Typhoon Mangkhut killed at least 30 people in the Philippines as it obliterated homes and crops and caused massive flooding, and is now on course to plough into China’s southern coast. Presidential adviser Francis Tolentino said the heaviest casualty was recorded in the mountainous Cordillera region in northern Luzon, where heavy rains caused landslides that left 24 people dead and 13 more missing. Four others – including two children – were buried in a landslide in Nueva Ecija, another in Kalinga, and one person was killed by a falling tree in Ilocos Sur, Tolentino said.
The storm, which was the strongest the region has seen this year, was not as ferocious as feared, though due to the remote areas where the typhoon hit, the full death toll and extent of the destruction is still unknown. By Sunday morning, it was hurtling towards China’s heavily populated southern coast with winds of 177km/h (110mph). In Hong Kong, where the huge storm is expected to skirt just 100km (62 miles) south of the city, officials raised the storm alert to a T10, its highest level. Businesses have been boarded up and most flights cancelled.
US east coast communities face “epic amounts of rainfall” from tropical storm Florence, which has been linked to at least 12 deaths. It has caused catastrophic flooding since arriving as a category one hurricane on Friday. Some towns have already seen 2ft (60cm) of rain in two days, with totals forecast to top 3.5ft (1m) in places. It is feared that more communities could become deluged as the storm crawls west at only 2mph (3km/h). “This system is unloading epic amounts of rainfall, in some places measured in feet and not inches,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Saturday. He urged against residents attempting to return home, warning that “all roads in the state are at risk of floods”.
There’s no snooze button on the national debt clock, though you wouldn’t know it by the way public alarm has quieted as the situation grows worse. October begins a new fiscal year for the U.S. government—and a faster ballooning of how much it owes. Barring a behavioral miracle in Congress, trillion dollar yearly budget shortfalls will return, perhaps as soon as the coming year. And unlike the ones brought by the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2007-09, these will start during a period of relative plenty, and won’t end. Debt held by the public, a conservative tally of what America owes, will swell from $15.7 trillion at the end of September, or 78% of GDP to $28.7 trillion in a decade, or 96% of GDP.
Those estimates, provided by the Congressional Budget Office, are based on reasonable assumptions about economic growth, inflation, employment, and interest rates, but they leave out some important things. They assume that the nation’s need for increased infrastructure investment, estimated by the American Society of Civil Engineers at $1.4 trillion through 2025, goes unmet. They don’t account for the possibility of another financial crisis, or war, or a rise in the frequency or severity of natural disasters, and they assume that some Trump tax cuts will expire in 2025.
There is no clear milestone that marks the moment a country loses control of its finances, but consider how the bar has already been lowered for what seems possible in Congress. Even debt scolds no longer talk seriously about America paying down what it owes, or holding the dollar amount steady. The new path of fiscal prudence involves containing debt at some manageable percentage of GDP, and the opportunity for that is slipping.
Sept. 15 marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, which had unprecedented ramifications worldwide. Painful lessons have been learned, but the debate continues among economists about whether the crisis could have been handled better. Lehman was the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank before it filed for bankruptcy. With $639 billion in assets, it was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. It was also the largest victim of the subprime mortgage crisis that swept through global financial markets. And its collapse intensified the market shock, which wiped out nearly $10 trillion from global equity markets in October 2008, the largest monthly decline on record. The policymakers who handled Lehman’s bankruptcy in 2008 argue they did all they could.
However, economist Steve Keen, author of “Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis?”, believes policymakers had a great deal of responsibility for causing the crisis. Keen is a harsh critic of mainstream economists who ignored mounting private debt in their forecasts and policy recommendations. “They could have prevented the bubble burst in the first place,” he said. He thinks the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, was one of those who failed to recognize the risk created by the private debt explosion. “All these regulators were collecting data on global private debt and not worrying about it because economic theory said it did not matter,” he said. “If I have to blame anybody, I will blame Bernanke,” he said, adding that Bernanke “was the main academic economist saying ‘Don’t worry about the level of private debt.’”
The mayor of London has issued a dramatic call for another referendum on EU membership, insisting that the people must be given the chance to reject a Brexit deal that will be bad for the economy, jobs and the NHS. Writing in the Observer, Sadiq Khan says that, with so little time left to negotiate, there are now only two possible outcomes: a bad deal for the UK or “no deal” at all, which will be even worse. “They are both incredibly risky and I don’t believe Theresa May has the mandate to gamble so flagrantly with the British economy and people’s livelihoods,” he writes. Khan says that backing a second referendum was never something he expected to have to do.
But so abject has been the government’s performance, and so great is the threat to living standards and jobs, he says, that he sees no alternative than to give people a chance to stay in the EU. “This means a public vote on any Brexit deal obtained by the government, or a vote on a ‘no-deal’ Brexit if one is not secured, alongside the option of staying in the EU,” he writes. “People didn’t vote to leave the EU to make themselves poorer, to watch their businesses suffer, to have NHS wards understaffed, to see the police preparing for civil unrest or for our national security to be put at risk if our cooperation with the EU in the fight against terrorism is weakened.” The intervention from one of Labour’s most powerful politicians will put yet more pressure on the party leader Jeremy Corbyn to throw his support behind another referendum at Labour’s annual conference, which opens in Liverpool next weekend.
In Rome, the responsibility for the influx of migrants is laid on France, which persuaded NATO countries to get rid of Gaddafi. As a result, Libya is now torn apart by rival factions and an ongoing conflict between its two governments. “It is clearly now undeniable that this country (Libya) finds itself in this situation because someone, in 2011, put their own interests ahead of those of the Libyan people and of Europe itself,” Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta wrote on Facebook. “France, from this point of view, is partly to blame,” she added. Italian parliamentary speaker Roberto Fico was even more explicit, pointing to “a serious problem that has come from France.”
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini also chimed in, blaming former French President Nicolas Sarkozy for unleashing the war in Libya and the present government for adding fuel to the flames of the Libyan conflict. Italians are filled with nostalgia each time they recall the time when Rome and Tripoli signed an agreement to allow Italian companies to extract oil in Libya. The Gaddafi government was holding back the flow of migrants to Europe and the country’s GDP was the second biggest in Africa and the first among the Arabic-speaking states of the Maghreb. In Rome, the emphasis is that the decision to overthrow Gaddafi was made without taking into account the views of Italy.
Seven years on, the French look equally unenthusiastic about the so-called “Libyan Revolution,” with President Emmanuel Macron admitting that the intervention was a mistake. “I remember how some people decided to get rid of the Libyan leader without having any action plan for the future. We plunged Libya into a situation of lawlessness without having a chance to rectify the situation,” Macron said when speaking in the Tunisian parliament earlier this year.
U.S. President Donald Trump is likely to announce new tariffs on about $200 billion on Chinese imports as early as Monday, a senior administration official told Reuters on Saturday. The tariff level will probably be about 10 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported, quoting people familiar with the matter. This is below the 25 percent the administration said it was considering for this possible round of tariffs. The upcoming tariffs will be on a list of items that included $200 billion worth of internet technology products and other electronics, printed circuit boards and consumer goods including Chinese seafood, furniture and lighting products, tires, chemicals, plastics, bicycles and car seats for babies.
It was unclear if the administration will exempt any of the products that were on the list, which was announced in July. On Friday, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump “has been clear that he and his administration will continue to take action to address China’s unfair trade practices. We encourage China to address the long-standing concerns raised by the Unites States.” Trump had already directed aides to proceed with tariffs, despite Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s attempts to restart trade talks with China.
Europe’s animal farming sector has exceeded safe bounds for greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient flows and biodiversity loss, and urgently needs to be scaled back, according to a major report. Pressure on livestock farmers is set to intensify this century as global population and income growth raises demand for meat-based products beyond the planet’s capacity to supply it. The paper’s co-author, Professor Allan Buckwell, endorses a Greenpeace call for halving meat and dairy production by 2050, and his report’s broadside is squarely aimed at the heart of the EU’s policy establishment.
Launching the report, the EU’s former environment commissioner Janez Potocnik said: “Unless policymakers face up to this now, livestock farmers will pay the price of their inactivity. ‘Protecting the status quo’ is providing a disservice to the sector.” The study calls for the European commission to urgently set up a formal inquiry mandated to propose measures – including taxes and subsidies – that “discourage livestock products harmful to health, climate or the environment”. Livestock has the world’s largest land footprint and is growing fast, with close to 80% of the planet’s agricultural land now used for grazing and animal feed production, even though meat delivers just 18% of our calories.
In 1933, when FDR took power, global banking was essentially non-functional. Bankers had committed widespread fraud on top of a rickety and poorly structured financial system. Herbert Hoover, who organized an initial bailout by establishing what was known as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, was widely mocked for secretly sending money to Republican bankers rather than ordinary people. The new administration realized that trust in the system was essential. One of the first things Roosevelt did, even before he took office, was to embarrass powerful financiers. He did this by encouraging the Senate Banking Committee to continue its probe, under investigator Ferdinand Pecora, of the most powerful institutions on Wall Street, which were National City (now Citibank) and JP Morgan.
Pecora exposed these institutions as nests of corruption. The Senate Banking Committee made public Morgan’s “preferred list,” which was the group of powerful and famous people who essentially got bribes from Morgan. It included the most important men in the country, like former Republican President Calvin Coolidge, a Supreme Court Justice, important CEOs and military leaders, and important Democrats, too. Roosevelt also ordered his attorney general “vigorously to prosecute any violations of the law” that emerged from the investigations. New Dealers felt that “if the people become convinced that the big violators are to be punished it will be helpful in restoring confidence.” The DOJ indicted National City’s Charles Mitchell for tax evasion.
This was part of a series of aggressive attacks on the old order of corrupt political and economic elites. The administration pursued these cases, often losing the criminal complaints but continuing with civil charges. This bought the Democrats the trust of the public. When Roosevelt engaged in his own broad series of bank bailouts, the people rewarded his party with overwhelming gains in the midterm elections of 1934 and a resounding re-election in 1936. Along with an assertive populist Congress, the new administration used the bailout money in the RFC to implement mass foreclosure-mitigation programs, create deposit insurance, and put millions of people to work. He sought to save not the bankers but the savings of the people themselves.
Too Big To Fail shows Fuld on a rant: “People act like we’re crack dealers,” Fuld (James Woods) gripes. “Nobody put a gun to anybody’s head and said, ‘Hey, nimrod, buy a house you can’t afford. And you know what? While you’re at it, put a line of credit on that baby and buy yourself a boat.” This argument is the Wall Street equivalent of Reagan’s famous Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” spiel, which today is universally recognized as asinine race rhetoric. Were there masses of people pre-2008 buying houses they couldn’t afford? Hell yes. Were some of them speculators or “flippers” who were trying to game the bubble for profit? Sure. Most weren’t like that – most were ordinary working people, or, worse, elderly folks encouraged to refinance and use their houses as ATMs – but there were some flippers in there, sure.
People pointing the finger at homeowners are asking the wrong questions. The right question is, why didn’t the Fulds of the world care if those “nimrods” couldn’t afford their loans? The answer is, the game had nothing to do with whether or not the homeowner could pay. The homeowner was not the real mark. The real suckers were institutional customers like pensions, hedge funds and insurance companies, who invested in these mortgages. If you had a retirement fund and woke up one day in 2009 to see you’d lost 30 percent of your life savings, you were the mark. Ordinary Americans had their remaining cash in houses and retirement plans, and the subprime scheme was designed to suck the value out of both places, into the coffers of a few giant banks.
School bus driver Michael Payne was renting an apartment on the 30th floor of a New York City high-rise, where the landlord’s idea of fixing broken windows was to cover them with boards. So when Payne and his wife Gail saw ads in the tabloids for brand-new houses in the Pennsylvania mountains for under $200,000, they saw an escape. The middle-aged couple took out a mortgage on a $168,000, four-bedroom home in a gated community with swimming pools, tennis courts and a clubhouse. “It was going for the American Dream,” Payne, now 61, said recently as he sat in his living room. “We felt rich.” Today the powder-blue split-level is worth less than half of what they paid for it 12 years ago at the peak of the nation’s housing bubble.
Located about 80 miles northwest of New York City in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, their home resides in one of the sickest real estate markets in the United States, according to a Reuters analysis of data provided by a leading realty tracking firm. More than one-quarter of homeowners in Monroe County are deeply “underwater,” meaning they still owe more to their lenders than their houses are worth. The world has moved on from the global financial crisis. Hard-hit areas such as Las Vegas and the Rust Belt cities of Pittsburgh and Cleveland have seen their fortunes improve. But the Paynes and about 5.1 million other U.S. homeowners are still living with the fallout from the real estate bust that triggered the epic downturn.
As of June 30, nearly one in 10 American homes with mortgages were “seriously” underwater, according to Irvine, California-based ATTOM Data Solutions, meaning that their market values were at least 25 percent lower than the balance remaining on their mortgages.
A no-deal Brexit could lead to a financial crisis as bad as the crash in 2008, the governor of the Bank of England has warned. Mark Carney told Theresa May and senior ministers that not getting a deal with the European Union would lead to a number of negative economic consequences. It is also understood that Mr Carney warned house prices could fall by up to 35 per cent over three years in a worst case scenario, an event that could cause the value of sterling to plummet and force the bank to push up interest rates. His bleak prognosis came as France said it could halt flights and Eurostar trains from the UK if there was no agreement when Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.
The Bank of England declined to comment on Mr Carney’s briefing to ministers. Following the three-and-a-half hour meeting of the cabinet, a Downing Street spokesman said ministers remained confident of securing a Brexit agreement, but had agreed to “ramp up” their no-deal planning.
Europe’s top rights court ruled Thursday that Britain’s programme of mass surveillance, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden as part of his sensational leaks on US spying, violated people’s right to privacy. Ruling in the case of Big Brother Watch and Others versus the United Kingdom, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, said the interception of journalistic material also violated the right to freedom of information. The case was brought by a group of journalists and rights activists who believe that their data may have been targeted. The court ruled that the existence of the surveillance programme “did not in and of itself violate the convention” but noted “that such a regime had to respect criteria set down in its case-law”.
They concluded that the mass trawling for information by Britain’s GCHQ spy agency violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights regarding the right to privacy because there was “insufficient oversight” of the programme. The court found the oversight to be doubly deficient, in the way in which the GCHQ selected internet providers for intercepting data and then filtered the messages, and the way in which intelligence agents selected which data to examine. It determined that the regime covering how the spy agency obtained data from internet and phone companies was “not in accordance with the law”.
Financial services and ratings giant S&P Global is honing in on China’s $11 trillion bond market, a move that may spell good news for international investors in search of more reliable ratings for bonds. Speaking to CNBC on Friday, S&P Global Chief Financial Officer Ewout Steenbergen explained that it’s a good time to enter China as Asia’s largest economy has lifted foreign ownership restrictions for credit ratings agencies. Elaborating on the company’s plan to offer ratings services for the bond market there, Steenbergen said that S&P Global intends to start a new entity for its mainland business.
“We are expanding our market intelligence business in China, very specific local content, for example for Chinese private company data … But the most attractive opportunity we have is in the ratings business,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “It is the third-largest domestic bond market in the world, we think it will overtake Japan soon to become the second-largest domestic bond market,” added Steenbergen, who is also an executive vice president at S&P Global. [..] Steenbergen said he hopes that S&P Global’s move to enter that market can create more confidence. “Today, Chinese domestic bonds, 2 percent are bought by international investors, 98 percent only by Chinese investors. And I think (how) we can help with the market is to create more maturity, more confidence.
The current world trade system is not perfect and China supports reforms to it, including to the World Trade Organization, to make it fairer and more effective, Beijing’s top diplomat said. China is locked in a bitter trade war with the United States and has vowed repeatedly to uphold the multilateral trading system and free trade, with the WTO at its center. But speaking late on Thursday to reporters after meeting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said some reforms could be good. While certain doubts have been raised about the current international trading system, China has always supported the protection of free trade and believes that multilateralism with the WTO at its core should be strengthened, Wang added.
[..] China will not buckle to U.S. demands in any trade negotiations, the major state-run China Daily newspaper said in an editorial on Friday, after Chinese officials welcomed an invitation from Washington for a new round of talks. The official China Daily said that while China was “serious” about resolving the stand-off through talks, it would not be rolled over, despite concerns over a slowing economy and a falling stock market at home. “The Trump administration should not be mistaken that China will surrender to the U.S. demands. It has enough fuel to drive its economy even if a trade war is prolonged,” the newspaper said in an editorial.
The EU’s top economic official has voiced fears that “little Mussolinis” might be emerging in Europe, drawing a furious response from Italy’s far-right interior minister who accused him of insulting his country and Italians. Pierre Moscovici, a Frenchman who is the European Union’s economics affairs commissioner, said the current political situation, with populist, far-right forces on the rise in many nations, resembled the 1930s when Germany’s Adolf Hitler and Italian fascist chief Benito Mussolini were in power. “Fortunately there is no sound of jackboots, there is no Hitler, (but maybe there are) small Mussolinis. That remains to be seen,” he told reporters in Paris, speaking in a jocular fashion.
Moscovici, a former French finance minister, mentioned no names, but Matteo Salvini, who is a deputy prime minister and heads Italy’s anti-immigrant League, took it personally. “He should wash his mouth out before insulting Italy, the Italians and their legitimate government,” Salvini said in a statement released by his office in Rome. Salvini took advantage of the spat to set out once again his grievances with France, which he accuses of not doing enough to help deal with migrants from Africa and of having plunged Libya into chaos by helping to oust former strongman Muammar Gaddafi. “EU commissioner Moscovici, instead of censuring his France that rejects immigrants … has bombed Libya and has broken European (budget) parameters, attacks Italy and talks about ‘many little Mussolini’ around Europe,” Salvini said.
Two leading scientists have issued a call for massive swathes of the planet’s land and sea to be protected from human interference in order to avert mass extinction. Current levels of protection “do not even come close to required levels”, they said, urging world leaders to come to a new arrangement by which at least 30 per cent of the planet’s surface is formally protected by 2030. Chief scientist of the National Geographic Society Jonathan Baillie and Chinese Academy of Sciences biologist Ya-Ping Zhang made their views clear in an editorial published in the journal Science.
They said the new target was the absolute minimum that ought to be conserved, and ideally this figure should rise to 50 per cent by the middle of the century. “This will be extremely challenging, but it is possible,” they said. “Anything less will likely result in a major extinction crisis and jeopardise the health and wellbeing of future generations.” Most current scientific estimates have the amount of space needed to safeguard the world’s animals and plants at between 25 and 75 per cent of land and oceans.
Heavy rain, wind gusts and rising floodwaters from Hurricane Florence swamped the Carolinas early on Friday as the massive storm crawled toward the coast, threatening millions of people in its path with record rainfall and punishing surf. Florence was downgraded to a Category 1 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale on Thursday evening and was moving west at only 6 mph (9 km/h). The hurricane’s sheer size means it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day, according to weather forecasters. Despite its unpredictable path, it was forecast to make landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina, at midday on Friday.
The narrative of Russian intelligence attacking state and local election boards and threatening the integrity of U.S. elections has achieved near-universal acceptance by media and political elites. And now it has been accepted by the Trump administration’s intelligence chief, Dan Coats, as well. But the real story behind that narrative, recounted here for the first time, reveals that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) created and nurtured an account that was grossly and deliberately deceptive. DHS compiled an intelligence report suggesting hackers linked to the Russian government could have targeted voter-related websites in many states and then leaked a sensational story of Russian attacks on those sites without the qualifications that would have revealed a different story.
When state election officials began asking questions, they discovered that the DHS claims were false and, in at least one case, laughable. The National Security Agency and special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigating team have also claimed evidence that Russian military intelligence was behind election infrastructure hacking, but on closer examination, those claims turn out to be speculative and misleading as well. Mueller’s indictment of 12 GRU military intelligence officers does not cite any violations of U.S. election laws though it claims Russia interfered with the 2016 election.
In Sydney, breeding ground for one of the world’s biggest housing bubbles, prices of single-family houses dropped 7.3% in August, compared to a year earlier. Prices of “units” — condos in US lingo — fell 2.2% year-over-year. Price declines were the sharpest at the high end, with prices down 8.1% in the most expensive quarter of home sales. Prices of all types of homes combined fell 5.6%, according to CoreLogic’s Daily Home Value Index. The index is down 5.8% from its peak last September:
Melbourne, where the inflection point has been lagging a few months behind Sydney’s, is in the process of catching up. Over the three month-period, June-August, prices fell 2.0%, making Melbourne the weakest housing market among the capital cities. By segment, house prices fell 2.7% from a year ago while condo prices still inched up 1.5%. At the most expensive quarter of sales, prices fell 5.2% from a year ago. For all types of dwellings combined, prices declined 1.7% year-over-year, to the lowest level since early June 2017, according to CoreLogic. Prices are down 3.6% from their peak at the end of November 2017:
[..] With impeccable timing, there is a flood of new condos expected to be completed over the next two years, something avid crane-counters in Sydney and Melbourne have been swearing for a while. Here are some of these astounding numbers that CoreLogic estimates based on data it collected from the industry: Greater Sydney: In 2019: 31,500 new condos are scheduled to be completed. In 2020, another 45,500 condos are expected to be completed. This brings the two-year total of new condos to 77,000 units, which will increase the total stock of condos by 9.3%! Greater Melbourne: The oncoming flood of new condos is expected to reach 29,000 units in 2019 and nearly 50,000 units in 2020. Over the two years, this will increase the total stock of condos by nearly 79,000 units, or by 11.5%!
Even property investors have been priced out of the market. There are “currently no suburbs” in Sydney, Melbourne or Canberra where an investor can buy a detached house and expect it to be cashflow positive with a deposit of 20 per cent or less, according to an analysis by Propertyology. Releasing a list of the country’s “best capital city cash cow suburbs”, the research firm said buyers would have to travel to the Central Coast, 100km from the Sydney CBD, before finding an investment property with decent cashflow. Even then, a median-priced $490,000 house in Lake Munmorah — the least worst “Sydney” suburb identified in Propertyology’s list — will leave the investor $3093 out of pocket.
“Victoria paints a similar picture, with greater Melbourne’s best locations for cash flow investors within the municipality of Melton — 40km northwest of the CBD,” Propertyology head of research Simon Pressley said in a statement. It comes as CoreLogic figures showed national dwelling values fell for the 11th consecutive month in August, led by weakness in the two major capitals that comprise about 60 per cent of Australia’s housing market by value. Negatively geared properties — when the rental return is less than the interest payments and other costs — are “okay when you’re getting 10 per cent capital growth year in, year out”, said AMP Capital chief economist Dr Shane Oliver.
But investors now face falling house prices, rising interest rates, tighter lending conditions and the possibility of a future Labor government cracking down on negative gearing and capital gains tax breaks. “The equation gets more complicated,” Dr Oliver said.
Europe’s biggest news agencies accused Google and Facebook of “plundering” news for free on Tuesday in a joint statement that called on the internet giants to share more of their revenues with the media. In a column signed by the CEOs of around 20 agencies including France’s Agence France-Presse, Britain’s Press Association and Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur they called on the European Parliament to update copyright law in the EU to help address a “grotesque imbalance”. “The internet giants’ plundering of the news media’s content and of their advertising revenue poses a threat both to consumers and to democracy,” the column said.
European Parliament lawmakers are to set to debate a new copyright law this month that would force the internet giants to pay more for creative content used on their platforms such as news, music or movies. A first draft of the law was rejected in July and the plans have been firmly opposed by US tech firms, as well as advocates of internet freedom who fear that the regulations could lead to higher costs for consumers. “Can the titans of the internet compensate the media without asking people to pay for access to the internet, as they claim they would be forced to? The answer is clearly ‘yes’,” the column said. The joint statement from the agencies, which are major suppliers of news, photos and video, said Facebook reported revenues of $40 billion (34 billion euros) in 2017 and profits of $16 billion, while Google made $12.7 billion on sales of $110 billion.
Markets have a very short attention span. Like babies, they move on quickly from one toy, or in this case an event, to another. For instance, markets seem to have moved on from the formation of the “Fragile Five,” a group of countries that suffered heavily when the U.S. Federal Reserve started to roll back its bond-buying program in 2013. Made up of Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa, this group was marked by heavy currency depreciation, high current account deficits and political instability at home. The slump in commodity prices and fears of a Chinese slowdown kept the pressure on these economies. However, they have started to see a comeback; in India and Indonesia, for example, a change in government has led to political and economic reforms.
Investors started crowding this space and inflows into funds with exposure to these markets increased. But markets are feeling a sense of deja vu. Blame it on a stronger dollar, escalating tensions since President Donald Trump came to power, worries over a full-fledged trade war with China or rising interest rates in the U.S., this time around the crisis seems to have entered a new phase. The damage is far more widespread. The crisis has engulfed countries across the globe — from economies in South America, to Turkey, South Africa and some of the bigger economies in Asia, such as India and China. A number of these countries are seeing their currency fall to record levels, high inflation and unemployment, and in some cases, escalating tensions with the United States.
Investors brought up in the developed world take for granted the stability and continuation of the rule of law. They expect it to be as available and constant as air. Anyway, what role can a consideration of the rule of law play in trying to obtain index beating quarterly returns? It is this myopia and not the myopia associated with the short-term dumping of assets, because they are labelled ‘emerging markets’, that is particularly dangerous. The history of emerging markets is the history of populism, the real populism that subverts human rights and property rights. On the rise in emerging markets, this populism is resulting in a growing exodus of what are now very large sums, even in global terms, of local savings.
It is the shift in local savings, more so than foreign savings, that is pushing emerging market exchange rates to ever lower levels. It is not the flighty financial capital seeking slightly better interest rate differentials that departs in situations like this. It is the financial capital that funds development and growth that flees, as the rise of the rule of man begins to squeeze out the rule of law. The loss of such capital has profound long-term economic impacts. There is a key reason why the strong men are on the rise and the rule of law on the decline: the world is failing to inflate away its debts. Even before we invented paper money, there was a well recognized method of inflating away debts.
Perhaps most famously Henry VIII’s so-called great debasement (1544-1551) inflated away the excessive debts run up to fund wars with France and Scotland, as well as a bit of lavish spending by the king himself. Your analyst meets investors almost every day who believe that inflation is currently playing a similar role. However, such an assertion ignores the fact that the global non-financial debt to GDP ratio is now 244% up from what seemed a dangerous level of 210% of GDP as the global economy peaked in December 2007.
The Leave campaign in 2016 had a lot in common with the 1979 Conservative election manifesto. Both evoked the threat of a bureaucratic super-state and something approaching a conspiracy of that state against the public. Both promised to rescue a Greater Britain from the conspiratorial political forces that were holding it back. Both campaigns were a misdiagnosis of the real crisis at hand. This time we face a crisis of ungovernability potentially far more severe than that of the 1970s; but its roots are less in Europe than in the failures of the homegrown neoliberal reforms of the British state.
The last three decades of state reform in Western democracies have aggravated rather than resolved the social divisions that emerged with de-industrialisation. Over the last thirty years, liberal market economies in general and the UK in particular have transformed the character of their states through privatization and outsourcing, through the development of quasi markets in welfare, and the rejection of industrial policies. At the same time, permissive tax and regulatory regimes have encouraged large corporations to opt out of their former social obligations in the name of maximising shareholder value.
The ‘supply-side revolution’ of the last thirty years was driven by the dominant New Right diagnosis of the economic crises of the 1970s and based on the radical public choice economics aligned with the Chicago and Virginia schools. According to this diagnosis it was the state that was primarily responsible for the end of the post-war ‘golden age of growth’ because of its inhibition of the market. Thus, according to the New Right and later New Labour too, it wasn’t technological change, or de-industrialisation in the face of emerging markets, it wasn’t the Nixon shock, or the end of Bretton Woods, nor rising exchange rate instability, it wasn’t stagflation or the oil crises that had confronted the country with a need to re-evaluate its production regime. It was the state. And so it was the state, above all else, that had to be transformed.
China is helping Africa achieve development, not accumulate debt, a top Chinese official said on Tuesday, as the government pushes back against criticism it is loading the continent with an unsustainable burden during a major summit in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday pledged funds of $60 billion to African nations at the opening of the Forum for China-Africa Cooperation, matching the size of the financing package offered at the last summit in Johannesburg in 2015. A wave of African nations seeking to restructure their debt with China has served as a reality check for Beijing’s relationship with the continent, though most countries still see Chinese lending as the best bet to develop their economies.
“If we take a closer look at these African countries that are heavily in debt, China is not their main creditor,” China’s special envoy for Africa, Xu Jinghu, told a news conference. “It’s senseless and baseless to shift the blame onto China for debt problems.” China would carefully choose projects that avoid causing debt problems when pushing forward with Xi’s pledges to Africa, she added. “When we cooperate with African countries we will conscientiously and fully carry out feasibility studies, to choose which projects can go ahead. These projects will take into account their development prospects so as to help African countries achieve sustainable development and avoid debt or financial problems.”
Energy: The shale oil “miracle” was a stunt enabled by supernaturally low interest rates, i.e. Federal Reserve policy. Even The New York Times said so yesterday (The Next Financial Crisis Lurks Underground). For all that, the shale oil producers still couldn’t make money at it. If interest rates go up, the industry will choke on the debt it has already accumulated and lose access to new loans. If the Fed reverses its current course — say, to rescue the stock and bond markets — then the shale oil industry has perhaps three more years before it collapses on a geological basis, maybe less. After that, we’re out of tricks. It will affect everything. The perceived solution is to run all our stuff on electricity, with the electricity produced by other means than fossil fuels, so-called alt energy.
This will only happen on the most limited basis and perhaps not at all. (And it is apart from the question of the decrepit electric grid itself.) What’s required is a political conversation about how we inhabit the landscape, how we do business, and what kind of business we do. The prospect of dismantling suburbia — or at least moving out of it — is evidently unthinkable. But it’s going to happen whether we make plans and policies, or we’re dragged kicking and screaming away from it. Corporate tyranny: The nation is groaning under despotic corporate rule. The fragility of these operations is moving toward criticality. As with shale oil, they depend largely on dishonest financial legerdemain. They are also threatened by the crack-up of globalism, and its 12,000-mile supply lines, now well underway. Get ready for business at a much smaller scale.
Hard as this sounds, it presents great opportunities for making Americans useful again, that is, giving them something to do, a meaningful place in society, and livelihoods. The implosion of national chain retail is already underway. Amazon is not the answer, because each Amazon sales item requires a separate truck trip to its destination, and that just doesn’t square with our energy predicament. We’ve got to rebuild main street economies and the layers of local and regional distribution that support them. That’s where many jobs and careers are.
An appellate court on Monday lifted a court-ordered suspension of licenses in Brazil for products containing glyphosate, an industrial weedkiller in common use in Latin America’s agricultural powerhouse. Federal appeals court judge Kassio Marques ruled that “nothing justified” the suspension by a lower court, saying it had been abruptly imposed “without previous analysis of the grave impact it would have on the country’s economy and on production in general.” The suspension, which had been ordered August 3 by a federal judge in Brasilia, was supposed to go into effect on Monday until a “toxicological re-evaluation” of all products containing glyphosate could be completed by Brazil’s sanitary authority.
The ban also was to have extended to products containing the chemicals thiram and abamectin. Glyphosate is used in weedkillers like Roundup, made by Monsanto, whose parent company Bayer had urged that the ban be scrapped. Bayer hailed the suspension as “very good news for Brazilian farmers.” It comes just weeks after a jury in California ordered Monsanto to pay $289 million to a dying former school groundskeeper for failing to warn him of the risk that Roundup might cause cancer.
I’ve been saying for a long time that the BRI (Belt and Road) is China’s attempt at exporting its overcapacity. They make poor countries borrow billions, which these can’t pay back. And then… Only now do other parties wake up to that. And Xi is trying to do some damage control.
China’s massive and expanding “Belt and Road” trade infrastructure project is running into speed bumps as some countries begin to grumble about being buried under Chinese debt. First announced in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the initiative also known as the “new Silk Road” envisions the construction of railways, roads and ports across the globe, with Beijing providing billions of dollars in loans to many countries. Five years on, Xi has found himself defending his treasured idea as concerns grow that China is setting up debt traps in countries which may lack the means to pay back the Asian giant. “It is not a China club,” Xi said in a speech on Monday to mark the project’s anniversary, describing Belt and Road as an “open and inclusive” project.
Xi said China’s trade with Belt and Road countries had exceeded $5 trillion, with outward direct investment surpassing $60 billion. But some are starting to wonder if it is worth the cost. During a visit to Beijing in August, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said his country would shelve three China-backed projects, including a $20 billion railway. The party of Pakistan’s new prime minister, Imran Khan, has vowed more transparency amid fears about the country’s ability to repay Chinese loans related to the multi-billion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Meanwhile the exiled leader of the opposition in the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, has said China’s actions in the Indian Ocean archipelago amounted to a “land grab” and “colonialism”, with 80 percent of its debt held by Beijing.
Sri Lanka has already paid a heavy price for being highly indebted to China. Last year, the island nation had to grant a 99-year lease on a strategic port to Beijing over its inability to repay loans for the $1.4-billion project.
African countries have shown a healthy appetite for Chinese loans but some experts now worry that the continent is gorging on debt, and could soon choke. The Entebbe-Kampala Expressway is still something of a tourist attraction for Ugandans, nearly three months after it opened. The 51km (31 mile), four-lane highway that connects the country’s capital to the Entebbe International Airport was built by a Chinese company using a $476m (£366m) loan from the China Exim Bank. It has cut what was a torturous two-hour journey through some of Africa’s worst traffic into a scenic 45-minute drive into the East Africa nation’s capital. Uganda has taken $3bn of Chinese loans as part of a wider trend that Kampala-based economist Ramathan Ggoobi calls its “unrivalled willingness to avail unconditional capital to Africa”.
“This debt acquired from China comes with huge business for Chinese companies, particularly construction companies that have turned the whole of Africa into a construction site for rails, roads, electricity dams, stadia, commercial buildings and so on,” the Makerere University Business School lecturer told the BBC. The Chinese loans come as many African countries are once again in danger of defaulting on their debts more than a decade after many had their outstanding borrowing written off. At least 40% of low-income countries in the region are either in debt distress or at high risk, the International Monetary Fund warned in April.
Chad, Eritrea, Mozambique, Congo Republic, South Sudan and Zimbabwe were considered to be in debt distress at the end of 2017 while Zambia and Ethiopia were downgraded to “high risk of debt distress”. “In 2017 alone, the newly signed value of Chinese contracted projects in Africa registered $76.5bn,” Standard Bank’s China Economist Jeremy Stevens wrote in a note. “However, despite a sizeable remaining infrastructure deficit on the continent, there is a concern that African countries’ debt-service ability will soon dissolve,” he says.
Xi said at a business forum before the start of a triennial China Africa summit their friendship was time-honoured and that China’s investment in Africa came with no political strings attached. “China does not interfere in Africa’s internal affairs and does not impose its own will on Africa. What we value is the sharing of development experience and the support we can offer to Africa’s national rejuvenation and prosperity,” Xi said. “China’s cooperation with Africa is clearly targeted at the major bottlenecks to development. Resources for our cooperation are not to be spent on any vanity projects but in places where they count the most,” he said.
China has denied engaging in “debt trap” diplomacy but Xi is likely to use the gathering of African leaders to offer a new round of financing, following a pledge of $60 billion at the previous summit in South Africa three years ago. Chinese officials have vowed to be more cautious to ensure projects are sustainable. China defends continued lending to Africa on the grounds that the continent still needs debt-funded infrastructure development. Beijing has also fended off criticism it is only interested in resource extraction to feed its own booming economy, that the projects it funds have poor environmental safeguards, and that too many of the workers for them are flown in from China rather than using African labour.
A partner at Foley & Lardner, Ms. Mitchell was astonished to find herself dragged into the Russia investigation on March 13 when Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee issued an interim report. They wrote that they still wanted to interview “key witnesses,” including Ms. Mitchell, who they claimed was “involved in or may have knowledge of third-party political outreach from the Kremlin to the Trump campaign, including persons linked to the National Rifle Association (NRA).” Two days later the McClatchy news service published a story with the headline “NRA lawyer expressed concerns about group’s Russia ties, investigators told.” The story cited two anonymous sources claiming Congress was investigating Ms. Mitchell’s worries that the NRA had been “channeling Russia funds into the 2016 elections to help Donald Trump.”
Ms. Mitchell says none of this is true. She hadn’t done legal work for the NRA in at least a decade, had zero contact with it in 2016, and had spoken to no one about its actions. She says she told this to McClatchy, which published the story anyway. Now we’re learning how this misinformation got around, and the evidence points to Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the outfit that financed the infamous Steele dossier. New documents provided to Congress show that Mr. Simpson, a Fusion co-founder, was feeding information to Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. In an interview with House investigators this week, Mr. Ohr confirmed he had known Mr. Simpson for some time, and passed at least some of his information along to the FBI.
In handwritten notes dated Dec. 10, 2016 that the Department of Justice provided to Congress and were transcribed for us by a source, Mr. Ohr discusses allegations that Mr. Simpson made to him in a conversation. The notes read: “A Russian senator (& mobster) . . . [our ellipsis] may have been involved in funneling Russian money to the NRA to use in the campaign. An NRA lawyer named Cleta Mitchell found out about the money pipeline and was very upset, but the election was over.”
The short-term impact of a no-deal Brexit on Britain’s economy would be “chaotic and severe”, jeopardising jobs and disrupting trade links, warn experts from the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe. The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, has said he believes 80% of the work on completing an exit deal with the EU27 is already done, as negotiations enter their final phase. But his cabinet colleague Liam Fox recently suggested a no-deal scenario – which would occur if negotiations broke down, or both sides agreed to disagree – was the most likely outcome. In a 30-page updated assessment of the impact of no deal, the thinktank said on Monday it would mean “the disappearance without replacement of many of the rules underpinning the UK’s economic and regulatory structure”.
Its analysis claimed that in the short term: • Food supplies could be temporarily disrupted – the beef trade could collapse, for example, as Britain is heavily reliant on EU imports, and would be forced to apply tariffs, in accordance with World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. • European health insurance cards, which allow British tourists free healthcare in the EU, would be invalid from Brexit day. • There would almost certainly have to be a “hardening of the border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, including some “physical manifestation”. • The status of legal contracts and commercial arrangements with EU companies would be unclear, as the UK would become a “third country” overnight. • Increased and uncertain processing times for goods at the border would be “nearly certain”, risking queues at Dover and forcing firms to rethink their supply chains.
In the longer term, UK in a Changing Europe’s experts say, the UK would have time to normalise its trading status, and agreements could be struck with the EU27 to tackle many other practical challenges. “It should not be assumed that the damage, while real, will necessarily be long-lasting,” the report says.
Boris Johnson has used his first newspaper column of the new parliamentary term to attack Theresa May’s Chequers plan, saying it means the UK enters Brexit negotiations with a “white flag fluttering”. The declaration amounts to a significant escalation the former foreign secretary’s guerrilla campaign against the prime minister and her Chequers plan a day before the Commons returns and at a time when party disquiet over the direction of the divorce talks is mounting. Johnson wrote that “the reality is that in this negotiation the EU has so far taken every important trick. The UK has agreed to hand over £40 billion of taxpayers’ money for two thirds of diddly squat”.
Johnson added that by adopting the Chequers plan, which will see the UK adopt a common rule book for food and goods, “we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank”. It will be “impossible for the UK to be more competitive, to innovate, to deviate, to initiate, and we are ruling out major free trade deals,” he added. The intervention comes after a summer in which the former minister, who resigned over the Chequers deal, had avoided touching on Brexit in his Daily Telegraph column – although he did unleash a storm of complaint by describing fully veiled Muslim women as looking like letter boxes and bank robbers. It will be seen as preparing the ground for a leadership challenge to May just as the Brexit negotiations reach their critical phase in the autumn, which is to culminate in any final deal agreed by the UK government being put to parliament for a vote.
The number of officials who have left the Whitehall department trying to deliver Brexit is equivalent to more than half of its total staff, shock new figures reveal. Data seen by The Independent shows hundreds of civil servants went elsewhere as the department tried to get on its feet and cobble together a negotiating stance for the UK over the last two years. The exodus means the average age of workers left in the department is 32, though they are tasked with winning a complex deal that could change Britain for a generation.
The information obtained by the Liberal Democrats appears to corroborate previous reports about an extraordinarily high turnover at the Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu), with critics now claiming it points to “deep instability” at the heart of the government’s Brexit operation. According to the turnover data obtained under freedom of information, a staggering 357 staff have left the Dexeu in just two years. Yet the total number of those employed at the Whitehall department amounts to only 665, indicating a turnover rate of more than 50 per cent in that period.
Britain’s leading role in evaluating new medicines for sale to patients across the EU has collapsed with no more work coming from Europe because of Brexit, it has emerged. The decision by the European Medicines Agency to cut Britain out of its contracts seven months ahead of Brexit is a devastating blow to British pharmaceutical companies already reeling from the loss of the EMA’s HQ in London and with it 900 jobs. All drugs sold in Europe have to go through a lengthy EMA authorisation process before use by health services, and the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in Britain has built up a leading role in this work, with 20-30% of all assessments in the EU.
The MHRA won just two contracts this year and the EMA said that that work was now off limits. “We couldn’t even allocate the work now for new drugs because the expert has to be available throughout the evaluation period and sometimes that can take a year,” said a spokeswoman. In a devastating second blow, existing contracts with the MHRA are also being reallocated to bloc members. Martin McKee, the professor of European health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has given evidence to select committees about Brexit, said it was a disaster for the MHRA, which had about £14m a year from the EMA. The head of the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry said it was akin to watching a “British success story” being broken up.
Almost exactly six years ago, the Spanish government requested a €100 billion bailout from the Troika (ECB, European Commission and IMF) to rescue its bankrupt savings banks, which were then merged with much larger commercial banks. Over €40 billion of the credit line was used; much of it is still unpaid. Yet Spain’s banking system could soon face a brand new crisis, this time not involving small or mid-sized savings banks but instead its alpha lenders, which are heavily exposed to emerging economies, from Argentina to Turkey and beyond. In the case of Turkey’s financial system, Spanish banks had total exposure of $82.3 billion in the first quarter of 2018, according to the Bank for International Settlements.
That’s more than the combined exposure of lenders from the next three most exposed economies, France, the USA, and the UK, which reached $75 billion in the same period. According to BIS statistics, Spanish banks’ exposure to Turkey’s economy almost quadrupled between 2015 and 2018, largely on the back of Spain’s second largest bank BBVA’s madcap purchase of roughly half of Turkey’s third largest lender, Turkiye Garanti Bankasi. Since buying its first chunk of the bank from the Turkish group Dogus and General Electric in 2010, BBVA has lost over 75% of its investment under the combined influence of Garanti’s plummeting shares and Turkey’s plunging currency.
But the biggest fear, as expressed by the ECB on August 10, is that Turkish borrowers might not be hedged against the lira’s weakness and begin to default en masse on foreign currency loans, which account for a staggering 40% of the Turkish banking sector’s assets. If that happens, the banks most exposed to Turkish debt will be hit pretty hard. And no bank is as exposed as BBVA, though the lender insists its investments are well-hedged and its Turkish business is siloed from the rest of the company. In Argentina, whose currency continues to collapse and whose economy is now spiraling down despite an IMF bailout, Spanish banks’ total combined investments amounted to $28 billion in the first quarter of 2018. That represented almost exactly half of the $58.9 billion that foreign banks are on the hook for in the country. The next most at-risk banking sector, the US, has some $10 billion invested.
Real wage growth has been nonexistent in the United States for more than 30 years. But as America enters the 10th year of the recovery—and the longest bull market in modern history—there are nervous murmurs, even among capitalism’s most reliable defenders, that some of its most basic mechanisms might be broken. The gains of the recovery have accrued absurdly, extravagantly to a tiny sliver of the world’s superrich. A small portion of that has trickled down to the professional classes—the lawyers and money managers, art buyers and decorators, consultants and “starchitects”—who work for them. For the declining middle and the growing bottom: nothing.
This is not how the economists told us it was supposed to work. Productivity is at record highs; profits are good; the unemployment rate is nearing a meager 4 percent. There are widely reported labor shortages in key industries. Recent tax cuts infused even more cash into corporate coffers. Individually and collectively, these factors are supposed to exert upward pressure on wages. It should be a workers’ market. But wages remain flat, and companies have used their latest bounty for stock buybacks, a transparent form of market manipulation that was illegal until the Reagan-era SEC began to chip away at the edifice of New Deal market reforms.
The power of labor continues to wane; the Supreme Court’s Janus v. AFSCME decision, while ostensibly limited to public sector unions, signaled in certain terms the willingness of the court’s conservative majority—five guys who have never held a real job—to effectively overturn the entire National Labor Relations Act if given the opportunity. The justices, who imagine working at Wendy’s is like getting hired as an associate at Hogan & Hartson after a couple of federal clerkships, reason that every employee can simply negotiate for the best possible deal with every employer.
Emerging markets were rattled again, with the Argentine peso, Turkish lira and Indonesian rupiah tumbling overnight. The negative sentiment is set to weigh on other Asian currencies, although they will remain fairly resilient to the impact, analysts say. The peso crashed nearly 12 percent, following a domestic crisis which saw its central bank hike rates to 60 percent in an attempt to shore up its currency. Extending its steep losses this year, the lira fell 2.94 percent to a fourth straight day of declines. In Asia, India’s rupee fell to a new record low against the dollar on Friday — a more than 11 percent fall since the start of the year, and the Indonesian rupiah hit a near three-year low.
“Emerging markets will remain pressured by the Argentine peso and Turkish lira crises,” DBS analysts said in a note Friday morning. The peso is down more than 45% against the greenback this year. “Argentina has hiked rates to a record 60% to address double-digit inflation, but this would exacerbate the recession, and coupled with budget/current account deficits of around 5% of GDP, have increased the risk of for the government to default on its debt,” they added.
The U.S. and China may be at odds on trade, but both are lining up to crack down on big tech, according to an analyst. “I think this is actually wrapped up in the trade issue, which is around national security and tech companies,” Michael Hessel, political economy analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Thursday. “There’s a growing push both within China and the U.S. to regulate some of these companies increasingly like national security companies, which could have huge implications for their business model.” President Donald Trump on Tuesday made Google his latest target in a tirade against big tech, saying the firm’s search service is “rigged” against conservatives in favor of left-leaning media.
The president subsequently took another shot at the tech giant on Wednesday, claiming it snubbed twice his State of the Union speeches, while promoting Barack Obama’s during each year of the latter’s presidency. Google later responded to this claim, saying it did promote Trump’s State of the Union address this year, but not in 2017. [..] Absolute Strategy Research’s Hessel did not expand on how he expected either country to clamp down on their respective tech industries. He said that a lack of regulation in the U.S. on tech — while the media industry is more heavily regulated — meant it could be a long-term concern for lawmakers in Washington. “I think the regulation of the tech industry is going to be a huge issue on a three-to-five year view,” Hessel said.
President Trump’s lawyers are preparing a rebuttal to any negative report issued by special counsel Robert Mueller following the DOJ’s probe into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, reports the Daily Beast following an interview with Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Part of the rebuttal, says Giuliani, would focus on whether the “initiation of the investigation was…legitimate or not.” “According to Giuliani, the bulk of the report will be divided into two sections. One section will seek to question the legitimacy of the Mueller probe generally by alleging “possible conflicts” of interest by federal law enforcement authorities. The other section will respond to more substantive allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russian government agents to sway the 2016 election, and obstruction of justice allegations stemming from, among other things, the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.” -Daily Beast
The latter section of the rebuttal will focus on Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein’s mandate when he ordered the Mueller’s investigation – though Giuliani admits he has no idea what the final report will consist of. “Since we have to guess what it is, [our report so far] is quite voluminous,” Giuliani said, claiming that he would spend much of this weekend “paring it down” and that he was editing the document created by the “whole team.” “The first half of it is 58 pages, and second half isn’t done yet…It needs an executive summary if it goes over a hundred” -Daily Beast In other words, Mueller has fair warning that the Trump administration intends to fight this tooth and nail.
The Weekly Standard’s Eric Felton offered this last month: “Appellate and constitutional lawyers David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Elizabeth Price Foley recently made a compelling case that the political bias among the FBI agents working on “Crossfire Hurricane” renders illegitimate everything flowing from that investigation. If “Crossfire was politically motivated then its culmination, the appointment of a special counsel, inherited the taint,” Rivkin and Foley wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “All special-counsel activities—investigations, plea deals, subpoenas, reports, indictments and convictions—are fruit of a poisonous tree, byproducts of a violation of due process.” Rivkin and Foley add: “That Mr. Mueller and his staff had nothing to do with Crossfire’s origin offers no cure.” -Weekly Standard
on August 25, the ever-eager New York Times published yet another front-page Russiagate story—one that if true would be sensational, though hardly anyone seemed to notice. According to the Times’ regular Intel leakers, US intelligence agencies, presumably the CIA, has had multiple “informants close to…Putin and in the Kremlin who provided crucial details” about Russiagate for two years. Now, however, “the vital Kremlin informants have largely gone silent.” The Times laces the story with misdeeds questionably attributed to Putin and equally untrustworthy commentators, as well as a mistranslated Putin statement that incorrectly has him saying all “traitors” should be killed. Standard US media fare these days when fact-checkers seem not to be required for Russia coverage. But the sensation of the article is that the US had moles in Putin’s office.
The real novelty of Russiagate is the allegation that a Kremlin leader, Putin, personally gave orders to affect the outcome of an American presidential election. In this regard, Russiagaters have produced even less evidence, only suppositions without facts or much logic. With the Russiagate narrative being frayed by time and fruitless investigations, the “mole in the Kremlin” may have seemed a ploy needed to keep the conspiracy theory moving forward, presumably toward Trump’s removal from office by whatever means. And hence the temptation to play the mole card again, now, as yet more investigations generate smoke but no smoking gun.
The pretext of the Times story is that Putin is preparing an attack on the upcoming November elections, but the once-“vital,” now-silent moles are not providing the “crucial details.” Even if the story is entirely bogus, consider the damage it is doing. Russiagate allegations have already delegitimized a presidential election, and a presidency, in the minds of many Americans. The Times’ updated, expanded version may do the same to congressional elections and the next Congress. If so, there is an “attack on American democracy”—not by Putin or Trump but by whoever godfathered and repeatedly inflated Russiagate.
Suppose a federal criminal defendant contacts a prospective witness in a case and offers him $50,000 in return for his “cooperation” in his upcoming trial. The money will be paid as soon as the trial is over. The defendant makes it clear that he wants the witness to “tell the truth” but that his “cooperation” when he testifies at trial would be greatly appreciated. What would happen if federal officials learned about that communication and offer? They would go ballistic. They would immediately secure an indictment for bribery and witness tampering. What if the defendant says, “Oh, no, I wasn’t tampering with the witness. I specifically told him that I wanted him to tell the truth when he took the witness stand. I was just seeking his friendly ‘cooperation’ with my $50,000 offer to him.”?
It wouldn’t make a difference. Federal prosecutors would go after him with a vengeance on bribery and witness-tampering charges. And it is a virtual certainty that they would get a conviction. There is good reason for that. The law recognizes that the money could serve as an inducement for the witness to lie. Even though the defendant tells him to “tell the truth,” the witness knows that the fifty grand is being paid to him to help the defendant get acquitted, especially since it is payable after the trial is over. The temptation to lie, in return for the money, becomes strong, which is why the law prohibits criminal defendants from engaging in this type of practice.
Suppose a federal prosecutor says to a witness, “You are facing life in prison on the charges we have brought against you. But if you ‘cooperate’ with us to get John Doe, we will adjust the charges so that the most the judge can do is send you to jail for only 5 years at most. If you are really ‘cooperative,’ we will recommend that the judge give you the lowest possible sentence, perhaps even probation. Oh, one more thing, we want to make it clear that we do want you to tell the truth.” Do you see the problem? The temptation to please the prosecutor with “cooperation” becomes tremendous. If the witness can help secure a conviction of Doe, he stands to get a much lighter sentence for his successful “cooperation.” The inducement to commit perjury oftentimes takes over, notwithstanding the prosecutor’s admonition to the witness to “tell the truth.”
The European Union needs a strategic relationship with Turkey, including in defense matters, and should modernize its post-Cold War relations with Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday. Macron is a strong advocate for a Europe that is able to defend its strategic interests and financial independence and respond to new global economic and defense situation brought on by Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States. He has sought to improve relations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, although his efforts have been complicated by allegations of Russian meddling in elections from the United States to France and a nerve agent attack in Britain.
“It is in our interest for the EU to have a strategic relationship with Turkey as well as with Russia that brings stability, that will in the long term and bring more strength and coherency,” Macron said in a news conference in Helsinki alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinisto. He said the EU’s relations with Russia needed to be “brought up to date”, using the Italian word “aggiornamento”. “I think that on matters like cybersecurity, defense, strategic relationships, we could envisage the outlines of a new relationship between Russia and the EU which is coherent with the direction Europe is headed in,” Macron said.
Brussels is willing to scrap tariffs on all industrial products, including cars, in its trade talks with the United States, EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström said Thursday. “We said that we are ready from the EU side to go to zero tariffs on all industrial goods, of course if the U.S. does the same, so it would be on a reciprocal basis,” Malmström told the European Parliament’s trade committee. “We are willing to bring down even our car tariffs down to zero … if the U.S. does the same,” she said, adding that “it would be good for us economically, and for them.”
Malmström’s comment went beyond what was agreed in July in the joint statement between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump, which only mentioned eliminating tariffs, non-tariff barriers and subsidies for “non-auto industrial goods.” [..] The EU’s car tariff of 10 percent is higher than the general U.S. auto tariff of 2.5 percent, but America imposes a 25 percent duty on light trucks and pick-ups. Malmström insisted that the discussions were not about “restarting TTIP” but aiming for “a more limited trade agreement.” “Agriculture would not be in the agreement, nor public procurement as it looks to today,” she said.
African leaders will gather in Beijing Monday for a summit focused on economic ties, granting China a feel-good photo opportunity as it comes under increasing fire for its debt-laden approach to aid in the developing world. President Xi Jinping will host leaders from across the continent for the two-day Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which will include talks on his cherished “Belt and Road” infrastructure programme. The massive scheme, aimed at improving Chinese access to foreign markets and resources, and boosting its influence abroad, has already seen Beijing loan billions of dollars to countries in Asia and Africa for roads, railways, ports and other major building projects.
“The initiative will probably be expanded to include the whole of Africa,” said Cobus van Staden, senior researcher on Africa-China relations at the South African Institute of International Affairs. While some critics have branded the strategy a debt-trap, African leaders have long embraced Chinese investment, helping make Beijing the continent’s largest trading partner for the past decade. At the last three-yearly gathering in Johannesburg in 2015, Xi announced $60 billion of assistance and loans for Africa. This year, China will want to add more African countries to “its ever-expanding list of ‘friendly’ nations”, especially from the north and francophone west, said Adebusuyi Isaac Adeniran, an expert on the relationship at Nigeria’s Obafemi Awolowo University.
With Tesla’s shares briefly dipping below the $300 level on Thursday, the electric carmaker ceded its seat as the most shorted U.S. stock to Amazon.com, according to data from financial technology and analytics firm S3 Partners. Tesla short interest in dollars, calculated using the number of shares sold short and the share price, stood at $9.93 billion, on Thursday, just shy of $9.95 billion for Amazon, S3 Partners data showed. Analysts said investors were still shorting Tesla shares, or taking positions that amounted to bets the stock would keep declining. Short-sellers aim to profit by selling borrowed shares, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price.
“While there was some short covering the week after the tweet, there has still not been any significant net Tesla short covering on the Street,” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research at S3 in New York. “Any traders who have closed down their positions to realize some profits have been replaced by new ones looking for continued price weakness,” he said. Tesla shares whipsawed this month after Chief Executive Elon Musk on Aug. 7 tweeted he planned to take the company private, only to abandon the idea by Aug. 24.
The government’s aim to suspend pension cuts due to come into effect in January is likely to fuel friction in the coming weeks, Kathimerini understands, as the IMF is adamant that the reductions should be made even if they are not required for Greece to meet budget targets. The IMF’s stance is at odds with that of European officials who are more flexible on the issue, as European Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has suggested in a series of recent comments. Indeed, according to sources, the EC’s envoy to Greece, Declan Costello, is working on a compromise that would be acceptable to the government.
The IMF has not publicly declared its position on the Greek pensions issue yet but sources say the Fund has not shifted from its stance in favor of pension cuts despite the more favorable than expected fiscal forecasts, due to fears about the Greek pension system, which remains unsustainable partially due to the country’s aging population. The IMF’s unofficial position, it seems, is that fiscal savings worth 1 percent of GDP – the value of the planned pension cuts – are not required for Greece to achieve a primary surplus of 3.5 percent of GDP but it is preferable that they be carried out and offset by countermeasures than not carried out.
The first, and best known, “austerian” tribe is motivated by the tendency to view the state as no different from a business or a household that must tighten its belt during bad times. Overlooking the crucial interdependence between a government’s expenditure and (tax) income (from which businesses and households are blissfully free), they make the erroneous intellectual leap from private parsimony to public austerity. Of course, this is no arbitrary error; it is powerfully motivated by an ideological commitment to small government, which in turn veils a more sinister class interest in redistributing risks and losses to the poor.
A second, less recognized, austerian tribe can be found within European social democracy. To take one towering example, when the 2008 crisis erupted, Germany’s finance ministry was in the hands of Peer Steinbrück, a leading member of the Social Democratic Party. Almost immediately, Steinbrück prescribed a dose of austerity as Germany’s optimal response to the Great Recession. Moreover, Steinbrück championed a constitutional amendment that would ban all future German governments from deviating from austerity, no matter how deep the economic downturn. [..] Against a background of failing banks and a mighty recession, he opined that fiscal deficits deny elected politicians “room for maneuver” and rob the electorate of meaningful choices.
The third austerian tribe is American and perhaps the most fascinating of the three. Whereas British Thatcherites and German social democrats practiced austerity in an ill-conceived attempt to eliminate the government’s budget deficit, US Republicans neither genuinely care to limit the federal government’s budget deficit nor believe that they will succeed in doing so. After winning office on a platform proclaiming their loathing of large government and pledging to “cut it down to size,” they proceed to boost the federal budget deficit by enacting large tax cuts for their rich donors. Even though they seem entirely free of the other two tribes’ deficit phobia, their aim – to “starve the beast” (the US social welfare system) – is quintessentially austerian.
The secretive trade of coastal sand to wealthy countries such as China is seriously damaging the wildlife of poorer nations whose resources are being plundered, according to a new study. Sand and gravel are the most extracted groups of materials worldwide after water, with sand used in the concrete and asphalt of global cities. China consumed more sand between 2011 and 2013 than the US did during the entire 20th century. India has more than tripled its annual use of construction sand since 2000. But coastal sand is also being used to make wealthy countries larger via land reclamation projects, and the cost to poorer nations is revealed in a presentation to the Royal Geographical Society’s annual conference.
Research by Melissa Marschke and Laura Schoenberger of the University of Ottawa highlights that the dredging of coastal sand from Cambodia is causing the loss of mangrove swamps, coastal erosion, and damaging local fishing. They also allege that the sheer scale of the multimillion dollar trade of sand must be illegal, given that the volumes permitted for import are being exceeded. Singapore is built on sand: its land area has grown by more than a fifth since its independence in 1965 from 581 sq km to 719 sq km in 2015, according to the researchers. Between 2007 and 2017, Singapore imported more sand from Cambodia than any other country. Sand worth US$752m was imported by Singapore from Cambodia between 2007 and 2016, according to UN data.
Cambodia is not the only place experiencing vast sand extraction. A study recently estimated that 236m cubic metres of sand were extracted from Poyang Lake in China, causing its water levels to drop dramatically. Sand miners have destroyed at least two dozen islands in Indonesia since 2005. The UK obtains about one fifth of its sand from the seabed.
A ban on five neonicotinoid pesticides enters into force in France on Saturday, placing the country at the forefront of a campaign against chemicals blamed for decimating critical populations of crop-pollinating bees. The move has been hailed by beekeepers and environmental activists, but lamented by cereal and sugar beet farmers who claim there are no effective alternatives for protecting their valuable crops against insects. With its ban, France has gone further than the European Union, which voted to outlaw the use of three neonicotinoids — clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam — in crop fields. Heavily agriculture-reliant France banned these three neonicotinoids plus thiacloprid and acetamiprid, not only outdoors but in greenhouses too.
These are the only five neonicotinoid pesticides hitherto authorised for use in Europe. Introduced in the mid-1990s, lab-synthesised neonicotinoids are based on the chemical structure of nicotine, and attack the central nervous system of insects. They were meant to be a less harmful substitute to older pesticides, and are now the most widely-used to treat flowering crops, including fruit trees, beets, wheat, canola, and vineyards. In recent years, bees started dying off from “colony collapse disorder,” a mysterious scourge blamed partly on pesticides along with mites, viruses, and fungi, or some combination of these. Scientific studies have since shown that neonicotinoids harm bee reproduction and foraging by diminishing sperm quality and scrambling the insects’ memory and navigation functions.
A massive cleanup of plastic in the seas will begin in the Pacific Ocean, by way of Alameda, California. The Ocean Cleanup, an effort that’s been five years in the making, plans to launch its beta cleanup system, a 600-meter (almost 2,000-foot) long floater that can collect about five tons of ocean plastic per month. It’s a start. The launch date is September 8, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch being targeted is more than 1,000 nautical miles from the launch point and on the move. The Ocean Cleanup plans to monitor the performance of the beta, called System 001, and have an improved fleet of 60 more units skimming the ocean for plastics in about a year a half. The ultimate goal of the project, founded by Dutch inventor Boyan Slat when he was 18, is to clean up 50% of the patch in five years, with a 90% reduction by 2040.
The organization will take time to learn lessons from System 001, but “we are in a big hurry,” said Lonneke Holierhoek, chief operating officer at The Ocean Cleanup. “We really see the urgency in starting the cleanup because there’s so much harm that could happen with this plastic that’s floating out there.” The total cost of System 001 is about 21 million euros ($24.6 million U.S.), according to a rep for startup. That includes design, development, production, assembly and monitoring during the first year of operation. The company will welcome corporations and philanthropists to sponsor their own cleanup system in coming years, the rep says. These systems will sport a sponsor logo and related app that follows the unit’s course through the gyre and shows how much plastic has been collected.
Well, it happened. Yesterday the US stock market broke the all-time record for the longest bull market ever. This means that the US stock market has been generally rising for nearly a decade straight… or even more specifically, that the market has gone 3,453 days without a 20% correction. That’s a pretty big milestone. And there’s no end in sight. So it’s possible this market continues marching higher for the foreseeable future. But if you step back and really look at the big picture, there are a lot of things that might make a rational person scratch his/her head. For example– the Russell 2000 index (which is comprised of smaller companies whose shares are listed on various US stock exchanges) is currently right at its all-time high.
Yet simultaneously, according to the Wall Street Journal, a full SIXTY PERCENT of corporate debt issued by companies in the Russell 2000 is rated as JUNK. How is that even possible– a junk debt rating coupled with an all-time high? It’s as if investors are saying, “Well, there’s very little chance these companies will be able to pay their debts… but screw it, I’ll pay a record high price to buy the stock anyhow.” It just doesn’t make any sense. Looking at the larger companies in the Land of the Free (which make up the S&P 500 index), the current ‘CAPE ratio’ is now the second highest on record. ‘CAPE’ stands for ‘cyclically-adjusted price/earnings ratio’. Essentially it refers to how much investors are willing to pay for shares of a company, relative to the company’s long-term average earnings.
And right now investors are willing to pay 33x long-term average earnings for the typical company in the S&P 500. The median CAPE ratio based on data that goes back to the 1800s is about 15.6. So at 33, investors are literally paying more than TWICE as much for every dollar of a company’s long-term average earnings than they have throughout all of US market history. And it’s only been higher ONE other time– just before the 2000 stock market crash (when the dot-com bubble burst). 33 is higher than right before the 2008 crisis. It’s even higher than it was before the Great Depression.
There’s no denying China’s remarkable economic progress over the past thirty years. Hundreds of millions have escaped poverty and found useful employment in manufacturing or services in the major cities. Infrastructure gains have been historic, including some of the best trains in the world, state-of-the-art transportation hubs, cutting edge telecommunications systems, and a rapidly improving military. Yet, that’s only half the story. The other half is pure waste, fraud and theft. About 45% of Chinese GDP is in the category of “investment.” A developed economy GDP such as the U.S. is about 70% consumption and 20% investment. There’s nothing wrong with 45% investment in a fast-growing developing economy assuming the investment is highly productive and intelligently allocated.
That’s not the case in China. At least half of the investment there is pure waste. It takes the form of “ghost cities” that are fully-built with skyscrapers, apartments, hotels, clubs, and transportation networks – and are completely empty. This is not just western propaganda; I’ve seen the ghost cities first hand and walked around the empty offices and hotels. Chinese officials try to defend the ghost cities by claiming they are built for the future. That’s nonsense. Modern construction is impressive, but it’s also high maintenance. Those shiny new buildings require occupants, rents and continual maintenance to remain shiny and functional. The ghost cities will be obsolete long before they are ever occupied.
Other examples of investment waste include over-the-top white elephant public structures such as train stations with marble facades, 128 escalators (mostly empty), 100-foot ceilings, digital advertising and few passengers. The list can be extended to include airports, canals, highways, and ports, some of which are needed and many of which are pure waste. Communist party leaders endorse these wasteful projects because they have positive effects in terms of job creation, steel fabrication, glass installation, and construction. However, those effects are purely temporary until the project is completed. The costs are paid with borrowed money that can never be repaid. China might report 6.8% growth in GDP, but when the waste is stripped out the actual growth is closer to 4.5%. Meanwhile, China’s debts grow faster than the economy and its debt-to-GDP ratio is even worse than the U.S.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has told drug companies to ensure they have six weeks additional supplies of medicines on top of their normal stockpiles to avoid disruption caused by a possible no-deal Brexit. The remarks from Mr Hancock came as Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, released the first tranche of technical notes outlining the government’s preparations and warnings to businesses if Britain crashes out of the bloc without a deal. Among the 24 detailed papers it was also revealed that credit card users could be hit with a new “Brexit tax” amounting to £166m, UK citizens living in Europe face the prospect of losing access to pension income and new red tape could delay foreign sperm donations arriving in Britain.
In one of the most stark warnings, Mr Hancock told NHS staff and service providers that the move to increase pharmaceutical companies’ stockpiles was necessary “in case imports from the EU through certain routes” are affected if Theresa May fails to strike a deal with negotiators in Brussels. The request, according to the chief executive of the UK Bioindustry Association, Steve Bates, would be a “massive challenge” for the industry to deliver in less than 200 days. But Mr Hancock also warned that hospitals, GPs and community pharmacies should not hoard or stockpile additional drugs “beyond their business” as usual levels.
As the nation plans new defenses against the more powerful storms and higher tides expected from climate change, one project stands out: an ambitious proposal to build a nearly 60-mile “spine” of concrete seawalls, earthen barriers, floating gates and steel levees on the Texas Gulf Coast. Like other oceanfront projects, this one would protect homes, delicate ecosystems and vital infrastructure, but it also has another priority — to shield some of the crown jewels of the petroleum industry, which is blamed for contributing to global warming and now wants the federal government to build safeguards against the consequences of it.
The plan is focused on a stretch of coastline that runs from the Louisiana border to industrial enclaves south of Houston that are home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of petrochemical facilities, including most of Texas’ 30 refineries, which represent 30 percent of the nation’s refining capacity. Texas is seeking at least $12 billion for the full coastal spine, with nearly all of it coming from public funds. Last month, the government fast-tracked an initial $3.9 billion for three separate, smaller storm barrier projects that would specifically protect oil facilities.
That followed Hurricane Harvey, which roared ashore last Aug. 25 and swamped Houston and parts of the coast, temporarily knocking out a quarter of the area’s oil refining capacity and causing average gasoline prices to jump 28 cents a gallon nationwide. Many Republicans argue that the Texas oil projects belong at the top of Washington’s spending list. “Our overall economy, not only in Texas but in the entire country, is so much at risk from a high storm surge,” said Matt Sebesta, a Republican who as Brazoria County judge oversees a swath of Gulf Coast. But the idea of taxpayers around the country paying to protect refineries worth billions, and in a state where top politicians still dispute climate change’s validity, doesn’t sit well with some.
Australia will have a new prime minister in Scott Morrison – the socially conservative architect of Australia’s hardline anti-asylum seeker policies – after he mounted a late challenge during a drawn-out struggle for power in the governing Liberal party. On Friday, incumbent Malcolm Turnbull failed in his attempt to stare down a challenge from hard right MP Peter Dutton, with insurgents in his party gathering enough signatures to call for a “spill” of the leadership. It led to a three-way challenge that included Morrison, Turnbull’s treasurer, and Julie Bishop, the foreign minister. Turnbull himself stood aside from the contest.
In a party room ballot, Bishop was eliminated in the first round, and Morrison won against former home affairs minister Dutton in a subsequent run-off, 45 votes to 40, suggesting the party is still deeply divided. There appears no end in sight to the civil war consuming the ruling Liberal-led coalition government. The country may be headed to an election, with Turnbull saying he will not stay in parliament. His resignation in between general elections would erase the government’s single-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Australia has now had five prime ministers in just over five years. Since 2010 four prime ministers have lost office not at the ballot box, but torn down by their own parties, earning Canberra the unhappy appellation “the coup capital of the Pacific”.
For the Saudis, the implications of the Paris agreement were obvious: the drive to decarbonise the world economy would mean that a considerable part of their oil reserves would have to stay in the ground. This made a warning at the turn of the millennium by the former Saudi energy minister Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani, seem suddenly urgent. “Thirty years from now, there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers”, Yamani said. “Oil will be left in the ground. The stone age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones, and the oil age will come to an end not because we have a lack of oil.”
It was not long before Saudi’s rulers responded to this twin challenge. In the short term, they sought to persuade fellow oil producing nations to agree production curbs that would limit supply, drive up crude prices and so ease the pressures on the public finances. At the current oil price of around $70 a barrel, the Saudis can make their budget arithmetic stack up. In the longer term, there was a plan to diversify the economy away from oil. Saudi Vision 2030 was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April 2016, shortly after the oil price reached its trough. The idea was to make Saudi Arabia a global investment giant, to turn the country into a hub linking the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa and to be the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds.
The proposed sale of part of the state-owned oil company – Saudi Aramco – was a key part of this attempt to transform and modernise the economy. Proceeds were earmarked for the country’s sovereign wealth fund so it could continue investing in companies such as the electric car company Tesla and the ride-hailing app Uber.
Libya has refused to take in a group of 177 migrants stranded on an Italian coastguard boat off a Sicilian port after Rome insisted they would not be allowed to disembark. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Salvini threatened earlier this week to return the migrants to the North African country unless other European governments offered to take some of them in. But Mohamed Siala, foreign minister of the UN-backed Libyan unity government, said that “Libya does not accept this unjust and illegal measure because it already has more than 700,000 migrants” on its territory.
In a statement late Wednesday, he called on the international community “to put pressure on the countries of departure to repatriate their nationals”, adding that Libya had only served as a transit point. The Italian boat “Diciotti” arrived on Monday night off the Sicilian port of Catania. Plunged into chaos following the fall and killing of longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi in a 2011 NATO-backed uprising, Libya has become a prime transit point for sub-Saharan African migrants making dangerous clandestine bids to reach Europe. The country takes in migrants whose boats are intercepted in its waters by the Libyan coastguard, but it has repeatedly rejected those rescued by foreign navies or by humanitarian organisations off its coast.
On Thursday, out of the blue, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio threatened to stop financial contributions to the European Union next year unless other states agreed to take in migrants being held on a coastguard ship in Sicily. The Italian’s ultimatum comes less two months after Europe triumphantly announced a “vaguely worded” deal on how to resolve the continent’s migrant influx. “If tomorrow at the meeting of the European Commission nothing is decided on the redistribution of migrants and the Diciotti ship, I and the entire Five Star Movement are not willing to give 20 billion to the European Union,” Di Maio said in a video posted on his Facebook page.
He echoed statements by Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who has refused to allow 177 migrants to leave the Italian coastguard ship Ubaldo Diciotti, which is docked in the Sicilian port of Catania. While Italian prosecutors opened an investigation into the detention of the migrants and 29 children were allowed to disembark, Salvini still won’t allow the rest of the people to come ashore and has attacked the EU for its “cowardly silence.” Salvini described those aboard as “illegal immigrants,” and said they won’t be allowed to step foot on Italian soil. Instead, he insisted fellow European Union nations take in some of the asylum-seekers. “Italy’s no longer Europe’s refugee camp,” he tweeted. “Upon my authorization, no one is disembarking from the Diciotti.”
Salvini, who is also interior minister, was defiant in the face of a criminal probe into possible kidnapping charges for forcing the migrants to remain on the vessel. The chief prosecutor from the Agrigento court, Luigi Patronaggio, on Wednesday boarded the Diciotti and said afterwards he had opened a probe against “unknown” persons for holding the migrants against their will. “There’s a court that is investigating whether those illegally on board the ship have been kidnapped,” Salvini said in a radio interview. “I’m not unknown. My name is Matteo Salvini… I’m the Interior Minister and I think it is my duty to defend the security of this country’s borders.”
Gold at $1,220, adjusted for real inflation, is almost as cheap as it was in 1999 at the $250 low. More importantly, inflation adjusted gold is now very near the 300 year low of 1999. So right now gold is again unloved and undervalued and therefore a bargain. On an inflation adjusted basis, the 1980 high of $850 would today be $16,650. Long before we get hyperinflationary gold prices, that $16,600 level should be easily reached. Owning physical gold for wealth protection purposes is the best preserved secret in the West. In this part of the world, virtually nobody holds gold. At the same time, the wise people in the East continue to buy all the gold that is produced annually. China, India, Iran, Turkey, Russia and many more Eastern nations understand history and economics. That is why they are accumulating major gold reserves at these levels.
American agro-chemicals company Monsanto is facing a surge in lawsuits that may cost its new owners, Bayer, billions in damages. Monsanto manufactures glyphosate-based weedkillers which some believe are carcinogenic. Last month it lost a $289m (£225m) court case that alleged its products Roundup and RangerPro had led to a Californian man’s terminal cancer. Bayer said the number of outstanding cases had risen from 5,200 to 8,000. The German firm’s shares have lost 11% of their value since it lost the case in a California court to groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson, who claimed Monsanto herbicides containing glyphosate, had caused his non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
Bayer shares fell another 1.7% on Thursday. Chief executive Werner Baumann said that when it bought Monsanto, Bayer “could not foresee the scope of the current lawsuits.” The $63bn deal was completed earlier this month. “In the course of the acquisition, we carried out due diligence as is standard practice when taking over a listed company. In doing so, we of course also considered the legal risks,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Handelsblatt newspaper. In a conference call on Thursday, Mr Baumann added: “Our view is that the number is not indicative of the merits of the plaintiffs’ cases”.
On Aug. 10, lawyer Brent Wisner, 34, scored a landmark verdict on behalf of his client, cancer patient Dewayne Johnson. A court in San Francisco ruled that Monsanto was guilty of concealing the potential health risks associated with its weed killer glyphosate, which is sold in the United States under the brand name Round Up. The jury ordered the company to pay $289 million in damages to the plaintiff, who had used Round Up at his job as a janitor for a school district. The court said Monsanto should have labeled the product’s possible dangers for consumers. Monsanto, which was recently acquired by German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has denied any link between the product and the disease. Wisner spoke to DER SPIEGEL about the case in an interview.
[..] DER SPIEGEL: How much does Monsanto have to do with the fact that a verdict was reached only now? Wisner: A lot! Monsanto has an internal program called “Let Nothing Go.” The aim of this program is to attack scientists who are critical of Monsanto products. They go after people directly and discredit them. They also pay others to do so. DER SPIEGEL: Are there other such PR strategies? Wisner: Another program is called “Freedom to Operate.” Its purpose is to eliminate everything that might disrupt sales of their products – laws, scientific articles, they go after everything. As part of that effort, they also engage lobbyists – scientists who Monsanto pays for their opportunism. Such programs reflect a corporate culture that shows no interest whatsoever in public health, only in profits.
DER SPIEGEL: Monsanto continues to dispute that it tried to influence scientific research. What was the critical factor for jurors in reaching the verdict? Wisner: I believe it was the scientific findings themselves. The 12 jurors were not lightweights after all. There was a molecular biologist, an environmental engineer, a lawyer. Some colleagues told me: “Be careful Brent, so much intelligence can be an impediment.” But I was certain that the arguments in the critical studies, parts of which were suppressed, were the strongest evidence we had.
As soon as 91-year-old Lee Gi-sun got up on the morning of Aug. 22, he pulled out one of the bottles of soju, a potent distilled liquor, that he’d stashed in the bottom of his suitcase. He’d brought this precious liquor to accompany a ceremony for which he’d waited his entire life – a daytime drink with his son! At 10 am on Aug. 22, the final day of the three-day reunion for families divided by the Korean War, family members met in the banquet hall on the second floor of the Mt. Kumgang Hotel to say their goodbyes. A few hours hence, they would return to their respective homes in South and North Korea, with no guarantee of seeing each other again. The father filled a cup with the soju he’d brought.
After taking a sip himself, he silently passed the cup to his son. Gi-sun’s North Korean son, Gang-son (69 years old himself), was also silent as he took the cup and brought it to his lips. This was the first drink shared by the white-haired father and son, and it very well might be their last. It was a heartrending moment when the father’s lifelong dream came true. “We were separated when he was two years old. Two years old,” the father said, letting the last phrase linger in the air. In Jan. 1951, he and his older brother had left their families behind in their home of Yonbaek County, Hwanghae Province, fleeing south with UN troops beaten back by the Chinese onslaught. Gi-sun had assumed he would soon be able to return.
Here’s what interesting about this: the two soldiers, who had been in detention for almost half a year for accidentally stepping across the border, were released by a provincial court, and get back home on a Greek national holiday (August 15). On that same day, another court decides that an appeal for pastor Brunson is denied. Ergo, Erdogan can claim the latter’s fate is out of his hands: it’s the court system that decides. That victory over Trump is worth more to him than the defeat of not exchanging the soldiers for the 8 Turkish servicemen who have aylum in Greece.
Two Greek soldiers freed after months in a Turkish prison returned to Greece by government jet early Wednesday after their unexpected release by a provincial court. Defense Minister Panos Kammenos said he phoned his Turkish counterpart to express his satisfaction with the soldiers’ release and invite him to visit Greece. “This is a great day for our motherland, the day of Our Lady, the day of Tinos in 1940,” Kammenos told reporters, referring to the Feast of the Dormation, which falls on August 15 and to the Italian torpedoing on a Greek warship on this day in 1940. “I hope that their release … will herald a new day in Greek-Turkish relations. We can live together peacefully, for the benefit of both our peoples.”
The soldiers – 2nd Lieutenant Angelos Mitretodis and Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis – were met by Kammenos, the army chief of staff and an honor guard after their arrival at 3 a.m. at the airport in the northern city of Thessaloniki. “All I want to say is thank you,” Mitretodis told reporters. The men were arrested on March 1 for illegally entering Turkey after crossing the heavily militarized land border. Greece strongly protested their long detention in the western town of Edirne, arguing that they had strayed across during a patrol of a trail of suspected illegal immigration amid poor visibility due to bad weather.
[..] The men’s arrest had considerably strained Greek-Turkish relations. Kammenos had claimed that they were being held “hostage” by Turkey, which is trying to secure the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece after the 2016 failed military coup in Turkey. Ankara accuses its servicemen of involvement in the coup, but Greek courts have refused to extradite them, arguing they would not get a fair trial in Turkey and their lives would be in danger there.
Turkey’s currency crisis was easy to predict. What is more surprising is how weak the global response has been. The old world financial order is badly missed. A big mess was almost certain to arrive in a country that continually relied on short-term loans to finance a large current account deficit. That was not the only invitation to disaster. Heavy domestic borrowing denominated in foreign currencies and high inflation added to the strains. So did a government that spurned the counsel of the foreign financiers who help keep the economy afloat. President Tayyip Erdogan was lucky to avoid serious trouble so far. Now, though, he faces a disaster. The Turkish lira has fallen 42% against the dollar since the beginning of May. It will take a miracle or an international rescue to avoid a domestic banking crisis.
Much has changed since 2009 when the government, then led by Prime Minister Erdogan, announced that it no longer needed advice from the IMF. The country would “move forward without a walking stick”. Turkey had leaned heavily on the IMF crutch over preceding decades. The country had a standby arrangement with the global lender for more than half the period between 1970 and 2009. The IMF promised support if the government kept working on economic reforms. This time, however, the IMF is still waiting for a phone call from Ankara. The Washington-based institution has the expertise and probably the money needed to stabilise the lira, but Erdogan has cast it in the role of enemy of the Turkish people.
The antipathy fits with the president’s nationalist and authoritarian agenda, but it is also part of a distressing pattern. The traditional authority figures in global financial matters are crippled. The IMF’s reputation has been damaged by what was widely perceived as its blind allegiance to the doctrines of free trade, free capital movements and free markets. Though the multilateral institution’s approach has softened under Christine Lagarde, managing director since 2011, Turkey’s intransigence suggests the IMF lacks its former moral authority.
Turkey is hiking tariffs on imports of certain US products in response to American sanctions on Ankara that caused the value of the lira to plunge, a decree published Wednesday said. Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay said that the rises were ordered “within the framework of reciprocity in retaliation for the conscious attacks on our economy by the US administration”. The hikes were published in Turkey’s Official Gazette in a decree signed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The move comes after US President Donald Trump announced that the United States was doubling steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey, as the two NATO allies row over the detention by Turkish authorities of American pastor Andrew Brunson.
The tensions and the tariff hike by the United States have caused the Turkish lira to bleed value, fanning fears the country is on the verge of an economic crisis that could spillover into Europe. Erdogan has repeatedly described the crisis as an “economic war” that Turkey will win. The tariff increases amount to a doubling of the existing rate, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, in an apparent parallel response to Trump’s move. The decree said the move brought tariffs to 50% on imports of US rice to 140% on hard alcoholic drinks like spirits, 60% in leaf tobacco and 60% on cosmetics. The tariffs on auto imports are now up to 120% depending on the type of vehicle.
Americans’ borrowing reached $13.29 trillion in the second quarter, up $454 billion from a year ago, marking a 16th consecutive quarter of increases, a New York Federal Reserve report released on Tuesday showed. The level of U.S. consumer debt was $618 billion higher than the previous peak of $12.68 trillion in the third quarter of 2008. It was 19.2% above a post global credit crisis low set in the second quarter of 2013, the New York Fed said. The ongoing growth in home, auto, student and credit loans has been linked with a solid labor market. The rise in indebtedness did not make it more difficult for borrowers to meet their monthly payments last quarter.
The rate on seriously delinquent loans, or those that are 90 days or more past due, was 2.3% in the second quarter, unchanged from the prior quarter. Notably, the pace of student loans turning seriously delinquent slowed to 8.6% from 8.9%, the N.Y. Fed survey showed. “While overall delinquency rates have remained stable at relatively low levels, transition rates into delinquency have fallen noticeably for student loan over the past year, reflecting an improved labor market and increased participation in various income-driven repayment plans,” Wilbert van der Klaauw, senior vice president at the New York Fed, said in a statement.
There’s a new scandal quietly unfolding in Washington. It’s far bigger than Housing Secretary Ben Carson buying a $31,000 dinette set for his office, or former EPA chief Scott Pruitt deploying an aide to hunt for a deal on a used mattress. It involves the world’s richest man, President Trump’s favorite general, and a $10 billion defense contract. And it may be a sign of how tech giants and Silicon Valley tycoons will dominate Washington for generations to come. The controversy involves a plan to move all of the Defense Department’s data—classified and unclassified—on to the cloud. The information is currently strewn across some 400 centers, and the Pentagon’s top brass believes that consolidating it into one cloud-based system, the way the CIA did in 2013, will make it more secure and accessible.
That’s why, on July 26, the Defense Department issued a request for proposals called JEDI, short for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Whoever winds up landing the winner-take-all contract will be awarded $10 billion—instantly becoming one of America’s biggest federal contractors. But when JEDI was issued, on the day Congress recessed for the summer, the deal appeared to be rigged in favor of a single provider: Amazon. According to insiders familiar with the 1,375-page request for proposal, the language contains a host of technical stipulations that only Amazon can meet, making it hard for other leading cloud-services providers to win—or even apply for—the contract. One provision, for instance, stipulates that bidders must already generate more than $2 billion a year in commercial cloud revenues—a “bigger is better” requirement that rules out all but a few of Amazon’s rivals.
What’s more, the process of crafting JEDI bears all the hallmarks of the swamp that Trump has vowed to drain. Though there has long been talk about the Defense Department joining the cloud, the current call for bids was put together only after Defense Secretary James Mattis hired a D.C. lobbyist who had previously consulted for Amazon. The lobbyist, Sally Donnelly, served as a top advisor to Mattis while the details of JEDI were being hammered out. During her tenure, Mattis flew to Seattle to tour Amazon’s headquarters and meet with Jeff Bezos. Then, as the cloud-computing contract was being finalized, Donnelly’s former lobbying firm, SBD Advisors, was bought by an investment fund with ties to Amazon’s cloud-computing unit.
At a bill signing ceremony in New York on Monday, President Donald Trump took credit for a $716 billion defense policy bill that he said would strengthen America’s military. “I am very proud to be a big, big part of it,” he said. “It was not very hard.” In a written statement hours later, Trump raised objections to 52 provisions of the law – including four of the eight provisions dealing specifically with Russia. The signing statement suggests he may not enforce provisions that he said raise constitutional concerns. As passed by Congress, the defense bill attempts to tie the president’s hands on Russia in a number of ways. It forbids him from using federal funds to recognize Russian control over Crimea and bans military cooperation with Russia until Russia pulls out of Ukraine.
It requires him to report back to Congress on steps he has taken to address Russian violations of the Open Skies Treaty, which allows reconnaissance flights over Russian territory, and the New START Treaty on nuclear weapons. Trump said those provisions undermine the president’s role “as the sole representative of the nation in foreign affairs.” Trump objected to a section requiring him to send to Congress a strategy to combat “malign foreign influence operations and campaigns.” That strategy, he said, is covered by executive privilege. Though presidential objections in signing statements are not uncommon, Trump’s pushback on Russia-related provisions is notable given his attempts to forge closer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin [..]
Tonga Prime Minister Akalisi Pohiva has called for China to write-off debts owed by Pacific island countries, warning that repayments impose a huge burden on the impoverished nations. Chinese aid in the Pacific has ballooned in recent years with much of the funds coming in the form of loans from Beijing’s state-run Exim Bank. Tonga has run-up enormous debts to China, estimated at more than US$100 million by Australia’s Lowy Institute think tank, and Pohiva said his country would struggle to repay them. He said the situation was common in the Oceania region and needed to be addressed at next month’s Pacific Island Forum summit in Nauru. “We need to discuss the issue,” he told the Samoa Observer in an interview published on Tuesday.
“All the Pacific Island countries should sign this submission asking the Chinese government to forgive their debts. “To me, that is the only way we can all move forward, if we just can’t pay off our debts.” Tonga took out the Chinese loans to rebuild in the wake of deadly 2006 riots that razed the centre of the capital Nuku’alofa. Beijing has previously refused to write-off the loans by turning them into aid grants but did give Tonga an amnesty on repayments. Pohiva said China now wanted the debts repaid. “By September 2018, we anticipate to pay $14 million, which cuts away a huge part of our budget,” he said. Tonga’s ability to pay has been further dented this year by another massive rebuilding effort in Nuku’alofa, this time after a category five cyclone slammed into the capital in February.
“If we fail to pay, the Chinese may come and take our assets, which are our buildings.” “That is why the only option is to sign a submission asking the Chinese government to forgive our debts.” His comments come as Australia and New Zealand ramp up aid efforts in the Pacific to counter China’s growing presence in the region. Australia has raised fears in recent months Pacific nations’ debts to China leaves them susceptible to Beijing’s influence.
[..] embedded within the paper is a finding that’s just as stunning: that none of this is inevitable, and one of the main barriers between us and a stable planet — one that isn’t actively hostile to human civilization over the long term — is our economic system. Asked what could be done to prevent a hothouse earth scenario, co-author Will Steffen told The Intercept that the “obvious thing we have to do is to get greenhouse gas emissions down as fast as we can. That means that has to be the primary target of policy and economics. You have got to get away from the so-called neoliberal economics.” Instead, he suggests something “more like wartime footing” to roll out renewable energy and dramatically reimagine sectors like transportation and agriculture “at very fast rates.”
That “wartime footing” Steffen describes is a novel concept in 2018, but hasn’t been throughout American history when the nation has faced other existential threats. In the lead-up to World War II, the government played a heavy hand in industry, essentially shifting the U.S. to a centrally planned economy, rather than leaving things like prices and procurement of key resources up to market forces. By the end of World War II, about a quarter of all manufacturing in the United States had been nationalized. And while governments around the world continue to intervene heavily in the private sector — including in the U.S. — those interventions tend now to be on behalf of corporations, be it through subsidies to fossil fuel companies or zoning laws that favor luxury real estate developers.
The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed.
As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue. The shift has not happened by accident. As Jacques Peretti argued in his film The Men Who Made Us Fat, food companies have invested heavily in designing products that use sugar to bypass our natural appetite control mechanisms, and in packaging and promoting these products to break down what remains of our defences, including through the use of subliminal scents. They employ an army of food scientists and psychologists to trick us into eating more than we need, while their advertisers use the latest findings in neuroscience to overcome our resistance.
They hire biddable scientists and thinktanks to confuse us about the causes of obesity. Above all, just as the tobacco companies did with smoking, they promote the idea that weight is a question of “personal responsibility”. After spending billions on overriding our willpower, they blame us for failing to exercise it.
The real problem is that single-use plastic—the very idea of producing plastic items like grocery bags, which we use for an average of 12 minutes but can persist in the environment for half a millennium—is an incredibly reckless abuse of technology. Encouraging individuals to recycle more will never solve the problem of a massive production of single-use plastic that should have been avoided in the first place. Beginning in the 1950s, big beverage companies like Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, along with Phillip Morris and others, formed a non-profit called Keep America Beautiful. Its mission is/was to educate and encourage environmental stewardship in the public. Joining forces with the Ad Council (the public service announcement geniuses behind Smokey the Bear and McGruff the Crime Dog), one of their first and most lasting impacts was bringing “litterbug” into the American lexicon through their marketing campaigns against thoughtless individuals.
Two decades later, their “Crying Indian” PSA, would become hugely influential for the U.S. environmental movement. In the ad, a Native American man canoes up to a highway, where a motorist tosses a bag of trash. The camera pans up to show a tear rolling down the man’s cheek. By tapping into a shared national guilt for the history of mistreatment of Native Americans and the sins of a throwaway society, the PSA became a powerful symbol to motivate behavioral change. More recently, the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful teams produced the “I Want to Be Recycled” campaign, which urges consumers to imagine the reincarnation of shampoo bottles and boxes, following the collection and processing of materials to the remolding of the next generation of products.
At face value, these efforts seem benevolent, but they obscure the real problem, which is the role that corporate polluters play in the plastic problem. This clever misdirection has led journalist and author Heather Rogers to describe Keep America Beautiful as the first corporate greenwashing front, as it has helped shift the public focus to consumer recycling behavior and actively thwarted legislation that would increase extended producer responsibility for waste management.
Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weedkiller will be used in Europe for years to come, legal experts and campaigners say, despite a U.S. court ruling the company should pay $289 million in damages for causing cancer. The EU last year renewed use of the controversial weedkiller for another five years after a yearslong political debate over its safety and impact on the environment. That means Europe will have to wait until the end of 2022 at the earliest before making any attempt to ban the substance outright. Campaigners also say the mounting legal pressure Monsanto faces in the U.S. from thousands of other plaintiffs filing suits against the company is unlikely to be replicated in Europe, namely because Europe doesn’t have the same legal mechanism of a class action lawsuit as the U.S.
“I’m not very confident that the decision in the U.S. will expedite a ban in Europe as it’s a complicated legal process that takes time,” said Arnaud Apoteker, managing director of the NGO Justice Pesticides. “Countries could go back to the Commission to say that the proposal [to renew glyphosate] could be re-tabled, but this is a very lengthy process.” Apoteker has compiled all lawsuits involving pesticides into a single database and has so far only discovered two made against Monsanto in the EU. One dates back to 2007 and was filed by a farmer named Paul François, who alleged Monsanto’s Lasso herbicide caused his chronic illness and that the product was inadequately labeled. The other was filed at a court in Lyon last year by Sabine Grataloup, who accuses Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller of causing severe malformations in her 11-year-old son Théo.
A woman has activated the ancient Norman rite of Clameur de Haro to protest against the narrowing of a road which she claims would endanger pedestrians and motorists. Rosie Henderson, from Guernsey, raised the clameur by kneeling and calling for help and reciting the Lord’s Prayer in Norman French. Fully enforceable in Guernsey and Jersey law, it means the construction work in St Peter Port must stop until a court decides the case. Henderson, a parish councillor, raised the clameur on Tuesday by the roads of Les Échelons and South Esplanade, near the construction site. The clameur states: “Haro! Haro! Haro! A l’aide, mon prince, on me fait tort”, translated as “Come to my aid, my prince, for someone does me wrong”.
Whoever calls the clameur has 24 hours to register it in court, but whoever it is called against must stop all work immediately. Legend says the raising of a clameur stretches back to the early Norman period in the Channel Islands and is thought to have been a plea to Rollo, the first Duke of Normandy. The feudal law dates back to the 10th century as a form of self-policing when there was no law enforcement. In 2016, plans to overhaul St Peter Port’s sunken gardens, by levelling the site with the street and moving the war memorial, were withdrawn after protesters pledged to use the Clameur de Haro to block the proposals.
President Trump has been known to be hawkish on Iran. Politico observed Wednesday: “Trump has drawn praise from the right-wing establishment for hammering the mullahs in Tehran, junking the Iran nuclear deal and responding to the regime’s saber rattling with aggressive rhetoric of his own….” There are also powerful factions in Congress and Washington with inroads to the president that have been itching for regime change for years. “The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” says Senator Tom Cotton, once rumored to be Trump’s pick to head the CIA. So what, or who, is stopping the hawks?
Politico revealed Wednesday some interesting aspects of the relationship between Senator Rand Paul and the president, particularly on foreign policy: “While Trump tolerates his hawkish advisers, the [Trump] aide added, he shares a real bond with Paul: ‘He actually at gut level has the same instincts as Rand Paul…’.” On Iran, Politico notes, “Trump has stopped short of calling for regime change even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and Bolton support it, aligning with Paul instead, according to a GOP foreign policy expert in frequent contact with the White House.”
But this part of the story was the most revelatory: “’Rand Paul has persuaded the president that we are not for regime change in Iran,’ this person said, because adopting that position would instigate another war in the Middle East.” This is significant, not because Trump couldn’t have arrived at the same position without Paul’s counsel, but because it’s easy to imagine him embracing regime change, what with virtually every major foreign policy advisor in his cabinet supporting something close to war with Iran. “Personnel is policy” is more than a cliché.
The whole scheme kicked off when Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted during trading hours that he was “considering” taking Tesla private, “Funding secured,” which caused the already ludicrously overvalued shares to spike. Later he added, “Investor support is confirmed.” But no details, no names, no tidbits, not even a tease. Two days earlier, he’d tweeted that “even Hitler was shorting Tesla stock.” We can brush off the Hitler tweet as just one more Musk idiocy gone awry, but “Funding secured” and “Investor support is confirmed” are big-ass phrases for a public-company CEO discussing a buyout that would be valued at $72 billion. Now some folks, including those at the SEC’s San Francisco office, are wanting to know where exactly this money is going to come from – and if funding was even remotely “secured.”
The Tesla true believers instantly figured that a deal had already been worked out, either with SoftBank or with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), or with both, or whatever. Turns out, it’s not going to be SoftBank, and it’s not going to be the Saudis, either. They’re not interested in creating the magic to pull this off. Reuters reported today that a source “familiar with PIF’s strategy,” said that the fund was not, as Reuters put it, “currently getting involved in any funding process for Tesla’s take-private deal.” PIF had made headlines recently when it came out that it had acquired a stake in Tesla of just below 5% by buying its shares (TSLA) in the market. None of this money went to Tesla. It went to Tesla shareholders that wanted to get out.
The Chinese government went all out during the first half of 2018 to cool an overheated real estate market. Major cities in China have issued regulations for their local real estate markets more than 260 times through July of this year, according to data from Centaline Property Agency, one of the largest property agencies in Hong Kong. That’s an all-time high and marks an 80 percent increase in frequency compared to the same period in 2017. In July alone, more than 60 cities announced more than 70 revised sets of real estate regulatory policies. Chinese cities have sought to keep housing prices from skyrocketing by limiting the number of properties one can purchase and sell, raising the minimum down-payment ratio for homebuyers, and boosting the time period between a purchase and when a unit can be then listed on the market for resale.
The Chinese Communist Party has made it a political priority to “resolutely contain the rise of housing prices,” as discussed during a meeting of the Party’s powerful 25-member Politburo on July 31, according to state-run media Xinhua. While prices in the real estate markets of some first- and second-tier cities appear to have leveled off, prices in most third- and fourth-tier cities continue to soar. In June, among China’s designated 70 large and medium-sized cities, 63 experienced a price increase for newly built commodity housing units, or privately developed housing on leased land, compared with last year, according to official data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics. Prices for new commodity housing and “second-hand housing”—units previously owned that are now on the market for sale—in 31 second-tier cities also increased, by 6.3 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively, in June.
Peter Wang was asleep at his home in Beijing last Monday when police officers arrived before dawn to detain him, saying he had helped organize a protest planned for later that day. Across the city, others who had lost money investing in China’s online peer-to-peer (P2P) lending platforms – including some who had traveled from as far away as Shandong and Shanxi provinces – got similar visits from police. By the time they were released, the demonstration they had planned using social media chat groups had fizzled amid a massive security response around the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC) headquarters in the heart of Beijing’s financial district.
[..] The size of China’s P2P industry is far bigger than in the rest of the world combined, with outstanding loans of 1.49 trillion yuan ($217.96 billion), according to data tracker p2p001.com, run by the Shenzhen Qiancheng Internet Finance Research Institute. P2P, in which platforms gather funds from retail investors and loan the money to small corporate and individual borrowers, promising high returns, started flourishing nearly unregulated in China in 2011. At its peak in 2015, there were about 3,500 such businesses. But after Beijing began a campaign to defuse debt bubbles and reduce risks in the economy, including the country’s enormous non-bank lending sector, cracks began to appear as investors pulled their funds.
Since June, 243 online lending platforms have gone bust, according to wdzj.com, another P2P industry data provider. In that period, the industry saw its first monthly net fund outflows since at least 2014, the data provider said. The latest burst of anger, which led to the planned protests, flared up ahead of a June 30 deadline for companies to comply with new business practice standards, which are still being finalised but could include bank custodianship of investor funds and tougher disclosure requirements. Many of them shut down rather than do so, Zane Wang, chief executive of online micro-loan provider China Rapid Finance, told Reuters. That caused panic in the broader market. Investors tried to pull funds from P2P companies, causing liquidity problems for many smaller operators, Wang said, although larger ones are faring better.
The Democratic National Committee on Friday officially served its lawsuit to WikiLeaks via Twitter, employing a rare method to serve its suit to the elusive group that has thus far been unresponsive. As CBS News first reported last month, the DNC filed a motion with a federal court in Manhattan requesting permission to serve its complaint to WikiLeaks on Twitter, a platform the DNC argued the website uses regularly. The DNC filed a lawsuit in April against the Trump campaign, Russian government and WikiLeaks, alleging a massive conspiracy to tilt the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor. All of the DNC’s attempts to serve the lawsuit via email failed, the DNC said in last month’s motion to the judge, which was ultimately approved.
The lawsuit was served through a tweet from a Twitter account established Friday by Cohen Milstein, the law firm representing the DNC in the suit, with the intent of serving the lawsuit. The DNC argued the unusual method of serving a lawsuit over Twitter was feasible because WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange, frequently uses Twitter and had even suggested it had read the DNC’s lawsuit. On April 21, the WikiLeaks Twitter account tweeted, “Democrats have gone all Scientology against @WikiLeaks. We read the DNC lawsuit. Its primary claim against @WikiLeaks is that we published their ‘trade secrets.’ Scientology infamously tried this trick when we published their secret bibles. Didn’t work out well for them.'”
The DNC also noted last month that there is some legal precedent for serving the lawsuit on Twitter. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the DNC notes, decided service by Twitter was a reasonable way to alert the defendant, who had an active Twitter account. “WikiLeaks seems to tweet daily,” the DNC said in the motion made to the judge last month.
More than 100 Westminster constituencies that voted to leave the EU have now switched their support to Remain, according to a stark new analysis seen by the Observer. In findings that could have a significant impact on the parliamentary battle of Brexit later this year, the study concludes that most seats in Britain now contain a majority of voters who want to stay in the EU. The analysis, one of the most comprehensive assessments of Brexit sentiment since the referendum, suggests the shift has been driven by doubts among Labour voters who backed Leave. As a result, the trend is starkest in the north of England and Wales – Labour heartlands in which Brexit sentiment appears to be changing.
The development will heap further pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to soften the party’s opposition to reconsidering Britain’s EU departure. Researchers at the Focaldata consumer analytics company compiled the breakdown by modelling two YouGov polls of more than 15,000 people in total, conducted before and after Theresa May published her proposed Brexit deal on 6 July. It combined the polling with detailed census information and data from the Office for National Statistics. The study was jointly commissioned by Best for Britain, which is campaigning against Brexit, and the anti-racist Hope Not Hate group. The 632 seats in England, Scotland and Wales were examined for the study. It found that 112 had switched from Leave to Remain. The new analysis suggests there are now 341 seats with majority Remain support, up from 229 seats at the referendum.
The Russian defense minister has reminded his German counterpart that approaching Moscow from a “position of unity and strength” is not the wisest idea, citing the bitter history of WWII that should’ve made Berlin more prudent. “We are open for dialogue. We are ready for a normal cooperation, but not at all from a position of strength,” Sergey Shoigu told Rossiya 24 TV station. “I certainly hope that the time when we could be talked to, as someone once said, as a second- or third-class country has now irretrievably passed.”
Referring to the original question from the host, Yevgeniy Popov, who noted the recent call by the German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to engage in dialogue with Moscow only from a “position of unity and strength,” Shoigu reminded his counterpart that, while Russia seeks peace, it will not tolerate being coerced. “After everything Germany has done to our country, I think, they should not talk on the issue for another two hundred years,” Shoigu said. “Ask your grandparents about their experience of talking to Russia from the position of strength. They will probably be able to tell you.” Shoigu explained that NATO, including Germany, cannot come to grips with the reality of seeing Russia return to the world stage as an independent actor with a strong and powerful military force.
“We are not going to threaten anyone. We’re not going to start a war with anyone,” Shoigu said, noting, however, that Russian President Vladimir Putin is taking unprecedented measures to make sure the military is fully ready for any untoward surprises. “We’re doing a massive job to restore our army. Yes, the time has passed when we had no funds or time for the army.” “We now have a totally different army. And if that frightens someone, do come visit to see how we live,” he added, in an interview recorded after the wrap-up of the Army Games in Russia, extending an invitation to the NATO militaries so far missing out on the biggest annual international military competition.
Foreigners face a ban on buying homes in New Zealand after a spending splurge by millionaires seeking doomsday bolt-holes crowded out local buyers and pushed up property prices. Home purchases by tycoons such as tech billionaire Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder, and Matt Lauer, the former NBC host who lost his job after allegations of sexual misconduct, have led the New Zealand government to crack down on the trend. The country’s allure for the mega-rich planning a safe space to ride out the apocalypse has become almost a cliché in recent years. Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder, told The New Yorker last year: “Saying you’re buying a house in New Zealand is kind of a wink, wink, say no more”.
But the country’s centre-Left government, led by prime minister Jacinda Ardern, is blaming the apocalypse preppers for a major housing crisis, with rates of homelessness among the highest in the developed world. Ms Ardern’s Labour Party is adamant that a law change banning foreigners from buying most types of homes in the country – due to pass through parliament next week – will help damp down property prices. It also plans to build 100,000 affordable properties in a decade, resolve New Zealand’s zoning and infrastructure woes, and bolster its ailing construction industry. The bill will still allow foreigners to buy new apartments in large developments and multi-storey blocks. Existing homes remain off limits to non-residents, but people from Australia and Singapore will be exempt from the ban, due to free-trade rules.
Every so often, humanity manages genuinely to surprise itself. Events to which we had previously assigned zero probability push us into what the ancient Greeks referred to as aporia: intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The financial crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom – even McDonald’s, for goodness sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America!
Moments of aporia produce collective efforts to respond to our bewilderment. In the late 18th century, the pains of the Industrial Revolution begat free-market economics. The crisis of 1848 brought us the Marxist tradition. The great depression produced both Keynes’s General Theory and Friedman’s monetarism. Over the past decade, the 2008 crash has given rise to a cottage industry of books, articles, documentaries, even films but not, so far, an overarching theory. Now, a compelling new book has arrived which deserves to be at the top of the reading list of anyone interested in the events of 2008 and eager to make sense of the aftermath .
Written by Adam Tooze, an English economic historian at Columbia University (and, in the interest of full disclosure, a colleague), Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crisis Changed the World combines simple explanations of complex financial concepts with a majestic narrative tracing the prehistory and destructive path of the crisis across the planet (including long, apt and erudite chapters on Russia, the former Soviet satellites, China and south-east Asia). It also offers original insights into the nature of the wounded beast (financialised capitalism). Of the myriad unacknowledged truths that Tooze illuminates, some examples follow.
In a suburban Minneapolis laboratory, a tiny company that has never turned a profit is poised to beat the world’s biggest agriculture firms to market with the next potential breakthrough in genetic engineering – a crop with “edited” DNA. Calyxt Inc, an eight-year-old firm co-founded by a genetics professor, altered the genes of a soybean plant to produce healthier oil using the cutting-edge editing technique rather than conventional genetic modification. Seventy-eight farmers planted those soybeans this spring across 17,000 acres in South Dakota and Minnesota, a crop expected to be the first gene-edited crop to sell commercially, beating out Fortune 500 companies.
Seed development giants such as Monsanto, Syngenta and DowDuPont have dominated genetically modified crop technology that emerged in the 1990s. But they face a wider field of competition from start-ups and other smaller competitors because gene-edited crops have drastically lower development costs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided not to regulate them. Relatively unknown firms including Calyxt, Cibus, and Benson Hill Biosystems are already advancing their own gene-edited projects in a race against Big Ag for dominance of the potentially transformational technology. “It’s a very exciting time for such a young company,” said Calyxt CEO Federico Tripodi, who oversees 45 people. “The fact a company so small and nimble can accomplish those things has picked up interest in the industry.”
Gene-editing technology involves targeting specific genes in a single organism and disrupting those linked to undesirable characteristics or altering them to make a positive change. Traditional genetic modification, by contrast, involves transferring a gene from one kind of organism to another, a process that still does not have full consumer acceptance. Gene-editing could mean bigger harvests of crops with a wide array of desirable traits – better-tasting tomatoes, low-gluten wheat, apples that don’t turn brown, drought-resistant soybeans or potatoes better suited for cold storage. The advances could also double the $15 billion global biotechnology seed market within a decade, said analyst Nick Anderson of investment bank Berenberg.
[..] Biotech firms hope the technology can avoid the “Frankenfood” label that critics have pinned on traditional genetically modified crops. But acceptance by regulators and the public globally remains uncertain. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on July 25 that gene-editing techniques are subject to regulations governing genetically modified crops. The ruling will limit gene-editing in Europe to research and make it illegal to grow commercial crops. The German chemical industry association called the decision “hostile to progress.”
One of the UK’s largest DIY retailers is reviewing the sale of Roundup weedkiller products amid mounting concerns about their use, after a US jury found that the herbicide had caused a terminally ill man’s cancer. The manufacturer of the weedkiller, Monsanto, has insisted that British consumers are safe to continue using Roundup products, which are widely sold at DIY stores and used by British farmers. But a spokesperson for Homebase said it would be reviewing its product range after the ruling in California. A spokesperson for B&Q said it had already been undertaking a broader review of all garden products in an attempt to manage the range responsibly.
[..] Monsanto’s vice-president, Scott Partridge, said on Friday that hundreds of studies had shown that glyphosate, one of the world’s most widely used herbicides and a key ingredient of Roundup, does not cause cancer. Monsanto would be appealing against the jury’s verdict, he added. “It is completely and totally safe, and the public should not be concerned about this verdict. It is one that we will work through the legal process to see if we can get the right result. The science is crystal-clear,” he said. “The jury made a decision, but the decision that a jury or a judge makes has to be based on the weight of the evidence, and the overwhelming weight of the evidence that went in the trial was that science demonstrates glyphosate is safe; there’s no credible evidence to the contrary.”
[..] The scientific world, however, has raised doubts about glyphosate. A ruling in 2015 by the World Health Organization’s international agency for research on cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans”. Campaigners are now calling for a review of pesticide regulations in the UK after the case, saying that glyphosate poses a risk to public health, soils and the environment. More than 2m hectares (5m acres) of farmland across Britain are treated with glyphosate annually, according to a study of government data by Oxford Economics. Emma Hockridge, head of policy at the Soil Association, described the ruling as a “dramatic blow” to the pesticide industry. “This is a landmark case, which highlights not only the problems caused by glyphosate, but also the whole system of pesticide use. We need to urgently change our systems of weed control to stop relying on herbicides,” she said.
“It has taken years of negotiations to set up this conference. If we miss this opportunity, we will probably not get another opportunity to save the high seas for another 40 years. By then, there will probably not be much left that is worth protecting.”
The leatherback turtle is one of our planet’s most distinctive creatures. It can live for decades and grow to weigh up to two tonnes. It is the largest living reptile on Earth and its evolutionary roots reach back more than 100 million years. “Leatherbacks are living fossils,” says oceanographer Professor Callum Roberts, of York University. “But they are not flourishing. In fact, they are being wiped out at an extraordinary rate, particularly in the Pacific Ocean, where their numbers have declined by 97% over the past three decades. They are now critically endangered there.” Leatherbacks are suffering for several reasons. They have been hunted for their meat for centuries and the spread of tourist resorts disrupts turtles when they come ashore to lay their eggs on sandy beaches.
But the cause of the most recent, most massive decline in numbers of Dermochelys coriacea has a far more pernicious cause: long-line fishing in the high seas. Some trawlers now drag fishing lines that are more than 75 miles long, each bristling with hooks. Tens of thousands of sea turtles get snagged on these and drown every year. “It is tragic,” says Roberts. And this carnage goes unchecked – for the simple reason that there is no protection at all for species, endangered or otherwise, on seas outside national waters. The list includes fish and seabirds, plus fragile ecosystems such as deep-sea corals. “Outside national waters, in the high seas, it is essentially a no man’s land when it comes to protecting sensitive environments and their inhabitants,” says Paul Snelgrove, a deep-sea biologist at Memorial University in St John’s, Canada. “It is a highly unsatisfactory state of affairs.”
Why do CEO’s distribute cash to secondary market speculators? These speculators haven’t provided any capital to the balance sheet and haven’t added to the income statement or cash flow statement of the companies they are speculating on. So why do CEO’s spend so much effort and capital appeasing them? Market cap is the benchmark by which a company distributes cash (i.e. div yield). But market cap, as determined in the secondary markets, is a theoretical asset that doesn’t generate revenue, profit or cash flow for the firm. Meaning cash payments are tied to an ‘asset’ that has no relevance to a firm’s operations. Paying dividends against an non-producing asset i.e. market cap that generates no return for the company is incredibly destructive.
There becomes a dangerous disconnect between the return on capital the company raised/invested and the cash distribution. In this sense, market cap is a massive hindrance to the firm’s capacity for productive investment as capital is eaten up paying out against an asset that hasn’t generated any return. The destructive force of this connect is exacerbated by the stock buy backs whose sole purpose is to drive market cap higher. And for what benefit? What does a higher market cap or a higher valuation do to improve the operation and long term success of the business? Historically market cap was a represenation of operational performance and expected future growth but it has now become the objective. Apple’s numbers are mediocre. But they are distributing $110 billion in cash this year so it doesn’t matter.
They hit a trillion dollar market cap. That puts its price-to-sales in line with Amazon, which has a 3 year revenue growth rate 7x higher than Apple’s (32% vs. 4.5%). Amazon’s growth rate continues to accelerate while Apple actually lost overall marketshare dropping from second largest to the third largest seller of smartphones, something that hasn’t ever happened. And so why would a firm that is losing marketshare not be putting its capital to work? The proof is in the pudding. Amazon doesn’t distribute cash to speculators. It attracts speculators by driving expected future growth. The rest of the market is attracting speculators by paying them cash. In effect, CEO’s are investing in market cap today rather than growth tomorrow. The result is that Amazon is in a league of its own, trouncing incumbants in any sector it enters because it invests in being better.
The moral of the story is that when market cap becomes the objective of capital rather than a representation of productive capital allocation, productive investment is replaced with financial investment. When market cap is being driven by something other than expected future growth derived from productive investment it is coming at the cost of expected future growth due to lack of productive investment. Read that again.
When the Asian financial crisis occurred 20 years ago, many nations in East and Southeast Asia succumbed because they were following inconsistent domestic and international economic and financial policies. But one trigger was the 50% fall in the Japanese yen against the dollar between the end of 1995 and the summer of 1998 amid the American stock market’s bull run that lasted until 2002. Fast forward to today, and the dollar is on a roll again, thanks to a strong economy and tensions between its fiscal and monetary policies. Higher U.S. interest rates and a stronger dollar are already raising debt interest costs for Asian borrowers, but this time the falling Chinese yuan looms as a proximate cause of trouble.
Asia’s vulnerability to developments in U.S. financial markets has been widely noted. It is true that unlike the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, most countries in the region have stronger foreign exchange reserves. They are better positioned when measured against important indicators such as months of import cover, short-term debt and foreign debt ratios. Most Asian countries have current account surpluses, and even those with deficits, such as India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines do not look overly challenged. But while the sensitivity to shocks is lower than it was 20 years ago, there is no cause for complacency. And there is still a potential spoiler, the yuan, which is now under downward pressure, but which was an agent of calm in the last Asian crisis.
Russian officials reacted with outrage and markets slumped on Thursday morning following the announcement of tough new US sanctions over Russia’s alleged use of a nerve agent in the Salisbury attack. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the sanctions were “absolutely unlawful and don’t conform to international law”, as politicians vowed to respond with countermeasures, which could include bans on the exports of rockets or resources for manufacturing. “The theatre of the absurd continues,” tweeted Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the UN. “No proofs, no clues, no logic, no presumption of innocence, just highly-likelies. Only one rule: blame everything on Russia, no matter how absurd and fake it is. Let us welcome the United Sanctions of America!”
A member of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, said Russia could block exports of RD-180 rocket engines to the US as a potential countermeasure, the RIA Novosti news agency reported. The United States announced on Wednesday that it would impose restrictions on the export of sensitive technology to Russia because of its use of a nerve agent in the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. The State Department said the new sanctions would come into effect on 22 August and would be followed by much more sweeping measures, such as suspending diplomatic relations and revoking Aeroflot landing rights, if Russia did not take “remedial” action within 90 days.
Moscow is not expected to agree to the response required by US legislation, which includes opening up Russian scientific and security facilities to international inspections to assess whether it is producing chemical and biological weapons in violation of international law.
Russia would consider any U.S. move to curb the operations of Russian banks or their foreign currency dealings a declaration of economic war, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Friday. The United States announced a new round of sanctions on Wednesday targeting Russia that pushed the rouble to two-year lows and sparked a wider sell-off over fears Russia was locked in a spiral of never-ending sanctions. Separate legislation introduced last week in draft form by Republican and Democratic senators proposes curbs on the operations of several state-owned Russian banks in the United States and restrictions on their use of the dollar.
Medvedev said Moscow would take economic, political or other retaliatory measures against the United States if Washington targeted Russian banks. “I would not like to comment on talks about future sanctions, but I can say one thing: If some ban on banks’ operations or on their use of one or another currency follows, it would be possible to clearly call it a declaration of economic war,” said Medvedev. “And it would be necessary, it would be needed to react to this war economically, politically, or, if needed, by other means. And our American friends need to understand this,” he said, speaking on a trip to the Russian Far East.
Vladimir Putin stands accused in the media and global public opinion of rigging his recent reelection, imprisoning his political enemies, murdering Russian spies turned double-agent, meddling in Western elections, seizing Crimea, destabilizing Ukraine, supporting a murderous dictator in Syria and exporting arms to terrorist nations like Iran. At the same time, the country of Russia is more than Mr. Putin, despite his authoritarian and heavy-handed methods. Russia is the world’s 12th-largest economy, with a GDP in excess of $1.5 trillion, larger than many developed economies such as Australia (No. 13), Spain (No. 14) and the Netherlands (No. 18). Its export sector produces a positive balance of trade for Russia, currently running at over $16 billion per month.
Russia has not had a trade deficit in over 20 years. Russia is also the world’s largest oil producer, with output of 10.6 million barrels per day, larger than both Saudi Arabia and the United States. Russia has the largest landmass of any country in the world and a population of 144 million people, the ninth largest of any country. Russia is also the third-largest gold-producing nation in the world, with total production of 250 tons per year, about 8% of total global output and solidly ahead of the U.S., Canada and South Africa. Russia is highly competitive in the export of nuclear power plants, advanced weaponry, space technology, agricultural products and it has an educated workforce.
Russia’s government debt-to-GDP ratio is 12.6%, which is trivial compared with 253% for Japan, 105% for the United States and 68% for Germany. Russia’s external dollar-denominated debt is also quite low compared with the huge dollar-debt burdens of other emerging-market economies such as Turkey, Indonesia and China. Under the steady leadership of central bank head Elvira Nabiullina, the Central Bank of Russia has rebuilt its hard currency reserves after those reserves were severely depleted in 2015 following the collapse in oil prices that began in 2014. Total gold reserves rose from 1,275 tons in July 2015 to about 2,000 tons today. Russia’s gold-to-GDP ratio is the highest in the world and more than double those of the U.S. and China.
In short, Russia is a country to be reckoned with despite the intense dislike for its leader from Western powers. It can be disliked but it cannot be ignored. Russia is even more important geopolitically than these favorable metrics suggest. Russia and the U.S. are likely to improve relations and move closer together despite the current animosity over election meddling and the attempted murders of ex-Russian spies. The reason for this coming thaw has to do with the dynamics of global geopolitics. There are only three countries in the world that are rightly regarded as primary powers — the U.S., Russia and China. These three are the only superpowers. Some analysts may be surprised to see Russia on the superpower list, but the facts are indisputable.
Pakistan is on the brink of economic disaster, experts say. Foreign exchange reserves are at four-year lows, pressuring the local rupee and triggering worries that Islamabad may soon be unable to finance monthly import bills. The developing country is also awash in external debt, having taken on loans from China for the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. To avoid a full-blown balance of payments crisis, Islamabad needs outside help. It has two options: the IMF or Beijing. Neither, however, may solve its economic woes in the long run. The South Asian nation is no stranger to IMF bailouts — it has gone through 21 programs in total, with the most recent one ending two years ago.
If the administration of incoming Prime Minister Imran Khan seeks out another loan, estimated at $10 billion, the country will be subject to the IMF’s strict austerity measures that’re likely to hurt growth. It also wouldn’t bode well politically for Khan, who called on the campaign trail for Pakistan to become self-sufficient. The U.S., meanwhile, has taken issue with the idea of IMF funds going toward Pakistan’s Chinese debt obligations. “There’s no rationale for IMF tax dollars — and associated with that, American dollars that are part of the IMF funding — for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNBC last week.
In response, Pakistan’s finance ministry has refuted Pompeo’s linkage of IMF assistance with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Alternatively, Khan’s government could turn to China for fresh loans. But that would mean Islamabad wading even deeper into the so-called “Chinese debt trap” — a frequent criticism of Beijing’s infrastructure spending spree that’s known as the Belt and Road Initiative, of which the CPEC is a part. Last month, the Asian giant loaned Pakistan $1 billion to boost its shrinking foreign currency reserves. For the current fiscal year thus far, China’s lending to Pakistan is set to exceed $5 billion, according to Reuters.
The Tesla board of directors plans to meet with financial advisors next week to formalize a process to explore Elon Musk’s take-private proposal, according to people familiar with the matter. Musk announced via Twitter this week that he hopes to take the automaker private, in what would be one of the biggest such deals in history. The board is likely to tell Musk, the Tesla chairman and CEO, to recuse himself as the company prepares to review his take-private proposal, according to these people, who asked not to be named because the conversations are private. The board has told Musk that he needs his own separate set of advisors, one of the people said. Tesla’s board will likely develop a special committee of a smaller number of independent directors to review the buyout details, the people added.
Musk previously talked with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund about a take-private deal, said one of the people. Saudi’s Public Investment Fund bought a 3% to 5% stake in the electric car maker, The Financial Times reported earlier this week. It isn’t yet known whether Saudi’s Public Investment Fund has agreed to commit money to the transaction. It also still isn’t clear if Tesla has committed financing. Musk tweeted he had “funding secured” on Tuesday when he said he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share. Tesla has declined to comment on funding for the transaction, leading to speculation Musk doesn’t have committed financing and drawing a request for more information from the SEC.
Two weeks after reaching a handshake agreement to calm trade talks and back off new tariffs, the United States and European Union are beginning to lay the formal groundwork underpinning any deal. On Tuesday, the State Department sent a cable to U.S. embassies across Europe, directing them to identify business areas ripe for lowering of tariffs or cutting of red tape, according to a readout of the cable provided to CNBC. The communication placed particular emphasis on deals that would increase U.S. energy and soybean exports, two areas highlighted in a joint statement the U.S. and the EU put out following the July 25 meeting.
One of the ideas that had been discussed is potential American involvement in a Russian natural gas pipeline into Germany that President Donald Trump had criticized. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told Trump at the White House last month that “most” EU countries disagreed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to broker the deal with Russia, according to a senior administration official. The State Department declined to comment, citing a policy not to confirm or deny internal communications. But the move represents an effort to source deliverables for talks set to take place when a delegation from the European Union visits Washington later this month.
A federal judge has ordered a mother and her daughter be flown back to the United States, after learning they had been deported mid-appeal. The two were being represented in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who said they had fled “extreme sexual and gang violence”. The judge said it was unacceptable they had been removed during their appeal. He reportedly also said Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be held in contempt of court for the deportation. The mother and daughter were part of a case filed by the ACLU and the Centre for Gender and Refugee Studies on behalf of 12 mothers and children who said they had fled violence, but were at risk of deportation.
A tightening of rules in June by Mr Sessions means victims of domestic abuse and gang violence no longer generally qualify for US asylum. The government had pledged not to deport anyone in the case before Friday at the earliest, ACLU said. But ACLU said they learned during Thursday’s emergency hearing that the mother and daughter had already been put on a flight back to El Salvador by US authorities. Washington DC District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan said that it was unacceptable that people claiming asylum had been removed while lawyers argued their case. He branded the situation “outrageous” and ordered the pair be returned immediately, according to reports. An official from the Department of Homeland Security told the Reuters agency that the agency worked to comply with the court’s order.
“Upon arrival in El Salvador, the plaintiffs did not disembark and are currently en route back to the United States,” the department said in an emailed statement. The mother and daughter are said to have arrived back in Texas, where they were being held, by Thursday night.
Berlin has concluded a deal with Madrid for Spain to take back migrants who had been registered by Spanish authorities, a German interior ministry spokeswoman said Wednesday, as Germany seeks to curb new arrivals. Under the accord, which will enter in to force on Saturday August 11, the migrants “could be sent back to Spain within 48 hours,” said interior ministry spokeswoman Eleonore Petermann, adding that Madrid did not lay down any condition in exchange. The deal is part of a series of bilateral agreements that Germany is seeking with EU partners, after a broader accord for the bloc proved elusive.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has been under pressure to reduce the number of new arrivals after a record influx of a million asylum seekers between 2015 and 2016 unsettled Germany. Besides Spain, Greece – another key arrival country for migrants who had undertaken the perilous sea journey crossing the Mediterranean – has also in principle agreed to such a deal, Berlin said in June. Italy’s new right-wing government has been more reluctant, as it is putting its focus on boosting controls at the EU’s external borders. Discussions with both Athens and Rome are “not over,” said Petermann. But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer had said in an interview published Sunday that talks with his Italian and Greek colleagues were ongoing “in a good atmosphere”.
New Zealand became the latest country Friday to outlaw single-use plastic shopping bags, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying they will be phased out over the next year as a “meaningful step” towards reducing pollution. New Zealand uses “hundreds of millions” of single-use plastic bags each year, many of which end up harming marine life, Ardern said. “We need to be far smarter in the way we manage waste and this is a good start,” she said. “We’re phasing-out single-use plastic bags so we can better look after our environment and safeguard New Zealand’s clean, green reputation.”
Ardern said her coalition government, which includes the Green Party, was facing up to environmental challenges and “just like climate change, we’re taking meaningful steps to reduce plastics pollution so we don’t pass this problem to future generations.” Single-use plastic bags are among the most common items found in coastal litter in New Zealand and the environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the decision to outlaw them. “This could be a major leap forward in turning the tide on ocean plastic pollution and an important first step in protecting marine life such as sea turtles and whales, from the growing plastic waste epidemic,” Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Emily Hunter said. A United Nations report in June said up to five trillion grocery bags are used globally each year, which is nearly 10 million plastic bags per minute.
The diverging performance of major US stock market indexes which has been in place since the late January peak in DJIA and SPX has become even more extreme in recent months. In terms of duration and extent it is one of the most pronounced such divergences in history. It also happens to be accompanied by weakening market internals, some of the most extreme sentiment and positioning readings ever seen and an ever more hostile monetary backdrop. The above combination is consistent with a market close to a major peak – although one must always keep in mind that divergences can become even more pronounced – as was for instance demonstrated on occasion of the technology sector blow-off in late 1999 – 2000.
Along similar lines, extremes in valuations can persist for a very long time as well and reach previously unimaginable levels. The Nikkei of the late 1980s is a pertinent example for this. Incidentally, the current stock buyback craze is highly reminiscent of the 1980s Japanese financial engineering method known as keiretsu or zaibatsu, as it invites the very same rationalizations. We recall vividly that it was argued in the 1980s that despite their obscene overvaluation, Japanese stocks could “never decline” because Japanese companies would prop up each other’s stocks. Today we often read or hear that overvalued US stocks cannot possibly decline because companies will keep propping up their own stocks with buybacks.
Of course this propping up of stock prices occurs amid a rather concerning deterioration in median corporate balance sheet strength, as corporate debt has exploded into the blue yonder (just as it did in Japan in the late 1980s). The fact that an unprecedented number of companies is a single notch downgrade away from a junk rating should give sleepless nights to fixed income and stock market investors alike – as should the oncoming “wall of maturities”. A giant wall of junk bond maturities is looming in the not to distant future. Unless investors remain in a mood to refinance all comers, this threatens to provide us with a spot of “interesting times”. Something tells us that “QT” could turn into a bit of a party pooper as the “Great Wall” approaches.
It should also be mentioned that past stock market peaks as a rule coincided with record highs in buybacks. This indicates that record highs in buybacks are mainly a contrarian indicator rather than a datum providing comfort at extreme points. Of course, what actually represents an “extreme point” can only ever be known with certainty in hindsight, as extremes tend to shift over time – particularly in a fiat money system in which the supply of money and credit can be expanded willy-nilly. What can be stated with certainty is only whether the markets are entering what we would call dangerous territory.
U.S. government debt supply will likely continue to boom, but bond market investors seem to be taking it in stride. The Treasury Department is having to sell more debt to finance the government’s ballooning deficit, stemming from the massive federal tax overhaul in December and the spending deal passed in February. Still, bond yields have remained in a narrow range, suggesting investors may not be fretting about the swelling debt supply. “There will be no relief from supply especially from bills going into October,” said Tom Simons, money market strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York. Supply is expected to run high at least until the Treasury provides updated forecasts on its borrowing needs, next due in November – and might even accelerate further.
This week, the Treasury will sell $34 billion in three-year notes, with $26 billion in 10-year debt on Wednesday and $18 billion in 30-year bonds on Thursday. It will also auction $51 billion in three-month bills and $45 billion in six-month bills, together with an expected $65 billion in one-month bills. The supply will fall short of a record week of $294 billion set in March but continues a trend higher since February. Analysts, who said the market would have no trouble digesting this week’s offerings, see the government as becoming increasingly dependent on private investors for cash as the Fed further reduces its bond holdings. The goal is to shrink a balance sheet that had grown to more than $4 trillion from three massive rounds of asset purchases to combat the previous recession.
If you were standing in the smoldering ashes of 9/11 trying to peer into the future, you might have been overjoyed to discover this happy snapshot of 2018: There has been no subsequent major terrorist attack on America from Al Qaeda or its heirs. American troops are not committed en masse to any ground war. American workers are enjoying a blissful 4 percent unemployment rate. The investment class and humble 401(k) holders alike are beneficiaries of a rising GDP and booming stock market that, as measured by the Dow, is up some 250 percent since its September 10, 2001, close. The most admired person in America, according to Gallup, is the nation’s first African-American president, a man no one had heard of and a phenomenon no one could have imagined at the century’s dawn. Comedy, the one art whose currency is laughter, is the culture’s greatest growth industry. What’s not to like?
Plenty, as it turns out. The mood in America is arguably as dark as it has ever been in the modern era. The birthrate is at a record low, and the suicide rate is at a 30-year high; mass shootings and opioid overdoses are ubiquitous. In the aftermath of 9/11, the initial shock and horror soon gave way to a semblance of national unity in support of a president whose electoral legitimacy had been bitterly contested only a year earlier. Today’s America is instead marked by fear and despair more akin to what followed the crash of 1929, when unprecedented millions of Americans lost their jobs and homes after the implosion of businesses ranging in scale from big banks to family farms.
It’s not hard to pinpoint the dawn of this deep gloom: It arrived in September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers kicked off the Great Recession that proved to be a more lasting existential threat to America than the terrorist attack of seven Septembers earlier. The shadow it would cast is so dark that a decade later, even our current run of ostensible prosperity and peace does not mitigate the one conviction that still unites all Americans: Everything in the country is broken. Not just Washington, which failed to prevent the financial catastrophe and has done little to protect us from the next, but also race relations, health care, education, institutional religion, law enforcement, the physical infrastructure, the news media, the bedrock virtues of civility and community. Nearly everything has turned to crap, it seems, except Peak TV (for those who can afford it).
That loose civic concept known as the American Dream — initially popularized during the Great Depression by the historian James Truslow Adams in his Epic of America — has been shattered. No longer is lip service paid to the credo, however sentimental, that a vast country, for all its racial and sectarian divides, might somewhere in its DNA have a shared core of values that could pull it out of any mess. Dead and buried as well is the companion assumption that over the long term a rising economic tide would lift all Americans in equal measure. When that tide pulled back in 2008 to reveal the ruins underneath, the country got an indelible picture of just how much inequality had been banked by the top one percent over decades, how many false promises to the other 99 percent had been broken, and how many central American institutions, whether governmental, financial, or corporate, had betrayed the trust the public had placed in them. And when we went down, we took much of the West with us. The American Kool-Aid we’d exported since the Marshall Plan, that limitless faith in progress and profits, had been exposed as a cruel illusion.
A year or so after the 2008 crisis, Nassim Taleb, a financial trader turned bestselling author, was called to Washington to talk to a commission that was compiling a report on what went wrong. Taleb, after all, had predicted the crisis with eerie prescience in his 2007 book The Black Swan, which talked about the underappreciated “tail risks” faced by the global economy. “They heckled me for about two or three hours on technicalities,” he recalls. “But not a single one of my points was in the report. Bunch of f****** bureaucrats. No wonder people voted for Donald Trump.” Taleb believes we have learnt nothing from the crisis. “Not only did people not get why it happened,” he says, “but the moral hazard in the system actually increased.”
The problem, in Taleb’s view, is what he calls a “Bob Rubin trade”. In the build-up to the crash, Robert Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, spent years advising the investment bank Citigroup, eventually becoming its chairman. After the crash happened, he resigned and walked away having made tens of millions. “What’s most depressing is that nobody who was involved in causing the crisis paid any price for it,” Taleb says. “America’s debt is now trillions higher because people transferred risk to the state, owing to mistakes made by individuals.” The crisis highlighted the licence to take risk that banks had, knowing the government would step in if things went wrong.
“People realised that, hey, you can do that with impunity,” Taleb says. “If anything, banks today are even more on government support.” He does identify one bright spot. “Some people have realised there was a problem,” he says. “There is an immense amount of disgruntlement by people who see this point, on the left in Europe and on the right in America. “So you have what is mislabelled ‘populism’ as a first-order reaction, which may be correct or incorrect. But at least some people are starting to see these methods are bullshit.”
There may be times when Mark Carney regrets extending his stint at the Bank of England by an extra year. Had things gone as originally planned, Carney would have handed over the keys to Threadneedle Street a month ago and someone else would have had the task of steering the economy through what is certain to be a fiendishly tricky period. That would be the case even without Brexit. The UK economy has recovered more slowly and more unevenly than Carney envisaged when he took over at the Bank from Mervyn King in 2013. It was only last week that the Bank’s monetary policy committee felt confident enough to raise interest rates above the 0.5% emergency level that they reached in March 2009.
But Brexit is taking up half the governor’s time and it is clear that he is starting to get concerned. Certainly, his remarks when questioned on the BBC Today programme on Friday were blunt. With just eight months to go before Britain leaves the European Union, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is “uncomfortably high”. There was a time when such plain speaking from the governor of the Bank of England would have raised a few eyebrows in Downing Street. Not now. The line since the cabinet signed up to Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan is that the government has made all the concessions it can, and that means unless Brussels gives something in return there is a danger of chaos next March.
So the prime minister would not have been troubled when Carney said that a no-deal Brexit would be “highly undesirable” and something all parties should seek to avoid, because that’s the official Whitehall line. There will be no complaints if the governor continues to stress the importance of London as a source of low-cost capital for European governments and companies.
We now know it beyond doubt: however we leave the European Union, the result is likely to be damage that Britain is in no position to absorb. Job losses are certain. A stack of Brexit impact reports from local authorities obtained last week by Sky News identified a catalogue of dire consequences, from farms in Shetland that could be plunged into impossible losses, through social care services in East Sussex already being hit by labour shortages, to the M26 being turned into a giant lorry park. With his characteristic emollience, the trade secretary, Liam Fox, says a no-deal Brexit is now more likely than a negotiated deal; Jeremy Hunt reckons we could fall off the came cliff-edge “by accident”, and reports about stockpiled food and medicines attest to the awfulness of any such prospect.
March 2019, then, could well mark a watershed point in a drawn-out disaster. But so, in a different way, could somehow nullifying the result of the referendum and staying put. It would be comforting to think that what George Orwell called “the gentleness of the English civilisation” would mean that an overturning of 2016’s outcome would be grudgingly swallowed by the vast majority of leave voters, but I would not be so sure. Ukip is back in the polls, and has newly strengthened links to the far right. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Boston in Lincolnshire, the town whose 75.6% vote for Brexit made it the most leave-supporting place in the UK. Many of the people I spoke to were already convinced that Brexit was doomed, and full of talk of betrayal.
Some of what I heard was undeniably ugly, though much of it was based on an undeniable set of facts. People were asked to make a decision, and they did. The referendum was the one meaningful political event in millions of voters’ lifetimes, and we were all assured that its result would be respected. Whatever the noise about a second referendum, this is the fundamental reason why the likelihood of Brexit interrupted remains dim.
Saudi Arabia said Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa’s vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists. The kingdom gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, in an abrupt rupture of relations over what it slammed as “interference” in its internal affairs. The move, which underscores a newly aggressive foreign policy led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, comes after Canada demanded the immediate release of human rights campaigners swept up in a new crackdown. “The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Saudi foreign ministry tweeted.
“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador to Canada for consultation. We consider the Canadian ambassador to the kingdom persona non grata and order him to leave within the next 24 hours.” The ministry also announced “the freezing of all new trade and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action”. Canada last week said it was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of women and human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi. Samar was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah last week, the latest victims of what Human Rights Watch called an “unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement”.
Chinese state media on Monday lashed out at U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade policies in an unusually personal attack, even as they sought to reassure investors about the health of China’s economy as growth concerns roiled its financial markets. China’s strictly controlled news outlets have frequently rebuked the United States and the Trump administration as the trade conflict has escalated, but they have largely refrained from specifically targeting Trump.
The latest criticism from the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper singled out Trump, saying he was starring in his own “street fighter-style deceitful drama of extortion and intimidation”. Trump’s desire for others to play along with his drama is “wishful thinking”, a commentary on the paper’s front page said, arguing that the United States had escalated trade friction with China and turned international trade into a “zero-sum game”. “Governing a country is not like doing business,” the paper said, adding that Trump’s actions imperiled the national credibility of the United States.
Wells Fargo is blaming a computer glitch for more than 400 customers losing their homes between 2010 and 2015. The bank revealed in regulatory filings last week that the technological error resulted in 625 customers being denied loan modifications, and about 400 costumers having their houses foreclosed on, CNN Money reported on Friday. The filing says the bank has set aside $8 million to compensate the affected customers, it added. Wells Fargo apologized for the error and said in a statement that it is “providing remediation” to customers whose mortgages were affected, according to CNN.
The Treasury Department set up a program in 2009 to help Americans struggling to pay their mortgages, offering them the opportunity to apply for loan modifications, the network noted, adding that the computer error rejected applications from 625 Wells Fargo customers. A bank spokesperson told CNN that there is “not a clear, direct cause and effect relationship” between the error and foreclosures, but said some customers who were denied loan modifications lost their homes. Multiple government agencies are also probing Wells Fargo for its financing of low-income housing developments, Reuters reported. The embattled bank last week agreed to pay more than $2 billion to settle allegations related to offering subprime mortgages in the years before the 2008 financial crisis.
For decades, the Friendship pipeline has delivered oil from Russia to Europe, heating German homes even in the darkest days of the Cold War. But a new pipeline that will carry gas direct from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany is doing rather less for friendship, driving a wedge between Germany and its allies and giving Chancellor Angela Merkel a headache. For U.S. President Donald Trump, Nord Stream 2 is a “horrific” pipeline that will increase Germany’s dependence on Russian energy. Ukraine, fighting Russian-backed separatists, fears the new pipeline will allow Moscow to cut it out of the lucrative and strategically crucial gas transit business.
It comes at an awkward time for Merkel. With the fraying of the transatlantic alliance and an assertive Russia and China, she has acknowledged that Germany must take more of a political leadership role in Europe. “The global order is under pressure,” Merkel said last month. “That’s a challenge for us … Germany’s responsibility is growing; Germany has more work to do.” In April she accepted for the first time that there were “political considerations” to Nord Stream 2, a project she had until then described as a commercial venture. Most European countries want Germany to do more to project European influence and protect eastern neighbors that are nervous of Russian encroachment.
But letting Russia sell gas to Germany while avoiding Ukraine does the opposite, depriving Kiev of transit revenues and making it, Poland and the Baltic states more vulnerable to cuts in gas supplies. “The price would be an even greater loss of trust from the Baltics, Poland and Ukraine,” said Roderich Kiesewetter, a Merkel ally on the parliamentary foreign affairs committee. “We Germans always say that holding the West together is our ‘center of gravity’, but the Russian approach has succeeded in dragging Germany, at least in terms of energy policy, out of this western solidarity.”