Mar 262018
 


Dorothea Lange Gravestone St. George, Utah 1953

 

There are numerous ways to define the Precautionary Principle. It’s something we can all intuitively understand, but which many parties seek ways to confuse since it has the potential to stand in the way of profits. Still, in the end it should all be about proof, not profits. That is exactly what the Principle addresses. Because if you first need to deliver scientific proof that some action or product can be harmful to mankind and/or the natural world, you run the risk of inflicting irreversible damage before that proof can be delivered.

In one of many definitions, the 1998 Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle says: “When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Needless to say, that doesn’t easily fly in our age of science and money. Cigarette makers, car manufacturers and oil companies, just to name a few among a huge number of industries, are all literally making a killing while the Precautionary Principle is being ignored. Even as it is being cited in many international treaties. Lip service “R” us. Are these industries to blame when they sell us our products, or are we for buying them? That’s where governments must come in to educate us about risks. Which they obviously do not.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb -of Black Swan and Antifragile fame- has made the case, in his usual strong fashion, for applying the Precautionary Principle when it comes to GMOs. His argument is that allowing genetically modified organisms in our eco- and foodsystems carries unknown risks that we have no way of overseeing, and that these risks may cause irreversible damage to the very systems mankind relies on for survival.

Taleb is not popular among GMO producers. Who all insist there is no evidence that their products cause harm. But that is not the point. The Precautionary Principle, if it is to be applied, must turn the burden of proof on its head. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Monsanto et al must prove that their products do no harm. They can not. Which is why they have, and need, huge lobbying, PR and legal departments.

 

But I didn’t want to talk about GMOs today, and not about Precautionary Principle alone. I wanted to talk about this: Paragraph 2 of article 191 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty (2009) states that:

“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay.”

In other words, the EU has committed itself to the Precautionary Principle. Well, on paper, that is. However, then we get to a whole series of reports on wildlife in Europe, and they indicate all sorts of things, but not that Brussels cares even one bit about adhering to the Precautionary Principle, either for its people or its living environment. One voice below calls it a “state of denial”, but I would use some other choice words. Let’s start with the Guardian this morning, because they have an interesting perspective:

Most Britons remain blithely unaware that since the Beatles broke up, we have wiped out half our wildlife…

since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the number of flying insects on nature reserves in Germany had dropped by at least 76% – more than three-quarters…

Things like ‘since you were born’, ‘since man landed on the moon’, ‘since the wall came down’ or ‘since 9/11’ may be a bit clearer than 100 years, or 25 years. Moreover, I read somewhere that since Columbus landed in 1492, America has lost on third of all its biodiversity, but that doesn’t yet explain the rate of acceleration that is taking place.

In October last year, the Guardian had this:

 

Three-Quarters Of Flying Insects In Germany Have Vanished In 25 Years

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years , according to a new study that has shocked scientists. Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said. The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research. “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life , and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

[..] When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak. Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

Then last week from AFP:

 

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

Not that it’s just Europe, mind you. Still ‘ove’ this one from Gretchen Vogel in ScienceMag, about a year ago, on a phenomenon most of you stateside will have noticed too:

 

Where Have All The Insects Gone?

Entomologists call it the windshield phenomenon. “If you talk to people, they have a gut feeling. They remember how insects used to smash on your windscreen,” says Wolfgang Wägele, director of the Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity in Bonn, Germany. Today, drivers spend less time scraping and scrubbing. “I’m a very data-driven person,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Oregon. “But it is a visceral reaction when you realize you don’t see that mess anymore.”

Some people argue that cars today are more aerodynamic and therefore less deadly to insects. But Black says his pride and joy as a teenager in Nebraska was his 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1—with some pretty sleek lines. “I used to have to wash my car all the time. It was always covered with insects.” Lately, Martin Sorg, an entomologist here, has seen the opposite: “I drive a Land Rover, with the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, and these days it stays clean.”

Though observations about splattered bugs aren’t scientific, few reliable data exist on the fate of important insect species. Scientists have tracked alarming declines in domesticated honey bees, monarch butterflies, and lightning bugs. But few have paid attention to the moths, hover flies, beetles, and countless other insects that buzz and flitter through the warm months. “We have a pretty good track record of ignoring most noncharismatic species,” which most insects are, says Joe Nocera, an ecologist at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

After all those numbers, and before they get worse -which they will, it’s already baked in the cake-, you would expect the EU to remember the Precautionary Principle all its member nations signed on to for the Lisbon Treaty. You would expect wrong. Instead Brussels vows to continue with the exact same policies that have led to its mind-boggling biodiversity losses.

 

EU In ‘State Of Denial’ Over Destructive Impact Of Farming On Wildlife

Europe’s crisis of collapsing bird and insect numbers will worsen further over the next decade because the EU is in a “state of denial” over destructive farming practices, environmental groups are warning. European agriculture ministers are pushing for a new common agriculture policy (CAP) from 2021 to 2028 which maintains generous subsidies for big farmers and ineffectual or even “fake” environmental or “greening” measures, they say. In a week when two new studies revealed drastic declines in French farmland birds – a pattern repeated across Europe – the EU presidency claimed that the CAP continued to provide safe food while defending farmers and “protecting the environment”.

“The whole system is in a state of denial,” said Ariel Brunner, head of policy at Birdlife Europe. “Most agriculture ministers across Europe are just pushing for business as usual. The message is, keep the subsidies flowing.” Farm subsidies devour 38% of the EU budget and 80% of the subsidies go to just 20% of farmers , via “basic payments” which hand European landowners £39bn each year.

Because these payments are simply related to land area, big farmers receive more, can invest in more efficient food production – removing hedgerows to enlarge fields for instance – and put smaller, less intensive farmers out of business. France lost a quarter of its farm labourers in the first decade of the 21st century, while its average farm size continues to rise.

A smaller portion – £14.22bn annually – of EU farm subsidies support “greening” measures but basic payment rules work against wildlife-friendly farming: in Britain, farmers can’t receive basic payments for land featuring ponds, wide hedges, salt marsh or regenerating woodland. Signals from within the EU suggest that the next decade’s CAP [..] will continue to pay farmers a no-strings subsidy, while cash for “greening”, or wildlife-friendly farming, may even be cut. Birdlife Europe said the “greening” was mostly “fake environmental spending” and wildlife-friendly measures had been “shredded” by “loophole upon loophole” introduced by member states.

[..] This week studies revealed that the abundance of farmland birds in France had fallen by a third in 15 years – with population falls intensifying in the last two years. It’s a pattern repeated across Europe: farmland bird abundance in 28 European countries has fallen by 55% over three decades, according to the European Bird Census Council. Conservationists say it’s indicative of a wider crisis – particularly the decimation of insect life linked to neonicotinoid pesticides.

20% of farmers work 80% of the land in Europe. That is used as an argument to single them out to pay them billions in subsidies. But it simply means these 20% use the most detrimental farming methods, most pesticides, most chemicals. The subsidies policy guarantees further deterioration of an already disastrous situation. The polluter doesn’t pay, as the Lisbon Treaty demands, but the polluter gets paid.

And even that is apparently still not enough for the fast growing bureaucracy. In a move perhaps more characteristic of the EU than anything else, it approved something last week that a million people had vehemently protested: the Bayer-Monsanto merger. The European parliament may have thrown out all Monsanto lobbyists recently, and voted to ban Roundup, but the die has been cast.

A million citizens can protest in writing, many millions in France and Germany and elsewhere may do the same on the street, none of it matters. The people who brought you WWII nerve gases and Agent Orange can now come together to take over your food supply.

 

EU Approves Buyout Of Monsanto By German Chemical Firm Bayer

German conglomerate Bayer won EU antitrust approval on Wednesday for its $62.5bn (£44.5bn) buy of US peer Monsanto, the latest in a trio of mega mergers that will reshape the agrochemicals industry. The tie-up is set to create a company with control of more than a quarter of the world’s seed and pesticides market. Driven by shifting weather patterns, competition in grain exports and a faltering global farm economy, Dow and Dupont, and ChemChina and Syngenta had earlier led a wave of consolidation in the sector. Both deals secured EU approval only after the companies offered substantial asset sales to boost rivals.

Environmental and farming groups have opposed all three deals, worried about their power and their advantage in digital farming data, which can tell farmers how and when to till, sow, spray, fertilise and pick crops based on algorithms. The European Commission said Bayer addressed its concerns with its offer to sell a swathe of assets to boost rival BASF [..] “Our decision ensures that there will be effective competition and innovation in seeds, pesticides and digital agriculture markets also after this merger,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement. “In particular, we have made sure that the number of global players actively competing in these markets stays the same.”

[..] Vestager said the Commission, which received more than a million petitions concerning the deal, had been thorough by examining more than 2,000 different product markets and 2.7 million internal documents to produce a 1,285-page ruling. [..] Online campaigns group Avaaz criticised the EU approval. “This is a marriage made in hell. The Commission ignored a million people who called on them to block this deal, and caved in to lobbying to create a mega-corporation which will dominate our food supply,” Avaaz legal director Nick Flynn said.

Dow-Dupont, ChemChina and Bayer Monsanto have a lot more political influence than a million Europeans, or ten million Americans. They have even convinced numerous, if not most, people that without their products the world would starve. That their chemicals are needed to feed a growing human population. Farming based on algorythms.

They are not ‘seed companies’. They are ‘seeds-that-need-our-chemicals-to-grow’ companies. And they are out to conquer the entire world. A 100-times worse version of Facebook. And our governments subsidize the use of their products. As we not-so-slowly see our living world be massacred by those products.

We don’t know how bad GMOs will turn out to be. Which is in itself a very good reason to ban them. Since once they spread, they can’t be stopped anymore. Then the chemical boys will own all of our food. But we do know how bad the pesticides and other chemicals they produce are. And we’re not even banning those. We just eat all that sh*t and shut up.

It’s a failure to understand what science is: that you must proof harm first before banning stuff. The only real science is the one that has adopted the Precautionary Principle. Because science is supposed to be smart, and there’s nothing smart about destroying your own world. Because science should never be used to hurt people or nature. Science can only be good if it benefits us. Not our wallets, but our heads and hearts and forests, and our children. Do no harm.

Yeah, I know, who am I fooling, right?

 

 

Sep 022017
 
 September 2, 2017  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


René Magritte Promenades d’Euclid 1955

 

Whoever Leads In AI Will Rule The World – Putin (RT)
Deflation Is Already Here – Albert Edwards (ZH)
Fiscal Austerity After The Great Recession Was A Catastrophic Mistake (Coppola)
Ugly Jobs Report: August Payrolls Miss (ZH)
Deciphering The Swamp’s Unemployment Deception (Feierstein)
The Working Class Can’t Afford the American Dream (HowMuch)
Central Banks Must Be Ready With Cash To Calm Brexit Nerves – Bank Lobby (R.)
How to Crack the Code on Gold – Rickards (DR)
Trump Seeks $7.85 Billion For Harvey Relief, Warns On Debt Ceiling (R.)
Harvey: “Unprecedented” Disruptions To Supplies Of “Essential” Chemicals (ZH)
Irma Intensifies Over The Atlantic (R.)

 

 

Plenty scary thought.

Whoever Leads In AI Will Rule The World – Putin (RT)

Vladimir Putin spoke with students about science in an open lesson on September 1, the start of the school year in Russia. He told them that “the future belongs to artificial intelligence,” and whoever masters it first will rule the world. “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. However, the president said he would not like to see anyone “monopolize” the field.

“If we become leaders in this area, we will share this know-how with entire world, the same way we share our nuclear technologies today,” he told students from across Russia via satellite link-up, speaking from the Yaroslavl region. During the 45-minute open lesson (the standard academic hour in Russia), Putin also discussed space, medicine, and the capabilities of the human brain, pointing out the importance of cognitive science. “The movement of the eyes can be used to operate various systems, and also there are possibilities to analyze human behavior in extreme situations, including in space,” Putin said, adding that he believes these studies provide unlimited opportunities. The open lesson was attended by students and teachers from 16,000 schools, Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports. The total audience exceeded one million.

Read more …

“..never since the mid-1960s, when records began, has core CPI (less food, energy and shelter) declined over a six-month period..”

Deflation Is Already Here – Albert Edwards (ZH)

At the start of the year, we were surprised when SocGen’s Albert “Ice Age” Edwards, the biggest perma-deflationist on Wall Street, flipped his outlook on the US economy, and said he now expected a fast spike in inflation driven by wage growth, which in turn would prompt an even more accelerated tightening cycle by the Fed. We did not see it, and said so, pointing out that the bulk of US job growth in recent years has been among industries that have little to no wage power. More than half a year later, and several months after a puzzled Edwards asked “Where Is The Wage Inflation?”, the SocGen strategist has finally thrown in the towel, and in a note released this morning, admits he was wrong, or as he puts it “I was too optimistic”, to wit:

“At this point in the US economic cycle a tight labour market would normally be producing a notable upturn in wage and CPI inflation. This would usually prompt the Fed into a tightening cycle that would typically end in a surprise recession. This is exactly what I expected to occur at the start of this year and I thought it would be that recession that would tip the US into outright deflation ? but I was wrong. I was too optimistic!” And while there has been a modest improvement in average hourly earnings according to the BLS, if not according to the BEA’s wage data, which according to the just released Personal Income data showed another drop in both private and government worker wages…

… broader inflation trends continue to disappoint. Furthermore, when digging through the recent CPI data, Edwards noticed something unexpected: as he writes, although wages have accelerated due to the tight labor market, the last six months has seen consistent downside surprises. And then this: “this has come hand-in-hand with an unprecedented slump in underlying US CPI inflation into outright deflation – in stark contrast to the eurozone where core CPI inflation has decisively risen.” Putting the finding in context, the “wrong, too optimistic” Edwards writes that never since the mid-1960s, when records began, has core CPI (less food, energy and shelter) declined over a six-month period, as demonstrated by the red line in the chart below. Or, as he summarizes, “Deflation did not need another US recession to emerge. It is already here.”

the SocGen strategist has some advice to the Fed: “If I were a Fed Governor I would be pretty shocked/concerned/bemused at inflation developments this year. However confident the Fed is of a self-sustaining-recovery, there is growing evidence of a slide into outright deflation even ahead of the next recession which will likely unambiguously take us deep into deflationary territory.” Imminent deflationary prints notwithstanding, Edwards still thinks rates should be normalised. Why? “Well, because the longer the current credit excesses are allowed to continue, the deeper the next recession and deflationary bust will ultimately be.”

Read more …

“What a complete, utter, disastrous failure of public policy, not just for Greece but for the world.”

Fiscal Austerity After The Great Recession Was A Catastrophic Mistake (Coppola)

In a new paper presented at Jackson Hole last week, the economists Alan Auerbach and Yuriy Gorodnichenko showed that, contrary to popular belief, fiscal expansion after a major financial shock such as that in 2008 did not cause debt/GDP ratios to rise. In fact, the researchers found that debt could become more sustainable, not less, after fiscal stimulus: For a sample of developed countries, we find that government spending shocks do not lead to persistent increases in debt-to-GDP ratios or costs of borrowing, especially during periods of economic weakness. Indeed, fiscal stimulus in a weak economy can improve fiscal sustainability along the metrics we study. Fiscal stimulus works. What a pity we did not allow ourselves to do it, much. But what about Greece? Surely fiscal austerity was necessary there?

Well, maybe. “The experience of Greece and other countries in Southern Europe is a grave warning about the political risks and limits of fiscal policy,” say the researchers. “Bridges to nowhere, “pet” projects and other wasteful spending can outweigh any benefits of countercyclical fiscal policy.” But they nevertheless find that fiscal expansion works even when debt/GDP levels are high. “The penalty for a high debt-to-GDP ratio does not appear to be high at the debt levels experienced historically for developed countries,” they say. So when Greece’s debt was a mere 100% of GDP, fiscal expansion could have been a good strategy. Now, of course, Greece’s debt/GDP ratio is off the chart, because of the aforementioned catastrophic failure of public policy. The researchers warn that their results are uncertain at very high debt/GDP levels. So fiscal expansion might now be too late for Greece. What a tragedy.

“We have been giving catastrophically bad advice to countries with high debt to GDP ratios”, said Jason Furman, the former chair of Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers who is now at Harvard. Too right. And Greece has paid the price. But it is not just Greece that has paid. If Auerbach and Gorodnichenko are right, then the policy path since 2010 has been wrong for many more countries. They have truncated their recoveries and hurt their populations by embarking on premature fiscal consolidation, while cudgeling central banks into somehow conjuring up a recovery that monetary policy is incapable of producing at the lower bound. As a result, there has been a prolonged and wholly unnecessary global slowdown, which will leave lasting scars, particularly on the young. What a complete, utter, disastrous failure of public policy, not just for Greece but for the world.

Read more …

Pre-Harvey ugly.

Ugly Jobs Report: August Payrolls Miss (ZH)

[..] moments ago the BLS reported that in August just 156K jobs were created, a big miss to the 180K expected, and following a sharp downward revision to June and July, which were revised to 210K and 189K, respectively, a 41K drop combined. But don’t worry, the worse, the better as the more disappointing the economic data, the less likely the Fed will hike in September, December, or ever for that matter. And keep in mind, today’s data did not include the Harvey devastation, which will assure no rate hikes from the Fed for months, if not decades to come. Not helping matters – for the economy, if not the stock market which now once again loves bad data – was the Household Survey, according to which the number of employed Americans declined by 74,000 to 153,439K. On an annual basis, the increase in the employment level dropped to 1.2%, the lowest since March.

The unemployment rate also disappointed, rising from 4.3% to 4.4%, while the avg hourly earnings missed, increasing by 2.5% Y/Y in August, below the 2.6% estimate and the same as July. The sequential increase in earnings was just 0.1%, also below the 0.2% expected, and far below the 0.3% in July. Furthermore, since average weekly hours declined also, from 34.5 to 34.4, average weekly earnings declined outright from $909.42 to $907.82 in August. Furthermore, average weekly earnings rose just 2.2% Y/Y, the lowest rate of increase since January.

While the labor force participation rate remained unchanged at 62.9%, the number of Americans not in the labor force increased once again, growing by 128K in August to 94.785 million.

Read more …

Mitch wants investigations. And not the ones going on right now.

Deciphering The Swamp’s Unemployment Deception (Feierstein)

I strongly see the need for a full and open inquiry into Hillary’s illegal server, Clinton’s leaking of top secret documents, the pay-to-play Clinton Foundation, the entire ‘Fake news’ Russian collusion affair and James Comey’s ‘Fake FBI investigation’ with a predetermined outcome. I am not taking a partisan position here. However, I am guessing many people will reason: ‘The Republicans are bashing the Democrats over these inquiries; this guy Feierstein wants an inquiry, so he must be a Republican.’ I don’t blame people for making these assumptions. Our whole country has become infected with this kind of twisted logic. Our entire political debate has caught the virus. Yet, it makes no sense. No sense at all. Here are two facts and one conclusion:

Fact One : Hillary had an illegal server in the basement of her home that contained ‘Top-Secret Emails.’ Fact Two : Senators Grassley and Graham’s statement regarding FBI’s James Comey’s exoneration of Clinton read: “Conclusion first, fact-gathering second—that’s no way to run an investigation. The FBI should be held to a higher standard than that, especially in a matter of such great public interest and controversy.” Conclusion : These allegations are serious enough to deserve an open investigation, period. Partisan bickering and political spin is simply a diversion from the action that American people deserve — and the truth that the American people require.

I say all this because I’m about to call attention to another government department: the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now, I know that Democrats are currently bashing President Trump over everything he does. I know that Trump is bashing back. But, people, the issue at stake is the creation of jobs in America and the way those things are being recorded and reported. The issues I’m about to address were present under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. They haven’t changed under Donald Trump. The depression which struck this country in the wake of financial crisis 1.0 might have peaked under a Democrat, but it was born in a Republican era. If you yourself are so partisan that you want to make fine distinctions about these things, you should go ahead and make them. Me: I see two peas in a pod.

Good. Preamble over. Here’s the issue: “The number of jobs created in America declined by 74,000 to 153,439 in August. A horrible number, far below expectations. The jobless rate rose to 4.4 and hourly earnings missed increasing only 2.5% year-over-year. Average hours worked also declined, seeing as weekly wages followed suit.” Yet, central bank manipulated stocks are surging, on the terrible economic news, in anticipation of more global central bank easing. News and economic data are irrelevant in our “rigged” system as market participants eagerly line up like heroin addicts awaiting another federal reserve fix.

Read more …

As if anyone still believes in that dream.

The Working Class Can’t Afford the American Dream (HowMuch)

The national conversation in the U.S. is focused squarely on improving the lives of people in the working class. The debate revolves around exactly how to do that. Politicians and pundits have all sorts of ideas, from efforts to save jobs, create tax cuts, subsidize housing, and provide universal healthcare. Thing is, people don’t even agree on how to define the working class, much less how their living conditions stack up across the country. We created a data visualization to illustrate this complex situation. Each bubble represents a city. The color corresponds to the amount of money a typical working-class family would have left over at the end of the year after paying for their living costs, like housing, food and transportation.

The darker the shade of red, the worse off you are. The darker the shade of green, the better off you are. The size of the bubble also fits on a sliding scale—large and dark red means the city is totally unaffordable. Bigger dark green bubbles likewise indicate a city where the working class can get by. The data come from our new True Cost of Living Tool. It’s kind of a big deal because it lets you drill down to a specific city and search through layers of relevant information to understand exactly how much money it takes to live in any given area. We stitched together a variety of different reputable sources, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics for income levels, the National Bureau of Economic Research for tax data, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the cost of food. Basically, you can check our work.

Read more …

Banks say central banks must be ready to give money to … banks.

Central Banks Must Be Ready With Cash To Calm Brexit Nerves – Bank Lobby (R.)

Central banks should be ready to inject cash into the financial markets to keep them stable after Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, a draft report from a bank industry lobby said. The Association for Financial Markets in Europe (AFME), in a draft report seen by Reuters, said that regulators, central banks and national governments should continue to support financial market stability between Britain’s departure from the EU and start of new trading terms. “This may require particular attention during the uncertain period around Brexit, and in particular during the transition, and may involve more regular market communications and targeted support in case of market need, for example, access to liquidity schemes,” the report said. This and other steps would be needed to minimise disruption, it said. AFME’s report also provides a blueprint for a transition phase after Britain’s EU exit in March 2019.

This would include a “bridging phase” to avoid “short-term disruption” until new trading terms are ratified and an “adaptation phase” for moving to the new terms. The report did not specify a time frame for the transition but said it should be limited. “It is crucial that clarity is provided as soon as possible on a transitional period, and ideally before the end of this year,” AFME said. AFME wants existing market arrangements maintained throughout the transitional period, reflecting worries among bankers that they might have to comply first with a transition period and then the new trading terms. “This means that existing legislation, regulation, permissions and authorisations should continue to be effective during the transitional period,” it said. Company bosses also want Britain to negotiate a staggered departure from the EU by the end of this year or they will have to push ahead with plans that assume they will lose all access to the single market after March 2019.

Read more …

Rickards sticks to his guns.

How to Crack the Code on Gold – Rickards (DR)

“Don’t underestimate the extent to which gold is being impacted by hedge funds, leverage players, and others that are in the mix for the current high in gold. They don’t really care if it is gold, soybeans, etc. but it is simply another commodity. They receive a nice profit with tight profits, tight stops.” “The bigger picture to look as here is that gold hit an interim low last December and has been grinding higher ever since. Now gold is up over $200 an ounce and is one of the best performing assets in 2017. There’s a pattern of higher highs and shows a very positive occurrence.” [..] “This all relates to currency wars. I think of gold by weight.”

“When most people look at the cost of gold they relate it to the dollar. That gives the dollar a privilege to say that it is the way to count everything. It is also possible to count gold in euro, yen or even bitcoin. I think of gold as money. These are all just cross rates. When I see a higher dollar price for gold, I think of the dollar as being weaker. Likewise, if I see a lower price for gold it just shows that gold is constant and the dollar got stronger.” “There are three things going on right now in gold. There’s a fear trade, there’s technicals with supply shortages and ultimately a weaker dollar. If you want to know where the dollar price for gold is going, ask yourself where the dollar is headed. As the dollar gets weaker due to Federal Reserve Chair Yellen’s plan to tighten rates into weakness. We’re getting disinflation, not inflation and the desire from the Fed is a weaker dollar.”

[..] “I expect to see gold hit $5,000 and eventually to $10,000 an ounce. Maybe not tomorrow or a couple of years but that is the fundamental price of gold as money.” [..] “Bitcoin is a very small market cap compared to gold. I don’t think it has much impact on gold and looks like a bubble right now.” “As someone who has been around Wall Street a long time I’ve seen a lot of different tricks of the trade and frauds that come and go. I am seeing all of the various schemes in bitcoin right now. There’s good forensic evidence that there are people doing wash sales right now and the suckers don’t know they are getting sucked in. Gold is still the ultimate safe haven.”

Read more …

That’s just emergency funding. Washington will need to find ways to help the uninsured.

Trump Seeks $7.85 Billion For Harvey Relief, Warns On Debt Ceiling (R.)

U.S. President Donald Trump has asked Congress for an initial $7.85 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts, the White House budget director said on Friday, adding that failure to raise the budget ceiling may hinder disaster relief spending. In a letter to U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the request included $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and $450 million for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program. “This request is a down-payment on the president’s commitment to help affected states recover from the storm, and future requests will address longer-term rebuilding needs,” Mulvaney said. Trump had been expected to request $5.95 billion for the recovery effort after Harvey flooded areas of Houston and other parts of Texas.

The White House has said that it would make multiple requests for aid from Congress to fund the Harvey recovery effort. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert told reporters on Thursday aid funding requests would come in stages as more became known about the impact of the storm. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that his state may need more than $125 billion. Bossert said the Trump administration wanted Congress to pass the disaster relief measure on its own and not add it to other measures, such as the effort to raise the debt ceiling. The U.S. government has a statutory limit on how much money it can borrow to cover the budget deficit that results from Washington spending more than it collects in taxes. Only Congress can raise that limit. Mulvaney urged Congress to act “expeditiously to ensure that the debt ceiling does not affect these critical response and recovery efforts.”

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Ethylene, polypropylene. It’s silly, but we ‘need’ them.

Harvey: “Unprecedented” Disruptions To Supplies Of “Essential” Chemicals (ZH)

The unprecedented destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey will impact the US economy in ways may not be immediately apparent. Until recently, coverage of the storm’s impact has focused on property damage and the impact on the energy industry. But in a story published Friday, Bloomberg explains the devastating impact the storm has had on Texas’s chemicals industry, which is already causing supply-chain headaches for American manufacturers who’re struggling to source the chemicals required to produce plastics and other components used in everything from milk jugs to car parts. Indeed, if Texas’s chemicals plants are closed for an extended period, production at a potentially huge number of American manufacturers to grind to a halt.

More than 60% of the US’s production capacity for ethylene – one of the most important chemical building blocks for American manufacturers – has been taken offline by the storm, a development that could ripple across the US manufacturing industry. “Texas alone produces nearly three quarters of the country’s supply of one of the most basic chemical building blocks. Ethylene is the foundation for making plastics essential to U.S. consumer and industrial goods, feeding into car parts used by Detroit and diapers sold by Wal-Mart. With Harvey’s floods shutting down almost all the state’s plants, 61% of U.S. ethylene capacity has been closed, according to PetroChemWire.” Ethylene, the gas given off by fruit as it ripens, occurs naturally, but it’s also a crucial product of the $3.5 trillion global chemical industry, with factories pumping out 146 million tons last year.

Processing plants turn the chemical into polyethylene, the world’s most common plastic, which is used in garbage bags and food packaging. When transformed into ethylene glycol, it’s the antifreeze that keeps engines and airplane wings from freezing in winter. It’s used to make polyester for both textiles and water bottles. Ethylene is an ingredient in vinyl products such as PVC pipes, life-saving medical devices and sneaker soles. It helps combat global warming with polystyrene foam insulation and lighter, fuel-saving plastic auto parts. It’s used to make the synthetic rubber found in tires. It’s even an ingredient in house paints and chewing gum. Ethylene and its derivatives account for about 40% of global chemical sales, according to Hassan Ahmed, an analyst at Alembic Global Advisors. And the Gulf Coast is a crucial player in the global market: US production accounts for one of every five tons on the market. International ethylene plants were running nearly full out to meet rising demand before Harvey.

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‘T is the season. The lesser Antilles could get hit bigtime.

Irma Intensifies Over The Atlantic (R.)

As Harvey diminishes a new storm has emerged. Irma, the fourth hurricane of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, has strengthened over the eastern Atlantic to become a Category 3 storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory Thursday. Irma is forecast to intensify Thursday night and is projected to be a very dangerous hurricane for the next few days, the Miami-based center said. Irma is located about 1,845 miles east of the Leeward Islands and has maximum sustained winds of 115 mph, the NHC said. NHC forecast models were showing it heading for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and neighboring Haiti with possible landfall by the middle of next week.

While currently a Category 3 storm, Irma’s winds could strengthen to become a Category 4 storm in five days’ time, the Miami Herald reported. Irma will not reach the eastern Caribbean Lesser Antilles islands until the middle of next week, and it is too soon to determine whether or not the storm will pose a threat to the U.S., according to The Weather Channel. Still, the potential for a U.S. landfall should prompt all who may be affected in those areas to closely monitor the storm in the coming days, The Weather Channel said. “Irma is forecast to become a major hurricane by tonight and is expected to be an extremely dangerous hurricane for the next several days,” the NHC said Thursday, while adding there is no current risk to land from the storm.

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 August 31, 2017  Posted by at 8:25 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Prohibition sale June 24 1920

 

Hurricane Harvey the Costliest Natural Disaster in US History (H.)
“No Way To Prevent Imminent Explosion” At Texas Chemical Plant (ZH)
Texans To Be Hit With New Insurance Law (Ind.)
A Decade of G7 Central Bank Collusion – And Counting… (Nomi Prins)
It’s Time For Your Reminder That Most Commodities Are Priced In US Dollars (BI)
A Universal Basic Income Would Grow The Economy (Vox)
The Promise of Fiscal Money (Varoufakis)
America and China’s Codependency Trap (Stephen Roach)
Financial Firms Fear Turmoil Over Fraught US Debt Ceiling Talks (R.)
Weird Things Are Happening With Gold (Rickards)
‘More Europe’ Won’t Solve Europe’s Fiscal Quandary (BBG)
Victory For Assad Increasingly Likely As World Loses Interest In Syria (G.)
‘Our Society Is Broken’: Canada’s First Nations Suicide Epidemic (G.)

 

 

$160 billion and counting.

Hurricane Harvey the Costliest Natural Disaster in US History (H.)

Hurricane Harvey is predicted to be the costliest natural disaster in the history of the U.S., with a damage cost exceeding Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina. AccuWeather predicts that the damage cost will hit $160 billion. AccuWeather, a private weather firm, notes that the storm’s cost represents 0.8% of the national GDP, which is now at $19 trillion. “Business leaders and the Federal Reserve, major banks, insurance companies, etc. should begin to factor in the negative impact this catastrophe will have on business, corporate earnings and employment. The disaster is just beginning in certain areas,” AccuWeather founder Dr. Joel N. Myers said in a statement.

“Parts of Houston, the United States’ fourth largest city will be uninhabitable for weeks and possibly months due to water damage, mold, disease-ridden water and all that will follow this 1,000-year flood.” Before Harvey, the costliest hurricane to hit the U.S. was Hurricane Katrina, which caused $108 billion in damage along the Gulf Coast in 2005. The second-costliest was Hurricane Sandy, which caused $75 billion in damage in 2012. Hurricane Ike, the last storm to make landfall in Texas before Harvey, caused $37.5 billion in damage in 2008. [..] The Associated Press reports that 80% of Harvey’s victims do not have flood insurance. Thousands of families will have to take on more debt or spend much more to fix their homes. Others will sell their property to move out.

Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, estimated that flood damage alone cost at least $35 billion. Hunter explained to the AP that if you don’t have flood insurance, you can apply for federal disaster benefits. However, these are low interest loans that will add more debt. Homeowners insurance covers water damage caused by wind damage, but not if the water comes through the floor or walls, the AP explains. “Homeowners with water damage can get paid through their homeowners insurance but only if wind blows out a window or sends a roof aloft first, allowing the water in,” the AP notes. “If the water rushes through the floorboard or walls, you’re not covered.”

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There have been scores of chemicals released into the air already in the area.

“No Way To Prevent Imminent Explosion” At Texas Chemical Plant (ZH)

[..] in a potentially disastrous outcome from the Harvey flooding, a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas belonging to French industrial giant Arkema, has announced it is evacuating workers due to the risk of an explosion, after primary power was knocked out and flooding swamped its backup generators. The French company said the situation at the plant “has become serious” and said that it is working with the Department of Homeland Security and the State of Texas to set up a command post in a suitable location near our site. The plant, which produces explosive organic peroxides and ammonia, was hit by more than 40 inches of rain and has been heavily flooded, running without electricity since Sunday. The plant was closed since Friday but has had a skeleton staff of about a dozen in place.

Following the flood surge, the plant’s back-up generators also failed. The threat emerged once the company could no longer maintain refrigeration for chemicals located on site, which have to be stored at low temperatures. The plant lost cooling when backup generators were flooded and then workers transferred products from the warehouses into diesel-powered refrigerated containers. On Tuesday afternoon, the company released a statement which admitted that “refrigeration on some of our back-up product storage containers has been compromised due to extremely high water, which is unprecedented in the Crosby area. We are monitoring the temperature of each refrigeration container remotely.” It then warned that “while we do not believe there is any imminent danger, the potential for a chemical reaction leading to a fire and/or explosion within the site confines is real.”

One day later, and with the torrential rains finally over, has the situation at the giant peroxide chemical plant stabilized? Unfortunately, according to Reuters, the answer is no. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Richard Rowe, the chief executive of Arkema’s American operations said that “the company has no way of preventing chemicals from catching fire or exploding at its heavily flooded plant.” Rowe added that the company now expects chemicals on site to catch fire or explode within the next six days. Since the plant remains flooded by about six feet of water, “the company has no way to prevent” this worst-case outcome. Anticipating the worst, the company earlier evacuated all remaining workers, while Harris County ordered the evacuation of residents in a 1.5-mile radius of the plant that makes organic chemicals.

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Insult. Injury.

Texans To Be Hit With New Insurance Law (Ind.)

The embattled populations of southeastern Texas, may soon encounter a new obstacle in their quests to rebuild their lives after Harvey when a new state insurance law that makes it harder for consumers to receive full claims goes into effect Friday. The new law decreases the chances that an insurance company will be forced to pay claim delay penalties and plaintiff attorneys’ fees related to weather-involved claims — a protection that may discourage struggling households from pursuing legal action even if they think the insurance companies are offering less of a payout than they should. Under the new regulations, insurance companies will enjoy greater freedoms to push back on insurance claims, and the first wave of such claimants are likely to be coming from areas impacted by Harvey.

Residents reeling from Harvey now have until just Friday to assess the damages to their homes that may still be under water, and to notify their insurance company of nay damages if they want to avoid navigating that new law. After Friday, new legal restrictions will be in place that make things more difficult for consumers, and interest rates imposed on insurance companies to deter late payments will be cut nearly in half. “Without this law, and as the law currently is until Friday, I think insurance companies would be more responsive to claims,” Kir Pittard, a Dallas attorney, wrote on Facebook of the new law. “After Friday, there won’t be the incentive because the penalty for delays have been reduced.” To put it bluntly, a lot of residents in the impact area of Harvey may face a long battle ahead to replace the roofs torn off their homes from high winds, activists say.

“Insurance companies already had a lot of power, and the bill gives them a lot more power. As we know, too often insurance companies wrongfully withhold payments, they delay payments, they deny claims,” Ware Wendell, the executive director of consumer watchdog group Texas Watch, told The Independent. “So, we’re very concerned that people are going to have blue tarps on their homes instead of roofs.”

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Nomi sees central banks the same way I do.

A Decade of G7 Central Bank Collusion – And Counting… (Nomi Prins)

Since late 2007, the Federal Reserve has embarked on grand-scale collusion with other G-7 central banks to manufacture a massive amount of money. The scope and degree of this collusion are historically unprecedented and by admission of the perpetrators, unconventional in approach, and – depending on the speech – ineffective. Central bank efforts to provide liquidity to the private banking system have been delivered amidst a plethora of grandiose phrases like “unlimited” and “by all means necessary.” Central bankers have played a game with no defined goalposts, no clock rundown, no max scores, and no true end in sight. At the Fed’s instigation, central bankers built policy on the fly. Their science experiment morphed into something even Dr. Frankenstein couldn’t have imagined.

Confidence in the Fed and the U.S. dollar (as well as in other major central banks globally) has dropped considerably, even as this exercise remains in motion, and even though central bankers have tactiltly admitted that their money creation scheme was largely a bust, though not in any one official statement. On July 31, 2017, Stanley Fischer, vice chairman of the Fed, delivered a speech in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. There, he addressed the phenomenon of low interest rates worldwide. Fischer admitted that “the effects of quantitative easing in the United States and abroad” are suppressing rates. He also said there was “a heightened demand for safe assets affecting yields on advanced-economy government securities.” (Actually, there’s been heighted demand for junky assets, as well, which has manifested in a bi-polarity of saver vs. speculator preference.)

What Fischer meant was that investors are realizing that low rates since 2008 haven’t fueled real growth, just asset bubbles. Remember, Fischer is the Fed’s No. 2 man. He was also a professor to former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and current European Central Bank President Mario Draghi. Both have considered him to be a major influence in their economic outlook. The “Big Three” central banks – the Fed, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan – have collectively held rates at a zero% on average since the global financial crisis began. For nearly a decade, central banks have been batting about tens of trillions of dollars to do so. They have fueled bubbles. They have amassed assets on their books worth nearly $14 trillion. That’s money not serving any productive, real-economy purpose – because it happens to be in lock-down.

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When the reserve currency sinks, strange things can happen.

It’s Time For Your Reminder That Most Commodities Are Priced In US Dollars (BI)

The commodity rally since June has been impressive, and it could be tied to weakness in the US dollar. Those sharp increases — ranging between 15-40% — have had Morgan Stanley strategists slightly puzzled. On one hand, bulk commodities such as iron ore and coal have benefited from steady increases in demand. “Similarly, restocking in zinc and nickel markets have helped lift prices of those trades,” the analysts said. However, they added that fundamentals alone can’t explain the rise in the prices of copper, aluminium and lead. That suggests some of the price action is being driven by an external factor: the recent weakness in the US dollar. The analysts noted that this is the second commodity rally within the last year that’s been directly connected to the US dollar.

But the first one was the other way round — commodities staged a 4-week rally in the wake of the US election last November, when the US dollar was also rising. So why the difference? According to Price and Bates, it’s because the outlook for inflation has now largely reversed. “Post-election, markets positioned for new inflation risk, on the promise of a US infra-build story,” they said. But infrastructure reform is yet to get off the ground amid political gridlock in Washington, and US inflation remains stuck below the Federal Reserve’s target rate of 2-3%. Currency markets have reacted by driving the US dollar lower throughout most of 2017. So it follows that commodities priced in US dollars have benefited from a fall in the greenback while overall commodity-demand remains unchanged.

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Try it in a smaller country first?!

A Universal Basic Income Would Grow The Economy (Vox)

A universal basic income could make the US economy trillions of dollars larger, permanently, according to a new study by the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute. Basic income, a proposal in which every American would be given a basic stipend from the government no strings attached, is often brought up as a potential solution to widespread automation reducing demand for labor in the future. But in the meantime, its critics typically allege that it is far too expensive to be practical, or else that it would spur millions of Americans to drop out of the labor force, wrecking the economy and depriving the government of a tax base for funding the plan. The Roosevelt study, written by Roosevelt research director Marshall Steinbaum, Michalis Nikiforos at Bard College’s Levy Institute, and Gennaro Zezza at the University of Cassino and Southern Lazio in Italy, comes to a dramatically different conclusion.

And it does so using some notably rosy assumptions about the effects of large-scale increases to government spending, taxes, and deficits, assumptions that other analysts would dispute vociferously. Their paper analyzes three different models for a universal basic income: • A full universal basic income, in which every adult gets $1,000 a month ($12,000 a year) • A partial basic income, in which every adult gets $500 a month ($6,000 a year) • A child allowance, in which every child gets $250 a month ($3,000 a year) They find that enacting any of these policies by growing the federal debt — that is, without raising taxes to pay for it — would substantially grow the economy. The effect fades away within eight years, but GDP is left permanently higher. The big, $12,000 per year per adult policy, they find, would permanently grow the economy by 12.56 to 13.10% — or about $2.5 trillion come 2025.

It would also, they find, increase the%age of Americans with jobs by about 2%, and expand the labor force to the tune of 4.5 to 4.7 million people. They also model the impact of the plan if it’s paid for with taxes. That amounts to large-scale income redistribution, which, the authors argue, would stimulate the economy, because lower-income people are likelier to spend their money in the near-term than rich people are. Thus, they find that a full $12,000 a year per adult basic income, paid for with progressive income taxes, would grow the economy by about 2.62% ($515 billion) and expand the labor force by about 1.1 million people.

These are extremely contentious estimates, borne of controversial assumptions about the way the economy works and the effects that a basic income would have on it. Many, if not most, economic modelers would come to very different conclusions: that a basic income discourages work, that raising taxes to pay for it could have profound negative economic impacts, and that not paying for it and exploding the deficit is a recipe for fiscal and economic ruin. But the authors argue that the economic model they’re using, run by the Bard College Levy Economics Institute, uses more realistic assumptions than alternative models, and is particularly well-suited for predicting a UBI’s impact.

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Part of Yanis’ plans for Greece. A parallel system.

The Promise of Fiscal Money (Varoufakis)

any attempt to bring treasuries and central banks back under one roof would expose politicians to accusations of trying to get their grubby hands on the levers of monetary policy. But another response to the new reality is available: Leave central banks alone, but give governments a greater say in domestic money creation – and, indeed, greater independence from the central bank – by establishing a parallel payments system based on fiscal money or, more precisely, money backed by future taxes. How would fiscal money work? For starters, it would “live” on the tax authority’s digital platform, using the existing tax file numbers of individuals and companies. Anyone with a tax file number (TFN) in some country receives a free account linked to their TFN.

Individuals and firms will then be able to add credit to their TFN-linked account by transferring money from their normal bank account, in the same way that they do today to pay their taxes. And they will do so well in advance of tax payments because the state guarantees to extinguish in, say, a year €1,080 of the tax owed for every €1,000 transferred today – an effective annual interest rate of 8% payable to those willing to pay their taxes a year early. In practice, once, say, €1,000 has been transferred to one’s TFN-linked account, a personal identification number (the familiar PIN) is issued, which can be used either to transfer the €1,000 credit to someone else’s TFN-linked account or to pay taxes in the future. These time-stamped future tax euros, or fiscal euros, can be held for a year until maturity or be used to make payments to other taxpayers.

Smartphone apps and even government-issued cards (doubling as, say, social security ID) will make the transactions easy, fast, and virtually indistinguishable from other transactions involving central bank money. In this closed payments system, as fiscal money approaches maturity, taxpayers not in possession of that vintage will fuel rising demand for it. To ensure the system’s viability, the Treasury would control the total supply of fiscal money, using the effective interest rate to guarantee that the nominal value of the total supply never exceeds a%age of national income, or of aggregate taxes, agreed by the legislature. To ensure full transparency, and thus trust, a blockchain algorithm, designed and supervised by an independent national authority, could settle transactions in fiscal money.

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Is it low savings or high debt levels?

America and China’s Codependency Trap (Stephen Roach)

Caught up in the bluster of the US accusations being leveled at China, little attention is being paid to the potential consequences of Chinese retaliation. Three economic consequences stand out. First, imposing tariffs on imports of Chinese goods and services would be the functional equivalent of a tax hike on American consumers. Chinese producers’ unit labor costs are less than one fifth those of America’s other major foreign suppliers. By diverting US demand away from Chinese trade, the costs of imported goods would undoubtedly rise sharply. The possibility of higher import prices and potential spillover effects on underlying inflation would hit middle-class US workers, who have faced more than three decades of real wage stagnation, especially hard.

Second, trade actions against China could lead to higher US interest rates. Foreigners currently own about 30% of all US Treasury securities, with the latest official data putting Chinese ownership at $1.15 trillion in June 2017 – fully 19% of total foreign holdings and slightly higher than Japan’s $1.09 trillion. In the event of new US tariffs, it seems reasonable to expect China to respond by reducing such purchases, reinforcing a strategy of asset diversification away from US dollar-based assets that has been under way for the past three years. In an era of still-large US budget deficits – likely to go even higher in the aftermath of Trump administration tax cuts and spending initiatives – the lack of demand for Treasuries by the largest foreign owner could well put upward pressure on borrowing costs.

Third, with growth in US domestic demand still depressed, American companies need to rely more on external demand. Yet the Trump administration seems all but oblivious to this component of the growth calculus. It is threatening trade sanctions not only against China – America’s third-largest and fastest-growing major export market – but also against NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico (America’s largest and second-largest export markets, respectively). As the reactive pathology of codependency would suggest, none of these countries can be expected to acquiesce to such measures without curtailing US access to their markets – a counter-response that could severely undermine the manufacturing revival that seems so central to the Trump presidency’s promise to “Make America Great Again.”

In the end, China’s economic leverage over America is largely the result of low US domestic saving. In the first quarter of 2017, the so-called net national saving rate – the combined depreciation-adjusted saving of businesses, households, and the government sector – stood at just 1.9% of national income, well below the longer-term average of 6.3% that prevailed over the final three decades of the twentieth century. Lacking in saving and wanting to consume and grow, the US must import surplus saving from abroad to close the gap, forcing it to run massive current-account and trade deficits with countries like China to attract the foreign capital.

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“..the now-notorious 2011 standoff led S&P Global Ratings to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time. The episode wiped $2.4 trillion off U.S. stocks.”

Financial Firms Fear Turmoil Over Fraught US Debt Ceiling Talks (R.)

Financial firms are sounding alarm bells and dusting off contingency plans over fears an increasingly dysfunctional U.S. Congress may fail to reach a deal to raise the country’s debt limit. Several lobbyists, representing dozens of bankers, investors and credit rating agencies, told Reuters they are worried that dynamics at play in Washington – a bitterly divided Republican party and unpredictable President Donald Trump – could rule out a deal before an October deadline. Policymakers have vowed to provide disaster relief to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, boosting hopes the debt limit battle could be included in an agreement on a legislative package.

But the acrimonious atmosphere following Trump’s remarks about the Charlottesville protests this month, which cost him key backers in the business community and raised worries about his ability to broker a deal, still lingers. The debt ceiling is a legal cap on how much money the government can borrow to fund its budget deficits and meet debt obligations. Failure to raise it from the current $19.8 trillion could lead to default, sending shockwaves across global markets. “The stakes here are incredibly high. The economic impact associated with debt default is so immense,” said Rob Nichols, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association (ABA), one of the country’s key financial lobby groups. “We’re monitoring this extremely closely and we will mobilize as needed throughout September.”

While leading lawmakers and the administration have pledged it will get done, some corners of financial markets are already on edge. After all, Goldman Sachs estimated that failure to lift the cap would force a government spending cut equal to between 3 and 4% of U.S. gross domestic product, which would have crippling economic consequences. Moreover, previous debt limit negotiations went down to the wire, and the now-notorious 2011 standoff led S&P Global Ratings to downgrade U.S. sovereign debt for the first time. The episode wiped $2.4 trillion off U.S. stocks.

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“U.S. gold is currently officially valued at $42.22 per ounce on the Treasury’s books versus a market price of $1,285 per ounce”

Weird Things Are Happening With Gold (Rickards)

The first strange gold story involves Germany… The Deutsche Bundesbank, the central bank of Germany, announced that it had completed the repatriation of gold to Frankfurt from foreign vaults. The German story is the completion of a process that began in 2013. That’s when the Deutsche Bundesbank first requested a return of some of the German gold from vaults in Paris, in London and at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Those gold transfers have now been completed. This is a topic I first raised in the introduction to Currency Wars in 2011. I suggested that in extremis, the U.S. might freeze or confiscate foreign gold stored on U.S. soil using powers under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, the Trading With the Enemy Act or the USA Patriot Act.

This then became a political issue in Europe with agitation for repatriation in the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Europeans wanted to get gold out of the U.S. and safely back to their own national vaults. The German transfer was completed ahead of schedule; the original completion date was 2020. But the German central bank does not actually want the gold back because there is no well-developed gold-leasing market in Frankfurt and no experience leasing gold under German law. German gold in New York or London was available for leasing under New York or U.K. law as part of global price-manipulation schemes. Moving gold to Frankfurt reduces the floating supply available for leasing, making it more difficult to keep the manipulation going.

Why did Germany do it? The driving force both in 2013 (date of announcement) and 2017 (date of completion) is that both years are election years in Germany. Angela Merkel’s position as chancellor of Germany is up for a vote on Sept. 24, 2017. She may need a coalition to stay in power, and there’s a small nationalist party in Germany that agitates for gold repatriation. Merkel stage-managed this gold repatriation with the Deutsche Bundesbank both in 2013 and this week to appease that small nationalist party and keep them in the coalition. That’s why the repatriation was completed three years early. She needs the votes now.

The truly weird gold story comes from the United States… Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just paid a visit to Fort Knox to see the U.S. gold supply. Mnuchin is only the third Treasury secretary in history ever to visit Fort Knox and this was the first official visit from Washington since 1974. The U.S. government likes to ignore gold and not draw attention to it. Official visits to Fort Knox give gold some monetary credence that central banks would prefer it does not have. Why an impromptu visit by Mnuchin and McConnell? Why now? The answer may lie in the fact that the Treasury is running out of cash and could be broke by Sept. 29 if Congress does not increase the debt ceiling by then. But the Treasury could get $355 billion in cash from thin air without increasing the debt simply by revaluing U.S. gold to a market price. (U.S. gold is currently officially valued at $42.22 per ounce on the Treasury’s books versus a market price of $1,285 per ounce.)

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Naked power plays.

‘More Europe’ Won’t Solve Europe’s Fiscal Quandary (BBG)

To a certain cast of people, the solution to every problem in Europe is “more Europe” – even, or especially, those problems that have been caused by Europe. The economic crisis that began a decade ago has exposed many flaws in the European economic model. The solution? Some are calling for a euro-zone budget and a euro-zone finance minister. France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, is dedicated to the idea. Berlin has signaled conditional support. And Brussels is always happy to accrue more power. The idea makes superficial sense: Monetary union, most people now accept, doesn’t really work without fiscal union. The European Central Bank is constantly under pressure to loosen monetary policy to help the weakest euro members, and to keep it tight to help the strongest. But currency is a blunt instrument.

The “more Europe” thinking is that if the EU had a large budget, it could redistribute wealth to more directly help struggling members. (This is what happens in the U.S.) A powerful finance minister would oversee member countries to keep deficits and debts down and prevent debt crises. Except that that doesn’t make much sense: As Martin Sandbu points out, the U.S. federal budget, hovering at around 20% of GDP, isn’t enough to act as much of a macro-economic stabilizer, and nobody contemplates an EU budget of even that scale in the foreseeable future. Regardless, the so-called debt crises in the euro zone were not ultimately caused by deficits and debts as such, but by monetary phenomena. The euro made Mediterranean countries uncompetitive, leading to slow growth and debt and deficits, and the interest on those debts spiked only when the implicit euro-zone-wide guarantee on those debts was called into question by Germany.

What of Germany, which is essential to any EU reform effort? Germany historically, and Angela Merkel especially, has always been keen on more European integration – but also doesn’t want to pay for it. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has favored the idea of an EU budget – with a little-noticed but all-important asterisk. EU countries’ access to a European macroeconomic stabilization fund would be conditioned on “the bailout fund having more say over national debt and budgets,” he told the German Bild newspaper. In other words, Germany would be happy to pay a little something toward a macro-economic stabilization fund in exchange for having practical control over the budgets of all the euro-zone countries.

The commitment to pay into the fund is probably not daunting, because the budgetary orthodoxy rules Germany would come up with would be unattainable, and the money would probably never be spent. In other words, Macron and the “more Europe” camp are willing to hand Germany control over the euro zone’s finances, in exchange for … well, perhaps nothing. It’s an offer that Merkel can’t refuse.

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No, it’s not ideal. But at least all-out chaos like in Libya has been prevented.

Victory For Assad Increasingly Likely As World Loses Interest In Syria (G.)

In recent months, as supplies of aid, money and weapons to Syria’s opposition have dwindled, it had clung to the hope that ongoing international political support would prevent an outright victory for Bashar al-Assad and his backers. Not any more. An announcement earlier this week by Jordan – one of the opposition’s most robust supporters – that “bilateral ties with Damascus are going in the right direction” has, for many, marked a death knell for the opposition cause. Within the ranks of the political opposition, and regional allies, the statement was the opening act of something that all had dreaded: normalisation with a bitter foe. And without anything much to show for it.

Emphasising his words, Jordanian government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani said: “This is a very important message that everyone should hear.” And indeed, the about-face in Amman was quickly noted in Ankara, Doha, and Riyadh, where – after seven and a-half years of war – states that were committed to toppling the Syrian leader are now resigned to him staying. Returning from a summit in the Saudi capital last week, opposition leaders say they were told directly by the foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, that Riyadh was disengaging. “The Saudis don’t care about Syria anymore,” said a senior western diplomat. “It’s all Qatar for them. Syria is lost.”

In Britain too, rhetoric that had demanded Assad leave the Presidential Palace, as a first step towards peace, has been replaced by what Whitehall calls “pragmatic realism”. The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, last week couched Assad’s departure as “not a precondition. But part of a transition.” Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has openly delegated finding a solution to Syria to Russia. Donald Trump, meanwhile, has pledged to close a CIA-run programme, which had sent weapons from Jordan and Turkey to vetted Syrian rebel groups for much of the past four years. Washington has adopted a secondary role in twin, ailing, peace processes in Geneva and Astana and has focused its energies on fighting Isis, not Assad.

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How long ago is it that Justin vowed to fix this? “.. more than 100 reserves still lack housing, electricity or running water “

‘Our Society Is Broken’: Canada’s First Nations Suicide Epidemic (G.)

The suicide epidemic affecting First Nations communities across Canada has been a national crisis for decades, but it attracted international headlines after three indigenous communities were moved to declare a state of emergency in response to a series of deaths. In the spring of 2016, Attawapiskat First Nation reserve in Ontario declared a state of emergency after 11 young people tried to commit suicide in one night – adding to the estimated 100 attempts made over 10 months among this community of 2,000 people. Not long after, it was revealed that six people, including a 14-year-old girl, had killed themselves over a period of three months in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation community of northern Manitoba. In the aftermath, more than 150 youths in this remote community of 6,000 were put on suicide watch.

Then in June this year, another First Nations reserve in Ontario lost three 12-year-old girls who had reportedly agreed a suicide pact. This string of tragic events has seen media and government turn the spotlight on an issue too often ignored in Canada. Across the country, suicide and self-inflicted injury is the leading cause of death for First Nations people below the age of 44. Studies show young indigenous males are 10 times more likely to kill themselves than their non-indigenous male counterparts, while young indigenous females are 21 times more likely than young non-indigenous females. [..] The government has been criticised for its lack of support and funding for First Nations communities, which total 1.4 million people – just under 4.3% of Canada’s population. “We call that injustice,” says Roderick McCormick, an expert in indigenous health and suicide at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops BC.

He suggests a complex web of severe poverty plus lack of education and basic necessities underpins the rise in suicides among indigenous youths. “In terms of educational opportunities, healthcare and child welfare, the government is doing an injustice by not adequately funding our communities,” McCormick says. “When these remote reserves compare themselves to other communities across Canada, there is a huge gap that has become really evident.” Recent research has found more than 100 reserves still lack housing, electricity or running water – with almost 90 of them being advised to boil their drinking water. Another study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that 60% of children on these reserves are living in poverty. “The communities I represent are living in abject poverty,” Wilson says. “My people are the poorest in this country, and that’s not right.”

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