It took me a while to decide which word(s) best define the past year and the next one, but I think this is pretty much it. 2018 was chaotic more than anything else, and that chaos will give rise to mayhem in 2019.
What I think is striking is that this is true across the board, in all walks of life so to speak. In finance, in politics, in energy markets, in ecological matters, and perhaps most of all in the ways all these topics are being covered by what once were trusted media.
I’m going to have to come back to all these topics separately, so it’s promising to be a very busy holiday season, but it’s also good to try and put them together in one place, if only to show how interconnected everything is. And how futile it is to look at the economy without seeing its connection to energy flows and ecosystems. And vice versa.
In finance and economics, we’ve seen an avalanche of falling numbers recently, in stock prices, bond prices, housing, across the globe, and obviously that evokes a lot of comments in the financial press. But that press, and bankers investors on their own, still talk about markets.
However, as I wrote in April 2018, if there is no price discovery, and there isn’t, there ARE NO markets, and it would be good and beneficial if many more people absorb that simple reality. Many more so-called traders and investors would be a start, but by no means enough. Lots more people who have nothing to do with the ‘markets’ should understand why there is no such thing anymore.
As long as you limit it to stock and bond markets, it may appear fine that people don’t understand. But as soon as you acknowledge there are no housing markets either for the exact same reasons, the story changes considerably. Because then it becomes clear that all -former- markets, bar none, have been eviscerated by central bank policies that sought to prop up banks, often highly successfully so, which they knew could only happen at the expense of communities and societies.
We’ve ended up with scores of mom and pop ‘investors’ who own hugely overpriced stocks and homes, while their pensions funds hold zillions ‘worth’ of bonds and also increasingly stocks. The link between pensions and AAA-rate assets was pulverized in the process. That looks set to continue, and worsen, in 2019. But that may be just the look of things. Because there really are no markets, there is no price discovery.
What is still there is a lot of talk about whether the Fed -and other central banks- will raise rates further or not, or will stop or continue their asset buying schemes. Central banks are the only game in town, there are no markets, nobody knows what anything is really worth because the Fed etc. took the discovery process beyond their reach.
And now all those financial ‘subjects’ are sitting on all this stuff that only appears to have value, and that value hinges exclusively on what Draghi, Kuroda, Yellen and now Jay Powell have decided things are worth. And yes, it does make matters appear okay, but because they can’t do QE forever, all of those values will need to be re-assessed by actual markets once Powell et al. are either thrown out or decide for themselves to leave the arena.
It won’t be pretty, it will be devastating. It’s impossible to say if it will come to a head in 2019, because the Fed can lower rates a bit again after its recent rate hikes and prop up the zombie for longer. Then again Draghi can’t do that anymore since he’s already in negative rate territory, and while the euro could fall to parity with the USD as a consequence, there’s a limit to that too.
Anyway, more on that later.
Energy and ecology seem to become more intertwined as we go along, though that may well be a trompe oeil, trick of the eye. Still, if you see and read what people have to say about things like the big COP24 event in Katowice last week, it’s obvious that the 2nd law of Thermodynamics is a hard one to internalize. Because that law seems to say that the use of energy, period, produces waste, while all these mostly well-meaning folk are merely focusing on shifting between energy sources.
There is surprisingly little attention for not using energy in the first place, which the 2nd Law appears to stipulate is the only way to stop the rot. And it’s entirely feasible to build homes that use 70-80% less power to heat and cool, or to design a transport system in a city that saves that much energy.
But the ‘leaders’, politicians and business people, prefer to address solar panels and wind turbines that allow for the amount of energy used to fall only moderately, which when combined with the economic growth that nobody questions, will lead to the use of ever more energy.
And I get that, you need to shrink your present economies, and the models they’re based on, in order to save the planet. I’m not so much talking about climate change, since the earth is a system so complex we should really be very cautious about deriving any conclusions about it from simplified models, but the species extinction reported in 2018 is another, and more immediately convincing, story.
Still, conferences like COP24, or its predecessor COP21 which I wrote about 3 years ago in CON21, are not just entirely useless, they move everything backward that all the worried boys and girls are so worried about.
The movers and shakers of the world all owe their positions to the economies, and therefore the levels of energy use, that the worried people now want to move away from. And then they turn to the same movers and shakers to make that happen. Sorry, no can do. All you’ll get is lip service from people looking for money and power, who are not interested in being proved wrong if they are.
Today’s climate discussion is a road to nowhere where down the line there’ll be nobody left to talk to and no birds singing. You yourself probably won’t be there either. There is not one politician who will volunteer to give up their power if that could save the world their children will have to live in. They’ll come up with a story where their position is save and so is that world, and they’re more than likely to believe it.
As for the media, the tale gets darker fast. It didn’t start in 2018, but it did become a lot more outspoken. As I’ve said before, there are three targets for the former trusted sources of impartial news, even as those sources rapidly become more partial as we move forward. And that of course has to do with their new business model I wrote about a lot: writing negative stories about Donald Trump became an obvious source of revenue well before he was president.
Once he was elected, the media doubled down. They wrote against Trump at first thinking he would be beaten in the GOP primaries, then some more when he faced Hillary, then because they didn’t like him in the White House, and finally because he turned out to be the business proposition that quite literally kept them alive. What was it, over 100,000 new subscribers for the NYT a MONTH at a certain point?! Would CNN and Rachel Maddow even exist anymore without the Donald?
But that also means that the MSM cannot report anything positive about the man, with the exception of a bombing campaign in a faraway sandbox, and that is pretty crazy. No matter where you stand politically, not even Trump can do everything wrong, but CNN, MSNBC, WaPo,NYT et al can’t say it out loud, because their new readers and viewers want negative stories.
I’m not at all a Trump fan, I find it insane that America can’t find a single person among its 320 million inhabitants who could better represent it, but I also saw well over two years ago that the reporting on Trump was so biased someone had to restore at least some balance. And if that was to be me, so be it.
It’s like the entire US -and UK- press has become the National Enquirer, where the questions of truth or accuracy have become, and/or always was, a complete afterthought, irrelevant to whatever is actually published. And the readers and viewers caught inside the echo chamber will never know any better than that that is what the world really looks like.
It’s the ‘old’ media’s response to the threat of social media, a fight they cannot possibly win in the end, but not one they will relinquish easily; it will be the end of them. So there’s Trump, and then there’s Russia and Julian Assange. And there’s a live shooting practice going on in which all three are fair game.
According to two reports published just yesterday in the NY Times and the BBC, African Americans and French Yellow Vests were targeted by Russian bots, trolls, give them a name. What these once trusted media no longer understand, or don’t care about, is that they are effectively saying that African Americans and Yellow Vests are all so stupid and so unconvinced and unconvincing in their political convictions that a bunch of poorly defined Russians made them throw their votes away from Hillary Clinton and towards Trump.
Like African Americans have no opinions and therefore in the end no functioning brains. Like their f*king robots, some inferior lifeform. Is there anything you can say that is more racist than that? I come up empty. And I understand Kanye.
And that the ‘Russians’ caused tens of thousands of Frenchmen and -women to put on a yellow vest and protest Macron’s dismantling of -very- long-standing labor rights and taxation ‘reforms’ that benefit the rich French elite. You cannot insult two such vast yet diverse groups of people, who seem to have little if anything in common, African Americans and Yellow Vests, you cannot insult them more or worse than such reports do.
And they simply don’t see it. In their view, and which they -rightly by now- trust their public will eat up like hot cakes, their 24/7 anti-Trump and anti-Russia campaigns have been so convincing that they can basically say anything at all by now. If Trump or the Russians deny, that’s just what they would do if they were guilty. Assange can’t deny anything at all, they’ve totally silenced him. They being the US deep state in liaison with the MSM.
That’s how we’re about to enter 2019, how we’re about to move from chaos to mayhem. It is scary not just because of what we see happening today, but even more because we’ve never seen anything remotely like it. Sure, US media, any country’s media, have always supported government strategic lies in times of warfare or other tensions.
But an overall campaign against a sitting president, comprised of dozens of articles a day consisting of mere allegations and rumors, let alone the same against a state nuclear power arguably mightier than the US itself, and a journalist who’s the only one in his profession who’s actually done what journalists should do, not the well-paid follow the party line thing going on at the MSM, all this is unprecedented.
And given what we’ve seen in 2018 in the realm of banned social media accounts, in a wider sense of the word, we can only wonder how much worse the censorship can get in the mayhem year of 2019.
Can the Automatic Earth, and for instance our friends at Zero Hedge, only continue to exist next year if we agree to increasingly become the poodles of the ruling political classes, intelligence services, and their press masters and lackeys?
It’s starting to look that way. So in closing, I want to call on you to support us by donating a Christmas gift, and preferably a recurring one all through the 2019 mayhem year, so we know we can continue to present you with an alternative to the ‘appropriate’ information you’re ‘supposed’ to be receiving.
“Adjusted” earnings growth is 10.2% year-over-year in the second quarter, according to FactSet, based on the 91% of the companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results. The energy sector was a key driver, with 332% “adjusted” earnings growth from the oil-bust levels of a year ago. The sectors with double-digit earnings growth: information technology (14.7%), utilities (10.8%), and financials (10.3%). The rest were single digit. Earnings in the consumer discretionary sector declined. Revenues grew 5.1%, also led by the energy sector. At the beginning of Q2 last year, the WTI grade of crude oil traded at $35 a barrel. In Q2 this year, WTI ranged from $42 to $53 a barrel.
So the Wall-Street hype machine is cranking at maximum RPM to propagate the great news that earnings are soaring, and that this is the reason why stocks should also be soaring, and forget everything else. The hype machine carefully avoids showing the bigger picture which is dismal for earnings and ludicrous for stock valuations. Aggregate earnings per share (EPS) for the S&P 500 companies on a trailing 12-months basis rose for the second quarter in a row. That’s the foundation of the Wall Street hype. But here’s the thing with these EPS: they’re now back where they had been in… May 2014. Yep. More than three years of earnings stagnation. No growth whatsoever, even for “adjusted” earnings. In fact, on a trailing 12-month basis, aggregate EPS of the S&P 500 companies are down about 5% from their peak in Q4 2014.
And yet, over the same three-plus years of total earnings stagnation, the S&P 500 index has soared 34%. This chart shows those “adjusted” earnings per share for the S&P 500 companies (black line) and the S&P 500 index (blue line). I marked August 2012 as the point five years ago, and May 2014. And these are not earnings under the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). FactSet uses “adjusted” earnings for its analyses. These are the earnings with the bad stuff “adjusted” out of them by management to manipulate earnings into the most favorable light. Not all companies report “adjusted” earnings. Some only report GAAP earnings and live with the consequences. But others put adjusted earnings into the foreground, and that’s what Wall Street dishes up.
[..] This is the peculiar situation of today: On average, these companies have stagnating earnings per share propped up by “adjusting” these earnings and by financial engineering. The price-earnings multiple (P/E ratio) for stagnating companies should be low. In January 2012, the P/E ratio for the companies in the S&P 500 index was 14.9. And that was high. As of Friday, the aggregate P/E ratio is 24.3:
This week we have read that Brussels has certified “the end of the crisis”. In an uncomfortably triumphant statement, the group welcomed the fact that Europe had emerged from the crisis and returned to growth “thanks to the decisive action of the European Union”. Really? Thanks to the “decisive action” of the European Union the “economy is back in shape”? It is true that the communique says that “much remains to be done to overcome the legacy of the crisis years”, but if we can say something about the European crisis is that the “decisive” action of the European Union has not helped to end the crisis, but has perpetuated and silenced it. The European economy is not “in shape”.
According to the Bank of International Settlements and Merrill Lynch, Europe has more zombie companies today than before the crisis, 9% of large listed non-financial corporations are considered walking dead, ie generating operating profits that do not cover their financial costs, in spite of all-time low-interest rates and an unprecedented monetary stimulus. And that is among the big companies, where the business results of the Eurostoxx remain below 2008. If we go to SMEs, the European Union has higher rates of bankruptcies and losses than in 2008, yet the tax burden on companies has increased. In fact, if anything can be said of the European business fabric is that it has been devastated by taxes.
The European Union has continued to hamper the high-productivity sectors to support the so-called national champions and zombies, that large amount of low-value added conglomerates, ridden by high debt and poor margins. While the United States saw the astronomical takeoff of technology giants and corporate profits growing at double digit rates, the EU decided to put obstacles to growth, and today, in the Eurostoxx 100, we have the same collection of dinosaurs that we had a decade ago. European banks, at the end of 2016, had more than €1 trillion in non-performing loans, a figure that represents 5.1% of total loans compared to 1.5% in the US or Japan. Europe has gone from financial crisis to financial crisis, and recently we have had new episodes in Italy, Spain and Portugal.
Trump is expected to issue the so-called Section 301 investigation under the 1974 Trade Act later on Monday to investigate Chinese trade practices that force U.S. firms operating in China to turn over intellectual property, multiple outlets reported. China will retaliate in such a case, said the Communist Party-linked Global Times, which is known for its nationalist slant. “The Trump administration should have second thoughts about putting pressure on China on trade and avoid a full-blown trade war,” said the newspaper, adding that the Beijing “should make use of the WTO mechanism to sue the U.S. for trade protectionism.” “The trade policies of the Trump administration have been widely criticized. Although filing a lawsuit with the WTO is time-consuming, it is highly likely that China would win,” it said.
The latest news about a U.S. probe into Chinese trade practices could lead to steep tariffs and comes as Trump is pressing for China’s cooperation in reining in North Korea’s nuclear program. “The U.S. now is walking softly and carrying a huge stick in regards to what it wants. Here, this is tactically nothing more than ‘We need your support with North Korea,’ part and parcel, that’s it. The symbolism of this is just politics and game play,” Frank Troise, managing director at SoHo Capital, told CNBC’s “The Rundown.” China has repeatedly said the two issues were not related, with the Global Times calling the link “illogical” in its Sunday night editorial. Commentaries in state media normally provide insight into government thinking beyond typically thin official statements.
[..] .. although 9/11 changed America’s attitude towards the rest of the world, I think that the stock market boom and celebrity circus that’s here in the United States really hadn’t changed very much. And I don’t think you really had a shift, a fundamental shift, in America’s perception of themselves as a people, as their own country, to a fundamental degree until 2008. Also, 2001, as we explained to many people at the time, was simply too early. Every turning starts when each generation is beginning to move into a new phase of life. Back in 2001 boomers were not yet retiring, millennials were still—maybe the first one of them was barely graduating from high school.
So, this was not what we expected. 2008 really did coincide with the generational maturity of the turning, so to speak. And I think that, in terms of the basic shift in our efficacy of the social system, I think 2008 was a bigger change.” The crisis also ushered in an era where central banks exhibit total control of markets, which has created an “artificial quality,” Howe said. “The economic emergency that occurred in 2008-2009 really catapulted us into by far the biggest economic emergency we’ve been in since the early 1930s. And, arguably, we are still living out the consequences of that with complete change in central bank policy, monetary policy, with sustaining these record low interest rates and arguable very high valuations in financial markets—almost anything pushed by that—and people still wondering how we’re going to get out from under that.
The constant discussion is when are central banks going to pull back on their balance sheets and actually go back to the old normal? So, I think there is the sense, even in this the booming markets that we see today, that there is this artificial quality: people think that there’s something wrong about this. We have not re-righted where we were. We are not letting price discovery and actual markets function the way they did before then. So, I do believe that 2008 was the beginning of a whole new regime. And I also believe that the political dysfunction, the sense of political dysfunction—created during the two turns of the Obama presidency and, obviously, also into the Trump presidency—of government completely grinding to a halt is going to have some very powerful repercussions in the years shortly to come.”
Alan Moore, the renowned graphic novel writer, and author of the dystopian classic V for Vendetta, politically identifies as an anarchist. His view that all political states are an outgrowth of anarchy, with the biggest gang taking control and dictating how things will be run, is manifested in V for Vendetta. As an anarchist, you can understand why he is doubtful of conspiracy theories and an all-powerful entity controlling the world. He believes in a chaotic world competing gangs position themselves to gain power and control.
“We live in a badly developed anarchist situation in which the biggest gang has taken over and have declared that it is not an anarchist situation – that it is a capitalist or a communist situation. But I tend to think that anarchy is the most natural form of politics for a human being to actually practice.”- Alan Moore
The Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta has been adopted by anarchist groups around the world, including: Anonymous, WikiLeaks, and the Occupy protestors. Moore’s positive view of the Occupy movement was based on his belief ordinary people had the right to reclaim what had been taken from them by criminal bankers. The initial impetus for the Occupy protests was the destruction of Main Street USA by Wall Street sociopaths, who not only escaped prosecution for their crimes, but were bailed out by the taxpayers they had pillaged and further enriched as captured politicians enabled them to get even bigger. Millions were evicted from their homes and lost their jobs. Middle class families have seen their real income continue to stagnate, while bankers, corporate executives, and politicians have reaped billions in bonuses, stock gains, and payoffs, provided by central bankers in their back pocket.
“I can’t think of any reason why as a population we should be expected to stand by and see a gross reduction in the living standards of ourselves and our kids, possibly for generations, when the people who have got us into this have been rewarded for it – they’ve certainly not been punished in any way because they’re too big to fail. I think that the Occupy movement is, in one sense, the public saying that they should be the ones to decide who’s too big to fail. As an anarchist, I believe that power should be given to the people whose lives this is actually affecting.” – Alan Moore
How is this possible? Because “a lot of improvements in standard of living come not through what we normally consider as growth, but through technological improvements”. This is a concrete example of real growth without what is normally understood by economic growth. If we can grasp this, we can see why the argument about whether indefinite growth is environmentally sustainable is bogus. Orthodox economics says that it is essential if the world’s worst-off are to escape their poverty. Critics argue for zero or even negative growth, claiming that this is the only way to ensure we don’t deplete the planet’s resources. Both are wrong. Real wealth is created not just by exploiting more resources and increasing society’s cash pot but by exploiting the same or fewer resources better.
The whole question of GDP growth is a red herring if we are interested in real wealth. What matters is that we do more with the resources we have. Building a better future depends on seeing this clearly. Take the need to reduce inequality, which many now accept is urgent. To do this it is assumed we need to reduce the income gap between rich and poor. But real equality is increased simply by making it possible for the less well-off to do more with the money they have. Social housing was, and could again be, an example of that. Take two people, one of whom earns £30k a year and the other £15k. To close the real wealth gap between the two does not necessarily require increasing the income of the latter. Providing them with a decent council flat at low rent effectively allows their disposable income to equalise.
The basic principle here is that what matters most is giving people the resources they need to live better, which doesn’t necessarily require giving them more cash. This has in effect been the principle behind all sorts of socially levelling initiatives. Local authorities didn’t give local people free books, they gave them the use of libraries. They didn’t give them cars, they gave them bus passes. We need to relearn the wisdom of these policies, and update them for the modern age. In an era where car ownership is not rare, what about low-cost car clubs? Why shouldn’t more people be able to borrow laptops and tablets from libraries as well as books and DVDs?
The use of antibiotics in factory farms in Asia is set to more than double in just over a decade, with potentially damaging effects on antibiotic resistance around the world. Factory farming of poultry in Asia is also increasing the threat of bird flu spreading beyond the region, with more deadly strains taking hold, according to a new report from a network of financial investors. Use of antibiotics in poultry and pig farms will increase by more than 120% in Asiaby 2030, based on current trends. Half of all antibiotics globally are now consumed in China alone. The Chinese meat and animal feed producers New Hope Group and Wen’s Group are now among the 10 biggest animal feed manufacturers in the world. The growth of Asian meat production in intensive units is also producing a rise in greenhouse gas emissions from the food chain, with emissions likely to rise by more than 360m tonnes, the equivalent of running 100 coal-fired power plants for a year.
There are knock-on impacts such as deforestation, as China’s need for animal feed is responsible for more than a third of Brazil’s soybean production. The report, Factory Farming in Asia: Assessing Investment Risks, comes three years after a meat scandal in China, in which suppliers to McDonalds, KFC and others were found to be using dirty meat and products past their sell-by date. It also comes in the midst of a growing food scandal in Europe, which has required the recall of millions of eggs tainted with harmful chemicals, and as concerns have been aired over the impact of Brexit on imports of farm products to the UK. Asian food companies have rapidly expanded their meat production in response to growing populations and the tastes of the rising middle class, but this expansion has come to the detriment of food safety.
Two more aid groups have suspended migrant rescues in the Mediterranean, joining Doctors Without Borders, because they felt threatened by the Libyan coastguard. Save the Children and Germany’s Sea Eye said on Sunday their crews could no longer work safely because of the hostile stance of the Libyan authorities. Doctors Without Borders – or Medecins sans Frontieres – cited the same concern when it said on Saturday it would halt Mediterranean operations. “We leave a deadly gap in the Mediterranean,” Sea Eye’s founder Michael Busch Heuer warned on Facebook, adding that Libya had issued an “explicit threat” against non-government organisations operating in the area around its coast. Libyan coastguard boats have repeatedly clashed with NGO vessels on the edge of Libyan waters, sometimes opening fire.
The coastguard has defended such actions, saying the shooting was to assert control over rescue operations. “In general, we do not reject (NGO) presence, but we demand from them more cooperation with the state of Libya … they should show more respect to the Libyan sovereignty,” coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem told Reuters on Sunday. Tension has also been growing for weeks between aid groups and the Italian government, which has suggested some NGOs are facilitating people smuggling, while Italy is trying to enhance the role of the Libyan coastguard in blocking migrant departures. This month, Italy began a naval mission in Libyan waters to provide technical and operational support to its coastguard, despite opposition from factions in eastern Libya that oppose the U.N.-backed government based in Tripoli.
[..] Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said in a newspaper interview on Sunday that Libya’s growing role in controlling its waters was curbing people trafficking and producing a welcome “readjustment” in the Mediterranean. MSF’s decision to halt its rescue operations was part of this positive process, he told the newspaper La Stampa.
Aleppo, a city retaken by Damascus from rebels in December last year, has become a major destination for displaced Syrian returning home in 2017 as numbers of returnees to Syria spills over 600,000, according to the UN. Over the first seven months of 2017, over 600,000 displaced Syrians returned home, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Friday, citing its own figures as well as those of the UN Migration Agency and partners on the ground. The returnees are overwhelmingly internally-displaced people, but 16% returned to Syria from other nations, primarily Turkey. The number almost matched that recorded in the whole of 2016. An estimated 67% of returnees went to government-controlled Aleppo Governorate, with the provincial capital itself being the primary destination.
Among other places where refugees went in significant numbers, according to ICO, is Al-Hasakah Governorate, the north-eastern province dominated by Kurds. The city of Aleppo – the largest in Syria prior to the conflict – was retaken by the government army last year, aided by Russia, with hostilities ending in mid-December. For years before that, it was divided between two parts, held respectively by government forces and by a disjointed collection of militant groups, including hardcore jihadists. The battle for the city ended with a ceasefire deal, which allowed remaining rebel forces and their families leave Aleppo and go to Idlib governorate, which currently remains a rebel stronghold.
Earlier an increasing number of refugees returning to their homes in Syria was reported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), which said more than 440,000 internally-displaced persons and 31,000 refugees in other countries had done so over the first six months of 2016. Aleppo and other government-controlled governorates like Hama, Homs and Damascus were mentioned as destinations for the returnees. [..] The situation is far from rosy of course, according to IOM. The number of people forced to leave their homes in 2017 still outweighs that of returnees, with over 808,000 people estimated to be displaced. Around 10% of those who returned in 2016 and 2017 have ended up fleeing their homes again. Almost 20% of the returnees have no secure supply of food and access to water and health services is a problem for some 60%, a testament to the damage the Syrian war has taken on its civilian infrastructure.
The birth of an elephant is a spectacular occasion. Grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and cousins crowd around the new arrival and its dazed mother, trumpeting and stamping and waving their trunks to welcome the floppy baby who has so recently arrived from out of the void, bursting through the border of existence to take its place in an unbroken line stretching back to the dawn of life. After almost two years in the womb and a few minutes to stretch its legs, the calf can begin to stumble around. But its trunk, an evolutionarily unique inheritance of up to 150,000 muscles with the dexterity to pick up a pin and the strength to uproot a tree, will be a mystery to it at first, with little apparent use except to sometimes suck upon like human babies do their thumbs.
Over time, with practice and guidance, it will find the potential in this appendage flailing off its face to breathe, drink, caress, thwack, probe, lift, haul, wrap, spray, sense, blast, stroke, smell, nudge, collect, bathe, toot, wave, and perform countless other functions that a person would rely on a combination of eyes, nose, hands, and strong machinery to do. Once the calf is weaned from its mother’s milk at five or whenever its next sibling is born, it will spend up to 16 hours a day eating 5% of its entire weight in leaves, grass, brush, bark, and basically any other kind of vegetation. It will only process about 40% of the nutrients in this food, however; the waste it leaves behind helps fertilize plant growth and provide accessible nutrition on the ground to smaller animals, thus making the elephant a keystone species in its habitat. From 250 pounds at birth, it will continue to grow throughout its life, to up to 7 tons for a male of the largest species or 4 tons for a female.
Of the many types of elephants and mammoths that used to roam the earth, one born today will belong to one of three surviving species: Elephas maximus in Asia, Loxodonta africana (savanna elephant) or Loxodonta cyclotis (forest elephant) in Africa. There are about 500,000 African elephants alive now (about a third of them the more reticent, less studied L. cyclotis), and only 40,000 – 50,000 Asian elephants remaining. The Swedish Elephant Encyclopedia database currently lists just under 5,000 (most of them E. maximus) living in captivity worldwide, in half as many locations — meaning that the average number of elephants per holding is less than two; many of them live without a single companion of their kind.
For the freeborn, if it is a cow, the “allomothers” who welcomed her into the world will be with her for life — a matriarchal clan led by the oldest and biggest. She in turn will be an enthusiastic caretaker and playmate to her younger cousins and siblings. When she is twelve or fourteen, she will go into heat (“estrus”) for the first time, a bewildering occurrence during which her mother will stand by and show her what to do and which male to accept. If she conceives, she will have a calf twenty-two months later, crucially aided in birthing and raising it by the more experienced older ladies. She may have another every four to five years into her fifties or sixties, but not all will survive.
I’ve seen a dozen versions of this. Few people seem to know how to properly translate Merkel’s comments, let alone interpret them. Well, let’s just say Merkel is in election mood, and stuff like this does well in Germany.
Europe “must take its fate into its own hands” faced with a western alliance divided by Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” Merkel told a crowd at an election rally in Munich, southern Germany. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she added. While Germany and Europe would strive to remain on good terms with America and Britain, “we have to fight for our own destiny”, Merkel went on. Special emphasis was needed on warm relations between Berlin and newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, she said. The chancellor had just returned from a G7 summit which wound up Saturday without a deal between the US and the other six major advanced nations on upholding the 2015 Paris climate accords.
Merkel on Saturday labelled the result of the “six against one” discussion “very difficult, not to say very unsatisfactory”. Trump offered a more positive assessment on Twitter Sunday, writing: “Just returned from Europe. Trip was a great success for America. Hard work but big results!” The US president had earlier tweeted that he would reveal whether or not the US would stick to the global emissions deal – which he pledged to jettison on the campaign trail – only next week. On a previous leg of his first trip abroad as president, Trump had repeated past criticism of NATO allies for failing to meet the defensive alliance’s military spending commitment of 2% of GDP. Observers noted that he neglected to publicly endorse the pact’s Article Five, which guarantees that member countries will aid the others they are attacked.
When shorts defeat their own goals: “..the more investors prepare for this by putting large amounts of money aside to plow into a crashing market to pick up the pieces, the more likely they will be to stop the crash in its tracks. “
The market is like a “coiled spring” after eight years of QE and interest rate repression, Singer said in the email announcing the $5-billion offering. His firm wants to have the liquidity to capitalize on a “possibly large opportunity set that could emerge when investor confidence is impaired, recent correlations and assumptions don’t work, and prices are changing rapidly.” He added: “The nature of modern markets is that rich opportunity sets seem to be ephemeral, providing surprising volatility, bargains and dislocations for only brief periods of time before governments, aware of the politically destructive effects of extreme volatility, rally to take stern actions to keep the balls up in the air.” So they’d have to act fast to front-run the Fed.
It will be an event that could produce extraordinary returns by picking up the pieces before central banks jump in and once again bail out stockholders and bondholders. That’s the theory. But here’s the thing: the more investors prepare for this by putting large amounts of money aside to plow into a crashing market to pick up the pieces, the more likely they will be to stop the crash in its tracks. As a sharp sell-off unfolds and after regular dip-buyers are crushed, the nervous crash buyers that don’t want to miss this opportunity will start buying. They’re nervous because the Fed could jump in and reverse the crash, and they want to pick up the pieces before that happens. So they’ll jump in early and the intense buying will stop the crash. This includes short-sellers who want to take profits and cover their positions during a crash.
They’re the most nervous bunch of them all. Under this buying pressure, asset prices would begin to bounce before the Fed steps in, and given the bouncing prices, it might not step in, though prices might not reach prior highs. Then, after a period of calm which the smart money will use to unload these positions and take profits, the sell-off would start all over again until crash-buyers pile in again to front-run the Fed. This can go on for many years – a brutal zigzagging lower that never quite offers the buying opportunities because too much money jumps in too soon to turn selloffs into rallies that then fail. Japanese stocks have gone through this since 1989 despite the Bank of Japan’s umpteen rounds of QE and endless interest rate repression. And they’re still going through it, with the Nikkei down nearly 50% from its peak almost three decades ago.
Given the smart money’s fervent intentions to capitalize on these crashes and given investors’ eagerness to put a lot of money behind this strategy in advance, I think a long drawn-out Japan-like downtrend in asset prices with dizzying ups and even bigger downs is a likely if terrible scenario that may well crush how investors feel about buying and holding these assets, as it did in Japan.
Weak signals from Australia are forcing economists to revisit their Q1 growth forecasts. Some are even suggesting a contraction. Home building, net exports and household consumption could be a drag on GDP for the first three months of 2017, according to some estimates. A negative print would raise the specter of recession, especially as a cyclone that ripped through Queensland’s key coal mining region is tipped to subtract from growth in the three months through June. Sluggish data “all points to growth being only marginally positive at this stage and there’s certainly the risk of a negative quarter,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP in Sydney, who now expects first-quarter GDP growth of around 0.2% rather than the 0.5-0.6% he previously penciled in.
Australia’s enviable track-record in avoiding two straight quarters of contraction since 1991 is on shaky ground. While the economy grew a solid 1.1% in the final three months of last year, it was rebounding from a shock 0.5% decline. Australia & New Zealand Bank last week said growth could be just 0.1% in the first quarter of this year. That would be an annual rate of 1.5%, the lowest since 2009. While the Reserve Bank of Australia has said holding its benchmark interest rate at a record low 1.5% since September is appropriate for “sustainable growth” and meeting its inflation target, a soft GDP number won’t go unnoticed.
Oliver says anemic growth in the first half means the risks are still to the downside for borrowing costs, even if the market sees about a 20% chance of a cut this year. A weak number would likely cast further doubt on the government’s growth forecasts, delivered in its annual budget this month, as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ruling coalition struggles in the polls. The Treasury is forecasting GDP growth of 1.75% in the 12 months through June, accelerating to 3% by fiscal 2019. “We’ve long held the view that sub-trend growth is likely to persist. This idea of a return back to 3%-plus growth looks a little ambitious at this stage,” said Su-Lin Ong at Royal Bank of Canada.
“It’s no secret it’s tough in retail at the moment and the share prices of traditional retail business models are reflecting that”, said Andrew Mitchell, portfolio manager at Ophir Asset Management. “The reality is the Australian consumer just isn’t spending right now.” “Household disposable income growth is at the lowest point since the GFC (global financial crisis). Higher utility prices and higher petrol prices continue to create an impact and the out-of-cycle rate rises from banks won’t help either. When you have wage growth sitting at the lowest levels in 30 years, it s going to affect the discretionary spend.” Economic statistics point to some of the toughest times in the sector as shoppers go on strike, not even being swayed by heavily discounted sales as stores make room for winter stock.
Retail spending has slumped, according to UBS economist Scott Haslem. He noted that three of the past four months had seen month-on-month falls in national retail spending for the first time in almost six years, sending the year-on-year pace of sales to just 2.1% in March, its slowest since mid-2013. Mr Haslem admitted the weakness had been surprising, especially given the general level of consumer confidence, which seems to have stabilised of late. “This has caught us somewhat by surprise. Not least because overall consumer confidence, while modestly lower, remains around average and this (month s) wage data also show more evidence quarterly wage growth is ‘basing’ “, he said.
Mr Haslem pointed to the cashflow of the average Australian home as the culprit. “While low interest rates and falling petrol costs have softened the blow from slowing wage growth in recent years, with still low wages growth, and renewed rises across utilities, debt interest and petrol costs, household cashflow is now under significant renewed downward pressure”, he said. “Overall, the recent sharp weakening in consumer cashflow sheds much insight into the recent weakening in early 2017 retail sales. While households have broadly maintained their real consumption growth into late 2016, this has been significantly achieved by drawing on their saving. But with cashflow growth continuing to slow, and savings intentions rising, it’s likely this drawdown in saving rate will end.”
Americans refinancing their mortgages are taking cash out in the process at levels not seen since the financial crisis. Nearly half of borrowers who refinanced their homes in the first quarter chose the cash-out option, according to data released this week by Freddie Mac. That is the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2008. The cash-out level is still well below the almost 90% peak hit in the run-up to the housing meltdown. But it is up sharply from the post-crisis nadir of 12% in the second quarter of 2012. In a cash-out refi, a borrower refinances an existing mortgage with a new one, typically at a lower borrowing cost, that has a higher principal balance than the existing one. This allows the homeowner to pay off the old mortgage and still have cash left over for other uses.
The growing popularity of cash-out refis has helped buoy refinance activity. After booming for several years, demand for refinance mortgages had begun to slow as the Federal Reserve began increasing short-term interest rates and longer-term bond yields moved higher. Mortgage rates remain low by historical standards, though. The average rate for a fixed, 30-year mortgage was 3.95%, Freddie Mac reported this week. Meanwhile, rising home prices have helped increase the equity homeowners have in their houses. This allows more people to refinance to capture the benefit of lower mortgage rates. And borrowers whose homes are rising in value are often more likely to be interested in refinancing for cash. For example, in Denver and Dallas, where home prices have jumped, more than half of refinancers opted for cash last year, according to Freddie Mac.
To some housing-market observers, the fact that more homeowners are tapping their homes for cash represents a healthy confidence in the economy. It comes against a backdrop of continued gains in employment. At the same time, the increasing use of cash-out refis causes some concern since, in the run-up to the financial crisis, borrowers used their homes like veritable ATMs. Len Kiefer, Freddie Mac’s deputy chief economist, says this time has been different. Borrowers now are subject to stricter standards when they get a loan or refinance a mortgage. There is also less money at stake now than a decade ago.
It is quite extraordinary to read today’s coverage in Britain’s supposedly left-liberal newspaper the Guardian. In the “man bites dog” stakes, the day’s biggest story is the astounding turn-around in the polls two weeks before the British general election. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has narrowed the Conservatives’ lead from an unassailable 22 points to 5, according to the latest YouGov survey. It looks possible for the first time, if the trend continues, that Corbyn could even win the popular poll. (Securing a majority of the British parliament’s seats is a different matter, given the UK’s inherently undemocratic electoral system.) Is the news that the “unelectable” Corbyn has dramatically closed the gap with the Tories front page news for the Guardian? Well, only very tangentially. It is buried in the paper’s lead story, which is far more interested in issues other than the new poll finding.
The story – headlined “May puts Manchester bombing at heart of election with attack on Corbyn” – largely adopts Conservative leader Theresa May’s line of attack against Corbyn for his suggestion that there might be a link between long-term western violence in the Middle East (now usually referred to as “intervention”) and terror attacks like the one in Manchester last week. Labour’s dramatic rise in the polls is briefly mentioned 12 – yes, 12! – paragraphs into the story. It is almost as though the Guardian does not want you to know that Corbyn and his policies are proving far more successful in the election campaign than the Guardian predicted or ever wanted. In fact, the Guardian’s only story on the poll – buried deep on the inside pages – could not be less enamoured with the polling turn-around. The story – headlined “Labour poll rise suggests Manchester attack has not boosted Tories” – is again framed as a story about Conservative failure rather than the draw of Corbyn and his policies.
Here is as excited as the Guardian can get about the Tories’ highly diminished 5-point lead: “It was always going to be the case that the polls would narrow during the course of the campaign, as Labour’s policies received greater media exposure, but the YouGov poll implies that public opinion is more volatile.” It sounds almost as though the Guardian, which has been denigrating Corbyn since his election as Labour leader nearly two years ago (along with the rest of the British media), does not want him to win. Let’s put that another way. It’s almost as though Britain’s only supposedly left-liberal newspaper would prefer that May and the Conservatives won. This, let us remind ourselves, is the same Conservative party that has made the once-surging, far-right UKIP party largely redundant by adopting many of its ugliest policies.
Seeking publicity dead ahead of an election with plans to protect children from X,Y,Z, is a dead give away spindoctors are involved. Bill Clinton ‘launched’ a V-chip plan ahead of the 1996 election. when he was under severe pressure, which supposedly allowed parents to control what their kids could watch on TV. Great success voting wise, but never heard from again.
Theresa May has pledged to create a new aggravated offence when domestic violence is directed towards a child, in order to allow perpetrators to be punished for longer. She also confirmed that a Tory government would introduce a statutory definition for domestic violence and establish a special commissioner to stand up for victims. “We will launch a relentless drive to help survivors find justice and increase the number of successful prosecutions. This hidden scandal, that takes place every day in homes across Britain, must be tackled head on,” said May. “And we must respond to the devastating and lifelong impact that domestic abuse has on children, who carry the effects into adulthood.”
She argued that the Conservative party had delivered “real steps towards tackling domestic violence” over seven years, but wanted to go further. The Tory manifesto promised to support victims to leave abusive partners and to review the funding for refuges. However, the Labour party has analysed domestic violence rates since 2009, with an increase in violence against women perpetrated by their acquaintances. There has been a levelling off of violence against women by strangers and a fall in violence against men. Sarah Champion, the shadow women’s minister, has campaigned against the loss of 17% of specialist refuges for domestic violence victims in England since 2010.
Seeking to cut $610 billion from health care for the poor, and $192 billion from food assistance to 43 million Americans struggling to make ends meet, while spending millions of dollars on European jamborees will probably strike most people as an example of bad and insensitive public policy. Given the vacuity of last week’s European meetings, one may question why was it necessary for the U.S. president to spend four days and all that money to repeat for the nth time to people who took $165 billion net out of their U.S. trade in 2016 what he has been telling them over the last two years. No European leader has been in any doubt for quite some time that (a) trillions of dollars in U.S. trade deficits and a soaring net foreign debt of $8.1 trillion could not continue, (b) trade policies would be reviewed with particular attention to countries running systematic and large trade surpluses with the U.S., (c) the treaty on global warming would be closely scrutinized and (d) U.S. would insist on all member countries honoring their financial obligations to the NATO alliance.
All these issues have been explained in bilateral and multilateral forums and constantly amplified by the European media. The White House should have taken a cue from Italy’s former (and most probably future) Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Outraged by do-nothing summits in Brussels, he scolded the spendthrift Eurocrats for squandering public money and precious time on matters where a simple SMS could have taken care of their trivial agenda. Yes, tweeting would have saved a lot of money and an embarrassing French and German media portrayal of a “confused and isolated America.” That would have also spared Washington the German G-7 lecture about the virtues of free trade. Lacking no chutzpah, the German chancellor Angela Merkel told President Trump last week that the U.S. should not complain about trade deficits with Germany.
Why? Simple, she said: Germany is a big investor in the U.S. creating thousands of jobs. There was no repartee from the U.S. side because our trade experts failed to slip a note to the president to tell him that these investments were financed with the money we gave them to buy German goods. Running large trade deficits with Germany enables German companies to recycle their dollar earnings in the U.S., killing whatever is left of jobs and incomes in our manufacturing – Detroit automakers being one of the prominent cases in point. Yes, we are giving them the rope … and the German chancellor apparently wanted more of it. Thanks in large part to these kinds of trade policies we now have the stock of human and physical capital that sets the limits to potential (and noninflationary) growth rate at a miserable 1.5%.
Undeterred, our free-traders insist that we should focus on services, leave the manufacturing sector to Germans and the Chinese, keep piling on foreign debt and still think that we can make the country safe and secure, maybe even run the world on the side. A wonderful picture, isn’t it? Hospitality industries, Silicon Valley and Hollywood will be our big money spinners. Maybe. But that’s not the public policy platform that won the presidency last year. So, let’s see what the vox populi says during the all-important mid-term Congressional elections in November 2018. These elections could seal the fate of this administration and of the legislative control by the Republican Party.
Camille Paglia is much more worried about the media than about the steady string of Trump-related scandals they claim to be uncovering. In a Tuesday interview with the Washington Examiner, Paglia excoriated the press for its coverage of Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey and his alleged sharing of classified information with Russian officials. Fresh off a spirited panel with Christina Hoff Sommers hosted by the Independent Women’s Forum, the iconic feminist dissident, who serves as a professor of media studies at the University of the Arts, accused journalists of colluding with the Democratic Party in an effort to damage the Trump administration. “Democrats are doing this in collusion with the media obviously, because they just want to create chaos,” she said when asked to comment on the aforementioned stories.
“They want to completely obliterate any sense that the Trump administration is making any progress on anything.” The popular author, whose latest book was released in March, pointed to early struggles experienced by previous presidential administrations to illustrate the media’s bias against Trump. “Obama’s administration for the first six months was chaos,” Paglia recalled. “Bill Clinton’s was chaos for six months. Nobody holds that against a new person.” “Those two guys had actually been politicians!” she continued, noting Trump’s relative inexperience with government operations. Paglia’s assessment of media bias in the Trump era leaves little room for optimism.
“I am appalled at the behavior of the media,” she declared. “It’s the collapse of journalism.” As the Examiner reported in April, Paglia, who cast her ballot for Jill Stein last November, is predicting Trump will win re-election in 2020. “I feel like the Democrats have overplayed their hand,” she said at the time. Though the news cycle has moved through plenty of additional scandals in the past month, it appears as though Paglia’s assessment of the president’s prospects has not changed. “I’m looking forward to voting Democrat again,” the acclaimed philosopher explained. “But the point is I feel that the media has so utterly lost its credibility that I think people are going to vote against the media again.”
New revelations have surfaced that the Obama administration abused intelligence during the election by launching a massive domestic-spy campaign that included snooping on Trump officials. The irony is mind-boggling: Targeting political opposition is long a technique of police states like Russia, which Team Obama has loudly condemned for allegedly using its own intelligence agencies to hack into our election. The revelations, as well as testimony this week from former Obama intel officials, show the extent to which the Obama administration politicized and weaponized intelligence against Americans. Thanks to Circa News, we now know the NSA under President Barack Obama routinely violated privacy protections while snooping through foreign intercepts involving US citizens — and failed to disclose the breaches, prompting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court a month before the election to rebuke administration officials.
The story concerns what’s known as “upstream” data collection under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, under which the NSA looks at the content of electronic communication. Upstream refers to intel scooped up about third parties: Person A sends Person B an e-mail mentioning Person C. Though Person C isn’t a party to the e-mail, his information will be scooped up and potentially used by the NSA. Further, the number of NSA data searches about Americans mushroomed after Obama loosened rules for protecting such identities from government officials and thus the reporters they talk to. The FISA court called it a “very serious Fourth Amendment issue” that NSA analysts — in violation of a 2011 rule change prohibiting officials from searching Americans’ information without a warrant — “had been conducting such queries in violation of that prohibition, with much greater frequency than had been previously disclosed to the Court.”
A number of those searches were made from the White House, and included private citizens working for the Trump campaign, some of whose identities were leaked to the media. The revelations earned a stern rebuke from the ACLU and from civil-liberties champion Sen. Rand Paul. We also learned this week that Obama intelligence officials really had no good reason attaching a summary of a dossier on Trump to a highly classified Russia briefing they gave to Obama just weeks before Trump took office. Under congressional questioning Tuesday, Obama’s CIA chief John Brennan said the dossier did not “in any way” factor into the agency’s assessment that Russia interfered in the election. Why not? Because as Obama intel czar James Clapper earlier testified, “We could not corroborate the sourcing.”
But that didn’t stop Brennan in January from attaching its contents to the official report for the president. He also included the unverified allegations in the briefing he gave Hill Democrats. In so doing, Brennan virtually guaranteed that it would be leaked, which it promptly was. In short, Brennan politicized raw intelligence. In fact, he politicized the entire CIA.Langley vets say Brennan was the most politicized director in the agency’s history. Former CIA field-operations officer Gene Coyle said Brennan was “known as the greatest sycophant in the history of the CIA, and a supporter of Hillary Clinton before the election. I find it hard to put any real credence in anything that the man says.”
While Americans endlessly battle each other over seemingly important choices like Clinton and Trump or Democrats and Republicans, it is clear that the majority of the population has little understanding of how the U.S. government operates. Yet, for those who pay the price for the apathy and confusion of the general population of the West, it often becomes stunningly obvious that neither presidents nor political parties in America represent any discernible difference in the ongoing agenda of the Deep State and the rest of the oligarchical apparatus. Indeed, that agenda always marches forward regardless of who is president or which political party is in control.
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has thus had the unique position of not only being on the receiving end of American imperialism by virtue of not only being a citizen of a target country but also by being the head of the country, steeped in politics in his own right and thus understanding how certain factors come into play at the national level. With that in mind, it is worth pointing out a recent statement made by Assad during the course of an interview regarding the opinion of the Syrian government on Donald Trump. Assad stated,
“The American President has no policies. There are policies drawn by the American institutions which control the American regime which are the intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, the big arms and oil companies, and financial institutions, in addition to some other lobbies which influence American decision-making. The American President merely implements these policies, and the evidence is that when Trump tried to move on a different track, during and after his election campaign, he couldn’t. He came under a ferocious attack. As we have seen in the past few week, he changed his rhetoric completely and subjected himself to the terms of the deep American state, or the deep American regime. That’s why it is unrealistic and a complete waste of time to make an assessment of the American President’s foreign policy, for he might say something; but he ultimately does what these institutions dictate to him. This is not new. This has been ongoing American policy for decades.”
Assad also addressed the Western media’s portrayal of him as a “devil” who kills and oppresses his own people. He stated,
“Yes, from a Western perspective, you are now sitting with the devil. This is how they market it in the West. But this is always the case when a state, a government, or an individual do not subjugate themselves to their interests, and do not work for their interests against the interests of their people. These have been the Western colonial demands throughout history. They say that this evil person is killing the good people. Okay, if he is killing the good people, who have been supporting him for the past six years? Neither Russia, nor Iran, nor any friendly state can support an individual at the expense of the people. This is impossible. If he is killing the people, how come the people support him? This is the contradictory Western narrative; and that’s why we shouldn’t waste our time on Western narratives because they have been full of lies throughout history, and not something new.”
New French President Emmanuel Macron is promising tough talk at his first meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday, following an election campaign when his team accused Russian media of trying to interfere in the democratic process. Macron, who took office two weeks ago, has said that dialogue with Russia is vital in tackling a number of international disputes. Nevertheless, relations have been beset by mistrust, with Paris and Moscow backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war and at odds over the Ukraine conflict. Fresh from talks with his Western counterparts at a NATO meeting in Brussels and a G7 summit in Sicily, Macron will host the Russian president at the palace of Versailles outside Paris. Amid the baroque splendor, Macron will use an exhibition on Russian Tsar Peter the Great at the former royal palace to try to get Franco-Russian relations off to a new start.
“It’s indispensable to talk to Russia because there are a number of international subjects that will not be resolved without a tough dialogue with them,” Macron said. “I will be demanding in my exchanges with Russia,” the 39-year-old president told reporters at the end of the G7 summit on Saturday, where the Western leaders agreed to consider new measures against Moscow if the situation in Ukraine did not improve. Relations between Paris and Moscow were increasingly strained under former President Francois Hollande. Putin, 64, canceled his last planned visit in October after Hollande said he would see him only for talks on Syria. Then during the French election campaign the Macron camp alleged Russian hacking and disinformation efforts, at one point refusing accreditation to the Russian state-funded Sputnik and RT news outlets which it said were spreading Russian propaganda and fake news.
With a higher propensity to invest comes the debt-driven crisis that Minsky predicted, and which we experienced in 2008. However, something that Minsky did not predict, but which did happen in the real world, also occurs in this model: the crisis is preceded by a period of apparent economic tranquillity that superficially looks the same as the transition to equilibrium in the good outcome. Before the crisis begins, there is a period of diminishing volatility in unemployment: the cycles in employment (and wages share) diminish [..] But then the cycles start to rise again: apparent moderation gives way to increased volatility, and ultimately a complete collapse of the model, as the employment rate and wages share of output collapse to zero and the debt to GDP ratio rises to infinity.
This model, derived simply from the incontestable foundations of macroeconomic definitions, implies that the “Great Moderation”, far from being a sign of good economic management as mainstream economists interpreted it (Blanchard et al., 2010, p. 3), was actually a warning of an approaching crisis. The difference between the good and bad outcomes is the factor Minsky insisted was crucial to understanding capitalism, but which is absent from mainstream DSGE models: the level of private debt. It stabilizes at a low level in the good outcome, but reaches a high level and does not stabilize in the bad outcome. The model produces another prediction which has also become an empirical given: rising inequality. Workers’ share of GDP falls as the debt ratio rises, even though in this simple model, workers do no borrowing at all. If the debt ratio stabilises, then inequality stabilises too, as income shares reach positive equilibrium values.
But if the debt ratio continues rising—as it does with a higher propensity to invest—then inequality keeps rising as well. Rising inequality is therefore not merely a “bad thing” in this model: it is also a prelude to a crisis. The dynamics of rising inequality are more obvious in the next stage in the model’s development, which introduces prices and variable nominal interest rates. As debt rises over a number of cycles, a rising share going to bankers is offset by a smaller share going to workers, so that the capitalists share fluctuates but remains relatively constant over time. However, as wages and inflation are driven down, the compounding of debt ultimately overwhelms falling wages, and profit share collapses. Before this crisis ensues, the rising amount going to bankers in debt service is precisely offset by the declining share going to workers, so that profit share becomes effectively constant and the world appears utterly tranquil to capitalists—just before the system fails.
Europe’s current face was not one of solidarity and support but more one of exploitation, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece Ieronymos suggested on Sunday, in an interview broadcast by the state television channel ERT1. “Today, I do not see a Europe of solidarity but I see every day, more often and more clearly, the Europe of exploitation,” he said. The foundations of this Europe had to “go back to the starting point, from where it began, with the same thoughts and the same purpose,” the head of the Orthodox Church of Greece added. The Archbishop also commented on the recent terrorist strike in Manchester, expressing his horror and condemnation and noting that “terrorism is one of the worst repercussions of war.”
It was necessary, he said, “to also look at the other side, to see who are those leading these people to become terrorists.” On Church-State relations, he said the role of the Church was to talk to everyone, including those responsible for the state, because the Church was not a political party and “cooperation is therefore necessary”. On the issue of Church property, he noted that the Church’s spiritual mission could not be carried out without economic support. “The Church must be free and financially independent,” he said. With regard to refugees, Ieronymos said the Church sees them as “people in need” and that their final destination “should be their own country.” In the future, he added, we must consider whether “refugees have also become a part of the exploitation of humanity.”
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump returned Tuesday to his vision of a non-interventionist foreign policy for the United States, saying as he did during his campaign, that he does not want to have American forces fighting “in areas that we shouldn’t be fighting in.” Speaking during a “thank you” rally for his supporters in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Trump said instead his focus will be on defeating terrorists, including the Islamic State group. “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with,” Trump said. He said the U.S. must end what he called a “destructive cycle of intervention and chaos.” Trump pledged to build up the military, but said the purpose would be to project strength, not aggression. After questioning frequently during his campaign whether NATO and other allies were pulling their weight Trump said Tuesday he wants to strengthen “old friendships” and seek new ones.
At the same rally, Trump formally announced he has chosen retired Marine General James Mattis as his nominee for secretary of defense. “Under his leadership, such an important position, we will rebuild our military and alliances, destroy terrorists, face our enemies head on and make America safe again,” Trump said. Michael O’Hanlon, a senior defense expert at the Brookings Institution, called Mattis “one of the best read, best informed and most experienced generals of his generation.” Mattis has served as the head of U.S. Central Command, which carries out U.S. operations in the Middle East, and the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces. The retired general will need a congressional waiver in order to be confirmed as secretary of defense. Mattis would otherwise be ineligible to serve because of a law that requires a seven-year wait for former members of the military to serve in the post. He has been retired for less than four years.
The political turmoil set off by the Italian referendum result could endanger the euro, a German business group has warned. Ulrich Grillo, the head of the Federation of German Industries, said that the German industry is worried about the consequences of the referendum, which prompted Premier Minister Matteo Renzi to announce his resignation on Monday. “The risks of a new political instability for economic development, the financial markets and the currency union are increasing further,” he said. Douglas McWilliams from the Centre for Economics and Business Researcg (CEBR), a leading economics consultancy, said it estimated the chances of Italy staying in the Euro for the next five years had fallen below 30% following the vote.
“There is no doubt that Italy could stay in the euro if it were prepared to pay the price of virtually zero growth and depressed consumer spending for another five years or so. But that is asking a lot of an increasingly impatient electorate. We think the chances of their sustaining this policy are below 30%,” he said. German’s foreign minister also expressed concerns about the result, which prompted Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to resign. Speaking during a visit to Greece, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that while the result of the Italian referendum on constitutional reform was “not the end of the world,” it was also “not a positive development in the case of the general crisis in Europe.”
Italy could have an election as early as February, a minister in Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s outgoing government said on Tuesday, speaking after talking to Renzi. The comments will add to growing support for a quick vote as the only way to avoid protracted political limbo in Italy following Sunday’s “No” vote on Renzi’s constitutional reforms. Renzi announced he would step down after his heavy defeat. President Sergio Mattarella told him to stay on until parliament had approved the 2017 budget, expected later this week. Then, the president said, Renzi could tender his resignation. Before the referendum, most commentators, and financial markets, assumed that even if Renzi lost and resigned, a temporary unelected government would be installed to tide Italy over until the end of parliament’s term in 2018.
But a chorus of comments from party chiefs suggests consensus may be growing for an early vote in spring. “I forecast there will be the will to go to elections in February,” Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, the head of a small centre-right party that is a crucial part of Renzi’s ruling coalition, told Corriere della Sera daily on Tuesday. Significantly, Alfano said he made his forecast after discussing the issue with Renzi. Renzi is still leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has the largest number of parliamentarians, so it is unlikely any new government could be formed without his backing.
When Mark Carney insisted in a speech at Liverpool John Moores University that the conditions through which we are now living are “exactly the same” as those that British citizens endured during the “lost decade” of the 1860s, he was taking a bit of rhetorical licence. The past is never simply the present dressed up in funny clothes, and the analogy between today’s painful realities and those of 150 years ago doesn’t quite hold. And yet, the governor of the Bank of England had a point. When Overend Gurney collapsed in 1866, it undid once and for all the sense that, give or take a few individual misfortunes, capitalism was a moral force that rewarded skill and hard work. Toppling under a mountain of unsecured debt, the joint stock bank dragged down 200 businesses and a broad tranche of private investors with it, from courtiers to grocers.
As with the Northern Rock crisis in 2007, there were queues of panicky investors lining the streets. More profoundly, now came a dawning realisation that bad things could happen to good people. Thanks to the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859, the universe increasingly seemed not only godless but, what was perhaps even worse, indifferent to the sufferings of ordinary folk. The shock of 1866 was doubly hard because, for the previous 15 years, Britain had been sailing on a sea of prosperity and confidence. In 1851, the Great Exhibition had showcased the nation’s position as “the workshop of the world”, the great exporter of industrial goods and technological know-how to the four corners of the globe. Business was thriving, the social discontent of the “hungry” 1840s had receded, and this was, to use the coinage of the historian WL Burn, the “age of equipoise”, a serene and sunny upland of prosperity and social cohesion.
Increasingly, though, there were worrying signs that Britain could not hold on to its trading pre-eminence for much longer. Germany and the United States were playing industrial catch-up, and would soon be making everything from saucepans to spanners more cheaply and better than we ever could. What’s more, with global transport systems stretching further as each year passed, Britain’s grain, and even its dairy and meat produce, would soon be supplied from as far away as Australia and Canada. Domestic farming was about to go into a decline from which, some historians suggest, it has never recovered.
[..] But will Yellen’s gambit plunge us into a recession is the question. Just because Wall Street is gorging on high returns doesn’t mean the economy is sound. For eight years and running, the Fed has kept interest rates near zero% in an attempt to spark investment and borrowing. Unemployment has gradually shrunk during the Obama years, yet the workforce participation rate remains low by modern standards. Prior to Election Day, two-thirds of Americans were anxious about their economic future. Stock traders are popping the bubbly while middle America drinks the warm beer of worry. If you’re still in the dark as to why Trump stole the Rust Belt from Hillary, you need not look further than that. Fear aside, Trump’s election has been an Advil to the ongoing economic headache felt by most Americans.
Eight years of Obama’s big spending combined with ultra low interest rates has done precious little to shore up their optimism. Retirees on fixed income can’t get a yield on their savings. Millennials earning a salary for the first time in their life have little incentive to put money away. So you might think: Hey, maybe Yellen’s hinting about raising interest rates is a good thing! Sure, it might cause the S&P 500 to dip. But it’s about time Grandma got a return on her CDs. I’m very skeptical. Interest rates most definitely need to rise, but Yellen’s timing is suspicious. Trump, despite his admiration for low borrowing rates (and debt refinancing), has accused Yellen of keeping the lid on interest rates in order to boost Obama’s legacy. He told CNBC in September that rates were “staying at zero because [Yellen’s] obviously political and she’s doing what Obama wants her to do.” In another interview with Reuters, Trump explained with perfect Trumpian simplicity, “They’re keeping rates down because they don’t want everything else to go down.”
Yellen wasn’t happy about the charges. She fired back at a press conference, saying, “We do not discuss politics at our meetings, and we do not take politics into account in our decisions.” Uh huh. And I’m the Archbishop of Canterbury. [..] What the Fed, serving as America’s central bank, does is balance the money supply to reflect market conditions. When the market is roaring, it’s time to cut off the money spigot so as to rein in inflation. When things are sluggish, pouring cash into the economy is supposed to gin up activity. There are all kinds of ins and outs and what-have-yous involved in the process, including convoluted accounting techniques. But long mythologized story short, the tinkers at the Fed are supposed to act on behalf of the economy, and not the elected shysters in Washington. Every macro-econ student learns that faux civics lesson the first week of class.
[..] A few choices off the top of my head: finance writer and all-around mensch Jim Grant, former Director of the Office of Management and Budget David Stockman, commodity guru Jim Rogers, or former congressional representative and arch-Fed-critic Ron Paul.
Another day, another provocative tweet from President-elect Donald Trump. This time, he went after Boeing and the cost of the new Air Force One replacement program. But while the target was different, the goal of Trump’s twitter use remains the same: It’s his negotiating tool and, just as importantly, an instant link to public support that no president has ever been able to use before. But why this tweet and comments and why now? As few people knew before now, the Air Force is actually currently in negotiations with Boeing on the final costs of the two new Air Force One jets it hopes to buy and have in service by 2024. The source of Trump’s $4 billion cost figure in his tweet is not so clear, but the last publicly reported estimate was at $3 billion with costs still rising.
Sure, there are a lot of spending programs that cost more that Trump could target. But are there many more that are as easy for all the voters to understand? Air Force One is an iconic jet that we all know exists and almost everyone can picture quickly in their minds. Our social media/short attention span media culture makes this issue absolutely perfect for Trump to single out on Twitter. And it looks like it may have already worked. About two hours after the tweet, Boeing delivered the following statement: “We are currently under contract for $170 million to help determine the capabilities of these complex military aircraft that serves the unique requirements of the President of the United States. We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force on subsequent phases of the program allowing us to deliver the best planes for the President at the best value for the American taxpayer.”
Yes, that “at the best value” phrase at the end of the statement says it all. Who knows exactly how much the Trump tweet just saved the American taxpayers? But considering that it cost him and us nothing for him to send it, even a few hundred grand looks like a big net windfall. And that’s not the only reason why the use of Twitter remains crucial to Trump. Every President of the United States has had the option to use public opinion to promote his agenda, but none before Trump has had an established and instantaneous link with his supporters like he has with Twitter. In the past, the best a president could do was go on national TV and make a long speech. That’s tortuous compared to the quick bang Trump gets by tweeting directly to his 16 million-plus followers and the tens of millions more who instantly hear about his tweets from the news media.
If you were just woken from some form of suspended animation from let’s say 2010 (ancient economic history in today’s terms) then informed of the current state of global political affairs and upheavals, U.S. employment (95+million not,) global currency gyrations, interest rates at not only 0% but some -0%, threats of escalating wars, threats of major confrontational war, GDP of the major global economies not only contracting, but below statistical stagnant, governments, as well as central banks with balance sheets of debt calculated in $TRILLIONS, some in the 10’s of, all financed at near or below 0%, and the Fed is only about a week away from raising rates into the teeth of what can only be called “uncertainty,” and much, much more. (There isn’t enough time, or digital ink to list them all.)
Nobody would be surprised if your first reaction based on your prior acumen (the ancient history of 7 years ago whether it be in stocks, business, or both) would to become immediately concerned that whatever portfolio, or wealth you may have had in the markets, may be worth far less today than when you were first put to sleep. And probably becoming ever smaller as you thought about what you might need to do next in order to preserve any that may be left. That is, till someone explained to you the markets you went to sleep knowing of – are no longer – and the reality of the markets today you could never have dreamed up. Even if they let you sleep another decade or longer. Today, the markets you once knew of are better described as the “markets.”
To clear up any confusion as to how, or why, the “markets” can now be at “never before seen in the history of mankind highs” once again after the resounding “NO” vote in Italy, where the entire E.U. experiment is now seriously undermined, and falling apart in real-time (Brexit first, Italy will surely now vote next, etc., etc,) [here] is the calculation that explains it all. For under the rules of: If A = B and B = C, then A = C, you now have the magical formula to understand with Einstein like surety today’s ‘markets.” If you have any doubt to the soundness of this expression, consider the following: If a financial crisis appears (A) The central banks will intervene (B) If the central banks intervene (B) The “markets” go up (C) Thus, we need more financial chaos (A) To make even more all time “market” highs (C)
In what may be the most direct admission that China’s economy is about to grind to a deflationary halt, today China’s Global Times, a newspaper which is seen as a propaganda companion to the official People’s Daily, revealed data showing this year’s proposed salary guidelines according to which there is a broad wage growth declines in virtually every single province on the mainland, which according to the Chinese publication “confirms the country is experiencing an economic slowdown.” Salary guidelines are issued by local governments as a reference to help firms decide how much they should increase their employees’ salaries. They are based on labor market conditions and economic growth, among other factors.
Global Times notes that compared to 2015 salary guidelines, wages in 2016 have grown at a slower rate in virtually all 19 provinces and regions that have so far published their annual guidelines for firms. Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province has not released salary guidelines for years as the region has been experiencing a recession and therefore wages are not generally increasing. Seventeen provinces have seen a decrease in salary standards, including North China’s Hebei Province, South China’s Hainan Province, Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and East China’s Jiangxi Province. The only increases were seen in Southwest China’s Guizhou Province and Beijing Municipality.
“2016’s guidelines have seen a slowing of salary growth after years of increases, which means that the speed of wage growth has surpassed economic growth since China’s labor contract law was adopted in 2007,” Wang Jiangsong, a professor at the China Institute of Industrial Relations, told the Global Times on Tuesday. Confirming that the only way for Chinese wage growth is down, Wang Jiangsong, a professor at the China Institute of Industrial Relations, told the Global Times that “since China’s labor contract law was adopted in 2007, wage increases have surpassed economic growth.” He said the slowdown reflects China’s economic downturn. It also means that local workers will not be happy.
But more troubling was Wang’s next admission: “the decrease reflects Chinese economic downturn, which is just now beginning and will last a long time since China has passed its economic boom period in which many problems were hidden but now those problems will gradually surface.” In short, declining wage growth, with aggregate 2016 demand driven by the biggest credit impulse and expansion in Chinese history. To all those who truly believe in the global reflation these, we wish you the best of luck.
China’s savers, who sock away cash like almost no one else in the world, are racking up more debt as borrowing options proliferate. 94% of consumers used a credit or loan in the past year, up from 85% two years ago, according to a survey by market researcher Mintel Group. Peer-to-peer lending via online lenders jumped, while car loans and mortgages nearly doubled, the poll showed. “Huo zai dang xia”, or living in the moment, is the new buzzword. It’s especially prevalent among consumers in their 20s, according to Aaron Guo, a senior analyst for Mintel in Shanghai. “Compared with their parents’ generation, who tend to save more and are sometimes thrifty, youngsters are willing to spend more on products with special features or tailored services,” he said.
That’s a profound shift in attitudes for a nation where saving has long been the bedrock principle of personal financial management and a prerequisite for big milestones like cars, homes and kids. Deposits stand at 59.6 trillion yuan ($8.67 trillion), People’s Bank of China data show. The newfound willingness to borrow from the future to enjoy the present could help support consumption in coming years and nudge the nation’s rebalancing away from old traditional drivers. China’s GDP rose 6.7% in the third quarter from a year earlier on the back of resilient retail sales, which expanded 10.3% in the year to date. The borrowing could be just getting started. China’s household outstanding loans will continue to rise at a rate of 14% for the following five years and exceed 60 trillion yuan by 2021, the Mintel report said.
While Australia’s economy shrunk last quarter, it’s probably more of a red flag than a precursor to recession. One of only four quarterly contractions in the past 25 years, the so-called ‘lucky country’ is unlikely to suffer a second consecutive slump — just as in those prior periods. But it’s a wake-up call for lawmakers that recent political timidity and gridlock is unsustainable, as is reliance on monetary policy to support growth with a 1.5% interest rate that may not even fall further. A growing chorus of high-profile economists and international institutions are calling on Australia to follow U.K. and U.S. plans to use infrastructure stimulus, particularly with global borrowing costs so low. But the government has made clear its priority is returning the budget to balance as it seeks to protect a prized AAA credit rating.
Wednesday’s report showed:
• GDP fell 0.5% from previous quarter, when it gained a revised 0.6%
• Decline was driven by slump in construction and government spending
• Result was worst since depths of global financial crisis at the end of 2008 and well below economists’ estimates of a 0.1% drop
• The economy grew 1.8% from a year earlier, compared with a forecast 2.2% gain
• Australian dollar fell almost half a U.S. cent on the data
John Key’s legacy will not be defined by great policy achievements; it’s his success as the model of a neoliberal leader – a poster boy for trickle-down economics – that he will be remembered for. Key presided over increasing and gross social inequality with all the glibness of the banker who was known as the “smiling assassin” in his Merrill Lynch days. And people still liked him. In this regard, Key was like a Tony Blair of the South Seas: a certain level of personal charisma and a socially inclusive façade allowed both Key and Blair to sell the nasty side of neoliberalism. Compared with the likes of Donald Trump in the United States and Tony Abbott in Australia, Key was socially moderate in ways that many thought – and hoped – Malcolm Turnbull would have been before he capitulated to the far right of his party on refugees, marriage equality and climate change.
Key was more inclusive, and less divisive. He pulled ponytails instead of grabbing pussies. Key supported marriage equality in New Zealand and, as far as race is concerned, Key’s National party entered into a coalition government with the Maori party not once, but twice. Like Blair, Key had the Teflon gene. Despite ignoring public preferences not to privatise state-owned enterprises (2-1 against in a referendum), increasing the GST during the global financial crisis, and more or less ignoring New Zealand’s chronic child poverty because he blames the victims, none of it stuck. What did stick with Key was his reputation as a smart-money guy who was also likeable, self-effacing and wouldn’t look out of place having a beer with regular folks. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of children living under the poverty line in New Zealand – a country of 4 million – and him brushing off the recommendations of the government panel charged with improving their lot; Key was seen as a good guy and a safe pair of hands.
This week, the European Union’s finance ministers granted some new debt relief to Greece. The new “short-term” measures are better than nothing – but they’re less than a convincing solution to a problem that has dragged on far too long. The deal, sketched out and agreed to in principle earlier this year, should help the Greek government convince voters to keep accepting much-needed domestic reform. That’s good. It isn’t enough, though, to put the country’s debts and budget plans on a sustainable footing. That’s why the International Monetary Fund, whose support will be necessary to achieve that larger goal, isn’t yet on board. After years of muddling through, the issue still isn’t resolved. In the approach to the latest talks, French Finance Minister Michel Sapin acknowledged that “Greece has made huge efforts. This is the first Greek government in a long time that has implemented its commitments.”
He said it was vital that Europe respond by recognizing its obligation to help ease the country’s debt burden, both as a reward and to encourage further improvements in the business climate. All true. Greece can’t be accused of doing nothing to help itself. The banking system has stabilized after three bouts of recapitalization, and deposits are returning, albeit slowly. The economy is growing modestly. The country posted a primary budget surplus for the first 10 months of this year. State asset sales are proceeding slowly but surely. These efforts justify extending the repayment schedule and swapping some floating-rate debt to fixed payments at the current low rates, as announced. But the expected reduction in Greece’s debts relative to its economic output by 20 percentage points through 2060 is far too timid – while the idea that Greece can achieve an annual primary budget surplus of 3.5% of output throughout the coming decade is a fantasy.
This is why we are raising funds for Greece (see top of this page). So the poor can have a little bit better Christmas. And a little better prospect for the new year. To counter the devastation unleashed by the EU.
Greece thanked creditors for modest debt relief on St. Nicholas Day in Brussels but did not hide disappointment it won’t get the Christmas gift it wants – a pass on the latest phase of its bailout programme. Athens has been hoping fellow euro zone governments will approve a second review of its third bailout, granted in August last year, before year’s end. A government spokesman said on Tuesday it did not yet rule that out. But others, not least German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, made clear that is highly unlikely after a Eurogroup meeting on Monday that revealed differences over how well Greece has done in meeting reform commitments. That left Greece and its allies among its EU partners annoyed at stalemate.
Athens wants to clear the review in order to be able to take advantage of selling bonds to the ECB’s quantitative easing scheme. “We could have got this done by the end of the year but the Germans are not moving,” one EU source said. “Greece has done a lot … We haven’t been so strict in other programmes.” A senior EU official involved in Monday’s talks described them as “useless” in terms of furthering agreement, according to another EU source. Ministers were at odds too on budget targets to set Greece after the bailout regime ends in 2018 – conditions important in persuading the IMF to join in lending. [..] The Eurogroup did agree to a series of short-term adjustments to the structure of Greek debt that will smooth out humps in repayments and should reduce its costs in the long run.
Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos called that a “significant success”. But he said Athens still wanted Schaeuble and the IMF to scale back demands for more belt-tightening. “They must stop insisting on continuing a policy of extreme austerity which has been proven destructive for society and also economically ineffective,” he said. Schaeuble made clear he will not be swayed by pleas to forgo economic reforms which, he insisted, were for Greece’s own good.
Polar bear numbers could drop a third by mid-century, according to the first systematic assessment, released on Wednesday, of how dwindling Arctic sea ice affects the world’s largest bear. There is a 70% chance that the global polar bear population – estimated at 26,000 – will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 years, a period corresponding to three generations, the study found. Other assessments have reached similar conclusions, notably a recent review by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which tracks endangered species on its Red List. The IUCN classified the sea-faring polar bear – a.k.a. Ursus maritimus – as “vulnerable”, or at high risk of extinction in the wild.
But the new study, published in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters, is the most comprehensive to date, combining 35 years of satellite data on Arctic sea ice with all known shifts in 19 distinct polar bears groupings scattered across four ecological zones in the Arctic. [..] Researchers led by Eric Regehr of the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage, Alaska projected three population scenarios out to mid-century, and all of them were bad news for the snow-white carnivores. The first assumed a proportional decline in sea ice and polar bears. Despite year-to-year fluctuations, long-term trends are unmistakable: the ten lowest Arctic ice extents over the satellite record have all occurred since 2007.
The record low of 3.41 million square kilometres (1.32 million square miles) in 2012 was 44% below the 1981-2010 average. This week, the US National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that sea ice extent in October and November was the lowest ever registered for both months. [..] Unfortunately, polar bears face other threats besides a habitat radically altered by the release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. In the 1980s and 1990s, females and pups were found to have accumulated high levels of toxic PCPs in their tissue and organs. The manmade chemicals – used for decades and banned in many countries in the late 1970s – worked their way up through the food chain, becoming more concentrated along the way.
But a new study, published last week in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B, suggested that declines in some polar bear populations stemmed from contaminated males rendered sterile by the chemicals. “PCB concentrations in the Arctic have levelled off,” said lead author Viola Pavlova, a scientist at the Institute of Hydrobiology in the Czech Republic. “Unfortunately, many other manmade chemicals that are also endocrine disruptors occur in the Arctic and could act similarly,” she told AFP.
As earthquake doesn’t care if you’re progressive or populist. It destroys your house all the same. Likewise a financial crisis is indifferent to a politician’s policy mix. Systemic crises proceed according to their own dynamic based on the array of agents in a system, and systemic scale. The tempo of recent crises in 1994, 1998, and 2008 says a crisis is likely soon. A new global financial panic will be one legacy of the Trump administration. It won’t be Trump’s fault, merely his misfortune. The equilibrium and value-at-risk models used by banks will not foresee the new panic. Those models are junk science relying as they do on notions of efficient markets, normally distributed risk, continuous liquidity, and a future that resembles the past. None of those hypotheses match reality.
Advances in behavioural psychology have demolished the idea of efficient markets. Data shows the degree distribution of risk is a power curve not a normal bell curve. Liquidity evaporates when most needed. Prices gap down; they do not move continuously. Each of the 1994, 1998, and 2008 crises was worse than the one before, and required more drastic intervention. The future does not resemble the past; it keeps getting worse. The standard models are in ruins. Recent model improvements that take into account so-called tail risk still fail to come to grips with systemic scale. The most catastrophic event possible in a complex system is an exponential function of scale. In plain language, if you double system size, you do not double risk; you increase it by a factor of five or more.
Since 2008, the largest banks in the world are larger in terms of gross assets, share of total deposits, and notional value of derivatives. Everything that was too-big-to-fail in 2008 is bigger and exponentially more dangerous today. The living wills and resolution authority of Dodd-Frank are entrances to gated communities. They seem imposing, but are a façade. They will do nothing to stop an angry mob. Increases in regulatory capital will not suffice. When a leveraged financial institution faces a liquidity panic, no amount of capital is enough. As boxing legend Mike Tyson mused, no plan survives the first punch in the face.
[..] What snowflake could precipitate the next financial panic? Deutsche Bank is an obvious candidate. Less obvious is a failure to deliver physical gold by a London bullion bank. That would expose the hyper-leveraged “paper gold” market for what it is. A natural disaster on the scale of Fukushima would do as well. Looming over these catalysts is a global dollar shortage, which has been limned by economists Claudio Borio and Hyun Song Shin at the Bank for International Settlements. The strong dollar could precipitate a wave of defaults on $9 trillion of dollar-denominated emerging markets corporate debt. Those defaults would make the 1994 Tequila Crisis look tame.
The 2008 crisis was truncated with tens of trillions of dollars of currency swaps, money printing, and rate cuts coordinated by central banks around the world. The next crisis will be beyond the scope of central banks to contain because they have failed to normalise either interest rates or their balance sheets since 2008. Central banks will be unable to pull another rabbit out of the hat; they are out of rabbits.
We do not know what the appointments mean except, as Trump discovered once he confronted the task of forming a government, that there is no one but insiders to appoint. For the most part that is correct. Outsiders are a poor match for insiders who tend to eat them alive. Ronald Reagan’s California crew were a poor match for George H.W. Bush’s insiders. The Reagan part of the government had a hell of a time delivering results that Reagan wanted. Another limit on a president’s ability to form a government is Senate confirmation of presidential appointees. Whereas Congress is in Republican hands, Congress remains in the hands of special interests who will protect their agendas from hostile potential appointees. Therefore, although Trump does not face partisan opposition from Congress, he faces the power of special interests that fund congressional political campaigns.
[..] With Trump under heavy attack prior to his inauguration, he cannot afford drawn out confirmation fights and defeats. Does Trump’s choice of Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary mean that Goldman Sachs will again be in charge of US economic policy? Possibly, but we do not know. We will have to wait and see. Mnuchin left Goldman Sachs 14 years ago. He has been making movies in Hollywood and started his own investment firm. Many people have worked for Goldman Sachs and the New York Banks who have become devastating critics of the banks. Read Nomi Prins’ books and visit Pam Martens website, Wall Street on Parade. My sometimes coauthor Dave Kranzler is a former Wall Streeter. Commentators are jumping to conclusions based on appointees past associations. Mnuchin was an early Trump supporter and chairman of Trump’s finance campaign.
He has Wall Street and investment experience. He should be an easy confirmation. For a president-elect under attack this is important. Will Mnuchin suppport Trump’s goal of bringing middle class jobs back to America? Is Trump himself sincere? We do not know. What we do know is that Trump attacked the fake “free trade” agreements that have stripped America of middle class jobs just as did Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot. We know that the Clintons made their fortune as agents of the 1%, the only ones who have profited from the offshoring of American jobs. Trump’s fortune is not based on jobs offshoring. Not every billionaire is an oligarch. Trump’s relation to the financial sector is one as a debtor. No doubt Trump and the banks have had unsatisfactory relationships. And Trump says he is a person who enjoys revenge.
A petition asking for the result of the US election to be reversed is now the most popular in the history of Change.org. The signatories – who total 4.6 million people – call on the Electoral College to stop Donald Trump from being President, which is a theoretically possible but never-before-attempted way of altering the result of the US election. Hillary Clinton won millions more votes than Donald Trump, but Mr Trump became President-elect because of the voting system. The petition is titled “Make Hillary Clinton President” and argues that because Ms Clinton won the popular vote she should be made President. It also argues that the President-elect is “unfit to serve”. With 4.6 million signatures, the petition has over two million more votes than the second largest campaign on the website. That was a campaign asking for the Yulin Dog Meat Festival to be shut down, which was begun three years ago.
The petition against Mr Trump was begun just after the election on 10 November. It was started by social worker Daniel Brezenoff. Signatures to the petition are based on the idea that it is still possible for the result of the election to be reversed. The Electoral College system requires that representatives of each state cast ballots to decide who will actually become the new President – those members of the college are supposed to vote for whoever won their state, but could theoretically change their mind. “On December 19, the Electors of the Electoral College will cast their ballots,” the petition writes. “If they all vote the way their states voted, Donald Trump will win. However, in 14 of the states in Trump’s column, they can vote for Hillary Clinton without any legal penalty if they choose.”
Since the petition has started, some legal proceedings have been launched to test the legal penalty in those other states. There has never really been any need to enforce them, since faithless electors make up only a tiny number of people, but activists are looking to encourage more people not to vote this year. The petition itself argues that the Electoral College should change its mind because of the results of the popular vote. “Hillary won the popular vote,” the description reads. “The only reason Trump “won” is because of the Electoral College.
Supporters of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein on Saturday withdrew a last-ditch lawsuit in Pennsylvania state court aimed at forcing a statewide ballot recount, another major setback in the effort to verify the votes in three states that provided President-elect Donald Trump his margin of victory. Ms. Stein’s campaign announced in a statement Saturday that the Pennsylvania lawsuit had been dropped after the court demanded that a $1 million bond be posted by the 100 Pennsylvania residents who brought the suit, which was backed by the campaign. Recounts will still proceed in a handful of Pennsylvania precincts, but it is far from the statewide recount that Ms. Stein initially was hoping for.
She is also pushing recounts in Wisconsin and Michigan after a prominent computer scientist laid out a case that the election results may have been hacked. Legal challenges have also been filed in state and federal court to halt those recount efforts as well. The decision also dashes the aspirations of some Democrats, who had hoped that enough irregularities or missing votes would be found across all three states to overturn the election results that saw Mr. Trump, the Republican candidate, prevail over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton would need to declared the winner in all three states to reverse the election results.
“The judge’s outrageous demand that voters pay such an exorbitant figure is a shameful, unacceptable barrier to democratic participation,” said Ms. Stein in the statement. “This is yet another sign that Pennsylvania’s antiquated election law is stacked against voters. By demanding a $1 million bond from voters yesterday, the court made clear it has no interest in giving a fair hearing to these voters’ legitimate concerns over the accuracy, security and fairness of an election tainted by suspicion.”
Green Party candidate Jill Stein late Saturday vowed to bring her fight for a recount of votes cast in Pennsylvania in the U.S. presidential election to federal court, after a state judge ordered her campaign to post a $1 million bond. “The Stein campaign will continue to fight for a statewide recount in Pennsylvania,” Jonathan Abady, lead counsel to Stein’s recount efforts, said in a statement. Saying it has become clear that “the state court system is so ill-equipped to address this problem,” the statement said “we must seek federal court intervention.” The Stein campaign said it will file for emergency relief in the Pennsylvania effort in federal court on Monday, “demanding a statewide recount on constitutional grounds.”
The bond was set by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania a day after representatives of President-elect Donald Trump requested a $10 million bond, according to court papers. The court gave the petitioners until 5 p.m. local time on Monday to post the bond, but said it could modify the amount if shown good cause. Instead, Stein’s campaign withdrew. “Petitioners are regular citizens of ordinary means. They cannot afford to post the $1,000,000 bond required by the court,” wrote attorney Lawrence Otter, informing the court of the decision to withdraw.
Brent oil capped its biggest weekly gain since 2009 after OPEC approved its first supply cut in eight years, with attention now shifting to compliance with the deal and how other producers will react to a price rally. Futures closed at the highest in more than a year in London and New York. OPEC’s three largest producers – Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran – overcame discord to reach Wednesday’s pact to reduce the group’s output by 1.2 million barrels a day, while Russia pledged a cut of as much as 300,000. The accord ended the group’s pump-at-will policy started in 2014 aimed at protecting market share and driving out high-cost competitors such as shale. “Everyone wins, but U.S. shale producers are the big winners from the OPEC deal,” Francisco Blanch at Bank of America said.
“The agreement made sense purely on economic logic. OPEC wanted to end the price war.” OPEC set a collective output target at the lower end of the range outlined two months ago in Algiers, boosting prices and prompting predictions of a possible advance to $60 a barrel from Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. Some analysts warned that the rally may encourage higher output from producers outside the group, including in the U.S. The last time OPEC set a quota, members exceeded it for 20 of the 24 months before the cap was scrapped at the end of 2015.
Killing the Host will be published in German at the end of the month of November, and, basically, it’s a more popular version of The Bubble and Beyond. And it shows that when the financial sector takes over, it’s very much like a parasite in nature. And people think of parasites simply as taking the life blood of the host and draining the energy. But in order to do that, the parasite has to have an enzyme to take over the host’s brain. And the key thing in nature is they take over the brain, and they convince the host that the free luncher is actually part of the host’s own body, and even its baby to be protected. And that’s what the financial sector has done.
Classical economics was all about separating the rent-extracting sectors – landlords, monopolies, and finance – from the rest of the economy. And that was unearned income. It wasn’t necessary. And the whole idea of classical economics from Quesnay’s Tableau Economique to all the way through Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill was to look at the finance sector and the landlord sector and monopolies as unnecessary. You’re going to get rid of them. You’re going to tax away all the land’s rent or else nationalize the land. And you are going to have public enterprises as basic infrastructure so that they couldn’t be monopolized. Well, you had a revolution against classical economics in the 1890s and 1900s, and the national income now – accounts make it appear as if the financial sector and the real estate sector and the monopolies – oil and gas – are all contributing to GDP.
So a few months ago, you had the head of Goldman Sachs – Lloyd Blankfein – say, the Goldman Sachs managers are the most productive workers in the United States, because we make $22 million a year in salary, and we get bonuses. And that’s all considered as contributing to GDP. That’s the financial services that we’re providing $22 million per manager of financial services. Now what they don’t realize is that this $22 million per manager in that Goldman Sachs extracts money from the rest of the economy. It’s a zero-sum game. And instead of adding to the GDP, you should have – A subtraction. Yes, you should have – all of this is overhead – unnecessary. And since 2008, the 99% of the population in America, and I think in most of Europe, too, have seen their incomes go down. But the 1% have had their financial and real estate incomes go up so much more that there is an illusion of growth. And what’s been growing is the tumor, not the actual economic body.
If the fallout for Sunday’s Italian referendum is bad for Italian bonds, it could well be worse for one of Europe’s star performers this year: Greece.Greek debt has tightened massively to German bonds in the past three months, while all other main European government securities have been widening. Growing confidence in Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s willingness to conform to the Troika requirements on the latest bailout package, is behind this.
The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow would be inclusion into the ECB’s bond purchase program – Greece has long been excluded since it’s not rated investment grade. A shift in the rules would be a reward for budget discipline.This has looked until recently like a long shot, but a tectonic shift in attitude is underway. A recent piece of evidence for this is a remark from ECB policy maker Benoit Couere on Tuesday. He said that Greece can maintain a 3.5% primary budget surplus to GDP for years after the current bailout ends in 2018 – that is a major vote of confidence. Such recent Greek outperformance could easily unwind on a “no” vote on Italian constitutional reform. As Gadfly has argued, that could create serious problems not just for Italy, the world’s third-largest debtor, but also for other borrowers in the region.
Trump will hopefully be an assertive defender of US interests rather than an assertive meddler, says Oxford Crisis Research Institute Director Mark Almond.
RT: What obstacles remain preventing the UN from sending aid to Aleppo? Mark Almond: Obviously, there is still an area controlled by the rebels where there is fighting, and the rebels have not always been terribly concerned about discriminating between their enemies and aid workers. But it is quite bizarre that now, as you actually have people, tens of thousands of people, who are finally accessible, that the UN agencies are not actually rushing to help. Because, after all, these are people who are in need, and the weather is very bad in addition to all the suffering caused by the violence.
But I think we have to, I’m afraid, accept the fact that the UN is not composed of people from outside the normal world of politics – after all, the head of its aid agency is a former British conservative MP, [UN Special Envoy for Syria’s Senior Adviser] Jan Egeland is a Norwegian political activist who has been for a long time very critical of Russia. So, we are talking of people who do have a political past, even if they are now presented as being somehow the representatives of global charity or global concern. But I am afraid they are politicians.
RT: Do you think the standoff in Aleppo will continue for much longer? Despite major gains by the Syrian Army, the rebels are reportedly refusing to surrender. Mark Almond: I think the remaining rebel forces are in a very difficult position, so unless something changes through some external intervention which would widen the wall and would be a very dangerous development. And I don’t see the US, either doing it itself or, for that matter, encouraging any of its friends to do it, like Turkey or Saudi Arabia, neither of which, I think, really has the stomach for such a fight. So, the likelihood is that the horrible conflict in Aleppo itself is grinding towards a conclusion. And that may also mean that in 2017 we can look towards trying to repair the international situation around Syria.
The new president of the US has said that he is much more prepared to offer realpolitik rather than an ideologically driven agenda to produce regime change [that], if necessary, [says]… “if we can’t have regime change, at least we can have chaos and, perhaps, out of that chaos, something good will come.” I think we’ve seen, really, over the last 25 years, from the chaos we helped produce in Afghanistan through to Syria today, that the chaos theory that the neocons in Washington have promoted has actually bitten back. We’ve seen terrorist attacks in Western Europe, we’ve seen [them] in the US. I think Trump recognizes that even though he is going to be a very assertive defender of American interests, he is not going to be an assertive meddler. And that does offer some hope.
“The folksiness will irk some critics … But criticizing Friedman for humanizing and boiling down big topics is like complaining that Mick Jagger used sex to sell songs: It is what he does well.” –John Micklethwait, review of Thank You for Being Late, in The New York Times With apologies to Mr. Micklethwait, the hands that typed these lines implying Thomas Friedman is a Mick Jagger of letters should be chopped off and mailed to the singer’s doorstep in penance. Mick Jagger could excite the world in one note, while Thomas Friedman needs 461 pages to say, “Shit happens.” Joan of Arc and Charles Manson had more in common. Thomas Friedman was once a man of great influence. His columns were must-reads for every senator and congressperson.
He helped spread the globalization gospel and push us into war in Iraq. But he’s destined now to be more famous as a literary figure. No modern writer has been lampooned more. Hundreds if not thousands of man-hours have been spent teaching robots to produce automated Friedman-prose, in what collectively is a half-vicious, half-loving tribute to a man who raised bad writing to the level of an art form. We will remember Friedman for interviewing 76% of the world’s taxi drivers, for predicting “the next six months will be critical” on 14 occasions over two and a half years (birthing the neologism, “the Friedman unit”), and for his unmatched, God-given ability to write nonsensical metaphors, like his classic “rule of holes”: “When you’re in one, stop digging. When you’re in three, bring a lot of shovels.”
Friedman’s great anti-gift is his ability to use many words when only a few are necessary. He became famous as a newspaper columnist for taking simple one-sentence observations like, “Wow, everyone has a cell phone these days,” and blowing them out into furious 850-word trash-fires of mismatched imagery and circular argument. The double-axel version of this feat was to then rewrite that same column over and over again, in the same newspaper, only piling on more incongruous imagery and skewing rhetoric to further stoke that one thought into an even higher and angrier fire.
Donald Trump said in an interview that economic conditions are so perilous that the country is headed for a “very massive recession” and that “it’s a terrible time right now” to invest in the stock market, embracing a distinctly gloomy view of the economy that counters mainstream economic forecasts. The New York billionaire dismissed concern that his comments – which are exceedingly unusual, if not unprecedented, for a major party front-runner – could potentially affect financial markets. “I know the Wall Street people probably better than anybody knows them,” said Trump, who has misfired on such predictions in the past. “I don’t need them.”
Trump’s go-it-alone instincts were a consistent refrain – “I’m the Lone Ranger,” he said at one point – during a 96-minute interview Thursday in which he talked candidly about his aggressive style of campaigning and offered new details about what he would do as president. The real estate mogul, top aides and his son Don Jr. gathered over lunch at a makeshift conference table set amid construction debris at Trump’s soon-to-be-finished hotel five blocks from the White House. Just before, he had met there with his foreign-policy advisers and just after he visited officials at the Republican National Committee – signs that, in spite of his Trump-knows-best manner, the political novice is making efforts to build a more well-rounded bid.
Over the course of the discussion, the candidate made clear that he would govern in the same nontraditional way that he has campaigned, tossing aside decades of American policy and custom in favor of a new, Trumpian approach to the world. In his first 100 days, Trump said, he would cut taxes, “renegotiate trade deals and renegotiate military deals,” including altering the U.S. role in NATO. He insisted that he would be able to get rid of the nation’s more than $19 trillion national debt “over a period of eight years.” Most economists would consider this impossible because it could require taking more than $2 trillion a year out of the annual $4 trillion budget to pay off holders of the debt.
The IMF has been caught, red handed, plotting to stage a “credit event” that forces Greece to the edge of bankruptcy, using the pretext of the Brexit referendum. No, this is not the plot of the next Bond movie. It is the transcript of a teleconference between the IMF’s chief negotiator, Poul Thomsen and Delia Velculescu, head of the IMF mission to Greece. Released by Wikileaks, the discussion took place in Athens just before the IMF walked out of talks aimed at giving Greece the green light for the next stage of its bailout. The situation is: the IMF does not believe the numbers being used by both Greece and Europe to do the next stage of the deal.
It does not want to take part in the bailout. Meanwhile the EU cannot do the deal without the IMF because the German parliament won’t allow it. As they bicker about the numbers, Thomsen and Velculescu are heard mulling whether to suppress the IMF’s next report on whether Greek debt is sustainable. That’s important because the IMF will only sign up to a deal that involves debt relief, and the Germans will not.
Then Thomsen drops the bombshell:
THOMSEN: What is going to bring it all to a decision point? In the past there has been only one time when the decision has been made and then that was when they were about to run out of money seriously and to default. Right?
THOMSEN: And possibly this is what is going to happen again. In that case, it drags on until July, and clearly the Europeans are not going to have any discussions for a month before the Brexits and so, at some stage they will want to take a break and then they want to start again after the European referendum.
Velculescu says they should try and do something in April. Thomsen replies:
THOMSEN: But that is not an event. That is not going to cause them to… That discussion can go on for a long time. And they are just leading them down the road… why are they leading them down the road? Because they are not close to the event, whatever it is.
VELCULESCU: I agree that we need an event, but I don’t know what that will be.
So let me decode. An “event” is a financial crisis bringing Greece close to default. Just like last year, when the banks closed, millions of people faced economic and psychological catastrophe. Only this time, the IMF wants to inflict that catastrophe on a nation holding tens of thousands of refugees and tasked with one of the most complex and legally dubious international border policing missions in modern history. The Greek government is furious: “we are not going to let the IMF play with fire,” a source told me. But the issue is out of Greek hands. In the end, as Thomsen hints in the transcript, only the European Commission and above all the German government can decide to honour the terms of the deal it did to bail Greece out last July. The transcript, though received with fury and incredulity in Greece, will drop like a bombshell into the Commission and the ECB. It is they who are holding €300bn+ of Greek debt. It is the whole of Europe, in other words, that the IMF is conspiring to hit with the shock doctrine.
Greece on Saturday demanded “explanations” from the IMF after Wikileaks said the lender sought a crisis “event” to push the indebted nation into concluding talks over its reforms. IMF officials, in an internal discussion, allegedly voiced exasperation with Greece on its slow pace of reform, complaining Athens only moved decisively when faced with the peril of default, the website said. An “event” was thus needed to drive the threat of default and get the Greeks to act, one official purportedly says. The “event” is not described in the transcript placed on the Wikileaks website on Saturday. The official, assessing the state of the talks and the political calendar, predicts the EU will stop discussions “for a month” before Britain’s EU referendum on June 23.
The Greek government reacted strongly to the report, saying it wanted the IMF to clarify its position. “The Greek government is demanding explanations from the IMF over whether seeking to create default conditions in Greece, shortly ahead of the referendum in Britain, is the fund’s official position,” spokeswoman Olga Gerovassili said in a statement. The transcript purports to be that of a teleconference that took place on March 19. Those taking part were Iva Petrova and Delia Velculescu, who have been representing the IMF in the negotiations with Greece, and Poul Thomsen, director of the Fund’s European Department.
In it, Thomsen allegedly voices exasperation with the slow pace of talks on Greek reforms between Greece and its international lenders. “In the past there has been only one time when the decision has been made and then that was when (the Greeks) were about to run out of money seriously and to default,” he reportedly says. “I agree that we need an event, but I don’t know what that will be,” Velculescu allegedly replies later in the conversation.
The IMF is considering forcing Germany’s leadership to quickly grant wide-ranging debt relief for Greece or allow the Fund to exit Athens’ bailout programme after six years, according to a transcript of an internal IMF teleconference published by WikiLeaks. The teleconference, between the head of the IMF’s European operations and its top Greek bailout monitor, is the clearest sign to date that the Fund wants to leave Greece’s €86 billion ($97 billion) rescue to the European Union alone and wash its hands of a programme that has led to a torrent of criticism. During the call, which occurred just two weeks ago, Poul Thomsen, head of the IMF’s European bureau, notes that Berlin is under intense political pressure because of the refugee crisis and suggests confronting Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to either agree to debt relief or allow the IMF to exit.
German officials have repeatedly said they could not participate in Greece’s bailout without the IMF on board, and senior members of the Bundestag have warned Ms Merkel they would reject new eurozone loans to Greece if only EU authorities were monitoring the programme. “Look, you Ms Merkel, you face a question, you have to think about what is more costly: to go ahead without the IMF? Would the Bundestag say, ‘The IMF is not on board’?” the transcript quotes Mr Thomsen as saying to his staff. “Or [does Ms Merkel] pick the debt relief that we think that Greece needs in order to keep us on board? Right? That is really the issue.” The IMF said it would not comment on “supposed reports of internal discussions.” But it noted that it has long pushed for “a credible set of reforms matched by debt relief from [Greece’s] European partners.”
One official involved in the talks said it accurately reflected Mr Thomsen’s private and publicly-stated views, albeit in “more direct and colourful language.” Many of the points raised by Mr Thomsen in the call have been made publicly on his IMF blog. Greek officials, however, reacted angrily to the revelation, arguing it was evidence the IMF was “blackmailing” Germany on the debt relief issue. “We will not allow anyone to play with fire and blackmail Greece or Germany or Europe,” said a senior Greek official. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, was meeting with his cabinet on Saturday to decide how to respond and was expected to talk to Christine Lagarde, the IMF managing director, later in the day.The IMF teleconference came just days after Wolfgang Schäuble, the powerful German finance minister, publicly said he was opposed to Greek debt relief — despite the fact eurozone leaders agreed to restructuring last July at a high-drama EU summit that agreed to a third bailout programme.
Euro zone finance ministers are likely to start discussing debt relief for Greece on the sidelines of the IMF’s spring meetings in mid-April, if there is a deal by then with Athens on a reform package, euro zone officials said. Representatives of Greece’s official lenders are to resume talks with the Greek government from Monday on how to tackle non-performing loans in the banking system and pension and income tax reforms. Negotiations on these reforms have been dragging on for months because they are politically very difficult for the left-wing government of Alexis Tsipras, elected on promises to end austerity. Yet these measures are crucial for Greece to reach a sizeable primary surplus in 2018, when lenders hope it will be able to manage its own finances and borrow from the market at sustainable rates.
Without an agreement on the measures, Athens cannot get the next tranche of loans from the euro zone bailout fund. It needs the money to pay back $4 billion to the IMF and the ECB in July. An agreement is also a crucial condition for any debt relief talks to start and a deal on debt relief is also a condition for the IMF to participate in the bailout program for Greece. “If the Greeks want to …have a disbursement well before July, there needs to be agreement on policies by around mid-April – and on 12 April everybody goes to Washington, so best before that,” one senior euro zone official said.
“Only then can one start discussing debt issues in earnest, and that will take some time. And then at the end everything has to come together simultaneously,” the official said. “For now everybody is working towards this – but the decisive factor is if the Greeks can pull their act together politically, there is no technically difficult issue anywhere,” the official said. Many euro zone finance ministers will participate in the spring meetings of the IMF in Washington on April 15-17, including all the biggest euro zone members, as well as top representatives of all the key euro zone institutions.
Just as China’s industrialization helped reshape Australia’s economy, the Asian giant’s pivot toward consumer-led growth is challenging Down Under anew. Chinese demand for food and energy will only partly offset slowing growth in iron ore exports that funneled cash throughout Australia for more than a decade, according to the Reserve Bank of Australia. That means the nation must find new growth drivers at a time a housing boom falters and a resurgent currency compound difficulties posed by the slowdown in Australia’s biggest trading partner. Central bank Governor Glenn Stevens acknowledged last week it’s impossible to know how China’s transition will unfold given nothing on the scale has been tried before, signaling elevated risks ahead for the developed world’s most China-dependent economy.
Minutes from its March 1 board meeting – where interest rates were kept at a record low 2% – showed a bigger chunk of policy makers’ time was spent discussing China. “The Australian economy at the moment is being buoyed by the confidence that comes from extraordinarily low interest rates driving up asset prices,” said Andrew Charlton, director of consultancy AlphaBeta in Sydney and one-time adviser to former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The subsequent housing boom and wealth creation “have been temporary policy stimulus holding up what will be a long-term negative impact of the changing Chinese economy on Australia.” The stakes are high for Australia, with China accounting for about a third of its trade and earning the mineral-rich country about 5% of its GDP.
Furthermore, resources will still comprise a larger share of Australia’s commodity exports to China than food in the coming two decades, the RBA’s chief China specialist Ivan Roberts said in a research paper released March 18. The pressures aren’t restricted to Asia. China’s steel production could be materially cut by a European Union move to consider tougher steel-import tariffs amid concern that Chinese producers pose a threat to their continental counterparts, Fitch Ratings warned on March 24. That would inevitably flow onto Australia’s iron ore industry, where prices have already slumped about 75% in the last five years. While iron ore rebounded 23% in the first quarter to as high as $63.74, McKinsey & Co. predicts the steel making ingredient will snap back to between $45 and $50 this year as evidence of any real improvement in demand is scant.
Until recently steel was a Chinese success story. Its steel industry kicked off in 1894 with a small victory against its historic rival, Japan, after the opening of the Hangyang Iron Works in Hubei province. Though it opened two years before Japan’s first steel plant, the factory was privatised in 1908 and was eventually bought by the Japanese. The first world war stimulated demand, and after a postwar decline in production, further Chinese steel plants saw the industry take off. When Mao Zedong took power in 1949 and the People’s Republic of China was established, self-sufficiency rather than global industry domination was the driving force in a diplomatically isolated country. Steel production expanded through the 1950s as Soviet-influenced heavy industrialisation kicked in.
Annual output was 158,000 tonnes when Mao took over; by 1976, the year before his death and the final year of the decade-long Cultural Revolution, it was 20.5 million tonnes. But in the 1980s, China imported more and more steel as it struggled to meet domestic demand. As the country’s economic clout grew, the government set a target of increasing crude steel production to 60 million tonnes by the end of 1990 and 80 million by 1995. Early signs of the recent, disastrous, overproduction were apparent as these targets were surpassed. In 1996, China overtook Japan to become the world’s biggest steel producer, churning out more than 101 million tonnes that year. The 2008 global recession failed to put the brakes on. While much of the developed world was mired in crisis, China boasted a 9% GDP growth rate in 2009.
Steel production was still rocketing, with output of 683 million tonnes in 2011. After 2014, China’s economic growth slowed, and so did domestic demand. China responded by increasing steel exports, which led to accusations of dumping. In 2015 exports increased by 20% to 107 million tonnes. Prices were slashed as Chinese steel companies battled to survive. The dumping cast a shadow over the UK steel industry, and has also meant shutdowns and layoffs at Chinese plants. Last month, before it became clear that 40,000 jobs were at risk in the UK, the Chinese government announced that 500,000 steel workers were to lose their jobs. All this is the result of China’s first annual steel industry contraction in a quarter of a century, announced last January. The government is aiming to cut steel production by 150 million tonnes by 2020.
The elimination of Britain’s steel industry in a matter of weeks – the reality of Tata’s statement that it wants to close its UK operations – is, by any standards, shocking. There will be efforts to save something from the ruins, but the financial and trading truths are brutal. This has not happened, however, in a day, or even over the past few years. Rather the plight of British steel making is the culmination of 40 years of refusal to organise economic, financial and industrial policy to support the generation of value. This is done in the laissez-faire belief – contested even in economic theory – that any such attempt is self-defeating. Business secretary Sajid Javid personifies this view. In fact, he is surely the most ideologically driven and least practical politician to hold this key post since the war. The most generous interpretation is that this is creative destruction at work.
Steel was an integral element of an industrial economy now giving way to a new knowledge-based capitalism where know-how is more important than brawn. It is tragic for those whose livelihoods and skills are now redundant, but it was no less tragic for ostlers, sailmakers and coal miners in their day. The trouble is that Britain is very good at destruction, much less good at the creative part. Nor is it clear that steel’s days are over: its usage in a range of key functions – from transport to construction – remains fundamental and is growing. Rather, the economic behemoth China has monumentally over-invested in steel, for which there is too little domestic demand, and is now flooding world markets. Britain, with a systemically overvalued exchange rate, porous market, high energy costs and ideological refusal to join others in the EU to deter imports dumped below cost with higher tariffs, is uniquely exposed to the threat.
Now up to 40,000 workers directly and indirectly connected to steel production are about to lose their livelihoods. Beneath the specifics of the steel industry lie more deep-seated problems. The day after Tata’s announcement, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) disclosed that the country’s balance of payments deficit in the last quarter of 2015 climbed to a record 7% of GDP. Britain’s international accounts are more in the red than those of any other developed country. Imports of goods and services, which have steadily outstripped exports for decades, are now to be given an extra impetus by the closure of UK steel capacity. What’s more, the same weaknesses that plague the old also inhibit the growth of the new.
After the interventionism of the 1930s – or even the 1950s and 1960s – Britain could boast dozens of substantial companies representing industries as disparate as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, aerospace and electronics. Not so in 2016. Only two high-tech companies are represented in the FTSE 100 – ARM and Sage. Another 20 years of the laissez-faire framework Javid cherishes – he is a devotee of the wild philosopher of hyper-libertarianism Ayn Rand – and the economy will be eviscerated, with a current account deficit so large it cannot be conventionally financed. The consequences – on living standards, employment, inflation, interest rates and house prices – will be severe.
Russia’s oil output set a post-Soviet high in March as the success of a proposed crude production freeze between OPEC members and other major producers appeared to be in doubt. Russian production of crude and a light oil called condensate climbed 2.1% in March from a year earlier to 10.912 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Ministry’s CDU-TEK unit. That narrowly beat the previous high of 10.910 million barrels in January. With most OPEC members, Russia and some others outside the group scheduled to meet in Doha this month to discuss an accord on capping output, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman signaled in an interview with Bloomberg that if any country raises output, the kingdom will also boost sales.
Prices on Friday sank more than 4% after the comments. Iran previously said it plans to boost production after the lifting of sanctions following a deal to curb its nuclear program. Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela and Qatar in February first proposed an accord to cap oil output to reduce a worldwide surplus and boost prices. Brent prices in London have gained nearly 40% from the 12-year low reached in January. Russian oil exports rose 10% to 5.59 million barrels a day, according to the Energy Ministry data.
The U.S.’s embarrassment of oil riches may not have been that beneficial after all. Those are the findings of a recent Goldman Sachs report, in which the bank explained that the net effects of cheaper crude on growth have been “negative so far,” given the impact on oil producers who are now finding it hard to churn out more black gold while maintaining needed levels of capital expenditures. Although Goldman acknowledged a lift to consumer spending, the summary constituted an admission that the virtues of the boom that sent U.S. oil production skyrocketing, leaving world markets awash in inexpensive crude, may not have delivered the economic boost many observers had anticipated at its outset.
“While cheap oil has … become ‘too much of a good thing’ for growth, the employment impact of lower oil prices is likely still positive, reflecting the modest effect on employment of the capital-intensive energy sector,” Goldman wrote. Last year, the U.S. produced nearly 10 million barrels per day — the largest amount in decades and second only to Saudi Arabia. As a consequence of the massive buildup of supply that flooded world markets, oil prices slumped by more than half, placing intense pressure on domestic energy producers. In the research note released on Saturday, Goldman estimated that the level at which U.S. producers would need to breakeven is somewhere within a range of $45 to $80. On Friday, crude closed below $40 per barrel. Given current levels of crude, the crumbling of capital expenditures is a net drag on economic growth, Goldman notes.
It added that oil would need to climb back to $70 at least to give energy capital spending a second wind. “Adding up, we conclude that the net effect of cheap oil on growth has probably been negative so far, with the capex collapse outweighing the consumption boost,” analysts wrote. “But going forward, the net effect is likely to be neutral at worst under our $30 scenario, but would be moderately positive if oil prices rebound to $50 or $70, reflecting the outsized impact of price changes in this crucial range on energy capex and production,” it added. With that as a backdrop, energy companies are feeling the pinch of lower crude prices. Last year, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s warned that 50% of energy company bonds were now considered “distressed” and were at risk of default. In total, S&P estimates that $180 billion worth of debt falls in that category. Meanwhile, at least 50 different oil and gas companies have filed for bankruptcy since last year.
Fears are growing that Greece will be unable to manage the task of sending back refugees to Turkey under the European Union’s controversial migrant transfer deal which is due to be enforced from Monday. Humanitarian aid groups have warned that the deal will be impossible for overwhelmed Greek and EU officials to implement. While a top UN official has said that the deal to send Syrian refugees back to Turkey en masse could be illegal, as Ankara is pushing them back over the border into the war zone. “Collective deportations without having regard to the individual rights of those who claim to be refugees are illegal,” Peter Sutherland, the UN Secretary General’s special representative for international migration and development told the BBC.
“Secondly, their rights have to be absolutely protected where they are deported to, in other words Turkey. There has to be adequate assurances they can’t be sent back from Turkey to Syria.” There has also been opposition to the move from within both Greece and Turkey. In the coastal Turkish town of Dikili, hundreds demonstrated on Saturday against the prospect of hosting people expelled from the nearby Greek islands, especially Chios and Lesbos. A plan to build a reception centre for returned migrants and refugees in Dikili is unpopular with locals. “We definitely don’t want a refugee camp in Dikili,” said the town’s mayor, Mustafa Tosun, according to the Associated Press. Demonstrators expressed concern over the impact the EU deal could have on the economy, tourism and security in their town.
The European Union’s plan to send refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war back to Turkey en masse could be illegal, a top UN official has warned, amid concerns that Greece lacks the infrastructure needed for the deal to take effect on Monday. Peter Sutherland, the UN secretary general’s special representative for international migration and development, said that deporting migrants and refugees without first considering their asylum applications would break international law. And, in light of claims by an NGO that Turkey had been pushing Syrians back over the border to their home country, he warned that none could be deported from Europe without guarantees that their rights would be protected. Sutherland spoke as Greece prepares to begin deporting migrants and refugees on Monday. Greek immigration officials have already warned they need more staff to implement the plan.
Asked during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme whether Europe’s scheme could be illegal, Sutherland replied: “Absolutely, and there are two fundamental reasons for this. “First of all, collective deportations without having regard to the individual rights of those who claim to be refugees are illegal. Now, we don’t know what is going to happen next week, but if there is any question of collective deportations without individuals being given the right to claim asylum that is illegal. “Secondly, their rights have to be absolutely protected where they are deported to, in other words Turkey. There has to be adequate assurances they can’t be sent back from Turkey to Syria, for example if they are Syrian refugees, or Afghanistan or wherever.”
European and Turkish leaders are set to implement a deal on Monday that will result in almost all asylum seekers being deported back to Turkey. In exchange for each person sent back, the EU has agreed to accept a refugee who has not tried to enter Europe illegally. But the success of the deal rests on both Greece’s ability to process thousands of people in a short space of time, and Turkey’s ability to prove itself a safe country for refugees. In theory, only those refugees who fail to claim asylum in Greece – usually because they are seeking to settle elsewhere in the EU – or whose claims are rejected will be deported. However, the most senior Greek asylum official, Maria Stavropoulou, on Friday told the Guardian she would need a 20-fold increase in personnel to handle expected claims.
However, unrest has already erupted among refugees and migrants in Greece who are anticipating the beginning of the deal. On the Greek island of Chios, hundreds of people ripped down a razor wire fence that had kept them imprisoned in a camp and fled. One told the BBC: “Deportation is a big mistake because we have risked a lot to come here especially during our crossing from Turkey to Greece. We were smuggled here from Turkey. We cannot go back. “We will repeat our trip again and again if need be because we are running away in order to save our lives.” Meanwhile, Amnesty International alleged that unaccompanied children were among hundreds of Syrians illegally expelled from Turkey since January. John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe and central Asia director, said: “In their desperation to seal their borders, EU leaders have wilfully ignored the simplest of facts: Turkey is not a safe country for Syrian refugees and is getting less safe by the day.”
The Greek government is bracing itself for violence ahead of the European Union implementing a landmark deal that, from Monday, will see Syrian refugees and migrants being deported back to Turkey en masse. Rioting and rebellion by thousands of entrapped refugees across Greece has triggered mounting fears in Athens over the practicality of enforcing an agreement already marred by growing concerns over its legality. Islands have become flashpoints, with as many as 800 people breaking out of a detention centre on Chios on Friday. “We are expecting violence. People in despair tend to be violent,” the leftist-led government’s migration spokesman, Giorgos Kyritsis, told the Observer. “The whole philosophy of the deal is to deter human trafficking [into Europe] from the Turkish coast, but it is going to be difficult and we are trying to use a soft approach. These are people have fled war. They are not criminals.”
Barely 24 hours ahead of the pact coming into force, it emerged that Frontex, the EU border agency, had not dispatched the appropriate personnel to oversee the operation. Eight Frontex boats will transport men, women and children, who are detained on Greek islands and have been selected for deportation, back across the Aegean following fast-track asylum hearings. But of the 2,300 officials the EU has promised to send Greece only 200 have so far arrived, Kyritsis admitted. “We are still waiting for the legal experts and translators they said they would send,” he added. “Even Frontex personnel haven’t got here yet.” Humanitarian aid also earmarked for Greece had similarly been held up, with the result that the bankrupt country was managing the crisis – and continued refugee flows – on very limited funds from the state budget.
On Saturday overstretched resources were evident in the chaos on Chios where detainees, fearing imminent deportation, had not only run amok, breaking through razorwire enclosing a holding centre on the island, but in despair had marched on the town’s port. In the stampede three refugees were stabbed as riot police tried to control the crowds with stun guns and teargas. The camp, a former recycling factory, had been ransacked, with cabins and even fingerprint equipment smashed. “This is what happens when you have 30 policemen guarding 1,600 refugees determined to get out,” said Benjamin Julian, an Icelandic volunteer speaking from the island. “I witnessed it all and I know that all the time they were chanting ‘freedom, freedom, freedom’ and ‘no Torkia, no Torkia’. That is what they want and are determined to get.”
In the mayhem that had ensued, panic-stricken local authorities had been forced to divert the daily ferry connecting the island with the mainland for fear it would be stormed. Similar outbreaks of violence had also occurred in Piraeus, Athens’ port city, where eight young men had been taken to hospital after riots erupted between rival ethnic groups on Wednesday. With tensions on the rise in Lesbos, the Aegean island that has borne the brunt of the flows, and in Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonia frontier where around 11,000 have massed since the border’s closure, NGOs warned of a timebomb in the making. Hopes of numbers decreasing following the announcement of the EU-Turkey deal have been dispelled by a renewed surge in arrivals with the onset of spring.
More than a hundred unaccompanied children have gone missing since the southern section of the Calais “Jungle” was demolished last month. According to a census by Help Refugees UK, 129 unaccompanied minors from the camp have gone unaccounted for. The census found that since the demolition took place in March, 4,946 refugees are still living there, including 1,400 in the shipping containers set up by the French government. The refugee charity said it was “very concerned” at the findings. It wrote in a Facebook post: “This is simply not acceptable. We call on the French authorities to put systems in place immediately to register and safeguard the remaining 294 lone children in the camp.”
“No alternative accommodation was provided for unaccompanied minors during the evictions, no assessment was made by the French authorities of their needs and no systems put in place to monitor them or provide safeguarding. There is no official registration system for children in place In Calais or Dunkirk.” Help Refugees UK added it had shared this information with the UK children’s commissioner Anne Longfield and her French counterpart Genevieve Avenard. According to the EU police agency Europol, more than 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared in Europe in the last two years. Aid workers are concerned at the deteriorating safety conditions and told The Independent teenage boys are being raped in the camp.
Libby Freeman, founder of grassroots campaign Calais Action, told The Independent the findings were “shocking”. Ms Freeman said: “Nobody knows where these vulnerable children have ended up. “Since the closure [and relocation] of the Women’s and Children’s centre, they have been uprooted. With so many children missing, it’s difficult not to think the worst. It’s more than irresponsible. “And many of the minors have a legal right to join their family in the UK. The government should stop [delaying] the law.”
You have to go back to August’s selloff to find a week as bad as this one for U.S. equities. Catalysts that drove the S&P 500’s 12% summer tumble, from interest rate dread to a commodities rout, surfaced again after being sidelined during October’s surge. Signs of slowing growth from China to Europe rekindled concern that weakness could spread to America as the Federal Reserve prepares to tighten monetary policy. While equities are nowhere near their August lows, the weekly slump raised concern that the S&P 500’s six-week rally went too far, too fast. Volatility jumped after an October lull, with a measure of price swings surging 40%.
Bank of America says shares are more likely to decline before New Year’s amid weak consumer earnings and the specter of higher borrowing costs. “For the next month and a half I think there may be more downside than upside risk to stocks,” Savita Subramanian at Bank of America said by phone. “The market is going to be more skittish about seeing the first Fed rate hike. We’re not going to get there without a little more volatility.” The S&P 500 Index fell 3.6% in the five days, sliding below its average price for the past 100 days for the first time in three weeks. The decline snapped a run of six weekly gains, the longest rally of the year that included an 8.3% surge in October.
The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index jumped above 20 for the first time since August, when it touched a four-year high. For Subramanian, who in October lowered her year-end target for the S&P 500 to 2,000 from 2,100, the list of worries is tallying up. Weak corporate earnings and the prospect for higher rates will keep a lid on gains through the remainder of the year, she said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Earnings are not coming in particularly great for sectors like consumer stocks, and on top of that you’ve got the Fed in December,” Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy, said by phone. “Those all kind of conspire against near-term gains.”
Today Nomi Prins, the keynote speaker who recently addressed the Federal Reserve, IMF and the World Bank, warned King World News “It’s all coming to an end.” Eric King: “Nomi, we went through a round of terror in 2008, and certainly China just went through that again recently when their stock market crashed along with the emerging markets, but when does this whole global Ponzi scheme finally come unraveled?” Nomi Prins: “We are seeing small unravelings all the time. Brazil is doing badly, Mexico is struggling, currencies around the world relative to the dollar are hurting, which means relationships of imports to exports and money coming into those countries are hurting.
China has had problems but its central bank has been big enough and strong enough to boost it at least somewhat back up again. The United States is in complete denial in terms of what the economic indicators are said to be vs what they actually are and how the markets themselves are being continually buoyed either by the Federal Reserve or the Fed’s associations with some of the big banks in terms of continuing to buy Treasury bonds… “The ECB is still on a mission, and as of the November 12th announcement from Mario Draghi, an even stronger mission to continue to infuse those markets with artificial money and perhaps even enhance their quantitive easing program. So you ask, ‘When is this all coming to an end?’
It is all coming to an end, but you have all these actors trying to prop up different pieces of it (the global financial system) and so that’s why there is all this enhanced volatility and you have so many ups and downs (in global markets). (The end will come) when there are no more creative concepts on the part of these central banks to provide the artificial stimulus to the markets. And that could be the middle or the end of 2016, only because one big central bank in play has already committed to doing their part of it (with enhanced stimulus). And so that’s why we continue to have enhanced volatility to the downside in global markets that is also met with intervention, which is unprecedented. But it (the stimulus) does exist and we have to recognize that, as unprecedented and bizarre as it is, and there are indications that it will continue.
And so that keeps the artificial game in play through the middle or fall of 2016. But in the core of markets and economies things are not stable, which is why all of these (volatile) movements are happening. If anything was stable for real, the Federal Reserve would have raised rates years ago, the ECB wouldn’t have needed to come up with another round of quantitative easing, the People’s Bank of China wouldn’t need to reduce the reserve requirements to their financial institutions in order to give them more money to play with — none of that would be happening. So we are in a state of deterioration. The timing of an eventual implosion has to do with when the big banks have nothing left to counteract the artificial markets coming apart that they themselves have created.
SocGen’s permarealist, Albert Edwards, has been the one person who for the past decade has firmly held the belief that a “deflationary Ice Age” is upon the world – courtesy of an unmanageable debt load – no matter what central banks do. There is, of course, one way to short circuit said Ice Age, and it involves paradropping money in an act of terminal fiat desperation (the outcome is always hyperinflation) onto the general population, something which as we reported last Friday is already in the works courtesy of first Adair Turner and the IMF, and soon all other “very serious people”.
Keep an eye on Japan as this is where said paradropping will be attempted first as Ben Bernanke suggested back in 2003 when he said to “consider for example a tax cut for households and businesses that is explicitly coupled with incremental Bank of Japan purchases of government debt – so that the tax cut is in effect financed by money creation.” But before we get there, here is a snapshot of where, according to Edwards, we are now and why “there” is getting very close. In his latest note he says, quite simply, that it is now too late to put the “Orc-like monster” of excess debt and declining cash flows back in the bottle, and why “the global economy will be thrown into chaos.”
The deeply held wish of central bankers not to de-rail the fragile economic recovery is on display for all to see as they grasp at the slightest excuse for their continued inaction. The UK’s central bank governor, Mark Carney, exceeded all dovish expectations recently in his latest rate flip-floppery. But what is this? The Fed has finally summoned up its courage and looks set to raise rates next month. It is, however, already too late. Having delayed way beyond the point when it might typically have raised rates in previous cycles, it has allowed an Orc-like monster to incubate, hatch and emerge into the sunlight, snarling and ready to do battle.
Free Fed money has led to an unprecedented corporate credit binge of excess spending, especially on share buybacks. This is even bigger than it was at the time of the 2000 technology and telecom bubble. The rotten fruit of the Fed’s seemingly innocuous inaction will now be clear to onlookers as it is ripped to shreds on the battlefield by the powerful credit monster. The global economy will be thrown into chaos.
U.K. prosecutors charged 10 former Deutsche Bank and Barclays employees with manipulating a benchmark interest rate, including high-profile trader Christian Bittar, with an 11th facing indictment as soon as next week. Six traders from Deutsche Bank employees and four from Barclays were charged with conspiracy to manipulate the Euribor benchmark, the Serious Fraud Office said in a statement Friday. Another trader listed anonymously in court documents may also be charged, according to three people familiar with the case. Alongside Bittar, those linked to Deutsche Bank are Andreas Hauschild, Joerg Vogt, Ardalan Gharagozlou, Achim Kraemer and Kai-Uwe Kappauf. Former Barclays employees Colin Bermingham, Carlo Palombo, Philippe Moryoussef and Sisse Bohart also face charges.
The SFO won the first conviction by trial tied to benchmark manipulation in August, when former UBS trader Tom Hayes was found guilty of rigging the London interbank offered rate and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Banks and other financial institutions have paid about $9 billion in fines tied to Libor and other key rates. One other person has pleaded guilty in the Libor probe. Lawyers for Bittar, Hauschild and Moryoussef said they will contest the allegations. Lawyers for the other eight either declined to comment or didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The nine men and one woman are scheduled to appear in a London magistrates court on Jan. 11.
Documents distributed in the case have listed an unidentified 11th trader that will be charged, according to people familiar with the matter who declined to be named because the prosecution isn’t public. The trader could be charged as soon as next week, one of the people said. Other than Bermingham, the 10 defendants named by the SFO all live outside Britain, according to an SFO spokeswoman. Bittar and Moryoussef live in Singapore, Bohart in Denmark and Palombo in the U.S. and Italy, while the remaining five are in Germany. All have been notified they face charges. No extradition requests have been made and all appearances will be voluntary at present, the SFO said.
[..] we find out that the ECB – the same ECB where policymakers like to meet with banks and asset managers before major policy meetings, actually had three of the traders accused of gaming Euribor by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office on Friday in a group that helped the the bank craft its response to the financial crisis! From Reuters:
The documents on the ECB website show that former Barclays euro money market desk head Colin Bermingham and Joerg Vogt and Ardalan Gharagozlou from Deutsche Bank – three of 10 people charged by the SFO on Friday – were part of the central bank’s Money Market Contact Group at the height of the crisis. The group regularly met and held conference calls as the central bank scrambled to stabilise markets that were threatening to push debt-strained Greece, Portugal, Ireland and even Italy and Spain out of the euro in 2010 and 2011.
Amusingly, the 10 people charged include Deutsche Bank’s Christian Bittar who can’t seem to get away from his title as rate rigger par excellence (although that’s not the term Anshu Jain used, that’s the spirit of a conversation the ex-Deutsche CEO once had about Bittar with a colleague back in the good ol’ days). Here’s Bloomberg:
U.K. prosecutors charged 10 former Deutsche Bank and Barclays employees with manipulating a benchmark interest rate, including high-profile trader Christian Bittar, with an 11th facing indictment as soon as next week. Six traders from Deutsche Bank employees and four from Barclays were charged with conspiracy to manipulate the Euribor benchmark, the Serious Fraud Office said in a statement Friday. Another trader listed anonymously in court documents may also be charged, according to three people familiar with the case. Alongside Bittar, those linked to Deutsche Bank are Andreas Hauschild, Joerg Vogt, Ardalan Gharagozlou, Achim Kraemer and Kai-Uwe Kappauf. Former Barclays employees Colin Bermingham, Carlo Palombo, Philippe Moryoussef and Sisse Bohart also face charges.
Ok, so the ECB was regularly communicating with three traders who are now charged with manipulating Euribor. Here’s what Francesco Papadia, head of market operations at the ECB during the financial and euro zone debt crises has to say about the group: “They helped understand what was going on beyond what you see on the screens.” If you follow financial markets and that doesn’t strike you as hilarious, then check your pulse. That is, we bet they did “help the ECB what was going on behind the screen”, after all, they were the ones colluding to fix the market! In any case, we’ll have to see what the time frames were here and if there was any overlap between when the allegations stem from and when this ECB committee operated (it’s probably a better bet that the manipulation took place before the euro debt crisis), but in any case, we’ll close with the following amusing quote for now: “The ECB plays no role in the setting of the Euribor rate,” the ECB said in a statement. Are you guys sure about that?…
“Super” Mario Draghi’s nickname is very much justified, according to Angel Gurria, the secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who has called on governments to do more to tackle the global growth slowdown. “Central bankers have been the heroes of this story since this financial and economic crisis hit in 2008, but the problem is they have run out of room. It’s time for the governments,” Gurria told CNBC Friday. The most influential central banks in the Western world, the U.S. Federal Reserve, European Central Bank (of which Draghi is president) and the Bank of England, have been running ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing programs for years in some cases, to try and handle the fallout from the credit crisis.
With the Fed likely to become the first to signal a return to more normal monetary policy by raising rates, potentially as early as December, Gurria gave the central bank his blessing – although he said it should have started sooner. On Monday, the OECD cut its forecast for global growth to around 2.9% this year – well below its long-term average – citing a further sharp downturn in emerging market economies and world trade. Gurria, who was speaking at the G-20 summit of the heads of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, said: “The issue is about getting growth and trade back. It’s very ominous that trade is growing at about 2% when the world economy is growing at 2.9%. There’s only five years in the last 50 at which trade has grown at a rate lower than the world GDP and there has always been a recession following that.” “We’ve got to get all cylinders of the growth engine firing again. There is no room for complacency,” he added.
China’s yuan moved closer to joining other top global currencies in the IMF’s benchmark foreign exchange basket on Friday after Fund staff and IMF chief Christine Lagarde gave the move the thumbs up. The recommendation paves the way for the Fund’s executive board, which has the final say, to place the yuan on a par with the U.S. dollar, Japanese yen, British pound and euro at a meeting scheduled for Nov. 30. Joining the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) basket would be a victory for Beijing, which has campaigned hard for the move, and could increase demand for the yuan among reserve managers as well as marking a symbolic coming of age for the world’s second-largest economy. Staff had found the yuan, also known as the renminbi (RMB), met the criteria of being “freely usable,” or widely used for international transactions and widely traded in major foreign exchange markets, Lagarde said.
“I support the staff’s findings,” she said in a statement immediately welcomed by China’s central bank, which said it hoped the international community would also back the yuan’s inclusion. Staff also gave the green light to Beijing’s efforts to address operational issues identified in a report in July, Lagarde said. The executive board, which represents the Fund’s 188 members, is seen as unlikely to go against a staff recommendation and countries including France and Britain have already pledged their support for the change. This would take effect in October 2016, during China’s leadership of the Group of 20 bloc of advanced and emerging economies. China has rolled out a flurry of reforms recently to liberalize its markets and also help the yuan meet the IMF’s checklist, including scrapping a ceiling on deposit rates, issuing three-month Treasury bills weekly and improving the transparency of Chinese data.
Volkswagen is working with banks to put together as much as €20 billion in short-term bridge financing to show that the automaker has adequate liquidity to weather the emissions cheating crisis, two people familiar with the matter said. VW does not need the money currently and is seeking extra funds to create a financial cushion, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private talks. The automaker will begin meeting with about a dozen prospective banks on Monday at its headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, to go over the proposed funding, which it aims to have in place before the end of the year, the people said.
“We have always considered that a well-diversified portfolio of funding tools gives us the necessary flexibility to offer appropriate and competitive financing options for our customers as well as our industrial investment needs,” Volkswagen said in an e-mailed statement. “It is perfectly normal that we are in a constructive ongoing dialog.” The scandal has spread since Volkswagen first admitted in September to cheating on diesel pollution tests. The carmaker will need to recall as many as 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide and admitted earlier this month that another 800,000 cars had unexplained inconsistencies in carbon dioxide output. By 2017, the price tag of VW’s emissions woes will probably reach about €25 billion, Barclays estimated on Friday.
“It makes perfect sense” to shore up financing, said Sascha Gommel at Commerzbank. “In order to protect their rating, they need to show that liquidity will never become an issue for them, because then you have a vicious circle. If the ratings agencies think you won’t have cash and they downgrade you, then your funding gets more expensive.” Volkswagen has the equivalent of €2.57 billion in bonds maturing this year, €14.3 billion next year and €13.5 billion in 2017. The company said earlier Friday it has put bond financing on hold because it needs time to update its documentation to reflect potential fines and penalties. Thus far, the automaker has set aside €6.7 billion to recall diesel cars and estimated the economic risk of the CO2 irregularities at another €2 billion.
During the 2012 election, President Barack Obama held up his bailout of General Motors as a model in the fight against China’s growing manufacturing dominance, telling voters that the auto rescue would reverse the industry’s multi-decade trend of outsourcing. A single election cycle later, the question of government support for automakers has all but disappeared from the political discourse, yet Detroit is back to sending jobs out of the industrial Midwest. And now GM is leading the way on Chinese outsourcing, announcing it will become the first U.S. firm to import a vehicle made in China to the U.S. It’s about time taxpayers ask what their $50 billion rescue really bought them. Starting next year, GM will import between 30,000 and 40,000 Buick Envision crossovers annually from a plant in Shandong Province.
That won’t make the Envision one of GM’s best-selling models, but it will greatly outsell the only other Chinese-import car on the market, the Volvo S60L. More importantly, GM’s pioneering Chinese import will likely help break down the consumer stigma attached to Chinese cars, leading the way for other automakers to follow suit. If a bailed-out company can get away with selling Chinese cars in the U.S., there’s no doubt that the rest will try too. The Envision is just the tip of GM’s Chinese iceberg: though the firm has not announced further plans to import other vehicles from Asia, it is increasingly making China a hub for new vehicle development and global exports. The next generation of GM’s small- and medium-sized vehicles will be offered with a new engine and high-tech dual-clutch transmission co-developed with its Chinese partner, the Shanghai Automobile Industry Corporation.
The two companies are also jointly creating an entire family of small vehicles to be exported from China to markets around the world. Taxpayers aren’t the only ones GM appears to be abandoning. The United Auto Workers is incensed by the Envision decision. As union vice president Cindy Estrada told the Detroit Free Press in August when the rumors of the plan surfaced, “after the sacrifices made by U.S. taxpayers and the U.S. workforce to make General Motors the profitable quality company it is today, UAW members are disappointed with the tone-deaf speculation that the Envision would be imported from China.” Yet given that the UAW has a new wage-raising contract nearing ratification, it can be argued that the union may have brought some of this disappointment upon itself.
But perhaps it is in Canada, where the government spent $10 billion rescuing G.M. and Chrysler, where anger is most justified. With GM’s “vitality commitment” – made to protect jobs in Canada as a condition of its bailout – expiring at the end of next year, the automaker has already decided to cut 1,000 jobs from its Oshawa, Ontario, plant when production of the Chevrolet Camaro ends there next week. GM has hinted that more outsourcing could follow. And as a new Liberal government is taking power in Ottawa, GM is pushing for “more amenable” subsidies than the $750 million in loans that had been offered by the outgoing Conservatives. If new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t bow to GM pressure – turning those loans into grants that it need not repay – the automaker may well pull even more jobs from a country that stood by it at its darkest hour.
The austerity imposed on the Portuguese people by the 1% has resulted in the election of a coalition government of socialists, communists, and a “left bloc.” In the 20th century, socialism and the fear of communism humanized Europe, but beginning with Margaret Thatcher the achievements of decades of social reforms have been rolled back throughout Europe as bought-and-paid for governments have given all preference to the One%. Public assets are being privatized, and social pensions and services are being reduced in order to make interest payments to private banks. When the recent Portuguese vote gave a majority to the anti-austerity bloc, the right-wing Portuguese president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, a creature of Washington and the big banks, announced that the leftwing would not be permitted to form a government, just as the senior British general announced that a Labour Government formed by Jeremy Corbyn would not be permitted to form.
True to her word, Anibal reappointed the austerity prime minister, Passos Coelho. However, the unity of the socialists with the communists and the left bloc swept Coelho from office and the president had to recognize a new government. The new government means that for the first in a long time there is a government in Portugual that possibly could represent the people rather than Washington and the One%. However, if the new government leaves the banks in charge and remains committed to the EU, the current president, previous prime minister, and previous finance minister, Maria Luis Albuquerque, will continue to work to overthrow the people’s will as occurred in Greece. The new Portuguese government cannot escape austerity without nationalizing the banks and leaving the EU. The failure of the Greek government to bite the bullet resulted in the Greek government’s acceptance of the austerity that it was elected to oppose.
While the saying goes “good fences make good neighbors,” it appears the leadership of The EU is starting to get frustrated with the lack of acquiescence among some of the ‘union’s’ newer or more marginal members. In a somewhat stunning statement, following ongoing and contentious meetings to discuss solutions to the migrant ‘problem’, EU Commissioner Timmermanns appeared to warn disagreeable member states, “There is an alternative to everything. I believe in EU cooperation because of all other forms in history have been tried to help Europeans get on better, and with the exception of this one, all other forms have led to war – so let’s stick to this one.” As Elsevier reports (via Google Translate),
European leaders read the last few days the alarm about the survival of the European Union (EU). Prague said Commissioner Frans Timmermans (PvdA) Friday that the EU is only one alternative: war. “The only alternative to the EU is war,” said Timmermans Friday gave a speech at a conference in Prague, said a reporter for The Times of London who attended the speech. Timmermans is the way Europe responds to the migration crisis’ the biggest threat to the EU ever. The Commissioner underlined that countries should cooperate better when it comes to border controls. “Migration is part of life, but we must lead these movements together in the right direction,” said Timmermans.
Matching words Timmermans in the alarmist tone that European leaders were heard in recent days about the survival of the EU. Earlier this week, Timmermans at the House of Europe Lecture in Amsterdam that he fears for the survival of the EU. “I do not optimistic about doing that, because I’m just not.
The current migration crisis is the European ideal of free movement shaking on its foundations. EU President Donald Tusk said that the EU is engaged in “a race against the clock.” “But we are determined to win this race,” said Tusk. “As I warned earlier, the only way not to dismantle the Schengen ensure proper management of the external borders of the EU.” The EU appears to be unable to curb migration flows. Because the borders are not guarded, seeing more and more countries are forced to protect their own borders. Even the welcoming Sweden went on Thursday to intensive checks on the southern border.
Remember when Hank Paulson waved the “Mutual Assured Destruction” card in the face of the U.S. with his infamous “blank check” three page term sheet? Now, it’s Europe’s turn. What’s worse, however, for things to devolve this much, it confirms that the European ‘Union’ is rapidly disintegrating, much more than the recent surge in barbed wire fences around European nations will demonstrate, and as Timmermanns warns, that means war.
Greece’s migration minister on Friday said refugee smuggling in Turkey was conducted in “broad daylight” as he called on the EU to step up relocation plans. “The entries (from Turkey) are happening in an organized fashion,” junior interior minister for migration Yiannis Mouzalas told a news conference. “It is happening in broad daylight, with villages gathering around to watch the refugees being put in boats by the traffickers. There is no secrecy in this,” he said, citing evidence from Turkish media and the Greek coastguard. Greek PM Alexis Tsipras will travel to Turkey next week to press the country’s leaders to take a stronger stance against refugee traffickers.
Turkey “is spending a lot of money, it is holding three million refugees on its soil, but we believe it has the ability and it must acquire the will to stop the flows from its coasts,” Mouzalas said. Greece has been overwhelmed this year by a migration crisis unseen in Europe since the Second World War. The United Nations on Friday said over 800,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year, with over 3,400 dying in the attempt. EU states put together a scheme to share out some 160,000 people inside the bloc, but fewer than 2,000 relocation places have been found so far. And the program is already threatened by undue inflexibility, Mouzalas said.
“One EU country said it was prepared to accept 12 people. We wanted to send 14 as they were a family, and the country did not accept the extra two. Such cancellations could cancel out the substance of relocation,” he said. Greece has pledged to find accommodation for 20,000 refugees by January. Another 20,000 will be temporarily housed in rented flats under a UN scheme, Mouzalas said. And registration centres on Greek islands created with EU funds, known as hotspots, will provide short-term accommodation for over 6,500 people, he said. “If (registration) procedures go smoothly people will stay 48-72 hours” before moving to the mainland, the minister said.
Greece has warned the European Union to obtain specific commitments from Turkey ahead of putting together a €3 billion fund for Ankara to help tackle the refugee crisis. The key role of Turkey in the process of stemming the flow of refugees and migrants was discussed on Friday during the second and last day of a summit in Malta. According to sources, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stressed to his EU counterparts that Brussels has to make it clear what it will be getting in return for providing Turkey with emergency funding and assistance. For instance, Tsipras said that in return for receiving new equipment for its coast guard, Turkey should be made to prove that it is cracking down on human-trafficking gangs.
The Greek premier said that if the EU is going to provide money for the construction of reception centers on Turkish soil, then Ankara has to commit to allowing the relocation of refugees to take place directly from these camps. Also, Tsipras said that if the EU is going to lift visa restrictions on Turkish citizens, Ankara’s readmission agreement with Greece should be upgraded to a pact between Turkey and the EU. It is expected that these will be some of the key points that Tsipras will raise when he visits Ankara next week, ahead of an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on November 29. Tsipras held a meeting with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Athens on Friday to begin preparation for the upcoming trip to Turkey.
Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Yiannis Mouzalas said that Greece has no plans to create more spaces at relocation camps on the eastern Aegean islands beyond those needed as part of Athens’s commitment to the EU for the relocation scheme. Mouzalas said that those refugees who will be included in the transfer process would be moved on from the islands to the mainland. He said the government plans to have reception centers capable of holding 2,000 arrivals on Lesvos, 1,500 on Samos, 1,000 on Chios, 1,000 on Kos and around 800 on Leros.
A crowdfunded 100km-long boom to clean up a vast expanse of plastic rubbish in the Pacific is one step closer to reality after successful tests of a scaled-down prototype in the Netherlands last week. Further trials off the Dutch and Japanese coasts are now slated to begin in the new year. If they are successful, the world’s largest ever ocean cleanup operation will go live in 2020, using a gigantic V-shaped array, the like of which has never been seen before. The so-called ‘Great Pacific garbage patch’, made up largely of tiny bits of plastic trapped by ocean currents, is estimated to be bigger than Texas and reaching anything up to 5.8m sq miles (15m sq km). It is growing so fast that, like the Great Wall of China, it is beginning to be seen from outer space, according to Jacqueline McGlade, the chief scientist of the UN environmental programme (Unep).
“We have to admit that there has been a market failure,” she told the Guardian. “Nevertheless, we have to create a market success that brings in new forms of chemistry and technology.” The Ocean Cleanup project aims to do the technology part with a floating barrier as long as the Karman line that reaches from the sea to outer space. Sea currents and winds will be used to passively funnel plastic debris into an elbow made of vulcanised rubber where it can be concentrated for periodic collection by vessels. Sub-sea buoys at depths of up to 30 metres would anchor the contraption in depths of up to 4.5km. Sea currents flowing beneath its booms would allow fish to escape, while hoovering up 42% of the Pacific’s plastic soup. At least, that is the plan.
“Everything is unknown so everything is a potential problem,” said Lourens Boot, the programme’s chief engineer, who has previously worked on offshore oil and gas rigs. “The risk matrix is big, but one by one we are tackling those risks.” One of the biggest has been finance. Charles Moore, the racing boat captain who discovered the floating vortex in 1997, once said that the cost of a cleaning operation would “bankrupt any country”. But around half the scheme’s initial €30m (£20m) budget has now been raised through online donations and wealthy sponsors. In the long term, the project plans to finance itself with a major retail line of ocean plastic fashion wear.
Waves of deadly attacks have held France in a constant state of stress, anger and grief over the past 12 months, as the country has faced a series of deadly assaults and terror acts by radicalized Islamists and jihadists. It all started just before Christmas on December 20, 2014, in the largest suburb of the city of Tours, in Central France, when an attacker of Burundian origin, shouted “Allahu Akbar” [God is great] before attacking officers at a police station with a knife. The assailant, identified as Bertrand Nzohabonayo, injured three policemen before officers took him down. The following day, on December 21, a man in the French city of Dijon run over 11 pedestrians in five areas of the city. The driver – who also shouted “Allahu Akbar” – was arrested. Authorities later stated that the attacker ploughed into passers-by because he suffered from severe psychiatric problems.
On the third day after the initial attack, a man in a white van rammed over ten pedestrians at a Christmas market in the French city of Nantes. The driver is said to have stabbed himself and officials said he appeared to be in an unstable metal condition. One civilian died in those attacks. The spate of attacks forced the French government to heighten security by deploying 300 soldiers onto the country’s streets. In early January, the French nation was in state of horror after a series of five terrorist attacks, which took place in and around Paris. The four attacks killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens more, before three of the assailants were killed by special forces. The fourth terrorist remains at large.
The intimidation of the French public began on January 7, after two gunmen, identified as Cherif and Said Kouachi, attacked the headquarters of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, over the publication’s depiction of the Prophet Mohammed. Twelve people, including two police officers, were killed in the onslaught, while eleven others were injured. The suspects fled the scene. Hours after the Charlie Hebdo attack, a third assailant, Amedy Coulibaly, shot a 32-year-old man who was out for a run in a park near Coulibaly’s home. On January 8, the same attacker shot and killed a municipal police officer in a suburb of Paris. A street sweeper was also wounded in that attack. The following day, on January 9, the Charlie Hebdo attackers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, attacked a signage production company in Dammartin-en-Goele, taking hostages on premises.
At the same time, Coulibaly, entered a kosher supermarket at Porte de Vincennes killing four people and taking the rest of the people in the store hostage. To neutralize the attackers, French special forces conducted simultaneous raids in Dammartin and at Porte de Vincennes, killing three terrorists. The fourth suspect, believed to be Coulibaly’s wife is still on the run. January’s atrocities became the deadliest act of terrorism in France since 1961, when a bomb on a Strasbourg–Paris train took the lives of 28 people. Following Charlie Hebdo attacks, the French government announced the creation of 2,680 new positions in the French military and intelligence agencies. The €425 million program was unrolled with the sole purpose to monitor a population of approximately 3,000 people with any possible connections to terrorist groups abroad. Furthermore, the government deployed some 122,000 police, military and gendarmes to provide security across France.
But terror in France did not stop there. On June 26, 2015 a French Muslim of North African descent, Yassine Salhi, decapitated his employer before driving his van into gas cylinders at a gas factory near Lyon. This caused an explosion and injured two other people. Prior to ramming his van in an effort to destroy the factory, Salhi placed his boss’s decapitated head on a fence along with two Jihadist black flags. The suspect was arrested after being taken down by the firefighters that rushed to the scene. That attack on the factory near Lyon coincided with a number of other Islamist terrorist attacks that have taken place in Tunisia and Kuwait. Finally, before the monstrous wave of attacks on Friday, a Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris via Brussels was attacked by an assailant who opened fire in a carriage before being subdued by off duty US servicemen aboard the train. Four people were injured but luckily none fatally.
There have been horrible, disgusting terrorist attacks in France this night, with over 120 dead already reported. In response, premier François Hollande has declared a state of emergency for the first time since the Second World War. The media are subject to state control, gendarmes can enter any private home, and the borders are shut. The borders that have been the last hope for so many refugees crowding the camps of Calais and elsewhere, the borders that are so important to the women, children and men shivering in the rain, their feet rotting, have been closed by a frightened France. Probably the rest of Europe will follow suit. I hope not. A handful of terrorists—maybe French nationals, maybe not—blew up a crowd in a stadium with grenades, killed diners and walkers and concert-goers with guns and suicide bombs, traumatizing Paris to its core.
And what Hollande has done in response is to close the borders, the lifeline to the many suffering people fleeing war in Syria—even before we know for sure who the murderers are, or what their aims were. Reports claim the terrorists fought in Syria’s name. But if they did, and if they were ISIS, then the tens of thousands of refugees shivering in camps hate and fear them as much as the friends and families of the dead of Paris do. The refugees huddling in France, Germany, Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere are not the terrorists. They are fleeing the same terrorists—fleeing death, torture and destruction, trusting their lives to crumbling boats, washing up on shore hated, beaten, half-dead—and we are forsaking them.
I am a member of a Facebook group where people organize aid for the refugee camp in the northern seafront town of Calais. Now a shanty town of a full 6,000 refugees, such aid has never been more needed. Shoes are rotting on the feet of the camp’s dwellers as the weather worsens, food and medical care are scarce, and graves are rapidly filling. The lifesavers in the camp are not the government or the UN refugee groups—they are ordinary people connecting with tiny charities to bring desperately needed wood, food, medicine, blankets, water. Closing the borders as the terrifying war continues in Syria will not punish the terrorists; it will only cause more needless suffering and death, including to innocent children.
Why is Hollande using the refugees as hostages, condemning them with his border closure to a death that is slower but no less certain than that of a head chopped by a guillotine, or that of a concert-goer blown up by a grenade? He only helps the terrorists. ISIS and those in the West who hate the refugees want the same thing: martial law, state control of discourse, the spreading of Islamophobia, and a global atmosphere of suspicion and discord. In such a world, ISIS gets its youthful cannon fodder—those disaffected by the climate of hate and brutal racism—and the Front Nationales, the Ukips, all the soft and hard white supremacists of the world, get their white utopia, where a refugee child cannot migrate but guns and money can.
Tonight, Paris mourns, and the world mourns with Paris. I mourn, and my anguish at needless death drives these words. Forsake vengeance. Open the borders, Hollande. Open them even further than the painful trickle that they allowed before, and let mercy be the response to horror. Open them, Cameron. Let those people fleeing for their lives through the borders—through all the borders—fly all the way through to peace and safety in whatever countries they wish to reach. Open the borders, Obama, and let those people through, those people just like us, just like the diners and concert-goers of Paris, who are trying to save their lives.
If they all die of illness and exposure in their tents, fighting starvation, sickness, fire, fear or hate, it will neither save a single life from terrorism, nor avenge a single soul. Even if terrorists slip in among the refugees, each one of them who dies, each day they are locked down, will make more terrorists, watered by the tears of grief of their families and friends. No high-security level can ever end the threat of terrorism. Only mercy can do that; only the mercy of refuge, of acting like the just countries we believe ourselves to be—rather than what the terrorists believe us to be—can make us safe.
This book shows us the face of Earth’s sixth great mass extinction, revealing that this century is a time of darkness for the world’s birds and mammals. In The Annihilation of Nature: Human Extinction of Birds and Mammals, three of today’s most distinguished conservationists tell the stories of the birds and mammals we have lost and those that are now on the road to extinction. These tragic tales, coupled with eighty-three color photographs from the world’s leading nature photographers, display the beauty and biodiversity that humans are squandering. Gerardo Ceballos, Anne H. Ehrlich, and Paul R. Ehrlich serve as witnesses in this trial of human neglect, where the charge is the massive and escalating assault on living things.
Nature is being annihilated, not only because of the human population explosion, but also as a result of massive commercial endeavors and public apathy. Despite the well-intentioned work of conservation organizations and governments, the authors warn us that not enough is being done and time is short for the most vulnerable of the world’s wild birds and mammals. Thousands of populations have already disappeared, other populations are dwindling daily, and soon our descendants may live in a world containing but a minuscule fraction of the birds and mammals we know today. The Annihilation of Nature is a clarion call for engagement and action. These outspoken scientists urge everyone who cares about nature to become personally connected to the victims of our inadequate conservation efforts and demand that restoration replace destruction. Only then will we have any hope of preventing the worst-case scenario of the sixth mass extinction.
Today David Stockman, the man President Ronald Reagan called upon along with Dr. Paul Craig Roberts to help save the United States from disaster in 1981, warned King World News that we are now entering the “terminal phase” of the global financial system that will end in total collapse. Eric King: “David, I wanted to get your thoughts on gold in the midst of this big deflation you think is in front of us. When you look at the collapse of 2008 – 2009, gold was one of the best performing asset classes. Gold went down but it went down much less relative to virtually everything else. Contrast that to 1973 – 1974, where we had a 47% stock market collapse. But during that time we had skyrocketing gold and silver. What’s in front of us because it looks like gold and silver may be ending a 4 year bear market and ready for a 1973 – 1974-style up-move?”
David Stockman: “Yes. I think the two periods are quite different. Although at the bottom it’s central bank errors that underlie each. But remember that in the 1970s we had just finally exited a semi-stable Bretton Woods Gold Exchange Standard system. There still was, at the end of the day, an anchor on the central banks that was thrown overboard by Nixon in 1971…. “So the first go-round was a rip-roaring price inflation because there had not yet been enough time under the fiat money and balance sheet expansion by the central banks to create excess capacity in the world industrial system. So as the boom in demand took off, commodity prices soared. That fed into domestic costs and labor wages in particular. There weren’t a million cheap workers coming out of the rice paddies in China yet because it was still in the Dark Ages of Mao and not part of the world economy.
And so you had a classic inflation blowoff and flight to gold in the 1970s as a result of that initial money printing cycle. Now, I think 40 years later central banks are erring to much greater extent but the cycle is different. We have now created massive excess industrial shipping, mining and manufacturing capacity in the world. Therefore we don’t have a short-run consumer price blowoff. We still have massive cheap labor in the world and so therefore we don’t have a wage price spiral. The result is that all of the massive stimulus from the central banks has gone into the financial inflation, not goods and services. The financial inflation is obviously the great bubble that afflicts the entire financial system of the world. It’s becoming increasingly unstable and it will eventually collapse. And when it does I think it will mark the complete failure of a monetary system that has basically been metastasizing since 1971.
Investors might want to add a little cash and some gold to their portfolio’s summer outfit. So say analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who are forecasting a grim summer for stocks this year. In other words, it might be wise to apply ample dollops of market-correction block in addition to any sunscreen you might wear. While falling short of calling for an outright bear market, which needs a rise in interest rates and a decline in earnings per share, Bank of America is painting a pretty ugly picture for investors over the next several months. The Wall Street firm warns that the market will see a scary summer because investors are trapped in this “Twilight Zone”—the transition period between the end of quantitative easing and the first rate hike by the Fed, as it tries to normalize its fiscal policy.
In the interim, investors can expect mediocre returns, volatile trading, correlation breakdowns and flash crashes, says chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett. Harnett advises reducing risk rather than maximizing return for the midpoint of the year, saying it could be a “lose-lose” summer for risk assets. On the one hand, broad economic trends may improve and the Fed may get to raise rates for the first time in about a decade, which may cause volatility at least temporarily. On the other hand, “more ominously for consensus positioning, the macro doesn’t recover, in which case [earnings-per-share] downgrades drag risk-assets lower,” the Bank of America analyst says.
David Cameron’s former strategy guru Steve Hilton has suggested bankers should be paid no more than senior civil servants as they rely on the implicit backing of the taxpayer. Hilton, who has been working as an academic in the US, floated the idea in an interview with the BBC. He is in the UK promoting his book, More Human, which argues that ordinary people feel shut out of policy-making and increasingly frustrated with the “obscene” pay of those at the very top of companies, which can lead to a dangerous anti-business mood. “We should all be pro-business because it is in all our interests that business succeeds,” he said. “The question is: what kind of business do we want to see?”
Capping pay could be an incentive for the banks to reform, meaning “they might decide to split themselves up or we could do that forcibly”, he said. “The goal here is to create a much more secure financial system where you don’t have these giant companies that pose a threat to the whole economy.” Hilton also called for the competition authorities to be much tougher in challenging dominant companies in a market. “I think the competition authorities need to be much more aggressive generally, and specifically where you have a concentration of power,” he said. “They should be using their powers to make the market more competitive. Now whether that is breaking them up or other means is for others to debate. The system ought to be geared to help the insurgents and not to protect the insiders.”
Hilton, who had a hippyish reputation for wandering around Downing Street in bare feet, is giving a talk this week expanding on his views. He is said to remain close to the prime minister but some of his remarks may be seen as a rebuke to Cameron’s membership of an elite Westminster class. In an article for the Sunday Times, Hilton launched a critique of an “insular ruling class” in which too many of the people who make decisions go to the same dinner parties and send their children to the same schools. “Our democracies are increasingly captured by a ruling class that seeks to perpetuate its privileges,” Hilton wrote. “Regardless of who’s in office, the same people are in power. It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite no matter the electoral outcome.”
Fossil fuel companies are benefitting from global subsidies of $5.3tn a year, equivalent to $10m every minute of every day, according to a startling new estimate by the International Monetary Fund. The IMF calls the revelation “shocking” and says the figure is an “extremely robust” estimate of the true cost of fossil fuels. The $5.3tn subsidy estimated for 2015 is greater than the total health spending of all the world’s governments. The vast subsidy derives largely from polluters not paying the costs imposed on governments by the burning of coal, oil and gas. These include the harm caused to local populations by air pollution as well as to people across the globe affected by the floods, droughts and storms being driven by climate change.
Lord Nicholas Stern, an eminent climate economist at the London School of Economics, said: “This very important analysis shatters the myth that fossil fuels are cheap by showing just how huge their real costs are. There is no justification for these enormous subsidies for fossil fuels, which distort markets and damages economies, particularly in poorer countries. Stern said that even the IMF’s vast subsidy figure was a significant underestimate: “A more complete estimate of the costs due to climate change would show the implicit subsidies for fossil fuels are much bigger even than this report suggests.”
The IMF, one of the world’s most respected financial institutions, said that ending the subsidies to fossil fuels would cut global carbon emissions by 20%. That would be a giant step towards taming global warming, an issue on which the world has made little progress to date. Ending the subsidies would also slash the number of premature deaths from outdoor air pollution by 50% – about 1.6m lives a year. Furthermore, the IMF said the resources freed by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game changer” for many countries, by driving economic growth and poverty reduction through greater investment in infrastructure, health and education and also by cutting taxes that restrict growth.
Another consequence would be that the need for subsidies for renewable energy – a relatively tiny $120bn a year – would also disappear, if fossil fuel prices reflected the full cost of their impacts. “These [fossil fuel subsidy] estimates are shocking,” said Vitor Gaspar, the IMF’s head of fiscal affairs and former finance minister of Portugal. “Energy prices remain woefully below levels that reflect their true costs.” “When the [$5.3tn] number came out at first, we thought we had better double check this!” said David Coady, who heads the IMF’s fiscal affairs department. But the broad picture of huge global subsidies was “extremely robust”, he said. “It is the true cost associated with fossil fuel subsidies.”
Britain’s inflation rate fell below zero for the first time in more than half a century, as the drop in food and energy prices depressed the cost of living. Consumer prices fell 0.1% from a year earlier, the Office for National Statistics said in London on Tuesday. Economists had forecast the rate to be zero, according to the median of 35 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Core inflation dropped to 0.8%, the lowest since 2001. With inflation so far below the Bank of England’s 2% target, policy makers are under little pressure now to raise the key interest rate from a record-low 0.5%.
Governor Mark Carney said last week that any period of falling prices will be temporary and an expected pickup in inflation at the end of the year means the next move in borrowing costs is likely to be an increase. “Inflation is likely to remain close to zero in the near term before starting to trend up gradually from the third quarter,” said Howard Archer, an economist at IHS Global Insight in London. “Nevertheless, inflation is still only seen reaching 1% by the end of 2015.”
Anyone puzzled by Scotland’s increasing disaffection should take a look at a book called British Enterprise. Written by Alexander Howard and Ernest Newman, and published in 1952, the immediate afterglow of the festival of Britain, it consisted of short descriptions of each of more than 100 then world-beating British manufacturing companies. It strikingly illustrates how much more geographically balanced the British economy was in those days. In common with latter-day Germany, every region of 1950s Britain had plenty of industrial prowess to boast of. The Midlands had the British car industry, the world’s second-largest by total output and No 1 in exports.
Wales had toys, steel, and domestic appliances; Nottingham had bicycles; Newcastle and Belfast led the world in key areas of heavy engineering; and, of course, Lancashire had cotton. Then there was Scotland. Its roll-call of exporting titans included Renfrew-based Babcock and Wilcox, which made boilers for the world’s power stations. Other major Scottish exporters included North British Locomotive and the William Beardmore castings company. In Dundee there was National Cash Register’s major British subsidiary and in Kirkcaldy the Nairn linoleum company. The list went on and on, and at the top was the John Brown company. Although then one of the world’s most technically advanced manufacturers, John Brown is largely forgotten today.
Its products, however, are not. They included the Lusitania, HMS Repulse, the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, the QE2 and others. John Brown was the cornerstone of a Clydebank shipbuilding industry that built nearly a third of the world’s ships. All this was before the coming of postindustrialism, a superficially attractive but fundamentally disastrous intellectual fad. Espoused by London-based elites in the 1970s and powerfully championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, postindustrialism postulates that sophisticated states no longer need manufacturing. Instead they should promptly move to a new promised land of postindustrial services.
Many activists are clamoring for a higher minimum wage. That’s an admirable goal, but is that where the worst problem is? Even at the abysmally low wages of the present moment, we still have 938,000 people being turned away from McDonald’s because there aren’t enough McJobs. The real problem is the lack of meaningful work. In a world of machines and social alienation, meaningful work is as scarce as water in the drought-stricken California Central Valley. One cause of the employment crisis is relentless outsourcing to foreign countries. However, even more insidious has been the replacement of human workers by machines. For hundreds of years, the Protestant work ethic lauded hard work and efficiency as ideals to strive for. It’s not easy to object to those principles.
But what happens when efficiency means eliminating humans? It’s doubtful the early Protestants ever imagined that could be a possibility. Even up to the present day, many view new technology and efficiency as the main drivers of human progress. For awhile, it seemed like this was indisputable. In his book Rise of the Robots, Martin Ford describes the 25 years after World War II as the “golden age” of the American economy. Productivity, employment, and wages were increasing in synchrony. As with many trends, economists assumed they would continue indefinitely. It was the glorious free market at work. Then it all came crashing down at the turn of the century. This time, it really is different. The shift happened when machines transformed from mere tools to actual workers.
Martin Ford explained, “In 1998, workers in the US business sector put in a total of 194 billion hours of labor. A decade and a half later, in 2013, the value of the goods and services produced by American businesses had grown by about $3.5 trillion after adjusting for inflation – a 42% increase in output. The total amount of human labor required to accomplish that was…194 billion hours. Shawn Sprague, the BLS economist who prepared the report, noted that ‘this means that there was ultimately no growth at all in the number of hours worked over this 15-year-period, despite the fact that the US population gained over 40 million people during that time, and despite the fact that there were over thousands of new businesses established during that time.'”
If this trend continues a few more years, it will be two lost decades, which means an entire generation has gone by with no net new jobs created. This might be somewhat permissible if the population had stagnated or declined, but with 40 million new people, it sets the stage for a national disaster. It is truly a new era. Ford confirmed, “There has never been a postwar decade that produced less than a 20% increase in the number of available jobs. Even the 1970s, a decade associated with stagflation and an energy crisis, generated a 27% increase in jobs. This new reality is nothing less than the end of progress and the Protestant work ethic. Efficiency can no longer be held up as something that is unambiguously good. The Protestants were wrong. There is something much more important than efficiency: survival.
Greek leaders expressed optimism a deal to unlock bailout funds is within reach, in the face of continuing warnings by creditors that the country has yet to comply with the terms of its emergency loans. “We are very close” to an agreement, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said in an interview late Monday with Greece’s Star TV Channel. “I’d say it is a matter of one week.” Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had told Greek industrialists that “we are now at the final stretch before striking a mutually beneficial agreement, after long and painful negotiations.” Greece’s anti-austerity government has repeatedly expressed confidence a deal was imminent, only to be rebuffed by creditors seeking more concrete actions in areas including labor market deregulation and pension-system overhaul.
Even though Greece has made some progress in meeting its bailout commitments, “we’re not there yet,” EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said, just a few hours before Tsipras’s and Varoufakis’s assurances that an agreement is close. The country’s liquidity situation is “obviously tense,” and the time left to reach an agreement is “very limited,” Moscovici told reporters in Berlin. [.] The four-month standoff between Europe’s most indebted state and its lenders has triggered an unprecedented liquidity squeeze, which pulled the Mediterranean nation’s economy into a double-dip recession. Record deposit withdrawals, and the state’s increasing difficulty in meeting debt payments have sparked renewed doubts about the country’s place in the euro area.
Adopting a new currency is not “on our radar,” Varoufakis said in his Star TV interview, which started at 11:30 p.m. and was still dragging on at about 2 in the morning, in Athens. Euro-area member states haven’t made proposals to the Greek government to leave the currency bloc, according to Varoufakis. After months of brinkmanship, Varoufakis said Greece and its creditors still disagree on budget targets, labor market regulations and pension system reform. Negotiations continue, and Greece has suggested streamlining its sales tax by setting a 15% rate for most goods and a 6.5% rate for basic goods, according to Varoufakis.
Athens sent its proposals to creditors on Monday for an overhaul of the value-added tax regime as Greek officials indicated that an agreement on a reforms-for-cash deal was close. In a bid to secure progress on the technical level of negotiations to enable a political decision that would unlock rescue loans, officials of the so-called Brussels Group were to hold a late-night teleconference on Monday that was expected to address these proposals. Greece’s VAT proposal is said to foresee two rates of value-added tax instead of the current three. The highest would be set at 18% and relate to virtually all services and commodities except food and medicines, with a discount of 3 percentage points for non-cash transactions. The lower rate would be set at 9.5% and would relate to food, drugs and books, with the same discount applying to cash-free transactions.
The proposals appear to be part of a broader bid by the government to boost non-cash transactions while curbing tax evasion. VAT evasion in Greece is estimated at 9.5 billion euros per year. The Greek proposal was sent to creditors at around the time that To Vima reported that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had pitched a compromise proposal to Greece, foreseeing low primary surpluses and some 5 billion euros in reforms, chiefly tax measures. The report was quickly rebuffed by Greek and EC officials. Speaking generally and apparently not referring to a rumored Juncker proposal, European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said Greece was quick to turn down proposals on reforms but slow to offer alternatives.
“They are more eager to say what they don’t want to keep in the program than to propose alternatives,” Moscovici told a news conference in Berlin, while noting that “some progress” had been made in recent days. In a speech at the annual general meeting of the Federation of Hellenic Enterprises (SEV) Alexis Tsipras was much more upbeat, claiming that Greece was “in final straight toward an agreement,” which, he said, “will come very soon.” “We are working, with absolute honesty and dedication, to reach a solution,” he said. He echoed the conditions he set out last Friday for a deal, saying it should include debt restructuring, no further cuts to wages and pensions, and an investment plan. He added that Greece is ready to compromise but that he wanted a deal that would allow Greece to return to markets soon.
The president of the European Commission has reportedly intervened in Greece’s bail-out negotiations, proposing a reduction in Troika-imposed budget targets and a release of emergency cash to prevent Greece going bankrupt in the summer. According a blueprint leaked to Greek media, Jean-Claude Juncker’s “plan” to break Greece’s deadlock includes a relaxation of Athens’ primary budget surplus target to 0.75pc this year – half that previously sought by Greece’s paymasters. The proposals also include releasing €5bn to the government in June, and delaying a number of fiscal austerity measures until October. However, the blueprint maintained that Greece would have to retain a controversial property tax and push for flexible labour market reforms.
Despite refusing to confirm the plan, a spokesman for Mr Juncker said the EU chief was now “personally involved” in Greece’s talks. Speaking in Athens on Monday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras said negotiations with creditors were reaching their “final stages”. He maintained the government would not agree to any plans to cut pensions and wages but said his government was willing to “accept compromises” to reach a deal should some form of bridging finance be agreed. The Leftist premier, who wrote to Mr Juncker earlier this month to say Greece would default to its creditors, added his country’s cash squeeze was being used as a “negotiating tactic”. Mr Tsipras also repeated calls for some form of debt restructuring as part of any agreement with Greece’s lenders.
Proposals from the Commission would represent an easing of the tough conditions demanded by Greece’s creditors over the last 110 days. Indicating a potential split among official creditors, the leaked memo highlighted objections to the plan from the IMF, and voiced concerns the Fund was willing to withdraw its support for Greece. The plan added that Athens’ Leftist government needed to “increase the competitiveness of the Greek economy and address the enormous problem of unemployment”. Greek markets rallied on the news of a potential compromise, jumping nearly 4pc in afternoon trading.
Public broadcaster ERT will reopen in a week, two years after it was shut down, leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday. Meeting with ERT chairman Dionysis Tsaknis and CEO Lambis Tagmatarchis, Tsipras urged the newly installed executives to work for a “pluralist and independent” network. “Your responsibility is to restore people’s bond with ERT, which was severed by the blackout,” he said. Tsipras added that June 11, the anniversary of ERT’s shutdown by the previous government and its replacement with NERIT, will be a day to celebrate “the victory of democracy.”
An average of 59 enterprises close every day of the working week and 613 jobs are lost, while every day, with the market facing a cash crunch, the economy loses 22.3 million euros from its gross domestic product, according to a report published by the Hellenic Confederation of Commerce and Enterprises (ESEE). A deal with the country’s creditors is more urgent than ever, ESEE stressed, but the economy would need as much as 25 billion euros in financing in order to restart, as losses from the first five months will be hard to cover over the rest of the year, argued ESEE. This uncertainty has hit the local economy after five years of crisis, during which retail commerce turnover shrank by 26.2%.
Things were worse for wholesale commerce, with turnover dropping 37.1%, while the car market crumbled by 61.9% in the same period, the confederation’s data show. Liquidity is becoming an unfamiliar term in the market as 95% of applications for loans are rejected every day by commercial banks, while only one in 10 enterprises dares to ask for funding from the country’s four systemic lenders, the ESEE report showed. The absorption of funding tools for business liquidity stands at 40%, while in the funding of commerce the rate does not exceed 12%. ESEE is urging the government in dramatic terms to reach a deal with Greece’s creditors even if it’s not a great deal.
“A final agreement, even if it is mediocre or below expectations, is certain to allow the Greek economy to feel free at last to operate for the remainder of 2015,” read Monday’s ESEE statement. “Financial and political time are running dangerously short, and reaching a sustainable agreement with our partners is vital as it is directly associated with the country’s capacity to draw liquidity from the European funding tools,” it added. “The official position of Greek commerce and small and medium-sized entrepreneurship is to end the market’s four months of stagnation caused by the ‘no deal, no Grexit’ situation, replacing the content of the original agreement offering ‘money for the debt and grace for the country’ with ‘money for the market and growth for the country’,” ESEE concluded.
China’s policymakers talk much of reform. What really drives them is something different: a fear of chaos. The treatment of the country’s local government debt pile is an example of risk aversion getting the upper hand. The strategy is imperfect, but also right. The ruling State Council on May 15 published an instruction to banks not to blindly “pull, pressure or stop” lending to borrowers linked to provincial governments, which have amassed an estimated 16 trillion ($2.6 trillion) of debt. Where creditors can’t pay, banks can extend lending. And where money has run out but construction continues, local governments can funnel in cash directly. That makes explicit what was already widely assumed.
The Chinese banking system’s suspiciously low reported bad loans, which rose to just 1.4% of total lending at the end of March, are due to the industry’s compulsive rolling over of doubtful debt. For a still-developing market, showing some mercy isn’t entirely foolish. Uncontrolled defaults would undermine confidence and real economic activity. Genuinely useful projects might be unable to find funding, to the dismay of the citizens who have to live among the ruins. The wider agenda may be to ring-fence those projects that deserve official support before identifying those that do not. Jiangsu and Xinjiang provinces will soon be the first to swap some safer government-backed credit into bonds. If failures can be kept at bay for a while, those trials are more likely to succeed.
Market-based debt restructurings are helpful in theory. But they are also messy, driven as much by bargaining and bullying as thoughtful analysis of assets and rights. Kaisa, a real estate developer in Shenzhen, is haggling with bondholders over a plan to delay repaying its existing loans by five years. Foreign creditors have almost no rights, but significant nuisance value. That situation replicated across a country with a fledgling legal system is a daunting prospect. Once a clear line has been drawn between what’s state-backed and what isn’t, other borrowers can be exposed to market forces. Hopefully the government’s latest largesse is part of that bigger plan. But if progress doesn’t come soon, a more dangerous kind of confidence crisis will emerge: the belief that the government hasn’t got a plan after all.
More than 100 top executives from some of China’s largest state-owned enterprises have been detained on suspicion of corruption since the start of last year, according to official statistics. Since the beginning of 2014, China’s anti-corruption authorities have publicly named 115 C-suite officials from state groups including global giants such as PetroChina, China Southern Airlines, China Resources, FAW and Sinopec, who have been placed under investigation for graft. Because virtually all of them are also senior Communist party officials, they have mostly disappeared into the feared system of internal party discipline inspection , where they can be held indefinitely without trial and where torture is believed to be rife.
Since ascending to the top of the Chinese system in late 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has been engaged in a ferocious anti-corruption campaign that has already gone further and continued for longer than any other since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Mr Xi has vowed to tackle high-ranking corrupt tigers as well as lowly flies in his quest to clean up the sprawling party bureaucracy. According to official announcements from China’s Central Commission for Discipline and Inspection, more than a fifth of the SOE tigers who have been toppled from their horses came from the energy sector. Executives at China’s enormous state energy monopolies command vast armies of employees and control budgets worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
They are often accused of acting like rulers over mini-states within the state. The enormous influence of companies such as Sinopec and PetroChina over government policy is sometimes blamed as one reason for weak enforcement of environmental standards and China’s shocking levels of pollution. But the energy sector is also the former power base of Zhou Yongkang, the most senior casualty of Mr Xi’s purge and the most senior party official to go on trial for corruption in the history of the People’s Republic. Until Mr Xi took power, Mr Zhou was a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee and controlled the Chinese courts, police, secret police, paramilitary and intelligence services. He is currently awaiting trial.
Foreign flows, investors using borrowed money to buy equities and a taste for new public offerings have aided a mega-rally in Chinese stocks this year. But analysts are fretting that the good times could end in the blink of an eye. The blue-chip Shanghai Composite has seen gains of 32% year-to-date but has been outpaced by smaller domestic stocks, or A-share indexes, which have seen gains of over 70% so far in 2015. “They just treat their stock market like a casino, they just poor all the money in,” Dickie Wong, the executive director at Kingston Securities, told CNBC Monday, warning of the irrational exuberance of Chinese investors.
“And after the recent gains, they just pour the money into the IPOs,” he added. He called the Shenzhen index a “bubble” but stressed that Chinese stocks in general are looking “extremely” volatile and risky. Analysts have warned that investors are borrowing money from brokerage firms to buy more shares – known as margin trading. Despite a crackdown by the Chinese authorities, Wong believes that more regulation is on the horizon which could lead to a pullback. “(The authorities) will do something, they will say something to cool down the market,” he said.
Ratings agency Fitch will soon downgrade European banks en masse, possibly even at the start of the week, German newspaper Handelsblatt said, citing unnamed financial sources. In most cases the banks will be downgraded by between one and a maximum of four levels, according to an advance copy of an article due to be published on Monday. The move would be a reaction to European governments having become less willing to prop up banks if they get into a crisis, the newspaper said. The newspaper said dozens of banks would be affected by the downgrade, including Deutsche Bank, which would see its rating fall slightly, and Commerzbank, which would be hit much harder.
Leader of France’s National Front party, Marine Le Pen, has launched a month-long blitz against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – a proposed EU-US treaty, which has been criticized for secretiveness and lack of accountability. “It is vital that the French people know about TTIP’s content and its motivations in order to be able to fight it. Because our fellow countrymen must have the choice of their future, because they should impose a model for society that suits them, and not forced by multinational companies eager for profits, Brussels technocrats sold to the lobbies, politicians from the UMP [party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy], who are subservient to these technocrats,” Le Pen said during a press conference in Paris.
Since 2013, open-ended negotiations between Washington and Brussels have drawn up the framework for the agreement, intended to standardize legislation and bring down trade barriers between them. As per US practice, the contents of all economic treaties are classified. The EU has recently set up reading rooms throughout Europe for officials with clearance – but only a few thousand people have had access to the working documents. Le Pen hit out at the secrecy of the negotiations, which have featured mostly bureaucrats from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, and nebulous “stakeholders” from businesses and public organizations. As a member of the European parliament, she forwarded a motion for greater transparency in negotiations last year. Le Pen’s motion was defeated.
She is now hoping for grassroots support. “I am convinced that we can push back the TTIP if the peoples are informed of its content, and if they decide themselves to join us in order to express their disagreement concerning this treaty,” Le Pen told journalists. Both of France’s leading parties have endorsed the treaty, but Le Pen is relying on strong the anti-European sentiment that propelled her party to first place in last year’s elections for the European parliament. While TTIP’s authors promise that the treaty will bring an extra 0.5% GDP to Europe and the US, figures across the political spectrum have expressed concern.
The sobering news arrived in San Juan via telephone from Washington. It was April 28, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew called to tell Puerto Rico officials they must confront one of the island’s gravest financial crises without a bailout. Saddled with $72 billion in debt, the commonwealth – a U.S. territory since the Spanish-American War – needs a “credible” plan, Lew said. The Caribbean island is hurtling toward the fiscal brink. After years of borrowing to paper over deficits, and with $630 million due to investors on July 1, Puerto Rico may confront the unthinkable: a default. The prospect has set Wall Street on edge as bond yields surpass those of Argentina and Greece; about half of municipal mutual funds hold commonwealth debt.
Puerto Ricans across the political spectrum are alarmed at the scale of the crisis, Rafael “Tatito” Hernandez, chair of the House Treasury Committee, said during a May 6 interview at the Capitol. Every mayor on the island will face angry constituents, he added, especially those whose work weeks may be cut to four days. “We used to have choices,” Hernandez said, a framed copy of his U.S. Navy honorable discharge on the wall behind him. Now “people have to realize where we’re really at. It may be late, but that’s the reality.”
Ice hockey is a religion in Quebec, but since the departure of the NHL’s Nordiques to Colorado in 1995, residents of the provincial capital, Quebec City, have had no icons to worship. So when Pierre Karl Péladeau – the CEO of Quebecor, Canada’s second biggest media group – announced in 2009 that he would invest C$33m to lease a new arena and bring a hockey club back to the city, he was hailed as a prophet. Now campaigners for Quebec independence hope that the media magnate can work miracles for their cause after Péladeau’s election as the new leader of the separatist Parti Québécois (PQ). Thousands of party delegates joined in chants of “PKP” even before victory was confirmed on Friday evening in Quebec City, home of the provincial parliament.
Visibly pleased with his 57.6% share of the vote, Péladeau hugged his wife, the television producer Julie Snyder with whom he forms the ultimate power couple in the province of 8 million people. “You have given me a clear and strong mandate: to make Quebec a country,” said the 53 year-old in a bilingual speech. Campaigners for independence have been starstruck ever since PKP joined the ranks of the Parti Québécois a mere 14 months ago, when he launched a successful bid for election to the provincial parliament (a vote which the Parti Libéral won by a landslide). Péladeau’s public embrace of independence had a galvanizing effect on the separatist cause. Separatists and federalists alike agree that PKP – dubbed “Citizen Péladeau” and often compared to the Italian media magnate-turned-politician Silvio Berlusconi – brought star quality to the PQ. “Is this the man who will break up Canada?” asked the national public affairs magazine Maclean’s.
With its flower-rich meadows, woodland and ponds, Ash Common in the village of Ash Priors near Taunton is a lovely corner of unspoilt countryside. It is a local nature reserve and home to an endangered butterfly, the marsh fritillary. A local wildlife lover recently tweeted a photograph that suggests the common has undergone a close encounter with a scalpel: a wildflower meadow has been shaved like a football pitch. It wasn’t a vandal or a developer who did this, but Taunton Deane borough council, which has managed the common for more than 20 years. The decline of the marsh fritillary vividly demonstrates the drastic loss of 97% of UK wildflower meadows since the second world war.
And the fate of Ash Common reflects a much bigger, hidden story about the damage being done to precious, unprotected local nature reserves. There are 42,865 of these local wildlife sites in England, ranging from large commons to tiny treasures such as the old tennis court at Gresham’s school in Norfolk, which boasts more than 200 orchid spikes. Many are privately owned and there is almost nothing to protect them: when the Wildlife Trusts surveyed 6,590 local wildlife sites, they found that 717 were lost or damaged over five years to 2013. Wildflower meadows need cutting, but conservationists usually advise to do so in the autumn, after flowers have seeded and invertebrates are hunkered down for the winter.
Taunton Deane borough council’s ecologist, Barbara Collier, explained that staff restructuring and illness meant they failed to trim Ash Common last October and so cut it this spring to prevent it “scrubbing up” with trees. “I admit that this year we didn’t get it quite right. I’m really sorry about that,” she said. According to the Wildlife Trusts, which freely advises owners how to better manage their special sites, such mistakes are all too frequent. The only real solution is for local communities to get involved (if permitted by the landowner) as I saw when I visited a more inspirational local nature reserve, Hoe Common, in Norfolk, which residents are restoring. A few marsh fritillaries may yet have survived the scalpel at Ash Common; hopefully local vigilance will stop them being cut to pieces again.
Nobody said waking up from six years of Federal Reserve-induced slumber would be easy In stocks, volatility is back. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which never went more than three days without a gain in 2014, has twice fallen five straight times since January. Daily equity moves exceeding 1% have jumped 50% from last year and shares tumbled 3% or more over four different stretches in the first quarter. What seems like chaos is a return to normalcy for 70-year-old investor Chris Bertelsen, who says the end of Fed stimulus is long overdue in a market that has tripled since 2009. Volatility indicators bear a resemblance to 2007, the final year of the previous bull market – which this one now exceeds by 12 months.
“We are so skewed by the readily available quantitative easing and that was the abnormal,” said Bertelsen, chief investment officer of Global Financial. “For many investors, particularly those that haven’t seen a period of time like this, it does create queasiness.” The market hasn’t been this turbulent since the European debt crisis three years ago as volatility in currency and energy markets spill over to equities and Fed policy makers signal a rate increase by mid-year.
Less than three months into 2015, the market has seen 15 days when the S&P 500 rose or fell 1% or more, compared with 10 days a quarter in 2014. While the index is little changed for the year and has gone 41 months without a 10% tumble, it’s had more retreats of at least 3% than any time since 2011, data compiled by Bloomberg show. After swinging 0.53% a day in 2014 in the calmest year since 2006, the S&P 500’s daily move has widened to 0.71%, versus the average of 0.76% since 1928. “What we’re seeing in the market today is a preview that this is going to a more volatile year and investors should be positioned,” said Jim McDonald at Northern Trust.
Suddenly the narrative that “everything is awesome” is showing to not be as “awesome” as it was first proclaimed. Merely a few months have passed since the ending of QE and praises of awesomeness everywhere are morphing into questions more akin to “Oh no: not again!” And with that we are now watching those who pushed, pulled, and levitated that narrative scramble desperately to push another narrative back onto the stage that worked so many times before: “Every sell off over the last 6 years has shown to be a profitable buying opportunity.” i.e., Just buy the dip (JBTFD). Yet it would seem these dips; are far different.
Just for context, over the past week, if you were one of the few remaining “home-gamers” still watching CNBC™, you would have been delighted to see once again their host Jim Cramer go through great pains to explain why he discounts the idea that we’re in a bubble to once again like ringing a bell (he uses buzzers and gongs I believe) the indexes sell off in dramatic fashion bringing back memories of Bear Sterns. As of today any gains for the year have been quelled. But not too worry, for he also contends you should have “dry powder” at the ready. i.e., Be ready to “JBTFD.” My thoughts? “Investing” isn’t going to be so easy this time. Why? Let me be so bold to use the same meme touted by the likes of those who sold it: Because, it truly is – different this time. Without QE, not only is there no one buying.
What’s far, far, far, (did I say far?) worse is: There’s no one to sell too! Effectively through the interventionist policies over the last 6 years via the QE program what the Fed. has accomplished, whether intentionally, or merely complicit in the results were: to systematically exterminate the dreaded “Short sellers.” Today everybody is currently on one side of the market. And that side is: long. The dreaded “Bears” that would even out the markets taking positions on the other side are all about gone. Every empirical statistics, every indicator measured whether it be Investor Intelligence™ data and the like shows, historically – they’ve never been so lopsided. Ever! But that’s only the beginning.
Back in January 2013, when looking at the Fed’s 2007 transcripts we stumbled upon something which in a non-banana republic would be the basis of a criminal investigation. What happened, in a nutshell, is that at precisely 8:00 am on August 17, shortly after the infamous Goldman (and other) quant fund blow ups of the summer of 2007 shook the markets, in an attempt to halt the panic selloff in stocks, the Fed announced the following:
To promote the restoration of orderly conditions in financial markets, the Federal Reserve Board approved temporary changes to its primary credit discount window facility. The Board approved a 50 basis point reduction in the primary credit rate to 5-3/4%, to narrow the spread between the primary credit rate and the Federal Open Market Committee’s target federal funds rate to 50 basis points. The Board is also announcing a change to the Reserve Banks’ usual practices to allow the provision of term financing for as long as 30 days, renewable by the borrower. These changes will remain in place until the Federal Reserve determines that market liquidity has improved materially. These changes are designed to provide depositories with greater assurance about the cost and availability of funding. The Federal Reserve will continue to accept a broad range of collateral for discount window loans, including home mortgages and related assets. Existing collateral margins will be maintained. In taking this action, the Board approved the requests submitted by the Boards of Directors of the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and San Francisco.
Why was this abnormal, and why should it be the basis for a criminal inquiry? Simple. As we also wrote previously, hours before the Fed officially announced its primary credit rate cut, the market soared by a whopping 40 points just after 2 pm without any actual public news crossing the tape.
In other words, someone leaked the Fed’s decision to a select few just around 2 pm on Thursday, August 16, which can be further confirmed by the continuation of the market’s exuberance in the moments following the Fed’s announcement. This is a bold accusation, and one we wouldn’t make if none other than the Fed subsequently had confirmed that a member of the FOMC had indeed leaked the news of the upcoming rate cut. The leaker in question: the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve and then-head of the NY Fed, Tim Geithner himself. From the August 16, 2007 transcript (page 13 of 37) of the conference call preceding this announcement:
MR. LACKER. If I could just follow up on that, Mr. Chairman.
CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Yes, go ahead.
MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, did you say that [the banks] are unaware of what we’re considering or what we might be doing with the discount rate?
VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Yes.
MR. LACKER. Vice Chairman Geithner, I spoke with Ken Lewis, President and CEO of Bank of America, this afternoon, and he said that he appreciated what Tim Geithner was arranging by way of changes in the discount facility. So my information is different from that.
CHAIRMAN BERNANKE. Okay. Thank you. Go ahead, Vice Chairman Geithner.
VICE CHAIRMAN GEITHNER. Well, I cannot speak for Ken Lewis, but I think they have sought to see whether they could understand a little more clearly the scope of their rights and our current policy with respect to the window. The only thing I’ve done is to try to help them understand—and I’m sure that’s been true across the System—what the scope of that is because these people generally don’t use the window and they don’t really understand in some sense what it’s about.
The Greek rebellion against Turkish rule, which began in 1821, threatened to upset the entire diplomatic balance of the western world. It flew in the face of the treaty signed by the so-called Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria and Prussia) to suppress revolutionary movements in Europe. Plus it violated the German enlightenment’s ideal of freedom, which was understood as deriving from the rule of law. Under the influence of the philosopher Kant, the Germans who built central Berlin as an off-white replica of Athens believed all freedom came from obeying authority.
The Greeks fighting the Turks in a dirty war, revelling in their image as brigands and urging revolt across Europe, were seen in the Germany of the 1820s much as the German electorate views hordes of radical Greek youth punching the air and singing Katyusha – with distaste. So Goethe, initially, opposed the Greek revolt. He feared Russian power would fill the vacuum if the Turks were beaten. And beyond that he feared it would spark further outbreak of revolution in Europe. What changed Goethe’s mind was the death of Lord Byron, fighing on the Greek side in 1824. In a sudden surge of creativity Goethe set to work on his unfinished drama Faust, modelling the central character now on Byron himself, and turning the second half of the work into a meditation on the nature of freedom.
His U-turn reframed the Greek “rulebreaking” problem within a broader set of rules: the Christian west versus the Ottoman Empire. Goethe declared his support for the Greeks, in opposition to the will of his political masters in Germany. Today, there are a growing number of diplomats in the Anglo-Saxon world who wish Angela Merkel would do a similar volte-face. The Germans’ intransigence on the Greek debt crisis is rooted in the same philosophical stance that initially guided Goethe’s generation: namely, that freedom derives from conformity to authority and the rules. But there was always another idea of freedom in the west – the one espoused by republican France, radical Britain and revolutionary America: that freedom exists in opposition to authority, and that the ultimate human right is to destroy the established order.
It’s strange to see a 200-year-old philosophical debate played out in the diplomatic backchannels of Nato, but that’s what is happening. If Germany’s cultural centre in Athens does end up draped in the banners of the anarchist left, then – in a way – it will be a fine testimony to the relevance of Goethe himself. And yet another example of the troubled psyche of this place called Europe.
When German economic illiteracy meets with Greek diplomatic illiteracy, nothing good will come of it. Last week, a Greek minister threatened to swamp Germany with Islamic refugees. The Germans are again debating an accidental Greek exit from the eurozone: Grexident. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Minister, linked a claim about Second World War reparation payments against Germany to present discussions on the extension of a loan agreement. The reparations claim itself is not frivolous. There are even German lawyers who believe Athens has a case. But it is politically mad to link the two. What we are hearing is not the usual noise: there is a loss of trust. The conclusion I draw from this is that the odds of a Greek exit from the eurozone have shortened dramatically in the past two weeks.
The two sides may tone down their rhetoric in the coming days but I cannot see the creditor countries relenting on the conditions of last month’s debt rollover agreement. Nor can I see the Greek government fulfilling them. Since nobody knows how many days or weeks Athens is from insolvency, the risk of a sudden exit is clear and present. Grexit may never happen – but it is time to get ready. Grexit is not an outcome any rational person would wish for. It will undermine the EU’s geostrategic influence. Economically, it will unmask a hidden truth: that the monetary union is just a beefed-up fixed-exchange system. A large number of financial contracts would instantly default. It is unclear how the global financial system would cope. The eurozone’s fledgling economic recovery would be at risk.
For Greece, an exit may well work in the long run if it is well managed, but it will bring economic misery in the short term. The country is still running a current account deficit, meaning it is reliant on external funding to support domestic consumption. That funding may disappear from one day to the next, should Greece default on its creditors. A preparation for Grexit is not about a Plan B in the top drawer. It means a pre-agreed sequence of actions ready to be implemented. A changeover of a currency regime within a short period of time constitutes an organisational and logistical challenge that goes beyond anything normal states ever do. I would advise against a cold turkey switch into a new currency regime – one that would replace the euro with a new drachma. I doubt this is logically feasible or economically desirable. I would opt for a transitory regime, a smoke-and-mirrors version where nobody knows precisely whether Greece is in or out.
If Greece were to leave the eurozone, Spain and Italy would also end up quitting the common currency bloc, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos told German newspaper Bild in an interview published yesterday. “If Greece explodes, Spain and Italy will be next and then at some point, Germany. We therefore need to find a way within the eurozone, but this way cannot be that the Greeks keep on having to pay,” he said, according to an advance extract of the broad-ranging interview. He also said Greece did not need a third bailout but rather “a haircut like the one Germany also got in 1953 at the London debt conference”. Athens and Berlin have become engaged in a war of words and Greece has submitted a formal protest to the German Foreign Ministry, accusing Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of having insulted his Greek counterpart, Yanis Varoufakis.
Schaeuble denies having called Varoufakis “foolishly naive”, as reported by some Greek media. On Schaeuble, Kammenos was quoted as saying: “I don’t understand why he turns against Greece every day in new statements. It’s like a psychological war and Schaeuble is poisoning the relationship between the two countries through that.” The relationship has already been strained by Berlin’s tough stance on Greece’s debt crisis. Kammenos said Schaeuble needed to put up with the new Greek government because it had been elected by the Greek people. He accused Berlin of interfering in Greek domestic affairs, adding: “I get the feeling that the German government is out to get us and some really want to push us out of the eurozone.”
Last week Greece renewed its campaign to seek compensation for the Nazis’ brutal occupation in World War II, an issue Berlin says was settled decades ago. Kammenos called for reparations in the interview, saying, “The gold that the Nazis took to Berlin from Athens was worth a lot of money. We expect compensation for that and also for the forced loan and the destruction of archaeological statues.” Kammenos also suggested Greece would stop taking refugees in the case of a “forced” Greek exit from the eurozone. “Then no agreements would be valid anymore, no treaties, nothing. We would no longer be obliged to take in refugees as a country of arrival. Whoever wants to push us out of the eurozone should know that.”
Greece will use a trove of Nazi army papers to press its claim for German reparation payments, the defence ministry said on Friday. “This archive contains over 400,000 pages…it will be used toward supporting Greek demands over German obligations in 1941-1944,” the ministry said. “These documents do not just substantiate a historic truth – they are the documents of the Wehrmacht itself, the occupation forces,” said junior defence minister Kostas Isichos. The ministry said it had obtained the papers from US archives. “They are diaries, reports by officers to their superiors…these were not written for publicity, they were mainly secret documents,” he said.
Facing resistance from EU paymaster Germany to its claims for a renegotiation to its bailout, the new radical Greek government has stepped up pressure on Berlin over the controversial issue of war reparations. The Greek justice minister this week said he would activate a 15-year-old Greek Supreme Court ruling allowing the seizure of German assets to pay for war damages. Greece’s parliament also approved a motion to reactivate a special committee to look into war reparations, reimbursement of a forced war loan and the return of archaeological relics seized by German occupation forces.
Berlin argues that the issue of reparations to Greece was settled in 1960 as part of an agreement with several European governments. Isichos said Athens hoped the Wehrmact papers would shed further light on aspects of the occupation period, such as illegal archaeological excavation and looting, “in order to strengthen, not poison” Greek-German relations. “German universities, intellectuals and the German people are invited to join us in discovering this historic treasure…and close this open wound,” he said.
Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told ARD presenter Günther Jauch that Greece would repay its debts while still managing to cover civic needs, social security and a public workforce. In March, Greece is expected to pay €900 million to the IMF. “Small, insignificant problems of liquidity should not divide Europe,” Varoufakis told Jauch. Varoufakis said creditors did not have the right to interfere in Greece’s affairs. The finance minister also repeated a call for Germany to pay 11 billion euros in reparations for Nazi atrocities to Greece. German officials have said that the matter is settled. Varoufakis also addressed a recent video in which he appears to be showing his middle finger at hypothetical German officials at a 2013 speech in Zagreb, two years before he became finance minister. He called it a fake.
Earlier, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also said his country was not facing a cash shortage. The denial came as Greece prepares to issue €1 billion in three-month treasury bills on Wednesday to meet debt repayments. “There is absolutely no problem with liquidity,” Tsipras told reporters after meeting with Varoufakis. Negotiations are continuing with creditors on a revised reform plan for Greece. On Sunday, Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that, with €6 billion in debt bills in March overall on Greece’s books, civil servants should brace themselves for downsized salaries and pensions this month. “Tsipras urgently needs money,” said European Parliament President Martin Schulz in the article. The German parliamentarian, who met Tsipras last week, said Greece would have to convince eurozone nations and the ECB of its determination to carry out reforms.
Berlin cabdriver Jens Mueller says he’s had it with the Greek government and he doesn’t want Germany to send any more of his tax money to be squandered in Athens. “They’ve got a lot of hubris and arrogance, being in the situation they’re in and making all these demands,” said Mueller, 49, waiting for fares near the Brandenburg Gate. “Maybe it’s better for Greece to just leave the euro.” Mueller’s sentiment is shared by a majority of Germans. A poll published March 13 by public broadcaster ZDF found 52% of his countrymen no longer want Greece to remain in Europe’s common currency, up from 41% last month. The shift is due to a view held by 80% of Germans that Greece’s government “isn’t behaving seriously toward its European partners.”
The hardening of German opinion is significant because the country is the biggest contributor to Greece’s €240 billion twin bailouts and the chief proponent of budget cuts and reforms in return for aid. Tensions have been escalating between the two governments since Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras took office in January, promising to end an austerity drive that he blames on Chancellor Angela Merkel. The shift in sentiment comes as Greece, at risk of running out of cash this month, battles with European officials over the release of more bailout funds. Tspipras has also stepped up calls for war reparations from Germany for the Nazi occupation during World War II and Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has been locked in a war of words with his German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble.
Last week, the Greek government officially complained about Schaeuble’s conduct, to which Schaeuble replied that the whole matter was “absurd.” “The way the Greeks have been behaving has been impossible. Now they’re making their own demands with these reparations,” said Dorli Schneider, an interpreter waiting for a train at Munich’s central station. “Greece should pay back what they owe. We can’t forever give them more money.” German voters’ growing umbrage may make it harder for Merkel to sell any possible deal down the road to the German public and Budestag, which would have to vote on it. She also has to be wary of the anti-euro AfD party trying to peel off her voters, said Juergen Falter, a political scientist at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was ready to put his country’s nuclear forces on alert when he annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year in case of intervention by the U.S. and its allies. “We were ready to do that,” Putin said when asked in a documentary film about Russia’s takeover of Crimea aired Sunday on state television if the Kremlin had been prepared to place its nuclear forces on alert. The Russian leader said he warned the U.S. and Europe not to get involved, accusing them of engineering the ouster of Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. “That’s why I think no one wanted to start a world conflict.”
In the film, called “Crimea: the Road to the Motherland,” broadcast by Rossiya-1, Putin said he sent military intelligence and elite navy marines to spearhead the disarmament of 20,000 Ukrainian troops in the territory. No date was given for the Putin interview. The film was made over eight months. Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March last year provoked the worst geo-political confrontation with the U.S. and Europe since the Cold War. Tensions have escalated during a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine that’s killed more than 6,000 people over the past year. Despite a European-brokered cease-fire, the U.S. is considering arming Ukrainian forces.
Putin, 62, whose country has been hit by U.S. and European Union sanctions that have helped to drive the Russian economy toward recession, branded President Barack Obama’s administration as “puppet-masters.” He said the U.S. directed the months of mass protests that overthrew Yanukovych in February last year. The Russian president said he decided to seize Crimea after a crisis all-night meeting with security chiefs from Feb. 22-23 to save the majority-ethnic Russian territory from the “nationalists” in Kiev who would have killed Yanukovych if Russia hadn’t given him refuge. He said the annexation of Crimea wasn’t planned before the overthrow of Yanukovych.
More than 1 million Brazilians, some of them calling for President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, took to the nation’s streets Sunday to protest a government beset by scandal and the rising cost of living. The largest protest occurred in Sao Paulo, with 1 million people as of 3:40 p.m. local time, according to its military police. Protests occurred in cites of 16 states and the federal capital, according to O Globo website. Its TV network reported 100,000 protesters in Porto Alegre and 45,000 in Brasilia, citing the military police of those cities. While no violence or vandalism was reported, Sao Paulo police apprehended firework rockets from a group of attendees. Higher taxes and increased prices for government-regulated items like gasoline are rankling Brazilians as the biggest corruption scandal in the nation’s history ensnares elected and appointed officials.
The approval rating of Rousseff’s government has plummeted since she won a close re-election last October. Today’s protests may be bigger than the June 2013 demonstrations in which more than a million people decried deficient public services and demanded an end to corruption. Today’s protest will force the government to present anti-corruption legislation it has already prepared, according to Thiago de Aragao at Arko Advice, a political risk company. Doing so will allow the government to deflect some fire and argue that protests targeted corruption rather than Rousseff or her party, he said. “The government needs to make some response and since, because of the magnitude, they can’t disqualify the size and pressure of the protest, they have to address one of the issues,” De Aragao said by phone.
“The anti-corruption package will be more fluff than anything real, but at this moment it’s one of the main things that the government has to respond with. They don’t have much more than that.” [..] Today marks the 30th anniversary of Brazil’s return to democracy after a 21-year military dictatorship. March 15 will henceforth be remembered as the Day of Democracy, Aecio Neves, who Rousseff bested in the election last year, said in a video posted on his Facebook page, showing him wearing the yellow jersey of the Brazilian national soccer squad. “I’m here to protest against corruption,” said Eliana Batista do Norte, a 55-year-old publicist who marched in Sao Paulo. “It’s not just about throwing the Workers’ Party out. We have to get rid of all the corrupt people. There is already enough information to remove Dilma.”
Back in the 1980s, the billions of dollars that the Japanese plowed into U.S. government debt reflected the Asian nation’s burgeoning economic might. Now, they’re at it again, only this time it’s to eke out any return they can. Yields on Japanese debt have been pinned near zero ever since the Bank of Japan embarked on its latest attempt, in April 2013, to end the two decades of stagnation that followed those go-go years. Europe isn’t much of an option, as yields turned negative this year on the region’s own quantitative easing. So why the U.S.? For one, with the Federal Reserve poised to raise interest rates, Treasuries offer the highest yields among debt from the world’s most-industrialized economies.
Then there’s the dollar, whose meteoric rise against virtually every currency has made U.S. assets even more appealing. HSBC says Japanese investors may funnel $300 billion into Treasuries over the next two to three years, double the pace of the nation’s purchases since 2012. “The BOJ is crowding out private investors,” said Yusuke Ito at Mizuho. “They have to find alternatives.” Mizuho’s overseas bond unit, which stepped up buying of Treasuries in mid-2014, has signed up more clients looking for higher-yielding alternatives to Japanese debt, he said. Japan first began to exert its influence in the U.S. government bond market more than three decades ago, when its booming export-driven economy produced trade surpluses that it then plowed into Treasuries year after year.
Japan has since built a stake of $1.23 trillion, making it America’s second-largest overseas creditor, just behind China’s $1.24 trillion. For the U.S. government, maintaining Japanese demand in the $12.6 trillion market for Treasuries is more important than ever, particularly after China pared its own holdings last year by the most on record and as the Fed prepares to raise rates. The good news is that Japanese purchases are poised to accelerate. Of the $500 billion that investors will pull from Japan’s debt market to put abroad through 2017, about 60% will flow into Treasuries, said Andre de Silva, HSBC’s Hong Kong-based head of global emerging-markets rates research.
“..if a 1.5% write down in the assets of a supposedly well-capitalized German bank can lead to almost overnight insolvency, one can almost imagine what will happen when the Austrian black swan wave reaches Europe’s actually “undercapitalized” banks…”
Precisely one week ago in “A Black Swan Lands In Southern Austria: The Ripple Effects Of “Mini-Greece Going Off In The Heartland Of Europe”, when analyzing the consequences of the collapse of Austria’s bad bank, we noted perhaps the biggest paradox of Europe’s emergency preparedness response to the Greek collapse and imminent expulsion from the Eurozone: namely that the biggest threat to German banks was no longer in some Mediterranean nation, but in its very own back yard. To wit:
Irony #2, and the biggest one of all: while German banks had spent the past 3 years preparing for the inevitable Grexit and offloading all their exposure to the now insolvent Greek state, it was a waterfall chain of events which started in Germany’s own “back yard”, courtesy of auditors who decided it was unnecessary to mark losses to market until it was far too late, and the immediate outcome is that one ninth of until recently Aaa/AAA-rated Austria is now also insolvent. And that is just the beginning. One can only imagine how many such other “0% risk-weighted” Pandora boxes lie in wait across what are otherwise considered Europe’s safest banks, provinces and nations.
Indeed, it was just the beginning, and moments ago we got confirmation that the next domino has tipped over, following a Reuters report that Germany’s deposit protection fund will take over the property lender Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank AG (DuesselHyp), which has “run into problems” due to its exposure to Austrian lender Hypo Alpe Adria’s “bad bank” Heta. And while in the US FDIC Failure Fridays works like a well-greased machine, Germany has yet to get the hang of the whole “save the bad news for Friday after market close” thing and has for now has stopped on “Shocker Sundays.” Then again, this being Europe, denial persists even after the moment of failure, and according to Reuters, “the German banking association BdB, which runs the fund, is, however, not planning to wind down the bank, but wants to continue its operations.”
“The deposit protection fund is granting a guarantee for the Heta bonds to eliminate the immediate risks. The goal is a complete takeover of Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank,” the BdB said in a statement on Sunday.
[..]..it is not just the topic of swapping one asset with a higher collateral velocity for another with a far lower, if not zero, velocity, but also the issue of effective supply. As JPM notes, “another important aspect in Coeuré’s speech regarding market liquidity was the notion of “effective supply”. What matters more for market liquidity and depth is indeed not the overall stock or supply of euro government bonds, but the size of the effective supply as some asset holders may not be willing to sell. And it is effective supply that would determine whether the Eurosystem be able to meet its quantitative targets. While it is inherently difficult to calculate effective supply we believe we can make some reasonable assumptions to proxy it.” But before JPM’s analysis of effective supply in Europe (or lack thereof), it takes one more swipe at just how clueless the Goldman-advised ECB has become:
… we disagree with Coeuré’s view that, similar to their Japanese counterparts, “euro area banks will be more willing to sell euro government bonds to the ECB as they will receive central bank reserves, which in the current low interest rate environment can be viewed by banks as close substitutes for government bonds, and which count towards fulfilling e.g. the required liquidity ratios”. The problem with this argument, in our view, is that the ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets for commercial banks remains low for European banks vs. those in the US or Japan. Euro area and UK banks, in particular, have a ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets of 7% vs. 30% for their US and Japanese counterparts.
If Euro area banks sell no bonds at all to the ECB and at the same time the ECB injects €1.1tr into the Euro area banking system, the ratio of government bonds + reserves to assets would rise to 11%. This will still be well below the 30% for their US and Japanese counterparts. In addition, as we argued above, government bonds are worth more to banks from a collateral point of view given rehypothecation. And this is perhaps one of the reasons that banks are currently willing to hold euro government bonds with yields that are below -20bp. In all, we continue to believe that banks in the Euro area could end up selling bonds to the ECB, but to a much smaller extent than their Japanese counterparts given their much higher need for liquid assets.
Nobel laureate Paul Krugman is way off when he accuses the Swedish central bank of being guilty of “sadomonetarism,” according to the target of his criticism. Deputy Governor Per Jansson says the U.S. economist’s analysis suggests he hasn’t read enough about Sweden. Krugman has criticized the bank for raising rates at the height of Europe’s debt crisis in 2010 and 2011, and then for not cutting fast enough to fight disinflation. The moves made sense at the time, Jansson said, given a consensus among forecasters that prices were rebounding and as the economy was expanding faster than much of Europe, driving up credit growth and house prices.
“When he described Sweden as sort of a deflationary economy, and makes these parallels to Japan, you wonder, has he ever had a look at the data?” Jansson said in a March 12 interview in Stockholm. “Has he seen how Swedish GDP recovered over these crisis years? It completely outperformed the euro area, of course, but even the U.K. It’s close to the U.S.’s performance.” Krugman and other critics say the Riksbank’s policies drove Sweden into a deflationary trap that could have been avoided. The Riksbank, which in the mid-1990s became one of the first to target inflation, last reached its 2% target in 2011. Annual consumer prices have fallen for 11 of the past 14 months.
The American Empire has been long in the making. A green light was given in 1990 to finalize that goal. Dramatic events occurred that year that allowed the promoters of the American Empire to cheer. It also ushered in the current 25-year war to solidify the power necessary to manage a world empire. Most people in the world now recognize this fact and assume that the empire is here to stay for a long time. That remains to be seen. Empires come and go. Some pop up quickly and disappear in the same manner. Others take many years to develop and sometimes many years to totally disintegrate. The old empires, like the Greek, Roman, Spanish and many others took many years to build and many years to disappear. The Soviet Empire was one that came rather quickly and dissipated swiftly after a relatively short period of time. The communist ideology took many decades to foment the agitation necessary for the people to tolerate that system.
Since 1990 the United States has had to fight many battles to convince the world that it was the only military and economic force to contend with. Most people are now convinced and are easily intimidated by our domination worldwide with the use of military force and economic sanctions on which we generously rely. Though on the short term this seems to many, and especially for the neoconservatives, that our power cannot be challenged. What is so often forgotten is that while most countries will yield to our threats and intimidation, along the way many enemies were created.
The seeds of the American Empire were sown early in our history. Natural resources, river transportation, and geographic location all lent itself to the development of an empire. An attitude of “Manifest Destiny” was something most Americans had no trouble accepting. Although in our early history there were those who believed in a powerful central government, with central banking and foreign intervention, these views were nothing like they are today as a consequence of many years of formalizing the power and determination necessary for us to be the policeman of the world and justify violence as a means for spreading a particular message. Many now endorse the idea that using force to spread American exceptionalism is moral and a force for good. Unfortunately history has shown that even using humanitarian rhetoric as a justification for telling others what to do has never worked.
The Pentagon’s embattled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter continues to be plagued with so many problems that it can’t even pass the most basic requirements needed to fly in combat, despite soaring roughly $170 billion over budget. As the most expensive weapons program in the Pentagon’s history, the $400 billion and counting F-35 is supposed to be unlike any other fighter jet—with high-tech computer capabilities that can identify a combatant plane at warp speed. However, major design flaws and test failures have placed the program under serious scrutiny for years–with auditors constantly questioning whether the jet will ever actually get off the ground, no matter how much money is thrown at it. Last year, military officials faulted contractors for all of the mistakes.
Contractors claimed they had corrected the issues and that there wouldn’t be more costly problems down the road. During an interview on 60 Minutes, Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who is in charge of the program said, “Long gone is the time when we will continue to pay for mistake after mistake after mistake. Lockheed Martin doesn’t get paid their profit unless each and every airplane meets each station on time with the right quality.” However, a new progress report from the Defense Department casts serious doubts on the progress of the program. The DoD’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation cites everything from computer system malfunctions to flaws with its basic design—it even found that the jet is vulnerable to engine fires because of the way it’s built.
A separate report from Military.com unearthed another embarrassing issue with the jet that suggests it won’t take off on time. The “precision-guided Small Diameter Bomb II doesn’t even fit on the Marine’s version of the jet, according to Military.com. On top of that, the software needed to operate the top close-air support bomb won’t even be operational until 2022, inspectors said. The Defense Department’s report also suggested that the program’s office isn’t accurately recording the jet’s problems. “Not all failures are counted in the calculation of mean flight hours between reliability events, but all flight hours are counted, and hence component and aircraft reliability are reported higher than if all of the failures were counted,” the report said.