypothesis is the most popular. The preening and pirouetting, the interviews in glossy magazines, the undergraduate Marxism and love of the limelight — all point to a colossal failure on Mr Varoufakis’s part to grasp the depth of Greece’s plight or the sensitivities of its European partners. Along the way, tens of billions of dollars have drained from Greek banks as citizens stash their savings elsewhere. The conspiracy theory, though, also has its adherents. They start with the assumption that no one could be quite as witless as Syriza has often seemed. Mr Tsipras’s government knew from the outset that it could not reconcile its domestic promises with Greece’s international obligations.

The problem was that Greeks had voted at once for an end to austerity and to stay in the euro. A crisis had to be manufactured to show the government’s hand had been forced. By the Germans, of course. I lean towards the former theory, but it hardly matters. Even at this late hour it would be unwise to say that a deal with creditors is absolutely impossible. High-stakes politics occasionally demands that pigs are seen to fly. What strikes me, though, is how far the conversation in other capitals has moved on. The risk of contagion in the rest of the eurozone has long been discussed. The talk now is about the chaos that would descend on Greece after default and euro exit. Would it be manageable or would the EU be left with a failed state?

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More ‘logic’: “..in view of the long recovery the German economy already has behind it, it was normal that its growth rate would be weaker than the rest of the euro zone..”

German Business Morale Weakens And Trade Dampens Q1 Growth (Reuters)

German business morale deteriorated slightly in May for the first time in seven months though it remained at a high level overall, a leading survey showed, adding to signs of softening in Europe’s largest economy. Although growth levels remain decent, separate data published on Friday showed the slowing of the German economy during the first quarter was down to a drag from foreign trade, which had propelled the economy for much of the past decade. The Munich-based Ifo think tank said its business climate index, based on a monthly survey of 7,000 firms, edged down to 108.5 in May from 108.6 in April. That was slightly above the Reuters consensus forecast for 108.3, sending the euro to a day’s high against the dollar.

It comes after ZEW’s survey this week showed investor sentiment weakening and a purchasing managers’ survey (PMI) showed private sector expansion slowing. “With today’s GDP data, yesterday’s PMIs and now the Ifo, new doubts about the strength of the German economy could emerge again,” said Carsten Brzeski, economist at ING. “Germany is at the end of a very positive reform-growth cycle, which is artificially extended by external tailwinds,” he said, adding that in view of the long recovery the German economy already has behind it, it was normal that its growth rate would be weaker than the rest of the euro zone. The Ifo survey showed companies were more optimistic about the current situation than at any point since June 2014 but they became slightly more pessimistic about their future prospects.

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Germany is not used to inequality.

The Strikes Sweeping Germany Are Here To Stay (Guardian)

German strikes once seemed like German jokes: a contradiction in terms. But no more: this year, Europe’s largest economy is on course to set a new record for industrial action, with everyone from train drivers, kindergarten and nursery teachers and post office workers staging walkouts recently. The strike wave is more than a conjunctural blip: it is another facet of the inexorable disintegration of what used to be the “German model”. Good economic conditions play a part, but unions in the thriving export industries are not the ones that are striking these days. Strikes cluster in domestic services, especially the public sector, and indications are that they are here to stay.

In the old days, the powerful unions of the metalworkers set the pace for wage increases throughout the economy. But the last time IG Metall went on a nationwide strike was in 1984. In the 1990s, its members, in particular those in the large car factories, learned the hard way that manufacturing jobs could more easily than ever be moved abroad, to China or the formerly communist eastern Europe. International competition is now no longer just about market share, but also employment. It did not take long for the union leadership to notice this. Fear of unemployment, incidentally, accounts also for German manufacturing workers’ unwillingness to contribute to macroeconomic balance under European monetary union by pushing for higher wages in order to bring down the German export surplus.

Today, the action has shifted to services, where job export is more difficult. But other factors also account for the rise of industrial disorder. Since unification, public employers, in pursuit of fiscal consolidation, have broken up Germany’s peculiar public sector collective bargaining regime, which covered everyone from refuse collectors to professors and generated, essentially, the same yearly wage increases for all. Moreover, several occupations – including train drivers, teachers and postal workers – lost the uniquely German employment status of Beamter, of civil servants without a right to strike but with lifelong tenure and guaranteed pay raises in line with the rate of economic growth.

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How is this a big story? Of course the BoE studies Brexit.

Bank Of England Secretly Investigates Financial Fallout Of Brexit (Guardian)

Bank of England officials are secretly researching the financial shocks that could hit Britain if there is a vote to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum. The Bank blew its cover on Friday when it accidentally emailed details of the project – including how the bank intended to fend off any inquiries about its work – direct to the Guardian. According to the confidential email, the press and most staff in Threadneedle Street must be kept in the dark about the work underway, which has been dubbed Project Bookend. It spells out that if anyone asks about the project, the taskforce must say the investigation has nothing to do with the referendum, saying only that staff are involved in examining “a broad range of European economic issues” that concern the Bank.

The revelation is likely to embarrass the bank governor, Mark Carney, who has overhauled the central bank’s operations and promised greater transparency over its decision-making. MPs are now likely to ask whether the Bank intended to inform parliament that a major review of Britain’s prospects outside the EU was being undertaken by the institution that acts as the UK’s main financial regulator. Carney is also likely to come under pressure within the Bank to reveal whether there are other undercover projects underway.

Officials are likely to have kept the project under wraps to avoid entering the highly charged debate around the EU referendum, which has jumped to the top of the political agenda since the Conservatives secured an overall majority. Many business leaders and pro-EU campaigners have warned that “Brexit” would hit British exports and damage the standing of the City of London.

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More cooperative criminals?!

GM Inquiry Said to Find Criminal Wrongdoing (NY Times)

Justice Department investigators have identified criminal wrongdoing in General Motors’ failure to disclose a defect tied to at least 104 deaths, and are negotiating what is expected to be a record penalty, according to people briefed on the inquiry. A settlement could be reached as soon as this summer. The final number is still being negotiated, but it is expected to eclipse the $1.2 billion paid last year by Toyota for concealing unintended acceleration problems in its vehicles, said the people, who did not want to be identified because the negotiations weren’t complete. GM’s eagerness to resolve the investigation – a strategy that sets it apart from Toyota, which fought prosecutors – is expected to earn it so-called cooperation credit, one of the people said.

That credit could translate into a somewhat smaller penalty than if GM had declined to cooperate. Former GM employees, some of whom were dismissed last year, are under investigation as well and could face criminal charges. Prosecutors and GM are also still negotiating what misconduct the company would admit to. For more than a year, federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the F.B.I. have homed in on whether the company failed to comply with laws requiring timely disclosure of vehicle defects and misled federal regulators about the extent of the problems, the people who were briefed on the inquiry said. The authorities also examined whether GM committed fraud during its bankruptcy proceedings in 2009 by not disclosing the defect.

An agreement with the Justice Department, which could still fall apart, would represent a crucial step as GM tries to move past a scandal-laden year that tainted its reputation for quality and safety and damaged its bottom line. “We are cooperating fully with all requests,” the automaker said in a statement. “We are unable to comment on the status of the investigation, including timing.” In February 2014, the automaker began recalling 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts and other small cars with faulty ignitions that could unexpectedly turn off the engine, disabling power steering, power brakes and the airbags. The switch crisis prompted a wave of additional recalls by GM for various safety issues. All told, GM recalled more than 30 million vehicles worldwide last year – a record for the automaker.

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Is there any other choice?

Ireland Says Yes To Same-Sex Marriage By Up To 2:1 Margin (Ind.ie)

The same-sex marriage referendum will be comfortably passed, based on early tallies from across the country. The margin of victory is tipped to be heading towards a 2:1 majority. The high turnout favoured Yes campaigners as the efforts to get the vote out worked effectively, particularly among young voters. Few, if any locations, are showing a No vote winning the referendum. Even in traditionally conservative rural area, the vote is coming in at 50:50. Dublin will be strongly Yes, right across the city and county. But this trend is being matched in locations across the country.

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“Monsanto is a monopoly, and it’s acting like one. It’s basically controlling 90% of the seed market in the United States..”

‘March Against Monsanto’ in 38 Countries, 428 Cities (RT)

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in 428 cities are expected to turn out this weekend to protest agribusiness giant Monsanto. The third annual ‘March Against Monsanto’ seeks to highlight the company’s part in control of the food supply. The worldwide protest scheduled for May 23 is a continuation of growing awareness and opposition to industrial agriculture’s increasing consolidation of farming resources and methods, according to organizers. In 2013, the first March Against Monsanto garnered more than 2 million protesters in 436 cities across the world, according to a previous report by RT. Similar numbers were reported for last year’s demonstrations.

Monsanto’s track record has been scrutinized ever since it aided US warfare during the Vietnam war. Agent Orange was manufactured for the US Department of Defense primarily by Monsanto Corporation, the use of which is estimated to have killed and maimed around 400,000 while causing birth defects for 500,000 children. Scientific studies have linked the chemicals in Monsanto’s biocides to Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and cancer. “People are fed up. We should break up Monsanto,” Adam Eidinger of Occupy Monsanto told RT. “Monsanto is a monopoly, and it’s acting like one. It’s basically controlling 90% of the seed market in the United States. We wouldn’t let one cell phone company control 90% of the cell phones. But for some reason we let food be controlled.”

As the most powerful multinational biotech corporation today, Monsanto has drawn the ire of those within the movement for its firm grip on the global food chain. The company’s control and advancement of genetically modified organism (GMO) seeds is of prime concern. “In polls conducted by the New York Times, Washington Post, Consumer Reports, and many others, over 90% of respondents were in support of national GMO labeling – an initiative that has been defeated time and time again at the state level thanks to heavy spending by Monsanto-backed lobbying groups,” wrote March Against Monsanto in a news release.

Amid a wave of concern over genetically engineered foods sweeping through the US and around the world, major agribusiness and biotechnology conglomerates like Monsanto have spent immense amounts of cash to cloud the ‘right-to-know’ movement in the US. According to the Center for Food Safety, dozens of US states have in recent years considered labeling legislation and ballot initiatives while a handful have passed laws mandating GMO transparency. Vermont’s governor signed the nation’s first clean GMO-labeling requirement into law in 2014, to take effect in 2016, but a coalition of biotech firms filed a lawsuit to prevent that from happening. Other states have passed labeling laws, but with strings attached.

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These are the people who are instrumental in creating the problem, and now want us to pay them for a solution.

Bayer CEO: The World Needs An Antibiotics Bailout (Reuters)

German drugmaker Bayer expects the world’s largest economies to pool billions of euros in funding for the development of antibiotics against the growing threat of drug-resistant superbugs, its chief executive said on Friday. “I expect a multinational fund for antibiotics research. One country alone can’t shoulder it,” CEO Marijn Dekkers told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, according to an excerpt of an interview provided to Reuters on Friday. The funds were expected to be pledged during the June summit of the Group of Seven (G7) wealthy nations in Germany, he was quoted as saying. He mentioned reports that four new antibiotics would cost $22.4 billion to develop, saying that was “maybe a bit too much, but it will be really expensive”.

The World Health Organization has deemed the rising tide of drug-resistant bacteria, or so-called superbugs, as the “single greatest challenge in infectious diseases”. Germany’s health ministry has said Berlin would seek to address drug-resistant superbugs as part of the country’s presidency of the G7, leading up to the G7 summit in Bavaria in June. Governments should award development contracts for more antibiotics to pharmaceuticals companies, modelled on development contracts tendered to the defence industry, Dekkers told Der Spiegel. The pharma industry has argued that the private sector was being deterred from funding the development of new antibiotics because, to prevent the emergence of even more resistant bacteria, they would only be used when existing therapies have failed.

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A frist step. But nobody knows if it will be enough.

California Accepts Offer By Farmers To Cut Water Usage By 25% (Guardian)

California’s drought has produced a plot twist too singular even for Chinatown: farmers volunteering to give up a quarter of their water. Scores of farmers in the delta of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers made the unprecedented offer on Friday in a deal to stave off even steeper mandatory cuts. Agricultural players have fiercely guarded their water rights since the 19th century, rebuffing competing claims from cities and other rivals in the so-called water wars, a web of intrigues immortalised in Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. The film’s fictional farmers never countenanced voluntarily cutting their water use but as California endures a fourth year of drought growers in the delta calculated it was the lesser evil.

By promising to forfeit a quarter of this season’s water – by fallowing land or finding other measures to cut usage – they have averted harsher restrictions from state authorities. The State Water Board had warned it was days away from ordering some of the first cuts in more than 30 years to senior water rights holders. “This proposal helps delta growers manage the risk of potentially deeper curtailment, while ensuring significant water conservation efforts in this fourth year of drought,” State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus said in a statement.

“It allows participating growers to share in the sacrifice that people throughout the state are facing because of the severe drought, while protecting their economic well-being by giving them some certainty regarding exercise of the State Water Board’s enforcement discretion at the beginning of the planting season.” The agreement applies only to so-called riparian rights holders – farmers with direct access to streams. Those who participate can opt to reduce water diversions from streams by 25%, or fallow 25% of their land. In both cases, the reductions will be from 2013 levels.

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They threaten my mental sanity, too.

Attacks On The Last Elephants And Rhinos Threaten Entire Ecosystems (Monbiot)

Until 2008, conservationists, in some places at least, appeared to be winning. But in that year the number of rhinos killed in South Africa rose (from 13 in 2007) to 83. By 2011, the horrible tally had risen to 448. It climbed to 668 in 2012, 1004 in 2013 and 1215 in 2014. In the first four months of this year, 393 rhinos have been killed there, which is 18% more than in the same period last year. The reasons for this acceleration in the Great Global Polishing are complex and not always easy to tease out. But they appear to be connected to rising prosperity in Vietnam, the exhaustion of illegal stocks held by Chinese doctors and, possibly, speculative investment in a scarce and tangible asset during the financial crisis. Corruption and judicial failure help to keep the trade alive.

Already, the western black rhino is extinct (the declaration was made in 2011). The northern white rhino has been reduced to five animals: a male at the end of its anticipated lifespan and four females, scattered between Kenya, the US and the Czech Republic. Similar stories can be told about some populations of elephants – in particular the forest elephants of west and central Africa. It’s not just these wonderful, enchanting creatures that are destroyed by poaching, but also many of the living processes of the places they inhabit. Elephants and rhinos are ecological engineers, creating conditions that hundreds of other species have evolved to exploit. As the paper in Science Advances notes, the great beasts maintain a constantly shifting mosaic of habitats through a cycle of browsing and toppling and trampling, followed by the regrowth of the trees and the other plants they eat.

They open up glades for other herbivores, and spaces in which predators can hunt. They spread the seeds of trees that have no other means of dispersal (other animals are too small to swallow the seeds whole, and grind them up). Many trees in Africa and Asia are distributed exclusively by megaherbivores. They transport nutrients from rich places to poor ones and in some places reduce the likelihood of major bushfires, by creating firebreaks and eating twigs and leaves that would otherwise accumulate as potential fuel on the ground. Many animal species have co-evolved with them: the birds that eat their ectoparasites, the fish that feed on hippos’ fighting wounds (some of these species, I believe, are now used for fish pedicures), the wide range of life that depends on their dung for food and moisture, on their wallows for habitats, on the fissures they create in trees for nesting holes.

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Crumbling stability all around.

Yet Another Antarctic Ice Mass Is Becoming Destabilized (WaPo)

The troubling news continues this week for the Antarctic peninsula region, which juts out from the icy continent. Last week, scientists documented threats to the Larsen C and the remainder of the Larsen B ice shelf (most of which collapsed in 2002). The remnant of Larsen B, NASA researchers said, may not last past 2020. And as for Larsen C, the Scotland-sized ice shelf could also be at potentially “imminent risk” due to a rift across its mass that is growing in size (though it appears more stable than the remainder of Larsen B). And the staccato of May melt news isn’t over, it seems.

Thursday in Science, researchers from the University of Bristol in Britain, along with researchers from Germany, France and the Netherlands, reported on the retreat of a suite of glaciers farther south from Larsen B and C along the Bellingshausen Sea, in a region known as the Southern Antarctic Peninsula. Using satellite based and gravity measurements, the research team found that “a major portion of the region has, since 2009, destabilized” and accounts for “a major fraction of Antarctica’s contribution to rising sea level.” The likely cause of the change, they say, is warmer waters reaching the base of mostly submerged ice shelves that hold back larger glaciers — melting them from below.

This has been a common theme in Antarctica recently — a similar mechanism has been postulated for melting of ice shelves in nearby West Antarctica (which contains vastly more ice, and more potential sea level rise, than does the Antarctic peninsula). “This is one of now three really quite substantial signals that we’ve seen from different parts of West Antarctica and the Antarctic peninsula that is all going in the same way,” said Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol, one of the paper’s authors. The other two are the losses of ice in the Larsen ice shelf region — where glaciers have sped up their seaward lurches following past ice shelf collapses — and in West Antarctica.

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