Aug 152017
 
 August 15, 2017  Posted by at 8:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Stanley Kubrick Walking the streets of New York 1946

 

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)
We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)
World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)
US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)
Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)
Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)
Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)
Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)
Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)
China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)
North Korea Leader Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)
Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)
Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)
Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)
Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

 

 

Feels like we’re being prepared, or maybe set up is a better way to put it. They’re going to take over everything, criminalize anything they can’t control. All for your own good. Rogoff is one scary dude.

Prepare For Negative Interest Rates In The Next Recession – Rogoff (Tel.)

Negative interest rates will be needed in the next major recession or financial crisis, and central banks should do more to prepare the ground for such policies, according to leading economist Kenneth Rogoff. Quantitative easing is not as effective a tonic as cutting rates to below zero, he believes. Central banks around the world turned to money creation in the credit crunch to stimulate the economy when interest rates were already at rock bottom. In a new paper published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives the professor of economics at Harvard University argues that central banks should start preparing now to find ways to cut rates to below zero so they are not caught out when the next recession strikes. Traditionally economists have assumed that cutting rates into negative territory would risk pushing savers to take their money out of banks and stuff the cash – metaphorically or possibly literally – under their mattress.

As electronic transfers become the standard way of paying for purchases, Mr Rogoff believes this is a diminishing risk. “It makes sense not to wait until the next financial crisis to develop plans and, in any event, it is time for economists to stop pretending that implementing effective negative rates is as difficult today as it seemed in Keynes time”, he said. The growth of electronic payment systems and the increasing marginalisation of cash in legal transactions creates a much smoother path to negative rate policy today than even two decades ago. Countries can scrap larger denomination notes to reduce the likelihood of cash being held in substantial quantities, he suggests. This is also a potentially practical idea because cash tends now to be used largely for only small transactions. Law enforcement officials may also back the idea to cut down on money laundering and tax evasion.

The key consequence from an economic point of view is that forcing savers to keep cash in an electronic format would make it easier to levy a negative interest rate. “With today’s ultra-low policy interest rates – inching up in the United States and still slightly negative in the eurozone and Japan – it is sobering to ask what major central banks will do should another major prolonged global recession come any time soon,” he said, noting that the Fed cut rates by an average of 5.5 percentage points in the nine recessions since the mid-1950s, something which is impossible at the current low rate of interest, unless negative rates become an option. That would be substantially better than trying to use QE or forward guidance as central bankers have attempted in recent years.

Read more …

If we don’t take away political power from banks and central banks, we’re doomed.

We’re Still Not Ready for the Next Banking Crisis (BBG)

The 10th anniversary of the financial crisis has prompted a lot of analysis about what we’ve learned and whether we’re ready for the next one. Pretty much everything you need to know, though, can be found in one chart: the capital ratios of the largest U.S. banks. Capital, also known as equity, is the money that banks get from shareholders and retained earnings. Unlike debt, it has the advantage of absorbing losses, a feature that makes individual banks and the whole system more resilient. Bank executives typically prefer to use less equity and more debt – that is, more leverage – because this magnifies returns in good times. Hence, capital levels can serve as an indicator of the balance of power between bankers and regulators concerned about financial stability. Here’s a chart showing tangible common equity, as a percentage of tangible assets, at the six largest U.S. banks from December 2001 to June 2017:

The downward slope in the first several years demonstrates the extent to which leverage got out of hand before the crisis. As late as 2008, when the financial sector was already in distress, the Federal Reserve was still allowing banks to pay out capital in the form of dividends, even though some had equity of less than 3% of assets. That proved to be a fatal miscalculation: By 2009, forecasts of total losses on loans and securities reached 10% of assets. A crippled banking system tanked the economy and had to be rescued at taxpayer expense. After the crisis, regulators pushed banks to get stronger. The biggest U.S. institutions more than doubled their tangible common equity ratios – to an average of about 8% of assets (or, by international accounting standards, closer to 6% of assets). That’s an achievement, and better than in Europe, but the starting point was so low that they still fall short of what’s needed. Researchers at the Minneapolis Fed, for example, estimate that capital would have to more than double again to bring the risk of bailouts down to an acceptable level.

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How crime got re-defined. Poor conduct. Orwell.

World’s Biggest Banks Face £264 Billion Bill For Poor Conduct (G.)

Fines, legal bills and the cost of compensating mistreated customers reached £264bn for 20 of the world’s biggest banks over the five years to 2016, according to new research that raises doubts about efforts by the major financial services players to restore trust in the sector. This figure is higher than in the previous five-year period – when the costs amounted to £252bn – and is up 32% on the period 2008-12, the first time the data was collated by the CCP Research Foundation, one of the few bodies that analyses the “conduct costs” of banks. The report said the data showed that 10 years on from the onset of the financial crisis, the consequences of misconduct continue to hang over the banking sector. The latest analysis shows that in 2016 the total amount put aside by the banks surveyed rose to more than £28.6bn – higher than in the previous year when there had been a fall from a peak of £63bn in 2014.

Chris Stears, research director of the foundation, writes in the latest report: “Trust in, and the trustworthiness of, the banks must surely correlate to, and be conditional on, banks’ conduct costs. And persistent level of conduct cost provisioning is worrying. “It remains to be seen whether or not the provisions will crystallise in 2017 [or later] and what effect this will have on the aggregated level of conduct costs.” Two UK high street banks – Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group – are in the top five of banks with the biggest conduct costs. RBS set aside extra provisions for fines and legal costs largely related to a forthcoming penalty from the US Department of Justice for mis-selling toxic bonds in the run-up to the financial crisis. That residential mortgage bond securitisation mis-selling scandal is responsible for £66bn of the costs incurred during the five-year period and the single largest factor, according to the foundation.

Read more …

The only thing that propped up stocks is vaporizing.

US Stock Buybacks Are Plunging (BBG)

U.S. stocks have been able to hit fresh highs this year despite a dearth of demand from a key source of buying. Share repurchases by American companies this year are down 20% from this time a year ago, according to Societe Generale global head of quantitative strategy Andrew Lapthorne. Ultra-low borrowing costs had encouraged large firms to issue debt to buy back their own stock, thereby providing a tailwind to earnings-per-share growth. “Perhaps over-leveraged U.S. companies have finally reached a limit on being able to borrow simply to support their own shares,” writes Lapthorne. Repurchase programs account for the lion’s share of net inflows into U.S. equities during this bull market. Heading into 2017, equity strategists anticipated that the buyback bonanza would continue in earnest, fueled in part by an expected tax reform plan that would provide companies with repatriated cash to invest.

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Deflation.

Consumer Spending Expectations Down Again (Mish)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen keeps citing consumer confidence and jobs as reasons consumer spending and inflation will pick up. Curiously, the New York Fed Survey on Consumer Spending Expectations keeps trending lower and lower, despite survey-high expectations for wage growth. The report for July 2017 was released today. I downloaded the survey results and produced the following charts.

Household Spending Projections

 

Household Income Projections

 

Income projections are volatile but at least they are trending higher across the board. Spending projections are less volatile and trending lower at every level. At the 25th%ile level, a group that no doubt spends every cent they make, spending expectations are zero. Those projections were in negative territory in April. Fed Chair Janet Yellen does not believe the Fed’s own reports. Instead, she relies on consumer confidence numbers that tend to track the stock market or gasoline prices more than anything else. Perhaps New York Fed President William Dudley does believe in the report.

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If you weren’t scared yet…

Dow 30,000, Not If Demographics Have Anything To Say (SA)

Nowadays, it is easy to get caught up in the day to day of markets with main stream media pumping the hot stock or warning of market crashes that rarely come. Focusing on the longer term cycles is how you stay with the trend, reduce portfolio churn and costs. I am not advocating for a purely passive strategy as I think the current state of passive investing is contributing to over-valuation and a lack of pricing discovery, which is another topic I won’t get into in this piece. Longer term cycles are largely influenced by demographics. Boomers were entering the workforce in the 1970s and started having children (Millennials) in the early 1980s. The surge in home purchases, appliances, and the multitude of things you buy for kids helped drive the economy for 30 years. The giant buildup in credit that I have covered in a previous article is another reason for a 35-year bull market.

The potential problem now is Boomers are hitting retirement, and roughly 10,000 Boomers retire each day. The above chart is the age distribution of the U.S. population by age. You can see the cliff of Boomers that are turning 70 this year. There are a couple ramifications of Boomers retiring. First is the moment they quit their job or sell their business, they are on a finite budget from there on out. Second, fewer people will be available for work down the road leaving less tax payers contributing to already stressed government budgets. Lastly, Boomers are incentivized to retire at 70.5 due to social security rules and will also start drawing on pensions. What makes matters worse is the majority of Boomers have less than $200k saved for retirement and a large portion have less than $50k saved per PWC’s Annual survey. This means that Boomers are heavily relying on Social Security or they have to work longer, which is currently evidenced by the following chart from the BLS.

Boomers have essentially garnered the majority of wage gains and now are working longer either out of necessity or preference. You might be thinking the surge in Millennials entering the work force will save the day, but due to the above facts, younger generations have to wait longer to move up the corporate ladder or have to attain levels of higher education to receive an adequate salary. As a result, student debt has risen exponentially in the U.S. jeopardizing the future of many starting their professional lives.

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“Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.”

Ten Years After The Crash, There’s Barely Suppressed Civil War In Britain (G.)

All history now, isn’t it? The credit crisis that began in August 2007, the ensuing banking crash and global recession. One bumper episode from the long-ago past, when the iPhone was a newborn and Amy Winehouse still made records. Now done, dusted, reformed and resolved. Or so one assumes, from the official self-congratulation. The European commission marks the 10th anniversary of the credit crisis by trumpeting: “Back to recovery thanks to decisive EU action.” Yes, the same clapped-out European establishment that has spent the last decade kicking a can down the road. The head of the derivatives industry body, ISDA, admits: “We sometimes forget to articulate the social value of what we do.” Indeed so: before the crash, bankers emailed each other about how the derivatives that they were paid so much to flog were “crap” and “vomit”.

Everyone knows history is written by the victors, but this is something else: bullshit recounted by the bullshitters. Even the banks are back to bragging how many billions they generously chip in to Her Majesty’s Exchequer, presumably hoping no one will point out that they took £1.3tn from taxpayers in just a few months in 2008. Let’s get three things straight. First, it was working- and middle-class Britons who paid for the mess, who are still paying for it now and who will keep paying for it decades from now. Second, the crash has prompted almost no fundamental reckoning or reform. And, most importantly, the combination of those first two factors means the crash that began in 2007 cannot be consigned to the past. Today’s politics – from Brexit to Trump and the collapse of centrism – is just one of its products.

For politicians and financiers to treat the crash as history brings to mind Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses: “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” Here’s the stuff of historical bad dreams: at the height of the banking crisis in 2008, every man, woman and child in Britain handed over £19,721 each to bankers. The economy tanked, Gordon Brown got booted out – and David Cameron pretended a private banking catastrophe was a crisis of a supposedly profligate public sector. You know what happened next: first the kids’ Sure Start centre closed, then the library; your mum waited ages to get her hip replacement; the working poor had their social security stolen, and the local comp began sending begging letters. Debt racked up through the greed of financiers being dumped on the poor, the young and people with disabilities in what must rank as the biggest bait and switch in postwar Britain.

I say that, but we have only had seven years of austerity. If Philip Hammond stays in No 11 and sticks to plan (one must hope he does neither), the cuts will continue until the middle of the next decade. After 2025, who knows what will remain of our councils, our welfare state and our public realm. One truism of this era is that the average British worker earns less after inflation than they did when RBS nearly died. Most of us have seen not a recovery, but a ripping up of our social contract – so that over 7 million Britons are now in precarious employment. But the highest earners are way ahead of where they were in 2008. Finance-sector bonuses are as generous as they were during the boom, while a bad year for the average FTSE boss is one in which he or she pulls in a mere £4.53m.

And so we remain reliant on debt – aptly termed “the raw material for bubbles and crashes” by Daniel Mügge at the University of Amsterdam. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the UK is far deeper in the red now than it was when Northern Rock collapsed. Government debt has shot up under the Conservatives, but so too has household borrowing. Were the UK to crash again, its government no longer has the political capital nor the fiscal headroom to save the financial system.

Read more …

“The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.”

Broadening Internal Dispersion (Hussman)

It’s important to observe that if short-term interest rates were still at zero and market internals were favorable, even the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we identify would not be enough to push us to a hard-negative market outlook. That, in a nutshell, is the central lesson from quantitative easing, and is one that could alone have dramatically altered our own challenging experience in the recent speculative half-cycle. At present, however, we observe not only the most obscene level of valuation in history aside from the single week of the March 24, 2000 market peak; not only the most extreme median valuations across individual S&P 500 component stocks in history; not only the most extreme overvalued, overbought, overbullish syndromes we define; but also interest rates that are off the zero-bound, and a key feature that has historically been the hinge between overvalued markets that continue higher and overvalued markets that collapse: widening divergences in internal market action across a broad range of stocks and security types, signaling growing risk-aversion among investors, at valuation levels that provide no cushion against severe losses.

[..] Again, the principal lesson of the recent half-cycle was that in the face of zero interest rates, even the most extreme “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes were not enough to anticipate steep market losses (as they typically were in prior market cycles). Instead, investors were driven to believe that they had no other alternative but to continue their yield-seeking speculation. In the face of zero interest rates, one had to wait for market internals to deteriorate before adopting a hard negative market outlook. At present, we observe neither zero interest rates, nor uniformly favorable market internals. In the current environment, we expect that obscene valuations and severe “overvalued, overbought, overbullish” syndromes are likely to be followed by the same outcomes that have attended similar conditions across history. The chart below shows the percentage of U.S. stocks above their respective 200-day moving averages, along with the S&P 500 Index. The deterioration and widening dispersion in market internals is no longer subtle.

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It’s about Apple and Google.

Trump Orders Probe Of China’s Intellectual Property Practices (R.)

President Donald Trump on Monday authorized an inquiry into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property in the first direct trade measure by his administration against Beijing, but one that is unlikely to prompt near-term change. Trump broke from his 17-day vacation in New Jersey to sign the memo in the White House at a time of heightened tensions between Washington and Beijing over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The investigation is likely to cast a shadow over relations with China, the largest U.S. trading partner, just as Trump is asking Beijing to step up pressure against Pyongyang. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will have a year to look into whether to launch a formal investigation of China’s trade policies on intellectual property, which the White House and U.S. industry lobby groups say are harming U.S. businesses and jobs.

Trump called the inquiry “a very big move.” Trump administration officials have estimated that theft of intellectual property by China could be as high as $600 billion. Experts on China trade policy said the long lead time could allow Beijing to discuss some of the issues raised by Washington without being seen to cave to pressure under the threat of reprisals. Although Trump repeatedly criticized China’s trade practices on the campaign trail, his administration has not taken any significant action. Despite threats to do so, it has declined to name China a currency manipulator and delayed broader national security probes into imports of foreign steel and aluminum that could indirectly affect China.

[..] The Information Technology Industry Council, the main trade group for U.S. technology giants, such as Microsoft, Apple and Google, said it hoped China would take the administration’s announcement seriously. “Both the United States and China should use the coming months to address the issues causing friction in the bilateral trade relationship before Presidents Trump and Xi have their anticipated meeting ahead of the November APEC leaders meeting,” ITI President Dean Garfield said in a statement.

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“On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced..”

China Imposes Ban on Imports From North Korea, Yields to Trump’s Calls (Sp.)

China is introducing a ban on imports of some goods from North Korea in line with a UN Security Council resolution, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said Monday. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on Beijing to increase economic pressure on North Korea as China is Pyongyang’s biggest trade partner. “On August 15, a full ban on imports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, seafood from North Korea is introduced,” the ministry said in a statement. According to the statement, North Korean products arrived at Chinese ports before the ban would be allowed to enter the country. Import applications of products from North Korea will be halted from September 5. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are still allowed to import coal from third countries via the North Korean port of Rason. However, Chinese importers need to apply for approval from a UN committee set up under the UN Security Council resolution 1718.

Interestingly, Beijing’s move came amid media speculations that Trump is mulling a trade crackdown on China. China is by far the largest trading partner of North Korea. In April, the Chinese General Administration of Customs said trade between the two countries in the first quarter increased 37.4% year-over-year, even despite the UN sanctions on North Korean supplies of coal, the country’s top export earner. The tensions around North Korea have been high over the recent months and they have escalated further after the tightening of economic sanctions against North Korea by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) last week in response to July’s launches of ballistic missiles by Pyongyang. On August 5, new UNSC sanctions against North Korea could cut the nation’s annual export revenue by $1 billion.

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Saving face.

Kim Jong-un Holds Off On Guam Plan (R.)

North Korea’s leader received a report from his army on its plans to fire missiles toward Guam and said he will watch the actions of the United States for a while longer before making a decision, the North’s official news agency said on Tuesday. North Korea said last week it was finalizing plans to launch four missiles into the waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, and its army would report the strike plan to leader Kim Jong Un and wait for his order. Kim, who inspected the command of the North’s army on Monday, examined the plan for a long time and discussed it with army officers, the official KCNA said in a report. “He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” the report said.

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Pyongyang’s detailed plans for the strike near Guam prompted a surge in tensions in the region last week, with U.S. President Donald Trump warning he would unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea if it threatened the Unite States. South Korean and U.S. officials have since sought to play down the risks of an imminent conflict, helping soothe global concerns somewhat on Monday. Kim said the United States should make the right choice “in order to defuse the tensions and prevent the dangerous military conflict on the Korean peninsula,” the KCNA report said.

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Oh, get real: “..poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop.”

Australia’s Central Bank Renews Alert on Mounting Household Debt (G.)

Australia’s central bank renewed its focus on mounting household debt, even as the outlook for the nation’s economy improved, according to the minutes of this month’s policy decision where interest rates were left unchanged. RBA noted “need to balance the risks associated with high household debt in a low-inflation environment” in its decision to stand pat on policy. Better hiring this year meant “forecasts for the labor market were starting from a stronger position”. The bank reiterated GDP growth was expected to rise to around 3% in 2018 and 2019, supported by low rates; faster growth in non-mining business investment is expected. The main change is one of emphasis after the Reserve Bank of Australia removed the labor market and added household balance sheets – where debt is currently at a record 190% of income – to its key areas of concern alongside the residential property market.

But the minutes convey rising confidence that Australia’s economy will strengthen and is poised to benefit from the tailwind of a much improved global backdrop. Yet areas of substantial uncertainty remain: how China manages the trade-off between growth and the build-up of leverage; the fact the forecasts for the domestic economy are based on no change in the exchange rate in the period through 2019; and whether better employment would lead to higher household income and increased consumption, or whether ongoing weak wage growth and high household debt would cut into consumption.

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Neither country seems to know how one gets a passport down under. Curious.

Australia Says New Zealand Opposition Trying To Bring Down Government (G.)

Australia and New Zealand have become embroiled in an extraordinary diplomatic spat over claims the New Zealand opposition colluded with the Australian Labor party (ALP) in an attempt “to try and bring down the government”. During a febrile day of politics in both countries, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, said New Zealand’s opposition party was threatening the stability of a usually robust partnership between the two nations. She said she would find it “very hard to build trust” if New Zealand’s opposition Labour party were to win the general election in September. Her comments came only 24 hours after it was revealed that Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, held New Zealand citizenship and may be ineligible to sit in parliament under the Australian constitution, which disqualifies dual nationals.

Malcolm Turnbull’s government currently commands a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives. But Australia’s ruling coalition has now accused the opposition Labor party of planting a question in the New Zealand parliament in order to extract the information about Joyce’s nationality. Australian government minister Christopher Pyne accused the ALP of being part of a conspiracy to bring down the government. “Clearly the Labor party are involved in a conspiracy using a foreign government, in this case New Zealand, to try and bring down the Australian government,” he said. “How many other foreign governments, or foreign political parties in other countries, has the Labor party been colluding with to try to undermine the Australian government? “Has he been talking to the people in Indonesia, or China, or the Labour party in the UK?”

Joyce made the admission after media inquiries on the subject, but it subsequently also emerged that on 9 August the New Zealand Labour MP Chris Hipkins submitted two written questions to the internal affairs minister, Peter Dunne, in parliament, both of an unusual nature. “Are children born in Australia to parents who are New Zealand citizens automatically citizens of New Zealand; if not, what process do they need to follow in order to become New Zealand citizens?” Hipkins asked. He also asked: “Would a child born in Australia to a New Zealand father automatically have New Zealand citizenship?”

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What austerity also does.

Greek Population Set To Shrink Up To 18% By 2050 (K.)

A new study released by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development suggests that Greece is set to lose up to 18% of its population by the middle of the century. The deep economic crisis – which has hit young people especially hard and is identified as a key reason behind the country now having one of the lowest birth rates in the world – is cited as the primary cause of this decline, which has accelerated in recent years. According to the study, Greece had already lost nearly 3% of its population between 2011 and 2016. In 2016, Greece’s population stood at 10.8 million. That is expected to drop to 9.9 million by 2030 and 8.9 million by 2050. That is a nearly 18% decline in the country’s population over the next 33 years. Greece also has a rapidly aging population, with 21% already over the age of 65 and fewer than 100,000 babies being born each year. This percentage is currently the second highest in Europe, after Italy. Greece will have the highest ratio of pensioners to workers in Europe by 2050.

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They’re stuck in hell.

Sharp Fall In Number Of Refugees, Migrants Arriving In Italy (AFP)

Italy has seen a sharp fall in the number of migrants arriving on its shores, a decline that has left experts scrambling for an explanation. Summer is traditionally the peak season for migrants attempting the hazardous crossing of the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe. But, to much surprise, only 13,500 have arrived in Italy since July 1, compared to 30,500 over the same period in 2016 – a year-on-year fall of more than 55%. Many migrants are from poor sub-Saharan Africa, fleeing violence in their home country or desperate for a better life in prosperous Europe. “It’s still too early to talk of a real trend,” cautions Barbara Molinario, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

One mooted reason for the fall is tougher action by the Libyan coastguard. The force which has been strengthened by help from the European Union (EU), which trained about 100 personnel over the winter, while Italy has provided patrol vessels, recently supported by Italian warships in Libyan waters. But according to figures from UN’s International Office of Migration (IOM), the Libyan coastguard have intercepted fewer than 2,000 migrants since early July, compared to more than 4,000 in May. Another reason put forward to explain the decline is tougher action by NGOs who have been accused by critics of colluding with smugglers to pick up migrants at sea to prevent them from drowning. But these organisations have been involved in only a fraction of migrant rescues – and three NGO vessels are still operating in the hope of picking up those in need.

[..] Since 2014, 600,000 migrants have landed in Italy, but more than 14,000 have died. Italian newspapers which, just a few weeks ago, were accusing NGOs of abetting an influx that seemed uncontrollable have now switched to reports on the terrifying conditions faced by migrants in Libya. “Sending them back to Libya right now means sending than back to Hell,” the deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, said earlier this month.

Read more …

Jun 182017
 
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Thomas Cole Destruction of Empire 1836

 

The Conflicts Forum, directed by former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke, sent me another unpublished article by Alastair and asked if the Automatic Earth would publish it. But of course. Previous articles by Alastair published here are: ‘End of Growth’ Sparks Wide Discontent in October 2016, Obstacles to Trump’s ‘Growth’ Plans in November 2016 and What is this ‘Crisis’ of Modernity? in January 2017.

Here’s Alastair again:

 

 

Alastair Crooke: David Stockman routinely refers to President Trump as the ‘Great Disrupter’. But this is not a bad quality, he insists. Rather, it is a necessary one: Stockman argues (my paraphrasing) that Trump represents the outside force, the externality, that tips a ‘world system’ over the brink: It has to tip over the brink, because systems become too ossified, too far out on their ‘branch’ to be able to reform themselves. It does not really matter so much, whether the agency of this tipping process (President Trump in this instance), fully comprehends his pivotal role, or plays it out in an intelligent and subtle way, or in a heavy-handed, and unsubtle manner. Either serve the purpose. And that purpose is to disrupt.

Why should disruption be somehow a ‘quality’? It is because, during a period when ‘a system’ is coming apart, (history tells us), one can reach a point at which there is no possibility of revival within the old, but still prevailing, system. An externality of some sort – maybe war, or some other calamity or a Trump – is necessary to tip the congealed system ‘over’: thus, the external intrusion can be the catalyst for (often traumatic) transformational change.

Stockman puts it starkly: “the single most important thing to know about the present risk environment [he is pointing here to both the political risk as well as financial risk environment], is that it is extreme, and unprecedented. In essence, the ruling elites and their mainstream media megaphones have arrogantly decided that the 2016 [US Presidential] election was a correctible error”.

But complacency simply is endemic: “The utter fragility of the latest and greatest Fed bubble could not be better proxied than in this astounding fact. To wit, during the last 5,000 trading days (20 years), the VIX (a measure of market volatility) has closed below 10 on just 11 occasions. And 7 of those have been during the last month! … That’s complacency begging to be monkey-hammered”, Stockman says.

Former Presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan concurs: “President Trump may be chief of state, head of government and commander in chief, but his administration is shot through with disloyalists plotting to bring him down.

We are approaching something of a civil war where the capital city seeks the overthrow of the sovereign, and [to achieve] its own restoration. Thus far, it is a nonviolent struggle, though street clashes between pro- and anti-Trump forces are increasingly marked by fistfights and brawls. Police are having difficulty keeping people apart. A few have been arrested carrying concealed weapons.

That the objective of this city is to bring Trump down, via a deep state-media coup, is no secret. Few deny it.”

The extraordinary successful ‘manufacture’ and ‘parachuting-in’ of Macron into the French Presidential election by the French élite, precisely has given to the globalised Deep State (including their US counterparts), renewed confidence that Europe and America’s slide towards ‘populism’, is indeed a ‘correctable error’. European élites now can barely contain their revived schadenfreude at the Brexiters’ and at the Populists’ presumed discomfort (see here).

 


Thomas Cole Consummation of Empire 1836

 

But despite the palpable danger to the integrity of the political system itself, Stockman notes, “it is no inconsiderable understatement to suggest that the S&P 500 at 2440 is about as fragile as the ‘market’ has ever been.

Any untoward pinprick could send it into a tailspin … Doug Kass said it best in his recent commentary: “Over history, as we have learned, a Minksy Moment develops when investor sentiment becomes complacent after long periods of prosperity and the data is ignored, and doesn’t seem to matter anymore, as I wrote in “It’s a ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Market: Nothing Really Matters … to investors.” In short, the market has become ‘zombie’ (in the sense of residing within a psychological defence mechanism – as, when to contemplate the alternative – simply is too threatening to the psyche) [emphasis added].

Daniel Henninger, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, writes: “Donald Trump’s election has caused psychological unhingement in much of the population. But the Trump phenomenon only accelerated forces that were plummeting in this direction before the 2016 election…

“Impossible to miss, though, is how jacked up emotional intensity has become in American politics. The campaign rallies of both Mr. Trump and Bernie Sanders often sat on the edge of violence. Reporters describe political town hall meetings as full of “angry” voters. Shouting down the opposition in these forums or on campus has been virtually internalized as standard behavior. Refusal to reason is the new normal. And then, the unreason is euphemized as free speech.

Explaining away these impulses as a routine turn of the populist political cycle is insufficient. Something more permanent is happening.”

It is not, of course just the markets which are threatened by unperceived risk. Trump shall not be forgiven for challenging the sacrosant meme of a world divided between (good) ‘liberal’ democracies (led by the US and its European allies) and (bad) illiberal autocracies (led today, by President Putin’s Russia): by snubbing Nato and withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, Professor Michael Klare writes, “we’ve been told, President Trump is dismantling the liberal world order created by Franklin D Roosevelt at the end of World War II”.

 


Thomas Cole Destruction of Empire 1836
 

An offence, it seems, against something somehow sacral: recently, US comedienne Kathy Griffin posted a video of herself holding the bloody, severed head of Donald Trump. “But that wasn’t the end of it” Henninger notes. “We may assume that as Ms. Griffin was creating her video, the artists at New York’s Public Theatre, were rehearsing their production of Julius Caesar, the one in which Central Park audiences watch ‘Caesar’ as a blond-haired Donald Trump, who is pulled down from a podium by men in suits, and assassinated with plunging knives … Whatever once fastened the doors of people’s minds to something secure and stable has become unhinged.”

Mike Vlahos (Professor at the US Naval War college and John Hopkins) tells us that, as a military historian and global strategist, he became curious to know just why it is that ‘world systems’ do ‘come apart’. His first, intuitive sense was that their collapse generally was brought about by some massive external force such as war, pestilence or famine, and by the concomitant mass migrations of peoples.

But when he and his students completed their research, he concluded that though these factors had often played an important part, they were not the prime cause of the system coming apart. Rather, he identified a number of key triggers:

· The élites became stratified, and politics frozen
· The peoples’ allegiance became taken for granted, at the same time that the élites chose to ignore threats to the peoples’ way of life
· Social mobility declined, and change is fiercely resisted
· Rather, élites work to maximize their wealth and status.
· Elite authority becomes excessively militarized – and justified as ‘saving civilization’.

He concludes from this study, “the situation that we inhabit today […] here in the imperial city in Washington DC, is that it is absolutely hollowed out … it is incapable of offering anything to its own people, the American people … I think we have reached a point where there is no possibility of revival within the current system that exists. The current system is set upon … is determined to eat itself out in a kind of civil war that is coming, and at the end of that, it will be done, will be finished”.

“The Methoni, one of the great nations of the late Bronze Age, had this same problem with the élites and the 1% that we have today, and they were overthrown. That’s 3300 years ago, and it keeps happening again and again. And the very structure of the decadent relationships in late periods where élites refuse to accommodate, refuse to adapt, refuse to be sensitive to needs of the larger whole of society, means this has to happen. There has to be an overthrow … for things eventually to get better, to be renewed. In other words, you can’t renew from within”.

Is this the situation today? The pre-conditions that Professor Vlahos relates, in terms of élite hubris, self-regard, and disdain for the real concerns of people are there (the polarization of US society at the US election provides the empirical evidence for this). And Stockman, in calling Trump the ‘Great Disrupter’ plainly implies that he might be precisely the ‘externality’ (coming from outside the élite) – that might tip things ‘over’. This surely is what Stockman means when he warns about ‘the present risk environment’ being extreme.

Of course, the usual retort is that Trump offers no coherent alternative conceptual vision for the future, but only seized successfully upon a number of key insights: the power of cultural nationalism, the pain felt by the casualties of globalism, the impact of a hollowed-out US economy, and the need to put America first. This is true. These insights do not constitute a vision for the future, but why should one expect that, from the ‘Disrupter’? His ‘agency’ is that of catalyst, not that of final ‘constructor’. That comes later.

 


Thomas Cole Desolation of Empire 1836

 

So, from whence does ultimate societal renewal come? The classic answer is that after ‘disruption’ nothing much is left standing amidst the (metaphoric) ruins of whatever stood as the reigning ‘modernity’. Historically, renewal was effected through a communal ‘reaching back’- beyond the roots of whatever represented the contemporary crisis – to delve back, deep into the archetypal cultural history of a people. The rummaging in collective memory, allows a narrative to shape, about why the present ‘hurt’ befell its people, and to bring forward, transformed into contemporary meaning, some ‘solution’: a new meta-historical understanding.

Plainly, this (a type of spiritual renewal) is not President Trump’s ‘bag’. (Steve Bannon’s the more so, perhaps?)

What does all this mean in practical terms? First, it suggests that most of us still prefer not to address the stark reality that “the objective of this city (DC), is to bring Trump down, via a deep state-media coup” and the bitter political trench warfare, which this portends. We prefer to rest in complacency, (as zombies for now), until a crisis squarely hits us – in a personal way.

Secondly, thoughts of an easy return to the status quo ante (such as via Vice-President Pence standing-in), is problematic (Macron’s election in France notwithstanding). Since the élites (all of them), have, in their ‘war’ against ‘populists’ and deplorables, totally lost legitimacy and authority for a substantive part of their populations. And they will not – cannot – adapt. For, that is their nature. This is the moment, Professor Vlahos notes, when a system – i.e. US operational governance – begins to ‘come apart’. Individuals, cabals within government, whole departments of state, look to their own self-awarded ‘authority’, rather than to that of the government as mandated by the electorate.

Thus we have this past week, the Senate voting 97-2 to impose further sanctions on Russia. Another wrench jammed into Trump’s foreign policy wheels – and explicitly conceived to paralyse and impede the President.

Thirdly, the intent is – like some Amazonian reptile venom – to ‘bite’ him with so much innuendo and assorted investigations and further allegations, that Trump, like the reptile’s victim, remains awake – but incapable of moving a muscle: A true zombie, in fact, as the reptile feeds on its living corpse.

Fourth, this zombified US President, will shortly face the requirement to negotiate with Congress an exit from a bubbling financial sphere soaring upwards, whilst a moribund real economy trails downwards – under pressure from the fast-approaching debt-ceiling deadline. The Senate’s slap at the President’s face with the Russia sanctions vote suggests it is more likely that he will be tossed another spanner: this time aimed at the wheels of the ‘Trump reflation’ programme.

What other insights might history offer? Two, perhaps: Professor Vlahos, during his discussion with John Batchelor, the latter points out that, even at the very moment that the hub of the Roman Empire already had fallen apart, the collapsing Empire was celebrated the most, when it was imitated at the furthest edges of Empire: by the peoples of Gaul and Germany, for example. Are we not seeing the same today, in Europe, as Merkel and Macron vow to keep the liberal, globalist values of the American Empire alive — at the edges of the American Empire — in Europe?

And lastly, the constituency that historically led renewal? Professor Vlahos: “The Roman legions, the Czarist armies, the German Imperial armies and the Ottoman armies”.

The Pentagon élites should note well.

 

 

Mar 232017
 
 March 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Unknown GMC truck Associated Oil fuel tanker, San Francisco 1935

 

I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)
Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)
The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)
US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)
Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)
China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)
Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)
China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)
A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC
Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)
Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)
Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)
Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)
Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)
Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)
In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

 

 

So there.

I Don’t Think The US Should Remain As One Political Entity – Casey (IM)

What’s going on in the US now is a culture clash. The people that live in the so-called “red counties” that voted for Trump—which is the vast majority of the geographical area of the US, flyover country—are aligned against the people that live in the blue counties, the coasts and big cities. They don’t just dislike each other and disagree on politics; they can no longer even have a conversation. They hate each other on a visceral gut level. They have totally different world views. It’s a culture clash. I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.

There hasn’t been anything like this since the War Between the States, which shouldn’t be called “The Civil War,” because it wasn’t a civil war. A civil war is where two groups try to take over the same government. It was a war of secession, where one group simply tries to leave. We might have something like that again, hopefully nonviolent this time. I don’t think the US should any longer remain as one political entity. It should break up so that people with one cultural view can join that group and the others join other groups. National unity is an anachronism.

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Credibility.

Trump Tantrum Looms On Wall Street If Healthcare Effort Stalls (R.)

The Trump Trade could start looking more like a Trump Tantrum if the new U.S. administration’s healthcare bill stalls in Congress, prompting worries on Wall Street about tax cuts and other measures aimed at promoting economic growth. Investors are dialing back hopes that U.S. President Donald Trump will swiftly enact his agenda, with a Thursday vote on a healthcare bill a litmus test which could give stock investors another reason to sell. “If the vote doesn’t pass, or is postponed, it will cast a lot of doubt on the Trump trades,” said the influential bond investor Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive at DoubleLine Capital. U.S. stocks rallied after the November presidential election, with the S&P 500 posting a string of record highs up to earlier this month, on bets that the pro-growth Trump agenda would be quickly pushed by a Republican Party with majorities in both chambers of Congress.

The S&P 500 ended slightly higher on Wednesday, the day before a floor vote on Trump’s healthcare proposal scheduled in the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, stocks had the biggest one-day drop since before Trump won the election, on concerns about opposition to the bill. Investors extrapolated that a stalling bill could mean uphill battles for other Trump proposals. Trump and Republican congressional leaders appeared to be losing the battle to get enough support to pass it. Any hint of further trouble for Trump’s agenda, especially his proposed tax cut, could precipitate a stock market correction, said Byron Wien, veteran investor and vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners. “The fact that they are having trouble with (healthcare repeal) casts a shadow over the tax cut and the tax cut was supposed to be the principal fiscal stimulus for the improvement in real GDP,” Wien said. “Without that improvement in GDP, earnings aren’t going to be there and the market is vulnerable.”

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“This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral.”

The US Student Debt Bubble Is Even Bigger Than The Subprime Fiasco (Black)

In 1988, a bank called Guardian Savings and Loan made financial history by issuing the first ever “subprime” mortgage bond. The idea was revolutionary. The bank essentially took all the mortgages they had loaned to borrowers with bad credit, and pooled everything together into a giant bond that they could then sell to other banks and investors. The idea caught on, and pretty soon, everyone was doing it. As Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera describe in their excellent history of the financial crisis (All the Devils are Here), the first subprime bubble hit in the 1990s. Early subprime lenders like First Alliance Mortgage Company (FAMCO) had spent years making aggressive loans to people with bad credit, and eventually the consequences caught up with them. FAMCO declared bankruptcy in 2000, and many of its competitors went bust as well.

Wall Street claimed that it had learned its lesson, and the government gave them all a slap on the wrist. But it didn’t take very long for the madness to start again. By 2002, banks were already loaning money to high-risk borrowers. And by 2005, all conservative lending standards had been abandoned. Borrowers with pitiful credit and no job could borrow vast sums of money to buy a house without putting down a single penny. It was madness. By 2007, the total value of these subprime loans hit a whopping $1.3 trillion. Remember that number. And of course, we know what happened the next year: the entire financial system came crashing down. Duh. It turned out that making $1.3 trillion worth of idiotic loans wasn’t such a good idea. By 2009, 50% of those subprime mortgages were “underwater”, meaning that borrowers owed more money on the mortgage than the home was worth.

In fact, delinquency rates for ALL mortgages across the country peaked at 11.5% in 2010, which only extended the crisis. But hey, at least that’s never going to happen again. Except… I was looking at some data the other day in a slightly different market: student loans. Over the last decade or so, there’s been an absolute explosion in student loans, growing from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.31 trillion last year. So, the total value of student loans in America today is LARGER than the total value of subprime loans at the peak of the financial bubble. And just like the subprime mortgages, many student loans are in default. According to the Fed’s most recent Household Debt and Credit Report, the student loan default rate is 11.2%, almost the same as the peak mortgage default rate in 2010. This is particularly interesting because student loans essentially have no collateral. Lenders make loans to students… but it’s not like the students have to pony up their iPhones as security.

Read more …

You have to wonder what exactly is keeping the US economy afloat.

US Auto-Loan Quality To Deteriorate Further, Forcing Tighter Underwriting (MW)

Auto loan and lease credit performance will continue to deteriorate in 2017, led by the vulnerable subprime sector, Fitch Ratings said in a report released Wednesday. “Subprime credit losses are accelerating faster than the prime segment, and this trend is likely to continue as a result of looser underwriting standards by lenders in recent years,” said Michael Taiano, a director at the credit-ratings agency. Banks are starting to lose market share to captive auto finance companies and credit unions as they begin to tighten underwriting standards in response to deteriorating asset quality, Fitch said. According to the Federal Reserve’s January 2017 senior loan officer survey, 11.6% of respondents (net of those who eased) reported tightening standards, compared with the five-year average of 6.1%.

“This trend is consistent with comments made by several banks on earnings conference calls over the past couple of quarters,” Fitch said in the report. Fitch considers continued tightening by auto lenders as a credit-positive but it’s also paying attention to market nuances. The tightening, to date, primarily relates to pricing and loan-to-value (how much is still owed on the car compared to its resale value), but average loan terms continue to extend into the 72- to 84-month category. “The tightening of underwriting standards is likely a response to expected deterioration in used vehicle prices and the weaker credit performance experienced in the subprime segment,” added Taiano. Used-car price declines have accelerated more recently, which will likely pressure recovery values on defaulted loans and lease residuals, the analysts said.

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Might as well call off the theater.

Oil Price Drops Below $50 For First Time Since OPEC Deal (Tel.)

The oil price has fallen back below the key $50 a barrel mark for the first time since November after surging US oil supplies dealt a blow to OPEC’s plan to erode the global oversupply of crude. The flagging oil price bounded above $50 a barrel late last year after a historic co-operation deal between OPEC and the world’s largest oil producers outside of the cartel to limit output for the first half of this year. The November deal was the first action taken by the group to limit supply for over eight years but since then the quicker than expected return of fracking rigs across the US has punctured the buoyant market sentiment of recent months. Brent crude prices peaked at $56 a barrel earlier this year and were still above $52 this week.

But by Wednesday the price fell to just above $50 a barrel and briefly broke below the important psychological level to $49.86 on Wednesday afternoon. Market analysts fear that a more sustained period below $50 could trigger a sell-off from hedge funds which would drive even greater losses in the market. The price plunge was sparked by the latest weekly US stockpile data which revealed a bigger than expected increase of 5 million barrels a day compared to a forecast rise of 1.8 million barrels. The flood of US shale emerged a day after Libya announced that would increase its output to take advantage of higher revenues from its oil exports. “The market is increasingly worried that the continued overhang of supply is not being brought down fast enough,” said Ole Hansen, a commodities analyst with SaxoBank.

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Beijing forced to save the shadows.

China Shadow Banks Hit by Record Premium for One-Week Cash (ZH)

During the so-called Chinese Banking Liquidity Crisis of 2013, the relative cost of funds for non-bank institutions spiked to 100bps. So, the fact that the ‘shadow banking’ liquidity premium has exploded to almost 250 points – by far a record – in the last few days should indicate just how stressed Chinese money markets are. While interbank borrowing rates have climbed across the board, the surge has been unusually steep for non-bank institutions, including securities companies and investment firms. They’re now paying what amounts to a record premium for short-term funds relative to large Chinese banks, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The premium is reflected in the gap between China’s seven-day repurchase rate fixing and the weighted average rate, which, by Bloomberg notes, widened to as much as 2.47 percentage points on Wednesday after some small lenders were said to miss payments in the interbank market. Non-bank borrowers tend to have a greater influence on the fixing, while large banks have more sway over the weighted average. “It’s more expensive and difficult for non-bank financial institutions to get funding in the market,” said Becky Liu at Standard Chartered. “Bigger lenders who have access to regulatory funding are not lending much of the money out.” Without access to deposits or central bank liquidity facilities, many of China’s non-bank institutions must rely on volatile money markets. As Bloomberg points out, The People’s Bank of China has been guiding those rates higher in recent months to encourage a reduction of leverage, while also stepping in at times to prevent a liquidity crunch.

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State owned zombies.

Zombie Companies are China’s Real Problem (BBG)

China needs to take on its state-owned “zombie companies,” which keep borrowing even though they aren’t earning enough to repay loans or interest, says Nicholas Lardy of the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “That’s where the real problem is,” Lardy said Thursday in a Bloomberg Television interview from the Boao Forum for Asia, an annual conference on the southern Chinese island of Hainan. “It’s a component of the run-up in debt that they really have to focus on.” While flagging this concern, Lardy, a senior fellow at Peterson in Washington and author of “Markets Over Mao: The Rise of Private Business in China,” said anxiety over China’s debt growth is overstated. Household deposits will continue to underpin the banking and financial system, which means the situation with zombie firms is unlikely to reach a critical point.

Household savings are “very sticky, they’re not going anywhere, and the central bank can come in to the rescue if there are problems,” he said. Chinese corporate profits will probably continue to recover this year and after-tax earnings needed to service the debt load is improving, Lardy said. Another positive sign is a slowdown in the buildup of debt outstanding to non-financial companies. The combination of that slackening and companies’ increasing earning power “is improving the overall situation,” he said. When it comes to U.S. President Donald Trump’s negative rhetoric on China, the country’s leaders deserve “very high marks so far” for their cool reaction. “They’ve been waiting to see what Mr. Trump is actually going to do as opposed to what he’s talked about, so they haven’t overreacted,” he said. “They’ve made very careful preparations for the worst case if Trump does move in a very strong protectionist direction.”

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Zombies and junk.

China Debt Risks Go Global Amid Record Junk Sales Abroad (BBG)

China’s riskiest corporate borrowers are raising an unprecedented amount of debt overseas, leaving global investors to shoulder more credit risks after onshore defaults quadrupled in 2016. Junk-rated firms, most of which are property developers, have sold $6.1 billion of dollar bonds since Dec. 31, a record quarter, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In contrast, such borrowers have slashed fundraising at home as the central bank pushes up borrowing costs and regulators curb real estate financing. Onshore yuan note offerings by companies with local ratings of AA, considered junk in China, fell this quarter to the least since 2011 at 31.3 billion yuan ($4.54 billion). Global investors desperate for yield have lapped up offerings from China. Rates on dollar junk notes from the nation have dropped 81 basis points this year to 6.11%, near a record low, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch index.

Some investors have warned of froth. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said last month that it sees little value in the country’s high-yield property bonds. Hedge fund Double Haven Capital (Hong Kong) has said it is betting against Chinese junk securities. “Today’s market valuations are tight and investors are focusing on yields without taking into account credit risks,” said Raja Mukherji at PIMCO. “That’s where I see a lot of risk, where investors are not differentiating on credit quality on a risk-adjusted basis.” Lower-rated issuers turning to dollar debt after scrapping financing at home include Shandong Yuhuang Chemical on China’s east coast. The chemical firm canceled a 500 million yuan local bond sale in January citing “insufficient demand.” It then issued $300 million of three-year bonds at 6.625% this week. Some developers have grown desperate for cash as regulators tighten housing curbs and restrict their domestic fundraising. That’s raising concern among international investors in China’s real estate sector who have been burned before.

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Priceless humor: “Congress has already raised the alarm.” After three decades, that is.

A Fake $3.6 Trillion Deal Is Easy to Sneak Past the SEC

A few hours after the New York market close on Feb. 1, an obscure Chicago artist by the name of Antonio Lee told the world he had become the world’s richest man. The 32-year-old painter said Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc., had bought his art company in exchange for a chunk of stock that made him wealthier than Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos – combined. Of course, none of it was true. Yet, on that day, Lee managed to issue his fabricated report in the most authoritative of places: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Edgar database – the foundation of hundreds of billions of dollars in financial transactions each day. For more than three decades, the SEC has accepted online submissions of regulatory filings – basically, no questions asked.

As many as 800,000 forms are filed each year, or about 3,000 per weekday. But, in a little known vulnerability at the heart of American capitalism, the government doesn’t vet them, and rarely even takes down those known to be shams. “The SEC can’t stop them,” said Lawrence West, a former SEC associate enforcement director. “They can only punish the filer afterward and remove the filing from the system. So, caveat lector – let the reader beware.” Congress has already raised the alarm. For its part, the SEC, which declined to comment, has said those who make filings are responsible for their truthfulness and that only a handful have been reported as bogus. Submitting false information exposes the culprit to SEC civil-fraud charges, or even federal criminal prosecution.

On May 14, 2015, Nedko Nedev, a dual citizen of the United States and Bulgaria, filed an SEC form indicating he was making a tender offer – an outright purchase – for Avon, the cosmetics company. Avon’s shares jumped 20% before trading was halted, and the company denied the news. (A federal grand jury later indicted Nedev on market manipulation and other charges.) After the fraudulent Avon filing, U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican and former chairman of the Finance Committee, told the SEC it must review its posting standards. “This pattern of fraudulent conduct is troubling, especially in light of the relative ease in which a fake posting can be made,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the agency. In response, Mary Jo White, who then chaired the SEC, said it wouldn’t be feasible to check information. She noted that there were on average 125 first-time filers daily in 2014, and the agency was studying whether its authentication process could be strengthened without delaying disclosure of key information to investors.

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Only a major reset will do.

Elite Economists: Often Wrong, Never In Doubt (720G)

Since the U.S. economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, institutional economists began each subsequent year outlining their well-paid view of how things will transpire over the course of the coming 12-months. Like a broken record, they have continually over-estimated expectations for growth, inflation, consumer spending and capital expenditures. Their optimistic biases were based on the eventual success of the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) plan to restart the economy by encouraging the assumption of more debt by consumers and corporations alike. But in 2017, something important changed. For the first time since the financial crisis, there will be a new administration in power directing public policy, and the new regime could not be more different from the one that just departed. This is important because of the ubiquitous influence of politics.

The anxiety and uncertainties of those first few years following the worst recession since the Great Depression gradually gave way to an uncomfortable stability. The anxieties of losing jobs and homes subsided but yielded to the frustration of always remaining a step or two behind prosperity. While job prospects slowly improved, wages did not. Business did not boom as is normally the case within a few quarters of a recovery, and the cost of education and health care stole what little ground most Americans thought they were making. Politics was at work in ways with which many were pleased, but many more were not. If that were not the case, then Donald Trump probably would not be the 45th President of the United States. Within hours of Donald Trump’s victory, U.S. markets began to anticipate, for the first time since the financial crisis, an escape hatch out of financial repression and regulatory oppression.

As shown below, an element of economic and financial optimism that had been missing since at least 2008 began to re-emerge. What the Fed struggled to manufacture in eight years of extraordinary monetary policy actions, the election of Donald Trump accomplished quite literally overnight. Expectations for a dramatic change in public policy under a new administration radically improved sentiment. Whether or not these changes are durable will depend upon the economy’s ability to match expectations.

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I find the Trump bashing parade very tiresome, but Matt’s funny.

Trump the Destroyer (Matt Taibbi)

There is no other story in the world, no other show to watch. The first and most notable consequence of Trump’s administration is that his ability to generate celebrity has massively increased, his persona now turbocharged by the vast powers of the presidency. Trump has always been a reality star without peer, but now the most powerful man on Earth is prisoner to his talents as an attention-generation machine. Worse, he is leader of a society incapable of discouraging him. The numbers bear out that we are living through a severely amplified déjà vu of last year’s media-Trump codependent lunacies. TV-news viewership traditionally plummets after a presidential election, but under Trump, it’s soaring. Ratings since November for the major cable news networks are up an astonishing 50% in some cases, with CNN expecting to improve on its record 2016 to make a billion dollars – that’s billion with a “b” – in profits this year.

Even the long-suffering newspaper business is crawling off its deathbed, with The New York Times adding 132,000 subscribers in the first 18 days after the election. If Trump really hates the press, being the first person in decades to reverse the industry’s seemingly inexorable financial decline sure is a funny way of showing it. On the campaign trail, ballooning celebrity equaled victory. But as the country is finding out, fame and governance have nothing to do with one another. Trump! is bigger than ever. But the Trump presidency is fast withering on the vine in a bizarre, Dorian Gray-style inverse correlation. Which would be a problem for Trump, if he cared. But does he? During the election, Trump exploded every idea we ever had about how politics is supposed to work. The easiest marks in his con-artist conquest of the system were the people who kept trying to measure him according to conventional standards of candidate behavior.

You remember the Beltway priests who said no one could ever win the White House by insulting women, the disabled, veterans, Hispanics, “the blacks,” by using a Charlie Chan voice to talk about Asians, etc. Now he’s in office and we’re again facing the trap of conventional assumptions. Surely Trump wants to rule? It couldn’t be that the presidency is just a puppy Trump never intended to care for, could it? Toward the end of his CPAC speech, following a fusillade of anti-media tirades that will dominate the headlines for days, Trump, in an offhand voice, casually mentions what a chore the presidency can be. “I still don’t have my Cabinet approved,” he sighs. In truth, Trump does have much of his team approved. In the early days of his administration, while his Democratic opposition was still reeling from November’s defeat, Trump managed to stuff the top of his Cabinet with a jaw-dropping collection of perverts, tyrants and imbeciles, the likes of which Washington has never seen.

En route to taking this crucial first beachhead in his invasion of the capital, Trump did what he always does: stoked chaos, created hurricanes of misdirection, ignored rules and dared the system of checks and balances to stop him. By conventional standards, the system held up fairly well. But this is not a conventional president. He was a new kind of candidate and now is a new kind of leader: one who stumbles like a drunk up Capitol Hill, but manages even in defeat to continually pull the country in his direction, transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time.

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Tourism is a very big source of income for Turkey. Erdogan’s killing it off with a vengeance.

Erdogan Warns Europeans ‘Will Not Walk Safely’ If Attitude Persists (R.)

President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that Europeans would not be able to walk safely on the streets if they kept up their current attitude toward Turkey, his latest salvo in a row over campaigning by Turkish politicians in Europe. Turkey has been embroiled in a dispute with Germany and the Netherlands over campaign appearances by Turkish officials seeking to drum up support for an April 16 referendum that could boost Erdogan’s powers. Ankara has accused its European allies of using “Nazi methods” by banning Turkish ministers from addressing rallies in Europe over security concerns. The comments have led to a sharp deterioration in ties with the European Union, which Turkey still aspires to join.

“Turkey is not a country you can pull and push around, not a country whose citizens you can drag on the ground,” Erdogan said at an event for Turkish journalists in Ankara, in comments broadcast live on national television. “If Europe continues this way, no European in any part of the world can walk safely on the streets. Europe will be damaged by this. We, as Turkey, call on Europe to respect human rights and democracy,” he said. Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier used his first speech as president on Wednesday to warn Erdogan that he risked destroying everything his country had achieved in recent years, and that he risked damaging diplomatic ties. “The way we look (at Turkey) is characterized by worry, that everything that has been built up over years and decades is collapsing,” Steinmeier said in his inaugural speech in the largely ceremonial role. He called for an end to the “unspeakable Nazi comparisons.”

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Can’t let a little crisis get in the way of your champagne and caviar.

Lavish EU Rome Treaty Summit Will Skirt Issues in Stumbling Italy (BBG)

As leaders celebrate the European Union’s 60th birthday in Rome this weekend, the host nation may be hoping that a pomp-filled ceremony distracts from any probing questions. Overshadowed by the sting of Brexit and elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, Italy’s lingering problems have left it as the weak link among Europe’s powerhouse economies. It’s stumbling through a stop-start slow recovery from a record-long recession, unemployment is twice that of Germany’s, and voters, weary of EU institutions, are flirting with the same kind of populism grabbing attention elsewhere. The gathering on Saturday on the city’s Capitol hill is to celebrate the Treaty of Rome, the bedrock agreement signed on March 25, 1957 for what is now the EU.

From its beginnings as the European Economic Community – with Italy among the six founding members – it has since grown to a union of 28 nations stretching 4,000 kilometers from Ireland in the northwest to Cyprus in the southeast. The U.K. is heading toward a lengthy exit from the EU known as Brexit, raising questions among the remaining 27 about the bloc’s long-term future. “Italy was until very recently at the forefront of the European integration process,” Luigi Zingales, professor of finance at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said in an interview. “Today it’s undoubtedly Europe’s weakest link.” The economy grew just 0.9% last year, below the euro area’s 1.7%, and unemployment is at 11.9%. A recent EU poll put Italy as the monetary union’s second-most euro-skeptic state after Cyprus with only 41% saying the single currency is “a good thing.” The average in the 19-member euro area is 56%.

That widespread disenchantment may be felt at elections due in about one year. A poll published on Tuesday by Corriere della Sera put support for the Five Star Movement, which calls for a referendum to ditch the euro, at a record 32.3%, well ahead of the ruling Democratic Party. Summit host Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has only been in power since December, when Matteo Renzi resigned after losing a constitutional reform referendum. For Zingales, Italy has problems that European policy makers “would rather not talk about now as they don’t want to scare people.” That’s because across the bloc, politicians are still fighting voter resentment over the loss of wealth since the financial crisis, bitterness about bailouts and anger over a perceived increase in inequality. “Sixty years after the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the risk of political paralysis in Europe has never been greater,” Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told a conference in Rome this month.

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The EU can celebrate only because it’s murdering one of its members. Greece needs stimulus but gets the opposite.

Greek Consumption Slumps Further In 2017 (K.)

The year has started with some alarm bells regarding the course of consumer spending, generating concern not only about the impact on the supermarket sector and industry, but also on the economy in general. In the first week of March the year-on-year drop in supermarket turnover amounted to 15%, while in January the decline had come to 10%. Shrinking consumption is a sure sign that the economic contraction will be extended into another year, given its important role in the economy. The new indirect taxes on a number of commodities, the increased social security contributions, the persistently high unemployment and the ongoing uncertainty over the bailout review talks have hurt consumer confidence and eroded disposable incomes.

In this context, it will be exceptionally difficult to achieve the fiscal targets, especially if the uncertainty goes on or is ended with the imposition of additional austerity measures that would only see incomes shrink further. According to projections by IRI market researchers, supermarket sales in 2017 are expected to decline 3.6% from last year, with the worst-case scenario pointing to a 4.4% drop. Supermarket sales turnover dropped at the steepest rate seen in the crisis years in 2016, down 6.5%, after falling 2.1% in 2015, 1.4% in 2014, 3.5% in 2013 and 3.4% in 2012.

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“For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever.”

Nine Years Later, Greece Is Still In A Debt Crisis.. (Black)

Greece has had nine different governments since 2009. At least thirteen austerity measures. Multiple bailouts. Severe capital controls. And a full-out debt restructuring in which creditors accepted a 50% loss. Yet despite all these measures GREECE IS STILL IN A DEBT CRISIS. Right now, in fact, Greece is careening towards another major chapter in its never-ending debt drama. Just like the United States, the Greek government is set to run out of money (yet again) in a few months and is in need of a fresh bailout from the IMF and EU. (The EU is code for “Germany”…) Without another bailout, Greece will go bust in July– this is basic arithmetic, not some wild theory. And this matters. If Greece defaults, everyone dumb enough to have loaned them money will take a BIG hit. This includes a multitude of banks across Germany, Austria, France, and the rest of Europe.

Many of those banks already have extremely low levels of capital and simply cannot afford a major loss. (Last year, for example, the IMF specifically singled out Germany’s Deutsche Bank as being the top contributor to systemic risk in the global financial system.) So a Greek default poses as major risk to a number of those banks. More importantly, due to the interconnectedness of the financial system, a Greek default poses a major risk to anyone with exposure to those banks. Think about it like this: if Greece defaults and Bank A goes down, then Bank A will no longer be able to meet its obligations to Bank B. Bank B will suffer a loss as well. A single event can set off a chain reaction, what’s called ‘contagion’ in finance. And it’s possible that Greece could be that event. This is what European officials have been so desperate to prevent for the last nine years, and why they’ve always come to the rescue with a bailout.

It has nothing to do with community or generosity. They’re hopelessly trying to prevent another 2008-style meltdown of the financial system. But their measures have limits. How much longer do Greek citizens accept being vassals of Germany, suffering through debilitating capital controls and austerity measures? How much longer do German taxpayers continue forking over their hard-earned wages to bail out Greek retirees? After all, they’ve spent nine years trying to ‘fix’ Greece, and the situation has only become worse. For a continent that has been at war with itself for 10 centuries and only managed to play nice for the last 30 or so years, it’s foolish to expect these bailouts to last forever. And whether it’s this July or some date in the future, Greece could end up being the catalyst which sets off a chain reaction on both sides of the Atlantic.

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It’s time for lawyers to step in.

In Greece, Europe’s New Rules Strip Refugees Of Right To Seek Protection (K.)

EU leaders are celebrating a year since they carved out the agreement with Turkey that stemmed the flood of refugees seeking to escape war and strife on Europe’s doorstep. But the importance of the agreement goes far beyond the fact that it has contributed to deterring refugees from coming to Greece. At the Norwegian Refugee Council, we fear that the system Europe is putting in place in Greece is slowly stripping people of their right to seek international protection. Greece took the positive step to enshrine in law some key checks and balances to protect the vulnerable – a victim of torture, a disabled person, an unaccompanied child – so they could have their asylum case heard on the Greek mainland rather than remaining on the islands.

But a European Commission action plan is putting Greece under pressure to change safeguards enshrined in Greek law. NRC, along with other human rights and humanitarian organizations, wrote an open letter to the Greek Parliament this month urging lawmakers to keep that protection for those most in need. Importantly, this is just another quiet example of how what is happening in Greece is setting precedents that may irrevocably change the 1951 Refugee Convention. Europe is testing things out in Greece. [..] It was Europe and its postwar crisis that led to the 1951 convention that protects those displaced by war. Now that convention risks expiring on the doorstep of the same continent that gave birth to it – Europe is in danger of becoming, as NRC’s Secretary-General Jan Egeland has said, the convention’s “burial agent.”

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Nov 172016
 
 November 17, 2016  Posted by at 9:46 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Salvation Army, San Francisco, California. Unemployed young men 1939

Who’ll Get Hit by Fallout of $11 Trillion US Commercial Property Bubble? (WS)
US Mortgage Applications Crash 30% As Borrowing Rates Surge (ZH)
Congressional Panel Urges Ban On China State Firms Buying US Companies (R.)
Foreign Central Banks Liquidate Record $375 Billion In US Paper (ZH)
Panic In India As Gold Price Skyrockets After Currency Ban (AM)
Modi May Need Six More Months to Replace India’s Junk Banknotes (BBG)
NATO Prepares for Trump Presidency (Spiegel)
Singapore’s Recession Risk Rises As October Exports Show 12% Decline (R.)
China Civil War Is the Real Black Swan (RV)
You Are Still Crying Wolf (Scott Alexander)
One In Three UK Working Families Struggle To Pay Energy Bills (G.)
Canadian Province To Give Every Citizen $1,320 Basic Income (Ind.)
Obama Defends Globalization On Germany Visit (BBC)
Athens Clings To Obama’s Words As Focus Shifts To Berlin (Kath.)
Schaeuble Crushes Greek Debt Relief Hopes that Obama May Have Sowed (GR)
37.8% of Greek Children At Risk Of Poverty (Kath.)
Drowning Deaths In Mediterranean Already 20% Higher Than All Of Last Year (G.)

 

 

“The Green Street Commercial Property Price Index has soared 107% from the trough in May 2009 and now exceeds the peak of the totally crazy bubble in 2007 by 26%“.

Who’ll Get Hit by Fallout of $11 Trillion US Commercial Property Bubble? (WS)

Warnings about the loans, bonds, and commercial-mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) tied to the vast $11-trillion commercial property sector in the US have been hailing down for months. Moody’s Investor Services just warned about the rising delinquency rate of some $360 billion in CMBS it rates. Delinquencies of 60+ days jumped from 4.6% last year to 5.6% in September. Fitch Ratings has been fretting about valuations in the sector, and CMBS, for months. “Valuation and lending trends are not sustainable in the medium term,” it said most recently in its November report. It pinpointed debt backed by apartment buildings as a particular trouble spot. But now it’s also fretting about construction loans, which “experienced the highest loss severity in the last crisis, and we expect a similar trend in the next downturn,” it said.

It’s worried about the banks, whose commercial real estate (CRE) lending has reached “record levels”: “All of the most concentrated banks – those with more than 300% of risk-based capital in CRE – have less than $50 billion in assets and most have assets below $10 billion. These smaller banks also have varying degrees of sophistication in their risk management practices.” Fitch laments that the “timing and severity of this softening is uncertain and depends on factors including interest rates and overall economic conditions.” Alas, since the report was released on Election Day, interest rates have alread jumped. This comes at the worst possible moment, at the peak of the most gigantic CRE price bubble the US has ever seen. The Green Street Commercial Property Price Index has soared 107% from the trough in May 2009 and now exceeds the peak of the totally crazy bubble in 2007 by 26%:

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Let’s see if a normal economy can still work.

US Mortgage Applications Crash 30% As Borrowing Rates Surge (ZH)

Dear Janet…In the last few months, as The Fed has jawboned a rate hike into markets, mortgage applications in America have collapsed 30% to 10-month lows – plunging over 9% in the last week as mortgage rates approach 4.00%.

 

We suspect the divergent surge in homebuilders is overdone…

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“We don’t want the U.S. government purchasing companies in the United States, why would we want the Chinese Communist government purchasing companies in the United States?”

Congressional Panel Urges Ban On China State Firms Buying US Companies (R.)

U.S. lawmakers should take action to ban China’s state-owned firms from acquiring U.S. companies, a congressional panel charged with monitoring security and trade links between Washington and Beijing said on Wednesday. In its annual report to Congress, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the Chinese Communist Party has used state-backed enterprises as the primary economic tool to advance and achieve its national security objectives. The report recommended Congress prohibit U.S. acquisitions by such entities by changing the mandate of CFIUS, the U.S. government body that conducts security reviews of proposed acquisitions by foreign firms.

“The Commission recommends Congress amend the statute authorizing the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to bar Chinese state-owned enterprises from acquiring or otherwise gaining effective control of U.S. companies,” the report said. CFIUS, led by the U.S. Treasury and with representatives from eight other agencies, including the departments of Defense, State and Homeland Security, now has veto power over acquisitions from foreign private and state-controlled firms if it finds that a deal would threaten U.S. national security or critical infrastructure. If enacted, the panel’s recommendation would essentially create a blanket ban on U.S. purchases by Chinese state-owned enterprises.

The panel’s report is purely advisory, but could carry extra weight this year because they come as President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is formulating its trade and foreign policy agenda and vetting candidates for key economic and security positions. Congress also could be more receptive, after U.S. voter sentiment against job losses to China and Mexico helped Republicans retain control of both the House and the Senate in last week’s election. Trump strongly criticized China throughout the U.S. election campaign, grabbing headlines with his pledges to slap 45 percent tariffs on imported Chinese goods and to label the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office. “Chinese state owned enterprises are arms of the Chinese state,” Dennis Shea, chairman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, told a news conference. “We don’t want the U.S. government purchasing companies in the United States, why would we want the Chinese Communist government purchasing companies in the United States?”

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Normalization?

Foreign Central Banks Liquidate Record $375 Billion In US Paper (ZH)

One month ago, when we last looked at the Fed’s update of Treasuries held in custody, we noted something troubling: the number had dropped sharply, declining by over $22 billion in one week, one of the the biggest weekly declines since January 2015, pushing the total amount of custodial paper to $2.805 trillion, the lowest since 2012. One month later, we refresh this chart and find that in last week’s update, foreign central banks continued their relentless liquidation of US paper held in the Fed’s custody account, which tumbled by another $14 billion over the course of a week, pushing the total amount of custodial paper to $2.788 trillion, a new post-2012 low.

Today, to corroborate the disturbing weekly slide in the Fed’s custody data, we also got the latest monthly Treasury International Capital data for the month of September, which showed that the troubling trend presented one month ago, has accelerated to an unprecedented degree. Recall that a month ago,  we reported that in the latest 12 months we have observed a not so stealthy, actually make that a massive $343 billion in Treasury selling by foreign central banks in the period July 2015- August 2016, something unprecedented in size. Fast forward to today when in the latest monthly update for the month of September, we find that what until a month ago was “merely” a record $346.4 billion in offshore central bank sales in the LTM period ending  August 31 has – one month later – risen to a new all time high $374.7 billion, or well over a third of a trillion in Treasuries sold in the past 12 months. 

Among the biggest sellers – on a market-price basis – not surprisingly was China, which in August “sold” $28 billion in US paper (the actual underlying number while different, as this particular series is adjusted for Mark to Market variations, will be similar), bringing its total to $1.157 trillion, the lowest amount of US paper held by Beijing since 2012.

It wasn’t just China: Saudi Arabia also continued to sell its TSY holdings, and in August its stated holdings (which again have to be adjusted for MTM), dropped from $93Bn to $89Bn, the lowest since the summer of 2014. This was the 8th consecutive month of Treasury sales by the Kingdom, which held $124 billion in TSYs in January, and has since sold nearly 30% of its US paper holdings.

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Eyewitness: “97% of the Indian economy is cash-based. With 88% of all outstanding currency no longer usable, the economy is coming to a standstill.”

Panic In India As Gold Price Skyrockets After Currency Ban (AM)

I went to convert my banned banknotes into new ones. The largest amount one can have converted is Rs 4,000 ($60), until further notice. There was a huge rush of people at the bank. Arguments were erupting, as people refused to stand in queues and the banks gave no explanation of what needed to be done. Fights were breaking out. Amid the chaos I finally learned that there were three queues I had to go through in a sequence. I had to get a form from one counter, which I had to fill in with my name and address, my ID card details, the serial numbers of all the bills I wanted to exchange, and my cell-phone number. At the second counter, I then had to present the completed form along with a photocopy of my ID card. I had to sign on the photocopy which an official then stamped.

With my banknotes, the form and the photocopy of my ID card, I then went to the next queue to get my currency converted at a third counter. The whole process took about two hours. For most people in the busier parts of the cities, it took much longer.Anyone who thinks that a country which wastes two hours of every citizen’s life to convert his own $60 can ever hope to be an economic power is drinking too much Kool-Aid and cannot do primary level math. Forget any possibility of removing unaccounted for money or reducing corruption, what Modi is doing is a recipe for the destruction of whatever legitimate economy there is. That same afternoon, I went to the post office with a friend who wanted to get his money converted. After waiting a long time there, we found out that the post office had run out of cash.

Since then most ATMs have had limited amounts of cash available and banks keep running out of cash as well. The queues have continued to grow. People start lining up late into the night waiting for banks to open and still have to go back home with no cash. What started with two hours of queuing is becoming an endless slog now. Half of India’s citizens do not have a bank account and around 25% do not even have an ID card. These are the country’s poorest people, who have no way of converting their money – even if they learn how to do it, which is already a nigh insurmountable hurdle. Also, those who are old, disabled or sick have no choice but to suffer, for without personally visiting a bank branch office, one cannot convert one’s banknotes. 97% of the Indian economy is cash-based. With 88% of all outstanding currency no longer usable, the economy is coming to a standstill.

The daily-wage laborer, who leads a hand-to-mouth existence in a country with GDP per capita of a mere $1,600, no longer has work, as his employer has no cash to pay his wages. His life is in utter chaos. He is not as smart as Modi — despite the fact that Modi has no real life experience except as a bully and perhaps in his early days as a tea-seller at a train-station. He has no clue where his life is headed from here. These people are going hungry, and some have begun to raid food shops. People are dying for lack of treatment at hospitals. Old people are dying in the endless queues. Some are killing themselves, as they are unable to comprehend the situation and simply don’t know what to do. There are now hundreds of such stories in the media.

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There are now voices that claim Modi used the measure to deprive oppositon parties of their campaign cash. Elections coming up in a key state.

Modi May Need Six More Months to Replace India’s Junk Banknotes (BBG)

For Indians expecting respite from the government’s clampdown on cash, here’s a reality check: it probably won’t come soon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration may need until May 2017 to replenish the stock of now worthless bills, according to Saumitra Chaudhuri, an economist who advised Modi’s predecessor. The government on Nov. 8 banned 500 ($7.5) and 1,000 rupee notes in a surprise move against graft and tax evasion. Delays in replacing the currency risk prolonging the pain in the $2 trillion economy, where about 98 percent of consumer payments are made in cash. Deutsche Bank predicts the crunch could easily shave off a half-point from India’s growth in October-December, which could imperil its position as the world’s fastest-growing major market.

This is how Chaudhuri reached his conclusion, which he published in a blog post on the Economic Times’ website: Extrapolating from central bank data, he estimates that Modi’s move sucked out about 16.6 billion notes of the 500-denomination, and 6.7 billion 1,000-rupee bills. That means more than 23 billion notes totaling 15 trillion rupees. Modi intends to replace these with new 2,000-rupee and 500-rupee bills. However, Bharatiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Pvt., which prints the higher denomination currency, has a stated capacity of just 1.3 billion notes a month. That’s with working double shifts. Raise this to triple shifts and it becomes 2 billion bills, which means it will need until the end of 2016 to replenish in value the 1,000-rupee notes.

Security Printing & Minting Corporation of India Ltd., whose capacity Chaudhuri estimates at 1 billion pieces a month, will need several more months to meet the 500-rupee target, even if it joins forces with BRBNM, he said. “Ergo, currency shortages will remain with us for many months and economic contraction will rule this period,” he wrote. “At the end of the period, confidence will be at new lows and recovery will take time.” In what could make matters worse, the presses – busy with the new bills – have almost completely stopped printing 100-rupee notes, Bloomberg Quint reported Wednesday citing central bank sources it didn’t name. These bills are the bread-and-butter of India’s $780 billion informal economy, which employs more than 90 percent of the workforce.

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“..at the next NATO summit, in the spring of 2017, and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had planned to extend a hearty welcome to the new US president, Hillary Clinton.” “..even the female English pronouns “she” and “her” had crept into internal written correspondence..”

NATO Prepares for Trump Presidency (Spiegel)

Everything had been so perfectly planned. Construction of the new NATO headquarters building near the Brussels Airport, a giant glass-and-steel structure to house the world’s most powerful military alliance in the future, will have cost more than €1 billion ($1.07 billion) by the time it opens next year. The mammoth building was supposed to be officially dedicated at the next NATO summit, in the spring of 2017, and Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had planned to extend a hearty welcome to the new US president, Hillary Clinton. At least that’s how officials at NATO headquarters planned it. Anything else seemed unthinkable. So unthinkable that even the female English pronouns “she” and “her” had crept into internal written correspondence to refer to the future occupant of the White House.

But there will be no female president. Instead of Clinton, a reliable partner and good, old acquaintance in many trans-Atlantic circles, Donald Trump will be coming to Brussels – the same man who described the alliance as “obsolete” in his campaign. If he even comes, that is. Fearing that Trump won’t even attend the NATO summit, only a few weeks after his inauguration, the alliance has postponed the event. A meeting of NATO leaders without the presence of the American president, after all, would be a signal of its decline. Now organizers are envisioning a date next summer, in the hope that, by then, Trump will have recognized that the United States will also need NATO in the future. There are enormous doubts that this will happen. Consternation over the election of Donald Trump as the next US president is especially great within the Brussels alliance.

[..] In their most favorable scenario, the NATO strategists assumed that the new US president would only strictly insist that the Europeans spend more money on their security. During the campaign, after all, Trump left no doubt that he intends to radically change burden sharing within the Western alliance. One of Trump’s closest advisers, General Mike Flynn, the former head of US military intelligence, told SPIEGEL in an interview in July that, when it comes to money, Trump will pay little attention to the carefully tended harmony in the alliance. “We have to have these alliances going forward and see who’s going to pay for them,” Flynn said. He added that “NATO as a political alliance does need to be relooked at in terms of everything, (including) resourcing and capabilities,” soon after Trump’s administration takes office.

At the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, the member states agreed to a goal of spending 2% of their national GDP on defense. But few countries are currently meeting that goal. Germany, the second-strongest economy in the alliance, next to the United States, spends only 1.19% of its GDP on defense. Trump is now threatening to make the mutual defense commitment under Article 5 dependent on fulfilling this goal, or even to increase the%age. For Germany, 2% would already signify a dramatic increase in the defense budget, from about €34 billion today to roughly €65 billion. In any case, NATO officials are preparing themselves for growing demands on the Europeans. “Europe has no other choice: It has to strengthen the European column in NATO,” says EU foreign policy expert Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party.

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Global trade again. Plummeting exports and imports across Asia.

Singapore’s Recession Risk Rises As October Exports Show 12% Decline (R.)

Singapore’s exports in October shrank more than expected as sales to major markets fell, with those to Europe contracting sharply and raising risks of a recession in the trade-dependent economy. Non-oil domestic exports (NODX) skidded 12% last month from a year earlier, the trade agency International Enterprise Singapore said in a statement on Thursday, far worse than the median forecast of a 3.5% decline in a Reuters poll. In September, overseas shipments slumped a revised 5% on-year though the decline in sales to China slowed. On a month-on-month, seasonally adjusted basis, exports decreased 3.7% in October, missing a forecast of a 1% slide in the survey. Exports to the EU contracted 28.6% last month from a year earlier, compared with 9.9% growth in September. Contraction in sales of pharmaceuticals, non-electric engines & motors, as well as personal computers led the decline in October.

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It’s not even a black swan. I’ve warned of this risk for a long time. Without constructing bubble upon bubble, and without the shadow system that finances them, China has a long way to fall.

China Civil War Is the Real Black Swan (RV)

TL Tsim has studied the Chinese political scene since the 1980s, with a background in journalism, including the South China Morning Post and Hong Kong Economic Journal before starting his own consultancy. In an interview with Real Vision TV he said the greatest misconception among its people is that Chinese dynasties are super stable structures that last a long time. That’s not really the case, he argued, because none of them lasted longer than the Habsburgs in Austria, who ruled for over 800 years. The last one in China – the Qing dynasty – lasted 260 years, which is much shorter in comparison. People also underestimate the length of the civil wars between Chinese dynasties, which can last for 150 years, he adds. “That is something most Chinese people do not understand. And it has a bearing on the way we go forward,” Tsim said.

“In spite of all of the intelligence, the learning, and the experience of the Chinese people over 5,000 years, they have not come up with a system of government which can deal with the effective and peaceful transfer of power. In the West, you do it through the ballot box. So Brexit is Brexit. You accept it. But in China, the fight goes on.” The shortest dynasty of any size and power in Chinese history was the Yuan dynasty, which lasted just less than 100 years, Tsim said. “This government, this administration, the Chinese Communist Party, came to power in 1949. And so it’s been around for 67 years. “We don’t know when something like the Russian collapse, the implosion of the former Soviet Union might take place. We don’t know whether this is going to be the Yugoslavian model, when the country broke up into six or seven parts. So to speculate on the timing of it is something I do not do.“

But it is not idle to speculate on how this is going to happen. The most likely scenario is a power struggle over-spilling into a coup d’etat and then over-spilling into civil war. That would be the trajectory.” The real concern for Tsim – and he said for the Chinese leaders as well– is that if you look at the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the problem was internal, arising out of disagreements within the center of the party itself. [..] “And sadly, I think we’re not going to see a Yugoslavian model either, because there they did have a civil war. But the civil war– the war was small, in terms of size and scale, and didn’t last very long. That is not the Chinese model either. The Chinese model is a bitter, long-standing civil war– very destructive, very divisive. This is the real black swan.”

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I know many people won’t like to, but I would recommend reading at least part of this very long expose. How racist is Trump? And how do you know?

You Are Still Crying Wolf (Scott Alexander)

Back in October 2015, I wrote that the media narrative of Trump as “the white power candidate” and “the first openly white supremacist candidate to have a shot at the Presidency in the modern era” were being fabricated out of thin air. I said that “the media narrative that Trump is doing some kind of special appeal-to-white-voters voodoo is unsupported by any polling data”, and predicted that: “If Trump were the Republican nominee, he could probably count on equal or greater support from minorities as Romney or McCain before him.” Well, guess what? The votes are in, and Trump got greater support from minorities than Romney or McCain before him. You can read the Washington Post article, Trump Got More Votes From People Of Color Than Romney Did, or look at the raw data.

Trump made big gains among blacks. He made big gains among Latinos. He made big gains among Asians. The only major racial group where he didn’t get a gain of greater than 5% was white people. I want to repeat that: the group where Trump’s message resonated least over what we would predict from a generic Republican was the white population. Nor was there some surge in white turnout. I don’t think we have official numbers yet, but by eyeballing what data we have it looks very much like whites turned out in equal or lesser numbers this year than in 2012, 2008, and so on. The media responded to all of this freely available data with articles like White Flight From Reality: Inside The Racist Panic That Fueled Donald Trump’s Victory and Make No Mistake: Donald Trump’s Win Represents A Racist “Whitelash”.

I stick to my thesis from October 2015. There is no evidence that Donald Trump is more racist than any past Republican candidate (or any other 70 year old white guy, for that matter). All this stuff about how he’s “the candidate of the KKK” and “the vanguard of a new white supremacist movement” is made up. It’s a catastrophic distraction from the dozens of other undeniable problems with Trump that could have convinced voters to abandon him. That it came to dominate the election cycle should be considered a horrifying indictment of our political discourse, in the same way that it would be a horrifying indictment of our political discourse if the entire Republican campaign had been based around the theory that Hillary Clinton was a secret Satanist. Yes, calling Romney a racist was crying wolf. But you are still crying wolf.

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But today’s headlines are all about unemployment reaching 11-year lows. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?!

One In Three UK Working Families Struggle To Pay Energy Bills (G.)

One in three working families struggle to pay their energy bills, it has been claimed, as pressure mounts on suppliers to do more to help poorer households move on to the cheapest deals. 29% of families do not put on the heating even when the house is cold, said comparison website uSwitch, while two-thirds fear cutting their energy use to save money will affect their family’s health. “It’s appalling that even families in work are struggling to pay their energy bills,” said uSwitch’s energy expert, Claire Osborne. “Suppliers must play their part by doing all they can to help their customers move to their best deal.” The energy regulator, Ofgem, backed calls for suppliers to alert customers to cost-saving schemes such as the warm home discount (WHD).

The initiative forces firms with more than 250,000 customers to offer a £140 discount to low-income pensioners and other vulnerable groups, though it has been criticised for long delays in delivering the reduction. “We want suppliers to engage more actively with customers, particularly those on standard variable tariffs, to help them get a better deal,” said an Ofgem spokesperson. This week the business minister criticised energy companies amid claims they were profiteering from deals that do not offer good value. “Customers who are loyal to their energy supplier should be treated well, not taken for a ride, and it’s high time the big companies recognised this,” Greg Clark said. “I have made clear to the big firms that this can’t go on and they must treat customers properly or be made to do so.”

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I’ll keep saying that a basic income for only parts of a society -as the pilot is set up- is doomed to fail.

Canadian Province To Give Every Citizen $1,320 Basic Income (Ind.)

A Canadian province is to run a pilot project aimed at providing every citizen a minimum basic income of $1,320 a month. The provincial government of Ontario confirmed it is holding public consultations on the $25m (£15m) project over the next two months, which could replace social assistance payments administered by the province for people aged 18 to 65. People with disabilities will receive $500 more under the scheme, and individuals who earn less than $22,000 (£13,000) a year after tax will have their incomes topped up to reach that threshold. The pilot report was submitted by Conservative ex-senator Hugh Segal, who suggested the project should be tested on three distinct sites: in the north, south and among the indigenous community of Ontario.

Areas with high levels of poverty and food insecurity should be chosen for the test project, Mr Segal recommended. “It is in fact the precinct of rational people when looking to encourage work and community engagement and give people a floor beneath which they’re not allowed to fall,” he said. “We can do this for seniors without having to add any more bureaucrats or civil servants, we respect their freedom to choose, we give them the money, they decide what’s important. Why would we treat other poor people differently? “What Ontario is doing is saying let’s have a pilot project, let’s calculate the costs, let’s calculate the positive and the nudge effects behaviourally.” Mr Segal confirmed that participation in the project, which is due to launch in spring 2017, will be voluntary and promised “no one would be financially worse off as a result of the pilot”.

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he can defend it all he wants, but defending the past shows you are blind to the present.

Obama Defends Globalization On Germany Visit (BBC)

US President Barack Obama has made a strong defence of globalisation as he arrived in Germany on his final visit to Europe before leaving office. In a joint article, Mr Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that with the global economy developing faster than ever, co-operation was vital. Mr Obama arrived in Germany from Athens where he had warned of threats to modern democracy. He is seeking to calm unease following the election of Donald Trump. In the article in the business magazine, Wirtschaftswoche (in German), he and Mrs Merkel made a strong case for international trade in contrast to Mr Trump’s more protectionist stance. “There will be no return to a world before globalisation,” they wrote. “We owe it to our companies and our citizens, indeed to the entire world community, to broaden and deepen our co-operation.”

The two leaders voiced support for the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and the EU. By contrast, Mr Trump is a fierce critic of global free trade agreements and welcomed the UK’s decision in June to leave the EU. In Athens, Mr Obama acknowledged that globalisation had created a “sense of injustice” and a “course correction” was needed to address growing inequality. “When we see people, global elites, wealthy corporations seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes… this feeds a profound sense of injustice,” he told Greek leaders. Mr Obama’s visit to Greece was marked by street protests by leftist groups which denounced US “imperialism”. Police used tear gas against about 2,500 demonstrators who had tried to reach the city centre on Tuesday. The US president will stay in Germany until Friday and then head to Peru.

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But the words were again empty.

Athens Clings To Obama’s Words As Focus Shifts To Berlin (Kath.)

Greece on Wednesday hailed the support expressed by outgoing US President Barack Obama for debt relief for the country even as the latter arrived in Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country has consistently resisted restructuring Greece’s debt burden. Government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos expressed “satisfaction” with Obama’s references to the crucial issues of debt, the refugee crisis and Cyprus. “The US president made clear that austerity cannot lead to economic prosperity,” he said. Asked why an intervention by Obama in favor of Greek debt relief now that he is on his way out of the presidency should make a difference, Tzanakopoulos said that the situation in Europe is now very different and there is a shift against austerity.

“There is a very good possibility that by the end of the year we will have very positive developments as regards the Greek debt,” Tzanakopoulos said, noting that Athens was on course for a Eurogroup meeting on December 5. The spokesman described Obama’s visit as “an event of global significance” while sources indicated that the outgoing president had been “very friendly” to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Earlier in the day, Obama delivered a stirring speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, exalting the virtues of democracy and ancient Greece’s contribution to the modern world. “I came here with gratitude for all that Greece – ‘this small, great world’ – has given to humanity through the ages,” Obama said, referring to Aeschylus, Euripides, Herodotus, Thucydides, Socrates and Aristotle.

Obama took advantage of the speech to highlight the democratic values he sought to honor while in office and implicitly prodded his Republic successor Donald Trump to do the same. He also emphasized his respect for Greece’s efforts to respond to Europe’s refugee crisis despite its own problems. “Because our democracies are inclusive, we’re able to welcome people and refugees in need to our countries. And nowhere have we seen that compassion more evident than here in Greece,” he said.

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“Whoever says ‘we will relieve your debts’ is doing Greece a disservice..”

Schaeuble Crushes Greek Debt Relief Hopes that Obama May Have Sowed (GR)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Greece raised fresh hopes for debt relief that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble rushed to quash. He said late on Tuesday that granting Greece its debt relief would not be helping the country, describing such a move as a “disservice.” A German Finance Ministry spokesman confirmed that Schaeuble had indeed made this statement, but that it was not in direct response to Obama’s visit to Greece. “Whoever says ‘we will relieve your debts’ is doing Greece a disservice,” said Schaeuble, according to the report by the daily newspaper, Passauer Neue Presse. His comments are not surprising bearing in mind that Germany has long supported the notion that no immediate debt relief is needed for Greece as this would discourage structural reforms.

“We have noted that President Obama has pointed to the importance of debt relief. The euro group agreed in May on a timetable on exactly that subject, regarding measures for the short term, and later in 2018 for mid-term measures,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert at a news conference. He added that Obama’s visit had not changed Germany’s position on the matter, during a government news conference. Seibert added that Obama’s view that austerity on its own does not create growth is a viewpoint that reflects that of the German government, adding that two things needed for long-term growth are a sustainable budget and the need for structural reforms.

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Think Obama went to see them?

Share of Greek Children At Risk Of Poverty Rises To 37.8% (Kath.)

More than a third, or 37.8%, of children aged up to 17 in Greece were at risk of poverty and social exclusion in 2015, compared to 28.7% in 2010, according to a report published by the European Statistics Agency (Eurostat). This means that they were living in households with at least one of the following characteristics: at-risk-of-poverty after social transfers (income poverty), severely materially deprived or with very low work intensity. The increase, which took the total number of children at risk of poverty and social exclusion in Greece to 710,000, is the largest in the European Union since 2010. After Greece, Cyprus was the country with the highest rise since 2010, with 7.1%.

At the same time, the EU average dropped from 27.5% in 2010 to 26.9% in 2015, which corresponds to the alarming figure of approximately 25.26 million children. Greece was third in the EU in the total number of children faced with such a predicament, behind Romania at 46.8% and Bulgaria at 43.7%. Hungary was fourth at 36.1%, ahead of Spain at 34.4% and Italy at 33.5%. The lowest rates were recorded in the Scandinavian countries, with Sweden at 14%, ahead of Finland and Denmark, with 14.9% and 15.7% respectively.

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At some point you may want to wonder if it’s a bug or a feature of the system.

Drowning Deaths In Mediterranean Already 20% Higher Than All Of Last Year (G.)

About 240 people are suspected to have drowned this week in four separate incidents in the Mediterranean, raising the total annual death toll to an unprecedented 4,500. Deaths in the Mediterranean are now nearly 20% higher than last year’s total of 3,771, which was the previous annual record. About 130 asylum seekers are missing after a rubber boat capsized on Sunday night, while another 100 are thought to have drowned on Tuesday night in a separate incident, the UN refugee agency said. Up to 10 people died in two further tragedies in recent days, bringing the death toll this week to at least 240.

In the accident on Sunday 15 survivors were left in the water for 10 hours, clinging on to a piece of a capsized boat, before being rescued by an oil tanker. Nine are still in hospital, Iosto Ibba, a spokesman for UNHCR, said in a phone call. Migration between Turkey and Greece has lessened significantly since March, after Turkey agreed to re-admit people deported from Greece. But crossings between Libya and Italy continue unabated. More than 165,000 people have reached Italy so far this year from north Africa, and the final annual total is likely to surpass the previous record of 170,000.

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 December 31, 2015  Posted by at 9:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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DPC Market Street from Montgomery Street, San Francisco, after the earthquake 1906

The Deadly Truth About the Great Boom and This “Recovery” (Dent)
Asia’s Top Commodity Trader Ends a Turbulent Year With Cut To Junk (BBG)
Mom And Pop Are The Greater Fools (ZH)
Oil Ends 2015 In Downbeat Mood; Hangover To Be Long, Painful (Reuters)
Impact Of Low Crude Prices On Oil Powers (Guardian)
China’s Yuan Posts Biggest Annual Loss In 21 Years (BBG)
China Fires a Warning Shot at Yuan Speculators With Bank Bans (BBG)
China’s Financial Growing Pains Caused World of Hurt in 2015 (WSJ)
Hong Kong Retail Slows as Mainland Tourists Stay Away (WSJ)
Fannie and Freddie Give Birth to New Mortgage Bond (WSJ)
The World’s Political And Economic Order Is Stronger Than It Looks (AEP)
Derivatives vs Bank Deposits: Let the Bail-Ins Begin (Ellen Brown)
It’s Every Snitch For Himself In Brazil’s Petrobras Scandal (BBG)
For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions (NY Times)
China Says Consulted Widely On Army Reform, Xi Closely Involved (Reuters)
Turkey ‘One Step Away From A Civil War’ (NY Times)
Greek Pension Cuts Back On The Table (Kath.)
Greek House Price Drop Second To Worst In The World (Kath.)
Merkel Urges Germans To See Refugee Arrivals As ‘An Opportunity’ (AFP)

“My forecast today: the stock market will start to crash by early February, if not sooner..”

The Deadly Truth About the Great Boom and This “Recovery” (Dent)

Below is a chart that shows the office space per worker in square feet. It shows a rise into the height of the financial crisis, after which it’s fallen like a rock! At first this could seem counterintuitive. Why did the square footage per worker go up into the worst of the recession into mid- to late-2009? That’s because companies were laying off workers going into that recession, meaning there were more workers per square feet. But the real story comes in the recovery from late 2009 forward.

Square footage per worker has declined very sharply from 371 square feet to 270, down a whopping one-third in just over six years as businesses have rehired a large portion of the laid-off workers – which means largely NOT creating new jobs. You should not look at this chart and assume that because less square footage per worker means more workers than in the past that everything is hunky dory. What’s more important is that the sharp decrease in square footage implies a lack of demand in commercial real estate. And that’s because commercial real estate is already way over-expanded! We overbuilt it in the great boom of 1983 to 2007, so even these hires have not filled up the available space.

Which means businesses aren’t expanding their office or industrial space! So while hiring more workers sounds fine out of context… it’s masking much more severe, deeper-set issues in our capacity to build for the future. This is the hard truth that no one is looking at: businesses are merely re-employing their past capacity, and not creating new plants and offices for future employment. All the 200,000-plus jobs numbers per month, if they are even fully real, are just catching up with the past. And we shouldn’t be investing in such new work space as we already have all we need for decades ahead. This is the reality of demographics that clueless economists just don’t get.

[..] Folks, this “recovery” isn’t working! And no one has expected it to given the over-expansion in the greatest debt bubble in U.S. history from 1983 to 2008. Inflation hasn’t risen due to excess capacity here and around the world, especially China… Money velocity continues to drop without lending and productive investment to expand it… Businesses are struggling with stagnant earnings because we already hit the peak of debt capacity and demographic spending growth in the great boom that finally peaked in late 2007, as I forecast two decades before. Debt was running at 2.54 times GDP for 26 years. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or nuclear physicist to tell you that pretty much guarantees a massive period of deleveraging and depression – not continued expansion.

So since growth is all but impossible, corporations have resorted to financial engineering to keep the wagon rolling – all courtesy of the Fed, with near-zero short- and long-term interest rates. They’ve had two options: either increase stock buybacks to leverage their stagnant earnings with rising earnings-per-share on fewer shares, or increase dividends to compete with lower and lower yielding bonds (also courtesy of the Fed). And they’ve been milking both options for all they’re worth! But financial engineering does not result in real growth. And speculation does not expand the money supply. It is only a sign of decreasing money velocity, and a bubble that will only burst – like in 1929, 2000, and now again! [..] My forecast today: the stock market will start to crash by early February, if not sooner [..].

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There will be no recovery in commodities until the overcapacity is drained.

Asia’s Top Commodity Trader Ends a Turbulent Year With Cut To Junk (BBG)

Asia’s top commodity trader exits 2015 in very different shape to how it began the year. Noble Group has lost almost two-thirds of its value, with its stock trading near the lowest since 2008, after a year of attacks on its finances by critics including the anonymous Iceberg Research and short-seller Muddy Waters LLC. The latest blow, amid a rout in raw materials, was the cut in its credit rating to junk by Moody’s Investors Service on concerns over its liquidity. It’s a downgrade that will test Chief Executive Officer Yusuf Alireza’s view that while an investment-grade rating is desirable, it isn’t required for the business, as Standard & Poor’s also reviews its assessment. Moody’s decision comes a week after the Hong Kong-based company agreed to sell the rest of its agriculture unit to Cofco for at least $750 million.

While the deal may help the company to cut debt, its liquidity will remain constrained, according to Moody’s, which expects a prolonged commodity slump. “They have had a really difficult year, not only fighting the commodity slump but also various allegations,” Bernard Aw at IG Asia said by e-mail. “Entering 2016, the performance of Noble will clearly hinge on the recovery in the commodity complex. Noble may continue to offload non-profitable assets, to improve its balance sheet and creditworthiness. These should help it better navigate the challenging landscape.” Noble Group stock fell 9.1% to end at 40 Singapore cents on Wednesday, and traded unchanged early Thursday. The shares are 65% lower this year and are the biggest losers in the Straits Times Index.

The company’s dollar bonds due in 2020, its most liquid, dropped on Wednesday to the lowest since they were issued in 2009. After the Noble Agri deal closes, Noble Group’s rating metrics will substantially exceed those required of an investment-grade credit, the company said in a statement on Tuesday. Noble Group still has its investment-grade ratings from S&P and Fitch Ratings, spokesman Stephen Brown said, referring to comments made on the company’s last earnings call. He added that its bank covenants aren’t ratings-dependent. “We are confident that the deal will be approved by our shareholders and will close before the end of February,” Noble Group said in a statement to the Singapore Exchange late on Wednesday. “The current environment is opportunity-rich and plays to our strengths.”

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Question is, what keeps markets at their high levels?

Mom And Pop Are The Greater Fools (ZH)

[..] while the market was surging last week, the smart money was selling. This comes at the same time as ICI reported major redemptions from both stock ($3.9 billion) and bond ($4.5 billion) mutual funds, even as corporate buybacks were decelerating, leading to the question of just who was buying stocks during the Santa rally of the past two weeks. But something even more surprising emerged when looking at the detailed breakdown of how the “smart money” has been flowing. As Bank of America clarifies, when explaining where its $0.7 billion in weekly outflows came from, “net sales were chiefly due to institutional clients last week” and adds that institutionals “have sold stocks for eight consecutive weeks”!

And then something even more surprising emerges when looking at the YTD breakdown of flows: while hedge funds and private clients (retail) have largely offset each other over the past year, the former selling $2.8BN and the latter buying $2.2BN in 2015, something odd has taken place at the institutional level: starting in early January, the largest financial institutions – mutual funds and various other asset managers – have unleashed an unprecedented selling spree for 11 consecutive months, which has brought their total outflow to $26.8 billion. Which leads to another question: if institutions are actively dumping stocks, perhaps mom and pop investors should show the following chart to their financial advisors, who directly or indirectly work for these institutions, and ask them: why should they be buying, when the counterparty they are buying from is, most likely, this very same financial advisor?

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“..global crude production exceeds demand by anywhere between half a million and 2 million barrels every day..”

Oil Ends 2015 In Downbeat Mood; Hangover To Be Long, Painful (Reuters)

Oil prices remained in a downbeat mood during their final Asian-hours trading session of 2015 after record U.S. crude inventories reinforced concerns about a global supply glut that has pulled down prices by a third over the past year. Crude inventories in the United States rose 2.6 million barrels last week, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a draw of 2.5 million barrels. Crude prices held losses after falling more than 3% in the previous session, with U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures trading around $36.70 per barrel at 0300 GMT on Thursday and Brent around $36.60 per barrel. Both benchmarks are down by around a third over 2015.

The immediate outlook for oil prices remains bleak, with some analysts like Goldman Sachs saying prices as low as $20 per barrel might be necessary to push enough production out of business and allow a rebalancing of the market. U.S. bank Morgan Stanley said in its outlook for next year that “headwinds (are) growing for 2016 oil.” The bank cites ongoing increases in available global supplies, despite some cuts by U.S. shale drillers in particular, as well as a slowdown in demand as the main reasons. “The imbalance in the global oil market has been diminishing in 2H15, but the hope for a rebalancing in 2016 continues to suffer serious setbacks,” the bank said, reflecting a market consensus that meaningfully higher prices are not expected before late 2016.

Traders expect some U.S. oil to be taken out of America and supplied into global markets, following the surprise lifting of a decades-old U.S. crude export ban in December, which ended a years-old discount in U.S. crude prices to international Brent. “At a time when U.S. shale is facing headwinds due to the collapse in crude oil prices… U.S. crude oil exports are likely to help reduce congestion concerns in the U.S.,” ING bank said. [..] Analysts estimate global crude production exceeds demand by anywhere between half a million and 2 million barrels every day. This means that even the most aggressive estimates of expected U.S. production cuts of 500,000 bpd for 2016 would be unlikely to fully rebalance the market.

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A painful graph. We smell unrest.

Impact Of Low Crude Prices On Oil Powers (Guardian)

A glut of oil, the demise of Opec and weakening global demand combined to make 2015 the year of crashing oil prices. The cost of crude fell to levels not seen for 11 years – and the decline may have further to go. There have been four sharp increases in the price of oil in the past four decades – in 1973, 1979, 1990 and 2008 – and each has led to a global recession. By that measure, a lower oil price should be positive for the world economy, with lower fuel costs for consumers and businesses in those countries that import crude outweighing the losses to producing nations. But the evidence since oil prices started falling from their peak of $115 a barrel in August 2014 has not supported that thesis – or not yet.

Oil producers have certainly felt the impact of the lower prices on their growth rates, their trade figures and their public finances butthere has been no surge in consumer spending or business investment elsewhere. Economist still reckon there will be a boost from a lower oil price particularly if it looks as if the lower cost of crude will be sustained. Dhaval Joshi, an economist at BCA, a London-based research company, said: “A commodity bubble has deflated three times in the past 100 years: the first was after world war one; the second was after the 1980s oil shock; the third is happening right now.” For the big producer countries, this is a major headache, the ramifications of which are only starting to be felt. Oil powers base their spending plans on an assumed crude price. The graphic below shows just how far below water their budgets are.

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How long before IMF starts complaining on behalf of US?

China’s Yuan Posts Biggest Annual Loss In 21 Years (BBG)

There’s no need to panic, according to the yuan’s top forecaster, even as the currency posted the biggest annual loss in more than two decades and a majority of economists predicted a further depreciation in 2016. “While a weaker yuan could create fear initially, the market will realize it’s a natural consequence of a more flexible yuan and divergent U.S.-China monetary policy,” said Ju Wang at HSBC, which had the best estimates for the onshore yuan over the last four quarters as measured by Bloomberg Rankings. A more adjustable policy will allow for swift reactions to domestic conditions, which “would be structurally positive for China’s economy,” she said. The nation overhauled its foreign-exchange system in 2015, giving market forces greater say in setting the yuan’s reference rate, allowing more foreign participants onshore and doubling trading hours.

The central bank kept investors guessing as it supported the exchange rate from March to August, shocked global markets with an Aug. 11 devaluation, and then spent billions of dollars to prop up the yuan before winning reserve status at the IMF on Nov. 30. The currency tumbled 4.5% in 2015 to close at 6.4936 a dollar in Shanghai on Dec. 31, according to China Foreign Exchange Trade System prices. That’s the biggest decline in data going back to 1994. The central bank cut its daily fixing, which limits onshore moves to a maximum 2% on either side, by 6.1% for the year. The reduction was the most since 2005, when China unpegged its currency from the greenback and allowed it to fluctuate against a basket of exchange rates.

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Beijing is feeding speculation with its constant manipulations.

China Fires a Warning Shot at Yuan Speculators With Bank Bans (BBG)

China has a message for currency speculators: the free lunch is over. The People’s Bank of China has suspended at least two foreign banks from conducting some cross-border yuan business until late March, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter. The clampdown comes as the growing offshore-onshore spread makes it profitable for those who skirt capital controls to buy the currency at a discount in Hong Kong and sell it in Shanghai. By closing loopholes in its regulations, China is trying to stabilize the yuan after a surprising revamp of its currency-valuation system in August led to capital outflows and prompted policy makers to tap $213 billion of foreign reserves to support the yuan. The risk is that discouraging arbitrage will cause the exchange rates to diverge further, undermining the goal of unifying the two markets.

“The market should see this as a warning shot across the bow,” said Douglas Borthwick at Chapdelaine, a unit of the British inter-dealer brokerage Tullet Prebon. Chinese regulators don’t want onshore trades to be speculative in nature and “in the short term this will likely lead to further widening of the spread,” he said. A three-month ban on settling offshore clients’ yuan transactions in the onshore market was imposed Tuesday, the people said. The central bank didn’t immediately respond to questions on the matter, and it was unclear how widely the ban has applied among foreign banks or which institutions are suspended. Spokespeople for Citigroup, HSBC and Standard Chartered, which are among the largest foreign dealers allowed in China’s interbank foreign-exchange markets, declined to comment on the ban and whether their operations were affected.

The offshore yuan, which is freely traded overseas, touched a five-year low on Wednesday before erasing losses on speculation the government was intervening to support the currency. It traded at 6.5810 a dollar as of 12:32 p.m. in Hong Kong, leaving it about 1.3% cheaper than the rate in mainland China. The gap between the two rates has widened since August when China’s devaluation, part of the move to a more market-determined currency regime, fueled expectations among overseas investors for further yuan weakness. The divergence is undesirable because it means companies cannot use hedging tools tied to overseas rates to protect their onshore exposure. By imposing the ban, China is seeking to prevent speculators from bringing money in illegally to arbitrage, even though it helps narrow the difference.

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It’s all in the choice of words, isn’t it? Growing pains sounds so much better than bursting bubble.

China’s Financial Growing Pains Caused World of Hurt in 2015 (WSJ)

China’s long history of tempestuous trading spilled over its borders this year, signaling that a once-isolated market is moving to the center of global finance. Chinese volatility upended markets from Tokyo to London, and helped send some emerging-market currencies to their weakest levels in nearly two decades. Commodities including copper and aluminum plumbed six-year lows as China, one of the world’s biggest metals consumers, reined in buying. While a summer stock crash and the surprise devaluation of China’s yuan spooked investors world-wide, the repercussions also exposed the growing pains of a maturing financial market. With one trading day left in 2015, Shanghai’s stock market is still up 10.5% this year, despite losing more than 40% of its value over the summer.

That gain outpaces the 1% rise in the S&P 500 through Tuesday, and the 9.6% advance in Germany’s DAX and 7.35% gain in the Stoxx Europe 600 index through Wednesday. China’s smaller Shenzhen stock market is up 66%, one of the best-performing benchmarks globally. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average is up 9.1% for the year, as the central bank’s two-year easing campaign weakened the yen. A weaker currency can help exporters by boosting profits repatriated from abroad. Meanwhile, China’s yuan is on track for its largest annual fall on record, down more than 4% so far this year. Goldman Sachs economists say China was “arguably the prime mover in global markets” this year, though foreigners hold less than 2% of the mainland’s $8 trillion stock market and less than 3% of the onshore bond market.

On Aug. 24, dubbed “Black Monday” by Chinese government media, the Shanghai Composite’s 8.5% fall sparked a global selloff that dragged U.S. stocks to an 18-month low. Yet the struggles have been felt most acutely in markets of China’s regional trading partners, where slackening demand from the world’s second-largest economy has put a chill on exports of commodities and gadgets, dimmed the corporate outlook and sent currencies into a tailspin. Investors have pulled money out of Asia’s emerging-market equities every month since July, with the exception of October, according to the Institute of International Finance. Investors put $47 billion into emerging-market Asia stocks and bonds this year through November, compared with $107.9 billion for the whole of 2014.

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Confidence in China is sagging.

Hong Kong Retail Slows as Mainland Tourists Stay Away (WSJ)

Hong Kong, once a shopping mecca for mainland Chinese seeking Swiss watches and luxury handbags, is expected to record its biggest annual decline in retail sales since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003. The city may also post the first annual decline in mainland tourists since visa relaxations allowed individual visitors from China, also in 2003, prompting calls for extensive diversification of tourism—a pillar of the city’s economy. Spending by Chinese tourists has been the main driver of retail and commercial property sectors in Hong Kong in recent years, as the number of mainland tourists rose. During the boom, long lines outside the city’s numerous Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci shops were commonplace, as luxury goods sold in Hong Kong were up to 40% cheaper than in China.

Those lines have largely disappeared as inflows of Chinese tourists slowed. The number of Chinese tourist arrivals was 15.4% lower in November compared with a year ago, the steepest decline all year, extending the year-to-date fall in Chinese visitors. Hong Kong’s tourism commission says the city’s tourism industry has “entered a consolidation period” after a decade of growth, and says it is now targeting “high-spending overnight visitors” from other markets to help fill the city’s myriad shopping malls and hotel rooms. Meanwhile, retail sales in the formerly bustling shopping hub have fallen for eight straight months on lower tourist spending, with total retail sales down 2.7% year-over-year for the first 10 months of 2015. That is steeper than the 2.6% decline recorded in 2003, when tourists shunned Hong Kong for several months during the SARS outbreak.

In October, Hong Kong saw a 38.5% drop in sales of Swiss watches, said the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Other brands, like Chanel, went the unusual route of slashing the price of an iconic bag by over 24% in Hong Kong, among other rare discount offers, in a sign of the trying times. [..] Luxury sales began to decline in late 2013 after Beijing started cracking down on corruption and conspicuous consumption. The slump spread to mass-market retailers this year as the Chinese economy slowed. Milan Station, a vendor of secondhand handbags, said revenue in its Hong Kong shops fell over 28% in the first half of the year, while cosmetic retailers Sa Sa and Bonjour reported revenue declines of 10.6% and 14.4% in the six months ended September and June, respectively.

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Washington needs to get out of the housing market.

Fannie and Freddie Give Birth to New Mortgage Bond (WSJ)

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are turning to crisis-era tools to reduce their exposure to mortgage losses and spark a new market for financing home buyers. Beginning in 2016, the two government-controlled housing giants will ramp up sales of a new type of security that will transfer most of the cost of defaults on all but their safest mortgages to private investors. The securities will be based on the value of a pool of underlying mortgages—but only indirectly, making them a derivative similar to those that figured in the financial crisis seven years ago. The insurance-like products are called Connecticut Avenue Securities by Fannie Mae and Structured Agency Credit Risk by Freddie Mac. Standard-issue bonds from the housing giants protect investors from the risk that home buyers will stop making payments on their loans.

With the new securities, however, investors could lose some or all of their principal if the underlying mortgages default. The effort marks a notable return to financial engineering in housing finance—elements of which served useful purposes before bloating in the years leading to the crisis. The new securities ultimately could help reduce the government’s role in mortgages by persuading investors to take on the risk of default. Right now, the U.S. housing market relies almost entirely on guarantees from Fannie, Freddie or other government-backed entities. The companies, along with government agency Ginnie Mae, back most mortgages and issued 96% of all mortgage bonds in the first 10 months of the year, according to trade publication Inside Mortgage Finance.

Banks used to issue hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mortgage bonds that didn’t carry Fannie or Freddie’s guarantees, but that market dried up after the financial crisis. Proponents hope the new securities could help restore investors’ appetite for mortgage risk. If it works, backers think the securities could become a mainstay of the bond and housing markets over time, perhaps even getting included in the major indexes tracked by bond funds.

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Ambrose’s history lesson dissolves into confusion. Still worth reading, though. “Yes, the world is a mess, but it has always been a mess, forever climbing the proverbial wall of political worry even in its halcyon days. So let us drink a new year’s toast with a glass at least half full.”

The World’s Political And Economic Order Is Stronger Than It Looks (AEP)

Readers have scolded me gently for too much optimism over the past year, wondering why I refuse to see that the world economy is in dire trouble and that the international order is coming apart at the seams. So for Christmas reading I have retreated to the “World of Yesterday”, the poignant account of Europe’s civilisational suicide in the early 20th century by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig – the top-selling author of the inter-war years. From there it is a natural progression to Zweig’s equally poignant biography of Erasmus, who saw his own tolerant Latin civilization smothered by fanatics four centuries earlier. Zweig’s description of Europe in the years leading up to 1914 is intoxicating. Everything seemed to be getting better: wealth was spreading, people were healthier, women were breaking free.

He could travel anywhere without a passport, received with open arms in Paris, Milan or Stockholm by a fraternity of writers and artists. It was a cheerful, peaceful world that seemed almost untainted by tribal animosities. It was not an illusion, but it was only half the story. A handful of staff officers at the apex of the German high command under Helmuth von Moltke were already looking for their chance to crush France and Russia, waiting for a spark in the Balkans – it could only be the Balkans – that would lock the Austro-Hungarian empire into the fight as an ally. What is striking in Zweig’s account is that even during the slaughter of the First World War, Europe still had a moral conscience. All sides still bridled at any accusation that they were violating humanitarian principles.

Two decades later, even that had disappeared. Zweig lived to see his country amputated, cut off from its economic lifelines, and reduced to a half-starved rump. He saw Hitler take power and burn his books in Berlin’s Bebelplatz in 1933, then in stages extend the ban to France and Italy. He saw what remained of Austria extinguished in 1938, and his friends sent to concentration camps. As a Jewish refugee in England he slipped from stateless alien to enemy alien. He committed suicide with his wife in February 1942 in Brazil, too heart-broken to keep going after his spiritual homeland – Europe – had “destroyed itself”. Erasmus was also the best-selling author of his day, attaining a dominance that has probably never been challenged by any other author in history, expect perhaps Karl Marx posthumously.

More than 1m copies of his works had been printed by the early 16th century, devoured by a Latin intelligentsia in the free-thinking heyday of the Renaissance, chortling at his satires on clerical pedantry and the rent-farming of holy relics. But after lighting the fire of evangelical reform, he watched in horror as the ideologues took over and swept aside his plea that the New Testament message of love and forgiveness is the heart of Christianity. They charged headlong into the Augustinian cul-de-sac of original sin and predestination, led by Martin Luther, a rough, volcanic force of nature, or the “Goth” as Erasmus called him. Luther preferred to see the whole world burn and Christian Europe split into armed camps rather than yield an inch on abstruse points of doctrine. And burn they did. The killing did not end until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. By then the Thirty Years War had left a fifth of Germany dead.

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“In principle, depositors are the most senior creditors in a bank. However, that was changed in the 2005 bankruptcy law, which made derivatives liabilities most senior.”

Derivatives vs Bank Deposits: Let the Bail-Ins Begin (Ellen Brown)

Dodd-Frank states in its preamble that it will “protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts.” But it does this under Title II by imposing the losses of insolvent financial companies on their common and preferred stockholders, debtholders, and other unsecured creditors. That includes depositors, the largest class of unsecured creditor of any bank. Title II is aimed at “ensuring that payout to claimants is at least as much as the claimants would have received under bankruptcy liquidation.” But here’s the catch: under both the Dodd Frank Act and the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, derivative claims have super-priority over all other claims, secured and unsecured, insured and uninsured. The over-the-counter (OTC) derivative market (the largest market for derivatives) is made up of banks and other highly sophisticated players such as hedge funds.

OTC derivatives are the bets of these financial players against each other. Derivative claims are considered “secured” because collateral is posted by the parties. For some inexplicable reason, the hard-earned money you deposit in the bank is not considered “security” or “collateral.” It is just a loan to the bank, and you must stand in line along with the other creditors in hopes of getting it back. State and local governments must also stand in line, although their deposits are considered “secured,” since they remain junior to the derivative claims with “super-priority.” Under the old liquidation rules, an insolvent bank was actually “liquidated” – its assets were sold off to repay depositors and creditors. Under an “orderly resolution,” the accounts of depositors and creditors are emptied to keep the insolvent bank in business.

The point of an “orderly resolution” is not to make depositors and creditors whole but to prevent another system-wide “disorderly resolution” of the sort that followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. The concern is that pulling a few of the dominoes from the fragile edifice that is our derivatives-laden global banking system will collapse the entire scheme. The sufferings of depositors and investors are just the sacrifices to be borne to maintain this highly lucrative edifice. In a May 2013 article in Forbes titled “The Cyprus Bank ‘Bail-In’ Is Another Crony Bankster Scam,” Nathan Lewis explained the scheme like this:

At first glance, the “bail-in” resembles the normal capitalist process of liabilities restructuring that should occur when a bank becomes insolvent. . . . The difference with the “bail-in” is that the order of creditor seniority is changed. In the end, it amounts to the cronies (other banks and government) and non-cronies. The cronies get 100% or more; the non-cronies, including non-interest-bearing depositors who should be super-senior, get a kick in the guts instead. . . .

In principle, depositors are the most senior creditors in a bank. However, that was changed in the 2005 bankruptcy law, which made derivatives liabilities most senior. Considering the extreme levels of derivatives liabilities that many large banks have, and the opportunity to stuff any bank with derivatives liabilities in the last moment, other creditors could easily find there is nothing left for them at all. As of September 2014, US derivatives had a notional value of nearly $280 trillion.

A study involving the cost to taxpayers of the Dodd-Frank rollback slipped by Citibank into the “cromnibus” spending bill last December found that the rule reversal allowed banks to keep $10 trillion in swaps trades on their books. This is money that taxpayers could be on the hook for in another bailout; and since Dodd-Frank replaces bailouts with bail-ins, it is money that creditors and depositors could now be on the hook for. Citibank is particularly vulnerable to swaps on the price of oil. Brent crude dropped from a high of $114 per barrel in June 2014 to a low of $36 in December 2015.

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What a story Brazil will be in 2016…

It’s Every Snitch For Himself In Brazil’s Petrobras Scandal (BBG)

[..] all hail 2015, Brazil’s year of the snitch. Investigators in the city of Curitiba, where the so-called Operation Car Wash probe into corruption at Petrobras is based, have struck 40 such plea bargains, turning criminals into strategic witnesses for the prosecution. Negotiating reduced sentences is not new in Brazil. But until recently, most criminals preferred to gamble on the feeble court system and take their secrets to jail. Everything changed after 2012, when Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court sent two dozen moguls and political bosses to jail in a sweeping vote-buying scam. A rigorous anti-corruption law followed in 2013, and now criminals and cronies are lining up to cop their pleas.

Thanks largely to dishonor among thieves — not to mention financial trackers skilled in sniffing out hidden money — prosecutors have since secured 80 convictions of seemingly untouchable moguls and politicians, whose jail sentences total 782 years. So many criminals have been repurposed as state witnesses that police are running short on ankle bracelets. Brazilians would be forgiven for thinking that little has changed. By cutting deals with prosecutors, confessed criminals have managed to convert harsh jail terms into suspended sentences and house arrest. Yes, Fernando “Baiano” Soares, a lobbyist at the heart of the Car Wash cabal, had to forfeit a bundle of cash and two fancy vacation homes as part of his plea deal.

But when he left jail in November after agreeing to finger accomplices in the Petrobras scheme, he went home to his luxury apartment in one of Rio’s toniest beach districts. Pedro Jose Barusco Filho, sentenced last year to 18 years for turning his second-tier job at Petrobras into a bribe-collection counter, quickly signed an agreement with prosecutors and promised to return $615 million he’d skimmed from supply contracts. By Christmas, he was spotted kicking back at a luxury spa in the Rio hills. Two other guests reportedly left on the spot. Then there is Alberto Youssef, a shadowy money dealer who has been in and out of custody since 2005, when he first agreed to help authorities take down a money-laundering ring at a state-owned regional bank.

But he went back on his word and left investigators empty-handed. This time, the feds were cleverer. When, in early 2014, police again caught up to Youssef – now for helping high-rolling oil company executives and politicians on the take spirit their off-books earnings to offshore tax havens – they doubled down on the man known as “the black market’s central banker.” Jailed for breaking his earlier plea bargain, and with his name popping up in testimony from other state witnesses, Youssef buckled, agreed again to speak out, and led Brazil’s sleuths to the corner offices of Petrobras and beyond.

Snitch by snitch, the Car Wash case has made its way from the oil rigs to the Brazilian capital, where 54 senior politicians, former politicians and their associates are now under investigation. All eyes are now on Delcidio do Amaral, who is not only the first sitting Brazilian senator to be arrested but also a former Petrobras bureaucrat who served as a key dealmaker to the ruling Workers’ Party for the past 13 years. So far, Amaral hasn’t named any names, but the prospect that he might sing is roiling the political corridors. If anyone knows where the bodies in Brasilia are buried, it’s Amaral.

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Money must be separated from political power, or huge trouble lies ahead.

For the Wealthiest, a Private Tax System That Saves Them Billions (NY Times)

The hedge fund magnates Daniel S. Loeb, Louis Moore Bacon and Steven A. Cohen have much in common. They have managed billions of dollars in capital, earning vast fortunes. They have invested large sums in art — and millions more in political candidates. Moreover, each has exploited an esoteric tax loophole that saved them millions in taxes. The trick? Route the money to Bermuda and back. With inequality at its highest levels in nearly a century and public debate rising over whether the government should respond to it through higher taxes on the wealthy, the very richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and astonishingly effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes. Some call it the “income defense industry,” consisting of a high-priced phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists and anti-tax activists who exploit and defend a dizzying array of tax maneuvers, virtually none of them available to taxpayers of more modest means.

In recent years, this apparatus has become one of the most powerful avenues of influence for wealthy Americans of all political stripes, including Mr. Loeb and Mr. Cohen, who give heavily to Republicans, and the liberal billionaire George Soros, who has called for higher levies on the rich while at the same time using tax loopholes to bolster his own fortune. All are among a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign. Operating largely out of public view — in tax court, through arcane legislative provisions and in private negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service — the wealthy have used their influence to steadily whittle away at the government’s ability to tax them.

The effect has been to create a kind of private tax system, catering to only several thousand Americans. The impact on their own fortunes has been stark. Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27% of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17%, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups. The ultra-wealthy “literally pay millions of dollars for these services,” said Jeffrey A. Winters, a political scientist at Northwestern University who studies economic elites, “and save in the tens or hundreds of millions in taxes.”

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Another example of why choice of words counts. Reform sounds much better than preparing for war.

China Says Consulted Widely On Army Reform, Xi Closely Involved (Reuters)

China’s military consulted widely on its sweeping reform program, with President Xi Jinping closely involved by speaking with soldiers on the frontlines and hand-writing suggestions, the army’s newspaper said on Thursday. Xi unveiled a broad-brush outline of the reforms last month, seeking further streamlining of the command structure of the world’s largest armed forces, including job losses, to better enable it to win a modern war. He is determined to modernize at the same time as China becomes more assertive in territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China’s navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers and the air force is developing stealth fighters. The reforms, kicked off in September with Xi’s announcement he would cut service personnel by 300,000, have been controversial.

The military’s newspaper has published almost daily commentaries warning of opposition to the reforms and worries about lost jobs, and warnings that reforms are needed to win wars. In a lengthy front page commentary, the People’s Liberation Army Daily outlined the steps taken to listen to everyone’s opinions on the reforms, including Xi’s involvement. “Chairman Xi went into offices and visited colleges, went to the plateaus, visited the borders, sat in driving seats and cockpits, taking the pulse of reform with soldiers,” the newspaper said. The reform commission took opinions from more than 900 current and former senior officers and experts, issued questionnaires and received thousands of online suggestions, the report said.

There were more than 800 meetings about reform from March to October this year covering almost 700 military bases and units, the newspaper said. The article was also carried in the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily. Xi “found time” to attend meetings on the feedback, saying he wanted to “listen to everyone’s opinion”, it said. “Every line, every word and every character – Chairman Xi earnestly reviewed every draft, putting forward many guiding suggestions, making many important changes with this own hand,” the report said. The enthusiasm for reform and willingness to listen to all sides meant the process was “ardently participated in” by soldiers throughout the ranks, it said.

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We still label the PKK terrorists?! Why?

Turkey ‘One Step Away From A Civil War’ (NY Times)

A major Turkish military operation to eradicate Kurdish militants in Turkey’s restive southeast has turned dozens of urban districts into bloody battlefields, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians and shattering hopes of reviving peace as an old war reaches its deadliest level in two decades. Over the past week, Turkish tanks and artillery have pounded Kurdish targets across several southeast cities, killing at least 200 militants and more than 150 civilians, according to human rights groups and local officials. Their descriptions of the fighting and mass destruction in populated areas, which are off-limits to journalists, depict war zones not unlike the scenes in neighboring Syria to the south. The Kurds are a geographically dispersed minority whose aspirations for autonomy date back decades.

The flaring of their conflict with Turkey represents a dangerous complication in a region already convulsed by the upheavals in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. About half of all Kurds live in Turkey, a NATO member and American ally. Several Turkish cities are under tight lockdown, and many residents have been trapped without food or electricity as clashes between Kurdish militants and Turkish security forces have intensified. Militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party have dug trenches and put up barricades and are using heavy weaponry and rocket launchers to repel the Turkish police, according to local officials. Turkey has been fighting a counterinsurgency campaign against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party since the group ended a two-year cease-fire in July.

Analysts said the renewed conflict initially appeared to have been a calculated political strategy by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to strengthen support for his Justice and Development Party ahead of parliamentary elections in November. When Justice and Development won by a landslide – a result that Mr. Erdogan interpreted as the public’s demand for stability – many had hoped it would lead to the revival of peace talks. Instead, the violence has sharply escalated, stoking fears that it might spread. Mr. Erdogan has vowed to eliminate the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Having carried out an insurgency against Turkey for three decades, the group, now emboldened by a radicalized youth branch inspired by the war in Syria, has declared autonomous regions and stepped up its fight for self-rule.

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One more red line fades.

Greek Pension Cuts Back On The Table (Kath.)

The government’s proposal to Greece’s creditors for reform of the country’s ailing pension system is likely to foresee 50% of the savings coming from increases to social security contributions and the other half from cuts to pensions, chiefly through supplementary pensions. Though the government has consistently resisted calls by creditors for further cuts to primary pensions, it is likely to make some small concessions. Apart from reductions to supplementary pensions, it is expected that the government’s proposal will foresee reductions to the size of lump sums paid out to retirees. Government sources on Tuesday indicated that there could be some “adjustments” to primary pensions too but that these would only comprise small reductions and would only affect monthly pensions over €2,500 and cases where retirees receive more than one pension.

Authorities are also said to be considering the use of revenue from games of chance and from the state privatization agency to bolster the pension system. Further, ther is the possibility of a tax on bank transactions of more than 1,000 euros which Economy Minister Giorgos Stathakis on Tuesday confirmed was on the table. Members of the Government Council for Economic Policy (KYSOIP) met Tuesday under Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis and discussed the issue of pension reform as well as plans for social welfare initiatives aimed to helping poorer citizens. Sources indicated after the meeting that the government is committed to carry out a series of actions aimed at rebuilding the welfare state and fighting unemployment as well as boosting the health and education systems.

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And then the Germans buy them all up?!

Greek House Price Drop Second To Worst In The World (Kath.)

Greece has the unenviable distinction of having the second to worst performing residential property market in the world this year, according to data up to the end of September. A Global Property Guide survey shows that the annual price decline in Greece came to 6.03%, second only to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (-10.4%). Compared to the second quarter of the year, Greece’s price slide amounted to 2% in Q3. Among European Union member-states, Cyprus was a distant second behind Greece, with a 2.2% annual decline in home prices, while Spain was in third after seeing a small drop of 0.45%. As Bank of Greece data also show, pressure on the market prices of residential properties continues, albeit to a lesser degree that previously.

However, an Alpha Bank analysis revealed that after seven consecutive quarters of slowdown in the annual price reduction rate, the trend reversed in the second and third quarters of this year, when the decline accelerated again to 5% and 6.1% respectively, against a drop of 3.9% in Q1 on an annual basis. Apartments in particular saw a milder decline this year, suffering a 5% drop in prices in the first nine months against an 8.1% slump in the same period of 2014 and a 7.5% decline in the whole of 2014. Apartment prices have dropped 40.9% from 2008 up to end-September 2015. The central bank forecasts that the slide is unlikely to reverse in the coming quarters, as the factors that have led to it have not been eliminated.

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The problems will come in 2016.

Merkel Urges Germans To See Refugee Arrivals As ‘An Opportunity’ (AFP)

Chancellor Angela Merkel in her New Year’s address on Thursday asked Germans to see refugee arrivals as “an opportunity for tomorrow” and urged doubters not to follow racist hate-mongers. The past year – when the country took in more than a million migrants and refugees – had been unusually challenging, she said in a pre-released text of the speech, also bracing Germans for more hardships ahead. But she stressed that in the end it would all be worth it because “countries have always benefited from successful immigration, both economically and socially”. With a view to right-wing populists and xenophobic street rallies, she said “It’s important we don’t allow ourselves to be divided.”

“It is crucial not to follow those who, with coldness or even hatred in their hearts, lay a sole claim to what it means to be German and seek to exclude others.” Merkel has earned both praise and criticism at home and abroad for her decision to open Germany to a record wave of refugees, about half from war-torn Syria. Germany took in almost 1.1 million asylum seekers this year, five times 2014’s total, the Saechsische Zeitung regional daily reported on Wednesday citing unpublished official figures. Merkel, faced with opposition in her conservative camp and popular concerns about the influx, has vowed steps to reduce numbers in 2016. Her plan involves convincing other European Union members to take in more refugees, so far with little success, and an EU deal with gateway country Turkey to better protect its borders.

Merkel said “there has rarely been a year in which we were challenged so much to follow up our words with deeds”. She thanked volunteers and police, soldiers and administrators for their “outstanding” accomplishments and “doing far, far more than their duty”. Looking to 2016, she said: “There is no question that the influx of so many people will keep demanding much of us. It will take time, effort and money.”

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Jul 302015
 
 July 30, 2015  Posted by at 9:41 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing Harding inauguration 1921

The Great Reset – Act II (Russell Napier)
Treason Charges: What Lurks Behind The Bizarre Allegations (Varoufakis)
This Is A Recipe For A European Civil War (AEP)
The Defeat Of Europe (Yanis Varoufakis)
If Varoufakis Is Charged With Treason, Then Dijsselbloem Should Be As Well (ZH)
In Defence Of Yanis Varoufakis (El-Erian)
Yanis Varoufakis Is Being Pilloried For Doing What Had To Be Done (Legrain)
After Greece, Everyone Will Want A Plan B To Leave The Euro (MarketWatch)
Bulgaria, Greece’s New Treasury (Novinite)
Hay For Cheese? Barter Booms in Cash-Squeezed Rural Greece (Reuters)
Tsipras Faces New Challenge From Syriza Hardliners Over Greek Bailout (FT)
‘Iron Lady’ To Play Central Role In Next Act Of Greek Bailout Drama (Guardian)
Spain Thinks Its Workers Are Not Really As Unemployed As They Say (Economist)
Nigel Farage On EU Referendum And The Mess In Dover-Calais (BBCBreakfast)

The Automatic Earth has been warning of deflation since its inception. There is no other possible outcome once deleveraging starts. And deleveraging has been postponed, and postponed only, through QE programs. Which are a bottomless pit.

The Great Reset – Act II (Russell Napier)

In May 2011 this analyst changed his mind about the impact of the monetary love being spread around the world by developed world central bankers. He stopped forecasting higher inflation and instead foresaw the return of deflation. Fresh from the battering in the deflationary storm of 2007-2009 investors did not want to hear that such monetary love would be in vain. They counted on central bankers then, just as they are counting on them now, to restore a level of nominal GDP growth that can prevent the severe burning of another painful deleveraging through default. Central bankers, the argument goes, need to boost financial asset prices to achieve higher nominal growth and that higher growth, when finally achieved, will be good for asset prices anyway.

So while their love may be for higher nominal GDP growth, the goodwill this spreads to asset prices should be priced in if it succeeds in creating inflation. However, a list of some prices that have been falling from last year – gold, steel, iron ore, copper, crude, coffee, cocoa, live cattle, hogs, orange juice, wheat, sugar, cotton, natural gas, silver, platinum, palladium, aluminium and tin – must raise questions as to whether there is reflation or whether this monetary love is in vain. This analyst is told that such major decline in prices across a broad spectrum of commodities and products represents a supply shock and not the failure of central banks to spur demand! Such supply side synchronicity is highly unlikely. This is nothing less than a failure to reflate and it is due to the growing crisis in Emerging Markets.

It was in a report called The Great Reset, in May 2011, that this analyst suggested the world was more likely to move towards deflation rather than higher inflation. There were many reasons for this change of mind, but key to it was a realisation that EM external surpluses had peaked. That sounds like a rather esoteric reason to change from an inflationist to deflationist stance, and it was not one that was of any concern to investors. However, the end of a long period (1998-2011) when external surpluses, combined with exchange-rate intervention policies, forced EM to create more domestic high-powered money, while simultaneously depressing the yields on US Treasuries, seemed both important and deflationary. Crucially, The Great Reset predicted this decline in EM external surpluses would produce tighter monetary policy in both EM and the developed world despite the efforts of central bankers to prevent it.

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Smear.

Treason Charges: What Lurks Behind The Bizarre Allegations (Varoufakis)

The bizarre attempt to have me indicted me on… treason charges, allegedly for conspiring to push Greece out of the Eurozone, reflects something much broader. It reflects a determined effort to de-legitimise our five-month long (25th January to 5th July 2015) negotiation with a troika incensed that we had the audacity to dispute the wisdom and efficacy of its failed program for Greece. The aim of my self-styled persecutors is to characterise our defiant negotiating stance as an aberration, an error or, even better from the perspective of Greece’s troika-friendly oligarchic establishment, as a ‘crime’ against Greece’s national interest. My dastardly ‘crime’ was that, expressing the collective will of our government, I personified the sins of:

• Facing down the Eurogroup’s leaders as an equal that has the right to say ‘NO’ and to present powerful analytical reasons for rebuffing the catastrophic illogicality of huge loans to an insolvent state in condirion of self-defeating austerity

• Demonstrating that one can be a committed Europeanist, strive to keep one’s nation in the Eurozone, and, at the very same time, reject Eurogroup policies which damage Europe, deconstruct the euro and, crucially, trap one’s country in austerity-driven debt-bondage

• Planning for contingencies that leading Eurogroup colleagues, and high ranking troika officials, were threatening me with in face-to-face discussions

• Unveiling how previous Greek governments turned crucial government departments, such as the General Secretariat of Public Revenues and the Hellenic Statistical Office, into departments effectively controlled by the troika and reliably pressed into the service of undermining the elected government.

It is amply clear that the Greek government has a duty to recover national and democratic sovereignty over all departments of state, and in particular those of the Finance Ministry. If it does not, it will continue to forfeit the instruments of policy making that voters expect it to utilise in pursuit of the mandate they bestowed upon it. In my ministerial endeavours, my team and I devised innovative methods for developing the Finance Ministry’s tools to deal efficiently with the troika-induced liquidity crunch while recouping executive powers previously usurped by the troika with the consent of previous governments.

Instead of indicting, and persecuting, those who, to this day, function within the public sector as the troika’s minions and lieutenants (while receiving their substantial salaries from the long-suffering Greek taxpayers), politicians and parties whom the electorate condemned for their efforts to turn Greece into a protectorate are now persecuting me, aided and abetted by the oligarchs’ media. I wear their accusations as badges of honour. The proud and honest negotiation that the SYRIZA government conducted from the first day we were elected has already changed Europe’s public debates for the better. The debate about the democratic deficit afflicting the Eurozone is now unstoppable. Alas, the troika’s domestic cheerleaders do not seem able to bear this historic success. Their efforts to criminalise it will crash of the same shoals that wrecked their blatant propaganda campaign against the ‘No’ vote in the 5th July referendum: the great majority of the fearless Greek people.

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“So we now have a Europe where the political temperature is rising to boiling point: where the EMU elites are refusing to shift course; and where mischievous lawyers are concocting criminal charges against anybody daring to explore a way out of the trap.”

This Is A Recipe For A European Civil War (AEP)

It has come to this. The first finance minister of a eurozone country to draw up contingency plans for a possible euro exit is under investigation for treason. Greece’s chief prosecutor is examining criminal charges against a five-man “working group” in the country’s finance ministry for the sin of designing a “Plan B”, a parallel system of euro liquidity and bank payments that could – in extremis – lead to a return of the drachma. It is hard to see how a monetary union held together by judicial power, coercion and fear in this way can have a future in any of Europe’s ancient nation states. The criminalisation of any Grexit debate shuts off the option of an orderly return to the drachma, even though there is a high probability – some say a near certainty – that the latest EMU loan package for Greece will prove unworkable and precipitate the country’s exit from the single currency within a year.

As a matter of practical statecraft, this is sheer madness. The Greek newspaper Kathimerini – the voice of the oligarchy – reported that the charges would include “breach of duty, violation of currency laws and belonging to a criminal organisation”, as well as violating data privacy by hacking into the Greek tax base. The prosecutor appears to have latched onto a legal suit by a private lawyer accusing Yanis Varoufakis of treason. It is nothing less than an attempt to destroy the mercurial former finance minister, lest he return as an avenging political force. The Greek “Plan B” was approved from the outset by prime minister Alexis Tsipras. It was designed originally to create an alternative source of euro liquidity if the ECB cut off emergency funding for the Greek banking system.

The ECB did in fact do exactly that – arguably violating the ECB’s Treaty to uphold financial stability, and acting ultra vires in a purely political move as the enforcer of the creditors – when the Syriza government threw down the gauntlet with an anti-austerity referendum. Mr Varoufakis insists that his plan was based on California’s IOU scheme in 2009 to cover tax rebates and to pay contractors when liquidity dried up after the Lehman crisis. His purpose was to reflate the economy within the eurozone, not to leave it. Yet it had a double function, and there lies the alleged treason. “At the drop of a hat it could be converted to a new drachma,” he said.

Pablo Iglesias, the pony-tailed leader of Spain’s Podemos movement, has drawn his own conclusions after watching Europe’s first radical-Left government in modern times brought to its knees by liquidity asphyxiation, and then further crushed by internal forces within Greece. He accused Germany of imposing a Carthaginian settlement as punishment for daring to call a referendum, and warned that the “limits of democracy in Europe” are now brutally clear. The lesson to be learned is that if Podemos is elected in Spain it must expect a trial of strength (“medir fuerzas”) and make sure it takes power in the fullest sense. You can interpret this how you will, but there is a hint of Leninist defiance in these words, a warning that Podemos may feel compelled to launch pre-emptive strikes against the entreched positions of the Spanish establisment, in the media, the judiciary, the security forces and the commanding heights of the economy.

The fate of Syriza has clearly tainted the radical-Left brand. The EMU creditor powers have shown all too clearly that if you buck the system, your country will pay a bitter price. It is hard to explain to Spanish voters – or indeed to anybody – how Mr Tsipras could accept a package of draconian demands rejected by the Greek people in a landslide vote just a week earlier. Podemos has lost its electoral lead and has dropped to 17pc in the polls, trailing the Socialists by a wide margin. But it would be premature to conclude that this is the end of the story. The deeper message – still entering the collective consciousness – is that no Leftist government can pursue sovereign policies within the constraints of EMU.

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Le Monde Diplomatique has posted the article in picture format. Click the link to read.

The Defeat Of Europe (Yanis Varoufakis)

Le Monde Diplomatique has posted the article in picture format. Click the link to read.

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And Schäuble. And many others.

If Varoufakis Is Charged With Treason, Then Dijsselbloem Should Be As Well (ZH)

What makes matters confusing, is that the core allegation made by Varoufakis, namely that the Troika controls Greece tax revenues and had to be sabotaged, was strictly denied: European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva on Tuesday described as “false and unfounded” Varoufakis’s claims that Greece’s General Secretariat for Public Revenues is controlled by the country’s creditors. In other words, if Andreeva is right, then Varoufakis’ transgression of threatening to hijack the Greek tax system was merely hot air, and the former finmin is guilty of nothing more than self-aggrandizement.

On the other hand, if Greece does find it has a legal basis to criminally charge Varoufakis with treason merely for preparing for a Plan B, then it brings up an interesting question: if Varoufakis was a criminal merely for preparing for existing the Euro, then comparable treason charges should also be lobbed against none other than Varoufakis’ nemesis – Eurogroup president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Recall from the November 28 post that “Netherlands, Germany Have Euro Disaster Plan – Possible Return to Guilder and Mark”, to wit:

The Dutch finance ministry prepared for a scenario in which the Netherlands could return to its former currency – the guilder. They hosted meetings with a team of legal, economic and foreign affairs experts to discuss the possibility of returning to the Dutch guilder in early 2012. At the time the Euro was in crisis, Greece was on the verge of leaving or being pushed out of the Euro and the debt crisis was hitting Spain and Italy hard. The Greek prime minister Georgios Papandreou and his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi had resigned and there were concerns that the eurozone debt crisis was spinning out of control – leading to contagion and the risk of a systemic collapse.

A TV documentary broke the story last Tuesday. The rumours were confirmed on Thursday by the current Dutch minister of finance, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, and the current President of the Eurogroup of finance ministers in a television interview which was covered by EU Observer and Bloomberg. “It is true that [the ministry of] finance and the then government had also prepared themselves for the worst scenario”, said Dijsselbloem.

This is precisely what Varoufakis was doing too.

“Government leaders, including the Dutch government, have always said: we want to keep that eurozone together. But [the Dutch government] also looked at: what if that fails. And it prepared for that.” While Dijsselbloem said there was no need to be “secretive” about the plans now, such discussions were shrouded in secrecy at the time to avoid spreading panic on the financial markets.

Again, precisely like in the Greek scenario. In fact, if throwing people in jail, may round up Wolfi Schauble as well:

Jan Kees de Jager, finance minister from February 2010 to November 2012, acknowledged that a team of legal experts, economists and foreign affairs specialists often met at his ministry on Fridays to discuss possible scenarios. “The fact that in Europe multiple scenarios were discussed was something some countries found rather scary. They did not do that at all, strikingly enough”, said De Jager in the TV documentary. “We were one of the few countries, together with Germany. We even had a team together that discussed scenarios, Germany-Netherlands.”

When the EU Observer requested confirmation from Germany, the German ministry of finance did not officially deny that it had drawn up similar plans, stating simply: “We and our partners in the euro zone, including the Netherlands, were and still are determined to do everything possible to prevent a breakup of the eurozone.” [..] This is quite a revelation. At that time the German finance minister Wolfgang Schauble had said that the Euro could survive without Greece. Whether it could survive without the Dutch is another matter entirely.

Fast forward 3 years when Greece, too, was making preparations for “preventing the breakup of the eurozone” in doing precisely what Schauble wanted as recently as three weeks ago: implementing a parallel currency which would enable Greece to take its “temporary” sabbatical from the Eurozone. So one wonders: where are the legal suits accusing Dijsselbloem and Schauble of the same “treason” that Varoufakis may have to vigorously defend himself in a kangaroo court designed to be nothing but a spectacle showing what happens to anyone in Europe who dares to give Germany the finger, either literally or metaphorically.

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El-Erian comes laden with salt.

In Defence Of Yanis Varoufakis (El-Erian)

From blaming him for the renewed collapse of the Greek economy to accusing him of illegally plotting Greece’s exit from the eurozone, it has become fashionable to disparage Yanis Varoufakis, the country’s former finance minister. While I have never met or spoken to him, I believe that he is getting a bad rap (and increasingly so). In the process, attention is being diverted away from the issues that are central to Greece’s ability to recover and prosper – whether it stays in the eurozone or decides to leave. That is why it is important to take note of the ideas that Varoufakis continues to espouse. Greeks and others may fault him for pursuing his agenda with too little politesse while in office. But the essence of that agenda was – and remains – largely correct.

Following an impressive election victory by his Syriza party in January, Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, appointed Varoufakis to lead the delicate negotiations with the country’s creditors. His mandate was to recast the relationship in two important ways: render its terms more amenable to economic growth and job creation; and restore balance and dignity to the treatment of Greece by its European partners and the IMF. These objectives reflected Greece’s frustrating and disappointing experience under two previous bailout packages administered by “the institutions”. In pursuing them, Varoufakis felt empowered by the scale of Syriza’s electoral win and compelled by economic logic to press three issues that many economists believe must be addressed if sustained growth is to be restored: less and more intelligent austerity; structural reforms that better meet social objectives; and debt reduction.

These issues remain as relevant today, with Varoufakis out of government, as they were when he was tirelessly advocating for them during visits to European capitals and in tense late-night negotiations in Brussels. Indeed, many observers view the agreement on a third bailout programme that Greece reached with its creditors – barely a week after Varoufakis resigned – as simply more of the same. At best, the deal will bring a respite – one that is likely to prove both short and shallow. [..] Now that he is out of office, Varoufakis is being blamed for much more than failing to adapt his approach to political reality. Some hold him responsible for the renewed collapse of the Greek economy, the unprecedented shuttering of the banking system, and the imposition of stifling capital controls.

Others are calling for criminal investigations, characterising the work he led on a plan B (whereby Greece would introduce a new payments system either in parallel or instead of the euro) as tantamount to treason. But, love him or hate him (and, it seems, very few people who have encountered him feel indifferent), Varoufakis was never the arbiter of Greece’s fate. Yes, he should have adopted a more conciliatory style and shown greater appreciation for the norms of European negotiations; and, yes, he overestimated Greece’s bargaining power, wrongly assuming that pressing the threat of Grexit would compel his European partners to reconsider their long-entrenched positions. But, relative to the macro situation, these are minor issues.

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Another thing I said days ago. Surprise me, tell me something new. Alternatively: read me.

Yanis Varoufakis Is Being Pilloried For Doing What Had To Be Done (Legrain)

Yanis Varoufakis has few friends in official circles these days. Greece’s outspoken former finance minister has long been loathed by his erstwhile eurozone counterparts, on whom he counterproductively impressed their mediocrity. Since he has been jettisoned by his prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, and criticised Greece’s capitulation to Germany’s iniquitous demands, his former Syriza colleagues are losing patience with him too. He is becoming the perfect fall guy for having devised a daring escape plan in the event that Greece’s creditors shut down its banking system and severed its international economic ties – as they eventually did. While Varoufakis’s plan to create a parallel payments system based on the country’s tax register was certainly unorthodox, it was completely understandable.

Until the recent revelations, Varoufakis was being criticised for standing up to Greece’s eurozone creditors without preparing a Plan B in case negotiations failed. As many experts and commentators, including me, advised, the Greek government needed to prepare for a parallel currency to provide liquidity to the economy in case eurozone authorities turned off the taps. That way it could credibly threaten to default on its debts while remaining in the eurozone – and thus, it hoped, convince its creditors to offer the debt relief that the depressed Greek economy desperately needed to recover.

But now it turns out Varoufakis did have a plan B, he is being attacked for that too. Some criticise the supposed recklessness and duplicity of preparing for a parallel currency that could have become a new drachma, given the government’s official commitment to staying in the euro. But that is disingenuous. Governments should and do prepare for all sorts of eventualities. The Bank of England is right to prepare for the possibility of Brexit, which may happen even though it is not government policy. One hopes that Whitehall has plans for dealing with a nuclear winter or a catastrophic epidemic. Varoufakis was right to prepare for how to cope with an outcome that wasn’t just possible, but likely.

Others object that the plan wouldn’t have worked. But why not? In principle, the idea of setting up a parallel payments system involving people’s tax numbers is ingenious. Since the value of the parallel currency would derive from the fact that the Greek government accepted it as payment for overdue, current and future taxes, it makes a lot of sense. Given that it takes time to print and distribute banknotes, starting with a purely electronic system is also sensible.

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Part of why the tapes were leaked?!

After Greece, Everyone Will Want A Plan B To Leave The Euro (MarketWatch)

Surely now every finance minister in Europe is going to be continually asked whether they, like the Greeks, have put in place a contingency plan for an alternative currency. It will be a very hard question to answer. If they say no, then they look irresponsible — after all, one of the key tasks of any government is to prepare for all kinds of terrible things that might happen. If they say yes, however, then they undermine their membership in the single currency. It is lose-lose — but that does not mean it is not going to happen. The Irish? They will certainly be expected to have a plan in place, given the underlying strength of their economy, and what happened to them last time around. The Spanish? With the rise of their own anti-austerity parties, they will certainly need to prepare for all eventualities.

The same is true of the Italians and the Portuguese. Once the questions start, they will be impossible to stop. The trouble is, that is now how a currency is mean to work. No one ever asks the governor of Virginia what plans he has put in place should the state decide to pull out of the dollar. No one asks the leader of Manchester Council whether they have prepared for leaving the sterling zone, or the leaders of Osaka whether they might replace the yen. It would be like asking whether they planned to colonize Mars — – the question would be too far-fetched to even be put. It simply wouldn’t happen. That is because properly functioning currency systems are permanent.

The Greeks and the German have changed that. Varoufakis’s legacy is, in truth, a reversible euro. A country might be a member, but only for the moment, and only so long as it works. It will always have a Plan B stored away somewhere, just in case. And yet, that is not a currency. It is fixed-exchange-rate system. The problem is that fixed-currency systems don’t often survive an economic shock. The euro is staggering on for now. But the chances of it surviving the next big wave or turmoil in the markets have just been dramatically reduced.

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Hilarious in its tragedy.

Bulgaria, Greece’s New Treasury (Novinite)

A short trip to Bulgaria is the only thing Greeks have to do to circumvent capital controls, German weekly Der Spiegel says. “Strict controls which actually had to save Greece’s banks from collapse, are leading to a mass exodus to the poorest EU member state,” it reports in a Tuesday article. Up to €14,000 are successfully transferred to Bulgaria every week despite capital controls. Something not only “normal citizens” do (with thousands having opened bank accounts there), but also companies which open branch offices or move their headquarters to the country, Der Spiegel argues. This is partly owned to the fact that one is allowed to have €2000 daily (or €14,000 weekly) transferred from their account for a trip abroad.

A bank employee in Bulgaria is quoted as saying that for Greek citizens it is quite easy to have accounts set up in her bank in either leva (the Bulgarian currency, BGN) or euro – all it takes is an ID document and wait for two hours. “We have many foreign clients. Of course, Greeks too,” she told the author of the article. Greeks are fearing that a return to the drachma might cost much of their wealth. “In the months when Greece’s crisis peaked they have withdrawn around EUR 45 B from their bank accounts. Now they are bringing the money abroad.” For companies, low corporate and personal taxes in Bulgaria turn out attractive, being at 10% compared to Greece’s 29% of corporate tax. The latter rate was introduced to comply with the demands of international lenders.

Lower minimum wage and levels of red tape add to Bulgaria’s appeal, and Greek entrepreneurs are able to set up a Bulgaria-based subsidiary normally in just a week. As a result, there were 11 500 entities with Greek participation in Bulgaria, 2500 more than the year before. Krasen Stanchev, an economist with the Institute for Market Economy, is quoted as saying that some EUR 4.5-5 B have been invested by Greek companies into Bulgaria since the crisis began. “Until a few years ago Greece was still a beacon of hope and a role model for other countries in the Balkans. We were a developed economy, integrated into the West, part of the center of Europe… Now even Albania looks more attractive,” an entrepreneur is quoted as saying.

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Something tells me the Greeks will come out of this in good shape.

Hay For Cheese? Barter Booms in Cash-Squeezed Rural Greece (Reuters)

Panagiotis Koutras, a cattle herder and farmer, recalls how he sold clover for animal feed worth 2,000 euros to a farmer who did not have cash and paid him in wheat. Another farmer offered his heavy equipment to cover €4,000 of a €6,000 bill for products Koutras had supplied him. Kostas Zavlagas, who produces cotton, wheat, and clover recounted how he gave bales of hay and machine parts to another farmer who did not have cash to pay him. “He is going to pay me back in some sort of product when he is able to, maybe in cheese,” says 47-year-old Zavlagas. “It’s representative of the daily issues that farmers face and why they turn to barter trading to resolve them.”

Still, for the country’s tax inspectors, the practice raises questions about whether it is fuelling endemic tax dodging since it is difficult to monitor whether receipts are issued to ensure value-added-tax is paid. “Barter is not illegal as long as the relevant legal documents are issued for every transaction,” said Christos Kyriazopoulos, research director at the finance ministry’s anti-corruption unit. “But we are closely monitoring the phenomenon, it’s something that we have our eyes on.” Many Greeks are reluctant to encourage the use of barter or to talk about it openly, fearing it symbolizes a society moving in reverse after seven years of economic crisis.

“Of course, a barter economy is something that we shouldn’t aspire to and should be a thing of the past – the last time we had it on a large scale was when we were under occupation,” says Stamatis of the Mermix platform, referring to Nazi German rule during World War Two. “But aren’t capital controls a financial form of occupation?”

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“The IMF is part of the so-called “quadriga” of bailout monitors that also includes the EC, the ECB and, for the first time, the European Stability Mechanism, the EU’s own bailout fund.”

Tsipras Faces New Challenge From Syriza Hardliners Over Greek Bailout (FT)

Alexis Tsipras will on Thursday face an unprecedented challenge to his authority, as the central committee of his governing Syriza party meets to discuss the prime minister’s plan to hold a snap election as soon as Greece signs up to a €86bn third bailout. After abandoning its earlier vows of unity, Left Platform, an anti-bailout faction of the party led by Panayotis Lafazanis, the former energy minister, appeared to be preparing for a showdown that could split Syriza and deprive Mr Tsipras of his parliamentary majority. The development was a reminder of the threats facing Greece’s prime minister as he tries to finalise a bailout deal with international creditors that is deeply unpopular within his own leftwing party.

Mr Tsipras has so far succeeded at winning parliamentary support for two packages of reforms connected to the bailout even as he has expressed his own misgivings about them. In the process, he appears to have energised Mr Lafazanis, a former Communist party official who has advocated a return to the drachma. The prime minister is expected to propose an extraordinary party congress for September, provided his government can meet its own tight deadline of August 12 to strike a deal with creditors. The central committee meeting also coincides with the arrival in Athens of Delia Valesescu, the IMF’s new head of mission. The IMF is part of the so-called “quadriga” of bailout monitors that also includes the EC, the ECB and, for the first time, the European Stability Mechanism, the EU’s own bailout fund.

Earlier this week technical experts from the EU and IMF gained access to the national accounting office at the finance ministry for the first time since Syriza came to power in January, reflecting a more accommodating attitude towards the creditors since Yanis Varoufakis, the combative finance minister, stepped down earlier this month. Mr Tsipras’s newfound willingness to negotiate tough economic reforms with the deeply unpopular bailout monitors in order to keep Greece in the euro has left Mr Lafazanis sounding disappointed and increasingly angry.

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Maybe Romanians are good with diktats?

‘Iron Lady’ To Play Central Role In Next Act Of Greek Bailout Drama (Guardian)

Delia Velculescu, the Romanian economist chosen to lead the International Monetary Fund’s negotiating team in Greece, was dubbed the “iron lady” during the fraught talks over Cyprus’s bailout. Given the poor relationship between Athens and its creditors, her toughness will be tested anew in the coming days. Velculescu arrives in Athens on Thursday amid uncertainty over the IMF’s willingness to throw its weight behind a third bailout for the stricken eurozone state. Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, hopes to negotiate a deal before 20 August, but the IMF will subject any agreement to rigorous examination. The IMF has indicated that it regards Greece’s debt burden as unsustainable, and any new deal must include debt relief.

It is far from clear whether Athens’ eurozone creditors are ready to offer this. Velculescu will have to decide what role the Washington-based lender is willing to play in any new rescue – and what should be expected of Greece in return. Velculescu is not well known in her native Romania, having left for the US to attend university and later joined the IMF. “Inside Romanian financial institutions, she’s known due to her position at the IMF, but among journalists and the general public she is mostly unknown,” said Cristian Pantazi, editor-in-chief of Hotnews, an online Romanian news agency. “People who do know her here characterise her as a very serious and dedicated professional.”

Velculescu holds a masters and PhD in economics from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, and has been at the IMF since 2002. She co-authored an earlier IMF review of the Greek economy in 2009, and this, coupled with her time in Cyprus as the IMF’s chief representative between 2012 and 2014, has led to her securing a prominent role in trying to resolve the ongoing crisis in Greece. [..] it was the Cyprus bailout in 2013 that made her name. It was the Cypriot media who portrayed Velculescu as an “iron lady” who was very tough and demanding in terms of fiscal consolidation and the requirements she made on the country. However, those who dealt with her during Cyprus’s bailout talks have a different viewpoint.

“She had a reputation for being tough, but I didn’t experience the toughness in my dealings with her,” said Marios Clerides, general manager at the Cooperative Central Bank in Cyprus. “She and the troika came across as resolved rather than aggressive,” he added. “She has quite a negative reputation in Cyprus,” said Alexander Apostolides, an economics historian at the European University Cyprus, who was a presidential adviser during the negotiations. “We are a male-dominated society and the fact that she was a woman caused some issues,” he said, but added that in his experience she was “a person willing to listen to other ideas and alternatives, more ready than others to hear other approaches”.

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Good work. Steve will be able to point out tons of erroneous assumptions in mainstream economics.

Help Make Minsky Easier To Use (Steve Keen)

Minsky has been programmed almost exclusively by Dr Russell Standish, and $10,000 will buy 100 hours of Russell’s programming time. About A$230,000 has been spent on it so far-with US$128,000 coming from an initial INET grant (when the US$ was worth less than the A$), US$78,000 from a Kickstarter campaign, and sundry other amounts from supporters like Bruce Ramsay, who runs the Ending Overlending page that is linked to from this blog. This funding enabled Russell to build the basic functionality Minsky needed, along with a lot of innovative smarts that set it apart from its much more established rivals in system dynamics programs like Matlab’s Simulink, Vensim, Stella and Vissim that cost thousands of dollars a copy and have been around for decades.

For example, Minsky is the only system dynamics program that lets you use Greek characters and symbols, superscripts and subscripts; it runs plots dynamically while a simulation is running (which only Vissim also does in the system dynamics product space), it s the only program that lets you insert variables and operators by typing directly onto the canvas rather than having to use the mouse and toolbox palettes; and of course it s the only program that supports double-entry bookkeeping to allow complex inter-related financial accounts to be simulated dynamically. But the program is still incomplete.

Some basic things like an IF/THEN/ELSE block are missing; some aspects of grouping don’t work properly yet, you can’t save part of a Minsky file as a toolkit, and so on. I’m putting $10,000 of my own cash in to get these things done now and there are many other features that should be added. These range from simple things like adding shortcut keys for Save As to the final ambitions I have for the program enabling it to model multiple sectors and multiple economies at once. If we can raise another $30,000 or so, we can also address one of the main complaints that I hear about Minsky: to quote my good friend Tom Ferguson, INET’s Research Director, from our dinner together in London last month, “Why is Minsky so hard to use?”

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Crack down on the poor.

Spain Thinks Its Workers Are Not Really As Unemployed As They Say (Economist)

He had the dishevelled air of a bon vivant, someone who enjoyed his food and cared little for appearances. When he showed up in the tiny hillside village of Gaucin at the beginning of the year, driving an old car and asking for directions, no one knew who he was, or cared. But he eased into village life, gossiping with the locals in the bars, mostly about who owned what in the area. He had done his homework on Owners Direct and Airbnb, two home-rental websites, and had a list of a hundred houses that were being rented out to holidaymakers. Next he began asking about villagers who were working part-time for cash as cleaners, gardeners or handymen, some of them officially claiming to be unemployed. Soon the word spread: the taxman had come to town.

The inspectors have come to villages like Gaucin to tackle the Spanish government’s difficulties in collecting revenue, in the face of economic problems that have driven much of the country’s business activity into the shadows. Spain’s economy has been growing lately, creating 411,000 net jobs in the second quarter according to figures released on July 23rd by the national statistics agency. But while unemployment fell 1.4 %age points, it is still an agonising 22.4%, having remained above 20% for five years. As elsewhere in southern Europe, this prolonged stagnation has encouraged workers and businesses to dodge taxes by shifting to the black market.

While northern European countries now promote electronic transactions, shopkeepers and housecleaners in Spain are happy to accept cash in order to dodge value-added tax of 21%. The grey economy is estimated to make up between a fifth and a quarter of Spain’s GDP. The government’s tax crackdown has netted almost €35 billion extra for the state’s coffers in the past three years. But the tax agency (or Agencia Tributaria) sees scope to improve that take. It plans to step up surveillance of social media and e-commerce sites, as well as of businesses such as hotels and restaurants which it suspects of keeping two sets of accounts to under-report income. Members of the public are encouraged to blow the whistle, and to report any payments of €2,500 or more in cash. Tax inspectors are offered financial incentives to meet ambitious targets.

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Go Nigel go.

Nigel Farage On EU Referendum And The Mess In Dover-Calais (BBCBreakfast)

UKIPs Nigel Farage on the EU referendum campaign, and moving it forward as all the other Eurosceptics are lazy bastards, and the immigration mess on Dover-Calais route with illegal immigrants smuggling themselves onto Eurotunnel trains.

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Dec 292014
 
 December 29, 2014  Posted by at 11:51 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 29 2014
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Unknown Daniels-Wells Pontiac, 3055 Broadway, Oakland 1938

Greece Faces Snap Election as Samaras Fails to Install President (Bloomberg)
Greek Stocks Tank After Presidential Vote (CNBC)
‘Life Will Go On’ Thesis About Global Economy Might Not Work In 2015 (Guardian)
Distressed Debt Losses Worst Since ’08 Credit Crisis on Oil Rout (Bloomberg)
US Bond Sentiment Worst Since Disastrous ’09 as Fed Shifts (Bloomberg)
The 94% Plunge That Shows Abenomics Losing Global Investors (Bloomberg)
Japan’s Regional Banks Face Stress Test For Ultra-Low Rates (Reuters)
Zombie Bankruptcies Top New Year Wish-List for China’s Brokerages (Bloomberg)
China Slashes Trade Target For 2015 To 6% (MarketWatch)
China Looking At Deal With US To Recover Dirty Assets (Reuters)
China First-World Quandary Exposed as $800 Billion Lending Freed (Bloomberg)
Kiev Targets Oligarchs With Budget Bill (FT)
Fed and ECB: Kudos And Problems Ahead (CNBC)
The Liberal Idiocy on Russia/Ukraine (Robert Parry)
In Reversal, Germany Cools to Russian Investment (NY Times)
Russia Must Influence Separatists To End Ukraine Crisis, Says Merkel (Reuters)
In Lieu Of Best Wishes: The Euro’s First Inkling (Varoufakis)
Winston Churchill’s Family Begged Him Not To Convert To Islam (Ind.)
The American Civil War: The Bloody Anniversary We All Forgot (Fisk)

Chaos assured in Europe as per Jan 1. Elections January 25. Expect crazy stuff from Samaras and Brussels. We’ll hear Armageddon a lot.

Greece Faces Snap Election as Samaras Fails to Install President (Bloomberg)

Greece faces snap elections early in the New Year after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras failed in his third and final attempt to persuade parliament to back his candidate for head of state. With voting continuing in Athens today, more than 121 lawmakers in the 300-seat chamber refused to support Samaras’s nominee for president, Stavros Dimas, ensuring that he’ll fall short of the 180 votes required. Under the constitution, the legislature will now be dissolved and a date for elections set within the next 10 days. The prospect of early parliamentary elections as soon as Jan. 25 has roiled financial markets in Greece, evoking memories of the height of the financial crisis in 2012 when the country’s euro membership was in jeopardy.

The benchmark Athens Stock Exchange slumped the most among 18 western-European markets ahead of the vote. The anti-austerity Syriza party led by Alexis Tsipras is ahead of Samaras’s New Democracy movement in opinion polls. Samaras, who failed to gather enough support for Dimas in two previous rounds of voting on Dec. 17 and Dec. 23, called on lawmakers before today’s session to avert a dissolution of parliament, saying that snap elections posed a danger to the country. Heading a coalition of 155 lawmakers, he’d offered to form a broader administration and hold early parliamentary elections at the end of 2015 if lawmakers backed his nominee. His coalition’s term doesn’t expire until June 2016.

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Bring in the Plunge Protectors.

Greek Stocks Tank After Presidential Vote (CNBC)

Greek stocks tumbled over 10% on Monday, after Greek politicians failed to elect a president in a key vote, paving the way for a snap election. Stavros Dimas, the Greek government’s preferred candidate, secured only 168 votes in the third round of voting on Monday, short of the 180 needed to avoid a snap election. Greece’s main stock market fell 11% on the news, while the country’s 10-year bond yields spiked above 9%. Ahead of the vote, the euro slipped to a near-28-month low against the dollar. The result of the vote came as no surprise to analysts, who had not expected Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ candidate Dimas to get the required votes.

Elena Panaritis, a former MP for Greek social democratic party PASOK, told CNBC on Monday tat the country was heading for snap elections. There are fears that if a snap general election takes place in early 2015, Greece’s popular anti-austerity Syriza party may be elected. This could put the country’s international bailout into jeopardy, as the party has promised to scrap Greece’s tough austerity policies if it gets into power. The unpopular cost-cutting measures are a condition of the country’s bailouts – worth €240 billion ($296 billion) – implemented by the International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission.

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OK overview.

‘Life Will Go On’ Thesis About Global Economy Might Not Work In 2015 (Guardian)

Russia is in crisis. There are concerns about the eurozone. Japan is struggling to emerge from stagnation. Booming stock markets seem divorced from economic reality. The Anglo-Saxon economies are outpacing the other developed economies of the west. This is the world as it exits 2014. But it was also the world as it was 15 years ago during a month in which the first major anti-globalisation protests took place on the streets of Seattle and preparations were made for the nonexistent millennium bug. Oil prices were low. Banks could lend money cheaply. There was talk of how technology would power a new industrial revolution. It would be a mistake, though, to think that nothing has really changed. The story of the past decade and a half is of the increasingly desperate attempts to prevent the Great Stalling of the global economy. Rock-bottom interest rates have failed to prevent growth rates from slipping. Living standards in many countries are back to the levels of the early 2000s.

Securing international cooperation to tackle climate change, to open markets to trade, to manage currencies or to create jobs has become increasingly difficult. The problems of 1999 are still the problems of 2014, but more serious and seemingly more intractable. There is no shortage of explanations for what has gone wrong and what needs to be done to put things right. One view, popular with central bankers and technologists, is that all that is needed is a bit of time. Seen from this perspective, the world is on the brink of the sort of technological shift that happens once in every 50 or 60 years. The transition, however, has been delayed by the structural changes in the global economy caused by the collapse of communism a quarter of a century ago.

Adjustment to these geopolitical shifts, such as the rise of China, is taking longer than expected but will eventually happen. Another view is that the zombie-like state of the global economy is owing to a lack of structural reform. Here there is common cause between the German government, which blames the eurozone crisis not on a lack of demand but on supply-side impediments to growth, and the free market economists who say the financial crisis of 2007-08 was caused by over regulation. The solution, therefore, is to make markets work better through reforms that sharpen incentives to work, dilute labour rights, cut taxes, reduce government spending, balance budgets and push back against growing protectionist tendencies.

Then there is the Keynesian view of the world. Here, the idea is return, as far as possible, to the world as it existed in the golden years of the 1950s and 1960s. That means governments rethinking their austerity programmes; keeping interest rates low; using redistribution to spread the fruits of growth more evenly; and returning to the sort of managed currency regime that existed until the early 1970s. What is common to the explanations is that they believe there is a short-term (sometimes a medium-term) fix that will put matters right. Growth and a steady increase in living standards has been a feature of the modern industrial world, stretching back to the 18th century: it is quite a stretch to believe that 250 years of progress have come to a halt. As a result, the assumption is that eventually the global economy will achieve escape velocity following several years in the post-global recession doldrums.

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Emerging markets on their way to the bottom.

Distressed Debt Losses Worst Since ’08 Credit Crisis on Oil Rout (Bloomberg)

Emerging-market distressed debt losses are the worst this month since the global financial crisis. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Distressed Emerging Markets Corporate Plus Index fell 13.4% through Dec. 26, set for its worst performance since October 2008, as a tumble in the price of oil sparked a currency crisis in Russia. That brought this year’s decline to 19.7%, the most in six years. Emerging markets accounted for 14 of the 56 global defaults this year in Standard & Poor’s coverage. Crude reached the lowest in five years earlier this month and is heading for its largest annual decline since 2008 as members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries resist production cuts to defend market share. A supply glut has also pushed metal and coal prices deeper into a bear market.

“With many moving parts to the equation, could there be a point where investors begin to interpret the circumstances as contagion?” said David Tawil, co-founder of New York-based Maglan Capital LP. “What happens if we need to add Venezuela and Russia to the mix? Contagion is good for no one.” Oil accounts for 95% of Venezuela’s exports and its government bonds have suffered as President Nicolas Maduro said he has no plans to curb fuel subsidies. Economic sanctions are also hurting Russia, pushing the country toward a recession, while corruption probes induced bond losses in Brazil and China. In Indonesia, the Bakrie family group of companies put its coal unit, PT Bumi Resources, under court protection.

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So Yellen hikes rates, and then buys up all Treasuries Kuroda-style?

US Bond Sentiment Worst Since Disastrous ’09 as Fed Shifts (Bloomberg)

Get ready for a disastrous year for U.S. government bonds. That’s the message forecasters on Wall Street are sending. With Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen poised to raise interest rates in 2015 for the first time in almost a decade, prognosticators are convinced Treasury yields have nowhere to go except up. Their calls for higher yields next year are the most aggressive since 2009, when U.S. debt securities suffered record losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Getting it right hasn’t been easy. Almost everyone who foresaw a selloff this year as the Fed ended its bond buying was caught off-guard as lackluster U.S. wage growth and turmoil in emerging markets propelled Treasuries to the biggest returns since 2011.

Now, even as the bond market’s inflation outlook tumbles, forecasters are sticking to the view that Treasuries are a losing proposition as the economy strengthens. “Next year should be the break-out year finally,” Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, said by phone from New York on Dec. 23. “The market is ignoring the rhetoric that Yellen and the FOMC is getting closer and closer to tightening. The market has it wrong.” Rupkey, who is among the 74 economists and strategists surveyed by Bloomberg this month, has one of the highest projections. He said he expects 10-year yields to rise to 3.4% by the end of 2015 from 2.25% at 12:55 p.m. in Tokyo.

Back in January, Rupkey said yields would be 3.6% by now. The median forecast calls for yields to reach 3.01% during the same span. The roughly 0.75 percentage point increase would be almost twice as much as forecasters anticipated for 2014. Combined with projections for yields on the two-year note to more than double to 1.53% and those on the 30-year bond to rise 0.89 percentage point to 3.70%, the prognosticators are more bearish than any time since heading into 2009. That’s when they predicted yields on every debt maturity would rise more than a percentage point as the U.S., helped by the Fed’s easy-money policies, started to recover from its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Treasuries lost 3.7% that year in the biggest slide dating back to 1978.

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Investors are still not completely stupid.

The 94% Plunge That Shows Abenomics Losing Global Investors (Bloomberg)

Foreign investors have had just about enough of Abenomics. After pumping record amounts of cash into Japanese shares last year, they’ve hardly added to holdings in 2014. Inflows are down 94% this year to 898 billion yen ($7.5 billion), on pace for the smallest annual amount since the 2008 global financial crisis. The month of April 2013 alone registered almost three times as much foreign investment in the stock market as all of 2014. These figures provide the clearest look at how global investors have become disillusioned with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe after he pushed through a tax increase in April that sent Japan into recession. Fund managers from Sumitomo Mitsui to MV Financial say to lure investors back, Abe needs to move beyond short-term stimulus and start enacting the structural changes he laid out in his initial plan, dubbed Abenomics, to end Japan’s two-decade economic malaise.

“We need to see a framework where growth isn’t dependent on monetary easing,” Ayako Sera, a market strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui, which oversees $325 billion in assets. “If not growth, then at least a way to increase productivity. For now there’s nothing like that, so I imagine it’ll be hard for stocks to keep going higher and for foreigners to take an interest in them.” Purchases of the nation’s shares through Dec. 19 by investors outside Japan were less than a tenth of the 15.1 trillion yen they bought last year, according to data from the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Trust banks, which typically trade on behalf of pension funds, added 2.7 trillion yen, after offloading about 4 trillion yen of equities in 2013. Individuals were net sellers for a fourth straight year.

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Deflation tests.

Japan’s Regional Banks Face Stress Test For Ultra-Low Rates (Reuters)

Japan’s financial regulator is running stress tests to see if too much cash in the system is stifling smaller banks’ ability to earn, unlike regulatory tests elsewhere that have been designed to see whether lenders had enough capital to cope with financial shocks. Two people with direct knowledge of the process said the Financial Services Agency (FSA) had initiated the tests on concerns that with 10-year Japanese government bond yields near a record low around 0.3%, regional lenders in particular could be at risk as the gap between what they pay for deposits and what they collect on loans and bond holdings shrinks.

The action highlights one of the unintended risks of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s programme to end decades of deflation with the support of the Bank of Japan (BOJ), which by injecting monetary stimulus into the economy is helping to keep interest rates at rock bottom. Critics say policymakers in Europe should be considering such risks, too. The European Central Bank completed a review of the resilience of euro zone banks in October and came under fire for not including a deflationary scenario in its stress test hypotheses, even though inflation and bond yields in much of the region are hovering barely above zero. ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio defended the omission by arguing that a “deflation (scenario) is not there because indeed we don’t consider that deflation is going to happen”.

It was not immediately clear what scenario or assumptions the FSA was using in its assessment of the risk to regional and smaller banks, nor how the agency would follow up with lenders that appeared to be at particular risk from a period of persistently low, long-term interest rates. Japan’s more than 100 regional banks account for around 40% of the country’s $4.6 trillion in outstanding loans, but overall loan demand has shrunk 10% over the last 20 years. Such banks, which typically serve smaller businesses, have seen lending fall as Japan’s population ages, and many have cut the interest rates they charge to win business.

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But what about the pretense? How many zombies can they blow up before it starts hurting and cascading?

Zombie Bankruptcies Top New Year Wish-List for China’s Brokerages (Bloomberg)

Bond brokerages have a New Year’s resolution proposal for China’s policy makers: allow more defaults among so-called zombie companies. The extra yield on three-year AA rated debt over top-ranked notes surged 47 basis points this month to Dec. 25, the most for any month since October 2011, even after China’s first onshore bond payment in March failed to trigger a shakeup in the market. Borrowers graded at or below that rating need to repay a record 632.3 billion yuan ($101.6 billion) of notes in 2015, up 71% from 2014, China International Capital data show.

President Xi Jinping, who delivers a year-ahead address on Jan. 1, must balance the need to support an economy set for its slowest growth in more than two decades with reining in the world’s biggest corporate liabilities that Standard & Poor’s estimates stood at $14.2 trillion in 2013. Haitong Securities and Fitch say that will require greater use of bankruptcy laws. “Zombie companies will face higher borrowing costs, which will force more failures,” said Li Ning, a bond analyst in Shanghai at Haitong, the nation’s second-biggest brokerage. “That’s a good thing for the economy because allowing more defaults is a necessary step in building a sound financial asset pricing system.”

Haitong Securities’ Li said the number of bond defaults may increase next year and investors should shun lower-rated corporate debt because their yield premium over top-rated notes may rise. Zombie companies are using up too many lending resources, Liu Shiyu, who was deputy governor at the People’s Bank of China and is now chairman of Agricultural Bank of China, said earlier this year. In the only one onshore default China has had, investors didn’t lose a cent. Shanghai Chaori, which failed to make a full coupon payment in March, repaid all the principal and interest for its 1 billion yuan of bonds on Dec. 22. “It’s necessary to let those zombie companies default,” said Wang Ying, an analyst at Fitch Ratings in Shanghai. “If there is no real default, risks will never be priced in a correct way. Without a correct risk pricing mechanism, zombie companies can still survive by getting loans from banks.”

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That quickly withdrawn paper yesterday gave it all away. 3.5% trade growth.

China Slashes Trade Target For 2015 To 6% (MarketWatch)

China has cut its target for the growth of external trade to 6% for 2015, compared with a 7.5% target this year, the China Daily reported Monday. The paper cited Gao Hucheng, the minister of commerce, without saying where he made the remarks. With imports in particular falling short of expectations, China looks certain to miss this year’s target. In the first 11 months of 2014, total trade was up just 3.5% year-over-year in U.S. dollar terms, according to Dow Jones Newswires’ calculations. That is considerably slower than the official growth rate of the entire economy, which expanded 7.4% from a year earlier in the first three quarters.

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Sure the FBI is only too happy to chase some rich Chinese around.

China Looking At Deal With US To Recover Dirty Assets (Reuters)

China is looking at signing an agreement with the United States to target assets illegally taken out of China by corrupt officials, a newspaper said on Monday, as the government tightens the screws in its anti-graft battle. China has vowed to pursue a search, dubbed Operation “Fox Hunt,” beyond its borders for corrupt officials and business executives, and their assets. But Western countries have balked at signing extradition deals with China, partly out of concern about the integrity of its judicial system and treatment of prisoners. Rights groups say Chinese authorities use torture and that the death penalty is common in corruption cases.

The state-run China Daily said the central People’s Bank of China was talking to the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network about signing an agreement targeting ill-gotten assets held in the U.S. China is set to finalize a similar deal with Canada, Chinese state media reported this month. The central bank was also looking at a deal with Australia, the China Daily said, citing Zhang Xiaoming, deputy head of the Finance Ministry’s legal assistance and foreign affairs department. “After the agreements are made, China will share intelligence with the U.S. and Australia, which will also offer information to their enforcement agencies to conduct further investigations,” Zhang told the English-language paper.

“Once law enforcement officers in the U.S. and Australia identify illegal funds, they will immediately initiate judicial procedures to freeze and confiscate those criminal proceeds in their countries.” The United States, Canada and Australia are popular locations for corrupt officials to transfer their assets, the paper added. But legal problems have prevented China from getting these assets back, Zhang said. “Although the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation or Australian police have traced the assets and collected enough evidence to identify them as ill-gotten gains, they are unable to take immediate measures to freeze and confiscate them due to the lack of asset restraining orders from the Chinese courts.”

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Creative accounting.

China First-World Quandary Exposed as $800 Billion Lending Freed (Bloomberg)

China’s central bank is joining the balancing act of developed-world counterparts as it moves to free up at least $800 billion in funds for lenders, seeking to support growth without further inflaming financial risk. The world’s largest emerging market will broaden the definition of a deposit in 2015, boosting the lending capacity of Chinese banks that have to cap loans at 75% of funds held. The relaxation, reported by the official Xinhua News Agency yesterday, could make an additional 5 trillion yuan ($800 billion) to 5.5 trillion yuan available, according to analysts at Credit Agricole CIB and Guotai Junan Securities Co.

“The change in rules allows the extension of additional loans worth half of this year’s new lending,” said Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong. “Policy makers across the globe are trying to boost demand by increasing bank lending, especially to businesses, so in this sense China’s efforts to boost lending fit well into the picture.” Central bankers worldwide are hunting for new ways to stimulate investment as elevated debt levels in developed nations stifle the scope of governments to respond and record-low borrowing costs limit room for monetary maneuvering. As global policy makers grapple with concern that asset bubbles are a by-product of increased liquidity, the People’s Bank of China’s challenge is supporting growth sufficiently to avoid political discontent while discouraging a renewed borrowing binge in the world’s second-largest economy.

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They’re just killing the whole economy on purpose.

Kiev Targets Oligarchs With Budget Bill (FT)

Recession-battered and war-torn Ukraine overhauled its business-choking tax system early on Monday, promising to lower the burden on small businesses and lower-income citizens while closing loopholes long exploited by oligarchs. The package of legislation adopted after 9 p.m. London time on Sunday also envisions increases in import duties to help stabilize stretched state finances and counter a balance of payments crisis. The laws will form the revenue-boosting backbone of an austerity-packed 2015 budget that officials hope will unlock fresh multibillion-dollar bailouts from the IMF and other western donors. In a 4:15 a.m. vote during the extraordinary Sunday-into-Monday session of parliament, Ukraine’s lawmakers adopted the budget, cutting subsidies and government spending.

Though many lawmakers complained the government did not show them a final version of the draft budget before voting, they were under pressure to adopt it before the end of this year in order to swiftly re-engage with the IMF. With fears of a financial meltdown spreading after central bank reserves halved this year to about one month of import coverage, the IMF concluded this month that Ukraine would need $15 billion of additional support on top of its existing $17 billion loan program. The tax legislation was only adopted after 10 hours of grueling negotiations that tested the unity of a pro-western coalition. It aims to bolster small and medium-sized businesses, reduce a massive shadow economy and squeeze what officials described as a fairer share of revenue out of oligarch-owned businesses.

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Kudos? Excuse me?

Fed and ECB: Kudos And Problems Ahead (CNBC)

It seems to me that the Fed should speed up the removal of a mind-boggling inflationary potential presented by its bloated balance sheet. The latest numbers show that during the two weeks between November 26 and December 10, the Fed shrank its balance sheet by $56.3 billion. That brought the monetary base down to $3.7 trillion, a $315.1 billion decline from its peak of last August. These liquidity withdrawals had no negative impact on U.S. money and capital markets: The federal funds rate remained well below its 0.25% target, and the yield on the Treasury’s benchmark ten-year bond closed at 2.25% last Friday. I expect to see the Fed accelerating asset reductions in the weeks and months ahead.

The European Central Bank (ECB) is in a completely different situation as a result of the weak cyclical position of the euro area economy. With the monetary union’s growth rate of 0.9% in the first nine month of this year, and the bank loans to the private sector falling at an average annual rate of 1.3% in the three months to October, the ECB has to maintain its exceptionally loose monetary policy in the months ahead. But the ECB needs no additional liquidity creation. The euro area markets are already swimming in liquidity. The problem is in an inadequate bank lending to businesses and households. Banks are gun-shy because of bad credit risks in a stagnant economy. Their balance sheets are also closely (maybe too closely) monitored by the regulatory authorities.

That means that the ECB’s most urgent and important task is to fix its dysfunctional transmission mechanism between monetary policy and real economy. The ECB’s other problem is an apparent expectation of some euro area governments that the central bank will do the heavy lifting for them. True to form, Germans are issuing stern warnings to countries (France and Italy) accused of dragging their feet on structural reforms while pushing for even looser monetary policies. German taskmasters may have a point here because it does seem that advocates of greater liquidity are the ones seeking to avoid the political fallout from unpopular reforms.

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“Kissinger argued that the West – with its strategy of pulling Ukraine into the orbit of the European Union – was responsible for the crisis by failing to understand Russian sensitivity over Ukraine ..”

The Liberal Idiocy on Russia/Ukraine (Robert Parry)

Among honest and knowledgeable people, there really isn’t much doubt about what happened in Ukraine last winter. There was a U.S.-backed coup which ousted a constitutionally elected president and replaced him with a regime more in line with U.S. interests. Even some smart people who agree with the policy of going on the offensive against Russia recognize this reality. For instance, George Friedman, the founder of the global intelligence firm Stratfor, was quoted in an interview with the Russian liberal business publication Kommersant as saying what happened on Feb. 22 in Kiev – the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych – “really was the most blatant coup in history.”

Brushing aside the righteous indignation and self-serving propaganda, Stratfor’s Friedman recognized that both Russia and the United States were operating in what they perceived to be their own interests. “The bottom line is that the strategic interests of the United States are to prevent Russia from becoming a hegemon,” he said. “And the strategic interests of Russia are not to allow the U.S. close to its borders.” Another relative voice of reason, at least on this topic, has been former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who – in an interview with Der Spiegel – dismissed Official Washington’s conventional wisdom that Russian President Vladimir Putin provoked the crisis and then annexed Crimea as part of some diabolical scheme to reclaim territory lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

“The annexation of Crimea was not a move toward global conquest,” the 91-year-old Kissinger said. “It was not Hitler moving into Czechoslovakia” – as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had suggested. Kissinger noted that Putin had no intention of instigating a crisis in Ukraine: “Putin spent tens of billions of dollars on the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The theme of the Olympics was that Russia is a progressive state tied to the West through its culture and, therefore, it presumably wants to be part of it. So it doesn’t make any sense that a week after the close of the Olympics, Putin would take Crimea and start a war over Ukraine.” Instead Kissinger argued that the West – with its strategy of pulling Ukraine into the orbit of the European Union – was responsible for the crisis by failing to understand Russian sensitivity over Ukraine and making the grave mistake of quickly pushing the confrontation beyond dialogue.

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A curious NY Times piece mostly made up of innuendo and slander, but which has a few relevent lines. What the Times seeks to insinuate is that German companies ‘cool on Russia’ because they no longer trust the country, whereas in reality it’s sanctions that force them out.

In Reversal, Germany Cools to Russian Investment (NY Times)

The uncertainty hanging over Germany’s strong business ties with Russia, which are more than double the value of Russian trade with the United States, is in marked contrast to the optimism and relative stability of recent years. And it has been reflected in increasingly acrimonious exchanges in Germany’s political, diplomatic and intellectual elite over how to shape relations with Moscow. Last weekend, the two most prominent Social Democrats in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government of center right and center left — the party leader, Sigmar Gabriel, and the foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier – voiced concern that sanctions might hobble the stricken Russian economy, and they opposed tightening them.

Ms. Merkel, clearly frustrated with the behavior of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, has so far taken a harder line. But the potential for conflict within Ms. Merkel’s government complicates her efforts to use Germany’s close ties with Russia as leverage to fashion a solution to the crisis in Ukraine. Business groups, normally strong backers of Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, have agreed with the Social Democrats on Russia and warned against using economic means to put pressure on Mr. Putin. “Sanctions are not the proper means to resolve this political crisis,” Eckhard Cordes, a former Daimler executive who is chairman of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, which represents companies doing business in the former Soviet bloc, said in an email. “The West cannot have an interest in destabilizing the Russian economy or Russian politics.”

[..] Political tensions are likely to intensify as sanctions against Russia come up for renewal in March, a year after Moscow annexed Crimea. “Anyone who believes that forcing Russia economically to its knees will lead to more security in Europe is wrong,” Mr. Steinmeier, the foreign minister, told the weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel. Having Russia’s economy in chaos “cannot be in our interest,” he added. Mr. Gabriel, the leader of the Social Democrats, said pointedly that calls for intensifying sanctions were wrong. Gerhard Schröder, Ms. Merkel’s predecessor as chancellor and an avowed friend of Mr. Putin, was among 60 prominent signatories of an appeal entitled, “Again War in Europe?/Not in Our Name.”

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Okay, and I say Merkel should influence Kiev.

Russia Must Influence Separatists To End Ukraine Crisis, Says Merkel (Reuters)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to the Russian government on Sunday to use its influence on separatists in eastern Ukraine to implement a ceasefire plan agreed in Minsk in September aimed at ending the conflict. Planned talks involving Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe to further the ceasefire arrangements have not yet taken place. “(Merkel said) A stabilization of the situation can only come if the agreed contact lines are finally implemented,” said a spokeswoman in a statement. “She appealed to the Russian government to use its influence on the separatists to this end,” said the spokeswoman. In a phone call with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko late on Saturday, Merkel expressed regret that the contact group talks had not happened.

Last week, Poroshenko had said the talks would take place on Dec. 24 and 26. Merkel, who has been closely involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, also welcomed the exchange of prisoners between the Ukrainian government and separatists. The September truce has been flouted by both sides but violence in eastern Ukraine has decreased during December, raising hopes of further talks. The uprising by the separatists, who oppose Kiev rule and want a union with Russia, began after Russia annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in March. The pro-Western authorities in Kiev accuse Russia of orchestrating the uprising but the Kremlin denies it is behind the revolt.

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Long piece from Syriza advisor Varoufakis on the origins of the euro.

In Lieu Of Best Wishes: The Euro’s First Inkling (Varoufakis)

As 2015 is approaching, seemingly pregnant with crucial challenges for Europe, the euro and all those who have to live with it, I could not think of a better seasonal offering for readers of this blog than a suitable extract from my next book. I chose a piece that narrates, and interprets, the story of the first time the euro was proposed in the highest echelons of European decision making. Hope you enjoy it. With wishes for a 2015 worth remembering fondly.

An Indecent Proposal Kurt Schmücker was a man not given to strong emotions. But on the morning of March 23rd 1964 he could hardly trust his ears and only barely managed to contain his astonishment. As Germany’s Minister of the Economy, Herr Schmücker was used to meeting, regularly, with his French counterpart, Valerie Giscard d’ Estaing, President Charles De Gaulle’s finance minister and a man who would, ten years later, become President of France himself. So, when Giscard dropped by his Bonn office, for a two-hour chat, Minister Schmücker was relaxed, anticipating another anodyne meeting, like all previous get-togethers whose real purpose was to put on a show of European unity between the two erstwhile foes shouldering the burden of constructing a European Union at the early stages of its development.

Schmücker and Giscard normally exchanged polite views on how each saw the economic policies of the other, on how the two countries dealt with movements of money across their borders, on interest rates and trade balances, on their attitudes toward taxing business and, of course, on their joint efforts at cementing a European Union still in its infancy. Occasionally they would also swap tales of woe on their tense relations with their own central bankers, the Bundesbank and the Banque de France. Nothing, in other words, that might have prepared Herr Schmücker for what he was about to hear. But, that morning, once the obligatory niceties had been dispensed with, Giscard came out with a shocking proposal: France and Germany should create a common currency, inviting the other four members of the European Union to join in when and if they were ready.

It took Schmücker a few moments to recover his composure. What on earth was the aristocratic Frenchman saying? Germany and France sharing the same banknotes, the same coins, the same Central Bank? Which one? The Bundesbank? For heavens sake!, he is certain to have cried out inside his own head. Outwards, he put on a face of somber iciness, pretending not to have been taken aback. Indeed, the record shows that he responded as if he had not heard the earth-shattering proposition. Why not be more modest, he countered? Why don’t we just try to stabilize our exchange rates through our central banks and on the basis of (a conservative German’s wet-dream) “strict discipline” and “contractual rules”?

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What a shame.

Winston Churchill’s Family Begged Him Not To Convert To Islam (Ind.)

The family of Sir Winston Churchill urged him to “fight against” the desire to convert to Islam, a newly discovered letter has revealed. The Prime Minister who led Britain to victory in World War Two was apparently so taken with Islam and the culture of the Orient that his family wrote to try and persuade him not to become a Muslim. In a letter dated August 1907 Churchill’s soon to be sister-in-law wrote to him: “Please don’t become converted to Islam; I have noticed in your disposition a tendency to orientalise, Pasha-like tendencies, I really have. “If you come into contact with Islam your conversion might be effected with greater ease than you might have supposed, call of the blood, don’t you know what I mean, do fight against it.”

The letter, discovered by a history research fellow at Cambridge University, Warren Dockter, was written by Lady Gwendoline Bertie who married Churchill’s brother Jack. “Churchill never seriously considered converting,” Dr Dockter told The Independent. “He was more or less an atheist by this time anyway. He did however have a fascination with Islamic culture which was common among Victorians.” Churchill had opportunity to observe Islamic society when he served as an officer of the British Army in Sudan. In a letter written to Lady Lytton in 1907 Churchill wrote that he “wished he were” a Pasha, which was a rank of distinction in the Ottoman Empire. He even took to dressing in Arab clothes in private – an enthusiasm he shared with his good friend the poet Wilfrid S. Blunt. But Dr Dockter thinks Churchill’s family need never have worried about his interest in Islam.

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Good read.

The American Civil War: The Bloody Anniversary We All Forgot (Fisk)

Every month, my London mail package thumps on to my Beirut doorstep with An Cosantóir inside. It’s the magazine of the Irish Defence Forces – surely the glossiest-paged journal of any army, let alone one of the smallest military forces in the world. But among its accounts of Ireland’s UN missions abroad – think Golan, for example, with Syria’s civil war crashing around Irish soldiers – almost inevitably each month, there’s a piece of history we’ve forgotten. For while the start of the Great War of 1914-18 has been commemorated to the point of spiritualism these past 12 months, who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War?

In US history, it is a profound event that we should all remember; here, after all, lie the original bones of the Union, its victory consecrated among some of the units whose soldiers were sent to their deaths in Iraq in 2003, its brutality ghosted into the future narrative of American military records, its equalities reflected in the large number of black soldiers who died in present-day Mesopotamia. But for the Irish, too, the civil war of 1861-1865, is a sombre anniversary. They reckon that 210,000 Irish soldiers fought in British uniform in the First World War, and that 49,300 were killed. Yet almost as many Irishmen fought in the American Civil War – 200,000 in all, 180,000 in the Union army, 20,000 for the Confederates.

An estimated 20% of the Union navy were Irish-born – 26,000 men – and the total Irish dead of the American conflict came to at least 30,000. Many of the Irish fatalities were from Famine families who had fled the desperate poverty of their homes in what was then the United Kingdom, only to die at Antietam and Gettysburg. My old alma mater, Trinity College Dublin, is collating the figures and they are likely to rise much higher as Irish academics mine into the American Compiled Military Service Records for the regiments of both sides.

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