Jan 162017
 
 January 16, 2017  Posted by at 10:13 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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John Collier Japanese restaurant, Monday after Pearl Harbor, San Francisco 1941


World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)
The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)
Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)
Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)
NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)
Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)
CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)
Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)
Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)
The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)
Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)
“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)
China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)
Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

 

 

If you find this appealing, seek help. These people mean it, which makes them the biggest danger to your future, bar none. We’re not going to fix the world for profit. The sustainable delusion will kill us.

World Could Enjoy Utopian Future With Sustainable Development (Ind.)

It is an unremittingly bleak vision of the future: over the next decade the world’s economy stagnates, fossil fuels ramp up global warming and the gap between rich and poor widens, fuelling nationalist tensions based on resentment of the ‘global elite’. But, while a major new report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) warns this appears to be humanity’s current path, it also spells out how to create not quite “heaven on Earth” but a world that is wealthier, more peaceful and fair for all. And their call for the world to start living up to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals was backed by more than 80 major companies in a joint letter to Theresa May, which urged the UK Government to take this “essential” step to secure “our long-term prosperity and the well-being of generations to come”.

However, Ms May did not respond personally to the letter, with the Department for International Development instead issuing a response on behalf of the Government in an implicit snub to the letter’s call for all departments, “not only” DfID, to get involved. The UN’s ‘Global Goals’, as they are known, seem at first sight to be almost impossibly ambitious. There should be “no poverty” and “zero hunger” in the world, universal health coverage, a decent education for all, gender equality, access to affordable and clean energy, action on climate change, the list goes on. But the BSDC’s report, compiled after a year of research into their effects, says achieving them is actually key to delivering massive growth. The document, called Better Business, Better World, estimates the Global Goals could be worth up to $36,000bn a year in savings and extra revenue by 2030.

They based this on an analysis of four major economic sectors – food and agriculture; energy and materials; cities; and health and wellbeing – which would benefit to the tune of $12,000bn a year. They then estimated the total economic prize would be two to three times higher. Lifting people out of poverty could bring up to a billion people into the consumer economy. And achieving gender equality alone could add at least $12,000bn to the world’s total GDP by 2025, according to one estimate. “The overall prize is enormous,” the report says. “The results will not be heaven on Earth; there will be many practical challenges. “But the world would undoubtedly be on a better, more resilient path. We could be building an economy of abundance.

Read more …

Mommy, tell me the story again about how smart we once were.

The Global Chain That Produces Your Fish (AFP)

That smoked salmon you bought for the New Year’s festivities has a story to tell. The salmon may have been raised in Scotland – but it probably began life as roe in Norway. Harvested at a coastal farm, the fish may have been sent to Poland to be smoked. It may even have travelled halfway around the world to China to be sliced. It eventually arrived, wrapped in that tempting package, in your supermarket. Globalisation has changed the world in many ways, but fish farming is one of the starkest examples of its benefits and hidden costs. The nexus of the world fish-farming trade is China – the biggest exporter of fish products, the biggest producer of farmed fish and a major importer as well.

With battalions of lost-cost workers, linked to markets by a network of ocean-going refrigerated ships, China is the go-to place for labour-intensive fish processing. In just a few clicks on Alibaba, the Chinese online trading hub, you can buy three tonnes of Norwegian filleted mackerel shipped from the port city of Qingdao for delivery within 45 days. “There is a significant amount of bulk frozen fish sent to China just for filleting,” said a source from an association of importers in an EU country. “The temperature of the fish is brought up to enable the filleting but the fish are not completely defrosted.” The practice has helped transform the Chinese coastal provinces of Liaoning and Shandong into global centres for fish processing.

But globalised fish farming leaves a mighty carbon footprint and has other impacts, many of which are unseen for the consumer. Don Staniford, an activist and director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture, called the fish industry’s production and transportation chain “madness”. “The iconic image of Scottish salmon – a wild salmon leaping out of the river – has gone. The Scottish salmon farming industry is dominated, 60-70%, by Norwegian companies,” he said. The biggest such company, Marine Harvest, is the world’s largest producer of Atlantic salmon, some 420,000 tonnes in 2015. Scottish salmon farms import eggs from Norway, the fish food from Chile and then send the fish to Poland – “because it’s cheaper” – for smoking, said Staniford.

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Lots of coverage of Trump’s weekend interviews in Europe. Too many details to cover them all in this format. Overall impression: he makes a lot of sense. Likes Brexit, doesn’t like NATO, sees EU as a project to benefit Germany, wants far less nukes, far less US regime change-focused interventionism.

Trump Calls NATO Obsolete And Dismisses EU (BBG)

Donald Trump called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would follow the U.K. in leaving the bloc, and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to two European newspapers which conducted a joint interview with the president-elect. Trump, in an hourlong discussion with Germany’s Bild and the Times of London published on Sunday, signaled a major shift in trans-Atlantic relations, including an interest in lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia as part of a nuclear weapons reduction deal. Quoted in German by Bild from a conversation held in English, Trump predicted that Britain’s exit from the EU will be a success and portrayed the EU as an instrument of German domination designed with the purpose of beating the U.S. in international trade.

For that reason, Trump said, he’s fairly indifferent to whether the EU stays together, according to Bild. The Times quoted Trump as saying he was interested in making “good deals with Russia,” floating the idea of lifting sanctions that were imposed as the U.S. has sought to punish the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and military support of the Syrian government. “They have sanctions on Russia – let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,’’ Trump said, according to the Times. “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.’’ Trump’s reported comments leave little doubt that he’ll stick to campaign positions and may in some cases upend decades of U.S. foreign policy, putting him fundamentally at odds with Angela Merkel on issues from free trade and refugees to security and the EU’s role in the world.

Repeating a criticism of NATO he made during his campaign, Trump said that while trans-Atlantic military alliance is important, it “has problems.” “It’s obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Trump said in the Bild version of the interview. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.” The Times quoted Trump saying that only five NATO members are paying their fair share. While those comments expanded on doubts Trump expressed about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.”

In contrast, Trump praised Britons for voting in 2016 to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders coming in to “destroy it,” he said. The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a vehicle for Germany,” the Times quoted Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he said. Trump told the Times that he plans to quickly pursue a trade deal with the U.K. after taking office and will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May soon. “We’re gonna work very hard to get it done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides,” he said. “We’ll have a meeting right after I get into the White House and it’ll be, I think we’re gonna get something done very quickly.”

Read more …

ZH has a good summary of the interviews.

Trump Slams NATO And EU, Prepared To “Cut Ties” With Merkel (ZH)

In two separate, and quite striking, interviews with Germany’s Bild (paywall) and London’s Sunday Times (paywall), Donald Trump did what he failed to do in his first US press conference, and covered an extensive amount of policy and strategy, much of which however will likely please neither the pundits, nor the markets. Among the numerous topics covered in the Bild interview, he called NATO obsolete, predicted that other European Union members would join the U.K. in leaving the bloc and threatened BMW with import duties over a planned plant in Mexico, according to a Sunday interview granted to Germany’s Bild newspaper that will raise concerns in Berlin over trans-Atlantic relations. Furthermore, in his first “exclusive” interview in the UK granted to the Sunday Times, Trump said he will offer Britain a quick and “fair” trade deal with America within weeks of taking office to help make Brexit a “great thing”.

Trump revealed that he was inviting Theresa May to visit him “right after” he gets into the White House and wants a trade agreement between the two countries secured “very quickly”. Trump told the Times that other countries would follow Britain’s lead in leaving the European Union, claiming it had been deeply damaged by the migration crisis. I think it’s very tough, he said. People, countries want their own identity and the UK wanted its own identity. [..] Trump discussed his stance on Russia and suggested he might use economic sanctions imposed for Vladimir Putin’s encroachment on Ukraine as leverage in nuclear-arms reduction talks, while NATO, he said, “has problems.” “[NATO] is obsolete, first because it was designed many, many years ago,” Bild quoted Trump as saying about the trans-Atlantic military alliance. “Secondly, countries aren’t paying what they should” and NATO “didn’t deal with terrorism.”

While those comments expanded on doubts Trump raised about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization during his campaign, he reserved some of his most dismissive remarks for the EU and Merkel, whose open-border refugee policy he called a “catastrophic mistake.” He further elaborated on this stance in the Times interview, where he said he was willing to lift Russian sanctions in return for a reduction in nuclear weapons. When asked about the prospect of a nuclear arms reduction deal with Russia, Trump told the newspaper in an interview: “For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.” Additionally, Trump said Brexit will turn out to be a “great thing.” Trump said he would work very hard to get a trade deal with the United Kingdom “done quickly and done properly”.

Trump praised Britons for voting last year to leave the EU. People and countries want their own identity and don’t want outsiders to come in and “destroy it.” The U.K. is smart to leave the bloc because the EU “is basically a means to an end for Germany,” Bild cited Trump as saying. “If you ask me, more countries will leave,” he was quoted as saying.

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Goal-seeked ‘reporting’: “Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments..” AFP didn’t stand out so far as having joined the anti-Trump ranks, but there you go.

NATO, Russia, Merkel, Brexit: Trump Unleashes Broadsides On Europe (AFP)

NATO is “obsolete”, Germany’s Angela Merkel made a “catastrophic mistake” on refugees, Brexit will be “great” and the US could cut a deal with Russia: Donald Trump unleashed a volley of broadsides in interviews with European media. Five days before his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, the billionaire populist let loose a torrent of controversial comments about European allies in interviews with British newspaper The Times and Germany’s Bild. He extended a hand to Russia, which has been hit by a string of sanctions under his predecessor Barack Obama over Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for alleged cyber attacks to influence the US election. “Let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia,” Trump said in remarks carried by The Times.

The US president-elect suggested a deal in which nuclear arsenals would be reduced and sanctions against Moscow would be eased, but gave no details. “Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit,” said the president-elect, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Washington’s European allies imposed sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in 2014. Those measures were renewed on December 19.

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Trump grants an interview to the WaPo? He has a big heart!

Trump Vows ‘Insurance For Everybody’ In Replacing Obamacare (R.)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump aims to replace Obamacare with a plan that would envisage “insurance for everybody,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday night. Trump did not give the newspaper specifics about his proposals to replace Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance law, but said the plan was nearly finished and he was ready to unveil it alongside the leaders of the Republican-controlled Congress. The Republican president-elect takes office on Friday. “It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump told the Post, adding he was waiting for his nominee for health and human services secretary, Tom Price, to be confirmed.

The plan, he said, would include “lower numbers, much lower deductibles,” without elaborating. “We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.” Trump was also quoted as saying in the interview that he would target pharmaceutical companies over drug pricing and insist they negotiate directly with the Medicare and Medicaid government health plans for the elderly and poor. U.S. House Republicans won passage on Friday of a measure starting the process of dismantling the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, despite concerns about not having a ready replacement and the potential financial cost of repealing the law.

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All these people, CIA, media, who actively attempted to undermine Trump’s campaign and candidacy, are now shocked (I tell you, shocked!) that he doesn’t ignore what they did.

CIA Director Warns Trump To Watch What He Says (R.)

CIA Director John Brennan on Sunday offered a stern parting message for Donald Trump days before the Republican U.S. president-elect takes office, cautioning him against loosening sanctions on Russia and warning him to watch what he says. Brennan rebuked Trump for comparing U.S. intelligence agencies to Nazi Germany in comments by the outgoing CIA chief that reflected the extraordinary friction between the incoming president and the 17 intelligence agencies he will begin to command once he takes office on Friday. In an interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Brennan questioned the message sent to the world if the president-elect broadcasts that he does not have confidence in the United States’ own intelligence agencies.

“What I do find outrageous is equating the intelligence community with Nazi Germany. I do take great umbrage at that, and there is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking information that was already available publicly,” Brennan said. Brennan’s criticism followed a tumultuous week of finger-pointing between Trump and intelligence agency leaders over an unsubstantiated report that Russia had collected compromising information about Trump. The unverified dossier was summarized in a U.S. intelligence report presented to Trump and outgoing President Barack Obama this month that concluded Russia tried to sway the outcome of the Nov. 8 election in Trump’s favor by hacking and other means. The report did not make an assessment on whether Russia’s attempts affected the election’s outcome.

Trump has accused the intelligence community of leaking the dossier information, which its leaders denied. They said it was their responsibility to inform the president-elect that the allegations were being circulated. Later on Sunday, Trump took to Twitter to berate Brennan and wrote, “Was this the leaker of Fake News?” In a separate posting, Trump scolded “those intelligence chiefs” for presenting the dossier as part of their briefing. “When people make mistakes, they should APOLOGIZE,” he wrote.

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Excellent. The elite press do not deserve their status.

Trump Team May Move West Wing Briefings to Expand Capacity (BBG)

The incoming Trump administration is considering moving White House press briefings out of the West Wing to accommodate more than the “Washington media elite,” President-elect Donald Trump’s press secretary said. “This is about greater accessibility, more people in the process,” Sean Spicer said Sunday on Fox News Channel’s “Media Buzz.” Involving more people, including bloggers and others who aren’t from the mainstream media, “should be seen as a welcome change,” he said. Their comments followed a report Saturday by Esquire, citing unidentified officials from the transition team, that the new administration may move the press corps out of the main White House building altogether because of antagonism between Trump and the media.

Any change would be made for logistical reasons, in response to heavy demand from media organizations, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Sunday. “The briefing room is open now to all reporters who request access,” White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason said in a statement Sunday. “We object strenuously to any move that would shield the president and his advisers from the scrutiny of an on-site White House press corps.” Mason said he was meeting with Spicer “to try to get more clarity on exactly what” the proposal is. “There’s such a tremendous amount of interest in this incoming administration that they’re giving some consideration to finding a larger venue on the 18 acres in the White House complex, to accommodate that extraordinary interest,” Pence said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

“The interest of the team is to make sure that we accommodate the broadest number of people who are interested and media from around the country and around the world,” Pence said. On ABC’s “This Week,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said demand for press-conference credentials far exceeds the “49 people” who can fit into the current briefing room. “The one thing that we discussed was whether or not we want to move the initial press conferences into the Executive Office Building,” Priebus said, adding, “you can fit four times the amount of people.”

Read more …

Oh well, with Trump praising Brexit and promising a swift deal, this may reverse.

Pound Sterling Hits New 31-Year-Low Ahead Of May’s Brexit Speech (Ind.)

Fears of the consequences of a hard Brexit have sent the pound to a fresh 31-year-low against the dollar, excluding last October’s flash crash. The pound hit new lows after reports said that Prime Minister Theresa May will on Tuesday signal plans to quit the EU’s single market to regain control of Britain’s borders, in a speech which is expected to give the most detailed insight yet into her approach to the forthcoming negotiations with Brussels. Sterling fell against all of its major peers, dropping below $1.1985 against the dollar in early Asian trade on Monday, before recovering slightly to just above $1.20. This is a more than three-decade low for the currency, excluding the flash crash on 7 October that sent the pound plunging more than six per cent to $1.18.

Fears among currency traders and investors that the UK is heading for a hard Brexit – in which access to the EU’s single market would be sacrificed in favour of tighter control over immigration – have tended to weaken the pound while suggestions that the UK could retain access to the EU single market have helped it recover. Sterling is down against the dollar by about 19 per cent since the Brexit vote, with declines since mainly sparked by concerns that Mrs May would pursue a so-called hard Brexit. City analysts are anticipating Mrs May’s speech on Tuesday with a sense of gloom.

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I know, I know, we should ignore this drivel. But there’s a few good take downs, this being one. I still wonder how the peeing hookers tale -apparently- ended up in Steele’s report. Because it came from the US, not Russia. Then again, of course, Steele hasn’t been to Russia in decades. If this report says anything, it’s that they can’t find dirt on Trump.

The Scandal of the 35-Page Anti-Trump ‘Intelligence Dossier’ (GR)

Some critics have been ungrateful enough to suggest that claims published without the least scintilla of supporting evidence by intelligence agencies which have a rich history of lying to the American people as well as everyone else, and which are in addition led by James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, may not be above suspicion. But the latest revelation, a 35-page sequence of linked texts published on January 10 by BuzzFeedNews, gives what simpletons are expected to interpret as unimpeachable evidence of soundness and credibility. The document is authored “by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official,” and its sources, identified by letters of the alphabet, include a “senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure,” “a former top level Russian intelligence officer still active inside the Kremlin,” as well as another “senior Kremlin official.”

(How could one fail to doff one’s cap in acknowledgment of the spy-craft of those Brits, who are able so deftly to penetrate the inner counsels of the wicked Mr. Putin and induce his close associates to sing like canaries?) The texts which make up this document propose that Mr. Trump and his entourage had routine treasonous contacts with Russian state authorities over a long period leading up to the election, and that Mr. Putin was interfering in that election in every way possible—including by exploiting “TRUMP’s personal obsessions and sexual perversion in order to obtain suitable ‘kompromat’ (compromising material) on him.” The document’s most lurid claim—certified by Sources B, D, E and F—is made on its second page. It’s not clear what form of perverse pleasure Mr. Trump was supposed to have obtained by having “a number of prostitutes” urinate on his bed in the Moscow Ritz Carlton’s presidential suite.

The explanation given for the motivation behind this command performance – that the same bed had previously been slept in, on one of their official visits to Russia, by Barack and Michelle Obama (“whom he hated”) – seems bizarre. After all, on the night in question, whose soggy bed was it now? [..] The most immediate concern raised by this literally filthy story may be humanitarian. It seems well attested that Mr. Trump is not merely fastidious, but germaphobic: where is he supposed to have slept out the rest of the night? On the perhaps undefiled sofa, or on the carpet? And what are we to make of the claim by trolling posters at 4Chan that this “golden showers” story was a hoax they had foisted onto a Republican operative known to despise Trump, who then shopped it around to news media, other politicians, and intelligence agencies? If this story is a fiction, then are the document’s Sources B, D, E and F, who confirmed it, also fictional? And if some of the document’s sources are made up, what kind of fool would want to believe that any of the rest are authentic?

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We call these people success stories. We need to redefine ‘success’.

Eight Billionaire Men ‘As Rich As World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion People’ (BBC)

The world’s eight richest individuals have as much wealth as the 3.6bn people who make up the poorest half of the world, according to Oxfam. The charity said its figures, which critics have queried, came from improved data, and the gap between rich and poor was “far greater than feared”. Oxfam’s report coincides with the start of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Mark Littlewood, of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said Oxfam should focus instead on ways to boost growth. “As an ‘anti-poverty’ charity, Oxfam seems to be strangely preoccupied with the rich,” said the director-general of the free market think tank. For those concerned with “eradicating absolute poverty completely”, the focus should be on measures that encourage economic growth, he added.

Ben Southwood, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, said it was not the wealth of the world’s rich that mattered, but the welfare of the world’s poor, which was improving every year. “Each year we are misled by Oxfam’s wealth statistics. The data is fine – it comes from Credit Suisse – but the interpretation is not.” The annual event in Davos, a Swiss ski resort, attracts many of the world’s top political and business leaders. Katy Wright, Oxfam’s head of global external affairs, said the report helped the charity to “challenge the political and economic elites”. “We’re under no illusions that Davos is anything other than a talking shop for the world’s elite, but we try and use that focus,” she added.

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But that would sink it. A band of 25%?!

“China Should Stop Intervening In FX Market And Let Yuan Float” (R.)

China should stop intervening in the foreign exchange market, devalue the yuan and let it float freely to restore stability, a senior researcher at a government-backed think tank said. Xiao Lisheng, a finance expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, made the remarks in an article on Monday in the official China Securities Journal amid a growing debate among the country’s economists on whether authorities should let the closely-managed currency trade more freely. The yuan lost 6.6% against the dollar last year, the biggest annual loss since 1994. “The more the government delays the release of depreciation pressure, the greater the impact and destructive power of the release of depreciation pressure will be,” Xiao wrote.

The authorities should “let the yuan exchange rate have a one-off adjustment to realize a free float” of the currency, he said. The yuan is allowed to trade in a band of 2% on either side of a daily reference rate managed by the central bank. Authorities have said repeatedly there was no basis for continued depreciation of the unit, but many currency strategists predict a further weakening this year if the U.S. dollar remains strong, spurring further capital outflows from China. Xiao said the current mid-point formation mechanism, adopted in 2015, is still immature and in transition, although it has eased depreciation pressure and curbed sharp declines in the country’s foreign exchange reserves. “But any foreign exchange rate mechanism without a free float cannot fundamentally reach a market clearing (price),” he wrote.

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Much more of that to come, even if -or especially if- their economy tanks.

China’s Booming Middle Class Drives Asia’s Toxic E-Waste Mountains (G.)

Asia’s mountains of hazardous electronic trash, or e-waste, are growing rapidly, new research reveals, with China leading the way. A record 16m tonnes of electronic trash, containing both toxic and valuable materials, were generated in a single year – up 63% in five years, new analysis looking at 12 countries in east and south-east Asia shows. In China the mountain of discarded TVs, phones, computers, monitors, e-toys and small appliances grew by 6.7m tonnes in 2015 alone. That’s an 107% increase in just five years. To get a sense of scale, if every woman, man and child in China had an old LCD monitor and dumped it the pile would not equal the 2015 tonnage. The region’s fast-increasing middle class is the main driver of e-waste increases, not population growth, the report by the United Nations University found.

However, Asia’s 3.7kg per person of waste is still tiny compared to Europe’s 15.6 kg per person, it said. “Growing incomes, the creation of more and more gadgets and ever-shorter lifespans of things like mobile phones are the reasons for this tremendous increase in Asia,” said co-author Ruediger Kuehr of UN University. Electronics and electrical devices have a big eco footprint, meaning their manufacture consumes a lot of energy and water, along with valuable and sometimes scarce resources, making recycling and recovery very important. The increasing volumes of e-waste combined with a lack of environmentally sound management is a cause for concern, says Kuehr. “We risk future production of these devices and very high costs without recycling the materials,” he said.

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The numbers start to be confusing. It’s good to realize that Kathimerini is not a fan of Tsipras. What we know is the EU prefers to donate millions to NGOs rather than Greece.

But the point stands: where is the money going, what is it being spend on, and why is there no public accounting of this? Why are refugees freezing to death?

Greece Strives To Absorb EU’s Migration Funds (Kath.)

Greece is struggling to make use of EU money for migrants and refugees after having absorbed just a fraction of the 509 million euros in funding for up to 2020. So far, Athens has used about 2% of 294.6 million euros from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, and around 25% of 214.8 million euros from the Internal Security Fund. Greek authorities blame the slow absorption rate on emergency conditions caused by the migrant influx, whereas Brussels has pointed to technical faults on the other end.

Athens, however, appears more flexible absorbing separate EU emergency funding: From about 350 million euros for 2015-16, some 175 million has gone to state agencies and an equal sum to the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the European Asylum Service. “Were it not for the emergency funds, we would be able to do nothing. Or we would have to spend money from the state budget. Regular funding requires a lot of bureaucracy,” a Labor Ministry official told Kathimerini on condition of anonymity.

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Jan 082017
 
 January 8, 2017  Posted by at 9:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Trump: Only ‘Fools’, ‘Stupid People’, See Good Ties With Russia as Bad (BBG)
At Home and Abroad, Obama’s Trail of Disasters (BGlobe)
Russians Ridicule US Charge That Kremlin Meddled to Help Trump (NYT)
How RT Became The Star Of CIA, FBI & NSA’s Anticlimactic ‘Big Reveal’ (McD)
No One Can Afford To Stop The New Consumer Credit Crisis (G.)
China’s Foreign Exchange Reserves Fall To Lowest Since February 2011 (R.)
The Growing Threat to Global Trade: a Currency War (Forsyth)
Fed’s Powell Urges Congress to Take Another Look at Volcker Rule (BBG)
New Policies Coming To America Could Take Weight Off Fed: Powell (R.)
Economists Want to Be Members of Donald Trump’s Team (BBG)
EU Collapse ‘No Longer Unthinkable’ – German Vice Chancellor Gabriel (R.)
Greeks’ Mental Health Suffering (Kath.)

 

 

This is Trump’s Trump Card. Stop the empty rhetoric, and stop the warfare. If he can do that, he’ll go down in history as a great president.

Trump: Only ‘Fools’, ‘Stupid People’, See Good Ties With Russia as Bad (BBG)

Facing calls to strike back at Russia for what U.S. intelligence agencies have termed Moscow’s interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Donald Trump instead suggested warmer relations between the two countries. The president-elect took to Twitter on Saturday to discuss the potential U.S.-Russia relationship under his administration, a day after U.S. spy chiefs briefed him on the Russian measures they said were directed by President Vladimir Putin. “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said in a series of three tweets. “Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one.” “When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now,” Trump assured his 19 million Twitter followers.

On Friday, top U.S. intelligence officials met with the president-elect at Trump Tower in New York to present evidence that Putin personally ordered cyber and disinformation attacks on the U.S. campaign. Putin developed “a clear preference” for Trump to win, the agencies said in a declassified summary of their findings. The agencies said they “assess Putin and the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” according to the report. “All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence,” the report said. “Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the U.S. presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against U.S. allies and their election processes.”

On Saturday, posts from the Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in the U.K. dismissed the report, calling it “a pathetic attempt at tainting Americans’ vote by innuendo couched in Intel new-speak.” “All accusations against Russia are based on ‘confidence’ and assumptions,” Alexey Pushkov, a member of the Russian Parliament’s upper house, said on Twitter. As Trump’s transition team did in a statement in December, Pushkov drew a parallel with the U.S. intelligence finding of the early 2000s that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The report was released shortly after intelligence chiefs briefed Trump on their findings that Russia was responsible for the hacking of Democratic Party computers and the leaking of e-mails damaging to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations.

Trump said negligence by the DNC had allowed the hacking to go ahead. “Only reason the hacking of the poorly defended DNC is discussed is that the loss by the Dems was so big that they are totally embarrassed!” Trump tweeted on Saturday. By contrast, “the Republican National Committee had strong defense!” he said — although the intelligence report said that Russia had targeted both major parties.

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I guess kudo’s are due to the Boston Globe, generally in the same false news camp as the WaPo and NYT, for publishing this.

At Home and Abroad, Obama’s Trail of Disasters (BGlobe)

As he prepares to move out of the White House, Barack Obama is understandably focused on his legacy and reputation. The president will deliver a farewell address in Chicago on Tuesday; he told his supporters in an e-mail that the speech would “celebrate the ways you’ve changed this country for the better these past eight years,” and previewed his closing argument in a series of tweets hailing “the remarkable progress” for which he hopes to be remembered. Certainly Obama has his admirers. For years he has enjoyed doting coverage in the mainstream media. Those press ovations will continue, if a spate of new or forthcoming books by journalists is any indication. Moreover, Obama is going out with better-than-average approval ratings for a departing president. So his push to depict his presidency as years of “remarkable progress” is likely to resonate with his true believers.

But there are considerably fewer of those true believers than there used to be. Most Americans long ago got over their crush on Obama, as they repeatedly demonstrated at the polls. In 2010, two years after electing him president, voters trounced Obama’s party, handing Democrats the biggest midterm losses in 72 years. Obama was reelected in 2012, but by nearly 4 million fewer votes than in his first election, making him the only president ever to win a second term with shrunken margins in both the popular and electoral vote. Two years later, with Obama imploring voters, “[My] policies are on the ballot — every single one of them,” Democrats were clobbered again. And in 2016, as he campaigned hard for Hillary Clinton, Obama was increasingly adamant that his legacy was at stake. “I’m not on this ballot,” he told campaign rallies in a frequent refrain, “but everything we’ve done these last eight years is on the ballot.” The voters heard him out, and once more turned him down.

As a political leader, Obama has been a disaster for his party. Since his inauguration in 2009, roughly 1,100 elected Democrats nationwide have been ousted by Republicans. Democrats lost their majorities in the US House and Senate. They now hold just 18 of the 50 governorships, and only 31 of the nation’s 99 state legislative chambers. After eight years under Obama, the GOP is stronger than at any time since the 1920s, and the outgoing president’s party is in tatters. Obama urged Americans to cast their votes as a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on his legacy. That’s what they did. In almost every respect, Obama leaves behind a trail of failure and disappointment.

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Yes, even the NYT lets slip a line or two about the lack of evidence in the ridiculous US intelligence ‘report’. The article should have stopped at that, but continues in a sort of Macchiavellian spirit (actually uses the term too), trying to save some face.

Russians Ridicule US Charge That Kremlin Meddled to Help Trump (NYT)

Spies are usually thought of as bystanders who quietly steal secrets in the shadows. But the Russian versions, schooled in techniques used during the Cold War against the United States, have a more ambitious goal — shaping, not just snooping on, the politics of a nation that the Soviet-era K.G.B. targeted as the “main adversary.” That at least is the conclusion of a declassified report released on Friday that outlines what America’s top intelligence agencies view as an elaborate “influence campaign” ordered by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia aimed at skewing the outcome of the 2016 presidential race. But the absence of any concrete evidence in the report of meddling by the Kremlin was met with a storm of mockery on Saturday by Russian politicians and commentators, who took to social media to ridicule the report as a potpourri of baseless conjecture.

In a message posted on Twitter, Alexey Pushkov, a member of the defense and security committee of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, ridiculed the American report as akin to C.I.A. assertions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction: “Mountain gave birth to a mouse: all accusations against Russia are based on ‘confidence’ and assumptions. US was sure about Hussein possessing WMD in the same way.” Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of RT, a state-funded television network that broadcasts in English, who is cited repeatedly in the report, posted her own message on Twitter scoffing at the American intelligence community’s accusations. “Aaa, the CIA report is out! Laughter of the year! Intro to my show from 6 years ago is the main evidence of Russia’s influence at US elections. This is not a joke!” she wrote.

Even Russians who have been critical of their government voiced dismay at the United States intelligence agencies’ account of an elaborate Russian conspiracy unsupported by solid evidence. Alexey Kovalev, a Russian journalist who has followed and frequently criticized RT, said he was aghast that the report had given so much attention to the television station. “I do have a beef with RT and their chief,” Mr. Kovalev wrote on Twitter, “But they are not your nemesis, America. Please chill.”

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And Bryan McDonald finished off what the NYT started: “..it appears that we should swallow how RT succeeded where the combined might of CNN, NBC, CBS, The WaPo and the NYT and others failed in influencing the US election.”

How RT Became The Star Of CIA, FBI & NSA’s Anticlimactic ‘Big Reveal’ (McD)

The eagerly awaited Director Of National Intelligence’s (DNI) report “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections” didn’t need such a long winded title. They could have just called it: “We Really Don’t Like RT.” Almost every major western news outlet splashed this story. But it was probably the New York Times’ report which was the most amusing. America’s “paper of record” hailed the DNI’s homework as “damning and surprisingly detailed.” Then a few paragraphs later admitted the analysis contained no actual evidence. Thus, in a few column inches, the Gray Lady went from describing the DNI’s release as something conclusive to conceding how it was all conjecture. “The declassified report contained no information about how the agencies had collected their data or had come to their conclusions,” the reporter, one David E. Sanger, told us.

He then reached further into his bag of tricks to warn how it is “bound to be attacked by skeptics.” Yes, those skeptics. Aren’t they awful? Like, imagine not accepting an intelligence document at face value? Especially when it warns that a nuclear armed military superpower is interfering in the American democratic process, but then offers not a smidgen of proof for its assertions. Not to mention how it appears to have been put together by a group of people with barely a clue about Russia. For instance, RT progams such as “Breaking The Set” and “The Truthseeker” are mentioned in a submission supposed to be about how RT supposedly cost Hillary Clinton the US Presidential Election. But both of these programmes went off air around two years ago. And, back then, Clinton wasn’t even the Democratic Party candidate for the 2016 contest.

[..] So how bad is this report? You’d have to say on a scale of 1-10, it’d be eleven. The core message appears to be that having a point of view which is out of sync with the liberal popular media is considered a hostile act by US spooks. And it’s specifically the liberal press’ worldview they are defending here. Now, it’s up to you to judge whether this support, from state actors, is justified or not. The DNI’s submission is ostensibly the work of highly qualified intelligence experts, but everything you learn about RT comes from publicly available interviews and Tweets posted by this channel’s own people. Yet, we are supposed to believe how the best Russia brains of three agencies – the CIA, FBI and NSA – laboured to produce this stuff? That said, the latter doesn’t appear to be fully on board, offering “moderate” confidence, in contrast to the other’s “high confidence.”

Approximately a third of the document centers on RT. And it appears that we should swallow how RT succeeded where the combined might of CNN, NBC, CBS, The WaPo and the NYT and others failed in influencing the US election. Not to mention the reality where 500 US media outlets endorsed Clinton and only 25 President-elect Donald Trump. It’s time to scream: “stop the lights!” [..] The DNI’s report is beyond bad. And it’s scary to think how outgoing President Obama has stirred up a nasty diplomatic battle with Russia based on intelligence so devoid of insight and quality. There is nothing here which suggests the authors have any special savvy or insight. In fact, you could argue how a group of students would’ve assembled something of similar substance by simply reading back issues of The New York Times. But the biggest takeaway is that it’s clear how the calibre of Russia expertise in America is mediocre, if not spookily sparse. And while this report might be fodder for amusement, the actual policy implications are nothing short of dangerous.

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And that’s by no means only true for Britain.

No One Can Afford To Stop The New Consumer Credit Crisis (G.)

Consumer debt has raised its ugly head again. According to the latest figures, the total has soared back to a level last seen just before the 2008 financial crash. To the untrained eye, the dramatic increase in spending using credit cards and loans might appear to prefigure a disaster of epic proportions. Excessive consumer debt played a big part in the collapse of Northern Rock, and looking back, this landmark banking disaster appears to have been the harbinger of an even bigger catastrophe when, a year later, Lehman Brothers fell over. This is not a view shared by the Bank of England, which says it need only keep a watching brief. Its complacency is born of forecasts of the ratio between household debt and GDP made by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

At the moment, the household debt to GDP ratio is around 140%, compared with almost 170% in 2008. The OBR’s latest analysis predicts that, over the next five years, the combination of consumer and mortgage debt will rise only gradually and fall well short of its pre-crisis peak. There is nothing wrong with judging household debt as a proportion of annual national income to gauge sustainability and the likelihood that borrowers can afford to pay it back. There is nothing wrong with it as long as you assume that GDP has been evenly shared out since the crash and that the people doing the borrowing have higher incomes, thanks to the higher GDP, to cope with repayments. Except that the Bank of England knows most people’s incomes have flatlined for years. It need look no further than official figures, which make it clear that the vast majority have missed out on the gains from GDP growth.

Incomes per head have barely recovered since 2008 and are only marginally ahead. Figures put together by the TUC last year from the official annual survey of hours and earnings paint an even gloomier picture. If they are only half right, the capacity of workers on low and average pay to manage debt payments is significantly diminished. It has estimated that, nationally, workers are more than £2,000 a year worse off after inflation is taken into account than they were in 2008 and more than £4,000 worse off in London. This should tell the central bank and the Treasury that a rise to £192bn in unsecured consumer debt in November – only a little short of the £208bn peak – is most definitely a cause for concern. And it therefore makes no sense to brush aside fears about rising debt levels by pointing to higher GDP. A debt-to-GDP figure is just not that relevant when the incomes of the people taking on the debt are stagnant.

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Beijing counting down the days till january 20. It still has $3 trillion left, but 90% or so of that is not available.

China’s Foreign Exchange Reserves Fall To Lowest Since February 2011 (R.)

China’s foreign exchange reserves fell for a sixth straight month in December but by less than expected to the lowest since February 2011, as authorities stepped in to support the yuan ahead of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration. China’s reserves shrank by $41 billion in December, slightly less than feared but the sixth straight month of declines, data showed on Saturday, after a week in which Beijing moved aggressively to punish those betting against the currency and make it harder for money to get out of the country. Analysts had forecast a drop of $51 billion. For the year as a whole, China’s reserves fell nearly $320 billion to $3.011 trillion, on top of a record drop of $513 billion in 2015. While the $3 trillion mark is not seen as a firm “line in the sand” for Beijing, concerns are swirling in global financial markets over the speed with which the country is depleting its ammunition to defend the currency and staunch capital outflows.

Some analysts estimate it needs to retain a minimum of $2.6 trillion to $2.8 trillion under the IMF’s adequacy measures. If pressure on the yuan persists, analysts suspect China will continue to tighten the screws on outflows via administrative and regulatory means, while pouncing sporadically on short sellers in forex markets to discourage them from building up excessive bets against the currency. But if it continues to burn through reserves at a rapid rate, some strategists believe China’s leaders may have little choice but to sanction another big “one-off” devaluation like that in 2015, which would likely roil global financial markets and stoke tensions with the new Trump administration. The yuan depreciated 6.6% against the surging dollar in 2016, its biggest one-year loss since 1994, and is expected to weaken further this year if the dollar’s rally has legs.

Adding to the pressure, Trump has vowed to label China a currency manipulator on his first day in office, and has threatened to slap huge tariffs on imports of Chinese goods. That has left Chinese eager to get money out of the country, creating what some researchers describe as a potentially destructive negative feedback loop, where fears of further yuan falls spur outflows that pile fresh pressure on the currency. “For 2016 as a whole we estimate total capital outflows to have been around $710 billion,” Capital Economics’ China economist Chang Liu told Reuters in an email. Capital Economics estimated net outflows in November and December alone were $76 billion and $66 billion, respectively.

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Trump will be willing to negotiate, but there’s doesn’t seem to be much, if any, room for China to move.

The Growing Threat to Global Trade: a Currency War (Forsyth)

While Trump has talked of imposing a so-called border tax on imports or tariffs, currencies are at the nexus of trade and are the quickest means to try to influence trade flows. In that regard, he has threatened to declare China a “currency manipulator” on Day One of his administration for allegedly pushing down the yuan to gain an export advantage. The risk is that this will escalate into a currency war, with both sides attempting to gain a trade advantage, and that it ultimately ends up disrupting global trade and financial markets. As with any war, this one should be avoided at all costs. But the events of the past year suggest never say never. [..] China, of course, is central to Trump’s strategy to reduce the U.S. trade deficit.

Harris writes that this includes three actions: naming China a currency manipulator; bringing trade cases against it under the WTO and U.S. rules; and using “every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes if China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets.” In addition, last week the president-elect named Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative, adding him to the hawkish team of Peter Navarro, director of the new National Trade Council, and Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross. While the U.S. and China may find common ground on environmental regulation in China, given the unbreathable air in Beijing and other cities, Harris thinks it’s unlikely China would concede that it is manipulating its currency.

“China is currently fighting to prevent currency weakness, selling its foreign currency reserves to offset private capital flight from the country,” he continues. China’s reserves have fallen by about $1 trillion, to just over $3 trillion as of November; the latest data, due this weekend, will be closely watched to see how much Beijing’s cache has been depleted. That said, “some academics in China are suggesting the country should respond to being declared a ‘manipulator’ by letting the currency float, triggering even more weakness,” adds Harris. Other observers see such a course as dangerous. Danielle DiMartino Booth, writing in her latest Money Strong missive, quotes Leland Miller, president of China Beige Book, a private research group, that the last thing Beijing wants is a floating yuan.

“It would hurt them much more than anyone else and be greeted with massive retribution from every corner of the world. There would be countervailing devaluations and would cause global contagion,” he contends. “It would also be a major blow to [President] Xi’s credibility during a politically sensitive year, since he’s pledged to not float the currency. And it would NOT stanch outflows; all it would do is exacerbate them.”

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The independent Fed talking politics?!

Fed’s Powell Urges Congress to Take Another Look at Volcker Rule (BBG)

Federal Reserve Governor Jerome Powell urged Congress to rewrite the Volcker Rule that restricts proprietary trading, while urging “a high degree of vigilance” against the buildup of financial risks amid improving U.S. growth. “What the current law and rule do is effectively force you to look into the mind and heart of every trader on every trade to see what the intent is,” Powell said Saturday at the American Finance Association meeting in Chicago. “Is it propriety trading or something else? If that is the test you set yourself, you are going to wind up with tremendous expense and burden.” Powell’s comments compare to Fed Chair Janet Yellen, who has supported the sweeping bank rules of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act in the wake of the global financial crisis. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle Dodd-Frank. The Volcker Rule restricts banks with taxpayer-backed deposits from making certain types of speculative “proprietary” trades.

“We don’t want the largest financial institutions to be seriously engaged in propriety trading,” Powell said. “We do want them to be able to hedge their positions and create markets.” Powell said that the Volcker Rule, as enacted by U.S. lawmakers, doesn’t achieve that goal. “I feel the Congress should take another look at it.” In the text of his remarks, Powell urged more monitoring of financial risks following a period of record low interest rates, citing commercial real estate as one area of concern. “More recently, with inflation under control, overheating has shown up in the form of financial excess,” Powell said. “The current extended period of very low nominal rates calls for a high degree of vigilance against the buildup of risks to the stability of the financial system.”

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Is this simply the Fed trying to pass on the blame?

New Policies Coming To America Could Take Weight Off Fed: Powell (R.)

A push by Washington for more business-friendly regulation and fiscal support for the economy could improve America’s mix of policies which in recent years have relied too much on the Federal Reserve, Fed Governor Jerome Powell said. Powell, speaking on Saturday at a conference, did not mention the incoming Trump administration by name but his comments suggest some Trump policies will be welcomed by U.S. central bankers who have been urging other institutions to do more to help the economy. “We may be moving more to a more balanced policy with what sounds like more business-friendly regulation and possibly more fiscal support,” Powell told an economics conference in Chicago. President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has promised to double America’s pace of economic growth, “rebuild” its infrastructure and slash regulatory burdens.

About half of the Fed’s 17 policymakers factored a fiscal stimulus into their economic forecasts published in December, according to minutes from the Fed’s December policy meeting. That expected stimulus has led several policymakers to say the Fed will likely raise rates more quickly, but Powell said new policies could also ease the Fed’s burden. “Monetary policy (might be) able to hand it off and I think that’s a healthier thing,” he said. “We may be moving to a more balanced policy mix.” Following a Congress-enacted fiscal stimulus during and immediately after the 2007-09 recession, the Fed in recent years has been widely seen as the economic authority working the hardest to help the economy. But throughout 2016, Fed policymakers worried publicly that the U.S. economy was stuck in a low growth path and central banking tools could do little to fix this. Central bankers urged Congress and the U.S. president to pass laws that would help make U.S. businesses and workers more productive.

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“..it might be more of a matter of Trump not wanting many economists in his administration..”

Economists Want to Be Members of Donald Trump’s Team (BBG)

Economists aren’t shying away from joining Donald Trump’s administration and would be willing to pitch in if asked, according to former economic policy makers now in academia. “The president will be able to get any economist he asked for,” said Glenn Hubbard, who served President George W. Bush as chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers from 2001 to 2003 and is now dean of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Business. Hubbard spoke Saturday in Chicago at the American Economic Association annual conference. A delay in naming a new CEA chair and reports that the position might go to CNBC commentator Lawrence Kudlow spawned speculation that leading academic economists were reluctant to join a team headed by an avowed skeptic of free trade.

“I don’t see that,” said John Taylor, an economics professor who served in the Bush administration as under secretary of Treasury for international affairs and now teaches at Stanford University. “It’s a pretty exciting time and lots of things are going on,” said Taylor, who worked in three other administrations as well. Alan Krueger, who led the CEA in the White House of President Barack Obama from 2011 to 2013 before passing the torch to incumbent Jason Furman, suggested that it might be more of a matter of Trump not wanting many economists in his administration, rather than the other way around. “I worry more about the demand side than the supply side,” said the Princeton University professor said. The audience laughed.

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Should have thought of that earlier. Because this has been evident for a very long time: Germany is the biggest beneficiary of the European community – economically and politically.” Just look at the graph I inserted at the bottom of this article.

EU Collapse ‘No Longer Unthinkable’ – German Vice Chancellor Gabriel (R.)

Germany’s insistence on austerity in the euro zone has left Europe more divided than ever and a break-up of the European Union is no longer inconceivable, German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel told Der Spiegel magazine. Gabriel, whose Social Democrats (SPD) are junior partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in her ruling grand coalition, said strenuous efforts by countries like France and Italy to reduce their fiscal deficits came with political risks. “I once asked the chancellor, what would be more costly for Germany: for France to be allowed to have half a percentage point more deficit, or for Marine Le Pen to become president?” he said, referring to the leader of the far-right National Front. “Until today, she still owes me an answer,” added Gabriel, whose SPD favors a greater focus on investment while Merkel’s conservatives put more emphasis on fiscal discipline as a foundation for economic prosperity.

The SPD is expected to choose Gabriel, their long-standing chairman who is also economy minister, to run against Merkel for chancellor in September’s federal election, senior party sources said on Thursday. Asked if he really believed he could win more votes by transferring more German money to other EU countries, Gabriel replied: “I know that this discussion is extremely unpopular. But I also know about the state of the EU. It is no longer unthinkable that it breaks apart,” he said in the interview, published on Saturday. “Should that happen, our children and grandchildren would curse us,” he added. “Because Germany is the biggest beneficiary of the European community – economically and politically.”

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Thanks, Angela.

Greeks’ Mental Health Suffering (Kath.)

More than half of Greeks complain of mental health problems, with stress, insecurity and disappointment among the issues most commonly cited, according to the results of a nationwide survey by the National School of Public Health, known by its acronym ESDY. Over half of the 2,005 adults polled (53.9%) said their mental health had not been good over the past month due to stress, depression or other emotional problems. A quarter (24.8%) of respondents, identified poor physical or mental health as causing problems in their daily lives. A total of 15% said they felt insecurity, anxiety and fear, with 14% citing anger and frustration, 9.7% complaining of depression and sadness, 8.2% of stress and 44.6% citing all these ailments.

Four in 10 (42.6%) said they only enjoyed their lives “moderately” and one in 10 said they thought their lives had little or no meaning. The findings came as official figures showed that cases of depression rose from 2.6% of the population in 2008 to 4.7% in 2015. Responding to broader questions about their health and lifestyle, 20% of those polled said their diets had been insufficient over the past month due to low finances. According to health sector experts, however, the repercussions of the economic crisis on citizens’ health are less severe than many had feared. In comments to Kathimerini, Yiannis Kyriopoulos, a professor of health economics at the ESDY, said the findings of the study “simply observe a slowdown in the improvement of health indicators.”

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Jan 052017
 
 January 5, 2017  Posted by at 10:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Pablo Picasso The Dream 1932


Chinese Media Say ‘Big Sticks’ Await Trump If He Seeks Trade War (BBG)
Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top US Spy Agency and CIA (WSJ)
Schumer Calls Eight Trump Cabinet Picks ‘Troublesome’ (BBG)
Ford’s Truck Trumps Mexico and Tesla (BBG)
So What’s The Big Idea, European Union? (G.)
Italy’s 5 Star Movement Part Of Growing Club Of Putin Sympathisers In West (G.)
Beppe Grillo Accuses Journalists Of ‘Manufacturing False News’ (DM)
Ukraine Moves To Blacklist Le Pen Over Crimea Comments (R.)
UK Credit Binge Approaching Levels Not Seen Since 2008 Crash (G.)
China Can’t Quit the Dollar (Balding)
India’s Cash Woes Are Just Beginning (BBG)
Head of Russian Central Bank Named European Banker of the Year (RT)
Steve Keen: Rebel Economist With A Cause (AFR)

 

 

Xi has all the state media, and all Trump has is Twitter. Isn’t it fun? Then again, for Xi to let the Global Times come with this sort of childish language is below him.

Chinese Media Say ‘Big Sticks’ Await Trump If He Seeks Trade War (BBG)

Chinese state media warned U.S. President-elect Donald Trump that he’ll be met with “big sticks” if he tries to ignite a trade war or further strain ties. “There are flowers around the gate of China’s Ministry of Commerce, but there are also big sticks hidden inside the door – they both await Americans,” the Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper wrote in an editorial Thursday in response to Trump’s plans to nominate lawyer Robert Lighthizer, who has criticized Beijing’s trade practices, as U.S. trade representative.

The latest salvo from state-run outlets followed others last month aimed at Peter Navarro, a University of California at Irvine economics professor and critic of China’s trade practices whom Trump last month named to head a newly formed White House National Trade Council. Those picks plus billionaire Wilbur Ross, the nominee for commerce secretary, will form an “iron curtain” of protectionism in Trump’s economic and trade team, the paper wrote. The three share Trump’s strong anti-globalization beliefs and seem unlikely to keep building the current trade order, it said, adding that they will be more interested in disrupting the world trade order.

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Don’t think they saw this coming. And that’s perhaps not so intelligent. The CIA leaked a lot of wild anti-Trump stuff during the election campaign, and now claims he MUST trust them. But if he leaves the same people in place, when will they turn on him again?

Donald Trump Plans Revamp of Top US Spy Agency and CIA (WSJ)

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said, prompted by a belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized. The planning comes as Mr. Trump has leveled a series of social media attacks in recent months and the past few days against U.S. intelligence agencies, dismissing and mocking their assessment that the Russian government hacked emails of Democratic groups and individuals and then leaked them last year to WikiLeaks and others in an effort to help Mr. Trump win the White House.

One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the CIA, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment on the plan. “The view from the Trump team is the intelligence world [is] becoming completely politicized,” said the individual, who is close to the Trump transition operation. “They all need to be slimmed down. The focus will be on restructuring the agencies and how they interact.”

In one of his latest Twitter posts on Wednesday, Mr. Trump referenced an interview that WikiLeaks editor in chief Julian Assange gave to Fox News in which he denied Russia had been his source for the thousands of emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton advisers, including campaign manager John Podesta, that Mr. Assange published. Mr. Trump tweeted: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’—why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

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This will dominate the news going forward. Main question: what crazy stories will the WaPo come up with to discredit the nominees? Should be interesting. Meanwhile: YOU LOST, Schumer. Big time. Stop digging.

Schumer Calls Eight Trump Cabinet Picks ‘Troublesome’ (BBG)

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party views eight of Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices as being “the most troublesome” and wants at least two days of hearings for each of them. “We have asked for fair hearings on all of those nominees,” Schumer of New York told reporters Wednesday in Washington. “There are a lot of questions about these nominees.” Confirmation hearings begin next week for a number of the president-elect’s Cabinet picks, and several already overlap on a single day, Jan. 11. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said minutes earlier that he hopes the Senate would be ready to confirm some of the nominees shortly after Trump is inaugurated on Jan. 20, just as it did when President Barack Obama first took office.

Under current Senate rules, Democrats can delay Senate confirmation of nominees but can’t block them on their own. Schumer’s office said the eight nominees targeted by Democrats for extra scrutiny are Rex Tillerson for secretary of State, Betsy DeVos for Education, Steven Mnuchin for Treasury, Scott Pruitt for the Environmental Protection Agency, Mick Mulvaney for budget director, Tom Price for Health and Human Services, Andy Puzder for Labor and Wilbur Ross for Commerce. Schumer said he wants their full paperwork before hearings are scheduled, adding that only a few have turned it in while most haven’t. Schumer said he also wants their tax returns, particularly because some are billionaires and given the potential for conflicts of interest.

The hearing for DeVos is scheduled for Jan. 11, “and we don’t have any information on her, and she in addition has a $5 million fine outstanding that she’s refused to pay,” Schumer said. Democrats have called on a political action committee led by DeVos to pay a $5.2 million fine imposed by Ohio officials over campaign finance violations in 2008. “There are so many issues about so many of them that to rush them through would be a disservice to the American people,” the Democratic leader said. While many of Obama’s nominees were confirmed quickly, his team had its paperwork in early, Schumer said.

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Our God is the car.

Ford’s Truck Trumps Mexico and Tesla (BBG)

On its first day back from the holidays, America’s auto industry began with a Mexican standoff and ended with Tesla just being off. Ford announced early on Tuesday it was scrapping plans to build a new plant in Mexico, apparently under pressure from President-elect Donald Trump. The PEOTUS then turned his signature industrial-policy-by-tweet on General Motors, threatening them over shipping Mexican-made Chevy Cruze cars back home .Meanwhile, after the market closed on Tuesday, Tesla Motors Inc. reported it missed its (reduced) guidance for vehicle deliveries in 2016. The stock fell in after-hours trading, as some were clearly caught by surprise – a reaction that, let’s face it, is itself a bit surprising at this point. In any case, a timely tour of the Gigafactory scheduled for Wednesday will no doubt snap the market’s attention back away from those pesky number thingies.

What links these stories is Ford’s other announcement on Tuesday morning, which got a bit lost in the shuffle; namely, its plans to electrify some of its marquee models – including the F-150 pickup truck.Rather than a battery-only version or even a plug-in hybrid model, Ford is committing merely to a basic hybrid version of the F-150 by 2020 – more Priusizing than Teslarizing it. So we aren’t about to see Ford’s trucks vanish from gasoline stations anytime soon. But this is still a big deal. The F-Series is America’s biggest-selling vehicle and represents one of every three full-size pickups sold. Also, pickups are archetypal gas guzzlers, and gas guzzlers are doing really well right now because of cheap gasoline. And even as Trump lobs Twitter-bombs at the car-makers’ foreign factories, his administration also looks likely to ease up on fuel-efficiency standards.

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So What’s The Big Idea, Guardian? How can you have your own Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, Thomas Kirchner and Alexander Mühlauer of Suddeutsche Zeitung and Cécile Ducourtieux of Le Monde, all contribute to a long article, and still not touch on a single one prime issue with the EU? How do you do it?

So What’s The Big Idea, European Union? (G.)

A few weeks ago, a significant anniversary in Maastricht slipped by almost unnoticed: 25 years ago, the historic treaty that ushered in the euro was drafted. But there was no fanfare, no commemoration in the European parliament, no mention at all by the commission. There was just a rather lacklustre speech by the EU president, Jean-Claude Juncker, in which he lamented that people were not sufficiently proud of what had been achieved on 9 December 1991. This air of resignation perfectly epitomises an EU in retreat. Battered, bothered and bewildered on all sides by a succession of crises – Brexit, the euro, refugees – the union is short of ideas, perhaps shorter than it has ever been. In his state of the union speech last autumn, the very best that Juncker could come up with was free Wi-Fi for every EU town and village by 2020, though even this sounded more like an aspiration than a concrete policy.

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Oh, wait, that hollow ‘article’ on the EU was just a lead in to this Guardian smear piece in the honored tradition of the WaPo. Up to and including “Russian interference in Italian elections”.

Italy’s 5 Star Movement Part Of Growing Club Of Putin Sympathisers In West (G.)

Ten years ago, in the wake of the murder of the leading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a popular comedian-turned-blogger in Italy named Beppe Grillo urged tens of thousands of his readers to go out and buy Putin’s Russia, her searing exposé of corruption under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. “Russia is a democracy based on the export of gas and oil. If they didn’t export that, they would go back to being the good old dictatorship of once upon a time,” Grillo wrote in a mournful 2006 post about the journalist’s murder. But today, Grillo’s position on Russia has radically changed. He is now part of a growing club of Kremlin sympathisers in the west – an important shift given that the comedian has become one of the most powerful political leaders in Italy and his Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party he created in 2009, is a top contender to win the next Italian election.

[..] As the M5S’s rhetoric has become pro-Russian, it is simultaneously becoming more critical of the EU, including a vow to hold a referendum on the euro. Such a vote would be likely to have a destabilising effect on European unity, even if in practice it would be difficult to execute a departure from the single currency. Grillo has also called for a “review” of the EU’s open borders under the Schengen agreement, in response to the shooting in Milan of Anis Amri, the suspected terrorist behind last month’s attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

[..] Foreign diplomats in Rome said it was easy to overestimate the M5S’s chances of winning the next Italian election and that expected changes to Italy’s electoral rules would make an M5S victory difficult. That calculation is based on the fact that the M5S has always opposed forging governing alliances with other parties, which has made it impossible so far for the party to achieve a majority coalition in parliament. But a handful of diplomats have also suggested that the ruling Democratic party, which is still led by former prime minister Matteo Renzi, may not be fully alert to the potential threat of Russian interference in Italian elections, and is not as concerned about the issue as it should be.

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This is Italy, so what does the other side say? Fascism. To propose a public jury on what news is false is fascism. As Italy is no. 77 in the World Press Freedom Index. This will get very ugly.

Beppe Grillo Accuses Journalists Of ‘Manufacturing False News’ (DM)

The leader of Italy’s populist Five Star movement has caused a stir by accusing the country’s journalists of ‘manufacturing false news’. Comic Beppe Grillo, founder of the anti-euro movement, lashed out at print and TV journalists, accusing them of fabricating news to keep his party, the Five Stars, down. ‘Newspapers and television news programmes are the biggest manufacturers of false news in the country, with the aim of ensuring those who have power keep it,’ he said on his blog on Tuesday. He called for ‘a popular jury to determine the veracity of the news published,’ and said in cases of fake news ‘the editor must, head bowed, make a public apology and publish the correct version at the start of the programme or on the paper’s front page’.

Grillo said members of the general public ‘picked at random’ would be shown newspaper articles and programmes and asked ‘to determine their accuracy.’ The blog was accompanied by a montage of the banners and logos of Italy’s main newspapers and television news programmes. The media world was enraged by comments, as were politicians from Italy’s traditional parties. The news director of the private TG La7 channel, Enrico Mentana, said he would sue the comedian, while journalists’ union FNSI slammed the ‘lynching of all journalists’. The opposition Five Stars was running neck-and-neck with the ruling centre-left Democratic Party (PD) before Matteo Renzi’s downfall last month and Grillo is campaigning hard for the next general election, which could be held in coming months.

What Grillo is proposing ‘is called Fascism, and those who play it down are accomplices,’ PD senator Stefano Esposito said. The centre-right Forza Italia (FI) party, founded by ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, said Grillo wanted a ‘minculpop 2.0’, a reference to the propaganda and censorship ministry under dictator Benito Mussolini. Grillo has had a difficult relationship with the media since launching the Five Stars (M5S) in 2009, banning members from appearing on talk shows and giving international media priority over their Italian counterparts at his rallies. His claim that journalists were to blame for the country’s poor standing on the World Press Freedom Index – where it ranks 77th – was dismissed by the editor in chief of the Repubblica daily.

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The Crimeans voted in huge numbers to join -stay with- Russia, but you can’t say that. Not even if it’s true and you live 2000 miles away. I doubt Le Pen was planning any trips to Kyiv anytime soon to begin with, but so who’s next? She can’t go to Poland anymore either soon? But still get elected president of France? Bring it on.

Ukraine Moves To Blacklist Le Pen Over Crimea Comments (R.)

Ukraine indicated on Wednesday it would bar French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen from entering the country after comments she made that appeared to legitimize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Le Pen’s office dismissed the threat, saying she had no intention of visiting Ukraine. Kiev is nervous about the shifting political landscape in 2017. U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has adopted a friendlier tone toward Russia while another French presidential candidate, Francois Fillon, favours lifting sanctions against Moscow. Relations between Ukraine and Russia soured after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the subsequent outbreak of pro-Russian separatist fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed around 10,000 people, despite a ceasefire being notionally in place.

Alluding to Le Pen, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement: “Making statements that repeat Kremlin propaganda, the French politician shows disrespect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and completely ignores the fundamental principles of international law. “…Such statements and actions in violation of the Ukrainian legislation will necessarily have consequences, as it was in the case of certain French politicians, who are denied entry to Ukraine,” it said. The far right leader was quoted by French television as saying Russia’s annexation of Crimea was not illegal because the Crimean people had chosen to join Russia in a referendum, a position Kiev vehemently disputes. The referendum was also declared illegal by the United Nations General Assembly.

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What keeps Britain together. Credit and whining. And fog. Boy, what a sorrowful place it’s becoming.

UK Credit Binge Approaching Levels Not Seen Since 2008 Crash (G.)

A credit boom that is close to levels not seen since the 2008 financial crash should set alarm bells ringing in Theresa May’s government, debt charities have warned. The latest figures from the Bank of England show unsecured consumer credit, which includes credit cards, car loans and second mortgages, grew by 10.8% in the year to November to £192.2bn, picking up pace on the previous month to grow at its fastest rate in more than 11 years. In September 2008, the month that Lehman Brothers collapsed and the banking crash triggered a worldwide recession, the level of UK consumer credit debt hit a peak of £208bn. Credit card debts, which accounted for £66.7bn of the total, hit a record high last month as Britons used the plastic to fund shopping as never before in the run-up to Christmas.

The debt charity StepChange said the rise in debt levels would leave thousands of families vulnerable to higher levels of inflation and changes in income from wage cuts, divorce or redundancy. Its head of policy, Peter Tutton, said: “Levels of outstanding borrowing are approaching the 2008 peak, and the growth rate of net lending is at its highest since 2005. Alarm bells should be ringing. “Previous experience shows how such increases in the levels of borrowing can leave households over-indebted and vulnerable to sudden changes in circumstances and drops in income that can pitch them into hardship. “Lenders, regulators and the government need to ensure that the mistakes made in the lead-up to the financial crisis are not repeated and that there are better policies in place to protect those who fall into financial difficulty.”

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All you need, as if it wasn’t obvious: “..the link between the yuan and the dollar remains as tight as ever. In November 2016, 98% of turnover in China’s foreign-exchange market took place between those two currencies.”

China Can’t Quit the Dollar (Balding)

China’s leaders are hardly disguising their fears about money leaving the country. They’ve just imposed new disclosure rules limiting how Chinese – who are allowed to convert up to $50,000 worth of yuan into foreign currency each year – can spend that money overseas. Simultaneously, they’re striving to tamp down worries about the tumbling yuan, which has fallen to an eight-year low against the U.S. dollar. At the end of December, the government added 11 currencies to the basket against which it now values the yuan. While the Chinese currency fell 6.5% against the dollar in 2016, its value measured against the broader basket has remained largely stable since July. The idea, at least in part, is to persuade ordinary Chinese that their nest eggs are safe in renminbi. Unfortunately, this latest effort isn’t likely to work any better than earlier ones.

The yuan remains inextricably bound to the U.S. dollar – and everyone knows it. The People’s Bank of China created the exchange-rate basket roughly a year ago. The goal was twofold – to shift attention away from the yuan’s precipitous decline against the dollar and to reduce China’s dependence on the U.S. currency. The latter was widely seen as humiliating – an affront to a rising superpower and the world’s second-largest economy. That resentment helped drive China’s effort – since stalled – to internationalize its currency. Yet any cursory review makes clear that the link between the yuan and the dollar remains as tight as ever. In November 2016, 98% of turnover in China’s foreign-exchange market took place between those two currencies. Flows of capital into and out of China show an only slightly less lopsided pattern.

Between them, the U.S. and Hong Kong dollars (the latter is hard-pegged to the U.S. currency) account for 91% of China’s non-yuan international bank transactions. The smaller currencies that make up nearly half of the basket comprise only 1.7% of international bank payments and receipts. Even the BIS estimates that 80% of China’s local loans in foreign currency are denominated in dollars. That’s the number that really matters: If the yuan continues to fall against the dollar, companies are going to have a harder time paying back those loans regardless of what the renminbi is or isn’t worth against the government’s official basket. All this is clear to ordinary investors. During my nearly eight years in China, I’ve never heard any Chinese citizen worry about the value of the yuan against the Emirati dirham.

So as long as the yuan continues to depreciate in dollar terms, Chinese are going to look for ways to get their money out of the country, despite any barriers the government might throw in their way. China’s options for preventing further outflows are limited. The PBOC could continue to deplete the country’s $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves in an effort to prop up the yuan. That’s a risky game, though, as it reduces the stockpiles of hard currency needed to repay foreign-denominated debt and provide liquidity for international trade. As others have argued, reserves should be deployed strategically, not squandered defending bad policy.

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I see helicopter money. Digital basic income will come too late. At the every least half the people don’t even have plastic. And Modi can’t afford to wait for that.

India’s Cash Woes Are Just Beginning (BBG)

“Give me 50 days, friends,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked citizens after he canceled 86% of the country’s currency notes. After Dec. 30, if Indians saw his decision as flawed, he promised to “suffer any punishment.” But, he said confidently, if they could bear 50 days of disruption, they would have the “India of their dreams.” It is now January. While Modi’s deadline has passed, the pain hasn’t. Indeed, it may just be beginning: Measured by the purchasing managers’ index, or PMI, Indian manufacturing actually began to contract last month for the first time in all of 2016. This can’t be blamed on sluggish global demand; the equivalent measure from China suggested that manufacturing there is expanding quicker than expected. Indian companies are suffering from supply-chain disruptions and customers with no cash in their wallets.

True, in some ways things aren’t as bad, at least in metropolitan India, as they were a few weeks ago. The lines at ATMs are shorter and the government even felt comfortable enough to raise the limits for ATM withdrawals from 2,500 rupees a pop to 4,500 rupees (from $37 to $66). But overall cash limits haven’t been eased; most Indians can still only withdraw 24,000 of their own hard-earned rupees – a little over $350 – a week, or 50,000 rupees if one has a business account. That’s simply not enough cash to keep supply chains going. Lines at ATMs thus aren’t the most useful indicator. Even if more cash is getting into the economy, the question is whether Indians are still artificially constrained in how much cash they can access. If so, things haven’t returned to “normal.” And the longer there’s a cash constraint, the larger the ripple effect on the economy.

Here’s a thought experiment, based on how informal, cash-based economies work. For the first or second month that you’re short of cash, your creditors and your debtors, the people you buy from and the people you sell to, are all short of cash as well. Plus, everyone knows the cash crunch isn’t your fault; it doesn’t reveal any adverse information about how healthy your business is or isn’t. So you extend and receive credit relatively easily. Things can run on such relationships for awhile in the informal economy. But when the outside world – the formal economy – intrudes, the system breaks down. When it comes time to pay your electricity bill, or a loan installment to the banks, you’re forced to call in your debts. You may not face enough formal demands in the first month or two to pose a problem. But as time passes, they add up.

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Way ahead of you! I wrote this in April 2015: Russia’s Central Bank Governor Is Way Smarter Than Ours.

Head of Russian Central Bank Named European Banker of the Year (RT)

Elvira Nabiullina, the head of Russia’s central bank, has been named the best Central Bank Governor in Europe in 2016 by the international financial magazine, The Banker. The influential publication praised her for having “helped steer the country through the difficulties,” with Russia “set to return to economic growth in 2017.” “Having started 2016 with consumer price inflation of 12.9% – highs not seen since 2008 – Ms Nabiullina highlighted the need to lower inflation to improve economic growth in Russia,” the outlet writes in an article dedicated to the award. Established in 1926, The Banker is considered one of the leading international finance magazines, read in almost 180 countries.

“Ms Nabiullina’s efforts saw the rate drop below 6% by the end of 2016,” the magazine writes. This, as inflation in Russia “had never fallen under 6,1%”, according to the publication, citing figures by the International Monetary Fund going back to 1992. Nabiullina said she viewed the past year as a kind of turning point with regard to inflation. “Importantly, in 2016 there was a turning point in the sentiment of the population and professionals regarding inflation expectations,” she is quoted as saying by the outlet. “At the beginning of 2016, inflation expectations of market participants were well above our target, but now they have reduced to close to our [end-2017] 4% inflation target, at between 4.5% and 4.7%.”

In December last year, the chief of the IMF, Christine Lagarde lauded Nabiullina for doing “a fantastic job” while tackling the financial problems in Russia, and inflation in particular. Nabiullina served as economic adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin between 2012 and 2013, when she was appointed to head Russia’s Central Bank. She was Minister of Economic Development and Trade for 5 years from September 2007 to May 2012. Forbes rates Nabiullina 56th among the world’s 100 most powerful women. In 2015, Nabiullina was named central bank governor of the year by Euromoney magazine.

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Even on vacation he still finds a way to get his face in the media.

Steve Keen: Rebel Economist With A Cause (AFR)

Keen’s views and policy prescriptions remain firmly and proudly unconventional – unworkable even. But as somebody who saw the GFC coming when most did not, and as a long-time disciple of the now in-vogue Austrian economist Hyman Minsky, it may be that Keen’s economic views are finally entering mainstream thought. In a sign of the times, none other than the new chief economist of the World Bank, Paul Romer, has admitted that “for more than three decades, macroeconomic theory has gone backwards”. In a piece titled The trouble with macroeconomics, Romer in September wrote that “theorists dismiss mere facts by feigning an obtuse ignorance about such simple assertions as ‘tight monetary policy can cause a recession’.”


Australian private and government debt as a percentage of GDP. Steve Keen

And there is a strong need for fresh remedies. There is more debt in the world now than before the GFC – a crisis precipitated by excess borrowing. Low and zero interest rates and unconventional monetary policies such as QE have pumped up asset prices but done little to spark productivity gains or business investment in advanced economies. Private debt in Australia is now equivalent to around 210% of GDP, from 180% in 2007. Australian households are more indebted than ever, the RBA says. Keen is perhaps most critical of central bankers’ unwillingness to incorporate the link between credit growth and financial stability into their decision making. “Conventional economic thinking completely ignores where money comes from,” Keen says. “All this theory is effectively based on the idea that money is like nuts that chipmunks drop from trees and you can run out of it and if you don’t have enough of it you are going to starve over winter, and it’s a completely naive view of a monetary economy.”

While he acknowledges that RBA governor Philip Lowe has signalled a greater emphasis on “financial stability”, household indebtedness still continues to climb. “The Reserve Bank were so backward in their thinking. Their argument was, ‘oh well, the level of debt doesn’t matter because the households that have the debt are wealthy and they can continue servicing it’. But the real problem is demand for the economy comes out of turnover of the existing money plus credit. “Now, if you are relying on credit growth being equivalent to 15% of GDP, which is where it was in Australia just over six months ago, you’ve got to continue borrowing that 15% of GDP every year to maintain that trajectory. “If you simply stabilise, then, bang!, 15% of demand disappears. And that’s what we face and what I think will happen [in 2017].”

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Dec 182016
 
 December 18, 2016  Posted by at 9:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Country store, Person County, NC Jul 1939


Here’s How Americans Spent Their Money In The Last 75 Years (MW)
Global Debt, Equity Markets Lose $1 Trillion In Value This Week (ZH)
January 2017 Earnings Is Going To Be a Bloodbath (EconMatters)
Trump Talked, the Fed Listened: Shrink the Balance Sheet, Bullard Says (WS)
Pentagon Says China to Return Drone; Trump Says They Can Keep It (BBG)
Free Cash in Finland. Must Be Jobless. (NYT)
Monte dei Paschi to Start Taking Orders for Shares on Monday (BBG)
Hillary’s Campaign The Most Incompetent In Modern History (Davis)
Just Who Is Undermining Election? Russians Or CIA? (Albuquerque Journal Ed.)
‘Shocking’ Rise in Number of Homeless Children in UK B&Bs at Christmas (G.)
Tsipras’s Spending Spree May Be Relief To Greeks But It Won’t End Crisis (G.)

 

 

The rise in spending on housing should initiate a national debate. And not just in the US. It makes you wonder about the real dimensions of the ‘housing bubble’. Is it perhaps 75 years old already?

Here’s How Americans Spent Their Money In The Last 75 Years (MW)

Housing expenses have almost always been the largest drain on American budgets, unchanged in over 70 years. Between 1941 and 2014, Americans spent money on most of the same things, with a few changes. Housing has persisted as a large area of spending for Americans, as has the food category. However, spending on food and clothing has fallen when adjusting for inflation while spending on education and health care has risen quickly. That’s according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, adjusted for inflation and representing median spending of all Americans, charted here.


click for larger version

There is one exception to housing’s dominance, in 1941, when spending on food averaged $8,311 annually, topping the $7,537 spent on shelter that year. Interestingly, in 1941 the government included alcohol in the food spending category, which inflates the food spending data for that year. In other years, alcohol was given its own category. Americans spent the most on clothing in 1961, at an average of $4,157. In every year measured since 1961, spending on clothing fell, even when accounting for inflation. At the same time, Americans began spending more on education, transportation and health care. Spending on education has increased far more than any other category, jumping from $242 in 1941 to $1,236 in 2014. Education spending increased at a particularly fast rate between 1984 and 1994 and onward. While spending on health care increased between 1941 and 2014, overall spending dipped between 1973 and 1984, but then began rising rapidly thereafter.

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@Boomfinance: “Bonds are collateral assets. Collateral is needed to expand Credit. This is Debt Deflation writ large. Yes?”

Global Debt, Equity Markets Lose $1 Trillion In Value This Week (ZH)

Thanks to Janet Yellen’s rate-hike-hawkishness (but, but, but, we’re still ultra-easy), global equity and debt markets lost over $1 trillion in value – the biggest weekly loss since early May (weak China data and huge surge in dollar). Global bonds lost over $430 billion in market value this week (Yellen hawkishness and China bond carnage) but stocks lost even more ($525 billion) as China financial turmoil added to the world’s woes (and “three rate hikes next year” and fiscal stimulus efficacy questions did not help).

Having retraced back to pre-Trump levels before The Fed statement this week, the combination of China turmoil and Janet’s un-dovishness sent global stocks and bonds down over $1 trillion on the week – the worst week globally since May 2016 (when the dollar surged amid China weakness and slowing EU growth forecasts)

In fact, while US bank stockholders are ebullient at The Trump presidency-to-be, the rest of the world has lost a combined $1.5 trillion in market value across its bonds and stocks (thanks in major part to Janet’s help this week).

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No holding back here.

January 2017 Earnings Is Going To Be a Bloodbath (EconMatters)

We discuss a preview of January`s Earnings releases and how massive the gap down in most of these stocks will be when they report in a month. There have already been two earning`s guide downs from industrial companies this past week in UTX, and HON. But with the run up in financials and energies for the last month we are going to experience big $5 chunks taken out of these stocks and massive after hours and pre-market gap downs that will cause entire sectors to sell off during earnings in January. It is just going to be brutal, expect 500 point down days in the Dow during this upcoming earnings period. You have seasonal stocks that selloff every year like Apple and Amazon, as the 4th quarter is their best by far for sales and revenues.

And you have energy companies with exorbitant p/e ratios like COP, XOM, CVH that are priced for $115 dollar oil not $55 oil that 4th quarter earnings releases are going to bring some fundamental realities back to investors of how overpriced these stocks are right here. You have “dogshit” stocks like C, BAC that are serial underperformers in the financial sector along with WFC with its legal problems and operating distractions of the past year, and JPM which has moved too far entirely too fast and the amount of Monkey Hammering Selling Smack downs of these financials upon reporting is going to be outright brutal for investors stupid enough not to have taken profits before earnings. Not to mention all the other broken companies that have been lifted up in this 4th quarter rally, and are going to be taken out to the woodshed for a red beating when they report.

Throw in all those idiot investors who don`t take profits for tax reasons who will wish they did as everybody sells in the new year at the same time running for the tax exits together, and this January 2017 Earnings period is going to be outright one of the worst we have seen since last January`s massive stock selloff. It is the difference between being able to use a selling algorithm program that gets a decent price for the closing of the position versus taking what the market gives you during selloff and gap down closing of positions where profits are annihilated in a very short timespan. Investors need to evaluate all of the parameters when making tax deferral decisions, and it isn`t as simple as they always mistakenly calculate when making these boneheaded simpleton calculations.

No wonder they cannot outperform the market, you have to take profits into strength, not weakness when everybody and their brother is selling. Why Investors continue to exhibit the same stupid patterns is beyond me, but the smart ones will be selling in the next two weeks to beat the carnage selling that occurs in January due to tax deferral selling, and reality setting in that no amount of Trump Magic can make these pig stocks earnings for the 4th quarter look good relative to the current stock prices. It is going to get ugly folks!

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Nice piece from Wolf Richter. He recognizes the inherent risks: “Trump, as President, would be more than embarrassed to see financial markets sag under his watch.”

Trump Talked, the Fed Listened: Shrink the Balance Sheet, Bullard Says (WS)

Bullard would start by allowing maturing securities to roll off the balance sheet without replacing them with new asset purchases, he said. That would shrink the balance sheet. And it would make financial conditions more restrictive. Shedding assets accumulated on the Fed’s balance sheet is the ultimate form of tightening. It would pull liquidity out of the markets and force them to stand on their own wobbly feet. And he’s a dove! He sees only one rate hike next year. Until recently, he saw only one rate hike, period – the one we just got – and no additional hikes over the next few next years. But he’s ogling the balance sheet. If shrinking the balance sheet is too radical for now, the Fed could replace longer term securities as they mature with short-dated securities, he said. This would make unwinding the balance sheet easier, once the decision is made.

These short-dated securities could just be allowed to mature without replacement. It could go pretty quickly. “My preference would be to allow some runoff in the balance sheet,” he said. But before markets could spiral into a paroxysm, he added that he didn’t think efforts to shrink the balance sheet were “imminent.” He has been a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, which makes the decisions on rates, QE, and balance sheet shrinkage. But next year, he’ll rotate into a non-voting slot. So he’s just setting some trial balloons adrift. A few Fed heads have dared to suggest that they’d want to shrink the balance sheet eventually, possibly after everyone’s life expectancy expires. They’d want to raise rates first, and if the economy hasn’t fallen into a recession or worse by then, it might be time to think about letting the balance sheet contract.

But the economy might never get to where there are some sort of normal rates without a recession. And a recession would start the whole process of rate cutting and perhaps QE all over again, and the balance sheet might never be shrunk in this scenario. Bullard doesn’t want to wait that long. For good reason. QE has caused enough distortions. Shrinking the balance sheet by allowing bonds to roll off, while keeping the fed funds rate relatively low, for example at 1.5% by next year, would cause long term rates to rise sharply while keeping a lid on short-term rates. It would steepen the yield curve. In this scenario, the 10-year yield – at 1.38% in July and now at 2.6% – might go to 4% or beyond.

It would have an epic impact on Trump’s “artificial stock market.” It would cause all kinds of mayhem, because Trump was right: The epic bond market bubble and the stock market rally that has pushed all conventional metrics off the charts have been fueled by the Fed. The effects of removing, to use Trump’s term, the “artificial” elements from the stock market could be interesting. We’d have to avert our eyes from the carnage in the bond market. And Housing Bubble 2, with 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 6%? That’s historically low and worked just fine ten years ago (it helped create Housing Bubble 1). But with the inflated home prices of today, it would mark a big reset.

Today’s equations won’t work at these interest rates. The fireworks could be astounding. But in the big picture, it would just unravel some of the excesses of the past few years, bring a hue of normalcy to the markets, and refocus attention on the real economy instead of wild financial speculations. Trump, as he was talking during the campaign, should appreciate that. Trump, as mega-investor, might get queasy. And Trump, as President, would be more than embarrassed to see financial markets sag under his watch.

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China knows Trump is a dealmaker. Just like they are. They must have chuckled at his response. But not officially of course.

Pentagon Says China to Return Drone; Trump Says They Can Keep It (BBG)

The Pentagon said China will return a U.S. Navy underwater drone after its military scooped up the submersible in the South China Sea late this week and sparked a row that drew in President-elect Donald Trump, who said on Twitter the Chinese stole it, so they can keep it. “Through direct engagement with Chinese authorities, we have secured an understanding that the Chinese will return the UUV to the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said in a statement on Saturday, referring to the unmanned underwater vehicle the U.S. said had been operating in international waters. China’s ministry of defense pledged an “appropriate” return of the drone on its Weibo social media account, while also criticizing the U.S. for hyping the incident into a diplomatic row.

It followed assurances from Beijing that the governments were working to resolve the spat, punctuated by a tweet from Trump denouncing the seizure as “unprecedented.” The drone incident was disclosed by the Pentagon on Friday. China’s ministry said the U.S. “hyped the case in public,” which it said wasn’t helpful in resolving the problem. The U.S. has “frequently” sent its vessels and aircrafts into the region, and China urges such activities to stop, the ministry said in its Weibo message. Trump slammed the Chinese navy’s capture of the vehicle in a message to his 17.4 million Twitter followers. “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act,” Trump wrote Saturday hours after the Chinese government said it had been in touch with the U.S. military about the incident.

In a follow-up Twitter message, the president-elect said: “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back – let them keep it!” The tensions unleashed by the episode underscored the delicate state of relations between the two countries, weeks before Trump’s inauguration. Trump has threatened higher tariffs on Chinese products and questioned the U.S. approach to Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory. Meanwhile, China is growing more assertive over its claims to disputed sections of the South China Sea.

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An ‘experiment’ targeted at 2000 specific people has nothing to do with Universal Basic Income. These ‘experiments’ are only valid when it’s truly universal, or at least nationwide. And when they involve people with AND without jobs. You simply can’t do ‘universal’ on a small scale.

Free Cash in Finland. Must Be Jobless. (NYT)

No one would confuse this frigid corner of northern Finland with Silicon Valley. Notched in low pine forests just 100 miles below the Arctic Circle, Oulu seems more likely to achieve dominance at herding reindeer than at nurturing technology start-ups. But this city has roots as a hub for wireless communications, and keen aspirations in innovation. It also has thousands of skilled engineers in need of work. Many were laid off by Nokia, the Finnish company once synonymous with mobile telephones and more recently at risk of fading into oblivion. While entrepreneurs are eager to put these people to work, the rules of Finland’s generous social safety net effectively discourage this. Jobless people generally cannot earn additional income while collecting unemployment benefits or they risk losing that assistance.

For laid-off workers from Nokia, simply collecting a guaranteed unemployment check often presents a better financial proposition than taking a leap with a start-up in Finland, where a shaky technology industry is trying to find its footing again. Now, the Finnish government is exploring how to change that calculus, initiating an experiment in a form of social welfare: universal basic income. Early next year, the government plans to randomly select roughly 2,000 unemployed people — from white-collar coders to blue-collar construction workers. It will give them benefits automatically, absent bureaucratic hassle and minus penalties for amassing extra income. The government is eager to see what happens next. Will more people pursue jobs or start businesses? How many will stop working and squander their money on vodka?

Will those liberated from the time-sucking entanglements of the unemployment system use their freedom to gain education, setting themselves up for promising new careers? These areas of inquiry extend beyond economic policy, into the realm of human nature. The answers — to be determined over a two-year trial — could shape social welfare policy far beyond Nordic terrain. In communities around the world, officials are exploring basic income as a way to lessen the vulnerabilities of working people exposed to the vagaries of global trade and automation. While basic income is still an emerging idea, one far from being deployed on a large scale, the growing experimentation underscores the deep need to find effective means to alleviate the perils of globalization.

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Covered by taxpayers.

Monte dei Paschi to Start Taking Orders for Shares on Monday (BBG)

Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA will begin taking orders for shares as soon as Monday as it aims to complete raising €5 billion of capital before Christmas, people with the knowledge of the matter said. Monte Paschi will attempt to sell stock through Thursday, said the people, who asked to not be named because the plan isn’t public yet. The price and total number of shares to be sold will be determined based on investor demand and on the outcome of the separate debt-to-equity swap, the people said. CEO Marco Morelli, who took over in September, is racing to find backers for his effort to clean up the bank’s balance sheet.

The failure of the recapitalization would be a blow to Italy’s sputtering efforts to revive a banking industry that’s burdened with about €360 billion in troubled loans, dragging down the economy by limiting lending. The lender earlier this week extended a debt-for-equity swap that is one of the three main interlocking pieces of the bank’s capital-raising plan. The bank also plans a cash infusion from anchor investors and a share sale. The offer, involving the exchange of about 4.5 billion euros of Tier 1 and Tier 2 securities, is set to end at 2 p.m. on Dec. 21. Monte Paschi, facing a Dec. 31 deadline to complete the fundraising, also will promote an exchange on 1 billion euros of hybrid securities issued in 2008 known as FRESH at 23.2% of face value, the lender said in a filing on its website.

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Almost funny.

Hillary’s Campaign The Most Incompetent In Modern History (Davis)

It wasn’t sexism, or racism, or the FBI, or fake news, or the Russians, which cost Hillary Clinton the presidential election. According to a blockbuster campaign dispatch published by Politico on Wednesday, sheer incompetence was the real cause of Clinton’s electoral implosion in November. Clinton’s loss was caused not by one bad decision here or there, the Politico report shows, but by a cascade of mind-bogglingly stupid decisions made throughout the campaign. For example, there was the time campaign surrogates were ordered to stay and campaign in Iowa, which Clinton lost by 10 points, instead of working to get out the vote for Clinton in Michigan:

Everybody could see Hillary Clinton was cooked in Iowa. So when, a week-and-a-half out, the Service Employees International Union started hearing anxiety out of Michigan, union officials decided to reroute their volunteers, giving a desperate team on the ground around Detroit some hope. They started prepping meals and organizing hotel rooms. SEIU — which had wanted to go to Michigan from the beginning, but been ordered not to — dialed Clinton’s top campaign aides to tell them about the new plan. According to several people familiar with the call, Brooklyn was furious. Turn that bus around, the Clinton team ordered SEIU. Those volunteers needed to stay in Iowa to fool Donald Trump into competing there, not drive to Michigan, where the Democrat’s models projected a 5-point win through the morning of Election Day.

Then there was the time the campaign, instead of spending its cash in competitive states the candidate needed to win to clinch an electoral college victory, sent millions to the Democratic National Committee, which used the money to run up vote totals in uncompetitive states so Clinton would win the popular vote:

But there also were millions approved for transfer from Clinton’s campaign for use by the DNC — which, under a plan devised by Brazile to drum up urban turnout out of fear that Trump would win the popular vote while losing the electoral vote, got dumped into Chicago and New Orleans, far from anywhere that would have made a difference in the election.

There was also the time Clinton didn’t even bother to show up at a Michigan event for the United Auto Workers, a key union constituency on which Democrats traditionally rely for get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts throughout the Rust Belt:

Clinton never even stopped by a United Auto Workers union hall in Michigan, though a person involved with the campaign noted bitterly that the UAW flaked on GOTV commitments in the final days, and that AFSCME never even made any, despite months of appeals.

The Clinton campaign also completely ignored cries for last-second, all-hands-on-deck GOTV help in Michigan on election day. According to Politico, Brooklyn-based campaign staff waved off data showing massive shortfalls in urban turnout and insisted the Democrat would win the state by at least five points:

On the morning of Election Day, internal Clinton campaign numbers had her winning Michigan by 5 points. By 1 p.m., an aide on the ground called headquarters; the voter turnout tracking system they’d built themselves in defiance of orders — Brooklyn had told operatives in the state they didn’t care about those numbers, and specifically told them not to use any resources to get them — showed urban precincts down 25%. Maybe they should get worried, the Michigan operatives said. Nope, they were told. She was going to win by 5. All Brooklyn’s data said so.

Clinton would eventually lose the state by 11,000 votes, less than one quarter of one %age point of all votes cast in the state. In the end, though, it appears that hubris may have been Hillary’s ultimate downfall. Hours before polls closed and long before returns began trickling in, Clinton’s top staffers weren’t scrambling for every last vote. Instead, they were busy measuring the Oval Office curtains and searching for champagne bottles to uncork to celebrate their historic victory. “In at least one of the war rooms in New York, they’d already started celebratory drinking by the afternoon, according to a person there,” Politico reported. “Elsewhere, calls quietly went out that day to tell key people to get ready to be asked about joining transition teams.” Oops.

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An editorial that means sense. Maybe America’s papers are not all doomed to oblivion after all.

Just Who Is Undermining Election? Russians Or CIA? (Albuquerque Journal Ed.)

Congress needs to dust off its Magic 8 Ball. At this point, how else are our elected representatives going to get to the bottom of allegations that Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, tried to influence the U.S. general election? After all, the CIA isn’t being very open – at least not with our elected representatives. Instead of briefing the House Intelligence Committee about the alleged Russian role in hacked emails made public during the campaign – which Democrats desperately seek to blame for Hillary Clinton’s loss – the agency is leaking conclusions without facts to the Washington Post, New York Times and television networks. The media, naturally, are quick to report the anonymous bits of “blame Putin” information to the public. So to the extent Putin meddled, our own spies have at least matched his efforts to discredit our electoral system.

To recap: Private emails from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign were made public via WikiLeaks, allegedly through hacking, even though the FBI had tried to warn the DNC back in September 2015 of problems with its security system. The agency couldn’t get past the party’s technical help desk – harking back to Hillary’s email security problems on her own private server. The media reported on the leaks daily – and if a reporter had obtained the same information from inside sources, there would be no controversy at all. Today’s uproar is over the source – not the substance. But the CIA’s alleged conclusion – that Russia intervened to help Trump win – does not square with comments made Nov. 17 by James Clapper, director of National Intelligence. He said he lacked “good insight” about whether there was a connection between the WikiLeaks releases and Russia.

Congressional Republican leaders are taking the allegations seriously. “The Russians are not our friends,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. House Speaker Paul Ryan called any Russian intervention “especially problematic because, under President Putin, Russia has been an aggressor that consistently undermines American interests.” But Intelligence Committee member Peter King of New York flatly accused the U.S. intelligence community of waging a disinformation campaign aimed at undermining Trump’s credibility – if not changing the course of the Electoral College. Not surprisingly, President Obama is seizing a newfound political opportunity and is taking a new interest despite earlier claims of knowing all along of Russian shenanigans but choosing not to go public with whatever evidence he had – none of which he has produced.

[..] The source of the campaign leaks remains an interesting question, but one unlikely to be answered credibly unless the CIA coughs up its findings to Congress. Cooperation also might help answer the question of possible Russian motives if it was involved: Was it to cast doubt on the U.S. election system? If so, it was highly successful with the help of our own intelligence community and desperate Democrats who simply can’t accept that Trump won 306 Electoral College votes. Though the CIA based its supposed findings of pro-Trump intervention on the fact that no Republican emails were leaked before the election, the Republican National Committee says it wasn’t hacked. And Wikileaks co-founder Julian Assange stands firm in his claim the Russians were not the source of the leaks.

Cyber hacking has become one of the mainstays of life – Yahoo most recently was hacked of more than one billion user accounts. And intervention into foreign elections is something many nations, including the United States, do regularly. Obama recently tried to influence the Brexit vote. And while nobody should feel good about foreign interests intervening in U.S. elections, the reluctance of the U.S. intelligence community to share its information with official sources charged with making decisions about national security, while leaking information via media outlets, is very disturbing, raising the spectre of a political coup by our nation’s intelligence forces.

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Maybe Britain needs a full-size reboot.

‘Shocking’ Rise in Number of Homeless Children in UK B&Bs at Christmas (G.)

The number of children living in temporary accommodation this Christmas, including in bed and breakfasts, has risen by more than 10% since last year to 124,000, according to the latest government figures. The numbers of children forced into temporary housing in the run up to Christmas have described as “shocking” by the country’s leading charity for the homeless. The data, released by the Department for Communities and Local Government, also reveals a rise of more than 300% since 2014 in the number of families in England who are being housed illegally (for more than the statutory maximum period of six weeks) in B&Bs by local authorities, because they cannot find any alternative places. Campbell Robb, Shelter’s chief executive, said: “The latest figures show that councils are increasingly struggling to help homeless families.

“But the number of children placed in B&Bs illegally is truly shocking, and there’s a worrying rise in families moved away from their support network to a new area. We know first-hand the devastating impact this can have on their lives.” He blamed a “perfect storm” of welfare cuts and rising rents, together with a lack of social and affordable housing, that was creating impossible pressure for local authorities. “Councils know that neither option is acceptable but increasingly find themselves with no alternatives,” he said. “Welfare cuts have made private rents unaffordable and that – combined with unpredictable rent rises and a lack of genuinely affordable homes – mean many families are struggling to get by.

“With the loss of private rented homes the single biggest cause of homelessness, it’s no wonder that’s so many families are turning to their council, desperate for help.” [.] The number of households that have become homeless after an eviction over the last year is up 12% compared to a year ago at 18,820 while the total number of households in temporary accommodation has risen to 74,630, up 9% on a year earlier. While 21,400 homeless households have been moved away to a different council area – a 15% rise in the last year.

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Helena Smith is the Guardian’s Athens correspondent. I haven’t met a Greek who knows of her and had positive things to say. But this is insane. I know editors make headlines, not reporters, but calling Tsipras’ move to soften the crisis blow a little for pensioners, and to feed children at school who don’t eat at home, a “spending spree”, that is way beyond the pale. Shameless.

Tsipras’s Spending Spree May Be Relief To Greeks But It Won’t End Crisis (G.)

Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, likes to shake things up and, in recent days, he has reverted to form. After 16 months of faithfully toeing the line, the leader rebelled, cautiously at first and then almost jubilantly, casting off the fiscal straightjacket that has encased his government with thinly veiled glee. First came the announcement that low-income pensioners, forced to survive in tax-heavy post-crisis Greece on €800 or less a month, would receive a one-off, pre-Christmas bonus. Then came the news that Greeks living on Aegean isles which have borne the brunt of refugee flows would not be subject to a sales tax enforced at the behest of creditors keeping the debt-stricken country afloat.

Finally, another announcement both antagonising and pointed: 30,000 children living in poverty-stricken areas of northern Greece will henceforth be entitled to free meals in schools. The reaction wasn’t instant but, when it came, it was delivered with force. The European Stability Mechanism, the eurozone’s financing arm, announced that short-term relief measures, agreed only a week before to ease Greece’s debt pile, would be frozen with immediate effect. It did not take long before the German finance ministry, under the unwavering stewardship of Wolfgang Schäuble, followed suit, requesting that creditor institutions assess whether Tsipras had acted in flagrant violation of Athens’ bailout commitments with his unilateral moves.

The leftist insisted that the aid – €61m in supplementary support for pensions and €11.5m for the school meals – would be taken from the primary surplus his government, unexpectedly, had managed to achieve. The assistance would help “heal the wounds of crisis”. “We want to … alleviate all those who have over these difficult years made huge sacrifices in the name of Europe,” he announced before holding talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel late Friday.

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Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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John Vachon Big Four Cafe, Cairo, Illinois 1940


Obama’s Blunder; Trump’s Gambit (Rickards)
Trump Rally May Not Last Long – Marc Faber (CNBC)
This Stock Rally Is More Hope Than Substance (WSJ)
China, Others are Dumping US Treasurys as Never Before (WS)
The Longer China’s Record M&A Spree Lasts, The Stranger The Deals Get (BBG)
ECB Bond Buying Props Up Oil, Cars, Guns, Drones, Gambling, Handbags (DQ)
EU Agrees Dutch Demands On Ukraine Deal To Avoid ‘Present For Russia’ (R.)
Justin Trudeau: ‘Globalisation Isn’t Working For Ordinary People’ (G.)
Crackdown On Cash Is An Attack On The Poor And A Reward For Banks (Soos)
Why Are the Media Taking the CIA’s Hacking Claims at Face Value? (Nation)
Turkey Has Back-Up Plans If EU Fails To Keep Visa-Free Travel Promises (AFP)
“Without Antibiotics, Essentially You Do Not Have Modern Medicine” (R.)
The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature (G.)

 

 

We need more refreshing views like this. Actual thinking people.

Obama’s Blunder; Trump’s Gambit (Rickards)

[..] Russia is a more natural ally of the U.S. than China. Russia is a parliamentary system, albeit with autocratic overtones; China is a Communist dictatorship. Russia has empowered the Orthodox Church in recent decades, while China is officially atheistic. Russia is encouraging population growth while China’s one child policy and sex-selective abortions resulted in the deaths of over twenty million girls. These cultural aspects – elections, Christianity, and family formation – provide Russia with a natural affinity to western nations. Russia is also superior to China militarily despite recent Chinese advances. That makes Russia the more desirable ally in any two-against-one scenario.

The most powerful argument for embracing Russia to checkmate China is energy. The U.S. and Russia are the two largest energy producers in the world. U.S. energy production is set to expand with the support of the Trump administration. Russian production will expand also based in part on initiatives led by Rex Tillerson of Exxon, soon to be Secretary of State. China has few oil and natural gas reserves and relies heavily on dirty forms of coal and some hydropower. The remainder of China’s energy needs is met through imports. An energy alliance between the U.S. and Russia, supported by Saudi Arabia, could leave the Chinese economy and, by extension, the standing of the Communist Party of China, in jeopardy. That threat is enough to insure Chinese compliance with U.S. aims.

An emerging U.S.-Russian entente could also lead to the alleviation of western economic sanctions on Russia. This would open the door to an alliance between Germany and Russia. Those two economies have near perfect complementarity since Germany is technology rich and natural resource poor, while Russia is the opposite. Isolation of Russia is a fool’s errand. Russia is the twelfth largest economy in the world, has the largest landmass of any country in the world, is a nuclear power, has abundant natural resources, and is a fertile destination for direct foreign investment. The Russian culture is highly resistant to outside pressure, but open to outside cooperation. Just as fifty years of U.S. sanctions failed to change Cuban behavior, U.S. sanctions will not change Russian behavior except for the worse.

Engagement, not confrontation is the better course. The new Trump administration gets this. [..] Fortunately it’s not too late to reestablish a balance of power that favors the United States. China is a rising regional hegemon that should be constrained. Russia is a natural ally that should be empowered. The U.S. has blundered in its foreign policy for the past eight years. A new Trump administration has an opportunity to reverse those blunders by building bridges to Russia, and it seems to be moving in that direction.

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“..Ronald Reagan and Herbert Hoover also began their tenures with huge rallies, followed by crashes…”

Trump Rally May Not Last Long – Marc Faber (CNBC)

If President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric ends up fueling a trade war with China, it’s the U.S. that will take it on the chin, Marc Faber, the publisher of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report, told CNBC on Friday. “Mr. Trump is not particularly keen on China,” Faber told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Friday. “There may be some trade war escalation or trade restrictions with China, which in my view would rather be negative for the U.S. than for China.” Trump has certainly set his sights on China. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency in order to give its exports an advantage over U.S.-made goods, and he threatened to slap a tariff of up to 45% on Chinese imports.

While China’s yuan has fallen against the U.S. dollar in recent months, policymakers on the mainland have been intervening to support the currency, not weaken it. But Faber, who is also known as Dr. Doom for his usually pessimistic predictions, noted that China wouldn’t be easily cowed. “China does not depend on the U.S. The U.S. is still its largest export destination as a country, but taken together, all the emerging markets are for China much more important,” Faber noted. China exported about $482 billion in goods to the U.S. last year, more than any other country exported to the United States, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The U.S. exported about $116 billion in goods to China in 2015, putting its goods trade deficit $366 billion.

[..] “We have a credit bubble in China, like, by the way, everywhere else in the world. It’s just bigger in China and that, in my view, will have to be deflated,” he said. Dr. Doom also wasn’t trusting Wall Street’s rally since Trump’s election, nothing that Presidents Ronald Reagan and Herbert Hoover also began their tenures with huge rallies, followed by crashes. On Thursday, the Dow Jones rose 59.71 points, or 0.3%, to close at 19,858.24, after climbing at one point to a mere 50 points away from hitting the 20,000 mark. Faber said that the U.S. market was getting toppish. “If you want to be in equities, the U.S. market is now at the most expensive level compared to Europe, Japan and emerging economies it’s ever been,” he said.

Despite Thursday’s gains, “there were more new 12-month lows than new highs.” He wasn’t optimistic on how much further the market can run. “In March 2017, the U.S. bull market will be eight years old. By any standard, this is a very aging bull market. By June 2017, the economic recovery will be eight years old. By any standard, a recovery that is very mature,” he noted. Faber was also pessimistic about the market’s prospects under the Trump administration. “We have to be very careful when we talk about investments. We have a lot of volatility coming toward us. I think that in general people are far too optimistic about the U.S. becoming again a great country,” he said. “I doubt that one man alone can do it.”

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“When you have an adrenaline rush you don’t feel pain. It’s when the adrenaline wears off that you feel it.”

This Stock Rally Is More Hope Than Substance (WSJ)

Janet Yellen may not have an armored horse, but her effect on the bull market looks very like the ineffective stab of a picador. The stock market bull seemed to be badly hurt after the U.S. Federal Reserve chairwoman’s words on Wednesday. The Fed raised interest rates and said policy makers expected three rate increases next year, while Ms. Yellen said the economy is near full capacity and doesn’t need fiscal stimulus—suggesting rates will rise even faster if president-elect Donald Trump goes ahead with promised tax cuts. But after their stumble, stocks regained their feet on Thursday, with the S&P 500 recovering to where it was before Fed Day. A mere picador is never enough to take down a bull.

The true danger to this latest bull run—the Trump rally—comes from itself. The genius of a matador is to wear out the bull by persuading it to keep charging, entrancing the audience in the process. The stock market has been attracted by the flourishes of Mr. Trump, the appealing prospect of tax cuts and infrastructure spending. The question for the next month is whether the bull will be worn out before Mr. Trump even takes office. When markets move a long way very fast, they become vulnerable. Late investors who pile on to little more than momentum have less confidence in their positions. The more momentum builds, the more it hurts if the bull trips and those momentum investors jump off. This market has moved very fast indeed.

The post-election rotation from defensive stocks to economically sensitive cyclical shares has been the biggest of any similar period since the bounce back after the Lehman crash. The 10-year bond’s losses have almost matched the selloff of the 2013 taper tantrum. And the dollar has surged 9% against the yen, taking it to its strongest since 2002 against a basket of currencies. There are plenty of reasons to worry about whether Mr. Trump’s policies will be implemented quickly, or will be as big-league as he has said. So long as those remain worries for another day, the market can keep rising. David Bloom, head of foreign-exchange strategy at HSBC, says investors who missed out on the fast moves in stocks, bonds and the dollar after the election are now being sucked into the trade to avoid missing out. “We’re in a euphoric time,” he said. “When you have an adrenaline rush you don’t feel pain. It’s when the adrenaline wears off that you feel it.”

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We can only imagine where the dollar would be without this mass sell-off.

China, Others are Dumping US Treasurys as Never Before (WS)

All kinds of things are now happening in the world of bonds that haven’t happened before. For example, authorities in China today halted trading for the first time ever in futures contracts of government bonds, after prices had swooned, with the 10-year yield hitting 3.4%. Trading didn’t resume until after the People’s Bank of China injected $22 billion into the short-term money market. What does this turmoil have to do with US Treasurys? China has been dumping them to stave off problems in its own house…. The US Treasury Department released its Treasury International Capital data for October, and what it said about the dynamics of Treasury securities is a doozie of historic proportions. Net “acquisitions” of Treasury bonds & notes by “private” investors amounted to a negative $18.3 billion in October, according to the TIC data.

In other words, “private” foreign investors sold $18.3 billion more than they bought. And “official” foreign investors, which include central banks, dumped a net $45.3 billion in Treasury bonds and notes. Combined, they unloaded $63.5 billion in October. In September, these foreign entities had already dumped a record $76.6 billion. They have now dumped Treasury paper for seven months in a row. Over the past 12 months through October, they unloaded $318.2 billion. A 12-month selling spree in this magnitude has never occurred before. There have been a few months of timid net selling in 2012, and some in 2013, and a few in 2014, but no big deal because the Fed was buying under its QE programs. But then, with QE tapered out of the way, the selling picked up in 2015, and has sharply accelerated in 2016.

This chart (via Trading Economics), going back to the early 1980s, shows just how historic this wholesale dumping (circled in red) of US Treasury bonds and notes by foreign entities has been: The chart is particularly telling: It shows in brutal clarity that foreign buyers funded the $1 trillion-and-over annual deficits during and after the Financial Crisis, with net purchases in several months exceeding $100 billion. The other big buyer was the Fed. But since last year, the world has changed. China, once the largest holder of US Treasurys, has been busy trying to keep a lid on its own financial problems that are threatening to boil over. It’s trying to prop up the yuan. It’s trying furiously to stem rampant capital flight. It’s trying to keep its asset bubbles, particularly in the property sector, from getting bigger and from imploding – all at the same time. And in doing so, it has been selling foreign exchange reserves hand over fist.

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Beijing’s own policies come back to bite it hard. Fully predictable too.

The Longer China’s Record M&A Spree Lasts, The Stranger The Deals Get (BBG)

It’s no wonder the country’s regulators are getting concerned. This month, Chinese agencies including the National Development and Reform Commission said they’re closely watching “irrational” outbound purchases in sectors including entertainment and real estate, without naming specific deals. The heightened scrutiny coincides with a broader government effort to limit capital outflows, posing a risk to global takeover volumes after Chinese firms began rivaling their U.S. counterparts as the biggest buyers of overseas assets this year. For the Wall Street bankers helping to sell Western companies, the changing regulatory environment could make a delicate balance even trickier. Advisers need to court a widening pool of Chinese acquirers while at the same time making sure the companies are savvy enough to complete their deals.

“The M&A landscape has shifted focus to Chinese buyers,” said Brian Gu at JPMorgan Chase, the top-ranked adviser on Chinese outbound acquisitions tracked by Bloomberg this year. “How to solicit credible potential Chinese buyers now becomes an essential part of a pitch for any global sell-side mandates.” More than 360 Chinese companies announced their first cross-border acquisitions in the initial 11 months of this year, with the combined size of the transactions more than doubling from the full year 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sifting through those new ranks of Chinese acquirers takes some work. When EQT Partners decided to sell Germany’s EEW Energy from Waste, its bankers at Morgan Stanley arranged for executives to meet potential buyers in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong weeks before it began soliciting bids.

[..] While Chinese policy makers have been supportive of outbound acquisitions that help domestic companies gain foreign technology and strengthen industries seen as important drivers of economic growth, the worry is that some deals are being used as a way to move money offshore or make quick profits by re-listing acquired businesses at higher valuations in China. “Some of these companies invest outside of their core competency because they want to get money out of China, as they see the Chinese yuan will continue to depreciate,” said Christopher Balding, a professor at Peking University’s HSBC Business School in Shenzhen, without naming any specific deals.

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Nice piece of research from Don Quijones. Title is mine, couldn’t help myself.

ECB Bond Buying Props Up Oil, Cars, Guns, Drones, Gambling, Handbags (DQ)

In June 2016, the ECB activated its corporate bond buying program, ostensibly to revive the Eurozone’s stalled economy. The program has been shrouded in secrecy, as the ECB has refused to reveal the identity of most of the companies, divulging only the International Securities Identification Number (ISIN) of the bonds, but not the amounts. The ECB coordinates the overall effort, but the actual buying is done by the national central banks. Now the non-profit Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has cracked the code, so to speak: Finding the names via the ISIN code is a simple job. CEO has looked them all up to see what investments the ECB has found worthy of public money. Unfortunately, a lack of transparency at the ECB means the amounts held in bonds of individual corporations are not revealed.

While many pension funds do release this information, it seems that the common national bank for hundreds of millions of European citizens is unable to! Nevertheless, a lot can be learned from the lists… For instance, the fact that Europe’s oil majors have been particularly spoiled, with the ECB splurging on bonds issued by Shell no less than 11 times. The central bank bought bonds from Italian oil company Eni 16 times, Spain’s Repsol six times, Austrian OMV six times, and Total 7 times. Gas companies have also fared remarkably well. When counting the purchase of bonds in Spain, for example, 53% are from companies involved in the natural gas sector. The corresponding number in Italy is an astounding 68%. Also well favored are Europe’s biggest car companies, in particular those from Germany, with Daimler and BMW tied in top spot with 15 purchases apiece. The ECB also bought seven times bonds issued by Volkswagen, despite the reputational and financial fallout from its emissions scandal.

And it bought Renault bonds three times. Other companies on CEO’s list of coddled giants include Thales, a French producer of missiles, rifles, armored vehicles, and military drones, which has been engulfed in a spate of corruption scandals in recent years; France’s three major water corporations, Suèz, Vivendi, and Veolia; Novomatic, an Austrian-based gambling company owned by billionaire Johan Graf; and luxury goods companies like LVMH, producer of Moët & Chandon champagne, Hennessy cognac, and Louis Vuitton women’s handbags. These are just some of the corporations benefiting handsomely from a bond-buying binge that has already reached some €46 billion (as of Nov. 25, 2016). When the ECB buys these bonds, it inflates the bond prices and pushes their yields down, which is the purpose, and it thus lowers the cost of capital for this companies even further. By the end of the program, which is “scheduled” to finish in September, 2017, the ECB is expected to have lavished around €125 billion on them.

But that’s not the worst of it. As we reported in August, the ECB has admitted that it is not only buying already-issued bonds trading in secondary markets, as the public was initially led to believe; it is also buying bonds from companies via so-called “private placements.” These debt sales are not open to the broader market, so there’s no need for a prospectus. Only a small number of institutional investors participate. Private placements are not unusual. What’s new is that the ECB is using them to buy bonds. This was done discreetly, but it was leaked – and the ECB had some explaining to do. The central bank’s new role as “debt-buyer of first resort” raises a whole litany of concerns. It grants the ECB an almost god-like grip over Europe’s financial markets. And according to The Wall Street Journal, Citigroup figured “that bonds eligible for ECB purchases have already outperformed ineligible bonds by roughly 30% since the bond-buying program was announced in March.”

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A Dutch referendum in April voted down the EU association deal with Ukraine. PM Rutte now pretends that with a few minor tweaks it’s acceptable regardless. Rutte will now take it to his parliament for approval, which would overwrite the referendum result. Democracy. They’re handing the entire continent to Wilders and Le Pen on a platter. Oh, and who does Rutte blame for his behavior? You got it, Russia.

EU Agrees Dutch Demands On Ukraine Deal To Avoid ‘Present For Russia’ (R.)

EU leaders agreed on Thursday to additional Dutch demands over a landmark deal establishing closer ties with Ukraine, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said. The EU’s so-called association agreement with Ukraine is central to the former Soviet republic’s efforts to move closer to the West. Mass street protests toppled a pro-Russian Ukrainian president in 2014 after he tried to ditch it. The Netherlands is the only EU country that has not ratified the deal, which fosters closer political ties and aims to free up trade between Ukraine and the bloc, after Dutch voters rejected it in a referendum last April. The Hague has asked the EU for additional guarantees to ensure the deal does not lead to EU membership for Ukraine.

Asked if all 28 EU leaders have arrived to a common position on the Dutch demand, Muscat said: “Yes, there is agreement.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will now take it to his parliament for approval, which would overwrite the referendum result. Rutte told reporters before the talks that it was crucial to get a united European stance in the face of an emboldened Russia. “Russia is an increasing risk, look what happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and rockets being placed between Poland and Lithuania. You cannot, as the Netherlands … break this unity, that is why I’m so motivated to get this done,” he said.

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Justin is trying to make me believe that building pipelines is the way to go towards a “carbon-free economy”. Sure. He’s turning into soundbite man.

Justin Trudeau: ‘Globalisation Isn’t Working For Ordinary People’ (G.)

[..] A silver lining for Trudeau may lie in Trump’s pledge to resurrect plans for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. When the Obama administration rejected the plan last year, Trudeau said in a statement he was “disappointed” in the decision. When Trudeau called Trump to congratulate him after the election, the two briefly spoke about Keystone, said Trudeau, adding that it remains to be see how the US will move forward with plans for the pipeline. Any reluctance to move forward on climate change south of the border could be a boon for Canadian companies across various sectors, said Trudeau. “I know Canada is well positioned to pick up some of the slack and when people finally realise that it’s a tremendous business opportunity to lead on climate change, Canada will already have a head start.”

[..] Last week’s announcement of a national carbon price is a key part of Trudeau’s environmental policy – one that has been derided by environmentalists for enabling the expansion of fossil fuels, compensated by initiatives that include investments in clean tech and promises to phase out federal subsidies for oil and gas companies. The policy saw Trudeau recently approve a liquefied natural gas project in British Columbia as well as two pipelines that will offer Alberta’s oil sands nearly a million barrels a day in increased capacity. The approvals have sparked broad opposition among environmentalists, some First Nations and several of the communities affected by the planned infrastructure projects. “There is a number of people out there who’ve always [believed] if you stop pipeline, you stop the oil sands,” said Trudeau. “Well, actually as we’ve seen, it doesn’t work that way and what we end up with is much more oil by rail.”[..]

The government’s environmental policy takes a long view on the transition to a carbon-free economy, said Trudeau. “It’s not going to happen in a day, or in a week, but it will happen over years and perhaps a decade or two,” he said. “I know there are people out there extremely passionate about the environment, who don’t think I made the right decision on approving a couple of pipelines. But I think that everyone can see at least what it is we’re trying to do and that we’re consistent with what I’ve always said which is, you protect the environment and you build a strong economy at the same time.” The double-barrelled approach, said Trudeau, echoes his government’s broader effort to address the tensions currently wreaking havoc on the political status quo around the world. “People get that we need jobs, we need a protected environment,” he said. “On the other hand, if people have no jobs, if they have no opportunity, they’re not going to worry about protection of the air and water if they can’t feed their kids.”

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I don’t know that throwing in the drug legalization topic is very relevant. Just ‘hands off!’ should do it.

Crackdown On Cash Is An Attack On The Poor And A Reward For Banks (Soos)

The Coalition government recently announced a taskforce to investigate and recommend ways to deal with the so-called black economy. This primary revolves around business transactions conducted in cash to evade taxes. Other justifications concern the illicit drug trade and welfare fraud. The plan is to clamp down on this aspect of the black economy to make it more difficult for workers, businesses and households to evade tax, boosting taxation revenue. It is estimated the black economy accounts for about 1.5% of GDP or $21bn. There is also speculation that the $100-dollar bill may be removed from circulation. The Coalition government’s explanations seem sensible, with the mass media generally supportive. Yet, there are robust arguments why the Australian public should oppose this move – mostly because the government is trying to deal with problems it created itself.

The drug trade in Australia is thriving and constitutes a considerable portion of the black economy. This illegal trade, however, only exists because the government criminalises it. The primary reason offered is that it prevents the production and consumption of dangerous substances for recreational purposes. It clearly does nothing of the sort. By criminalising drugs, product is manufactured in unregulated and uncertain conditions, leading to vastly inferior quality relative to that in the legal and regulated pharmaceutical industry. Huge monopolistic profits are reaped by drug cartels and those in the supply chain, leading to a significant loss of taxable income. None of this would happen if the drug trade was legalised – and there is growing acceptance that it should be.

In short, the government cannot use the pretext of clamping down on an industry which is presently illegal by claiming the cash transactions facilitates the existence and growth of it when it is the government’s own criminalisation policy which brought it into existence. By legalising, billions of dollars of taxes could be raised through the GST, income tax and externality/sin taxes. Another area of alleged concern is welfare fraud. Recipients of welfare payments can work in the black economy, making a modest income without reporting it. If this were properly reported, welfare payments would be reduced. Again, this is a problem government has itself created. While the government and certain sections of the mass media pretend Australia has an out-of-control welfare system, the facts demonstrate Australia has some of the smallest welfare expenditures relative to GDP, easily the most well-targeted and has the highest “target-efficiency” (each dollar in spending reduces income inequality the most) in the OECD.

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I’d like to ignore this tale (who reads the WaPo anymore), but the Nation has a passable one: “..the CIA has “(1) attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of which were democratically-elected, (2) attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries, (3) grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries, (4) dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries, (5) attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.”

Why Are the Media Taking the CIA’s Hacking Claims at Face Value? (Nation)

In 1977, Carl Bernstein published an exposé of a CIA program known as Operation Mockingbird, a covert program involving, according to Bernstein, “more than 400 American journalists who in the past 25 years have secretly carried out assignments for the Central Intelligence Agency.” Bernstein found that in “many instances” CIA documents revealed that “journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations.” Fast-forward to December 2016, and one can see that there isn’t much need for a covert government program these days.

[..] The high-profile anchors and analysts on CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC who have cited the work of The Washington Post and The New York Times seem to have come down with a bad case of historical amnesia. The CIA, in their telling, is a bulwark of American democracy, not a largely unaccountable, out-of-control behemoth that has often sought to subvert press freedom at home and undermine democratic norms abroad. The columnists, anchors, and commentators who rushed to condemn Trump for not showing due deference to the CIA seem to be unaware that, throughout its history, the agency has been the target of far more astute and credible critics than the president-elect.

In his memoir Present at the Creation, Truman’s Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote that about the CIA, “I had the gravest forebodings.” Acheson wrote that he had “warned the President that as set up neither he, the National Security Council, nor anyone else would be in a position to know what it was doing or to control it.” Following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, President John F. Kennedy expressed his desire to “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.” The late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan twice introduced bills, in 1991 and 1995, to abolish the agency and move its functions to the State Department which, as the journalist John Judis has observed, “is what Acheson and his predecessor, George Marshall, had advocated.”

[..] To see what a corrosive effect outside powers can have on democratic processes, one need look no further than the 1996 Russian presidential election, in which Americans like the regime-change theorist Michael McFaul (later US Ambassador to Russia from 2012–14) interfered in order to keep the widely unpopular Boris Yeltsin in power against the wishes of the Russian people. For its part, the CIA has a long history of overthrowing sovereign governments the world over. According to historian William Blum, the CIA has “(1) attempted to overthrow more than 50 governments, most of which were democratically-elected, (2) attempted to suppress a populist or nationalist movement in 20 countries, (3) grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least 30 countries, (4) dropped bombs on the people of more than 30 countries, (5) attempted to assassinate more than 50 foreign leaders.”

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Yada yada

Turkey Has Back-Up Plans If EU Fails To Keep Visa-Free Travel Promises (AFP)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday Turkey had back-up plans if the EU failed to keep its promise over visa-free travel for Turks to the passport-free Schengen zone. Turkey and the EU signed a controversial deal in March, in which Ankara agreed to take back Syrian migrants landing on Greek islands in return for incentives including €3 billion in funds and visa-free travel. “If we do not get the expected outcome regarding the visa issue… if promises are not fulfilled, Turkey will no doubt have a plan B and it will have a plan C,” Erdogan warned during a news conference with his Slovenian counterpart in Ankara.

“We do not have to say ‘yes’ to every decision made about us. The EU has given us nothing so far,” he added, without elaborating. Ties between Brussels and Ankara have been strained since a failed July 15 coup in Turkey. The rocky relationship worsened after the European Parliament voted last month in favour of halting long-stalled membership talks with Turkey over its post-coup crackdown, a non-binding vote which Erdogan branded worthless. Turkey accuses the EU of failing to show enough solidarity after the failed putsch while Brussels has repeatedly urged Turkey to act within the rule of law as it arrests tens of thousands of people suspected of links to coup plotters.

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Horror story.

“Without Antibiotics, Essentially You Do Not Have Modern Medicine” (R.)

For nearly two years, a killer stalked the patients of Providence Alaska Medical Center. It was a bacteria called Acinetobacter baumannii, a common cause of infections in hospitals. This one was different. After a rash of mild cases in early 2011, doctors began seeing highly drug-resistant infections in patients, said Dr Megan Clancy, an infectious-disease specialist at the Anchorage, Alaska, hospital. And the bacteria was attacking more patients than just the severely ill ones who are the usual victims of drug-resistant “superbugs.” Clancy took emergency measures. Infected patients were isolated. Staff and visitors had to adhere to strict hand-washing and other infection-control protocols. Furniture and equipment were scrubbed to remove a microbe that can stubbornly persist on all sorts of surfaces.

Clancy also contacted outside researchers for help. They found that a strain of the bacteria had acquired a rare combination of traits. Bacteria typically are either highly resistant to drugs or highly virulent. This strain was both. Doctors quickly burned through the antibiotics used as the second and third lines of defense against superbugs. This strain shook them off. “When you start running out of medications, it gets pretty desperate,” Clancy said. Eventually, they turned to colistin. This powerful antibiotic was largely abandoned in the 1960s for its toxic side effects. Out of necessity, it has become in recent years a weapon of last resort against the worsening superbug scourge.

But in some of the Alaska cases, even colistin didn’t work. For public health officials, that’s the nightmare scenario. “It’s the worst of all possible worlds: You have a bacteria that is good at establishing infection, and it can’t be treated with antibiotics,” said Dr Robert Clifford, a microbiologist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research who studied the outbreak.

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Needs much more attention. This is how we kill the living world.

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature (G.)

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests. New roads also pave the way to further exploitation by humans, such as poaching or mining, and new infrastructure.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km. Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people. The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads. The scientists considered that land up to a kilometre on each side of a road was affected, which they believe is a conservative estimate.

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Dec 122016
 
 December 12, 2016  Posted by at 8:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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‘Daly’ Store, Manning, South Carolina July 1941


CIA’s Blatant Lies Demolished By A Little Simple Logic (Craig Murray)
Chinese Media Hit Out At Trump Over ‘One China’ Comments (CNBC)
Dollar Debt Issuance Soars As Central Banks Take A Back Seat – BIS (CNBC)
Market ‘Paradigm Shift’ May Be Under Way, More Volatility Likely – BIS (R.)
China’s Highly Leveraged Real Estate Developers Face Tough 2017 (BBG)
Top Tech Executives To Attend Trump Summit On Wednesday (R.)
Italy’s Monte dei Paschi To Seek Private Sector-Led Rescue (AFP)
Saudi’s Willing To Cut Oil Output Even More Than Agreed (BBG)
India Workers Abandon Building Sites After Cash Crackdown (R.)
Foxconn Puts 25% Of Its India Workers On Bench After Demonetization (ET)
Venezuela Pulls Most Common Banknote From Circulation To ‘Beat Mafia’ (R.)
Syria’s Palmyra Falls To ISIS Once More (DW)
Vienna Will Veto EU Membership Talks With Turkey – Austrian FM (RT)
Economic Migrants Put Extra Strain On Greek Asylum System (Kath.)
Greece Is Rock Bottom In EU’s Social Justice Rankings (Kath.)
Happiness Depends On Health And Friends, Not Money (G.)

 

 

A merciless put-down by Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, and former Rector of the University of Dundee. Close associate of Assange.

CIA’s Blatant Lies Demolished By A Little Simple Logic (Craig Murray)

I have watched incredulous as the CIA’s blatant lie has grown and grown as a media story – blatant because the CIA has made no attempt whatsoever to substantiate it. There is no Russian involvement in the leaks of emails showing Clinton’s corruption. Yes this rubbish has been the lead today in the Washington Post in the US and the Guardian here, and was the lead item on the BBC main news. I suspect it is leading the American broadcasts also. A little simple logic demolishes the CIA’s claims. The CIA claim they “know the individuals” involved. Yet under Obama the USA has been absolutely ruthless in its persecution of whistleblowers, and its pursuit of foreign hackers through extradition.

We are supposed to believe that in the most vital instance imaginable, an attempt by a foreign power to destabilise a US election, even though the CIA knows who the individuals are, nobody is going to be arrested or extradited, or (if in Russia) made subject to yet more banking and other restrictions against Russian individuals? Plainly it stinks. The anonymous source claims of “We know who it was, it was the Russians” are beneath contempt. As Julian Assange has made crystal clear, the leaks did not come from the Russians. As I have explained countless times, they are not hacks, they are insider leaks – there is a major difference between the two.

And it should be said again and again, that if Hillary Clinton had not connived with the DNC to fix the primary schedule to disadvantage Bernie, if she had not received advance notice of live debate questions to use against Bernie, if she had not accepted massive donations to the Clinton foundation and family members in return for foreign policy influence, if she had not failed to distance herself from some very weird and troubling people, then none of this would have happened. The continued ability of the mainstream media to claim the leaks lost Clinton the election because of “Russia”, while still never acknowledging the truths the leaks reveal, is Kafkaesque.

[..] both Julian Assange and I have stated definitively the leak does not come from Russia. Do we credibly have access? Yes, very obviously. Very, very few people can be said to definitely have access to the source of the leak. The people saying it is not Russia are those who do have access. After access, you consider truthfulness. Do Julian Assange and I have a reputation for truthfulness? Well in 10 years not one of the tens of thousands of documents WikiLeaks has released has had its authenticity successfully challenged. As for me, I have a reputation for inconvenient truth telling.

Contrast this to the “credible sources” Freedland relies on. What access do they have to the whistleblower? Zero. They have not the faintest idea who the whistleblower is. Otherwise they would have arrested them. What reputation do they have for truthfulness? It’s the Clinton gang and the US government, for goodness sake. In fact, the sources any serious journalist would view as “credible” give the opposite answer to the one Freedland wants. But in what passes for Freedland’s mind, “credible” is 100% synonymous with “establishment”. When he says “credible sources” he means “establishment sources”. That is the truth of the “fake news” meme. You are not to read anything unless it is officially approved by the elite and their disgusting, crawling whores of stenographers like Freedland.

The worst thing about all this is that it is aimed at promoting further conflict with Russia. This puts everyone in danger for the sake of more profits for the arms and security industries – including of course bigger budgets for the CIA. As thankfully the four year agony of Aleppo comes swiftly to a close today, the Saudi and US armed and trained ISIS forces counter by moving to retake Palmyra. This game kills people, on a massive scale, and goes on and on.

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He’s not trying to trade the policy.

Chinese Media Hit Out At Trump Over ‘One China’ Comments (CNBC)

Donald Trump attracted stinging criticism from China’s state media after the President-elect stated that the U.S. did not necessarily have to stick to the “One China” policy. Communist Party-owned paper, Global Times, published in an opinion piece with the headline: “Trump, please listen clearly, the One China policy cannot be traded” as it warned Trump that China cannot “cannot be easily bullied”. “If Trump abandons the one-China principle, why should China need to be U.S.’ partner in most international affairs?” said the paper, which is known for its extreme nationalistic views. Most would think Trump is “ignorant like a child” in handling diplomacy, the paper added.

Its English language editor was less strident, with the paper citing a foreign affairs analyst chalking up Trump comments to “inexperience” in a piece entitled “Prevent ‘immature’ Trump being manipulated by conservative forces: analyst”. “As a businessman, he thinks it’s quite normal to do business, but he hasn’t realized that the Taiwan question is not a business to China. The Taiwan question is not negotiable,” China Foreign Affairs University professor Li Haidong was quoted as saying. Li also said Trump didn’t have a plan to challenge the “One China” policy. China and Taiwan parted ways in 1949, when the Nationalist Party (KMT) was forced to retreat to Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party and China views the territory as a renegade province that can be re-taken by force if necessary. Washington embraced the “One China” policy in 1979 under which Beijing views Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau as part of China.

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And at the end of the day central banks are going to buy up all the devalued paper again?

Dollar Debt Issuance Soars As Central Banks Take A Back Seat – BIS (CNBC)

The amount of dollar-denominated debt issued by financial institutions stepped up to reach a record high during the third quarter as the influence of central banks receded, according to the latest quarterly review from the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), released on Sunday. “Developments during this quarter stand out for one reason: For once, central banks took a back seat,” Claudio Borio, head of the BIS’ monetary and economic department was quoted as saying in the review. “It is as if market participants, for once, had taken the lead in anticipating and charting the future, breaking free from their dependence on central banks’ every word and deed,” he continued. Total issuance of international debt securities during the third quarter slipped 10% to hit $1.4 trillion.

Within advanced economies, a below-average pace of repayments meant quarterly net issuance jumped 40% with the year-to-date net figure at its highest level since 2009. Turning to emerging markets, quarterly net issuance dropped 35% from its abnormally large amount the previous quarter but the year-to-date figure still showed a 73% jump over 2015’s equivalent number. The lower EM net issuance figure this quarter particularly reflected a sharp slowdown in sovereign borrowing by oil-producing governments. However, looking ahead, fourth-quarter figures should be bolstered once again by Saudi Arabia’s $17.5 billion bond issue placed in October and it is worth remembering the heady pace of issuance during the second quarter, driven by oil exporters such as Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

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Who needs central banks?

Market ‘Paradigm Shift’ May Be Under Way, More Volatility Likely – BIS (R.)

Financial markets have been remarkably resilient to rising bond yields and sudden shift in outlook following last month’s shock U.S. election result, but the sheer scale of uncertainties ahead means the adjustment will be “bumpy”, the BIS said on Sunday. While the resilience to recent market swings following the U.S. election and Brexit vote have been welcome, investors should be braced for further bouts of extreme volatilty and “flash crash” episodes like the one that hit sterling in October, the Bank for International Settlements said. “We do not quite fully understand the cause of such unusual price moves … but as long as such moves remain self-contained and do not threaten market functioning or the soundness of financial institutions, they are not a source of much concern: we may need to get used to them,” said Claudio Borio, Head of the Monetary and Economic Department at the BIS.

“It is as if market participants, for once, had taken the lead in anticipating and charting the future, breaking free from their dependence on central banks’ every word and deed,” Borio said. This suggests investors may finally be learning to stand on their own two feet after years of relying on central bank stimulus, signaling a potential “paradigm shift” for markets, he said. “But the jury is still out, and caution is in order. And make no mistake: bond yields are still unusually low from a long-term perspective,” Borio said. [..] Bond yields have risen sharply since the middle of the year. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yield has jumped 100 basis points since July’s multi-decade low, with a growing number of investors saying the 35-year bull run in bonds is now over.

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I say it almost every day: shadow banks.

China’s Highly Leveraged Real Estate Developers Face Tough 2017 (BBG)

For China’s highly leveraged real estate developers, 2017 could be the year that the borrowing binge finally catches up with them. Regulators have choked off a key source of funding, with the Shanghai Stock Exchange raising the threshold for property firms to sell bonds on their platform in October. Since then, builders haven’t sold any notes in a market that played host to about 40% of their onshore debentures over the past two years, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The curbs couldn’t have come at a worse time, with a record $17.3 billion of developer bonds due next year, and another $27.9 billion in 2018. China’s government is treading a fine line with the curbs on debt issuance as it tries to gently deflate the real-estate bubble while avoiding wider fallout in an industry that accounts for as much as 20% of Asia’s largest economy.

The sector is also threatened by a broader increase in funding costs, with the yield premium on AAA-rated domestic corporate notes reaching the widest since July 2015, amid a global pullback in bonds and targeted central bank steps to stem leverage. Smaller developers will be the hardest hit, with bigger players still able to sell exchange-regulated bonds, according to NN Investment Partners. “Overall, funding conditions will become more challenging in 2017,” said Clement Chong, senior credit analyst in Singapore at NN Investment. “Only stronger developers can issue onshore bonds, subject to a number of conditions. But smaller builders will be forced to come to the offshore market to issue bonds, which will be subject to regulatory approval.”

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Most of them were strong Hillary supporters.

Top Tech Executives To Attend Trump Summit On Wednesday (R.)

Top executives from Alphabet Inc, Apple Inc and Facebook Inc are among a small group of tech leaders invited to a summit to be held on Wednesday by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, Recode reported, citing sources. Executives from Microsoft Corp, Intel Corp and Oracle Corp will also be among “a very heady group of less than a dozen, comprising most of the key players in the sector” to attend the summit, Recode said. Billionaire entrepreneur and Tesla Motors Inc CEO Elon Musk will also be in attendance, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

“I plan to tell the president-elect that we are with him and are here to help in any way we can,” Oracle CEO Safra Catz told Reuters in an emailed statement. “If he can reform the tax code, reduce regulation, and negotiate better trade deals, the U.S. technology community will be stronger and more competitive than ever.” Amazon.com Inc CEO and founder Jeff Bezos was also invited and is likely to attend, Recode said citing sources with knowledge of the situation.

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What’s in it for Qatar?

Italy’s Monte dei Paschi To Seek Private Sector-Led Rescue (AFP)

Italy’s troubled Monte dei Paschi di Siena (BMPS) bank on Sunday announced it would go ahead with plans to seek a private sector-led rescue, narrowly avoiding the need to seek a government bailout. The world’s oldest bank’s woes have raised concerns over the eurozone’s third-largest economy, particularly in the aftermath of prime minister Matteo Renzi’s resignation after a crushing referendum defeat. The bank’s prospects appeared somewhat less alarming Sunday however, after Italian President Sergio Mattarella asked Renzi’s ally Paolo Gentiloni to form a new government. BMPS’s stock tumbled Friday over reports that the ECB had denied it more time to raise the cash it needed to avoid being wound down, triggering speculation it would be forced to seek a government bailout.

The bank – seen as the weak link in Italy’s economy – had asked to be given until January 20 to avoid collapse. The request was reportedly refused, with the ECB’s board believed to have ruled that two weeks of extra time would be of little use in turning around the historic bank. In a statement published late Sunday after a board meeting in Milan, BMPS said it had “decided to go ahead” with plans to seek a market-led rescue by December 31. The bank had initially announced its plan to seek a private sector-led rescue in July. The bank, whose stock has fallen more than 80% this year, plans the sale of €27.6 billion in non-performing loans. It also aims for a capital injection of up to €5 billion. Italian media reports say the Qatar Investment Authority – the Gulf nation’s state-owned holding company – may be willing to contribute €1 billion.

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Everyone’s willing to cut outputs, but not if it costs money or market share. Not going to work.

Saudi’s Willing To Cut Oil Output Even More Than Agreed (BBG)

Saudi Arabia signaled it’s ready to cut oil production more than expected, a surprise announcement made minutes after Russia and several non-other OPEC countries pledged to curb output next year. Taken together, OPEC’s first deal with its rivals since 2001 and the Saudi comments represent a forceful effort by producers to wrest back control of the global oil market, depressed by persistent oversupply and record inventories. “This is shock and awe by Saudi Arabia,” said Amrita Sen at Energy Aspects in London. “It shows the commitment of Riyadh to rebalance the market and should end concerns about OPEC delivering the deal.” Oil prices have surged more than 15% since OPEC announced Nov. 30 it will cut production for the first time in eight years, rising this week briefly above $55. The price rise has propelled the shares of energy groups from Exxon Mobil to shale firms such as Continental Resources.

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Everyone needs a bank account, but the banks have no yime for that since they’re exchanging old for new money. Sounds like a plan.

India Workers Abandon Building Sites After Cash Crackdown (R.)

Hundreds of thousands of construction workers have returned home since Prime Minister Narendra Modi abolished high-denomination banknotes, leaving some building sites across the country facing costly delays. A month after Modi’s shock move to take away 86% of cash in circulation to crush the shadow economy, the growing labour shortage threatens to slow a recovery in India’s construction industry, which accounts for 8% of gross GDP and employs 40 million people. Work at SARE Homes’ residential projects, spanning six cities, has slowed dramatically as migrant workers, who are out of cash and have no bank accounts to draw from, have little choice but to return to their villages. “Construction work at all projects has slowed down in a big way,” managing director Vineet Relia told Reuters.

Property enquiries, meanwhile, have slumped by 80% around the Indian capital since the cash crackdown, according to property portal 99acres. Getamber Anand, president of Indian builders’ association CREDAI, said projects nationwide had been hit, and estimated that roughly half of the migrant workforce, numbering in the low millions, had left for home. Road developers have also reported a slowdown as they struggle to find sufficient labour. The exodus shows little sign of reversing, risking damage to construction activity and the wider economy into 2017, despite Modi’s assurances that hardships from his radical “demonetisation” should be over by the end of the year. [..] for now, millions of workers who depend on daily wages for food and shelter are struggling. Many have never held a bank account, and even if they wanted one, some do not have the necessary documents to do so.

CREDAI’s Anand predicts activity on construction sites will not return to normal until April, and only once labourers are able to open accounts at banks still struggling to serve long queues of people desperate for cash. “Right now the banks say they don’t have time to open accounts. It’s the biggest challenge,” Anand said.

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Modi said it would all be fine by the end of the year. Not going to happen.

Foxconn Puts 25% Of Its India Workers On Bench After Demonetization (ET)

Foxconn, the world’s largest contract manufacturer and poster boy of the government’s Make in India project, has asked nearly a fourth of its 8,000 factory workers to go on paid leave for two weeks after last month’s demonetisation of high value notes sparked a severe cash crunch that saw sales slump almost 50%, forcing the company to slash production by half. The government’s move to ban Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes from November 9 has had a domino effect on the mobile phone industry, where a large majority of mobile phones are bought for less than Rs 5,000 and most of the transactions happen through cash.

Consumer purchase power has been reduced dramatically – mobile phone monthly sales halved to Rs 175-200 crore post demonetisation – and sales revival is not looking up, as was perceived earlier, industry insiders said. Leading local players including Intex, Lava and Karbonn are planning to lay off or bench 10-40% of their workforce, as they cut production to control inventory pile-ups in retail channels with consumers delaying cash purchases after Nov 8 demonetisation sucked out cash from the market. Lava is shutting down its plant – which employs around 5000 people -for a week starting December 12, while others could soon follow, industry insiders said.

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Failure of Maduro or intervention from abroad? Venezuela still has a lot of oil.

Venezuela Pulls Most Common Banknote From Circulation To ‘Beat Mafia’ (R.)

Venezuela, mired in an economic crisis and facing the world’s highest inflation, will pull its largest bill, worth two US cents on the black market, from circulation this week ahead of introducing new higher-value notes, President Nicolás Maduro said on Sunday. The surprise move, announced by Maduro during an hours-long speech, is likely to worsen a cash crunch in Venezuela. Maduro said the 100-bolivar bill will be taken out of circulation on Wednesday and Venezuelans will have 10 days after that to exchange those notes at the central bank. Critics slammed the move, which Maduro said was needed to combat contraband of the bills at the volatile Colombia-Venezuela border, as economically nonsensical, adding there would be no way to swap all the 100-bolivar bills in circulation in the time the president has allotted.

Central bank data showed that in November, there were more than six billion 100-bolivar bills in circulation, 48% of all bills and coins. Authorities on Thursday are due to start releasing six new notes and three new coins, the largest of which will be worth 20,000 bolivars, less than $5 on the streets. No official inflation data is available for 2016 though many economists see it in triple digits. Economic consultancy Ecoanalitica estimates annual inflation this year at more than 500%. The oil-producing nation’s bolivar currency has fallen 55% against the US dollar on the black market in the last month.

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Putin won’t like this.

Syria’s Palmyra Falls To ISIS Once More (DW)

On Sunday, the “Islamic State” (IS) retook the desert city of Palmyra in Syria after being driven out of the city hours earlier by heavy Russian aerial attacks, a group monitoring the country’s conflict reported. “Despite the ongoing air raids, IS retook all of Palmyra after the Syrian army withdrew south of the city,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights. The Amaq news agency, which has links to the IS militants, also reported that the group had retaken “full control” of the city after first taking Palmyra’s citadel (above photo), which overlooks the historic site.

After launching an offensive in the region a few days before, IS pushed into the city on Saturday, only to be forced to withdraw by a fierce Russian bombing campaign that killed scores of its fighters. The Observatory reported that the militants regrouped on the outskirts of the city and made a successful attempt to retake control. IS has had possession of the city once before, in May last year, destroying many of its ancient treasures, and Palmyra’s recapture could put the remaining artifacts and monuments in extreme danger. The group considers certain artifacts and monuments to be “idolatrous,” and has severely damaged important historic sites and objects across areas of Syria and Iraq that it controls.

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Nothing else makes sense.

Vienna Will Veto EU Membership Talks With Turkey – Austrian FM (RT)

Any further negotiations with Ankara over its future European Union membership will be blocked by Vienna, the Austrian Foreign Minister said, slamming Ankara’s alleged human rights violations in the post-coup crackdown on any opposition. The European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on November 24 to freeze Turkey’s EU accession process, citing Ankara’s crackdown after July’s failed coup. The final verdict on Turkey’s immediate EU future will be decided following the European Council meeting that is scheduled to take place on December 15-16. Granting visa liberalization to Turkish citizens will also be on the table during the discussions. Before the crucial meeting, the EU’s General Affairs Council of foreign ministers, which meets once a month, will convene to discuss the potential role of Ankara in the EU.

At the meeting, Austria intends to block the continuation of EU accession talks with Turkey, the country’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, told Spiegel online. “The European Parliament has adopted a courageous and correct resolution demanding that the accession negotiations with Turkey be frozen. In the conclusions of the Foreign Ministers, there must also be a reaction to developments in Turkey. We must also propose that the accession talks be frozen,” Kurz said. The minister added that the Netherlands and Bulgaria seem to share Vienna’s position on Turkey. The 30-year-old politician said that his country believes that Turkey does not share EU values. He called for a clear response from the European Union to the events which followed the July 15 failed coup.

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Over 300 arrivals a day. Numbers are rising again.

Economic Migrants Put Extra Strain On Greek Asylum System (Kath.)

The numbers of migrants crossing from Turkey to the eastern Aegean islands are on the rise, but the%age of those who merit international protection is on the wane, say authorities, who are looking for ways to speed up asylum procedures. Speaking to Kathimerini on condition of anonymity, local officials told the newspaper that refugee families currently stranded on the islands are reluctant to share a roof with economic migrants, mostly young men from the Maghreb region (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) who allegedly often display delinquent behavior and are on the front lines of riots at reception centers. Migration Policy Minister Yiannis Mouzalas recently admitted that between 70 and 80% of arrivals were now migrants while before it was refugees escaping conflict and war.

Whereas the latter appear aware that the Balkan route to Western Europe is officially closed, the groups of young male economic migrants appear more willing to take the risks of reaching Europe. A total 324 undocumented migrants crossed from Turkey on Friday, most of them from Africa and Pakistan. Another 330 reached Greece on Saturday. Rising numbers are putting a big strain on Greece’s asylum system as virtually all newcomers make a claim for asylum despite knowing that they do not fulfill the necessary criteria for international protection. “Even so, we are still obliged to follow the formal procedure and fulfill the European directives,” Maria Stavropoulou, director of the Greek Asylum Service, told Kathimerini.

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Firdt you put them down, then you write a report on it.

Greece Is Rock Bottom In EU’s Social Justice Rankings (Kath.)

Greece came out worst among the bloc’s 28 member-states in the EU’s annual report on social justice for 2015, reflecting the impact of the financial crisis on society, social cohesion and the competitiveness of the Greek economy. The “Social Justice in the EU” report shows that not only is Greece the bloc’s laggard, but the situation in the country is deteriorating, with the gap between Greece and Romania – the second to last in the rankings – growing. Furthermore, the report indicates that the gap between the European North and South is also widening. The social and economic inequality that has emerged in Greece during the crisis is now taking on a permanent structural character, while the local economy appears to be losing its most important comparative advantage – human capital.

The report examines six social justice sectors: poverty prevention, equal rights in education, labor market access, social cohesion, and the absence of discrimination in healthcare and justice. It argues that those sectors have seen a downturn across the EU in the last seven years, reaching their lowest point in the period from 2012 to 2014. On the poverty and social exclusion front, the situation in Greece is particularly worrying, as 35.7% of the population faces the risk of poverty, with the figure for children even higher, at 37.8%, from 36.7% in 2014. The %age of children living in conditions of serious material deprivation has grown to 25.7% from 23.8% in 2014 and 10.4% in 2008. The situation is also disturbing in the labor market: In 2015 just 50.8% of Greeks of working age actually worked – the lowest rate in the EU.

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What happened to the warm gun?

Happiness Depends On Health And Friends, Not Money (G.)

Most human misery can be blamed on failed relationships and physical and mental illness rather than money problems and poverty, according to a landmark study by a team of researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE). Eliminating depression and anxiety would reduce misery by 20% compared to just 5% if policymakers focused on eliminating poverty, the report found. Lord Richard Layard, who led the report, said on average people have become no happier in the last 50 years, despite average incomes more than doubling. The economist and former adviser to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown said the study, called Origins of Happiness, showed that measuring people’s satisfaction with their lives should be a priority for every government. T

he researchers analysed data from four countries including the US and Germany. Extra spending on reducing mental illness would be self-financing, the researchers added, because it would be recovered by the government through higher employment and increased tax receipts together with a reduction in NHS costs from fewer GP visits and hospital A&E admissions. “Tackling depression and anxiety would be four times as effective as tackling poverty. It would also pay for itself,” he said. The report supports the arguments put forward by Layard over several decades that social and psychological factors are more important to the wellbeing of individuals than income levels. “Having a partner is as good for you as being made unemployed is bad for you,” he said.

The report claims that state-run organisations, including schools, must become more focused on tackling anxiety and mental health issues. “This evidence demands a new role for the state – not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’,” Layard said. “In the past, the state has successively taken on poverty, unemployment, education and physical health. But equally important now are domestic violence, alcoholism, depression and anxiety conditions, alienated youth, exam mania and much else. These should become centre stage.”

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Dec 102016
 
 December 10, 2016  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Arthur Rothstein Interior of migratory fruit worker’s tent, Yakima, Washington 1936


Donald Trump Team Takes Aim At CIA (CNN)
A Rising Stock Market Does Not Signal Economic Health (FEE)
Economist Streeck Calls Time On Capitalism (G.)
Nobel Economics Prize Winner: ‘The Euro Was A Mistake’ (EA)
Beware Of Panic Buying In Bank Stocks (MW)
Trump Has Unleashed The Stock Market’s ‘Animal Spirits’ (MW)
The Bond Market Doesn’t Believe Draghi (BBG)
Why China Can’t Stop Capital Outflows (Balding)
EU Launches New Investigation Into Chinese Steel Imports (R.)
ECB Refuses To Help Italy’s Crisis-Hit Monte dei Paschi Bank (G.)
60% Of Americans Who Usually Fly Home For The Holidays, Won’t This Year (MW)
Greece Under Fire Over Christmas Bonus For Low-Income Pensioners (G.)
Greece Seamen Strike: Angry Farmers Throw Flares, Set Offices On Fire (KTG)
Broken Men in Paradise (NYT)

 

 

Tried to find a better source for this, not as one-sided as CNN, but does it really matter anymore at this point? Anyone who wants to believe more secret and anonymous ‘news’ about Russia and the US elections, can and will. Others find it hard to believe that the WaPo comes with yet another unsubstantiated ‘story’. CNN calls this ‘revelations’, but that really is not the word. And saying things like “the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community” can probably best be seen as an attempt at comedy.

Donald Trump Team Takes Aim At CIA (CNN)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team slammed the CIA Friday, following reports the agency has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help him win. In a stunning response to widening claims of a Russian espionage operation targeting the presidential race, Trump’s camp risked an early feud with the Intelligence community on which he will rely for top secret assessments of the greatest threats facing the United States. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction,” the transition said in a terse, unsigned statement. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.'”

The sharp pushback to revelations in The Washington Post, which followed an earlier CNN report on alleged Russian interference in the election, represented a startling rebuke from an incoming White House to the CIA. The transition team’s reference to the agency’s most humiliating recent intelligence misfire – over its conclusion that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — threatens to cast an early cloud over relations between the Trump White House and the CIA. The top leadership of the agency that presided over the Iraq failure during the Bush administration has long since been replaced. But the comments from Trump’s camp will cause concern in the Intelligence community about the incoming President’s attitude to America’s spy agencies.

CNN reported this week that Trump is getting intelligence briefings only once a week. Several previous presidents preparing for the inauguration had a more intense briefing schedule. Multiple sources with knowledge of the investigation into Russia’s hacking told CNN last week that the US intelligence community is increasingly confident that Russian meddling in the US election was intended to steer the election toward Trump, rather than simply to undermine or in other ways disrupt the political process. On Friday, the Post cited US officials as saying that intelligence agencies have identified individuals connected to the Russian government who gave Wikileaks thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Trump has repeatedly said there is no evidence to suggest that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with which he has vowed to improve relations, played a nefarious role in the US election. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said in an interview for the latest issue of Time magazine, adding that he thought intelligence community accusations about Russian interventions in the election were politically motivated.

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“The Economy Isn’t A Thing”.

A Rising Stock Market Does Not Signal Economic Health (FEE)

The headlines tell us that the Dow Jones is up around 1,000 points since Donald Trump won the election on November 8th. The conventional wisdom is that this shows how much confidence people have in Trump’s ability to generate a healthy American economy. The argument is that if people are willing to buy stock in American firms, this indicates their belief that those firms will see improving profits over the next few years. They then draw the conclusion that more profitable firms indicate a healthier American economy. Although this argument is correct about stock prices reflecting an increasing belief in the profitability of US firms, it makes a major error in assuming that profitable firms necessarily mean a better economy. First, it’s important to understand that phrases like “a healthier economy” are themselves problematic. The “economy” is not the thing we should be concerned about. In fact, in some fundamental sense there’s no such thing as “the economy.”

As Russ Roberts and John Papola memorably put it in the music video “Fight of the Century:”
The economy’s not a car.
There’s no engine to stall.
No experts can fix it.
There’s no “it” at all.
The economy is us

Things are not “good/bad for the economy.” They are good or bad for the people who comprise the market process, specifically in our capacity as consumers. All the economy amounts to is people engaging exchanges in order to better satisfy their wants. What we should care about is whether or not people are able to better satisfy those wants. And “better satisfy” here means not just more and better goods and services, but at cheaper prices too. Lower prices mean that consumers have income left over to purchase goods they otherwise couldn’t, enabling them to better satisfy their wants by satisfying more of them. In a genuinely free market, the profitability of firms is a good reflection of their ability to better satisfy the wants of consumers. Our willingness to pay for their goods and services reflects the fact that we receive value from those products, so their profits are at least a general signal of having created that value and satisfied consumer wants.

Trump’s policies may well enrich many firms, but they will impoverish the average American. In fact, consumers get much more value out of most innovations than is reflected in the profits of firms. A famous study by economist William Nordhaus estimated that profits made up only about 2.2% of the total benefits created by innovations. If you doubt this, ask yourself how much it would take for you to give up your smartphone and its connectivity. Then multiply that by all of the smartphone users in the world. Then compare that to the profits made off smartphones. The total value to consumers will dwarf the profits of smartphone producers. However, when markets aren’t free, profits do not necessarily reflect value creation. Firms who profit through privileges, protections, and subsidies from governments demonstrate that they are able to please political actors, not that they can deliver value to consumers by better satisfying their wants.

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Can’t give the article the space it deserves here.

Economist Streeck Calls Time On Capitalism (G.)

Nothing in his work prepares you for meeting Streeck (pronounced Stray-k). Professionally, he is the political economist barking last orders for our way of life, and warning of the “dark ages” ahead. His books bear bluntly fin-de-siecle titles: two years ago was Buying Time, while the latest is called How Will Capitalism End? (spoiler: not well). Even his admirers talk of his “despair”, by which they mean sentences such as this: “Before capitalism will go to hell, it will for the foreseeable future hang in limbo, dead or about to die from an overdose of itself but still very much around, as nobody will have the power to move its decaying body out of the way.”

What does such gloom look like in the flesh? Small glasses, neat side parting and moustache, a backpack, a smart anorak and at least a decade younger than his 70 years. Alluding to Trump’s victory, he cheerily declares “What a morning!” as if discussing the likelihood of rain, then strolls into the gallery. [..] At a time when macroeconomists have failed and other academics have retreated into disciplinary solipsism, Streeck is one of the few to have risen to the moment. Many of the themes that will define this year, this decade, are in his work. The breakup of Europe, the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, the failures of Mark Carney and the technocratic elite: he has anatomised all of them.

This summer, Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU – and consigned themselves to a poorer, angrier future. Such frenzies of collective self-harm were explained by Streeck in the 2012 lectures later collected in Buying Time: “Professionalised political science tends to underestimate the impact of moral outrage. With its penchant for studied indifference … [it] has nothing but elitist contempt for what it calls “populism”, sharing this with the power elites to which it would like to be close … [But] citizens too can “panic” and react “irrationally”, just like financial investors … even though they have no banknotes as arguments but only words and (who knows?) paving stones.”

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The structure of the EU makes it impossible for it to survive. That’s what these people miss.

Nobel Economics Prize Winner: ‘The Euro Was A Mistake’ (EA)

The European Union should embark on a process of decentralisation and return certain areas of decision making to the member states if it wants to survive and thrive, according to Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner Oliver Hart. Today (9 December), Hart and his colleague, Bengt Holmström, will receive the top prize for their work on contract theory, which covers everything from how CEOs are paid to privatisation. Hart told EFE that he believes the keyword in EU politics is now “decentralisation” and that Brussels has “gone too far in centralising power”. The British-born economist said that “if it abandons this trend, the EU could survive and flourish, otherwise, it could fail”.

The Harvard University professor insisted that the EU member states are not “sufficiently homogeneous” to be considered one single entity, adding that trying to make the EU-28 into one was an “error”. Hart said that the concerns felt by the member states about decision making and centralisation of power in Brussels should be addressed by returning competences to the EU capitals. The Nobel winner conceded that the EU should retain control of “some important areas”, like free trade and free movement of workers, the latter of which he admitted is “ultimately, an idea that I personally like, although I understand that there are political worries”.

His prize-winning colleague, Holmström, also told EFE that the EU needs to “redefine its priorities, limiting its activities and its regulatory arm, in order to focus on what can be done on the essential things”. The Finnish economist, who also teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said that Brussels needs to rejig its system of governance and its basic rules in order to make them “clearer and simpler”. Hart argued that “the euro was an mistake” and said that it’s an opinion that he has maintained ever since the monetary union was first introduced. The economist added that it “wouldn’t be a sad thing at all” if in the future Europe abandoned the single currency and that the British were “very clever” to stay out of it.

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Wait till January.

Beware Of Panic Buying In Bank Stocks (MW)

Buying of banking stocks has reached panic proportions, suggesting a trend reversal over the next couple of weeks may be likely. The SPDR Financial Select Sector exchange-traded fund rose 0.2% Friday, closing at the highest level since Feb. 1, 2008. Financials have been the best performer of the S&P 500’s 11 key sectors since Donald Trump was elected president, with the sector tracking stock (XLF) soaring 18.8% since Nov. 8, compared with a 5.6% gain in the S&P 500 index. The XLF produced this week its best rolling one-month (22 sessions) %age gains since August 2009, as the financial crisis was ending. Investors appear to be banking that President-elect Donald Trump will provide a Goldilocks scenario for financials, as his promises of lower regulations, lower corporate taxes and a revived economy that results in higher longer-term interest rates are just right for the sector.

A number of technical warnings signs have flashed, however, suggesting the postelection buying frenzy is petering out. On Thursday, 73% of the S&P 500 financial sector hit 52-week highs, the most since Feb. 13, 1997, and the second highest%age since 1990, according to Jason Goepfert, president of Sundial Capital. His research suggests that the previous five-largest surges in 52-week highs in financials produced a median loss of 1.9% over the next week, and a decline of 2.5% over the next two weeks. In comparison, his data showed the average for all days was a gain of 0.2% in a week and a 0.4% rise in two weeks. “There is no doubt that momentum is impressive in the sector—the problem is that it seems to have entered panic mode and that rarely lasts,” Goepfert wrote in a note to clients.

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Question is, how long for?

Trump Has Unleashed The Stock Market’s ‘Animal Spirits’ (MW)

You don’t have to call it a Trump rally. But some market specialists appear to be struggling to pin a name to the recent moves across global markets, which has pushed the S&P 500, DJIA, the Nasdaq – and most recently the Dow Jones Transportation Average – into record territory since President-elect Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 victory over rival Hillary Clinton. The Dow scored its 14th record close on Friday. Steve Barrow at Standard Bank said in a Nov. 30 research note that “whatever fears might exist in some quarters about Trump’s win, some sort of animal spirits might have been spurred.” So-called animal spirits is an oft-used term on Wall Street coined by famed economist John Maynard Keynes to describe gut instinct.

Or as Keynes explained, “a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction”. A certain verve to scoop up assets has certainly appeared to be at play since early November. Indeed, the Dow industrials as of Friday’s close have risen nearly 8% since the election outcome, the broad-stock benchmark S&P 500 index has climbed 5.6%, while the Nasdaq has picked up 4.8% over the same 30-day period. The Nasdaq scored its first record close since Nov. 29 on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the small-cap focused Russell 2000 which is most sensitive to economic prospects for the country, has jumped more than 15.2% since Nov. 8. To be sure, the U.S. has been a shining star compared with its weaker sisters abroad when it comes to economic growth. The ECB on Thursday said it planned on scaling back elements of its stimulus program but noted that it would extend it “if necessary.”

Barrow speculates that global growth has mostly stagnated in the aftermath of the 2008-09 financial crisis because the market didn’t put much faith in the tools, namely asset-repurchases and ultralow rates, that have been put in place by central bankers. By contrast, Trump has proposed a raft of fiscal-stimulus measures to upgrade the U.S.’s ailing infrastructure. The market now appears to be betting, in part, that the incoming leader of the free world will make good on those promises, which could inject a dose of spending that could create jobs and break a trend of economic stagnation. As a result infrastructure companies, commodities associated with construction and bank shares, among other asset classes, vaulted higher. Wall Street is euphoric over the possibilities.

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People like Draghi have come to rely on docile markets. Once that’s gone….

The Bond Market Doesn’t Believe Draghi (BBG)

The beatings will continue until morale improves, the saying goes. That’s one interpretation of the ECB’s somewhat convoluted rejig of its quantitative easing program this week. By insisting he’s not tapering bond buying while simultaneously reducing the monthly purchases and extending the time frame, President Mario Draghi is sending a mixed message that likely reflects disagreements among his Governing Council members. Cutting the program to €60 billion per month from €80 billion throws a bone to those who worry that it’s time to withdraw the monetary medicine; lengthening the timeline until the end of next year pacifies policy makers who fear the patient isn’t yet on the road to recovery.

But in financial markets, bond yields are effectively tightening monetary conditions on the central bank’s behalf, suggesting investors are beginning to anticipate an improved economic outlook. That could play out in two ways: Either bonds are correct, and the ECB will find itself tapering properly next year, or bonds are wrong, in which case Draghi will have to make good on his pledge to do more if needed. The 10-year German bond yield has climbed to about 0.4% from a low of almost -0.2% in July. That’s still a ridiculously low level; the average in the past two decades is about 3.4%, and for most of the 1990s the range was between 5% and 9%. Nevertheless, it amounts to a significant tightening in monetary conditions in just three months as the yield curve has steepened:

Also, don’t forget that the euro zone remains a fractured economic landscape. Germany, with an unemployment rate of 6%, will find it easier to withstand rising borrowing costs than Italy, where the jobless rate is almost twice as high. And the Italian yield curve has replicated the move seen in Germany, at higher levels that have doubled 10-year yields to 2% since August:

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“China is caught between trying to prop up a currency facing long-term decline and letting capital leave at will, risking a bank crisis…”

Why China Can’t Stop Capital Outflows (Balding)

How China manages its currency is likely to be the global economic story of 2017. Despite the government’s best efforts, capital continues to leave the country at a brisk pace, with a balance-of-payments deficit through the third quarter of $469 billion. Attempts to arrest this flow probably won’t work. But they may well create new risks. Capital outflows began gathering steam in 2012, when the government liberalized current-account payment transactions in goods and services. Enterprising Chinese figured out that while they couldn’t officially move money abroad to buy a house via the capital account – individuals are barred from moving more than $50,000 out of the country each year – they could create false trade invoices that would allow them to deposit money where they needed it.

The result was a huge discrepancy between payments recorded for imports and the declared value of goods passing through customs, amounting to $526 billion in hidden outflows last year. The problem has only worsened in 2016. French investment bank Natixis estimates that outflows will total more than $900 billion this year, despite new restrictions on yuan movements, including prohibitions on using credit and debit cards to pay for insurance products in Hong Kong. Last week, the government added yet another restriction. It announced that all international capital-account transactions of more than $5 million will need to be approved by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange. This has businesses deeply concerned, given that the administration likely doesn’t have the manpower for the sheer number of transactions it will need to review.

And if such restrictions can be placed on the capital account, it seems only a matter of time until they’re imposed on goods and services transactions. All of which raises a simple question: Why is Beijing working so hard to prop up the yuan and crack down on outward capital flows? The common answer is that it fears the trade consequences of a declining yuan. But that’s not it. Since the government devalued the yuan on Aug. 11, the combined value of imports and exports has fallen by only 8%, even as the value of the yuan has fallen 8% against the U.S. dollar. Any coming decline in the currency won’t make much difference, given the weak global economy and the product mix China is buying and selling.

The real reason is that the government is concerned about the implications of further liberalizing. China’s rickety banks, with delinquency rates of 30%, are receiving regular liquidity injections from the PBOC. Money market rates have been rising, from under 2% this summer to above 2.3% in Shanghai today. Allowing international capital mobility could easily trigger larger withdrawals – and hence liquidity crunches for banks already feeling the pinch of bad loans. In other words, China is caught between trying to prop up a currency facing long-term decline and letting capital leave at will, risking a bank crisis.

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This is far from over.

EU Launches New Investigation Into Chinese Steel Imports (R.)

The EU has launched an investigation into whether Chinese producers of certain corrosion-resistant steels are selling into Europe at unfairly low prices, in its latest action against cheap Chinese steel imports. The European Commission has determined that a complaint brought by EU steelmakers association Eurofer merits an investigation, the EU’s official journal said on Friday. The EU has imposed duties on a wide range of steel grades after investigations over the past few years to counter what EU steel producers say is a flood of steel sold at a loss due to Chinese overcapacity.

Some 5,000 jobs have been axed in the British steel industry in the last year, as it struggles to compete with cheap Chinese imports and high energy costs. G20 governments recorecognized in September that steel overcapacity was a serious problem. China, the source of 50% of the world’s steel and the largest steel consumer, has said the problem is a global one. In October, the European Commission set provisional import tariffs of up to 73.7% for heavy plate steel and up to 22.6% for hot-rolled steel coming from China. Those investigations are set to conclude in April.

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Feels political. They could have announced this just as easily a week ago, before the referendum. Now a crisis threatens that may help make the case for interim technocrats to step in, and keep Grillo out.

ECB Refuses To Help Italy’s Crisis-Hit Monte dei Paschi Bank (G.)

Fears that the Italian government will have to prop up Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS) are mounting after the European Central Bank refused to give the world’s oldest bank more time to find major investors to back a €5bn (£4.2bn) cash injection. Trading in the troubled bank’s shares was repeatedly halted on the Italian stock exchange on Friday. The MPS share price closed 10% lower as the bank’s board held a meeting that had already been scheduled before the reports that the ECB had rejected its calls for an extension to the deadline to bolster its financial position. The ECB [..] decision may have closed the door to a private sector solution, under which major investors including the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar would pump billions into the bank.

But MPS said on Friday night that its board would next meet on Sunday night and that it was pressing on with its private sector solutions Even so there were concerns that the Italian government would still have to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. ECB officials had told Reuters they hoped the refusal to extend the deadline would pave the way for similar support for other Italian banks which are struggling with €360bn of bad loans.

It appeared to leave the Italian government with little option but to embark on a “precautionary recapitalisation” of the bank and potentially impose losses on retail investors who hold €2.1bn of the bank’s bonds. Under new EU rules, taxpayer money cannot be used unless bondholders take losses first. A precautionary recapitalisation takes place before a bank becomes insolvent. The bank has capital above regulatory minimums.

[..] The eurosceptic Five Star Movement, the second most popular party in Italy, said the government needed to step into the fray. “MPS can only be saved by state aid in order to avoid bail-in rules [that hurt] small savers, as happened a year ago,” the party’s MEPs said in a statement on founder Beppe Grillo’s blog. “This is not the time to fear the EU and a possible infraction procedure. The consequences of a disordered bail-in would be disastrous to say the least, almost apocalyptic if one considers the size of MPS.” They added that it was time to “slam our fists at the table in Brussels … while not giving a damn about the deficit”.

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Not as bad as numbers suggest perhaps, but not exactly encouraging wither.

60% Of Americans Who Usually Fly Home For The Holidays, Won’t This Year (MW)

Rising travel costs, airport delays, and other stressors mean fewer people will be flying home for the holidays this December. Almost 60% of people who normally fly home for the holidays will not this year, a survey of more than 1,000 visitors to travel deals website Airfarewatchdog found; 36% of whom say because it is too expensive and 21% would prefer to drive than deal with delays and long lines. An additional 13% said “the skies are too crowded” to fly home this year. It’s also not cheap: 70% of people who fly home for the holidays spend between $500 and $1,000 and 20% spend more than $1,000, according to a study of more than 1,000 users from travel assistant app Mezi.

Most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings, making such steep spending a major yearly commitment. Still, 18% of respondents in the Airfarewatchdog study said they fly home every year and still plan to do so. Air travel makes up a small%age of holiday travel – less than 10% in 2015, according to travel and automotive services non-profit AAA. But whether driving or flying home for the holidays, the majority of Americans are stressed out – 65% of people say they have anxiety about going home for the holidays, including 72% of women and 58% of men. The top sources of dread for these respondents include being bored and having nothing to do, conflict with family members, and questions about their relationship status.

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Makes you wonder how Schäuble spends Christmas. Scrooge comes to mind, prominently.

Greece Under Fire Over Christmas Bonus For Low-Income Pensioners (G.)

A goodwill gesture to ease the plight of those hardest hit in Greece by tax increases and budget cuts has backfired spectacularly on the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, with the country’s international creditors making clear he has acted out of step. In the starkest case yet of how closely watched loan-reliant Athens is, lenders reacted with unusual alacrity on Friday after the leftist leader announced a one-off Christmas bonus for 1.6 million low-income pensioners. “The programme includes clear commitments to discuss all measures related to programme objectives with the institutions in advance,” an EU spokeswoman said. “The commission was not made aware of all the details of the announcements before they were made. We will now need to study them.”

Retirees have been among those most affected by the gruelling regime of austerity the debt-stricken country has been forced to enact in exchange for over €300bn in emergency rescue funding. Once unassailable, Tsipras’s own popularity has plummeted amid scenes of pensioners being teargassed and beaten as they took to the streets in protest. Under the scheme – announced in a televised address following a nationwide strike when anti-austerity demonstrations had swept the country – Tsipras said handouts of €617m would be given to those living on €800 or less a month. [..] State minister Alekos Flambouraris, the 42-year-old politician’s closest mentor, said creditors had not been forewarned as the money came out of the surplus Greece had managed to achieve through stringent belt-tightening.

[..] social tensions are also spiralling. “Tsipras is worried and that is why he made this move,” Grigoris Kalomoiris, chief policy maker at the union of public sector employees Adedy, told the Guardian. “Come January there will be more cuts to salaries and pensions in very real terms. We are all being pushed to breaking point. This, believe me, is the calm before the storm.” Ignoring creditor anger, Tsipras’s beleaguered administration dug in its heels late on Friday, saying the bonus did not threaten fiscal targets and would not be rescinded. “It is up to the Greek government to distribute expenditure in the way it sees most fit and socially correct, as long as agreed goals are reached,” the prime minister’s office said. “Greece is not a colony.”

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No ferries for 9 days?! In Greece, land of ferries?!

Greece Seamen Strike: Angry Farmers Throw Flares, Set Offices On Fire (KTG)

The port of Heraklion on the island of Crete turned into a battle field when hundreds of raging farmers attacked striking seamen and set the ticket offices of ANEK shipping company on fire on Friday evening. Angry about the ongoing strike of the seamen, the farmers threw flares at a ferry docked at the port. The sailors of Blue Horizon ferry answered with water drops. A farmer from Ierapetra had claimed that the ferry captain had put in operation the machines so that the ferry depart from the pier and that the lines were cut at risk of injuring farmers. The farmers were shouting “traitors” and some climbed on the lines. They kept demanding that the ferry opens its doors so that they can ship their products to the mainland.

Almost at the same time, a group of farmers moved to the ticket offices of shipping company ANEK and set it on fire. Hundreds of angry and determined farmers arrived at the port of Heraklion around 5pm and declared that they will not step back until 150 trucks loaded with vegetables get on board and leave for Piraeus. The harbormaster of Heraklion was injured and taken to the hospital with an ambulance. He was reportedly when he hit at a door during the incidents. In the 9th day of the seamen strike, the farmers are in rage as they cannot forward their products to the mainland and abroad, thus losing thousands of euros.

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I’m not at all a fan of these kinds of comparisons, but what exactly sets Australian ‘policy’ apart from German concentration camps?

Broken Men in Paradise (NYT)

MANUS, Papua New Guinea — The plane banks over the dense tropical forest of Manus Island, little touched, it seems, by human hand. South Pacific waters lap onto deserted beaches. The jungle glistens, impenetrable. At the unfenced airport, built by occupying Japanese forces during World War II, a sign “welcomes you to our very beautiful island paradise in the sun.” It could be that, a 60-mile-long slice of heaven. But for more than 900 asylum seekers from across the world banished by Australia to this remote corner of the Papua New Guinea archipelago, Manus has been hell; a three and a half year exercise in mental and physical cruelty conducted in near secrecy beneath the green canopy of the tropics.

A road, newly paved by Australia as part payment to its former colony for hosting this punitive experiment in refugee management, leads to Lorengau, a capital of romantic name and unromantic misery. Here I find Benham Satah, a Kurd who fled persecution in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah. Detained on Australia’s Christmas Island after crossing in a smuggler’s boat from Indonesia and later forced onto a Manus-bound plane, he has languished here since Aug. 27, 2013. Endless limbo undoes the mind. But going home could mean facing death: Refugees do not flee out of choice but because they have no choice. Satah’s light brown eyes are glassy. His legs tremble.

A young man with a college degree in English, he is now nameless, a mere registration number — FRT009 — to Australian officials. “Sometimes I cut myself,” he says, “so that I can see my blood and remember, ‘Oh, yes! I am alive.’ ” Reza Barati, his former roommate at what the men’s ID badges call the Offshore Processing Center (Orwell would be proud), is dead. A fellow Iranian Kurd, he was killed, aged 23, on Feb. 17, 2014. Satah witnessed the tall, quiet volleyball player being beaten to death after a local mob scaled the wall of the facility. Protests by asylum seekers had led to rising tensions with the Australian authorities and their Manus enforcers.

The murder obsesses Satah but constitutes a mere fraction of the human cost of a policy that, since July 19, 2013, has sent more than 2,000 asylum seekers and refugees to Manus and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru, far from inquiring eyes. (Unable to obtain a press visa to visit Manus, I went nonetheless.) The toll among Burmese, Sudanese, Somali, Lebanese, Pakistani, Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, Iranian and other migrants is devastating: self-immolation, overdoses, death from septicemia as a result of medical negligence, sexual abuse and rampant despair. A recent United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees report by three medical experts found that 88% of the 181 asylum seekers and refugees examined on Manus were suffering from depressive disorders, including, in some cases, psychosis.

Read more …

On a lighter note:

Apr 282016
 
 April 28, 2016  Posted by at 9:01 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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G. G. Bain Goose Creek, houses on the water, Jamaica Bay, Long Island 1910


The European Union Always Was A CIA Project (AEP)
Yen Surges, Nikkei Plunges As BOJ Keeps Policy Steady (CNBC)
Japan Consumer Prices Fall At Fastest Pace In 3 Years (R.)
America’s Earnings Recession Just Got Worse (CNN)
America’s Trade Deficit Begins at Home (Roach)
China Trades Enough Cotton in One Day to Make Jeans for Everyone (BBG)
IMF Warns Chinese Response To Debt Needs To Be More Comprehensive (FT)
China Struggles As Oil Losses Climb (EM)
US Oil Woes Start To Hit Workers Hard (WSJ)
Dan Loeb: We’re In The ‘First Inning’ Of A ‘Washout’ In Hedge Funds (CNBC)
The Bad Smell Hovering Over The Global Economy (G.)
Europe’s Securitisation Industry’s Sales At Lowest For 5 Years (FT)
Merkel Attacks Draghi Over Interest Rates Policy, Cites Risks To Banks (R.)
Tusk Rejects Tsipras Request For EU Summit On Greece Bailout (G.)
Athens Under Pressure To Clear Piraeus Refugee Camp Before Tourists Arrive (G.)
More Than A Million People In UK Living In Destitution (G.)
Papua New Guinea To Close Aussie Refugee Detention Camp (AFP)

Ambrose dives into history. A shame he can’t see beyond the Cold War when assessing Russia.

The European Union Always Was A CIA Project (AEP)

Brexiteers should have been prepared for the shattering intervention of the US. The European Union always was an American project. It was Washington that drove European integration in the late 1940s, and funded it covertly under the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations. While irritated at times, the US has relied on the EU ever since as the anchor to American regional interests alongside NATO. There has never been a divide-and-rule strategy. The eurosceptic camp has been strangely blind to this, somehow supposing that powerful forces across the Atlantic are egging on British secession, and will hail them as liberators. The anti-Brussels movement in France – and to a lesser extent in Italy and Germany, and among the Nordic Left – works from the opposite premise, that the EU is essentially an instrument of Anglo-Saxon power and ‘capitalisme sauvage’.

France’s Marine Le Pen is trenchantly anti-American. She rails against dollar supremacy. Her Front National relies on funding from Russian banks linked to Vladimir Putin. Like it or not, this is at least is strategically coherent. The Schuman Declaration that set the tone of Franco-German reconciliation – and would lead by stages to the European Community – was cooked up by the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson at a meeting in Foggy Bottom. “It all began in Washington,” said Robert Schuman’s chief of staff. It was the Truman administration that browbeat the French to reach a modus vivendi with Germany in the early post-War years, even threatening to cut off US Marshall aid at a furious meeting with recalcitrant French leaders they resisted in September 1950.

Truman’s motive was obvious. The Yalta settlement with the Soviet Union was breaking down. He wanted a united front to deter the Kremlin from further aggrandizement after Stalin gobbled up Czechoslovakia, doubly so after Communist North Korea crossed the 38th Parallel and invaded the South. For British eurosceptics, Jean Monnet looms large in the federalist pantheon, the eminence grise of supranational villainy. Few are aware that he spent much of his life in America, and served as war-time eyes and ears of Franklin Roosevelt. General Charles de Gaulle thought him an American agent, as indeed he was in a loose sense. Eric Roussel’s biography of Monnet reveals how he worked hand in glove with successive administrations. It is odd that this magisterial 1000-page study has never been translated into English since it is the best work ever written about the origins of the EU.

Nor are many aware of declassified documents from the State Department archives showing that US intelligence funded the European movement secretly for decades, and worked aggressively behind the scenes to push Britain into the project. As this newspaper first reported when the treasure became available, one memorandum dated July 26, 1950, reveals a campaign to promote a full-fledged European parliament. It is signed by Gen William J Donovan, head of the American wartime Office of Strategic Services, precursor of the CIA. The key CIA front was the American Committee for a United Europe (ACUE), chaired by Donovan. Another document shows that it provided 53.5% of the European movement’s funds in 1958. The board included Walter Bedell Smith and Allen Dulles, CIA directors in the Fifties, and a caste of ex-OSS officials who moved in and out of the CIA.

Papers show that it treated some of the EU’s ‘founding fathers’ as hired hands, and actively prevented them finding alternative funding that would have broken reliance on Washington. There is nothing particularly wicked about this. The US acted astutely in the context of the Cold War. The political reconstruction of Europe was a roaring success. There were horrible misjudgments along the way, of course. A memo dated June 11, 1965, instructs the vice-president of the European Community to pursue monetary union by stealth, suppressing debate until the “adoption of such proposals would become virtually inescapable”. This was too clever by half, as we can see today from debt-deflation traps and mass unemployment across southern Europe.

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Japan cannot take an ever rising yen. It will need to plummet, and quite soon.

Yen Surges, Nikkei Plunges As BOJ Keeps Policy Steady (CNBC)

Japanese shares sold off and the yen surged against the dollar Thursday after the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) decision to keep monetary policy steady disappointed a section of the market betting on further stimulus. The benchmark Nikkei 225 was down 3.24%, compared to a 1.41% gain before the decision. The Topix index fell 2.15%. The yen moved sharply higher, with the dollar/yen pair dropping 2.10% to 109.11 as of 12:45 p.m. HK/SIN, compared with the 111 level it traded at before the decision. Australia’s ASX 200 was up 0.54%, boosted by advances in the energy and materials sub-indexes. In South Korea, the Kospi fell 0.61%. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index was up 0.50%. Chinese mainland markets retreated, with the Shanghai composite down 0.68%, while the Shenzhen composite dropped 1.04%.

Following the BOJ’s decision and the yen’s strength, major Japanese exporters saw their shares tumble, with Toyota, Nissan and Honda down between 2.74 and 3.55%. A stronger yen is usually a negative for exporters as it reduces their overseas profits when converted into local currency. “However, in the last ten years, Japan’s exporters’ currency sensitivity has been reduced,” Masakazu Takeda at Hennessy Japan Fund told CNBC’s “Capital Connection.” Takeda said as an example, every time the dollar weakened by 10 yen, Toyota’s operating profits declined by about 13%. “That’s down from 20% ten years ago,” he said, adding, “Companies have been making efforts to reduce the currency sensitivity.” Japanese banking stocks also sold off sharply, with shares of Mitsubishi UFJ down 5.06%, SMFG down 5.21% and Nomura tumbling 9.41%. Nikkei index heavyweight Fast Retailing sold off 5.05%.

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Where Abenomics fails most spectacularly: “..Household spending in March fell 5.3% from a year earlier..” Note: this was reported prior to the BOJ decision to hold off on stimulus.

Japan Consumer Prices Fall At Fastest Pace In 3 Years (R.)

Japan’s consumer prices fell in March at the fastest pace in three years and household spending declined at the fastest pace in a year, keeping the Bank of Japan under pressure to implement more stimulus to support the economy. Separate data showed industrial output rose more than expected and labor demand rose to the highest in two decades, but renewed worries about weak private consumption are likely to temper any optimism about the economy. The BOJ is likely to debate expanding monetary stimulus at a policy meeting ending later on Thursday, as sluggish global demand hurts exports and weak wage growth undermines private consumption, sources have told Reuters.. “Oil prices falls and the waning effect from a weak yen pushed down core CPI,” said Hidenobu Tokuda, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.

“We expect the BOJ will ease policy today. It will probably be difficult politically for the BOJ to further cut negative interest rates, so we expect the central bank will focus on qualitative easing such as increasing ETF buying.” The core consumer price index (CPI), which includes oil products but excludes volatile fresh food prices, fell 0.3% in March from a year earlier, more than the median forecast for a 0.2% annual decline. That marked the fastest decline since April 2013 due to lower prices for gasoline and slowing gains in prices for durable goods and overseas travel. The core-core CPI, which excludes food and energy, rose 0.7% in the year to March, slower than a 0.8% annual increase in the previous month. Household spending in March fell 5.3% from a year earlier due to lower spending on clothes, leisure activities and gasoline. That was more than the median estimate for a 4.2% annual decline and marked the fastest decline since March 2015.

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It’s not just Apple.

America’s Earnings Recession Just Got Worse (CNN)

Apple, Chipotle and Twitter each got thumped Wednesday after reporting weak or disappointing earnings. Twitter and Chipotle have their own distinct failures, but Apple, like many, is also a victim of the global slowdown. Overall, S&P 500 earnings so far this quarter are down 8%. That marks the third quarterly decline in a row and the worst since 2009, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Weak global growth is closing consumers’ wallets, while the strong dollar is only making iPhones and other American goods more expensive for foreign buyers. Add on still-low oil prices and Corporate America is facing major headwinds. “It’s like these companies are trying to play basketball but the tar is melting and sticking to their sneaks. Not fun to watch,” says Jack Kramer, co-founder of MarketSnacks, a financial newsletter.

Apple’s stock quickly fell more than 7% when markets opened Wednesday after it revealed its first annual sales growth decline since 2003. Reeling from its E. coli scare late last year, Chipotle reported its first quarterly loss ever and its stock dropped about 5%. And Twitter’s stock spiraled 15% lower on Wednesday after its results missed estimates. They’re not alone. Big oil, tech and other former bull market studs like Starbucks are getting burned this quarter too. Earnings for energy companies are down a whopping 110% compared to a year ago. Consider this: seven of the 10 major sectors in the S&P 500 are in the red so far this quarter. A year ago, only two sectors suffered profit drops, according to S&P. Tech companies’ earnings are down nearly 6% this quarter. Embodying the trend is Google. It got pounded by the strong dollar, which hurt overseas sales. Microsoft also lost overseas revenue due to the strong dollar.

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Stephen Roach says Americans should save more. But the entire economy still ‘stands’ exactly because they either don’t or can’t.

America’s Trade Deficit Begins at Home (Roach)

Thanks to fear mongering on the US presidential campaign trail, the trade debate and its impact on American workers is being distorted at both ends of the political spectrum. From China-bashing on the right to the backlash against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the left, politicians of both parties have mischaracterized foreign trade as America’s greatest economic threat. In 2015, the United States had trade deficits with 101 countries – a multilateral trade deficit in the jargon of economics. But this cannot be pinned on one or two “bad actors,” as politicians invariably put it. Yes, China – everyone’s favorite scapegoat – accounts for the biggest portion of this imbalance. But the combined deficits of the other 100 countries are even larger.

What the candidates won’t tell the American people is that the trade deficit and the pressures it places on hard-pressed middle-class workers stem from problems made at home. In fact, the real reason the US has such a massive multilateral trade deficit is that Americans don’t save. Total US saving – the sum total of the saving of families, businesses, and the government sector – amounted to just 2.6% of national income in the fourth quarter of 2015. That is a 0.6-percentage-point drop from a year earlier and less than half the 6.3% average that prevailed during the final three decades of the twentieth century. Any basic economics course stresses the ironclad accounting identity that saving must equal investment at each and every point in time. Without saving, investing in the future is all but impossible.

And yet that’s the position in which the US currently finds itself. Indeed, the saving numbers cited above are “net” of depreciation – meaning that they measure the saving available to fund new capacity rather than the replacement of worn-out facilities. Unfortunately, that is precisely what America is lacking. So why is this relevant for the trade debate? In order to keep growing, the US must import surplus saving from abroad. As the world’s greatest economic power and issuer of what is essentially the global reserve currency, America has had no trouble – at least not yet – attracting the foreign capital it needs to compensate for a shortfall of domestic saving. But there is a critical twist: To import foreign saving, the US must run a massive international balance-of-payments deficit.

The mirror image of America’s saving shortfall is its current-account deficit, which has averaged 2.6% of GDP since 1980. It is this chronic current-account gap that drives the multilateral trade deficit with 101 countries. To borrow from abroad, America must give its trading partners something in return for their capital: US demand for products made overseas.

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Some day soon we’ll hear a very loud bang in the Chinese commodities craze. It has effectively turned exchanges into bookmakers. Many ‘investors’ don’t know what they’re buying, they’re just afraid -again- of being left behind.

China Trades Enough Cotton in One Day to Make Jeans for Everyone (BBG)

It’s not just metals caught up in China’s commodity fever. The equivalent of 41 million bales of cotton traded in a single day on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange last week, the most in more than five years and enough to make almost 9 billion pairs of jeans, or at least one for every person on the planet. Prices that had slumped to the lowest on record in February surged almost 19% in the four days leading up to the trading spike on Friday. Traders have piled in to Chinese commodity markets, sending volumes of everything from steel to coking coal soaring and prompting exchanges to boost margins and fees or issue warnings to investors. The surge in trading is reminiscent of last year’s equities rally that boosted the stock market before a rout erased $5 trillion. China is the world’s largest consumer of cotton and second-biggest producer.

“Record low levels in February and March sparked buying interest from both inside and outside of the cotton industry and also triggered speculation, which resulted in mounting bets in Zhengzhou futures,” said Liu Qiannan at Galaxy Futures. “With massive investment and encouragement from the crazy steel and iron ore market in China, sentiment then turned to bullish from bearish.” More than 3.6 million contracts of 5 metric tons apiece traded in Zhengzhou on Friday. With Chinese exchanges double counting volume to account for the long and short side of a trade, that’s still about 9 million tons, or 41 million bales. One bale can make 215 pairs of jeans, according to the National Cotton Council of America. On the same day, about 1.6 billion pounds traded on ICE Futures U.S. in New York. That’s about 3.3 million bales, or more than 700 million pairs of jeans, enough to dress only the U.S., Brazil and Japan in denim.

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Hollow rhetoric (since there’s no solution), but it does confirm once again how dire China’s situation is : “..one in six of the business loans on Chinese banks’ books — was owed by companies who brought in less in revenues than they owed in interest payments alone.”

IMF Warns Chinese Response To Debt Needs To Be More Comprehensive (FT)

China’s leaders need to look beyond the current solutions being floated to tackle the country’s mounting corporate debt problems and come up with a bigger plan to do so, the IMF’s top China expert has warned. The IMF has been expressing growing concern about China’s debt issues and pushing for an urgent response by Beijing to what the fund sees as a serious problem for the Chinese economy. It warned in a report earlier this month that $1.3tn in corporate debt — or almost one in six of the business loans on Chinese banks’ books — was owed by companies who brought in less in revenues than they owed in interest payments alone.

In a paper published on Tuesday, James Daniel, the fund’s China mission chief, and two co-authors, went further and warned that Beijing needed a comprehensive strategy to tackle the problem. They warned that the two main responses Beijing was planning to the problem — debt-for-equity swaps and the securitisation of non-performing loans — could in fact make the problem worse if underlying issues were not dealt with. “Converting NPLs into equity or securitising them are techniques that can play a role in addressing these problems and have been used successfully by some other countries,” Mr Daniel and his co-authors wrote.

“But they are not comprehensive solutions by themselves — indeed, they could worsen the problem, for example, by allowing zombie firms [non-viable firms that are still operating] to keep going.” The plan for debt-for-equity swaps could end up offering a temporary lifeline to unviable state-owned companies, they warned. It could also leave them managed by state-owned banks or other officials with little experience in doing so. Pooling non-performing loans and selling them as securities also presented other potential problems. While it could help clear up debt problems quickly it could also end up helping to prop up struggling state-owned enterprises. Some 60% of non-performing loans in China are owed by SOEs “and are concentrated in a few distressed industries”, they wrote.

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This is why China is stockpiling like nuts.

China Struggles As Oil Losses Climb (EM)

China’s biggest oilfield is suffering huge losses as the government seeks to avoid layoffs despite prices that have dropped below production costs. On April 8, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the Daqing oilfield in northern Heilongjiang province lost over 5 billion yuan (U.S. $769 million) in the first two months of the year. In spite of the costs, production in the first quarter held steady at year-earlier levels of 9.28 million tons (755,800 barrels per day), according to PetroChina, the listed subsidiary of state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC). Output has been declining for years at Daqing, China’s mainstay oil resource, which has fueled the economy for over six decades. Annual production of 50 million metric tons (1 million barrels per day) lasted 27 years until 2003 before slipping to the 40-million-ton range, the official English-language China Daily and Global Times said.

In December 2014, PetroChina announced plans to cut output by 1.5 million tons and scale back production at the depleted field to 32 million tons by 2020. But even at lower levels, production at Daqing with enhanced recovery methods is proving uneconomic. Production costs stand at U.S. $45 (292 yuan) per barrel, said Jiang Wanchun, Communist Party secretary of the oilfield, according to The Wall Street Journal. China’s average production cost is $40 (260 yuan) per barrel, China Daily said. With benchmark oil prices falling below $45 since early December, Daqing has been losing money on every barrel it pumps. Prices dipped below U.S. $28 (182 yuan) per barrel in February before staging a partial recovery. Even after international prices approached the $45 range last week, the prospects for profits at Daqing appeared marginal at best.

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As a bubble pops.

US Oil Woes Start To Hit Workers Hard (WSJ)

The slump in crude prices is starting to show up as missed payments by consumers in the oil patch. In states from Oklahoma and Texas to North Dakota and Wyoming, rising unemployment in the energy sector is pushing up loan delinquencies and raising the risk of new losses for banks. Wells Fargo this month reported an increase in borrowers falling behind on payments in areas including Houston and parts of Alaska. J.P. Morgan said auto-loan delinquency rates picked up in some energy-related markets. Overall, energy-dependent states are posting delinquency rates that in many cases exceed the national average, according to data prepared for The Wall Street Journal by credit bureau TransUnion. “In these energy states, we are clearly seeing the impact of the loss of oil jobs,” said Ezra Becker, senior vice president and head of research at TransUnion.

“We don’t expect to see any kind of material improvement in the short term.” Some 119,600 oil and gas jobs nationwide have been eliminated—22% of the total—since September 2014, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The price of U.S.-traded oil, while on the rise this year, has dropped 28% since June. Some analysts have warned that persistent crude oversupply could prevent further price gains. Car loans and credit cards have been affected the most, and there are some early signs of delinquency-rate increases in borrowers who can’t make mortgage payments. Moody’s Investors Service said the share of borrowers in oil-focused areas falling 30 days behind on a pool of Freddie Mac mortgages, while low at 0.38% in December, began to exceed the average elsewhere in the country last summer. The average for other areas was 0.29% in December.

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And now hit hard by Apple too.

Dan Loeb: We’re In The ‘First Inning’ Of A ‘Washout’ In Hedge Funds (CNBC)

Hedge funds are getting killed, says hedge fund manager Dan Loeb. Loeb’s Third Point Capital put out its quarterly letter to investors on Tuesday, calling the first three months of 2016 “one of the most catastrophic periods of hedge fund performance that we can remember since the inception of this fund.” Third Point was down 2.3% during the first quarter, which compares with a 1.3% gain for the S&P 500 over the same period. (As bad as that may be, though, it could have been worse — Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square was down more than 25% in the quarter.) Despite the weak performance, Third Point believes it is positioned to do well the rest of the year.

“There is no doubt that we are in the first innings of a washout in hedge funds and certain strategies,” Third Point said. “We believe we are well-positioned to seize the opportunities borne out of this chaos and are pleased to have preserved capital through a period of vicious swings in treacherous markets.” What caused the catastrophe? “Volatility across asset classes and a reversal of certain trends that started last summer caught many investors flat-footed in Q1 2016,” the firm added.

More specifically, Loeb said:
• China is all over the map.
• Hedge funds were long the “FANG” stocks — Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google — and those stocks are not doing well.
• “The Valeant debacle in mid-March decimated some hedge fund portfolios.” (The stock lost almost three-quarters of its value during the quarter).
• The collapsed Pfizer-Allergan deal hurt investors.
• A “huge asset rotation” into a “market neutral” strategy.
• He thinks the dollar has peaked, and oil has hit a bottom.

“We believe that the past few months of increasing complexity are here to stay and now is a more important time than ever to employ active portfolio management to take advantage of this volatility,” Loeb concluded. As an industry, hedge funds bounced back in March after a miserable start to 2016. The HFRI Fund Weighted Composite Index gained 1.8% in March, its strongest performance since February 2015. However, hedge funds saw investor redemptions in the first quarter. Investors withdrew $14.3 billion, leaving total assets under management at $3.1 trillion, according to industry tracker Preqin.

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What happens when central banks lose the illusion of control, and stocks start falling for real?!

The Bad Smell Hovering Over The Global Economy (G.)

All is calm. All is still. Share prices are going up. Oil prices are rising. China has stabilised. The eurozone is over the worst. After a panicky start to 2016, investors have decided that things aren’t so bad after all. Put your ear to the ground though, and it is possible to hear the blades whirring. Far away, preparations are being made for helicopter drops of money onto the global economy. With due honour to one of Humphrey Bogart’s many great lines from Casablanca: “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow but soon.” But isn’t it true that action by Beijing has boosted activity in China, helping to push oil prices back above $40 a barrel? Has Mario Draghi not announced a fresh stimulus package from the ECB designed to remove the threat of deflation?

Are hundreds of thousands of jobs not being created in the US each month? In each case, the answer is yes. China’s economy appears to have bottomed out. Fears of a $20 oil price have receded. Prices have stopped falling in the eurozone. Employment growth has continued in the US. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting growth in the global economy of just over 3% this year – nothing spectacular, but not a disaster either. Don’t be fooled. China’s growth is the result of a surge in investment and the strongest credit growth in almost two years. There has been a return to a model that burdened the country with excess manufacturing capacity, a property bubble and a rising number of non-performing loans. The economy has been stabilised, but at a cost.

The upward trend in oil prices also looks brittle. The fundamentals of the market – supply continues to exceed demand – have not changed. Then there’s the US. Here there are two problems – one glaringly apparent, the other lurking in the shadows. The overt weakness is that real incomes continue to be squeezed, despite the fall in unemployment. Americans are finding that wages are barely keeping pace with prices, and that the amount left over for discretionary spending is being eaten into by higher rents and medical bills. For a while, consumer spending was kept going because rock-bottom interest rates allowed auto dealers to offer tempting terms to those of limited means wanting to buy a new car or truck.

In an echo of the subprime real estate crisis, vehicle sales are now falling. The hidden problem has been highlighted by Andrew Lapthorne of the French bank Société Générale. Companies have exploited the Federal Reserve’s low interest-rate regime to load up on debt they don’t actually need. “The proceeds of this debt raising are then largely reinvested back into the equity market via M&A or share buybacks in an attempt to boost share prices in the absence of actual demand,” Lapthorne says. “The effect on US non-financial balance sheets is now starting to look devastating.” He adds that the trigger for a US corporate debt crisis would be falling share prices, something that might easily be caused by the Fed increasing interest rates.

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And this is while the ECB has been buying ABS since 2014. Where would the ‘industry’ be without the ECB? It’s the ‘little things’ that tell the story of where we are, best.

Europe’s Securitisation Industry’s Sales At Lowest For 5 Years (FT)

Europe’s securitisation market has experienced its worst quarter for new sales in nearly five years, underscoring the industry’s ongoing decline in spite of efforts from policymakers to revive the sector. During the first three months of the year, €14.3bn of securitisations were sold, marking the lowest quarterly level since mid-2011. Public issuance fell from €19.7bn over the same period a year earlier, according to data from the Association for Financial Markets in Europe. Securitisation — which takes mortgages and other loans, and packages them into bond-like instruments of varying risks — was once a booming industry in Europe but has struggled since the financial crisis. The slide in activity comes in spite of efforts from Brussels to revive the asset class, which it sees as a key source of funding across Europe’s economies.

The ECB has been buying asset-backed securities since late 2014 as part of its asset purchase programmes designed to stimulate the region’s economy. “The market is languishing,” said Richard Hopkin, head of fixed income at the Association for Financial Markets in Europe. “Firms are restructuring and scaling back their securitisation businesses.” Earlier in April, Nomura became the latest investment bank to pare back its securitisation team, amid broader cuts to its European investment banking business. Last summer, Barclays announced job cuts in its team. Market participants have pointed to stringent regulation on the asset class, in particular the capital charges against the products for banks and insurance companies, as a central factor in its decline.

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There’s a High Noon fight brewing between Draghi and all of Germany.

Merkel Attacks Draghi Over Interest Rates Policy, Cites Risks To Banks (R.)

The ECB’s ultra-low interest rates could worsen problems for already weak banks in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday, calling for a tightening of monetary policy. The ECB unveiled a large stimulus package in March that included cutting its deposit rate deeper into negative territory and increasing asset buys, despite the objections of Germany, the largest economy in the euro zone. The ECB stimulus prompted a fresh wave of criticism from German politicians who fear the ultra-easy monetary policy is eroding both the savings of thrifty citizens and also bank margins, putting the banking system at risk. “The risks remain high. There are still too many weak banks in Europe and the low interest rates … will tend to make this problem worse over the coming years,” Merkel said at an event in Duesseldorf for German savings banks.

ECB head Mario Draghi says the policy of printing money and keeping borrowing costs at rock bottom is working and that interest rates will stay at current record lows for a long time. The ECB targets inflation of close to 2% over the medium-term but it is running at just below zero. Merkel said politicians need to press for more structural reforms to help generate stronger growth and private investment, thereby freeing up central banks to pursue a tighter monetary policy. “Central banks, including the ECB, are independent so I think politicians must focus on stimulating growth,” she said.

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The likes of Tusk and Dijsselbloem simple enjoy holding a gun to Greece’s head so much they can’t help themselves. It’s what sociopaths derive their pleasures from. So no emergency meeting because of a non-reason: ““There are practical issues that many countries have, with national holidays next week.”

That’s like the old joke of a country being invaded and telling the attackers to come back next week.

Tusk Rejects Tsipras Request For EU Summit On Greece Bailout (G.)

Mounting urgency has returned to Greece with the country’s financial predicament igniting fears of a re-run of last summer’s nail-biting drama. Rejecting a Greek request for an extraordinary EU summit to discuss its troubled bailout programme, European council president Donald Tusk instead urged eurozone finance ministers to resume talks that would avert further turmoil. The nation faces default if it fails to receive the necessary loans to cover €3.5 bn in maturing debt in July. “We have to avoid a situation of renewed uncertainty for Greece,” he told reporters after speaking with prime minister Alexis Tsipras on Wednesday. “We need a specific date for a new Eurogroup meeting in the not-so-distant future and I am talking not about weeks but about days.”

In a repeat of last year’s heady days, Athens’ leftist-led government is scrambling to raise funds to ensure payment of salaries and pensions in May. The reserves of state entities and pension funds have effectively been sequestered with officials demanding deposits be placed in the central bank on short-term loan to cover looming shortfalls. “The government is behaving as if it has already run out of money,” said prominent political commentator Pantelis Kapsis. “That in itself signifies there will be no agreement soon. There is great uncertainty. All scenarios are on the table including early elections.” Greece’s embattled prime minister appealed for the emergency EU summit after Athens and its creditors failed late Tuesday to resolve differences over the extent of budget cuts and reforms the debt-stricken state must make in return for rescue loans.

The lack of headway prompted Dutch finance minister and Eurogroup chairman, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who oversees negotiations, to cancel a scheduled meeting at which it was hoped the talks would finally be concluded on Thursday. Speaking in Paris after talks with his French counterpart Michel Sapin on Wednesday, Dijsselbloem said a new meeting would be lined up in the weeks ahead. “I don’t have a deadline, although there is a sense of urgency that we all share, so we’ll have to see whether it can be next week or ultimately the week after,” he told reporters. “There are practical issues that many countries have, with national holidays next week.”

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A bad tourist season could be the last straw for Greece, and another reason for Europe to add more demands.

Athens Under Pressure To Clear Piraeus Refugee Camp Before Tourists Arrive (G.)

[..] At its peak last month, close to 14,000 refugees had amassed in Piraeus, posing serious challenges for public order and health. By mid-April, however, attention had turned increasingly to the capital’s erstwhile international airport in Elliniko. Once poised to become Europe’s biggest metropolitan park, the disused airport was transformed into an “official” shelter in March, when it became clear that countries further north had cut off access to Europe for good. If there was a semblance of order to the chaos of Piraeus, there is none here: outside derelict buildings, children play barefoot around overflowing rubbish bins; officialdom comes in the form of a single police car, parked alongside a fence clad with clothes, while up a flight of stairs inside the departure terminal, roughly 2,000 men, women and children – almost double the centre’s capacity – sleep side by side.

Lack of heat or air-conditioning means it is cold at night and stifling during the day; sanitation amounts to five toilets for men and five for women, with showers installed earlier this month. A further 3,000 refugees are crammed into two former Olympic venues – the old hockey and baseball stadiums – at Elliniko, where conditions are said to be so poor that access for NGOs or the media is rare. With hunger reputed to be on the rise, volunteers have openly voiced fears of offering services to people who are increasingly desperate. Last week, following the death of a 17-year-old Afghan girl in the camp, irate local mayors felt compelled to write a letter to prime minister Alexis Tsipras deploring the conditions as unacceptable and inhumane. Calling for immediate measures, the Athens Medical Association warned of a public health emergency.

“So far, Greece has been very lucky,” Papayiannakis noted before news of the Afhgan girl’s death broke. “There have been no serious incidents – but luck, you know, can run out.” Despite record unemployment and poverty levels, Greeks have responded to the influx with compassion and solidarity. Many have brought food and clothes to public squares, harking back to their families’ own experience as refugees when thousands were forcibly expelled from the Anatolian heartland after Greece’s ill-fated attempt to invade Turkey in 1922. For immigrants like Arif Rahman, a businessman who heads the Bangladeshi Chamber of Commerce, that reaction has been heartening – even if the government’s own response has been bungled and chaotic.

A slender man who first came to Greece in the late 1980s, Rahman has all too often witnessed his adopted country’s tough immigration policies – not least its steadfast refusal to offer citizenship to the children of emigres. “Now is the time for Greeks to show what civilisation and democracy means,” he says. “These people don’t want to stay here. We keep telling the government, as foreign community leaders, ‘Ask us for help, we know our people, we know what they need. Don’t let it get uglier than it already has.’”

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What a crazy country it is turning into. All in an eery silence. Where are the protests?

More Than A Million People In UK Living In Destitution (G.)

More than a million people in the UK are so poor they cannot afford to eat properly, keep clean or stay warm and dry, according to a groundbreaking attempt to measure the scale of destitution in Britain. A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) found that 184,500 households experienced a level of poverty in a typical week last year that left them reliant on charities for essentials such as food, clothes, shelter and toiletries. More than three-quarters of destitute people reported going without meals, while more than half were unable to heat their home. Destitution affected their mental health, left them socially isolated and prone to acute feelings of shame and humiliation.

Although the study could not demonstrate that destitution had increased in recent years, it said this would be a plausible conclusion because of related evidence showing austerity-era rises in severe poverty, food bank use, homelessness and benefit sanction rates. In 2015, there were 668,000 destitute households containing 1,252,000 people, including 312,000 children. The study said this was an underestimate because the data did not capture poor households who eschewed charity handouts or used only state-funded welfare services Julia Unwin, chief executive of JRF, said: “It is simply unacceptable to see such levels of severe poverty in our country in the 21st century. Governments of all stripes have failed to protect people at the bottom of the income scale from the effects of severe poverty, leaving many unable to feed, clothe or house themselves and their families.”

Researchers called on the government to monitor destitution levels annually to better understand how people in poverty slipped into extreme hardship and to examine what could be done to close the holes in the welfare safety net. Destitution was defined by researchers as reliance on a weekly income so low (£70 for a single adult, £140 for a couple with children after housing costs) that basic essentials were unaffordable. People who met at least two of six measures over the course of a month, including eating fewer than two meals a day for two or more days, inability to heat or light their home for five days or sleeping rough for one or more nights, were also deemed to be destitute.

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Australia is trying to outdo the EU in becoming the wasteland of of international law, morals, decency and human values.

Papua New Guinea To Close Aussie Refugee Detention Camp (AFP)

Australia’s hardline immigration policy was thrown into turmoil yesterday after Papua New Guinea (PNG) ordered a processing camp to close, leaving the fate of hundreds of asylum-seekers hanging in the balance. The move to shutter the Australian-funded Manus island facility follows a Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday that holding people there was unconstitutional and illegal. Piling further pressure on Canberra, just weeks away from an expected election campaign, an Iranian refugee set himself on fire during a visit by UN officials to Nauru, the other Pacific nation where Australia sends boat people. And four others on the tiny outpost reportedly attempted suicide by drinking washing powder on Tuesday.

“Respecting this (court) ruling, Papua New Guinea will immediately ask the Australian government to make alternative arrangements for the asylum seekers at the regional processing centre,” Prime Minister Peter O’Neill said. Papua New Guinea’s former opposition leader Belden Namah had challenged the Manus arrangement in court, claiming it violated the rights of asylum seekers. The Supreme Court found that detaining them on the island was “contrary to their constitutional right of personal liberty”.

Despite this, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was adamant that none of the 850 or so men held there would enter his country and that Canberra’s policy – designed to deter others wanting to make the risky journey by boat – would not change. “As I have said, and as the Australian government has consistently acted, we will work with our PNG partners to address the issues raised by the Supreme Court of PNG,” he said in a statement after Mr O’Neill’s decision. Mr O’Neill did not set a timeframe for the closure. He said he did not anticipate asylum seekers being kept for so long at the Manus camp, which was reopened in 2012 by Australia after being closed five years earlier when the then Labor government abandoned offshore processing.

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Apr 132016
 
 April 13, 2016  Posted by at 9:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Lewis Wickes Hine Child labor at Gorenflo Canning Co., Biloxi, Mississippi 1911


What in the World’s Going on with Banks this Week? (WS)
The “Independent” Fed Is About to Become Partisan (JR)
IMF Cuts World Growth Forecast, Warns Over Brexit (AFP)
Don’t Trust Ben Bernanke On Helicopter Money (Steve Keen)
Bundesbank’s Weidmann Rebukes Draghi Critics In Berlin (FT)
China Rail Freight Volume Plunges 10.5%, and The Economy Still Grows 6.9%? (WS)
Peabody, World’s Top Private Coal Miner, Files For Bankruptcy (Reuters)
IMF Says Greek Debt ‘Highly Unsustainable’, Debt Relief ‘Essential’ (R.)
Pro-EU Leaflets Spark ‘Return To Sender’ Revolt In Britain (AFP)
Why Younger People Can’t Afford A House: Money Became Too Cheap (G.)
Iceland Shocked By Elite’s Love Of Offshore Holdings (AFP)
Swiss Banker Whistleblower: CIA Behind Panama Papers (CNBC)
Australia Issues The Most Hideous Banknote In History (SMH)
Canadian First Nation Suicide Epidemic Has Been Generations In The Making (G.)
Brussels Gives Greece Two Weeks To Tighten Borders (Kath.)
Refugees Become Smugglers Following EU-Turkey Deal (MEE)
Greek Coast Guard Rescues 120 Refugees Off Lesvos, Samos (Kath.)

Obama meets with Biden and Yellen. Hadn’t happened since Truman?!

What in the World’s Going on with Banks this Week? (WS)

Just about every major banker and finance minister in the world is meeting in Washington, D.C., this week, following two rushed, secretive meetings of the Federal Reserve and another instantaneous and rare meeting between the Fed Chair and the president of the United States. These and other emergency bank meetings around the world cause one to wonder what is going down. Let’s start with a bullet list of the week’s big-bank events:
• The Federal Reserve Board of Governors just held an “expedited special meeting” on Monday in closed-door session.
• The White House made an immediate announcement that the president was going to meet with Fed Chair Janet Yellen right after Monday’s special meeting and that Vice President Biden would be joining them.
• The Federal Reserve very shortly posted an announcement of another expedited closed-door meeting for Tuesday for the specific purpose of “bank supervision.”
• A G-20 meeting of finance ministers and central-bank heads starts in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, too, and continues through Wednesday.
• Then on Thursday the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund meet in Washington.
• The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta just revised US GDP growth for the first quarter to the precipice of recession at 0.1%.
• US banks are expected this coming week to report their worst quarter financially since the start of the Great Recession.
• The press stated that the German government will sue the European Central Bank if it launches a more aggressive and populist form of quantitative easing, often called “helicopter money.”
• The European Union’s new “bail-in” procedures for failing banks were employed for the first time with Austrian bank Heta Asset Resolution AG.
• Italy’s minister of finance called an emergency meeting of Italian bankers to engage “last resort” measures for dealing with €360 billion of bad loans in banks that have only €50 billion in capital.

It is rare for presidents to meet with the chair of the Federal Reserve. The last time President Obama met with Janet Yellen was in November of 2014, a year and a half ago. It is even more rare for the vice president of the United States to join them. In fact, I’ve heard but haven’t verified that it has never happened in a suddenly called meeting with the Fed before. For security reasons, the president and vice president don’t regularly attend the same events. There are, of course, many planning sessions or emergency meetings where they do get together, but not with the head of the Federal Reserve. Emergency meetings where the VP is included in the planning session would include situations related to dire national security in case the VP winds up having to take over.

In fact the meeting with the prez and vice prez is so rare that the White House is bending over backwards to assure the entire nation that the president is not meeting with Yellen to try to influence the Fed, which is required to act independently of politics (so they say). According to the White House, President Obama is meeting with the Fed chair and Biden to discuss the nation’s “longer-term economic outlook,” even though Yellen just told the entire nation that the economy was strong and had arrived nearly back at “full health.” The president says they will be “comparing notes.” Do their notes about the nation’s outlook disagree?

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Clinton and Cameron: monsters under the bed.

The “Independent” Fed Is About to Become Partisan (JR)

Late last night it was revealed that President Obama has summoned Janet Yellen to the White House today. There’s nothing unusual in itself about the president meeting with the Chair of the Federal Reserve over lunch to discuss policy. Bush 43, for example, frequently met with Alan Greenspan to discuss the economy. But this meeting is different… This isn’t a casual lunch. It’s a high-profile, last-minute meeting Obama orchestrated. The last time something like this happened was in 1951, when Harry Truman summoned the entire Federal Reserve Board of Governors to the White House. Since this is something that hasn’t happened in almost 70 years, today’s meeting is a fairly extraordinary event. Why did Obama order the meeting? There are a few factors to consider… Number one, Obama does not want the Fed to raise rates.

If the Fed remains on its path of interest rate hikes this year, it would give the Republicans the strongest chance at the White House in this fall’s election. That’s because rate hikes would likely lead to recession, and that would bode poorly for the Democrats. Obama is deeply concerned about his legacy, which the Republicans would like to reverse. So the best chance the Democrats have in the upcoming presidential election is if rates stay low. Janet Yellen herself is a Democrat, with a background as a labor economist and a career at U.C. Berkeley. She’s not necessarily hostile to Obama’s message. By bringing her to the White House, Obama is sending Yellen a highly visible public message. Don’t raise rates. You can consider this meeting more like an implied threat. There are two openings on the Fed’s Board of Governors. Obama could nominate two of Yellen’s biggest policy opponents if he wanted to play hardball with her.

Those two opponents could fight Yellen at every turn and threaten her control. Or, Obama could no nothing if she confirms and let her maintain control of the board. He’s very cleverly held the vacancies open, which he can use as leverage to influence Yellen’s course of action. He can nominate her worst opponents if she doesn’t follow his wishes. There’s also another factor at play: The Democrats are as afraid of Bernie Sanders as Republicans are of Donald Trump. Sanders has won seven straight primaries and caucuses. One of his biggest weapons is his bashing of the big banks, Wall Street and his criticism of Hillary Clinton for being in their pocket. Sanders has demanded that Hillary release the transcripts of her three speeches to Goldman Sachs, for which she received $675,000. She has refused to release those transcripts. That’s the Achilles heel of the Clinton campaign, and Sanders is making the most of it.

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No credibility.

IMF Cuts World Growth Forecast, Warns Over Brexit (AFP)

The IMF said Tuesday that the global economy faces wide-ranging threats from weak growth and rising protectionism, warning of possible “severe” damage should Britain quit the EU. The Fund cut its global forecast for the third straight quarter, saying economic activity has been “too slow for too long,” and stressed the need for immediate action by the world’s economic powers to shore up growth. It said intensifying financial and political risks around the world, from volatile financial markets to the Syria conflict to global warming, had left the economy “increasingly fragile” and vulnerable to recession. The IMF raised concerns over “fraying” unity in the European Union under pressure from the migration crisis and the “Brexit” possibility.

And it pointed to the contractions in large emerging market economies, most notably Brazil, where the economic downturn has been accompanied by deep political crisis that has President Dilma Rousseff facing impeachment. Seeing a broad fall in trade and investment, the IMF cut its forecast for world growth this year to a sluggish 3.2%, 0.2 percentage points down from its January outlook and down from the 3.8% pace expected last July. That reflects a glummer view of growth in both developed and emerging economies, with the forecasts for Japan and oil-dependent Russia and Nigeria all sharply lowered. Growth expectations for most leading economies were pared back by 0.2 percentage points. The outlook for the United States – hit by the impact of the strong dollar – was trimmed to 2.4% this year, from 2.6% in January.

Only the pictures in China and developing eastern Europe were better. But at a slightly upgraded pace of 6.5% growth, China was still on track for a significant slowdown from last year. The growth downgrade was expected but the tone of the IMF message was more dire than in recent months. It came as an increasing number of countries are approaching the IMF and World Bank for financial support. Last week Angola, its finances devastated by the crash in oil prices, asked the IMF for a three-year bailout program. And the World Bank said requests for loan support had reached levels seen only during financial crises. IMF chief economist Maurice Obstfeld said there was a risk of a full stall in global growth without efforts to boost investment and demand. “The weaker is growth, the greater the chance that the preceding risks, if some materialize, pull the world economy below stalling speed,” he said.

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It’s too late for helicopter money. It would evaporate before touching the ground.

Don’t Trust Ben Bernanke On Helicopter Money (Steve Keen)

Ben Bernanke earned the sobriquet “Helicopter Ben” for his observations in a 2002 speech that “the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost”, that the existence of this technology means that “sufficient injections of money will ultimately always reverse a deflation”, and that using this technology to finance a tax cut is “essentially equivalent to Milton Friedman’s famous “helicopter drop” of money.” But just because he’s called “Helicopter Ben” doesn’t mean that he knows how “Helicopter Money” would actually work.

His column “What tools does the Fed have left? Part 3: Helicopter money” discusses both the nuts and bolts of actually implementing a “Helicopter Drop” (or as he more accurately describes it, “an expansionary fiscal policy—an increase in public spending or a tax cut—financed by a permanent increase in the money stock”) and also discusses how such a policy might affect the real economy. While his discussion of the nuts and bolts is realistic, his discussion of how it would work is fantasy. The nuts and bolts are straightforward (and Bernanke has a good practical suggestion for how to implement it too, which I’ll discuss at the end of this post). “Helicopter money” (or as he excitingly renames it, “a Money-Financed Fiscal Program, or MFFP”) is a direct injection of money from the government into people’s bank accounts, which is financed by a loan from the Federal Reserve to the Treasury. This differs from the standard way that Government spending is financed, which is by issuing Treasury Bonds that are then bought by the public.

The standard method doesn’t put additional money into circulation in the economy, because the increase in some private sector bank accounts caused by the government spending—a tax rebate, for example—is completely offset by the fall in other private sector bank accounts as they buy the Treasury Bonds that financed the tax rebate. But with “MFFP”, the tax rebate is financed by new money created by the Federal Reserve “at essentially no cost”. It thus directly increases the money supply, and this is where Friedman’s “Helicopter” analogy comes from. In the private sector economy, the money supply is increased when private banks lend to the public. Money created by private bank lending also goes by the nickname of “inside money”, since it is created by institutions that are “inside” the private sector—private banks.

Government-created money, which is what a tax rebate financed by a direct loan from the Federal Reserve to the Treasury would be, is “outside money”, because it comes from outside the private sector. Friedman’s analogy likened it to a helicopter flying over an economy and dropping new dollar bills from the sky. So how does “Helicopter Money” differ in impact from the standard way of financing government spending? Here’s where Bernanke passes from the practical nuts and bolts to the fantasy world of mainstream economics. According to Ben, the Helicopter flies, so to speak, because it causes “a temporary increase in expected inflation,” and because it “does not increase future tax burdens.”

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Best friends?!

Bundesbank’s Weidmann Rebukes Draghi Critics In Berlin (FT)

Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann has rebuked German politicians for attempting to pressure European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi over his easy money policies, suggesting their criticism was interfering with the bank’s independence. “It’s not unusual for politicians to have opinions on monetary policy, but we are independent,” Mr Weidmann told the Financial Times last Thursday. “The ECB has to deliver on its price stability mandate and thus an expansionary monetary policy stance is appropriate at this juncture regardless of different views about specific measures.” The head of Germany’s central bank and his counterpart at the ECB have often been at odds over how to respond to the threat of falling prices, with Mr Weidmann frequently raising objections to measures tabled by Mr Draghi.

But they have emerged as unlikely allies at a time when monetary policymakers around the world are facing mounting criticism over record-low interest rates, including the decision by some central banks – among them the ECB – to cut rates below zero and into negative territory to counter the threat of a vicious bout of deflation. The policy has been deeply unpopular in Germany, prompting criticism from senior politicians, led by finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, that the central bank’s low interest rates are expropriating savings from the German public and fuelling the rise of rightwing populism.

While the ECB targets inflation of just below 2%, the latest reading was minus 0.1%. Mr Weidmann also said the German debate on the ECB is focused too narrowly on the consequences of low interest rates for savers. “The debate does not focus enough on the broader macroeconomic consequences of monetary policy. People are not just savers: they’re also employees, taxpayers, and debtors, as such benefiting from the low level of interest rates,” he explained. The Bundesbank built its reputation on its independence from politics, frequently falling out with German lawmakers in the 1970s and 1980s over the central bank’s use of high interest rates to tackle inflation. But Mr Weidmann faces a more sensitive challenge: defending an EU institution from criticism from within Germany at a time of acute unease fuelled by the refugee crisis.

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Riddle me this.

China Rail Freight Volume Plunges 10.5%, and The Economy Still Grows 6.9%? (WS)

Rail freight volumes are an indicator of China’s goods-producing and goods-consuming economy, not just manufacturing, construction, agriculture, and the like, but also consumer goods. Thus they’re also an indication of consumer spending on goods. Alas, rail freight volume is collapsing: the first quarter this year puts volume for the whole year on track to revisit levels not seen since 2007. While China’s economy was strong, rail freight volumes were soaring. For example, in 2010, when China was pump-priming its economy, rail freight volume jumped 10.8% from a year earlier. In 2011, it rose 6.9%. It had soared 44% from 2005 to 2011! But 2011 was the peak. In 2012, volume in trillion ton-kilometers declined one notch and in 2013 stagnated. But in 2014, volume skidded 5.8%.

And in 2015, volume plunged 10.5% to 3.4 billion tons, according to Caixin, citing figures from the National Railway Administration. It was the largest annual decline ever booked in China. It was a year that the People’s Daily, the official paper of the Communist Party, described in this elegant manner: “Dragged by a housing slowdown, softening domestic demand, and unsteady exports, China’s economy expanded 6.9% year on year in 2015, the weakest reading in around a quarter of a century.” Which is precisely where things stop making sense: rail freight volume plunges 10.5% in 2015, and the economy still increases 6.9%? I mean, come on. At the time, Caixin said that China’s central planners aimed to increase rail freight volumes to 4.2 billion tons by 2020. This would assume an average annual growth rate of 4.3%.

So these declines are not part of the planned transition to a consumption-based economy. They’re totally against that plan or any other plan. They’re very inconvenient for the rosy scenario! Then came the first quarter of 2016. Rail freight volume plunged 9.4% year-over-year to 788 million tons, according to data from China Railway Corporation, cited today by the People’s Daily. At this rate, rail freight volume for 2016 will be down 20% from 2014, which had already been a down year! At this rate, volume in 2016 will end up where it had been in 2007! China — hobbled by soggy domestic demand, perhaps even soggier demand overseas, rampant factory overcapacity, cooling investment, an insurmountable mountain of bad debt, and a million other domestic problems — may be trying to transition from a manufacturing-based economy to an economy based on consumption.

But even consumer goods must be transported, even those purchased online! Only services don’t require much transportation. But we doubt that service sales have jumped in two years to the extent that they would even halfway make up for the crashing demand for goods transported by rail. The World Bank just figured that China’s economy would grow 6.7% in 2016, the IMF pegs it at 6.5%, both kowtowing to the GDP declarations issued by the Chinese government. Whose Kool-Aid have they been drinking? This would make 2016 another year when rail freight plunges by a dismal 10% or so while economic growth soars nearly 7% – which would make China one of the fastest growing economies in the world. So something in this convoluted, government-imposed math doesn’t add up here.

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Demand destruction and debt deflation.

Peabody, World’s Top Private Coal Miner, Files For Bankruptcy (Reuters)

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately owned coal producer, filed for U.S. bankruptcy protection on Wednesday in the wake of a sharp fall in coal prices that left it unable to service a recent debt-fueled expansion into Australia. The company listed both assets and liabilities in the range of $10 billion to $50 billion. Falling global coal demand, stricter environmental controls and a glut of natural gas have pushed big miners, including the second largest U.S. coal producer, Arch Coal, into bankruptcy protection over the past year.

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It’s cruel game that EU and IMF enjoy far too much.

IMF Says Greek Debt ‘Highly Unsustainable’, Debt Relief ‘Essential’ (R.)

The IMF wants Greece’s European partners to grant Athens substantial relief on its debt which it sees remaining “highly unsustainable”, according to a draft IMF memorandum seen by Reuters. Earlier on Tuesday, Greece and inspectors from its EU/IMF lenders adjourned talks on a crucial bailout review, mainly due to a rift among the lenders over a projected fiscal gap by 2018 and over Athens’ resistance to unpopular reforms. They will resume the review after this week’s IMF spring meetings in Washington, where the lenders are also expected to discuss Greek reforms and debt., Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who told Reuters on Tuesday that he saw no need for debt restructuring, will also be there.

“Despite generous concessional official financing and further reform plans … debt dynamics are projected to remain highly unsustainable,” the IMF draft said. “To restore debt sustainability, in addition to our reform efforts, decisive action by our European partners to grant further official debt relief will be essential.” EU institutions expect Greece to have a fiscal shorfall equivalent to 3% of economic output in 2018, while the IMF projects a 4.5% shortfall. The EU institutions also believe Athens can reach a primary surplus – the budget balance before debt-servicing costs – of 3.5% of GDP by 2018, as targeted in its latest financial bailout.

But the IMF’s draft Memorandum of Financial and Economic Policies (MFEP), which is compiled during the review, projected a primary deficit of 0.5% this year, a surplus of 0.25% in 2017 and a primary surplus of just 1.5% in 2018. It said these figures reflected reform fatigue after five years of adjustments and social pressures in Greece due to high unemployment, which rose to 24.4% in January. The draft projected an average rate of economic growth of 1.25% for the long term, which is lower than its previous forecast. The targets, which it called “ambitious, yet realistic”, could be underpinned by implementing measures that would save the equivalent of 2.5% of GDP by 2018, including reforms to its pension system, income tax, value-added tax and the public sector wage bill.

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If Cameron stays on, Brexit is here.

Pro-EU Leaflets Spark ‘Return To Sender’ Revolt In Britain (AFP)

Britons who want to leave the EU in June’s referendum are sending the government’s pro-Europe leaflets back to Downing Street in a furious protest against a campaign critics have slammed as scaremongering. The “Post It Back” campaign on Facebook and Twitter has attracted support from hundreds of people who do not appreciate the taxpayer-funded, pro-European Union leaflets being delivered to their homes this week. Kirsty Stubbs posted a picture of her leaflet on Facebook defaced with slogans including “What scaremongering rubbish” and “Vote Leave!” before sending it back. Alex Armstrong sent his leaflet back to a freepost address for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives with an added special package in the hope of lumbering the party with a large bill for postage.

“Just sent back the propaganda leaflet to the freepost address with a suitably heavy attachment – a lump of concrete,” he wrote on Facebook. Others burnt their leaflets or said they would use them as toilet paper, coffee mats or cat litter. Eurosceptic MPs are also angry that Cameron’s government has spent over £9 million on the leaflets, which will eventually go to every home in Britain. They forced a debate on the issue in the House of Commons on Monday. “It is bad enough getting junk mail, but to have Juncker mail sent to us with our own taxes is the final straw,” said Liam Fox, a senior Conservative, punning on the name of European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker. Another Conservative, Nigel Evans, spoke of his work as an election monitor and compared ministers’ campaign tactics to those in Zimbabwe.

“If in any of the countries I visit I witnessed the sort of spiv (racketeer) Robert Mugabe antics that I have seen carried out by this government, I would condemn the conduct of that election as not fair,” he said. More than 200,000 people have signed a petition on parliament’s website opposing the use of taxpayers’ money to pay for the “biased” leaflet, forcing MPs to schedule another debate on the issue for May 9. The glossy, 16-page leaflet makes a series of claims including that leaving the EU would “create years of uncertainty and potential disruption” and that EU membership “makes it easier to keep criminals and terrorists out of the UK”. The main pro and anti-EU campaigns will each be entitled to send a publicly-funded leaflet to all households or electors, worth up to £15 million each, in the run-up to the June 23 vote. But opponents say that by spending £9 million on this extra leaflet before the formal campaign period begins on Friday, the government is getting an unfair advantage.

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Housing bubbles save governments.

Why Younger People Can’t Afford A House: Money Became Too Cheap (G.)

House prices have risen by 10% in the last year, the Halifax announced last week. Whoopeedoo. What that means is that the intergenerational wealth divide just rose by another 10% – and anyone born after 1985 is going to find it 10% harder to ever buy a home. There is perhaps no greater manifestation of the wealth gap in this country than who owns a house and who doesn’t, and yet it’s so unnecessary. Ignoring land prices for the moment, houses do not cost a lot of money to build – a quick search online shows you can buy the materials for a three-bed timber-framed house for less than £30,000; in China a 3D printer can build a basic home for less than £3,000 – and the building cost of the houses we already have has long since been paid. How can it be that, in the liberal, peaceful, educated society that is 21st-century Britain, a generation is priced out?

These are not times of war, nor are they, for the most part, periods of national emergency, so why should one couple be able to settle down and start a family and another not, by virtue of the fact that one was born 15 years earlier than the other? There has been a failure in both the media and government to properly diagnose the cause of high house prices. Until the causes – our systems of money and planning – are properly understood, we cannot hope to fix the problem. The standard solution is: “we need to build more”, but this is not a simple supply-and-demand issue. Between 1997 and 2007 the housing stock grew by 10%, but the population only grew by 5%. If house prices were a function of supply and demand, they should have fallen slightly over this period. They didn’t. They rose by more than 300%. The cause of house price rises is the unrestrained supply of something else: money.

Mortgage lending over the same period went up by 370%, thinktank Positive Money’s research shows. It was newly created debt that pushed up prices in a decade of extraordinarily loose lending, which gave birth to a national obsession. Houses were no longer places to live, but financial assets. Property owners became immensely wealthy without actually doing anything. And this great, unearned wealth saw the rise of a new rentier class: the buy-to-let landlord. When you have runaway inflation such as this, the Bank of England has a responsibility to quash it, usually by putting up interest rates. But – and here is the great sleight of hand – the Bank has seen fit not to include house prices in its measures of inflation. So, throughout the 90s and 00s, they could then “prove” inflation was low or moderate and interest rates meandered lower. Meanwhile, more and more mortgages were issued, and so more and more money was created, and it pushed up prices. The government didn’t mind.

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Hilarious.

Iceland Shocked By Elite’s Love Of Offshore Holdings (AFP)

Cabinet ministers, bankers and CEOs: the offshore companies at the heart of the leaked Panama Papers have drawn large numbers of Iceland’s elite into a scandal that has already brought down the country’s premier. The documents from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca, obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), revealed just how many Icelanders had holdings hidden away in tax havens.That number is astounding: some 600 Icelanders are named in the documents, in a country of just 320,000. That’s the highest per capita number for any country, according to Johannes Kristjansson, an independent Icelandic journalist who worked with the Consortium. In the streets of Reykjavik, people are disgusted.

“It’s a small clique, and even after the 2008 (financial) crisis they wouldn’t let go. It just confirms that money made during the boom years didn’t disappear into thin air,” a 50-year-old resident, Kolbrun Elfa Sigurdardottir, told AFP. “Who are the people who benefited from this system? We all want to know,” asked Alli Thor Olafsson, 32. The offshore companies are part of the legacy from the euphoria that was rampant in Iceland’s financial sector in the early 2000s when the country’s banks borrowed beyond their means to fund aggressive investments abroad, ultimately causing the 2008 collapse of the three main banks. According to Sigrun Davidsdottir, a journalist at public television RUV who has been investigating offshore holdings since the 2008 crisis, Iceland’s financial advisors were quick to suggest to all and sundry that their money should be placed offshore.

“During the heady years up to 2008, a source said to me that you just weren’t anyone unless you owned an offshore company,” she wrote on her blog. By now, the best-known case is that of ousted prime minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson. In 2007, his then-future wife, Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, placed her inheritance from her wealthy businessman father in an offshore tax haven, the British Virgin Islands, via the Credit Suisse bank. Gunnlaugsson owned 50% of the offshore company, named Wintris, a fact he neglected to disclose as required in April 2009 when he was elected to parliament. He resigned last week after massive public protests. Offshore accounts were so well-known in Iceland that the expression “Tortola company” – referring to the most populated island in the British Virgin Islands – had been widespread in Icelandic media, though not the extent to which they were used and by whom.

Gunnlaugsson was definitely not the only government official to own an offshore company. Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson owns a company in the Seychelles, while Interior Minister Olof Nordal has one in Panama. Both have so far managed to hold onto their cabinet posts despite the scandal. A former central bank governor and ex-industry minister, Finnur Ingolfsson, the head of pharmaceutical group Alvogen, Robert Wessman, as well as journalist Eggert Skulason of the daily DV are all known to be on the Panama Papers list of offshore account holders.

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All files should be transferred to a Wiki-style open source server.

Swiss Banker Whistleblower: CIA Behind Panama Papers (CNBC)

Bradley Birkenfeld is the most significant financial whistleblower of all time, so you might think he’d be cheering on the disclosures in the new Panama Papers leaks. But today, Birkenfeld is raising questions about the source of the information that is shaking political regimes around the world. Birkenfeld, an American citizen, was a banker working at UBS in Switzerland when he approached the U.S. government with information on massive amounts of tax evasion by Americans with secret accounts in Switzerland. By the end of his whistleblowing career, Birkenfeld had served more than two years in a U.S. federal prison, been awarded $104 million by the IRS for his information and shattered the foundations of more than a century of Swiss banking secrecy.

In an exclusive interview Tuesday from Munich, Birkenfeld said he doesn’t think the source of the 11 million documents stolen from a Panamanian law firm should automatically be considered a whistleblower like himself. Instead, he said, the hacking of the Panama City-based firm, called Mossack Fonseca, could have been done by a U.S. intelligence agency. “The CIA I’m sure is behind this, in my opinion,” Birkenfeld said. Birkenfeld pointed to the fact that the political uproar created by the disclosures have mainly impacted countries with tense relationships with the United States. “The very fact that we see all these names surface that are the direct quote-unquote enemies of the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, Argentina and we don’t see one U.S. name. Why is that?” Birkenfeld said. “Quite frankly, my feeling is that this is certainly an intelligence agency operation.”

Asked why the U.S. would leak information that has also been damaging to U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, a major American ally, Birkenfeld said the British leader was likely collateral damage in a larger intelligence operation. “If you’ve got NSA and CIA spying on foreign governments they can certainly get into a law firm like this,” Birkenfeld said. “But they selectively bring the information to the public domain that doesn’t hurt the U.S. in any shape or form. That’s wrong. And there’s something seriously sinister here behind this.” Birkenfeld also said that during his time as a Swiss banker, Mossack Fonseca was known as one piece of the vast offshore maze used by bankers and lawyers to hide money from tax authorities. But he also said that the firm that is at the center of the global scandal was also seen as a relatively small player in the overall offshore tax evasion business.

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Ha!

Australia Issues The Most Hideous Banknote In History (SMH)

The new $5 note continues Australia’s proud history of monetary innovation. When the British founded the convict colony of NSW in 1788, Governor Arthur Phillip embarked on a unique social experiment. He would establish a society without money, as having it around would only give the convicts something else to steal. Rum became the currency of choice, with the pound making way for the pint and the shilling swapped for the shot. In 1814, Governor Lachlan Macquarie decided he could not run a colony on a currency prone to spillage and evaporation. He bought 40,000 Spanish pieces of eight, the currency more pirates prefer, and cut the centre out of each piece, creating two coins, the holey dollar and the dump. In a moment of Scottish fiscal genius, Macquarie declared the two new coins would have a combined value of one-and-a-quarter pieces of eight, generating a tidy profit for his government.

Australia’s first banknote was printed by the Bank of NSW in 1817. The bank, established by convicted criminals, was commonly known as the Convict’s Bank and is now known as Westpac. In 1988, Australia celebrated its bicentenary by revolutionising banknote design, issuing the world’s first polymer note, the brainchild of Australia’s CSIRO. The organisation was so good at the science of making money that this is now the only science the Australian government will let it do. And now, with the new $5 note, Australia is again leading the world in banknote design. The Reserve Bank is proud to announce it has designed, possibly, the most hideous banknote in history. This is the start of a campaign to make our currency so nauseatingly unappealing that people will switch to electronic payments (saving the Australian government printing costs).

The new wattle motif, designed to look like anthrax spores, will stop old people sending money by mail (saving the Australian government postage costs). The government must have retained the designer of Australia’s 1984 Olympic uniforms to come up with a startling combination of off-pink and bilious yellow, before giving the Reserve Bank’s gibbon the keys to the inkjet. Blind people will love the new banknote for its revolutionary tactile features, but mainly because they won’t be able to see it. The worst thing about the new $5 note, however, is that it dispenses with one of the greatest Australians ever, Catherine Helen Spence – who was commemorated in 2001 for the note issued to celebrate the centenary of federation.

Spence was the first Australian woman novelist to write about Australian issues, the mother of the Australian foster care system, the leading campaigner for proportional representation in government, a hero of the women’s suffrage movement, and Australia’s first female political candidate. And those are but a few of her achievements. Spence has been forced to make way for a lump of neo-brutalist architecture – our Parliament House –topped by a giant Australian flag. A non-Australian, the Queen retains pride of place on the new note.

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Canada, US, Australia and more.

Canadian First Nation Suicide Epidemic Has Been Generations In The Making (G.)

The Attawapiskat First Nation, or the people of the parting rocks, as they are known in their indigenous Swampy Cree language, number roughly 2,000 souls. They live on a small Indian reserve 600 miles north of the Canadian capital of Ottawa, at the mouth of James Bay’s Attawapiskat River. This subarctic First Nation declared a state of emergency after 11 community members tried to take their own lives Saturday night. Since last September, more than 100 Attawapiskat people have attempted suicide in what local MP Charlie Angus has described as a “rolling nightmare” of a winter. The ghastly toll reveals a grim reality with which a nation in the midst of a process of truth and reconciliation now must reckon.

Suicide does not merely roll in like a hurricane to uproot homes and families, and drown out neighborhoods before receding from where it came. No, this has been an emergency generations in the making, tacitly supported by a Canada fully willing to mine natural resources, proselytize and brutalize generations of children in residential schools, and then leave with basic housing, education systems and healthcare in a state of disrepair. In 2011, Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency due to a “severe housing shortage”. In 2014, the community opened the first proper elementary school to serve Attawapiskat’s children in 14 years. At the same time, the De Beers mining company pulled $392m worth of diamonds out of their Victor Lake mine on lands taken from the Attawapiskat First Nation through an extension of Treaty 9 in 1930.

This is how First Nations live in the Bantustans of Canada’s north. Broke and broken people with little to no opportunities live in cold, run-down homes and suffer from generations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse. They look on as hundreds of millions of dollars worth of resources are mined from their ancestral homelands. This is not an emergency – a catastrophe for which Canada was unprepared and never saw coming. No, this is and always has been part of the design and devastation that colonization wrought. In order to take the land, Canadian settlers needed to eliminate First Nations and their prior and legitimate political claims to territories. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, infectious diseases and state-supported starvation gave way to the institutional violence of Indian reserves and residential schools, where more than 150,000 First Nations children were taken from 1876 to 1996.

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No more Schengen.

Brussels Gives Greece Two Weeks To Tighten Borders (Kath.)

The European Commission on Tuesday gave Greece two weeks to determine how it plans to tighten control of its borders, noting that although progress has been made, the process of registering thousands of migrants streaming through the country remained inadequate. The Commission criticized an action plan submitted by Athens, noting that it lacked “detailed time frames” for fixing problems. It also demanded guarantees that EU funding for migration will be used properly. “The Commission requests that Greece provide the additional elements and clarifications by 26 April,” it said in a statement which acknowledged Athens had made “significant progress.” If Greece fails to take remedial action, Brussels could authorize other EU member-states to extend border controls in the Schengen passport-free area for up to two years instead of the normal six months. Such a scenario would effectively suspend Greece’s participation in the Schengen zone.

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Can’t stop this.

Refugees Become Smugglers Following EU-Turkey Deal (MEE)

Refugees and migrants in Greece have begun joining smuggling networks in growing numbers in a desperate bid to earn enough cash to pay for their own journeys north since an agreement between the EU and Turkey has made it more difficult for people to make it to places like Germany. In Idomeni, the northern border between Greece and Macedonia where more than 11,000 people have been stuck for weeks, the smugglers have been out in full force since the controversial deal officially – slated as a major blow to smuggling rings in Turkey and Europe – began to be implemented and the first migrants sent back. In contrast to the stated aim of cutting down on smuggling, smugglers can be seen in parking lots of hotels and abandoned gas stations, nor are the locals working alone.

In their bid to earn enough cash to make it north, some of the refugees and migrants stranded in Greece have started working as “fixers” for the smugglers, while smaller groups, mostly from Afghanistan, have started to self-organise and develop their own smuggling routes through parts of the Balkans. While the development is not altogether new, and some new arrivals have long stayed on with smugglers, the practice appears to be accelerating and is happening more in the open than ever before. [..] Despite the dangers, growing numbers of people feel they have no choice as border closures and barbed wire fences have made paying smugglers even more expensive. Karam, a Syrian refugee who paid smugglers to get to Germany last year and has now returned to Greece as a volunteer, says that prices have gone up and that he only paid $2,700 to make it all the way to Germany, significantly less than the journey would cost today.

“When I travelled to Germany, the smugglers did not see us as people but as commodities. We were often in risky situations during the trip and they didn’t care much. The only thing important to them was to transfer us as quickly as possible and return back for a new tour of people. I suppose they treat people even worse now,” said Karam. “I think that today, in this situation, I would apply to stay in Greece.”

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And the beat goes on and on.

Greek Coast Guard Rescues 120 Refugees Off Lesvos, Samos (Kath.)

Greek coast guard officers rescued 120 refugees and migrants in three separate incidents off Lesvos and Samos, authorities said on Wednesday morning. Officials said that between Tuesday and Wednesday morning there had been 101 arrivals on the Aegean islands. There are currently 3,644 people at the Lesvos hotspot, 1,827 in Chios and 516 on Samos, according to authorities.

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Dec 082015
 
 December 8, 2015  Posted by at 7:17 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Poached baby gorilla, Virunga Park

Anglo American, a British company, and one of the world’s biggest miners, and a ‘producer’ (actually just a miner, how did those two terms ever get mixed up?!) of platinum (world no. 1), diamonds, copper, nickel, iron ore and coal, said today it would scrap dividends AND fire 85,000 of it 135,000 global workforce (that’s 63%!).

Anglo is just the first in a long litany line we’ll see going forward. Commodities ‘producers’ are being completely wiped out, hammered, killed, murdered. They’ve been able to hedge their downside risks so far, but now find they can’t even afford the price of the hedges (insurance) anymore. And then there’s all the banks and funds that financed them.

And they’ve all been gearing up for production increases too, with grandiose plans and -leveraged- investments aiming for infinity and beyond. You know, it’s the business model. 2016 will be a year for the record books.

Just check this Bloomberg graph for copper supply and demand as an example. How ugly would you like it today?

And what’s true for copper goes for the whole range of raw materials. Because China went from double-digit growth to shrinking imports and exports in pretty much no time flat. And China was all they had left.

Iron ore is dropping below $40, and that’s about the break-even point. Of course, oil has done that quite a while ago already. It’s just that we like to think oil’s some kind of stand-alone freak incident. It is not. With oil today plunging below $37 (down some 15% since the OPEC meeting last week), it doesn’t matter anymore how much more efficient shale companies can get.

They’re toast. They’re done. And with them are their lenders. Who have hedged their bets too, obviously, but hedging has a price. Or else you could throw money at any losing enterprise.

But there’s another side to this, one that not a soul talks about, and it has Washington, London and Brussels very worried. Here goes:

These large mining -including oil- corporations most often operate in regions in the world that are remote and located in countries with at best questionable governments (the corporations like it like that, it’s how they know who to bribe to be able to rape and pillage).

The corporations de facto form a large part of the US/UK/EU political/military control system of these areas. They work in tandem with the CIA, MI5, the US and UK military, to keep the areas ‘friendly’ to western industries and regime.

This has caused unimaginable misery across the globe, in for instance (a good example) the Congo, one of the world’s richest regions when it comes to minerals ‘we’ want, but one of the poorest areas on the planet. No coincidence there.

Untold millions have died as a result. ‘We’ have done a lot more damage there than we are presently doing in Syria, if you can imagine. And many more millions are forced to live out their lives in miserable circumstances on top of the world’s richest riches. But that will now change.

Thing is, with the major miners going belly up, ‘our’ control of these places will also fade. Because it’s all been about money all along, and the US won’t be able to afford the -political and military- control of these places if there are no profits to be made.

They’ll be sinkholes for military budgets, and those will be stretched already ‘protecting’ other places. The demise of commodities is a harbinger of a dramatically changing US position in the world. Washington will be forced to focus on protecting it own soil, and move away from expansionist policies.

Because it can’t afford those without the grotesque profits its corporations have squeezed out of the populations in these ‘forgotten’ lands. That’s going to change global politics a lot.

And it’s not as if China will step in. They can’t afford to take over a losing proposition; the Chinese economy is not only growing at a slower pace, it may well be actually shrinking. Beijing’s new reality is that imports and exports both are falling quite considerably (no matter the ‘official’ numbers), and the cost of a huge expansion into global mining territory makes little sense right now.

With the yuan now part of the IMF ‘basket‘m Beijing can no longer print at will. China must focus on what happens at home. So must the US. They have no choice. Other than going to war.

And, granted, given that choice, they all probably will. But the mining companies will still be mere shells of their former selves by then. There’s no profit left to be made.

This is not going to end well. Not for anybody. Other than the arms lobby. What it will do is change geopolitics forever, and a lot.