Nov 132017
 
 November 13, 2017  Posted by at 9:42 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s lab 1894

 

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)
One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)
Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)
Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)
The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)
Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)
UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)
More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)
Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)
The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)
Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)
Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

 

 

Big fall, big rise and an even bigger fall.

John Hussman Forecasts A Decade Of Stock Losses (BI)

As the equity bull market has climbed into rarefied air, investors have continuously come up with new ways to rationalize the rally. Right now, they like to cite earnings growth, which has expanded for several quarters after a prolonged rough patch. They also frequently mention interest rates that, despite hawkish signals from central banks, have remained low, supplying the market with a seemingly endless supply of cheap money. On the other side of the spectrum, John Hussman, the president of the Hussman Investment Trust and a former economics professor, thinks that the investment community is unwisely ignoring the most stretched valuations in history on the heels of a nearly 300% bull market run. Ever the outspoken bear, Hussman says investors are being willfully ignorant, which has stocks at risk of a drop that could reach 63% and send the market spiraling into a full decade of negative returns.

It wouldn’t be the first time in history this has happened. But Hussman thinks this crash will be different, because the reasons for market instability are “purely psychological” this time around, according to a recent blog post. At the root of Hussman’s pessimistic market view are stock valuations that look historically stretched by a handful of measures. According to his preferred valuation metric — the ratio of non-financial market cap to corporate gross value-added (Market Cap/GVA) — stocks are more expensive than they were in 1929 and 2000, periods that immediately preceded major market selloffs. “US equity market valuations at the most offensive levels in history,” he wrote in his November monthly note. “We expect that more extreme valuations will only be met by more severe losses.”

Those losses won’t just include the 63% plunge referenced above – it’ll also be accompanied by a longer 10 to 12 year period over which the S&P 500 will fall, says Hussman. He cites the chart below, which shows how closely 12-year expected returns for the benchmark have historically tracked Market Cap/GVA, which is shown in inverted fashion. Note that the expected trajectory for Market Cap/GVA shows the S&P 500 veering into negative territory. The psychology behind the market’s willingness to accept lofty stock valuations stems from the flawed rationale that prices are justified by low interest rates, says Hussman. To him, the US economy is growing too slowly for this to be true, and that any belief to the contrary gives people false confidence.

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While other reports say some 70% live paycheck to paycheck. Which one is true? At least it should be clear that the US is not doing well at all.

One In Five American Households Have ‘Zero Or Negative’ Wealth (MW)

Millions of Americans are living on the edge. One in five households has zero or negative wealth, according to a report released this week by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C. What’s more, an even greater share of African-American (30%) and Latino (27%) households are “underwater” financially. The combined impact of $1 trillion in credit-card debt, $1.4 trillion in student loan debt, and stagnant wages are taking a toll. U.S. homes have regained value since the Great Recession, but many households have not. “Millions of American families struggle with zero or negative wealth, meaning they owe more than they own,” the report found. “This means that they have nothing to fall back on if an unexpected expense comes up like a broken down car or illness.” And inequality could get worse through new tax cuts for the wealthy.

President Trump’s tax proposals won’t give America’s middle class the reprieve they need to grow their wealth and recover from the financial crash, said Josh Hoxie, who heads up the Project on Opportunity and Taxation at the Institute for Policy Studies. A recent analysis by the Joint Committee on Taxation concluded that taxes would decline for all income groups, with the biggest percentage-point decline for millionaires. After-tax income would rise by nearly 7% for households earning over $1 million per year, compared to less than 2% for those earning between $50,001 and $1 million, as MarketWatch recently reported. And less than 1% for those earning less than $50,000, according to Ernie Tedeschi, an economist at Evercore IS investment banking advisory firm who worked in the Treasury Department under President Obama.

Looking at private income, such as earnings and dividends, and government benefits like Social Security, the income of families near the top increased roughly 90% from 1963 to 2016, while the income of families at the bottom rose less than 10%, according to a separate report released last month by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit policy group based in Washington, D.C., while most other groups have been left behind. And that gap between rich and poor is only going to get worse, Hoxie said. The wealthiest 25 individuals in the U.S., including co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, own $1 trillion in combined assets. These 25 — a group equivalent to the active roster of a major league baseball team — hold more wealth than the bottom 56% of the U.S. population.

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Completely nuts.

Top Tech Stocks’ $1.7 Trillion Gain Eclipses Canada’s Economy (BBG)

Between the FAANG quintet and China’s rivaling BAT companies, gains in the world’s top technology shares are nearing a whopping $1.7 trillion in market value this year. That’s more than Canada’s entire economy, and exceeds the worth of Germany’s biggest 30 companies put together. The eight tech giants – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet, as well as their Asian peers Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent – have amassed as much money in 2017 as PIMCO, one of the world’s biggest fund managers, has done in about 46 years. While the stocks have seen a meteoric rise this year, their combined market value came off highs last week amid a global selloff in which the year’s high flyers had a bigger retreat. A recent breakdown in the correlation between high-yield bonds and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 Index suggests the slide in junk may spread further.

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Confidence.

Bitcoin Plunges 29% From Record High (BBG)

Bitcoin plunged as the cancellation of a technology upgrade prompted some users to switch out of the cryptocurrency, spooking speculators who had profited from a more than 800% surge this year. The cryptocurrency has dropped 9.5% since late Friday, extending its slide from last week’s record to as much as 29%, according to data compiled by Coinmarketcap.com and Bloomberg. Bitcoin cash, a rival that split from the original bitcoin in August, has jumped nearly 40% since Friday. Bitcoin cash is gaining popularity because of its larger block size, a characteristic that makes transactions cheaper and faster than the original. When a faction of the cryptocurrency community canceled plans to increase bitcoin’s block size on Wednesday – a move that would have created another offshoot – some supporters of bigger blocks rallied around bitcoin cash.

The resulting volatility has been extreme even by bitcoin’s wild standards and comes amid growing interest in cryptocurrencies among regulators, banks and fund managers. While skeptics have called bitcoin’s rapid advance a bubble, it has become too big for many on Wall Street to ignore. Even after shrinking by as much as $38 billion since Wednesday, bitcoin boasts a market value of $101 billion. Supporters of bitcoin’s technology upgrade “are now switching support to bitcoin cash,” said Mike Kayamori, head of Tokyo-based Quoine, the world’s second most-active bitcoin exchange over the past day. “There’s a panic about what’s happening. People shouldn’t panic. Just hold on to both coins until we see how it plays out.”

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A different view from most.

The End Of “The End Of History” (Luongo)

The path to draining the swamp is a circuitous one but, in my mind, it’s hard to argue where things are headed. They are not headed towards confrontation with Iran but actually the opposite. The most rabidly anti-Iranian segment of the Saudi Royal house is impoverished and imprisoned. CNN will be sold and go out of business to allow for the Time-Warner/AT&T merger. Jeff Zucker is out. Add another scalp to Steve Bannon’s belt along with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and so many to come. Will the vestiges of the neoconservative establishment in the U.S. and Israel continue to sabre-rattle and try to undermine what is happening? Yes.

They’ve been doing that since the day Trump was elected just over a year ago, but it hasn’t stopped the momentum. Why? Because Putin was on the job outmaneuvering them at every turn. Trump made a deal with the neocons back in August to cede them control of foreign policy and, in effect, outsourced cleaning up the Middle East to Putin. But, predictably they also didn’t follow through with their end of the bargain. Trump learned, like Putin did, the John McCain’s of the world don’t keep to their deals. They are ‘not agreement capable.’ And, as such, since the last failure to repeal Obamacare Trump has gone after every pillar of support these people had. It will end with Hillary Clinton’s indictment. But in the meantime it will look like the world is on the brink of world war.

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“Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks.”

Warnings From the “China Beige Book” (Rickards)

The China Beige Book, CBB, says that China had been covering up and smoothing over problems related to weak growth and excessive debt in order to provide a calm face to the world in advance of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which took place last month. CBB also makes it clear that the much-touted “rebalancing” of the Chinese economy away from investment and manufacturing toward consumption and spending has not occurred. Instead China has doubled down on excess capacity in coal, steel and manufacturing and has continued its policy of wasteful investment fueled with unpayable debt. It’s become obvious that the first cracks are starting to appear in China’s Great Wall of Debt. The Chinese debt binge of the past 10 years is a well-known story.

Chinese corporations have incurred dollar-denominated debts in the hundreds of billions of dollars, most of which are unpayable without subsidies from Beijing. China’s debt-to-equity ratio is over 300%, far worse than America’s (which is also dangerously high) and comparable to that of Japan and other all-star debtors. China’s trillion-dollar wealth management product (WMP) market is basically a Ponzi scheme. New WMPs are used to redeem maturing WMPs, while most of the market is simply rolled over because the underlying real estate and infrastructure projects cannot possibly repay their debts. A lot of corporate lending is simply one company lending to another, which in turns lends to another, giving the outward appearance of every company holding good assets, but in which none of the companies can actually pay its creditors.

It’s an accounting game with no real money behind it and no chance of repayment. All of this is well-known. What is not known is when it will end. When will confidence be lost in such a way that the entire debt house of cards crumbles? When will a geopolitical shock or natural disaster trigger a loss of confidence that ignites a financial panic? There was little prospect of this in the past year because President Xi Jinping was keeping a lid on trouble before the recently concluded National Congress of the Communist Party of China. With the congress behind him, Xi is ready to undertake reform of the financial system, which means shutting down insolvent companies and banks. Now the first bankruptcies have begun to appear.

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None of these people give one hoot about their country. They care about themselves only.

UK Government Tensions Rise After Leak Of ‘Orwellian’ Memo Sent To May (G.)

The tensions in Theresa May’s government intensified on Sunday night ahead of this week’s vital votes on the Brexit bill, as ministers accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of sending an “Orwellian” set of secret demands to No 10. As an increasingly weakened prime minister faces the possibility of parliamentary defeats on the bill, government colleagues have said they are aghast at the language used by the foreign secretary and the environment secretary in a joint private letter. The leaked letter – a remarkable show of unity from two ministers who infamously fell out during last year’s leadership campaign – appeared to be designed to push May decisively towards a hard Brexit and limit the influence of former remainers. It complained of “insufficient energy” on Brexit in some parts of the government and insisted any transition period must end in June 2021 – a veiled attack on the chancellor, Philip Hammond.

They urged the prime minister to ensure members of her top team fall behind their Brexit plans by “clarifying their minds” and called for them to “internalise the logic”. But the leak drew a bitter response from supporters of a soft Brexit, who suggested that May would now be forced to either discipline the pair or further weaken her position, which has already been tested by the recent resignations of Priti Patel and Michael Fallon and continuing pressure on Johnson and Damian Green. One cabinet minister told the Guardian: “It is not surprising that they [Gove and Johnson] would express their view. But what is surprising is that they would write this down and use this kind of language in a letter to the prime minister. “Some have described it as Orwellian, and it is. It is not helpful when people try and press their views in untransparent way.”

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It’s just starting. London falling.

More Than A Third Of UK Home Sellers Cut Asking Price (G.)

More than a third of home owners trying to sell their house have been forced to reduce their asking price, with the number of price cuts at their highest level since 2012, according to Rightmove. Traditionally house sellers are often forced to cut asking prices in the pre-Christmas period but this year the nation appears to be holding a collective autumn sale, said the property website. Rightmove, which claims to list 90% of the houses being sold in the UK, said 37% of current sellers had dropped their asking price, with a typical 0.8% or £2,392 price reduction. It also warned that those who recently put their property on the market were being too optimistic by not discounting by more. The mass price cut will be seen as further evidence that the market has slowed dramatically, particularly in London where prices have been falling.

Last week the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the overall UK property market had stalled. Rics also warned that it expected the market to remain subdued in the coming months as sales stay flat or fall in most regions. Rightmove director, Miles Shipside, said the slowdown in the housing market, the recent interest rate rise and the prediction that further rises were on the horizon suggested bigger reductions in house prices in the near future. “Given that the market has been price-sensitive for a while and a five-year high proportion of sellers are slashing their prices, some sellers and their agents are over-pricing. These sellers may well be asking themselves if they could have saved some time and stress by pricing a lot more conservatively at the start.”

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As you’re being pleasantly entertained with that dumb Paris agreement.

Fossil Fuel Burning Set To Hit Record High In 2017 (G.)

The burning of fossil fuels around the world is set to hit a record high in 2017, climate scientists have warned, following three years of flat growth that raised hopes that a peak in global emissions had been reached. The expected jump in the carbon emissions that drive global warming is a “giant leap backwards for humankind”, according to some scientists. However, other experts said they were not alarmed, saying fluctuations in emissions are to be expected and that big polluters such as China are acting to cut emissions. Global emissions need to reach their peak by 2020 and then start falling quickly in order to have a realistic chance of keeping global warming below the 2C danger limit, according to leading scientists. Whether the anticipated increase in CO2 emissions in 2017 is just a blip that is followed by a falling trend, or is the start of a worrying upward trend, remains to be seen.

Much will depend on the fast implementation of the global climate deal sealed in Paris in 2015 and this is the focus of the UN summit of the world’s countries in Bonn, Germany this week. The nations must make significant progress in turning the aspirations of the Paris deal into reality, as the action pledged to date would see at least 3C of warming and increasing extreme weather impacts around the world. The 12th annual Global Carbon Budget report published on Monday is produced by 76 of the world’s leading emissions experts from 57 research institutions and estimates that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels will have risen by 2% by the end of 2017, a significant rise.

“Global CO2 emissions appear to be going up strongly once again after a three-year stable period. This is very disappointing,” said Prof Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the UK’s University of East Anglia and who led the new research. “The urgency for reducing emissions means they should really be already decreasing now.” “There was a big push to sign the Paris agreement on climate change but there is a feeling that not very much has happened since, a bit of slackening,” she said. “What happens after 2017 is very open and depends on how much effort countries are going to make. It is time to take really seriously the implementation of the Paris agreement.” She said the hurricanes and floods seen in 2017 were “a window into the future”.

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Farmers are using dicamba because they get it on their crops anyway from the neighbors. There’s not much time left to stop Monsanto from effectively owning all our food.

The Decisions Behind Monsanto’s Weed-Killer Crisis (R.)

In early 2016, agri-business giant Monsanto faced a decision that would prove pivotal in what since has become a sprawling herbicide crisis, with millions of acres of crops damaged. Monsanto had readied new genetically modified soybeans seeds. They were engineered for use with a powerful new weed-killer that contained a chemical called dicamba but aimed to control the substance’s main shortcoming: a tendency to drift into neighboring farmers’ fields and kill vegetation. The company had to choose whether to immediately start selling the seeds or wait for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to sign off on the safety of the companion herbicide. The firm stood to lose a lot of money by waiting.

Because Monsanto had bred the dicamba-resistant trait into its entire stock of soybeans, the only alternative would have been “to not sell a single soybean in the United States” that year, Monsanto Vice President of Global Strategy Scott Partridge told Reuters in an interview. Betting on a quick approval, Monsanto sold the seeds, and farmers planted a million acres of the genetically modified soybeans in 2016. But the EPA’s deliberations on the weed-killer dragged on for another 11 months because of concerns about dicamba’s historical drift problems. That delay left farmers who bought the seeds with no matching herbicide and three bad alternatives: Hire workers to pull weeds; use the less-effective herbicide glyphosate; or illegally spray an older version of dicamba at the risk of damage to nearby farms.

The resulting rash of illegal spraying that year damaged 42,000 acres of crops in Missouri, among the hardest hit areas, as well as swaths of crops in nine other states, according to an August 2016 advisory from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The damage this year has covered 3.6 million acres in 25 states, according to Kevin Bradley, a University of Missouri weed scientist who has tracked dicamba damage reports and produced estimates cited by the EPA. The episode highlights a hole in a U.S regulatory system that has separate agencies approving genetically modified seeds and their matching herbicides.

Monsanto has blamed farmers for the illegal spraying and argued it could not have foreseen that the disjointed approval process would set off a crop-damage crisis. But a Reuters review of regulatory records and interviews with crop scientists shows that Monsanto was repeatedly warned by crop scientists, starting as far back as 2011, of the dangers of releasing a dicamba-resistant seed without an accompanying herbicide designed to reduce drift to nearby farms.

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“Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles.”

Weed-Killer Prompts Angry Divide Among US Farmers (AFP)

When it comes to the herbicide dicamba, farmers in the southern state of Arkansas are not lacking for strong opinions. “Farmers need it desperately,” said Perry Galloway. “If I get dicamba on (my products), I can’t sell anything,” responded Shawn Peebles. The two men know each other well, living just miles apart in the towns of Gregory and Augusta, in a corner of the state where cotton and soybean fields reach to the horizon and homes are often miles from the nearest neighbor. But they disagree profoundly on the use of dicamba. Last year the agro-chemical giant Monsanto began selling soy and cotton seeds genetically modified to tolerate the herbicide. The chemical product has been used to great effect against a weed that plagues the region, Palmer amaranth, or pigweed – especially since it became resistant to another herbicide, glyphosate, which has become highly controversial in Europe over its effects on human health.

The problem with dicamba is that it vaporizes easily and is carried by the wind, often spreading to nearby farm fields – with varying effects. Facing a surge in complaints, authorities in Arkansas early this summer imposed an urgent ban on the product’s sale. The state is now poised to ban its use between April 16 and October 31, covering the period after plants have emerged from the soil and when climatic conditions favor dicamba’s dispersal.

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This is who we are. This is caused by people we support, that we call our friends.

Millions On Brink Of Famine In Yemen As Saudi Arabia Tightens Blockade (G.)

Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemen’s western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition. Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the world’s worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows. Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.

Less than 45% of the country’s medical facilities are still operating – most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015. [..] Aid agencies are now warning that Yemen’s already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a “nightmare scenario” if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the country’s land, sea and air ports – a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadh’s international airport this month. United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country.

More than 20 million Yemenis – over 70% of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked. Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims”.

Read more …

Oct 232017
 
 October 23, 2017  Posted by at 9:19 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »
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Gordon Parks Place de la Concorde, Paris 1950

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go? (IceCap)
Americans Have More Debt Than Ever – And It’s Creating An Economic Trap (BI)
Crisis, What Crisis? Banks Pile Back Into China (BBG)
China’s Home Price Growth Steadies In September (R.)
Jimmy Carter Unleashed: Russians Didn’t Alter Election (DaWi)
Italy Regions Back ‘Big Bang’ Autonomy (AFP)
Noble, Once Asia’s Largest Commodity Trader, Struggles To Survive (BBG)
Washington To Back Greek Call For Debt Relief (K.)
Car Pollution Causes A Huge Salmon Die-Off (WaPo)
CO2 Rise ‘Will Affect All Sea Life’ (BBC)

 

 

“..a +0.7% increase in the US 10-Year Treasury market yield created chaos, havoc and over $1.7 Trillion in losses..”

Should I Stay or Should I Go? (IceCap)

Life was so bad – especially for bond investors, that by the time 1982 rolled around you couldn’t give a bond away. If you were an investor or working in the investment industry at the time – you were painfully aware of the bond market and you were schooled to never, ever buy a bond again. Of course, 1982 was actually the best time ever to buy a bond. With long-term rates dropping like a stone over the next 35 years, bond investors and bond managers became known as the smartest people in the room. But, that was then and this is now. There are 2 points to remember forever here: 1) What goes down, must come up 2) There’s no one around today to remind us of what life was like for bond investors when long-term rates marched relentlessly higher

Interest rates are secular. And with interest rates today already hitting the theoretical 0% level – they have started to rise. And when long-term rates begin to rise, (unlike short-term rates) it happens in a snapping, violent manner. Neither of which is good for bond investors. Of course, there’s another important point to consider, the rise in long-rates from 1962 to 1982 occurred when there wasn’t a debt crisis in the developed world. And since 99% of the industry has only worked since 1982 to today, then 99% of the industry has never experienced, lived or even dreamt of a crisis in the bond market. This of course is the primary reason why all the negative stories about the stock market are alive and well played out in the media – they simply don’t know any better. And this is wrong. Very wrong. After all, the bond bubble dwarfs the tech bubble and the housing bubble. Think about it.

To grasp why the bond market is on the verge of crisis, and why trillions of Dollars, Euros, Yen and Pounds are about to panic and run away, we ask you to understand how free-markets really work. For starters, all free markets have two sides competing and participating. There are natural buyers and there are natural sellers. The point at which they meet in the middle is the selling/purchase price and the entire process is called price discovery. Price discovery is a wonderful thing. It always results in the determination of a true price for a product or service. However, a big problem arises when there is an imbalance between the buyers and sellers, and when one of the sides isn’t a natural buyer or seller. This is what has happened in the bond market. And this is why bond prices (or yields) have become so distorted; the true price of a bond hasn’t existed now for almost 9 years.

[..] over the last year, we’ve seen the most significant market reaction in the history of the bond world, not once but twice. Yet, the talking heads, the big banks and their mutual fund commentaries, and the stock market focused world have completely missed it. Almost a year ago in November immediately after the American Election, over a span of 54 hours – the bond market blew up. To put things into perspective, Chart 2 shows what happened during those fateful days. Ignoring the why’s, the how’s and the who’s – the fact remains that this tiny, miniscule increase in long-term interest rates caused the bond market to vomit over itself. Yes, a +0.7% increase in the US 10-Year Treasury market yield created chaos, havoc and over $1.7 Trillion in losses around the world.

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“Most consumers, especially those in the bottom 80%, are tapped out..”

Americans Have More Debt Than Ever – And It’s Creating An Economic Trap (BI)

There’s a scary little statistic buried beneath the US economy’s apparent stability: Consumer debt levels are now well above those seen before the Great Recession. As of June, US households were more than half a trillion dollars deeper in debt than they were a year earlier, according to the latest figures from the Federal Reserve. Total household debt now totals $12.84 trillion — also, incidentally, around two-thirds of GDP. The proportion of overall debt that was delinquent in the second quarter was steady at 4.8%, but the New York Fed warned over transitions of credit card balances into delinquency, which “ticked up notably.” Here’s the thing: Unlike government debt, which can be rolled over continuously, consumer loans actually need to be paid back. And despite low official interest rates from the Federal Reserve, those often do not trickle down to many financial products like credit cards and small business loans.

Michael Lebowitz, co-founder of market analysis firm 720 Global, says the US economy is already dangerously close to the edge. “Most consumers, especially those in the bottom 80%, are tapped out,” he told Business Insider. “They have borrowed about as much as they can. Servicing this debt will act like a wet towel on economic growth for years to come. Until wages can grow faster than our true costs of inflation, this problem will only worsen.” The IMF devotes two chapters of its latest Global Financial Stability Report to the issue of household debt. It finds that, rather intuitively, high debt levels tend to make economic downturns deeper and more prolonged. “Increases in household debt consistently [signal] higher risks when initial debt levels are already high,” the IMF says.

Nonetheless, the results indicate that the threshold levels for household debt increases being associated with negative macro outcomes start relatively low, at about 30% of GDP. Clearly, America’s already well past that point. As households become more indebted, the Fund says, future GDP growth and consumption decline and unemployment rises relative to their average values. “Changes in household debt have a positive contemporaneous relationship to real GDP growth and a negative association with future real GDP growth,” the report says. Specifically, the Fund says a 5% increase in household debt to GDP over a three-year period leads to a 1.25% fall in real GDP growth three years into the future.

“Housing busts and recessions preceded by larger run-ups in household debt tend to be more severe and protracted,” the IMF said. Is there a solution? If things reach a tipping point, yes, says the IMF — there’s always debt forgiveness. Even creditors stand to benefit. “We find that government policies can help prevent prolonged contractions in economic activity by addressing the problem of excessive household debt,” the report said. The Fund cites “bold household debt restructuring programs such as those implemented in the United States in the 1930s and in Iceland today” as historical precedents. “Such policies can, therefore, help avert self-reinforcing cycles of household defaults, further house price declines, and additional contractions in output.”

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“.. it’s odd that banks would think China is getting debt under control even as they provide more of it.”

Crisis, What Crisis? Banks Pile Back Into China (BBG)

China has been working hard to convince the world that it’s not a financial crisis waiting to happen. Judging from the latest data on cross-border lending, banks are buying it. Foreign banks’ total exposure to China reached $750 billion in June 2017, up from $659 billion a year earlier, according to the Bank for International Settlements. That’s a big contrast to a couple of years ago, when lenders were pulling tens of billions out amid concerns that a combination of high indebtedness, excessive investment and slowing growth would precipitate a wave of defaults. Here’s how that looks:

What changed? For one, China’s economy (according to the suspiciously smooth official data, at least) has proven more resilient than expected: The pace of growth has accelerated from a mid-2016 low of 6.7%, and forecasters have raised their projections for 2018. Perhaps more important, Chinese officials have advertised their commitment to controlling debt and containing an overheated property market. That said, it’s odd that banks would think China is getting debt under control even as they provide more of it. Although the accumulation has slowed in some areas, it has boomed in households and elsewhere. By one early-warning measure – the difference between the current and long-term levels of business and household credit as a share of GDP, also known as the credit gap – China and Hong Kong are still by far the riskiest countries tracked by the BIS.

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As Beijing buys 25% of sales.

China’s Home Price Growth Steadies In September (R.)

China’s new home prices registered a second straight month of weak growth in September, with prices in the biggest markets slipping and gains in smaller cities slowing as government measures to cool a long property boom took hold. China’s housing market has been on a near two-year tear, giving the economy a major boost but stirring fears of a property bubble even as authorities work to contain risks from a rapid build-up in debt. While monthly price rises peaked in September 2016 at 2.1% nationwide, they have softened only begrudgingly since then, regaining momentum as buyers shrugged off each new wave of measures to curb speculation. Analysts say more tightening could still be expected in lower-tier cities with relatively fast price gains, as critics argue China’s ever-growing administrative control over its property market has only reaffirmed speculator views that prices will remain steady.

“China’s property prices are still rising even as sales are falling off a cliff, which suggests the market still sees property as an investment product in the belief that the government won’t let prices fall,” said Yi Xianrong, a Professor of Economics at Qingdao University. Still, signs of a more stable and less frothy housing market for now will be welcome to the country’s leaders as they attend a critical Communist Party Congress to set political and economic priorities for the next five years. President Xi Jingping opened the twice-a-decade gathering last week, stressing the need to move from high-speed to high-quality growth. Average new home prices rose 0.2% month-on-month in September, the same rate as in August when prices rose at the slowest rate in seven months, according to Reuters calculations from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data out on Monday.

“The curbs are in general still intensifying, which have gradually impacted property buyers’ expectations,” said Zhang Dawei, an analyst with Centaline, a property agency. New home prices rose 6.3% year-on-year in September, decelerating from August’s 8.3% increase, partly thanks to last September’s high base. Higher prices are also eating up more of home buyers’ disposable income, which could dampen future demand.

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Truth to power.

Jimmy Carter Unleashed: Russians Didn’t Alter Election (DaWi)

At 93, Jimmy Carter is cutting loose. The former president sat down with The New York Times recently and chatted about all kinds of subjects. The Times decided to play up the fact that Carter — one of the worst presidents in U.S. history — would love to go over to North Korea as an envoy. But the Times is steadily proving how out of touch it is, and how it no longer seems to actually “get” what real news is. Here are some major highlights from the interview:

1. The Russians didn’t steal the 2016 election. Carter was asked “Did the Russians purloin the election from Hillary?” “I don’t think there’s any evidence that what the Russians did changed enough votes — or any votes,” Carter said. So the hard-left former president doesn’t think the Russians stole the election? Take note, Capitol Hill Democrats.

2. We didn’t vote for Hillary. Carter and his wife, Roselyn, disagreed on the Russia question. In the interview, she “looked over archly [and said] ‘They obviously did'” purloin the election. “Rosie and I have a difference of opinion on that,” Carter said. Rosalynn then said, “The drip-drip-drip about Hillary.” Which prompted Carter to note that during the primary, they didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton. “We voted for Sanders.”

3. Obama fell far short of his promises. Barack Obama whooshed into office on pledges of delivering “hope and change” to the country, spilt by partisan politics. He didn’t. In fact, he made it worse. “He made some very wonderful statements, in my opinion, when he first got in office, and then he reneged on that,” he said about Obama’s action on the Middle East.

4. Media “harder on Trump than any president.” A recent Harvard study showed that 93% of new coverage about President Trump is negative. But here’s another shocker: Carter defended Trump. “I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about,” Carter said. “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”

5. NFL players should “stand during the American anthem.” Carter, who joined the other four living ex-presidents on Saturday for a hurricane fundraiser, put his hand on his heart when the national anthem played — and he has a strong opinion about what NFL players should do, too. “I think they ought to find a different way to object, to demonstrate,” he said. ” I would rather see all the players stand during the American anthem.”

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Expect more of this. Much more.

Italy Regions Back ‘Big Bang’ Autonomy (AFP)

Two of Italy’s wealthiest northern regions on Sunday voted overwhelmingly in favour of greater autonomy in the latest example of the powerful centrifugal forces reshaping European politics. Voters in the Veneto region that includes Venice and Lombardy, home to Milan, turned out at the high end of expectations to support the principle of more powers being devolved from Rome in votes that took place against the backdrop of the crisis created by Catalonia’s push for independence. Veneto President Luca Zaia hailed the results, which were delayed slightly by a hacker attack, as an institutional “big bang”. But he reiterated that the region’s aspirations were not comparable to the secessionist agenda that has provoked a constitutional crisis in Spain.

Turnout was projected at around 58% in Veneto, where support for autonomy is stronger, and just over 40% in Lombardy. The presidents of both regions said more than 95% of voters who had cast ballots had, as expected, done so to support greater autonomy. The votes are not binding but they will give the right-wing leaders of the two regions a strong political mandate when they embark on negotiations with the central government on the devolution of powers and tax revenues from Rome. Secessionist sentiment in Veneto and Lombardy is restricted to fringe groups but analysts see the autonomy drive as reflecting the same cocktail of issues and pressures that resulted in Scotland’s narrowly-defeated independence vote, Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the Catalan crisis.

“What this vote has shown is that there is no ‘autonomy party’ in Veneto – what there is is an entire people who back this idea,” said Zaia. “What’s won is the idea that we should be in charge of our own back yard.” Lombardy governor Roberto Maroni said he would be looking to present detailed proposals on devolution within two weeks, in a bid to ensure they are considered before national elections due by May next year. “I will go to Rome and ask for more powers and resources within a framework of national unity,” he said.

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Too much debt?!

Noble, Once Asia’s Largest Commodity Trader, Struggles To Survive (BBG)

Embattled commodity trader Noble Group warned of a more than $1 billion third-quarter net loss and agreed to sell most of its oil-liquids unit to Vitol Group at a loss, further complicating its fight for survival. The long-awaited deal to sell its prized oil business provided little relief to Hong Kong-based company, with shares falling the most in three months. Details of the sale announced on Monday failed to give much clarity on how much Noble Group would ultimately receive from Vitol, while the third-quarter results highlighted the company’s struggle to return to profitability as it offloads assets to repay debt. “They’re still fighting to survive,” Nicholas Teo, a trading strategist at KGI Securities said by phone. Noble Group’s stock slumped as much as 12% in Singapore, extending a more than 90% retreat since questions over its financial reporting emerged in early 2015.

While the company has defended its accounting, it has also written down the value of its long-term commodity contracts, ousted senior managers and put almost all of its businesses outside Asia up for sale. Noble Group’s 2020 notes are trading at about 39 cents on the dollar, with analysts at BNP Paribas and Nomura predicting that the company will eventually be forced to restructure its debt. Noble Group said that based on its end-June accounts it would have received net proceeds of $582 million from the oil unit deal after paying back borrowings under a secured credit facility. But that figure included proceeds from the earlier sale of its gas-and-power unit, the company said, and was prior to a third quarter in which the business was “adversely impacted” by “capital constraints.” Based on that number, the company would report a $525 million loss on the sale.

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As US alienates itself from Erdogan. For good reasons.

Washington To Back Greek Call For Debt Relief (K.)

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appears set to spearhead initiatives for Greek debt relief as part of Washington’s efforts to bolster Greece as a bastion of stability in the wider region, according to Kathimerini sources. Mnuchin took part in a meeting between US President Donald Trump and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras at the White House last week that addressed ways to promote investments in Greece, strengthen defense cooperation and push Greek debt relief demands. It was, reportedly, made clear at the meeting that Trump has made a strategic decision to support Greece as a reliable ally in the Eastern Mediterranean.

As a first step, the US may ask for an informal meeting of the IMF’s Executive Board to be convened – after a government is formed in Berlin and provided the third Greek bailout review is completed – where pressure will be applied for a specific time frame with regard to Greece’s debt. Another indication that the ball is beginning to roll was the result of talks between Tsipras and IMF chief Christine Lagarde a day before the meeting with Trump. Mnuchin told Trump and Tsipras that Lagarde had contacted him saying her talks with the Greek premier went well and there will be no surprises during the negotiations to complete the review. Mnuchin added that Lagarde said the IMF will push for debt relief.

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A curious story.

Car Pollution Causes A Huge Salmon Die-Off (WaPo)

Silvery coho salmon are as much a part of Washington state as its flag. The fish has a sacred place in the diets and rituals of the state’s indigenous peoples, beckons to tourists who flock to watch its migration runs, and helps to sustain a multimillion-dollar Pacific Northwest fishing industry. So watching the species die in agony is distressing: Adult coho have been seen thrashing in shallow fresh waters, males appear disoriented as they swim, and females are often rolled on their backs, their insides still plump with tiny red eggs that will never hatch. “Coho have not done well where a lot of human activity impacts their habitat,” said Nat Scholz, a research zoologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s to say the least.

A recent study traced a major coho salmon die-off to contaminants from roads and automobiles — brake dust, oil, fuel, chemical fluids — that hitch a ride on storm water and flow into watersheds. The contaminants are so deadly, they kill the salmon within 24 hours. “Our findings are . . . that contaminants in stormwater runoff from the regional transportation grid likely caused these mortality events. Further, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse historical coho declines without addressing the toxic pollution dimension of freshwater habitats,” said the study, published Wednesday in the journal Ecological Applications. This sort of point-source pollution from antiquated sewer systems is a problem across the nation, including the Chesapeake Bay region. Rain overwhelms storm drains, commingles with human waste and surface road garbage, then flushes into ponds, creeks, streams and rivers.

In Seattle and large cities across the Pacific Northwest, those waters are stocked with salmon. The finding could be a breakthrough in a mystery that has vexed scientists for years. But it fell short of explaining another mystery: Why are coho the only one of five salmon species to be affected? Chinook, sockeye, pink and chum don’t remotely experience the same mortality. “This is the great mystery that we are working on,” Scholz said. The future for a species that experiences up to 40 percent mortality before spawning in Puget Sound is no mystery. “The population will crash,” said Jay Davis, an environmental toxicologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who coordinated field research for the study.

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“.. an increase in acidity of about 26%…”

CO2 Rise ‘Will Affect All Sea Life’ (BBC)

All sea life will be affected because carbon dioxide emissions from modern society are making the oceans more acidic, a major new report will say. The eight-year study from more than 250 scientists finds that infant sea creatures will be especially harmed. This means the number of baby cod growing to adulthood could fall to a quarter or even a 12th of today’s numbers, the researchers suggest. The assessment comes from the BIOACID project, which is led from Germany. A brochure summarising the main outcomes will be presented to climate negotiators at their annual meeting, which this year is taking place in Bonn in November. The Biological Impacts of Ocean Acidification report authors say some creatures may benefit directly from the chemical changes – but even these could still be adversely affected indirectly by shifts in the whole food web.

What is more, the research shows that changes through acidification will be made worse by climate change, pollution, coastal development, over-fishing and agricultural fertilisers. Ocean acidification is happening because as CO2 from fossil fuels dissolves in seawater, it produces carbonic acid and this lowers the pH of the water. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the average pH of global ocean surface waters have fallen from pH 8.2 to 8.1. This represents an increase in acidity of about 26%. The study’s lead author is Prof Ulf Riebesell from the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel. He is a world authority on the topic and has typically communicated cautiously about the effects of acidification. He told BBC News: “Acidification affects marine life across all groups, although to different degrees.

“Warm-water corals are generally more sensitive than cold-water corals. Clams and snails are more sensitive than crustaceans. “And we found that early life stages are generally more affected than adult organisms. “But even if an organism isn’t directly harmed by acidification it may be affected indirectly through changes in its habitat or changes in the food web. “At the end of the day, these changes will affect the many services the ocean provides to us.”

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Mar 282017
 
 March 28, 2017  Posted by at 8:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle March 28 2017
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Dorothea Lange Abandoned cafe in Carey, Texas 1937

 

A Nation of Landowners – But For How Long? (M.)
Middle-Class, Even Wealthy Americans Sliding Inexorably Into The Red (MW)
Italy’s Monte Paschi Bailout Has Some ECB Supervisors Grumbling
NY Fed: “Oil Prices Fell Due To Weakening Demand” (ZH)
Why Did Preet Bharara Refuse to Drain the Wall Street Swamp? (Bill Black)
A Detailed “Roadmap” For Meeting The Paris Climate Goals (Vox)
In UK Access To Justice Is No Longer A Right, But A Luxury (G.)
The Curse of the Thinking Class (Jim Kunstler)
Tensions Flare As Greece Tells Turkey It Is Ready To Answer Any Provocation (G.)
Erdogan Races Against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power (BBG)
Tillerson Will Not Meet Turkey Opposition In Ankara Visit This Week (R.)
Troika Pushes Greece To Sell Up To 40% Of State-Controlled Power Utility (R.)
Fraport Greece Signs Funding Deal With 5 Lenders (K.)
Contraction Of Credit Continues Unabated In Greece (K.)
Mikis Theodorakis: ‘In Tough Times, Greeks Become Heroes or Slaves’ (GR)
Nearly 1,200 Migrants Picked Up Off Libya, Heading To Italy (R.)
Italy Calls For Investigation Of NGO Supported Migrant Fleet (Dm.)

 

 

“To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”

A Nation of Landowners – But For How Long? (M.)

Land occupies a unique position in the economy because it is essential for any activity and, given its fixed supply, an increase in demand for it can only increase its price. Meanwhile finance, which facilitates that demand, has been available in ever-greater abundance since the deregulation of mortgage lending in the 1970s and 1980s. The interaction between the inelastic supply of land and the highly elastic supply of mortgage lending lies at the heart of the house price boom over the past few decades. But while the finance part of the story is relatively new (before the 1970s mortgages were harder to get and lending restricted by the conservative practices of the building societies), the land question has been around for centuries.

Ever since Henry VIII seized the monastery lands in the early 16th century a market has been evolving in land as a privately-owned tradable commodity. What is crucial to the contemporary housing debate, and what this book illustrates brilliantly, is how the control of land is, or has at least been allowed to become, fundamental to economic and political power relations. Because land is permanent and immovable, those who own the exclusive rights to its use are able to siphon off the value of any economic output that is dependent on it. The value of a piece of land therefore reflects the level of activity conducted on or around it, as well as any speculation arising from expectations about its potential future use. This price does not reflect the efforts or ingenuity of its owner, and so it does not reward productive activity but rather penalises it in the form of rent.

This ability of landowners to extract economic rent from productive activity, or the unearned increment, was once at the centre of political discourse. It was an issue that troubled classical economists ranging from Adam Smith to Karl Marx. As the industrial revolution advanced in the 18th and 19th centuries, productivity levels improved, and so the owners of land began to enjoy the fruits of the community’s labour. A land reform movement gathered momentum towards the late 19th century and the writings of the American economist Henry George advocating a land value tax attracted a following. In 1909, a young Winston Churchill (then 35, and a Liberal) decried the land monopolist’s free ride in what remains one of the best descriptions of the dilemma:

“Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains and all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is effected by the labour and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of those improvements does the land monopolist, as a land monopolist, contribute, and yet by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced.”

Churchill was careful to stress that it was the system he was attacking not the landowner himself (‘We do not want to punish the landlord. We want to alter the law’). But the law was as it was because landowners controlled parliament and indeed the Liberals’ plan for a land value tax in the People’s Budget, in support of which Churchill had been speaking, was thrown out by the House of Lords.

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How to kill a city part 832.

Middle-Class, Even Wealthy Americans Sliding Inexorably Into The Red (MW)

Not even a high six-figure salary is enough to keep New York City families out of the red. But spare a thought for the average American family, whose costs easily outpace the average income. A recent analysis from Sam Dogen at his personal finance website Financial Samurai showed how difficult it is for high earners to escape the rat race in New York City, one of the priciest places to live in the world. He analyzed a mock budget for an imaginary family of four in which the two 35-year-old breadwinners each make $250,000 a year. After factoring in taxes, 401(k)contributions, home and child care costs, the family was left with just $7,300 for the year — as if they were living “paycheck to paycheck.”

Perhaps nobody is crying for lawyers making $500,000 a year or even $250,000, but the analysis shows just how easy it is for spending habits to take a high salary and turn it into table scraps. Dogen said pressure from peers to spend more is a big contributing factor, adding “everywhere I go, and I’ve been all over the world, high income earners are secretly feeling the same squeeze.” “They are unhappy, getting divorces, and always comparing themselves to wealthier and wealthier people,” he said. “Heck, even a friend who is worth over $200 million after founding and taking public a company feels like he needs to continue working because he has to ‘keep up with the Zuckerbergs.’”

So how would the average American family fare by the same lifestyle? MarketWatch crunched the numbers and found they would be racking up approximately $27,000 in debt a year if they spent the average of what Americans spend on the same activities. This vast difference in economic stability comes even after adjusting for cheaper housing costs and lowering the number of vacations to one a year — the average in the U.S.

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Beware of any central bank announcements made the day after Christmas.

Italy’s Monte Paschi Bailout Has Some ECB Supervisors Grumbling

When the European Central Bank declared Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena solvent last December, the first step toward a state-funded rescue, some members of the 19-nation Supervisory Board weren’t fully on board. Confronted with what they saw as a political agreement to bail out the world’s oldest lender, dissenters went along with the consensus despite their concerns about the bank’s health…[..] To make sense of the Monte Paschi debate, you have to start with a 2014 law known as the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, which sets out the EU’s bank-failure rules. The law assumes that if a firm needs “extraordinary public financial support,” this indicates that it’s failing and should be wound down. In that process, investors including senior bondholders can be forced to take losses.

An exception, known as a precautionary recapitalization, is allowed for solvent banks if a long list of conditions is met. As the name suggests, this tool isn’t intended to clear up a bank’s existing problems, such as Monte Paschi’s mountain of soured loans. This temporary aid is allowed to address a capital shortfall identified in a stress test. Daniele Nouy, head of the ECB Supervisory Board, reiterated in an interview on Monday that Monte Paschi and other Italian banks in line for a bailout are “not insolvent, otherwise we would not be talking about precautionary recapitalization.” Not everyone is convinced the bank, whose woes date back many years, qualifies for this special treatment.

“It is unclear if Monte Paschi meets the BRRD’s exemption criteria, and their use has the appearance of promoting national political concerns over a stricter reading of the newly established European rules,” said Simon Ainsworth at Moody’s. “The plan could risk damaging the credibility of the resolution framework, especially given that it would mark its first major test case.” The ECB’s decision on Monte Paschi’s solvency and capital gap was announced by the lender the day after Christmas. The ECB published an explanation of the precautionary recapitalization process a day later, but said little else publicly. On Dec. 29, the Bank of Italy issued a statement that broke down the €8.8 billion rescue into its parts. Solvency in the case of a precautionary recapitalization is determined based on two criteria, the ECB said: the bank meets its legal minimum capital requirements, and it has no shortfall in the baseline scenario of the relevant stress test.

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I’ve been talking about falling oil demand for so long that when other bring it up now it seems all new again.

NY Fed: “Oil Prices Fell Due To Weakening Demand” (ZH)

[..] one aspect of price formation that is rarely mentioned is demand, which is generally assumed to be unwavering and trending higher with barely a hiccup. The reason for this somewhat myopic take is that while OPEC has control over supply, demand is a function of global economic growth and trade (or lack thereof) over which oil producers have little, if any control. And yet, according to the latest oil price dynamics report issued by the Fed, it was declining global demand that pushed prices lower in the most recent, volatile period. As the New York Fed report in its March 27 report, “Oil prices fell owing to weakening demand” and explains as follows: “A decline in demand expectations together with a decreasing residual drove oil prices down over the past week.”

While there was some good news, namely that “in 2016:Q4, oil prices increased on net as a consequence of steadily contracting supply and strengthening, albeit volatile, global demand” offsetting the “modest decline in oil prices during 2016:Q3 caused by weakening global demand expectations and loosening supply conditions,” the Fed’s troubling finding is that the big move lower since 2014 has been a function of rising supply as well as declining demand: Overall, since the end of 2014:Q2, both lower global demand expectations and looser supply have held oil prices down. And while this trend appeared to have reversed in 2016:Q2 and 2016:Q4, recent indications suggest that demand may once again be slowing, which in turn has pressured oil prices back to levels last seen shortly after OPEC’s Vienna deal.

It is curious that according to the NY Fed, at a time when OPEC vows it is cutting production, the Fed has instead found “loose” supply to be among the biggest contributors to the latest decline in oil prices. But what may be concering to oil bulls is that as the decomposition chart below shows, while oil demand was solidly in the green ever since Trump’s election victory, in recent weeks it appears to have also tapered off along with the supply contribution to declining oil prices. This seems to suggest that along with most other “animal spirits” that were ignited following the Trump victory, only to gradually fade, oil demand, and thus price, may be the next to take another leg lower unless of course Trump manages to reignite the Trumpflation trade which, however, over the past month appears to have completely faded.

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“Indeed, Bharara never mustered the courtesy to respond to Bowen’s offers to aid his office.”

Why Did Preet Bharara Refuse to Drain the Wall Street Swamp? (Bill Black)

The New York Times’ editorial board published an editorial on March 12, 2017, praising Preet Bharara as the “Prosecutor Who Knew How to Drain a Swamp.” I agree with the title. At all times when he was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (which includes Wall Street) Bharara knew how to drain the swamp. Further, he had the authority, the jurisdiction, the resources, and the testimony from whistleblowers like Richard Bowen (a co-founder of Bank Whistleblowers United (BWU)) to drain the Wall Street swamp. Bowen personally contacted Bharara beginning in 2005.

“You were quoted in The Nation magazine as saying that if a whistleblower comes forward with evidence of wrongdoing, then you would be the first to prosecute [elite bankers]. I am writing this email to inform you that there is a body of evidence concerning wrongdoing, which the Department of Justice has refused to act on in order to determine whether criminal charges should be pursued.” Bowen explained that he was a whistleblower about Citigroup’s senior managers and that he was (again) coming forward to aid Bharara to prosecute. Bowen tried repeatedly to interest Bharara in draining the Citigroup swamp. Bharara refused to respond to Bowen’s blowing of the whistle on the massive frauds led by Citigroup’s senior officers.

Bharara knew how to drain the Wall Street swamp and was positioned to do so because he had federal prosecutorial jurisdiction over Wall Street crimes. Whistleblowers like Bowen, who lacked any meaningful power, sacrificed their careers and repeatedly demonstrated courage to ensure that Bharara would have the testimony and documents essential to prosecute successfully some of Wall Street’s most elite felons. Bharara never mustered the courage to prosecute those elites. Indeed, Bharara never mustered the courtesy to respond to Bowen’s offers to aid his office. [..] Bharara knew how to drain the Wall Street swamp. He had the facts, the staff, and the jurisdiction to drain the Wall Street swamp. Bharara refused to do so.

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We all realize that this is never ever going to happen, right?!

A Detailed “Roadmap” For Meeting The Paris Climate Goals (Vox)

To hit the Paris climate goals without geoengineering, the world has to do three broad (and incredibly ambitious) things: 1) Global CO2 emissions from energy and industry have to fall in half each decade. That is, in the 2020s, the world cuts emissions in half. Then we do it again in the 2030s. Then we do it again in the 2040s. They dub this a “carbon law.” Lead author Johan Rockström told me they were thinking of an analogy to Moore’s law for transistors; we’ll see why. 2) Net emissions from land use — i.e., from agriculture and deforestation – have to fall steadily to zero by 2050. This would need to happen even as the world population grows and we’re feeding ever more people. 3) Technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere have to start scaling up massively, until we’re artificially pulling 5 gigatons of CO2 per year out of the atmosphere by 2050 — nearly double what all the world’s trees and soils already do.

“It’s way more than adding solar or wind,” says Rockström. “It’s rapid decarbonization, plus a revolution in food production, plus a sustainability revolution, plus a massive engineering scale-up [for carbon removal].” So, uh, how do we cut CO2 emissions in half, then half again, then half again? Here, the authors lay out a sample “roadmap” of what specific actions the world would have to take each decade, based on current research. This isn’t the only path for making big CO2 cuts, but it gives a sense of the sheer scale and speed required:

2017-2020: All countries would prepare for the herculean task ahead by laying vital policy groundwork. Like: scrapping the $500 billion per year in global fossil fuel subsidies. Zeroing out investments in any new coal plants, even in countries like India and Indonesia. All major nations commit to going carbon-neutral by 2050 and put in place policies — like carbon pricing or clean electricity standards — that point down that path. “By 2020,” the paper adds, “all cities and major corporations in the industrialized world should have decarbonization strategies in place.”

2020-2030: Now the hard stuff begins! In this decade, carbon pricing would expand to cover most aspects of the global economy, averaging around $50 per ton (far higher than seen almost anywhere today) and rising. Aggressive energy efficiency programs ramp up. Coal power is phased out in rich countries by the end of the decade and is declining sharply elsewhere. Leading cities like Copenhagen are going totally fossil fuel free. Wealthy countries no longer sell new combustion engine cars by 2030, and transportation gets widely electrified, with many short-haul flights replaced by rail.

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Brexit hardly seems Britain’s biggest problem. It’s the gutting of an entire society that is.

In UK Access To Justice Is No Longer A Right, But A Luxury (G.)

Laws that cost too much to enforce are phoney laws. A civil right that people can’t afford to use is no right at all. And a society that turns justice into a luxury good is one no longer ruled by law, but by money and power. This week the highest court in the land will decide whether Britain will become such a society. There are plenty of signs that we have already gone too far. Listen to the country’s top judge, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, who admits that “our justice system has become unaffordable to most”. Look at our legal-aid system, slashed so heavily by David Cameron and Theresa May that the poor must act as their own trial lawyers, ready to be skittled by barristers in the pay of their moneyed opponents. The latest case will be heard by seven supreme court judges and will pit the government against the trade union Unison. It will be the climax of a four-year legal battle over one of the most fundamental rights of all: the right of workers to stand up against their bosses.

In 2013, Cameron stripped workers of the right to access the employment tribunal system. Whether a pregnant woman forced out of her job, a Bangladeshi-origin guy battling racism at work, or a young graduate with disabilities getting aggro from a boss, all would now have to pay £1,200 for a chance of redress. The number of cases taken to tribunal promptly fell off a cliff – down by 70% within a year. Citizens Advice, employment lawyers and academics practically queued up to warn that workers – especially poor workers – were getting priced out of justice. But for Conservative ministers, all was fine. Loyal flacks such as Matthew Hancock (then employment minister) claimed those deterred by the fees were merely “unscrupulous” try-ons, intent on “bullying bosses”. Follow Hancock’s logic, and with all those time-wasters weeded out, you’d expect the number of successful tribunal claims to jump. They’ve actually dropped.

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“Do they covet our Chick-fil-A chains and Waffle Houses? Our tattoo artists? Would they like to induce the Kardashians to live in Moscow? Is it Nascar they’re really after?”

The Curse of the Thinking Class (Jim Kunstler)

Let’s suppose there really is such a thing as The Thinking Class in this country, if it’s not too politically incorrect to say so — since it implies that there is another class, perhaps larger, that operates only on some limbic lizard-brain level of impulse and emotion. Personally, I believe there is such a Thinking Class, or at least I have dim memories of something like it. The farfetched phenomenon of Trumpism has sent that bunch on a journey to a strange land of the intellect, a place like the lost island of Kong, where one monster after another rises out of the swampy murk to threaten the frail human adventurers. No one back home would believe the things they’re tangling with: giant spiders, reptiles the size of front-end loaders, malevolent aborigines! Will any of the delicate humans survive or make it back home?

This is the feeling I get listening to arguments in the public arena these days, but especially from the quarters formerly identified as left-of-center, especially the faction organized around the Democratic Party, which I aligned with long ago (alas, no more). The main question seems to be: who is responsible for all the unrest in this land. Their answer since halfway back in 2016: the Russians. I’m not comfortable with this hypothesis. Russia has a GDP smaller than Texas. If they are able to project so much influence over what happens in the USA, they must have some supernatural mojo-of-the-mind — and perhaps they do — but it raises the question of motive. What might Russia realistically get from the USA if Vladimir Putin was the master hypnotist that Democrats make him out to be?

Do we suppose Putin wants more living space for Russia’s people? Hmmmm. Russia’s population these days, around 145 million, is less than half the USA’s and it’s rattling around in the geographically largest nation in the world. Do they want our oil? Maybe, but Russia being the world’s top oil producer suggests they’ve already got their hands full with their own operations? Do they want Hollywood? The video game industry? The US porn empire? Do they covet our Chick-fil-A chains and Waffle Houses? Our tattoo artists? Would they like to induce the Kardashians to live in Moscow? Is it Nascar they’re really after?

My hypothesis is that Russia would most of all like to be left alone. Watching NATO move tanks and German troops into Lithuania in January probably makes the Russians nervous, and no doubt that is the very objective of the NATO move — but let’s not forget that most of all NATO is an arm of American foreign policy. If there are any remnants of the American Thinking Class left at the State Department, they might recall that Russia lost 20 million people in the dust-up known as the Second World War against whom…? Oh, Germany.

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“The Turkish nationalist opposition leader, Devlet Bahçeli, has gone even further, claiming that several Greek islands are under occupation and reacting furiously when Kammenos visited the far-flung isle of Oinousses. “Someone must explain to this spoiled brat not to try our patience,” he railed. “If they [the Greeks] want to fall into the sea again, if they want to be hunted down, they are welcome, the Turkish army is ready. Someone must explain to the Greek government what happened in 1922. If there is no one to explain it to them, we can come like a bullet across the Aegean and teach them history all over again.”

Tensions Flare As Greece Tells Turkey It Is Ready To Answer Any Provocation (G.)

Fears of tensions mounting in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean Seas reignited after the Turkish president raised the prospect of a referendum on accession talks with the EU and the Greek defence minister said the country was ready for any provocation. Relations between Ankara and European capitals have worsened before the highly charged vote on 16 April on expanding the powers of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Western allies have argued that a vote endorsing the proposed constitutional change would invest him with unparalleled authority and limit checks and balances at a time when they fear the Turkish leader is exhibiting worrying signs of authoritarianism. Erdogan has been enraged by recent bans on visiting Turkish officials rallying “yes” supporters in Germany and the Netherlands.

Highlighting growing friction between Ankara and the bloc, he raised the spectre of a public vote on EU membership at the weekend. “We have a referendum on 16 April. After that we may hold a Brexit-like referendum on the [EU] negotiations,” he told a Turkish-UK forum attended by the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. “No matter what our nation decides we will obey it. It should be known that our patience, tested in the face of attitudes displayed by some European countries, has limits.” The animus – reinforced last week when the leader said he would continue labelling European politicians “Nazis” if they continued calling him a dictator – has also animated tensions between Greece and Turkey, and Erdogan’s comments came hours after the Greek defence minister said armed forces were ready to respond in the event of the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity being threatened.

“The Greek armed forces are ready to answer any provocation,” Panos Kammenos declared at a military parade marking the 196th anniversary of Greece’s war of liberation against Ottoman Turkish rule. “We are ready because that is how we defend peace.” Although Nato allies, the two neighbours clashed over Cyprus in 1974 and almost came to war over an uninhabited Aegean isle in 1996. Hostility has been rising in both areas, with the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades recently voicing fears of Turkey sparking a “hot incident” in the run-up to the referendum. “I fear the period from now until the referendum in Turkey, as well as the effort to create a climate of fanaticism within Turkish society,” he told CNN Greece. Turkey’s EU negotiations have long been hindered by Cyprus, and talks aimed at reuniting its estranged Greek and Turkish communities are at a critical juncture but have stalled and are unlikely to move until after the referendum.

But it is in the Aegean where tensions, matched by an increasingly ugly war of words, have been at their worst. After a tense standoff over eight military officers who escaped to Greece after the abortive coup against Erdogan last July – an impasse exacerbated when the Greek supreme court rejected a request for their extradition – hostility has been measured in almost daily dogfights between armed jets and naval incursions of Greek waters by Turkish research vessels. Both have prompted diplomats and defence experts to express fears of an accident at a time when experienced staff officers and pilots have been sidelined in the purges that have taken place since the attempted coup. The shaky migration deal signed between the EU and Turkey to thwart the flow of refugees into the continent has only added to the pressure.

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The falling dollar is setting up Turkey for dictatorship. The world will come to regret this.

Erdogan Races Against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power (BBG)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lambasted friend and foe alike in a campaign for vast new powers, but his political fate may hang on the one thing he’s stopped carping about: the price of money. With the April 16 vote on strengthening the presidency too close for pollsters to call, Erdogan is no longer berating the central bank and commercial lenders over borrowing costs they’ve pushed to a five-year high. He’s betting any measures taken to arrest the lira’s plunge will pay off at the ballot box. The lira’s value versus the dollar is more than just a pocketbook issue in Turkey, where millions of voters still remember the abrupt devaluations that ravaged their livelihoods in past decades and view the exchange rate as the most important indicator of the nation’s economic health.

Turkey’s trade deficit is the biggest of all top 50 economies relative to output and most of its imports and foreign debt are priced in dollars, so sharp declines in the lira can be ruinous for legions of entrepreneurs like Ramazan Saglam, who owns a print shop in a working-class neighborhood of Ankara. “I bitterly recall when the dollar jumped in 1994 and 2001 – my business collapsed both times,” Saglam said. “I’m supporting the new presidential system wholeheartedly because I don’t want to go bankrupt again.” Saglam nodded at the big red banner billowing from his second-story window to illustrate his point. The Chinese cloth and South Korean ink he used to make it were all bought with dollars, as was the American printer that produced Erdogan’s image and the slogan, “Yes. For my country and my future.”

Given the choice between paying more for credit to buy supplies and keeping the lira in check, he said he’d choose sound money every time. Supporters of the proposed constitutional changes say handing Erdogan sweeping new authority is the only way to achieve the stability that society craves and businesses need to thrive. But opponents say approving the referendum is an invitation to dictatorship, particularly since Erdogan, already the most dominant leader in eight decades, jailed or fired more than 100,000 perceived enemies after rogue army officers attempted a coup in July. “Everybody on the street tracks the exchange rate on a daily basis and Erdogan wins support as long as Turkey can keep the lira stable,” said Wolfango Piccoli, the London-based co-president of Teneo Intelligence, a political risk advisory firm. “But the challenge here is the external backdrop. They can’t really predict what’s coming.”

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The US must cease labeling the PKK a terrorist organization. Or stop backing the Kurds in Syria. Can’t have both.

Tillerson Will Not Meet Turkey Opposition In Ankara Visit This Week (R.)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not meet members of Turkish opposition groups during a one-day visit to Ankara this week where talks with President Tayyip Erdogan will focus on the war in Syria, senior U.S. officials said on Monday. Thursday’s visit comes at a politically sensitive time in Turkey as the country prepares for a referendum on April 16 that proposes to change the constitution to give Erdogan new powers. A senior State Department official said Tillerson will meet with Erdogan and government ministers involved in the fight against Islamic State in Syria. “It is certainly something we are very acutely aware of and the secretary will be mindful of while he is there,” one State Department official told a conference call with reporters, referring to political sensitivities ahead of the referendum.

American officials expect Erdogan and others to raise the case of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating a failed coup last July. The focus of the Ankara talks is the U.S.-led offensive to retake Raqqa from Islamic State and to stabilize areas in which militants have been forced out, allowing refugees to return home, officials said. A major sticking point between the United States and Turkey is U.S. backing for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Turkey considers part of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has been fighting an insurgency for three decades in Turkey. But the United States has long viewed Kurdish fighters as key to retaking Raqqa alongside Arab fighters in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). “We are very mindful of Turkey’s concerns and it is something that will continue to be a topic of conversation,” a second U.S. official said.

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Fire sale. The minister actually called these practices ‘cannibalistic’, and rightly so. And that’s not even the best of it. A Greek paper details how a Greek bank, Alpha Bank, lends the money to German investors to buy up Greece’s Public Power Corp. That is about as close to cannibalism as you can get. Economic warfare 101.

Troika Pushes Greece To Sell Up To 40% Of State-Controlled Power Utility (R.)

A Greek minister on Monday accused international lenders of reneging on a 2015 bailout deal by trying to force a fire-sale of its main electricity utility PPC to serve “domestic and foreign business interests.” Under terms of a 2015 bailout deal for Greece worth up to €86 billion, Public Power Corp. (PPC) is obliged to cut its dominance in the Greek market to below 50% by 2020. Although it is not clearly specified in the deal, lenders want Greece to sell some of PPC’s assets. PPC, which is 51% owned by the state, now controls about 90% of the country’s retail electricity market and 60% of its wholesale market. Greece last year launched power auctions to private operators as a temporary mechanism and has proposed that PPC team up with private companies to help achieve this target. But lenders doubt the effectiveness of the measure.

“What they want is that power production infrastructure of up to 40% – PPC’s coal-fired production- is sold. This is what they want right know, which is beyond the (2015) deal,” Interior Minister Panos Skourletis, a former energy minister, told Greek state television. Skourletis on Monday accused the lenders pressing the country to sell-off PPC units at a very low price to serve European and domestic competitors. “It is an assault which has set its sights on PPC’s assets to pass it on to specific European and domestic business interests at a humiliating price,” Skourletis said in an Op-Ed penned for the Efimerida Ton Syntakton daily.

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More warfare, more cannibalism. Airports also ‘privatized’, ‘reformed’. Alpha Bank is also the largest lender in this case. Nice partners too: “..the International Finance Corporation (€154.1 million), a member of the World Bank Group [..] is also the sole provider of euro interest rate hedging swaps..”

Fraport Greece Signs Funding Deal With 5 Lenders (K.)

Five leading financial institutions have signed a long-term financing agreement with German-Greek consortium Fraport Greece, which will soon be managing, operating, upgrading and maintaining 14 regional Greek airports under a 40-year concession contract. The agreement is for total financing of 968.4 million euros. The lenders are Alpha Bank (participating with €284.7 million), the Black Sea Trade & Development Bank (€62.5 million), the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development (€186.7 million), the European Investment Bank (€280.4 million), and the International Finance Corporation (€154.1 million), a member of the World Bank Group.

IFC is also the sole provider of euro interest rate hedging swaps to help Fraport Greece hedge potential fluctuations in interest rates through the term of the loan. Over two-thirds of the total amount (€688 million) will be used to cover the upfront payment (of €1.234 billion) due to state sell-off fund TAIPED upon the airports’ delivery, while €280.4 million will be used to finance upgrading work at the 14 airports. Meanwhile, Fraport Greece recently announced a capital increase raising the company’s total capital to €650 million, most of which will go toward the upfront payment.

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But domestic credit is still collapsing. And so is the economy, of course.

Contraction Of Credit Continues Unabated In Greece (K.)

Bank of Greece figures revealed on Monday a further contraction in the financing of the Greek economy last month, a result of the general uncertainty hanging over the economy and the drop deposits at the country’s banks. The total funding of the economy was down 2% YOY in February, from -1.5% in January, while the monthly net flow of total financing was negative by €801 million, against a negative flow of €1.261 billion in January. The main factor in that decline was the drop in funding to the state, as the annual rate concerning the general government sector posted a 3.7% contraction in February against a 0.1% increase in January. In the private sector it was negative by 1.6% as funding shrank by a net €101 million. The image was somewhat different for enterprises as there was an €82 million monthly increase in the net flow of funding last month, compared with a €643 million decline in January. However, the flow of credit to private clients and nonprofit organizations dipped by €153 million or 2.7% in February.

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Wise old genius. “As soon as three Greeks get together, they start talking of who’s going to be the leader..”

Mikis Theodorakis: ‘In Tough Times, Greeks Become Heroes or Slaves’ (GR)

“During tough times, a Greek can become a hero or a slave,” said legendary Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis in an interview published in Proto Thema Sunday newspaper. The 92-year-old musician, who is also an emblematic figure of the Greek Left, spoke about Greece’s current state, the leftist government, the main opposition party and the bailout agreements. Theodorakis said that he is not shocked about the current condition Greece is in because, historically, the country has been through turmoil several times. He said the Greek spirit, like a light, shines through at the end because Greeks have an inner harmony that prevails. However, Theodorakis said, this is a hard period for Greece and this time he is afraid for the future of the country: “When the Greek is with his back against the wall, he becomes a hero or a slave.”

When asked to compare the current state of the nation with the times of the German Occupation, Theodorakis said that what Greece is going through now is worse: “I don’t remember people going through the trash to find food. I don’t remember elderly people waiting in line to get a cabbage.” Theodorakis spoke in length about the time (2012) opposition leader Alexis Tsipras and leftist legend Manolis Glezos approached him and asked him to join SYRIZA and win the upcoming elections. He said he refused to join because the young candidate did not have a plan on how to get Greece going without supervision and financial aid from the EU and the IMF. He described Greece as a train rolling on tracks laid by the EU and the IMF.

“I told him ‘if you’re planning to come to power without having a plan to change the tracks and provide Greek people with what they need, then you are opportunists and you will only succeed in destroying the country and humiliating the Greek Left’,” the composer said about Tsipras. “With great sadness, I believe that the current plight of the country confirms exactly what I said to Alexis Tsipras, here in my house, in the meeting that I mentioned earlier,” Theodorakis said. The composer said that Greeks have a lust for power: “As soon as three Greeks get together, they start talking of who’s going to be the leader,” he said characteristically.

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A new issue has come to light: where are the NGOs picking up the refugees?

Nearly 1,200 Migrants Picked Up Off Libya, Heading To Italy (R.)

Humanitarian ships rescued almost 1,200 migrants who were crossing the Mediterranean Sea at the weekend on an array of small, tightly packed boats, Doctors Without Borders said on Sunday. A young woman was found unconscious on one of the vessels and later died, the group said. Some 412 people were crammed onto a single wooden boat, while the others were picked up from huge inflatable dinghies, which had set sail from the coast of Libya. The weekend rescues mean that about 22,000 mainly African migrants have been picked up heading to Italy so far this year, while around 520 have died trying to make the crossing.

An Italian prosecutor said last week that humanitarian ships operating off Libya were undermining the fight against people smugglers and opening a corridor that is ultimately leading to more migrant deaths. The chief prosecutor of the Sicilian port city of Catania, Carmelo Zuccaro, said he also suspected that there may be direct communication between Libya-based smugglers and members of charity-operated rescue vessels. NGOs deny any wrongdoing, saying they are simply looking to save lives, but they are facing criticism in Italy, which has taken in about half a million migrants since the start of 2014.

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Italy thinks George Soros is sponsoring this.

Italy Calls For Investigation Of NGO Supported Migrant Fleet (Dm.)

Italian authorities are calling for monitoring of the funding of an NGO fleet bussing migrants into the EU from the North African coast after a report released the European Border and Coast Guard Agency has determined that the members of the fleet are acting as accomplices to people smugglers and directly contributing to the risk of death migrants face when attempting to enter the EU. The report from regulatory agency Frontex suggests that NGOs sponsoring ships in the fleet are now acting as veritable accomplices to people smugglers due to their service which, in effect, provides a reliable shuttle service for migrants from North Africa to Italy. The fleet lowers smugglers’ costs, as it all but eliminates the need to procure seaworthy vessels capable making a full voyage across the Mediterranean to the European coastline.

Traffickers are also able to operate with much less risk of arrest by European law enforcement officers. Frontex specifically noted that traffickers have intentionally sought to alter their strategy, sending their vessels to ships run by the NGO fleet rather than the Italian and EU military. On March 25th, 2017, Italian news source Il Giornale carried remarks from Carmelo Zuccaro, the chief prosecutor of Catania (Sicily) calling for monitoring of the funding behind the NGO groups engaged in operating the migrant fleet. He stated that “the facilitation of illegal immigration is a punishable offense regardless of the intention.” While it is not a crime to enter the waters of a foreign country and pick them migrants, NGOs are supposed to land them at the nearest port of call, which would have been somewhere along the North African coast instead of in Italy.

The chief prosecutor also noted that Italy is investigating Islamic radicalization occurring in prisons and camps where immigrants are hired off the books. Italy has for some months been reeling under the pressure of massive numbers of migrants who have been moving from North Africa into the southern states of the European Union. In December 2016, The Express cited comments made by Virginia Raggi, the mayor of Vatican City, stating that Rome was on the verge of a “war” between migrants and poor Italians. The wave of migrants has also caused issues in southern Italy, where the Sicilian Cosa Nostra has declared a “war on migrants” last year amid reports that the Italian mafia had begun fighting with North African crime gangs who entered the EU among migrant populations.

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Aug 252016
 
 August 25, 2016  Posted by at 9:18 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  7 Responses »
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Harris&Ewing US Navy Yard, Washington. Sight shop, big gun section 1917

‘It’s Easier To Start A War Than To Forgive Debt’ (ET)
Mobius: Helicopter Money Will Be Japan’s Next Big Experiment, And Soon (BBG)
Central Bankers Eye Public Spending To Plug $1 Trillion Investment Gap (R.)
World Trade Falls for Second Quarter in a Row (WS)
Largest Oil Companies’ Debts Hit Record High (WSJ)
This is What’s Wrong with US Oil (WS)
Scotland North Sea Oil Revenues Collapse 97% (Ind.)
The Woman Who Revived Russia’s Markets (WSJ)
China Imposes Caps on P2P Loans to Curb Shadow-Banking Risks (BBG)
Runaway Bosses Fleeing Debts A Symptom Of China’s Economic Slowdown (SCMP)
Real World Shows Economics Has a Deflation Problem (BBG)
S&P: Increased Risk Of ‘Sharp Correction In New Zealand Property Prices’ (Int.)
Treasury to EU: Back Off On Tax Probes Of US Companies (CNBC)
French Support For The EU Project Is Crumbling On The Left And Right (AEP)
‘It Took On A Life Of Its Own’: How One Rogue Tweet Led Syrians To Germany (G.)
We’ve Been Wrecking The Planet A Lot Longer Than You Think (SMH)

 

 

Good and long interview with Macquarie strategist Victor Shvets.

‘It’s Easier To Start A War Than To Forgive Debt’ (ET)

Shvets says the world should have actually delevered or paid down the debt to return initiative to the private sector, but thinks people could not accept the levels of pain associated with it. “You could eliminate the impact of the overcapacity through deflation. Nobody is prepared to accept that we might have to wipe out decades of growth just to eliminate leverage. Banks go, there are defaults, bankruptcies, layoffs,” he said. He thinks the Biblical debt jubilee, where slaves would be freed and debt would be forgiven every 50 years is a nice idea that would also work today if it weren’t for entrenched special interests. “The debt is not spread evenly, we still live in a tribal world, and it’s easier to start a war than to forgive debt,” Shvets said.

Global central banks with their easy money policies of negative interest rates and quantitative easing are working against a debt deflation scenario, with limited success, according to Shvets. “That was the entire idea of aggressive monetary policies: Stimulate investment and consumption. None of that works, there is no evidence. It can impact asset prices, but they don’t flow into the real economy,” he said. “Remember, the people at the Fed and the Bank of England are not supermen, they are people with an above average IQ trying to do a very difficult job in a highly complex environment.” Both overleveraging, easy money policies, and technological shifts are responsible for increasing levels of income inequality across the globe, another hallmark of the previous two industrial revolutions. Fewer people control more of the wealth.

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So far it’s all just talk.

Mobius: Helicopter Money Will Be Japan’s Next Big Experiment, And Soon (BBG)

The Federal Reserve signals a reluctance to raise interest rates. The yen strengthens to 90 per dollar. Haruhiko Kuroda decides to act. Helicopter money is coming, says Mark Mobius, even as soon as next month. The 80-year-old investment veteran is outlining how he expects central banks to respond to sluggish economic growth. For Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, traditional easing measures have just made people save instead of spend or borrow. Combined with a stronger yen, he says that’s going to force the Bank of Japan governor to contemplate a policy he’s repeatedly ruled out. “They’re really beginning to think what ammunition they have,” he said in an interview on a visit to a typhoon-struck Tokyo this week.

“The first reaction is to say, OK, let’s go for helicopter money, let’s get money directly into the hands of consumers,” he said. “I think that would probably be the next step.” Central bankers have flooded their economies with monetary stimulus in the eight years since the global financial crisis, driving up asset prices – including the stock markets that Mobius invests in – while struggling to kickstart global growth. A foray into negative interest rates in Japan has been met with the yen surging to about 100 per dollar, falling stocks and dwindling bank profits.

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Party time.

Central Bankers Eye Public Spending To Plug $1 Trillion Investment Gap (R.)

While markets wait for Janet Yellen’s latest message about the direction of monetary policy, the Federal Reserve chief and her colleagues already have one for politicians: the U.S. economy needs more public spending to shift into higher gear. In the past few weeks, Yellen and three of the Fed’s other four Washington-based governors have called in speeches and Congressional hearings for government infrastructure spending and other efforts to counter weak growth, sagging productivity improvements, and lagging business investment. The fifth member has supported the idea in the past. The Fed has no direct influence over fiscal policy and its officials traditionally refrain from discussing it in detail.

Having its top officials – from Yellen to former investment banker and Bush administration official Jerome Powell – speak in one voice sends a strong signal to the next president and Congress about the limits they face in setting monetary policy and what is needed to improve the economy’s prospects. The Fed’s annual conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where Yellen speaks on Friday, is due to focus on how to improve central banks’ “toolkit,” but the unanimous message from the Fed’s top policymakers is that those tools are not enough. “Monetary policy is not well equipped to address long-term issues like the slowdown in productivity growth,” Fed vice chair Stanley Fischer said on Sunday. He said it was up to the administration to invest more in infrastructure and education.

Behind Fischer’s statement lies a troubling feature of the recovery – business investment has fallen below levels in prior years and companies seem to have stopped responding to low borrowing costs. As a share of GDP, U.S. annual business investment since 2008 has averaged nearly a full percentage point below the previous decade’s average, government data shows. Reuters calculations indicate the investment shortfall has blown a hole in annual GDP that has grown to as much as one trillion dollars a year compared with what it would have been if the previous trend continued.

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“A full decade of stagnation.”

World Trade Falls for Second Quarter in a Row (WS)

Adding to the picture of crummy demand for goods around the world, the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, just released its preliminary data of its Merchandise World Trade Monitor for June. Trade volumes rose 0.7% in June from May, after falling 0.5% in May, but were about flat year-over-year, and below the volumes of December 2014! On a quarterly basis – it averages out the monthly ups and downs – world trade fell 0.8%, contracting for the second quarter in a row. The CPB recently adjusted its world trade data down, going back many years.

The new data now depicts a post-Financial Crisis recovery of global trade that was a lot weaker than the original data had indicated. These downward adjustments of 2% to 3% came in a world where economic growth, according to the IMF, is stuck at 3.1% in 2016. This chart of the CPB’s World Trade Monitor index shows the old data released as of July 2015 (blue line) and the newly adjusted data released today (red line). Note the 4.4% drop from the peak in global trade volumes in the original data for December 2014 and in the current data for June 2016!

World trade is a reflection of the goods-producing economy. Services don’t get shipped around the world. Goods do. So industrial production, excluding construction, is key. And here the trend is awful for advanced economies. Global industrial production, excluding construction, rose 0.6% in June, after a 0.3% decline in May. The index for industrial production in advanced economies rose to 102.5, below where it had been in January (103.4), a level it had hit after the Financial Crisis in December 2012, but down from the glory days before the Financial Crisis when the index peaked in February 2008 (107.8). And here’s a tidbit: the first time that the index hit the current level had been in April 2006. A full decade of stagnation.

Industrial production has shifted to emerging economies (“cheap labor” economies) for many years, such as China, as companies in the US, decades ago, and eventually in Europe and Japan began outsourcing and offshoring production to emerging economies. Hence, industrial production in emerging economies has surged over this period. This was particularly the case after the Financial Crisis when companies in the US, Europe, and Japan redoubled their efforts to get production relocated offshore. This chart shows the CPB’s industrial production index globally (green line), and also separated by advanced economies (the dismally flat-ish blue line at the bottom) and emerging economies (brown line at the top):

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Someone better restructure that entire industry, or ugly things will happen.

Largest Oil Companies’ Debts Hit Record High (WSJ)

Some of the world’s largest energy companies are saddled with their highest debt levels ever as they struggle with low crude prices, raising worries about their ability to pay dividends and find new barrels. Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP and Chevron hold a combined net debt of $184 billion—more than double their debt levels in 2014, when oil prices began a steep descent that eventually bottomed out at $27 a barrel earlier this year. Crude prices have rebounded since, but still hover near $50 a barrel. The soaring debt levels are a fresh reminder of the toll the two-year price slump has taken on the oil industry. Just a decade ago, these four companies were hauled before Congress to explain “windfall profits” but now can’t cover expenses with normal cash flow.

Executives at BP, Shell, Exxon and Chevron have assured investors that they will generate enough cash in 2017 to pay for new investments and dividends, but some shareholders are skeptical. In the first half of 2015, the companies fell short of that goal by $40 billion, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of their numbers. “Eventually something will give,” said Michael Hulme, manager of the $550 million Carmignac Commodities Fund, which holds stakes in Shell and Exxon. “These companies won’t be able to maintain the current dividends at $50 to $60 oil—it’s unsustainable.” BP has said it expects to be able to pay for its operations, make new investments and meet its dividend at an oil price of between $50 and $55 a barrel next year.

The debt is piling up despite cuts of billions of dollars on new projects and current operations. Repaying the loans could weigh the companies down for years, crimping their ability to make investments elsewhere and keep pumping ever more oil and gas. “They are just not spending enough to boost production,” said Jonathan Waghorn at Guinness Atkinson Asset Management.

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As graphs go…

This is What’s Wrong with US Oil (WS)

Soothsayers out there have been prophesying time and again, for over a year, that very soon, in fact next week, the supply glut will start to unwind; that production in the US is already coming down sharply, that demand is up, or whatever…. In the end, a glut comes down to whether inventories are rising, particularly during a time of the year when they’re supposed to be falling (glut gets worse), or whether they’re falling (glut stabilizes or abates). It’s not just crude oil, but also the products that crude oil gets refined into for eventual use. And these stocks of petroleum products have been a doozie, particularly gasoline.

Gasoline stocks were essentially unchanged for the week, at 232.7 million barrels, a record for this time of the year, and up 8.5% from the already elevated inventory levels last year. Distillate fuels rose by 200,000 barrels to 153.3 million barrels. And “all other oils” jumped by a total of 3.9 million barrels to 490.6 million barrels. So total petroleum products stocks rose by 6.6 million barrels during the week, or 0.5%. Once again, this small-ish number, but over the period of the oil bust, total petroleum products stocks have soared by 30% and now exceed for the first time ever another huge milestone: 1.4 billion barrels. This chart shows what a truly relentless glut looks like:

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No independence then?!

Scotland North Sea Oil Revenues Collapse 97% (Ind.)

Scotland’s revenues from North Sea oil have collapsed by 97% in the past year as oil prices have plummeted, reigniting a fierce debate over whether an independent Scotland could finance itself. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The nationalists’ case for independence has been swallowed up by a £14bn black hole.” Taxes collected from oil production fell from £1.8bn in 2015 to just £60m in 2016. The gap between tax revenues and what Scotland spends is now 9.5%, or £14.8bn, compared to a 4% deficit for the UK as a whole. Scotland’s public sector now spends £12,800 per person, but collects just £10,000 each, the figures reveal. In 2008-9, as oil peaked at almost $150 per barrel, the Scottish government brought in a record £11.6bn from North Sea fields.

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Funny. Here’s what I wrote on April 8, 2015: Russia’s Central Bank Governor Is Way Smarter Than Ours

The Woman Who Revived Russia’s Markets (WSJ)

Russian markets are red hot again. Two years after plunging oil prices and Western economic sanctions fueled an investor exodus, the Micex stock index on Tuesday hit an all-time high. It is up 25% this year in dollar terms, making Russia the sixth-best performer among 23 emerging countries tracked by MSCI Inc. The ruble has gained 13% against the dollar this year, ranking third among all emerging currencies. Russia’s local-currency bonds rank third this year in performance out of 15 countries tracked by JP Morgan Chase. Many investors credit central-bank chief Elvira Nabiullina for Russia’s resurgence. They cite her surprise decision to end the ruble’s peg to the dollar in November 2014 and then sharply raise interest rates to combat capital flight and knock down inflation.

The moves were painful for Russia’s economy, which went into a sharp recession as the value of the ruble slumped, reducing consumer and business purchasing power. But over time they have helped to restore some international-investor faith in a country still shadowed by its 1998 default. “The correct steps taken by the Russian central bank have restored confidence in the ruble and its macroeconomic policy,” said Andrey Kutuzov, an associate portfolio manager of the Wasatch Emerging Markets Small Cap fund. Global investors this year have added $1.3 billion to funds that invest in Russian bonds and stocks, according to EPFR Global. The share of foreigners among government bondholders rose to 24.5% as of June 1, its highest level since late 2012, according to the Russian central bank.

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“..loans for weddings, guaranteed against the cash gifts that couples expect to receive..”

China Imposes Caps on P2P Loans to Curb Shadow-Banking Risks (BBG)

China imposed limits on lending by peer-to-peer platforms to individuals and companies in an effort to curb risks in one part of the loosely-regulated shadow-banking sector. An individual can borrow as much as 1 million yuan ($150,000) from P2P sites, including a maximum of 200,000 yuan from any one site, the China Banking Regulatory Commission said in Beijing on Wednesday. Corporate borrowers are capped at five times those levels. Tighter regulation may encourage consolidation that aids the industry long-term, said Wei Hou at Sanford C. Bernstein in Hong Kong. China’s authorities are concerned about defaults and fraud among the nation’s 2,349 online lenders. In December, the country’s biggest Ponzi scheme was exposed after Internet lender Ezubo allegedly defrauded more than 900,000 people out of the equivalent of $7.6 billion.

The nation has 1778 “problematic” online lenders, according to the CBRC. The P2P lenders are barred from taking public deposits or selling wealth-management products and must appoint qualified banks as custodians and improve information disclosure, the regulator said. [..] China’s P2P industry brokered 982 billion yuan of loans in 2015, almost quadruple the amount in 2014 and an approximately 10-fold increase from 2013, according to Yingcan. P2P firms attracted more than 3.4 million investors and 1.15 million borrowers in July, with loans extended at an average interest rate of 10.3%, according to Yingcan. Products offered by P2P platforms in China can include anything from loans for weddings, guaranteed against the cash gifts that couples expect to receive, to high-yield lending for risky property or mining projects.

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Biggest debts must be with shadow banks, and they don’t hang up posters.

Runaway Bosses Fleeing Debts A Symptom Of China’s Economic Slowdown (SCMP)

Wanted posters for fugitive debtors, not commercials, are the main images that flash up on a big electronic screen in downtown Yixing, in the heart of the faltering Chinese industrial powerhouse that is the Yangtze River Delta. The posters, from the local courts, show the identity card numbers and pictures of dozens of people who have fled unpaid debts. Rewards ranging from 20,000 yuan (HK$23,000) to 330,000 yuan are offered to anyone reporting their whereabouts. But Hengsheng Square is the glitziest part of Yixing – with the most luxury stores, the brightest lights and the priciest office buildings – and few passers-by, their attention directed elsewhere, heed the wanted posters. They have little novelty value in any case, with the “runaway debtor” phenomenon now just part of daily life in the small city as economic growth slows.

In many ways, the square stands as a metaphor for the overall health of the Chinese economy. Under a prosperous surface, deep cracks have begun to emerge in its investment-led model, casting a shadow over the country’s economic growth prospects and even giving rise to doubts about the fundamental soundness of the world’s second-biggest economy. “The economic dynamics are waning,” said Professor Hu Xingdou, an economist at Beijing Institute of Technology. “China’s economic growth in recent years was powered by massive money printing, which is dangerous and unsustainable.”

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Holding up Spain as a success story while it has 20-25% unemployment never seemed terribly credible. It still doesn’t.

Real World Shows Economics Has a Deflation Problem (BBG)

Jacob Rothschild, the billionaire scion of arguably Europe’s greatest banking dynasty says we’re living through “the greatest experiment in monetary policy in the history of the world.” There’s a major flaw in the experiment, though: the real world isn’t responding to policy in the way that the textbooks say it should. Moreover, it seems increasingly evident that the fears that led to zero interest rates and quantitative easing were at best overblown, if not entirely unjustified. The economic quandary is easy to parse. Central banks almost everywhere have sanctioned a 2% inflation target as signifying financial Nirvana. But, as the table below shows, consumer prices in the world’s major economies are rising much slower than that arbitrary ideal:

Spain has emerged as the poster child for deflation. Prices fell by 0.6% in July, the country’s 12th consecutive month with no increase in inflation. The textbooks suggest that when there’s a prolonged period of falling prices – the definition of deflation – the economy can quickly find itself in a tailspin. Businesses and consumers will defer purchases in the expectation that goods and services will be even cheaper in the future. So if Spain has had an average inflation rate of -0.4% since the end of 2013, and has seen lower prices in 23 of the past 30 months, consumers will have responded by shunning the shops and curtailing their spending, right? Wrong:

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Heed that warning.

S&P: Increased Risk Of ‘Sharp Correction In New Zealand Property Prices’ (Int.)

International credit rating agency S&P Global Ratings has warned of the increasing risks facing New Zealand banks as a result of the continuing rise in house prices. In a new report, S&P has downgraded its Banking Industry Country Risk Assessment (BICRA) for NZ’s banks by a notch, dropping it from 3 to 4, on a scale where 1 is the lowest risk and 10 is the highest risk. However it has not changed the individual credit ratings of any New Zealand banks. [..] .. our ratings on all the financial institutions operating in New Zealand remain unchanged. “This reflects our expectation that despite some weakening in the capital levels of all these financial institutions, their stand alone credit profiles (SACPs) would remain unchanged.

However S&P did downgrade the SACPs of ASB and Rabobank by one notch each, although it did not downgrade the two banks’ credit ratings, “… reflecting our assessment of timely financial support from their respective parents, if needed,” S&P said. S&P said the increased risks to this country’s banking sector had been driven by “…continued strong growth in residential property prices nationally, coupled with an increase in private sector credit growth.” “We believe the risk of a sharp correction in property prices has further increased and, if it were to occur – with about 56% of registered banks’ lending assets secured by residential home loans – the impact on financial institutions would be amplified by the New Zealand economy’s external weaknesses, in particular its persistent current account deficit and high level of external debt.”

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This is just plain funny.

Treasury to EU: Back Off On Tax Probes Of US Companies (CNBC)

There’s a giant pot of corporate gold sitting outside the United States, and the U.S. Treasury and the European Commission are squabbling over how to get their hands on it. American multinational corporations have stashed more than $2 trillion in profits and assets outside to avoid paying what many companies argue are unduly high U.S. corporate tax rates. Over the past few years, the European Commission has opened investigations into a handful of those companies, including Apple, Starbucks and Amazon, to determine whether they owe taxes to European countries. But the Treasury Department, in a “white paper” released Wednesday, said those investigations have gone too far.

The paper attacked the legal approach the EU is using to determine tax liabilities on American companies, saying it targets “income that (European) Member States have no right to tax under well-established international tax standards.” The paper also argued that taxes collected by European countries could, in effect, come right out of the pockets of American taxpayers. That’s because taxes collected by European countries could be deducted from any future payments to the Treasury. “That outcome is deeply troubling, as it would effectively constitute a transfer of revenue to the EU from the U.S. government and its taxpayers,” the paper said. The report urged the European Commission to “return to the system and practice of international tax cooperation that has long fostered cross-border investment between the United States and EU Member States.”

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France will demand the hollowing out of the EU. Decentralization. Inevitable when economies shrink.

French Support For The EU Project Is Crumbling On The Left And Right (AEP)

The drama of Brexit may soon be matched or eclipsed by crystallizing events in France, where the Long Slump is at last taking its political toll. A democracy can endure deflation policies for only so long. The attrition has wasted the French centre-right and the centre-left by turns, and now threatens the Fifth Republic itself. The maturing crisis has echoes of 1936, when the French people tired of ‘deflation decrees’ and turned to the once unthinkable Front Populaire, smashing what remained of the Gold Standard. Former Gaulliste president Nicolas Sarkozy has caught the headlines this week, launching a come-back bid with a package of hard-Right policies unseen in a western European democracy in modern times.

But the uproar on the Left is just as revealing. Arnaud Montebourg, the enfant terrible of the Socialist movement, has launched his own bid for the Socialist Party with a critique of such ferocity that it bears examination. The former economy minister says France voted for a left-wing French manifesto four years ago and ended up with a “right-wing German policy regime”. This is objectively true. The vote was meaningless. “I believe that we have reached the end of road for the EU, and that France no longer has any interest in it. The EU has left us mired in crisis long after the rest of the world has moved on,” he said. Mr Montebourg stops short of ‘Frexit’ but calls for the unilateral suspension of EU labour laws. “As far as I am concerned, the current treaties have elapsed.

I will be inspired by the General de Gaulle’s policy of the ’empty chair’, a strike against the EU. I am not in favour of a French Brexit, but we can longer accept a Europe like that,” he said. In other words, he wishes to leave from within – as Poland, and Hungary are doing – without actually triggering any legal or technical clause. Mr Montebourg is unlikely to progress far but his indictment of president François Hollande is devastating. The party leadership was warned repeatedly and emphatically that contractionary policies would inevitably lead to another million jobless but the economic was swept aside. “They never budged from their Catechism and their false certitudes,” he said.

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“..the first post on social media to change the course of European history..”

‘It Took On A Life Of Its Own’: How One Rogue Tweet Led Syrians To Germany (G.)

The tweet was sent by Germany’s ministry for migration and refugees a year ago today. “The #Dublin procedure for Syrian citizens is at this point in time effectively no longer being adhered to,” the message read. With 175 retweets and 165 likes, it doesn’t look like classic viral content. But in Germany it is being spoken of as the first post on social media to change the course of European history. Referring to an EU law determined at a convention in Dublin in 1990, the tweet was widely interpreted as a de facto suspension of the rule that the country in Europe where a refugee first arrives is responsible for handling his or her asylum application.

By this point in 2015, more than 300,000 asylum seekers had reached Europe by boat – a figure that was already 50% higher than even the record-breaking number of arrivals in 2014. Although the German ministry’s intervention certainly did not start the crisis, it did make Germany the first-choice destination for Syrians who previously might have aimed for other countries in Europe, such as Sweden, which at the time offered indefinite asylum to Syrians. It also created an impression of confusion and loss of political control, from which Angela Merkel’s government has at times struggled to recover. Twelve months on, politicians and officials at the centre of Berlin’s bureaucratic machine are still trying to figure out how the tweet came about.

Four days previously, Angelika Wenzl, the executive senior government official at the refugee ministry, which in Germany is known as BAMF, had emailed out an internal memo titled “Rules for the suspension of the Dublin convention for Syrian citizens” to its 36 field bureaux around the country, stating that Syrians who applied for asylum in Germany would no longer be sent back to the country where they had first stepped on European soil. [..] By channels that officials and journalists have so far failed to pinpoint, Wenzl’s internal memo was leaked to the press.

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I forget who said it, but it’s still an interesting take: ”Nature developed mankind to get rid of a carbon imbalance”.

We’ve Been Wrecking The Planet A Lot Longer Than You Think (SMH)

When Charles Dickens, the English novelist, was detailing the “soft black drizzle” of pollution over London, he might inadvertently have been chronicling the early signs of global warming. New research led by Australian scientists has pegged back the timing of when humans had clearly begun to change the climate to the 1830s. An international research project has found human-induced climate change is first detectable in the Arctic and tropical oceans around the 1830s, earlier than expected. That’s about half a century before the first comprehensive instrumental records began – and about the time Dickens began his novels depicting Victorian Britain’s rush to industrialise.

The findings, published on Thursday in the journal Nature, were based on natural records of climate variation in the world’s oceans and continents, including those found in corals, ice cores, tree rings and the changing chemistry of stalagmites in caves. Helen McGregor, an ARC future fellow at the University of Wollongong and one of the paper’s lead authors, said it was “quite a surprise” the international research teams of dozens of scientists had been able to detect a signal of climate change emerging in the tropical oceans and the Arctic from the 1830s. “Nailing down the timing in different regions was something we hadn’t expected to be able to do,” Dr McGregor told Fairfax Media.

Interestingly, the change comes sooner to northern climes, with regions such as Australasia not experiencing a clear warming signal until the early 1900s. Nerilie Abram, another of the lead authors and an associate professor at the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, said greenhouse gas levels rose from about 280 parts per million in the 1830s to about 295 ppm by the end of that century. They now exceed 400 ppm.

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Jun 172016
 
 June 17, 2016  Posted by at 8:58 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Unknown Dutch Gap, Virginia. Bomb-proof quarters of Major Strong 1864

Stocks, Sterling Surge After British MP’s Death (ZH)
’I’d Risk Life And Limb For My Babies’: Jo Cox (G.)
There’s A New Kind Of Housing Crisis in America (MW)
US Housing Bubble 2.0: Shadow Demand vs Shelter-Buyer Fundamentals (Hanson)
America’s Dying Shopping Malls Have Billions in Debt Coming Due (BBG)
Sell The Stocks, Sell The Bonds, Get Out Of The Casino: Stockman (Fox)
Default Cycle: ‘It’s Only A Matter Of Time Before Many Of Them Blow Up’ (ZH)
China’s Debt Is 250% of GDP And ‘Could Be Fatal’, Says Government Expert (G.)
The Fed Has Brought Back ‘Taxation Without Representation’ (Black)
Forget Brexit, It’s Italy’s Turn (Stelter)
Austerity Kills! Greeks’ Health Deteriorating, Life Expectancy Shrinks (KTG)
Antarctic CO2 Hits 400ppm For First Time In 4 Million Years (G.)

The world drowns in cynicism.

Stocks, Sterling Surge After British MP’s Death (ZH)

The devastating news that British MP Jo Cox has died following the shooting incident earlier today by a mentally unstable man…

“U.K. Labour Party lawmaker Jo Cox died after being attacked as she met constituents in her electoral district in West Yorkshire in the north of England. Campaigning ahead of next week’s referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was suspended for the rest of Thursday by both sides after the attack, which happened just before 1 p.m. Jo was attacked by a man who inflicted serious and, sadly, ultimately fatal injuries,” West Yorkshire Police Temporary Chief Constable Dee Collins said in a televised press conference in Wakefield.

…has sparked a bullish buying binge in stocks as Sterling rallies on the market’s “hope” that the Brexit vote will be delayed. This evening’s major speech at Mansion House by Bank of England Governor Carney has been cancelled due to her death…

Bank of England says Governor Mark Carney will no longer deliver planned speech in London. BOE cites “dreadful attack today on Jo Cox MP” Governor will attend event and deliver a “short speech reflecting on today’s events”

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No further comment. Perhaps complete silence would be the most appropriate answer, but all we’ll hear all day and then some is comments and opinions. Spin doctors and conspiracies work overtime.

’I’d Risk Life And Limb For My Babies’: Jo Cox (G.)

Labour MP Jo Cox, who died on Thursday after being attacked in her constituency of Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire by an armed man, makes a speech in parliament about the need for the UK to help child migrants stranded unaccompanied in Europe. The speech was part of a debate on the issue which took place in April 2016.

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Unaffordability. Known to pop many a bubble.

There’s A New Kind Of Housing Crisis in America (MW)

America has a housing crisis, and most Americans want policy action to address it. That’s the conclusion of an annual survey released Thursday by the MacArthur Foundation. The “crisis” is no longer defined by the layers of distress left behind after the subprime bubble burst, but about access to stable, affordable housing. A vast majority of respondents – 81% – said housing affordability is a problem, and one-third said they or someone they know has been evicted, foreclosed on, or lost their housing in the past five years. Over half the respondents, 53%, said they’d had to make sacrifices over the past three years to be able to pay their mortgage or rent. Yet most respondents believe the housing problem is solvable, and want policymakers to address it.

Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents from both parties say housing hasn’t received enough attention in the 2016 campaign. Most people supported a range of proposed policies to support affordable housing, both rentals and purchase. But people increasingly believe that owning a home is a “an excellent long-term investment.” Some 60% agreed with that statement, up from 56% a year ago and 50% in 2014. Access to stable, affordable housing – whether to rent or buy – is “about more than shelter,” the MacArthur Foundation noted in a release. “It is at the core of strong, vibrant, and healthy families and communities.”

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“If 2006 was a known bubble with housing prices at “X”, affordability never better, easy availability of credit, unemployment in the 4%’s, total workforce at record highs, and growing wages, then what do you call today with house prices at X+ 5% to 20%, worse affordability and credit, higher unemployment, weakening total workforce, and shrinking wages? Whatever you call it, it’s a greater thing than “X”.

US Housing Bubble 2.0: Shadow Demand vs Shelter-Buyer Fundamentals (Hanson)

[..] if everybody always had to purchase owner-occupied properties using the same down payment amount and a market rate, fixed-rate mortgage then house prices would always reflect the employment, income, and macro-economic conditions of the surrounding area. But, when ‘Shadow Demand’ cohorts enter the market using cheap and easy credit and liquidity prices can detach from local-area economics, especially if the Shadow Demand continues to gain market share. Heck, in the greater Phoenix region, over 50% of all households can’t afford the going rate on a two-bedroom apartment, yet house prices are some of the strongest in the nation. Obviously, this isn’t due to strong end-user, shelter-buyer fundamentals.

As Shadow Demand continues to gain share over end-user buyers, they settle for lower respective returns on their housing investments and prices continue to rise. Then, when appraisers use properties purchased by Shadow buyers — for unconventional purposes with cheap and easy credit and liquidity — as comparable sales, all property values rise. Sure, there are end-user, shelter-buyers who will be able to chase the market all the way up. But, the larger the bubble blows the more the end-user, shelter-buyer demand will get crowded out and/or turn into increased supply as they liquidate. We are seeing this happen all over the nation.

In Bubble 1.0, Shadow Demand continued to gain market share until it blew up. And we know that beginning in 2011 the four pillars of unorthodox, Shadow Demand — beginning with the distressed market — controlled housing demand and still does. The implosion of the mortgage securitization market in 2007 didn’t crash housing. Rather, when the Shadow Demand – reliant on cheap and easy credit and liquidity largely driven by securitization — left the market, housing “reset to end-user, shelter-buyer fundamentals”. In other words, the pendulum swung back to the fundamental, end-user, shelter-buyer with 20% down and a market-rate 30-year fixed mortgage, which was 30% lower. Again, this isn’t a housing crash per se, rather a demand-shift and a reset, or reattachment, to real fundamentals.

Bottom line: History will repeat because the drivers are identical. Bubble 2.0 will end with house prices once again “resetting to end-user fundamentals”, or to what the end-user shelter buyer can afford with a typical down payment and 30-year fixed rate mortgage. And it doesn’t have to be an MBS market blowing up to cause house prices to reattach to end-user fundamentals. It could be anything that swings this pendulum from being driven by Shadow Demand, which is where we are today.

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Erosion.

America’s Dying Shopping Malls Have Billions in Debt Coming Due (BBG)

Suburban Detroit’s Lakeside Mall, with mid-range stores such as Sears, Bath & Body Works and Kay Jewelers, is one of the hundreds of retail centers across the U.S. being buffeted by the rise of e-commerce. After a $144 million loan on the property came due this month, owner General Growth Properties Inc. didn’t make the payment. The default by the second-biggest U.S. mall owner may be a harbinger of trouble nationwide as a wave of debt from the last decade’s borrowing binge comes due for shopping centers. About $47.5 billion of loans backed by retail properties are set to mature over the next 18 months, data from BofAML show. That’s coinciding with a tighter market for commercial-mortgage backed securities, where many such properties are financed.

For some mall owners, negotiating loan extensions or refinancing may be difficult. Lenders are tightening their purse strings as unease surrounding the future of shopping centers grows, with bleak earnings forecasts from retailers including Macy’s and Nordstrom, and bankruptcy filings by chains such as Aeropostale and Sports Authority. Older malls in small cities and towns are being hit hardest, squeezed by competition from both the Internet and newer, glitzier malls that draw wealthy shoppers. “For many years, people thought the retail business in the U.S. was a bit overbuilt,” said Tad Philipp at Moody’s. “The advent of online shopping is kind of accelerating the separation of winners and losers.” Landlords that can’t refinance debt may either walk away from the property or negotiate for an extension of the due date. It can be hard to save a failing mall, leading to high losses for lenders on soured loans, Philipp said.

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“.. (low) interest rates are the mothers milk of speculation..”

Sell The Stocks, Sell The Bonds, Get Out Of The Casino: Stockman (Fox)

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“..central banks in their infinite wisdom have made the cost of money so cheap that it has created an environment that forces a complete misallocation of capital in the market ..”

Default Cycle: ‘It’s Only A Matter Of Time Before Many Of Them Blow Up’ (ZH)

It’s been a tough year for traders and bankers alike, as layoffs have gripped firms due to difficult trading environments and an overall sluggish economy. However, there is one area that is starting to actually pick up. As the number of bankruptcies begin to increase, firms are expanding their turnaround teams in order to handle all of the work headed their way – bankers with experience in turnarounds and restructuring are now in high demand. “Firms are hungry for experienced restructuring professionals, who are increasingly in short supply. You need to reach deep into your Rolodex to find people you know who are capable, and you need to move fast.” said Richard Shinder, hired by Piper Jaffray in March to help build out its restructuring team.

Both the number of bankruptcies and the amount of liabilities associated with them have picked up significantly, as Bloomberg points out. With the amount of companies in distress, firms such as Lazard, Guggenheim, Perella Weinberg and Alix are all hiring in anticipation of even more bankruptcies. “Cycles come and go, but when a wave hits, you want to make sure you are in the right seat with the right group of people. We are putting the band back together.” said Ronen Bojmel, who is helping to build the restructuring team at Guggenheim. Moody’s is forecasting high default rates in sectors that are largely expected given commodity prices, such as Metals & Mining and Oil & Gas, however trouble looks to be spilling over into other sectors such as Construction, Media, Durable Consumer Goods, and even Retail.

As we have discussed for quite some time, central banks in their infinite wisdom have made the cost of money so cheap that it has created an environment that forces a complete misallocation of capital in the market as the search for yield continues down every rabbit hole it can find. This will (and already is) inevitably catch up to the economy in the form of defaults and bankruptcies. “The wave is already here. Many risky debt deals have been done as people chased yield, and it’s a matter of time before many of them blow up.” said Tim Coleman, head of PJT Partners.

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Local governments = shadow banks. Would like to see someone dig into who owns them.

China’s Debt Is 250% of GDP And ‘Could Be Fatal’, Says Government Expert (G.)

China’s total debt was more than double its GDP in 2015, a government economist has said, warning that debt linkages between the state and industry could be “fatal” for the world’s second largest economy. The country’s debt has ballooned to almost 250% of GDP thanks to Beijing’s repeated use of cheap credit to stimulate slowing growth, unleashing a massive, debt-fuelled spending binge. While the stimulus may help the country post better growth numbers in the near term, analysts say the rebound might be short-lived. China’s borrowings hit 168.48 trillion yuan ($25.6 trillion) at the end of last year, equivalent to 249% of economic output, Li Yang, a senior researcher with the leading government think-tank the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), has told reporters.

But the huge number, which includes government, corporate and household borrowings, was lower than some non-government estimates. The consulting firm McKinsey Group said earlier this year that the country’s total debt had quadrupled since 2007 and was likely as high as $28 trillion by mid-2014. The debt-to-GDP ratio is not the highest in the world. The US has a ratio of 331%, for example, much of which is accounted for by federal debt. But part of the concern about China’s massive debt binge is that the most worrying risks lie in the non-financial corporate sector, where the debt-to-GDP ratio was estimated at 156%. This sector includes the liabilities of local government financing vehicles, Li said.

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Interesting observation.

The Fed Has Brought Back ‘Taxation Without Representation’ (Black)

In February 1768, a revolutionary article entitled “No taxation without representation” was published London Magazine. The article was a re-print of an impassioned speech made by Lord Camden arguing in parliament against Britain’s oppressive tax policies in the American colonies. Britain had been milking the colonists like medieval serfs. And the idea of ‘no taxation without representation’ was revolutionary, of course, because it became a rallying cry for the American Revolution. The idea was simple: colonists had no elected officials representing their interests in the British government, therefore they were being taxed without their consent. To the colonists, this was tantamount to robbery.

Thomas Jefferson even included “imposing taxes without our consent” on the long list of grievances claimed against Great Britain in the Declaration of Independence. It was enough of a reason to go to war. These days we’re taught in our government-controlled schools that taxation without representation is a thing of the past, because, of course, we can vote for (or against) the politicians who create tax policy.

But this is a complete charade. Here’s an example: Just yesterday, the Federal Reserve announced that it would keep interest rates at 0.25%. Now, this is all part of a ridiculous monetary system in which unelected Fed officials raise and lower rates to induce people to adjust their spending habits. If they want us little people to spend more money, they cut rates. If they want us to spend less, they raise rates. It’s incredibly offensive when you think about it– the entire financial system is underpinned by a belief that a committee of bureaucrats knows better than us about what we should be doing with our own money.

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It’s too late to even try bridging the gaps.

Forget Brexit, It’s Italy’s Turn (Stelter)

If the Germans really want to avoid a Brexit or the exit of other countries from the Eurozone, they will have to change their policies. Unfortunately, German politicians and economists prefer to criticize the other countries instead of doing their homework. They oppose spending more money at home, they oppose a debt restructuring, they oppose debt monetization by the ECB, they oppose exits from the eurozone. In doing so, they increase the pressure in the system as Europe remains locked in recession. Irrespective of how the British vote next week, the problems of Europe keep on growing. It is only a question of when, not if, a euroskeptic party gets into power in one of the largest EU economies, promising to solve all problems by exiting the Euro and the EU.

I continue to see Italy as the prime candidate for such a move. The country suffers under a recession which has by now lasted longer than the recession of the 1930s. It still has not managed to get back to 2008 GDP levels. Unemployment is high, government debt is out of control. Closing the competitive gap to Germany by lowering wages by 30% is a ridiculous idea and an impossible task. The alternative is to leave the eurozone. Italy could then devalue the new lira and regain competitiveness overnight. An Italian uscita (exit) – or “Uscitaly” in the latest clever term of art – is the true risk for the eurozone. And it would be too late when Der Spiegel comes up with a new cover: “Mon dio, Italia. Si prega di non uscire!”

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This is the EU Britain must vote for or against. This is what it does. It turns member states into third world nations. Greece had a great health care system. But nobody can afford it anymore.

Austerity Kills! Greeks’ Health Deteriorating, Life Expectancy Shrinks (KTG)

The economic crisis and the strict austerity bound to the loan agreement kill. They kill Greeks. The Bank of Greece may not write it in such a melodramatic way on its Monetary Policy Report 2015-2016. However, the conclusions in the chapter about “Reforms in health, economic crisis and impact on the health of population” are shocking and confirm what we have been hearing and reading around from relatives and friends in the last years: that the physical and mental health of Greeks has been deteriorating – partly due to economic insecurity, high unemployment, job insecurity, income decrease and constant exposure to stress. Partly also due to economic problems that have patients cut their treatment, partly due to the incredible cuts and shortages in the public health system. The Report notes that “while it takes longer to record the exact effect, trends show a deterioration of the health of Greeks in the years of loan agreements and austerity cuts.”

The BoG states:
• Suicides increased. “The risk of suicidal behavior increases when there are so-called primary risk factors (psychiatric-medical conditions), while the secondary factors (economic situation) and tertiary factors (age, gender) affects the risk of suicide, but only if primary risk factors pre-exist.
• Infant mortality increased by nearly 50%, mainly due to increase of deaths of infants younger than one year, and the decline of births by 22,1%. Infant mortality increase: 2.65% in 2008 and 3.75% in 2014
• Increase of parts of population with mental illness, especially with depression. Increase: 3.,3% in 2008 to 6.8% in 2009, to 8.2% in 2011 and to 12.3% in 2013. In 2014, a 4.7% of the population above 15 years old declared it suffered form depression – that was 2.6% in 2009.
• Chronic diseases increased by approximately 24%.

The BoG notes that “the large cuts in public expenditure have not been accompanied by changes and improvement of the health system in order to limit the consequences for the weakest citizens and vulnerable groups of the society.” [..] Citing OECD data of 2013, the BoG underlines that 79% of the population in Greece was not covered with insurance and therefore without medical and medicine due to long-term unemployment, while self-employed could not afford to pay their social contributions.

[..] One of the neighborhood pharmacists has been telling me on and off about the dramatic number of patients who cannot afford the self-participation in prescription medicine. Many of his clients cut their treatment into half – like 1 tablet for cholesterol not daily but every other day basis – and that some have given up the whole treatment. “For some people the choice is: either have treatment or food.” And this has been going on since 2012, when then Greek Health Minister adopted the German model of “self-participation in prescription medicine, laboratory tests” and cut some primary health services but forgot to adopt also that aspect of the German model that provides that patients would not spend more than 2% of their income for medical services and medication.

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4 million years ago is well before anything closely resembling man appeared. That makes this so dangerous for us. It creates an environment that we did not evolve in. As more and more of what was there when we did evolve will also disappear.

Antarctic CO2 Hits 400ppm For First Time In 4 Million Years (G.)

We’re officially living in a new world. Carbon dioxide has been steadily rising since the start of the Industrial Revolution, setting a new high year after year. There’s a notable new entry to the record books. The last station on Earth without a 400 parts per million (ppm) reading has reached it. A little 400 ppm history. Three years ago, the world’s gold standard carbon dioxide observatory passed the symbolic threshold of 400 ppm. Other observing stations have steadily reached that threshold as carbon dioxide spreads across the planet’s atmosphere at various points since then. Collectively, the world passed the threshold for a month last year.

In the remote reaches of Antarctica, the South Pole Observatory carbon dioxide observing station cleared 400 ppm on May 23, according to an announcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Wednesday. That’s the first time it’s passed that level in 4 million years (no, that’s not a typo). There’s a lag in how carbon dioxide moves around the atmosphere. Most carbon pollution originates in the northern hemisphere because that’s where most of the world’s population lives. That’s in part why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere hit the 400 ppm milestone earlier in the northern reaches of the world.

But the most remote continent on earth has caught up with its more populated counterparts. “The increase of carbon dioxide is everywhere, even as far away as you can get from civilization,” Pieter Tans, a carbon-monitoring scientist at the Environmental Science Research Laboratory, said. “If you emit carbon dioxide in New York, some fraction of it will be in the South Pole next year.”

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Nov 062015
 
 November 6, 2015  Posted by at 11:08 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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William Henry Jackson Hand cart carry, Adirondacks, New York 1902

European Union Predicts 3 Million More Refugees By End Of Next Year (WaPo)
UN Expects Daily Refugee Flow Of 5,000 To Europe This Winter (Reuters)
From Lesvos, Tsipras Says Greece Cannot Cope With Refugees (Reuters)
Tsipras To Hold Emergency Meeting On Refugees With Mayors And Governors (AP)
A Hand in the Water is not Like a Hand in the Fire (Press Project)
Merkel Hit By Refugee Crisis Setback As Berlin Drops Transit Zones Plan (Guar.)
The Economic Impact of the European Refugee Crisis (Atlantic)
Is Europe’s Economy So Bad the ECB Will Run Out of Things to Buy? (Bloomberg)
EU Cuts Growth and Inflation Outlook as ECB Decision Looms (Bloomberg)
Brussels Demands More Austerity ‘Measures’ In Greece (Kath.)
How China Broke the World’s ‘Bubble Machine’ (Bonner)
The Valeant Scandal and Steve Keen on China and Portugal (RT)
China’s Stock-Market Bulls Are Back, But Where Are the Earnings? (Bloomberg)
China’s Bonds Set for Worst Week Since May as PBOC Seen on Hold (Bloomberg)
Monetary Bazookas Or Not, “Global Crisis Is Inevitable” (Saxobank)
Deflation Risks May Warrant Radical New Central-Bank Thinking: IMF (WSJ)
Standard Chartered’s Shares Plunge 7% After Fitch Downgrade (Bloomberg)
MSF Says US Planes Attacked Staff Fleeing Kunduz Hospital (Reuters)
Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies (NY Times)
World Only Half Way To Meeting Emissions Target With Current Pledges (Guardian)

Mayhem foretold.

European Union Predicts 3 Million More Refugees By End Of Next Year (WaPo)

The European Union predicted Thursday that up to 3 million additional asylum seekers could enter the 28-member bloc by the end of next year, suggesting the staggering pace of new arrivals in recent months shows no sign of abating. The forecast, buried in a 204-page report on the future of the European economy, will add to an already burning debate in Europe about whether the continent can handle the influx, which has broken all modern records. So far this year, more than 760,000 people have entered the continent seeking refuge or jobs, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency. The new arrivals have badly strained government resources in countries all along the trail, which leads from the Mediterranean Sea in the south to richer nations in Europe’s north.

One of the more affluent countries, Sweden, said Thursday that it would apply for emergency E.U. aid, an admission that it is failing to cope. Sweden, which has taken the largest per capita share of refugees of any E.U. country, is expecting 190,000 asylum seekers this year — double its previous record. “The major problem today is that the number of asylum seekers is growing faster than we can arrange for accommodation,” Morgan Johansson, the minister for justice and migration, told reporters. “Sweden can no longer guarantee accommodation to everyone who comes. Those who are arriving could be met with the news that there isn’t anywhere to stay.” [..] Despite the unprecedented scale of the flows, the overall population of the European Union was forecast to rise only 0.4% as a result of the influx.

In a separate forecast, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said it predicted that an average of up to 5,000 migrants a day would travel from Turkey to Greece over the next four months. That would mark a substantial departure from the migrant travel patterns in previous years, when winter’s harsh weather vastly reduced the numbers. The refugee agency appealed for nearly $100 million to winterize tents and sanitation systems while it warned of more deaths among refugees if adequate measures are not taken. Peter Sutherland, the U.N. secretary general’s special representative on migration issues, told the BBC that there was no sign that the flow of migrants was diminishing, despite a rising death toll from rougher autumn seas. He called for Europe to take collective action to deal with the crisis. “This is now a global responsibility, but it is a particular European responsibility”, he said. “And in Europe we can’t say simply that those who are the closest to the problem, and therefore receive most of the migrants, have to handle it themselves”.

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At 5,000 a day, you don’t get to 3 million. Actually, you get to 1,825 million.

UN Expects Daily Refugee Flow Of 5,000 To Europe This Winter (Reuters)

Refugees and migrants are likely to continue to arrive in Europe at a rate of up to 5,000 per day via Turkey this winter, the United Nations said on Thursday, appealing for more funds to avert tragedy in Greece and the Balkans in coming months. More than 760,000 people have already crossed the Mediterranean so far this year, mainly to Greece and Italy, after fleeing wars in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as conflicts in Eritrea and other parts of Africa. “Harsh weather conditions in the region are likely to exacerbate the suffering of the thousands of refugees and migrants landing in Greece and travelling through the Balkans, and may result in further loss of life if adequate measures are not taken urgently,” the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“UNHCR’s new winter plan anticipates that there could be up to 5,000 arrivals per day from Turkey between November 2015 and February 2016,” it said. The agency is seeking an additional $96.15 million to support Croatia, Greece, Serbia, Slovenia and the former Republic of Macedonia, bringing the total amount that it is trying to raise for Europe’s refugee crisis to $172.7 million. The fresh funds will be used to upgrade shelter and reception facilities for winter conditions, and to supply family tents and housing units equipped with heating, the statement said. Sanitation and water supply systems will also be improved. “Winter clothing and blankets, as well as other essential items for protecting people from the elements, will be included in the aid packages to be distributed to individuals with specific needs,” it said.

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He should be much more vocal on this.

From Lesvos, Tsipras Says Greece Cannot Cope With Refugees (Reuters)

Greece’s prime minister conceded on Thursday that the country was unable to cope with the thousands of migrants arriving daily on its shores, just days after saying that he was shamed by Europe’s handling of the crisis. Alexis Tsipras was visiting Lesvos the Greek island which has received the bulk of arrivals and where aid groups condemned living conditions for refugees as dire. ”I think we are battling something which is beyond our abilities, and everyone should understand that,” he said, on a visit to a packed migrant registration center with Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament. Cash-strapped Greece has been struggling to handle an influx of hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing from war and hardship in the Middle East. Aid organisations estimate more than 601,000 have entered Europe through Greece this year.

With at least 430 people having died this year trying to make the short sea crossing along Greece’s border with Turkey, Tsipras said it was “imperative” to reach a deal with Ankara to stem the flow. About 15,000 refugees and migrants were effectively stranded on Lesvos on Thursday because a ferry strike had stopped reception centres forwarding arrivals onto the Greek mainland. “It’s an asphyxiating situation,” Tsipras said. International aid agency IRC, which has a unit on Lesbos, said conditions at one main centre were unacceptable and that Greece had struggled for years to cope with far fewer migrants. At Moria, an army camp converted into a refugee centre, Schulz and Tsipras got a taste of some of the frustration. “We are here three days. We are hungry. I have two children, my children are sick,” one man shouted at Tsipras.

Tsipras patted his arm. “We will do our best.” The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR launched a new funding appeal on Thursday, saying it needed $96.15 million in additional support for Greece and affected Balkan countries. Greece has had €5.9 million in EU aid so far this year. UNHCR forecasts up to 5,000 arrivals per day from Turkey between now and February. With a recent bout of bad weather, people smugglers have started offering discounts on journeys with flimsy inflatables and charging more for trips on boats. “We were unfortunate enough to see an improvised dinghy as we were heading in, full of refugees,” Tsipras said. “It’s criminal.” ”It is imperative that we reach an agreement with Turkey to stop the flows by targeting the smugglers.”

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Far too late, and wrong meeting. What’s needed is something much higher up: UN.

Tsipras To Hold Emergency Meeting On Refugees With Mayors And Governors (AP)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has invited mayors of eastern Aegean islands bearing the brunt of the current refugee influx to Athens for an emergency meeting on how to deal with the crisis. The meeting, scheduled for midday Friday, was also to be attended by the north and south Aegean regional governors as well as mayors and religious officials from the islands of Lesvos, Samos, Kos, Leros and Chios, and government officials.

Greece is the main gateway into the European Union for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty at home. The vast majority arrive after a short but dangerous sea journey to Greek islands from the nearby Turkish coast and then head to the mainland and on to more prosperous northern EU countries through the Balkans. Hundreds have drowned, including many children, when their overcrowded and unseaworthy boats have sunk or capsized.

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“Before the war, Syria had a population of 23ml, it was a middle income country and had one of the best education systems in the Arab world with 90% literacy rate. Today, more than half, 12.5ml people cannot survive without humanitarian aid..”

A Hand in the Water is not Like a Hand in the Fire (Press Project)

The number of internally displaced people in Syria is estimated at 7.6ml while the number of those who fled to neighboring countries; Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq is more that 4ml. Before the war, Syria had a population of 23ml, it was a middle income country and had one of the best education systems in the Arab world with 90% literacy rate. Today, more than half, 12.5ml people cannot survive without humanitarian aid. 50% of the children no longer attends school, half of the population has no access to running water and electricity-not simply because they have no money to pay for it but, mostly, because the war has destroyed 50% of the water and electricity infrastructure. Syria used to host 12 refugee camps which accommodated 560.000 Palestinians.

Today, after the war, 450.000 Palestinians are still in the country, scattered everywhere. Jordan closed its borders to Palestinians from Syria at the beginning of the war while Lebanon did the same on May, 2015. In all, 80.000 Palestinians from Syria have found refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt hoping to be able to cross over to Europe. Almost all of them fear extradition back to Syria due to their particular circumstances. As expected, the first Syrian refugees fled to the neighboring countries; Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and, in smaller numbers, Iraq and Egypt. The Syrians who chose to move to those countries usually did it because they could not pay the trafficker’s fees for a passage to Europe- during the first years the prices were three times higher than today. Another reason was that some of them believed that the war would not last long and they would be able to return to their country relatively soon.

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As Rome burns and babies drown…

Merkel Hit By Refugee Crisis Setback As Berlin Drops Transit Zones Plan (Guar.)

Angela Merkel has suffered a setback in her attempt to stabilise the influx of refugees into Germany by setting up “transit zones” on the border with Austria. The zones, denounced as detention camps by the Social Democrats (SPD), the German chancellor’s junior coalition partner, were rejected at crisis talks in Berlin on Thursday. Instead, her government announced it would establish up to five reception centres inside Germany for the swifter processing of asylum claims and the prompt deportation of those with little chance of obtaining refugee status, mainly people from the Balkans. Merkel’s climbdown came as the European commission predicted the arrival of up to 3 million people in the EU by 2017.

The Berlin agreement – reached at crisis talks between Merkel’s Christian Democrats, its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union, and the SPD – represented an unusual defeat for the centre-right and a victory for Sigmar Gabriel, the SPD leader and vice-chancellor. The German interior ministry indicated the massive scale of the movement of people towards Germany this year when it supplied the latest figures on Thursday for registered refugees – 758,000, a record-breaking figure that suggests the number will exceed 1 million this year. They mainly came from Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan, Albania and Kosovo. The migrants from the latter two places are likely to be deported promptly under the tighter regime Merkel is trying to create while remaining open to those viewed as bona fide refugees.

The Merkel’s climbdown on transit zones came as the EU prepares for a crucial week of summitry devoted for the fifth time in a matter of months to the migration emergency. EU interior and justice ministers are to meet on Monday to ponder their options amid growing evidence that their governments are failing to come up with coherent policies or to come good on repeated pledges of money, resources and refugee-sharing by quotas.

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Economic models on 3 million extra refugees are completelyt useless: nobody has a clue.

The Economic Impact of the European Refugee Crisis (Atlantic)

Three million refugees and migrants could arrive in Europe by the end of 2017, the European Commission says in its economic forecast for the fall of 2015. The report says the newcomers will have a relatively small economic impact in the medium term, with GDP rising between 0.2% and 0.3% above the baseline by 2020. But, the EC notes, that could vary by country with destination countries such as Germany seeing a more significant impact than transit countries. Here’s more:

“The impact from higher public spending and a larger labour force with a skillset similar to the existing one in the EU is expected to: “contribute to a small increase in the level of GDP this year and next, compared to a baseline scenario, rising to about 0.25% by 2017”. This however is less than the rise in the underlying population, implying a small, negative impact on GDP per capita throughout the period; and “strengthening the outlook for employment (which is expected to improve gradually to about 0.3% more employed persons by 2017), in part from a wage response.”

The EC reports points out that, typically, non-EU migrants typically receive less in individual benefits than they contribute in taxes and social contributions. And their employment is the most important factor of net fiscal contribution. The influx excluding failed asylum applications will increase the EU’s population by 0.4%, the forecast says. The report further says:

“For Member States with an ageing population and shrinking workforce, migration can alter the age distribution in a way that may strengthen fiscal sustainability yet, if the human potential is not used well, the inflow can also weaken fiscal sustainability. Moreover, while migration flows can partly offset unfavourable demographic developments, earlier studies have shown that immigration could not on its own solve the problems linked to ageing in the EU.”

Economic models examining the integration of 3 million extra people over the next two years notwithstanding, Europe is deeply divided over how to handle the most severe refugee crisis since World War II. More than 760,000 refugees and migrants have entered the EU in the first nine months of this year, but the bloc has only agreed on relocating 160,000 of them. Of these, as we reported Wednesday, 116 have been sent to their new homes. About 1.2 million people have sought asylum in the EU since the start of 2014. Many of them are people fleeing the Syrian civil war, and unrest in Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, and elsewhere. Others, however, are economic migrants, and will likely be turned away by Europe.

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The ECB should not be buying a single piece of paper.

Is Europe’s Economy So Bad the ECB Will Run Out of Things to Buy? (Bloomberg)

With European Central Bank President Mario Draghi hinting at further easing by the central bank next month, markets are busy trying to work out whether the next move will be to lower deposit rates even further into negative territory or ramp up asset purchases. Or perhaps both. The terms of the ECB’s quantitative easing, or QE, program mean that it theoretically has a fixed universe of assets to purchase – a limit that could be hit earlier than its intended September 2016 deadline if the bank substantially increases the size of its purchases. Under its current rate of €60 billion a month, the ECB should be more than capable of purchasing the 893 billion euros of agency and government bonds with yields above the deposit rate planned through next September.

However, if the rate of purchases is ramped up then it could come close to running out of available assets, according to Bloomberg Intelligence economist David Powell. Instead, he said, the ECB could cut the deposit rate to increase the investible universe of assets, as well as significantly increasing QE purchases. “BI Economics calculates that a decline in bond yields of 25 basis points across the curve would shrink the universe of bonds to €1.3 trillion,” he said. “In that instance, a cut to the deposit rate would be required to implement asset purchases of €90 billion much beyond September 2016 – the total through September would be roughly €1.2 trillion of overall purchases of agency and government bonds.”

Rather than relying on a rate cut to free up assets, the ECB could simply shift the mix of purchases to agency debt, corporate debt, or even debt from other countries. In December last year, Draghi directly addressed the issue of eligible assets under the ECB’s QE program. Asked whether the board had discussed buying gold or U.S. Treasuries, he replied: “On what sort of assets should be included in QE, my sense and recollection is that we discussed all assets, but gold.” In other words, asset scarcity should not be a problem. However, lowering the deposit rate might be.

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Only blatant nonsense spouts from Brussels. Europe is toast.

EU Cuts Growth and Inflation Outlook as ECB Decision Looms (Bloomberg)

The European Commission cut its euro-area growth and inflation outlook for next year, citing more challenging global conditions and fading impetus from lower oil prices and a weaker euro. GDP in the 19-nation bloc is set to grow 1.8% in 2016, down from a previous projection of 1.9% in May, the Commission said in its autumn forecast published Thursday. Inflation is seen accelerating to 1.6% in 2017 from 0.1% this year. The economic recovery in the 19-nation region is resting on unprecedented stimulus by the European Central Bank. With a slowdown in emerging markets weighing on global trade, risks have increased that growth won’t be strong enough to sustain the decline in unemployment and bring inflation back in line with the ECB’s goal of just below 2%.

“Today’s economic forecast shows the euro-area economy continuing its moderate recovery,” Valdis Dombrovskis, vice president of the European Commission, said in a statement. “Sustaining and strengthening the recovery requires taking advantage of” temporary tailwinds including “low oil prices, a weaker euro exchange rate and the ECB’s accommodative monetary policy,” he said. While noting that the recovery has proved to be resilient to external shocks so far, uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook shows few signs of abating. Risks include a larger-than-anticipated slowdown in China and financial-market volatility triggered by a normalization of U.S. monetary policy, according to the report.

In Germany, factory orders dropped 2.8% in the third quarter from the previous one amid a slump in demand from outside the euro area, the Economy Ministry in Berlin said in a separate release on Thursday. Orders from within the country and the currency bloc are still supporting manufacturing, it said. The Commission upgraded its euro-area growth forecast for this year 1.6%, from a previous estimate of 1.5%. Output should accelerate to 1.9% in 2017, it said. Breaking down growth components, the Commission predicts domestic demand will pick up this year and continue to maintain its momentum over the near term, supported by a boost to nominal income, purchasing power and improving labor-market conditions.

Meanwhile, investment is forecast to strengthen “gradually,” albeit at a lower pace than in past recoveries, pointing to subdued demand expectations, credit-supply constraints and persistent corporate deleveraging pressures. Reacting to the report, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said the recovery “remains on course,” but warned improvement is still unevenly spread across the euro area and major challenges remain going into next year. “These require bold and determined policy responses in 2016, especially in the face of an uncertain global outlook,” he said in a statement.

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Cutting spending in a contracting economy. Who still thinks Greece is better off inside the EU?

Brussels Demands More Austerity ‘Measures’ In Greece (Kath.)

The European Commission expects the recession that returned to Greece this year to continue into 2016 and is calling on the government to immediately draw up additional measures for 2017. Along with the release of its fall forecasts on Thursday, Brussels also criticized Athens for reversing the positive momentum recorded in the economy last year, which is attributed to the renewed uncertainty during 2015 and the introduction of capital controls. The Commission expects the Greek economy to contract 1.4% this year and 1.3% in 2016, before rebounding by 2.7% in 2017.

It blamed the loss of the 2014 momentum on the uncertainty created by the unsuccessful completion of the second bailout program, the referendum called by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in July, the three-week bank holiday and the capital controls, which came into effect on June 28. Despite the above constraints, the Greek economy expanded 1% in the first half of the year, although this was due to the rise in consumption as Greeks feared for their incomes and savings. It further reflected the decline in imports, while the very positive course of tourism for a second year in a row also helped. In the current second half of the year, Brussels believes that the Greek economy is burdened by the great volume of tax obligations that have to be paid out by the end of the year, the wait-and-see attitude of investors and the lack of credibility in the economy.

The Commission hopes that the stabilization of the credit sector after a successful recapitalization, the recovery of confidence and the return of investors through the privatizations program could lead the economy back to growth in the latter half of next year. It stressed that the application of the agreed reforms is key to a Greek recovery. Regarding the necessary primary budget surplus, the Commission says that besides the measures for 2015-17 already taken, amounting to 4% of gross domestic product, the government should take extra measures adding up to another 1.75% of GDP for 2017.

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“Imports into China – mostly raw materials – are dropping at a double-digit rate. Exports are rolling over, too. There is nothing like easy money to cause people to make mistakes. Americans overspent. China overproduced. Now, Americans can’t step up their buying (they owe too much already)… and China has too much capacity.”

How China Broke the World’s ‘Bubble Machine’ (Bonner)

Here’s how it worked: Once the world’s money lost its golden anchor in 1971, things got a little funny. Americans spent money they never earned and never saved – dollars created “out of nothing” with nothing more than keystrokes on a computer. Much of this new money went overseas, where foreign nations – notably China – had to print their own currency to keep up with it. But you’ve heard this story before. China makes. The U.S. takes. In the process, a glut of dollars ends up in the hands of the Chinese feds as foreign exchange reserves. The buildup of these reserves is both the cause and the measure of the globalized boom the world has enjoyed since the early 1980s. As Americans bought more goods from China than they sold to China, they sent more dollars to the Middle Kingdom.

These dollars boosted the world’s money supply… and set heads a’spinning, wheels a’turning, and chimneys a’smokin’. China (and other countries) filled the orders and banked the dollar sales. Of course, you can’t easily spend dollars in China. So the Chinese central bank, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) exchanged merchants’ and manufacturers’ dollars for renminbi at a fixed rate (otherwise, the demand for renminbi would push up its exchange value – something the Chinese have been keen to avoid). This left the PBoC with lots of dollars. What could it do with its stash? Buy U.S. Treasury bonds! As China recycled its export dollars into U.S. government debt, it lowered U.S. interest rates and increased the amount of money bidding for U.S. financial assets.

That – roughly – is how we got to where we are today. China’s supply of foreign currency reserves rose from zero in 1979 to $4 trillion in 2014. Worldwide, reserves grew by $12 trillion. Here, you can easily see the difference between this new credit-based system and the gold-backed system it replaced. You could never add $12 trillion to the world’s money supply in the same way if it was linked to gold. All the gold ever mined has a present value of only about $6 trillion. This big increase in the global money supply was what set off the booms and bubbles of the last 35 years. But now, what’s this? The bubble machine is broken? The PBoC is no longer adding to its dollar reserves. Instead, it is offloading them. About $400 billion has been clipped from China’s foreign exchange reserves since 2014.

This drop is a big change for China… and for the world’s financial system. Imports into China – mostly raw materials – are dropping at a double-digit rate. Exports are rolling over, too. There is nothing like easy money to cause people to make mistakes. Americans overspent. China overproduced. Now, Americans can’t step up their buying (they owe too much already)… and China has too much capacity. China’s growth, by the way, has been heavily concentrated on building factories and infrastructure – capital investment. China spent $4.3 trillion on fixed capital investment in 2013 – 10 times more than in 2000. But when you produce too much already, building more factories only makes the situation worse. Prices fall; on a year-over-year basis, producer prices in China haven fallen every month for the last three and half years.

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Steve comes in at 13 minutes+.

The Valeant Scandal and Steve Keen on China and Portugal (RT)

The European Union cuts its Eurozone growth forecast for 2016. Despite this being the third year of consecutive growth for the European Union, growth is slow and will slow even further. Ameera David weighs in. Ameera also highlights a new smart Gmail feature that will be able to scan your email and offer quick replies. Then, Ameera and RT correspondent Manuel Rapalo update their earlier discussion on Airbnb’s fight in to stay legal in San Francisco and discuss Expedia’s $3.9 billion deal to buy Airbnb competitor HomeAway. Afterwards, Paul Craig Roberts gives us his take on the elimination of two popular social security claiming measures, part of his interview with Boom Bust’s Bianca Facchinei that will air Friday.

After the break, Boom Bust’s Edward Harrison sits down with Steve Keen, head of economics, history, and politics at Kingston University to get his thoughts on the path forward for China, emerging markets, and the global economy, as well as to assess whether politics in Portugal are radicalizing. And in The Big Deal, Ameera and Edward Harrison talk about the scandal surrounding former stock darling Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

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Casino.

China’s Stock-Market Bulls Are Back, But Where Are the Earnings? (Bloomberg)

Hao Hong has seen this movie before, and it didn’t end well for China’s stock-market bulls. Five months after an equity boom built on weak corporate profits turned into a $5 trillion crash, a similar scenario is playing out in China today. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index has surged 20% from its Aug. 26 low, despite third-quarter profits that trailed analyst estimates at 68% of companies in the index, the eighth straight quarter of disappointing results. The absence of a rebound in earnings is one reason why Hong at Bocom International says the latest surge in stocks is a “bear market rally.” Foreign investors seem to agree: they’ve been selling mainland equities through the Shanghai-Hong Kong exchange link for four straight weeks, cutting holdings by the most in two months on Thursday.

“It’s very difficult to see this rally sustaining without an earnings recovery,” said Tony Chu at RS Investment. Foreign investors “don’t have a very strong medium-to-longer-term view.” The rally in China follows an unprecedented government campaign to prop up share prices, along with increased monetary stimulus to combat the deepest economic slowdown in 25 years. The official support has helped revive confidence among local investors, spurring a pick-up in trading activity and sending the Shanghai Composite to an 11-week high on Thursday. The $1.6 trillion recovery in Chinese share prices is also boosting valuations as earnings shrink. Trailing 12-month profits at Shanghai Composite companies have dropped 10% so far this year, leaving the index with a price-to-earnings ratio of 18. While that’s still below the multiple of 25 reached at the height of the boom in June, it’s about 38% more expensive than the five-year average.

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From bonds to stocks and back?

China’s Bonds Set for Worst Week Since May as PBOC Seen on Hold (Bloomberg)

China’s 10-year sovereign bonds headed for the biggest weekly drop in five months on speculation investors are taking profits amid signs the central bank is done cutting borrowing costs for now. The People’s Bank of China has lowered benchmark deposit and lending rates six times since November and reduced lenders’ reserve ratios in an attempt to spur a slowing economy. The monetary authority will leave its policy rates unchanged through the end of next year, a Bloomberg survey showed last week. China’s local-currency sovereign debt rallied for five months through October and the 10-year yield fell to a six-year low last week. The yield on the notes due October 2025 climbed six basis points from Oct. 30 and two basis points on Friday to 3.14% as of 10 a.m. in Shanghai, according to National Interbank Funding Center prices.

That’s the biggest weekly increase for a benchmark of that maturity since May. “Profit-taking will probably continue to be the theme through to the end of the year, especially for active traders,” said Qu Qing at Huachuang Securities. “Given the slide in yields earlier, this may not be a good time to enter the market.” The cost of one-year interest-rate swaps, the fixed payment to receive the floating seven-day repurchase rate, rose three basis points this week to 2.35% and declined one basis point on Friday. The seven-day repo rate, a gauge of interbank funding availability, fell four basis points from Oct. 30 and three basis points on Friday to 2.26%, a weighted average from the National Interbank Funding Center shows.

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What we have said for almost ten years now.

Monetary Bazookas Or Not, “Global Crisis Is Inevitable” (Saxobank)

Until recently, the consensus assumed a strengthening of the global economy in 2016. It won’t happen. If the global economic growth manages to reach 3.1% next year, as forecast by the IMF, it will be a miracle. We haven’t realised that the global economic recovery is already here for over six years. This recovery phase is weaker than previous ones and much more disparate. Since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007, the potential growth rate has been much lower everywhere: from 3% to 2% for the US, from 9.4% to 7.20% for China and from over 5% to below 4% for Poland. Many regions, such as the euro area, have remained on the sidelines and experienced stalling economic growth. Over the last two decades, economic cycles have been shortened due to the financialization of the economy, trade globalization, deregulation and the acceleration of innovation cycles.

Since the 1990s, the US went through three recessions: in 1991, 2001 and 2009. It is erroneous to believe that the recovery has just begun. We are close to the end of the current economic cycle. The outbreak of a new global crisis in the coming years is inevitable. The lack of economic momentum next year and short periods of deflation related to falling oil prices will certainly push central banks to pursue their disastrous “extend-and-pretend” strategy which will increase the price of financial assets and global debt. The ECB could push further interest rates into negative territory and could increase or lengthen the purchase program. Several options are on the table: the central bank could drop the 25% purchase limit on sovereign bonds with AAA rating or could add a program to help the corporate bond market.

Following the same path, China could take out the monetary bazooka in the first half of 2016 by launching its own version of QE-style bond buys. Along with a dovish monetary policy, China could implement a massive Keynesian stimulus programme, relying on the already-expected bond issue plan which could raise 1 billion yuan. This move could temporarily reassure world markets. The only central bank that has a leeway to hike rates is the US Federal Reserve. 52% of investors expect a tightening of US monetary policy in December. However, the speed and magnitude of tightening will remain low. It is unlikely the rates will be back anytime soon to where they were before the global financial crisis. Too high interest rates could cause a myriad of bankruptcies in heavily indebted industries, such as the shale oil sector in the US.

The Fed and other central banks are in a dead-end having fallen in the same trap as the Bank of Japan. If they increase rates too much, they will precipitate another financial crisis. It is impossible to stop the accommodative monetary policy.

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Let’s get rid of the absurd idea that central banks can control economies. Not even the Soviet Union succeeded in that.

Deflation Risks May Warrant Radical New Central-Bank Thinking: IMF (WSJ)

The Bank of Japan and other central banks around the world may need to try radical new easy-money policies to stave off the rising specter of deflation and revive sickly economic prospects, the IMF’s new chief economist warns. “I worry about deflation globally,” new IMF Economic Counselor Maurice Obstfeld said in an interview ahead of an annual IMF research conference that focuses this year on unconventional monetary policies and exchange rate regimes. “It may be time to start thinking outside the box.” Weak—and in some cases falling—price growth has plagued Japan, Europe, the U.S. and other major economies since the financial crisis. Plummeting commodity prices are exacerbating the so-called “lowflation” and deflation problems that curb investment, spending and growth.

Surveying several dozen of the largest economies around the world, Mr. Obstfeld said the number of countries experiencing low inflation is rising. Combined with slowing emerging market output, ballooning government debt and monetary policy constrained by the lower limits of interest rates, the deflation risk is fueling fears the global economy could be fast stuck into a deep low-growth mire. In the wake of the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan and the ECB launched unprecedented easy-money stimulus programs to avert economic disaster and jumpstart growth. The Fed’s efforts have cut the unemployment rate but failed to sufficiently juice inflation. Tokyo has struggled to pull the long-listless economy out of the doldrums. And the ECB’s efforts have only narrowly avoided a triple-dip recession. Some economists argue the ECB’s actions have pumped up corporate cash reserves, but done little to boost employment or investment.

So, what would be thinking outside the box for Mr. Obstfeld? One option is a proposal by Adair Turner, a member of the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, for central bankers to overtly finance increased budget stimulus with permanent increases in the money supply. By contrast, the increased money supply resulting from recent central bank bond-buying programs is meant to be temporary. In a paper prepared for the IMF conference, Mr. Turner contends Japan will be forced to use such “monetary financing” within the next five years and says the policy should become a normal central bank tool for all economies facing stagnation. Such an option would be highly provocative to fiscal hawks and those who fear giving central banks too much power, especially when many economists question both the returns and financial-turmoil side effects from existing easy-money policies.

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2016 will be a very bad year for banks.

Standard Chartered’s Shares Plunge 7% After Fitch Downgrade (Bloomberg)

Standard Chartered shares slumped in Hong Kong after Fitch Ratings downgraded the bank, citing the outlook for the lender’s profits and asset quality. The London-based bank this week unveiled plans to tap investors for $5.1 billion, eliminate thousands of jobs and cut risky assets across Asia. The bank’s shares fell as much as 7.1% Friday in Hong Kong. They were down 4.8% as of 11:30 a.m. local time, extending this year’s decline to 35%. The benchmark Hang Seng Index slipped 0.9%. Standard Chartered is now lagging behind the Bloomberg World Banks Index by the most since the gauge started in 2003. While Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters’s measures to restructure the lender and boost capital address some of Fitch’s concerns about the bank, implementing the plan could be challenging because of credit risks and high management and staff turnover, the ratings firm said in a statement.

Fitch on Thursday cut the lender’s credit rating one grade to A+ from AA-, with a negative outlook. Winters, who took over in June, on Tuesday unveiled 15,000 job losses to help save $2.9 billion by 2018, with the bank scrapping the second-half dividend. Standard Chartered will also restructure or exit $100 billion of assets and reduce its riskiest lending in Asia after loan impairments surged. The bank reported an unexpected third-quarter loss of $139 million, compared with a profit of $1.5 billion a year earlier. The bank’s impaired-loan ratios remain above its peers’ and appear to have become more volatile as a result of concentrated sector and country exposures, Fitch said. “Standard Chartered remains vulnerable to volatility from a difficult operating and regulatory environment.” The bank’s shares fell 6.3% in London on Thursday.

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Apparently, the US army called the hospital prior to the attack to ask if there were any Taliban present.

MSF Says US Planes Attacked Staff Fleeing Kunduz Hospital (Reuters)

Medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said Thursday it was hard to believe a U.S. strike on an Afghan hospital last month was a mistake, as it had reports of fleeing people being shot from an aircraft. “All the information that we’ve provided so far shows that a mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this stage,” MSF General Director Christopher Stokes told reporters while presenting the group’s internal report on the incident. The report said many staff described “seeing people being shot, most likely from the plane” as they tried to flee the main hospital building, which was under attack by U.S. military aircraft. At least 30 people were killed when the hospital in Kunduz was hit by a powerful U.S. attack aircraft on Oct. 3 while Afghan government forces were battling to regain control of the northern city from Taliban forces who had seized it days earlier.

The United States has said the hospital was hit by accident and two separate investigations by the U.S. and NATO are underway. But the circumstances of the incident, one of the worst of its kind during the 14-year conflict, are still unclear. Stokes told reporters the organisation was still awaiting an explanation from the U.S. military. “From what we are seeing now, this action is illegal in the laws of war,” Stokes said. “There are still many unanswered questions, including who took the final decision, who gave the targeting instructions for the hospital.” Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said MSF shared the report in advance with the U.S. Defence Department. “Since this tragic incident, we have worked closely with MSF to determine the facts surrounding it,” he said in a statement, which did not address the report’s specifics.

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Exxon knew it all. But that means so did everybody else.

Exxon Mobil Investigated for Possible Climate Change Lies (NY Times)

The New York attorney general has begun an investigation of Exxon Mobil to determine whether the company lied to the public about the risks of climate change or to investors about how such risks might hurt the oil business. According to people with knowledge of the investigation, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued a subpoena Wednesday evening to Exxon Mobil, demanding extensive financial records, emails and other documents. The investigation focuses on whether statements the company made to investors about climate risks as recently as this year were consistent with the company’s own long-running scientific research.

The people said the inquiry would include a period of at least a decade during which Exxon Mobil funded outside groups that sought to undermine climate science, even as its in-house scientists were outlining the potential consequences — and uncertainties — to company executives. Kenneth P. Cohen, vice president for public affairs at Exxon Mobil, said on Thursday that the company had received the subpoena and was still deciding how to respond. “We unequivocally reject the allegations that Exxon Mobil has suppressed climate change research,” Mr. Cohen said, adding that the company had funded mainstream climate science since the 1970s, had published dozens of scientific papers on the topic and had disclosed climate risks to investors.

Mr. Schneiderman’s decision to scrutinize the fossil fuel companies may well open a new legal front in the climate change battle. The people with knowledge of the New York case also said on Thursday that, in a separate inquiry, Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal producer, had been under investigation by the attorney general for two years over whether it properly disclosed financial risks related to climate change. That investigation was not previously reported, and has not resulted in any charges or other legal action against Peabody. Vic Svec, a Peabody senior vice president, said in a statement, “Peabody continues to work with the New York attorney general’s office regarding our disclosures, which have evolved over the years.”

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Here’s the only safe bet: nothing will happen that costs too much money.

World Only Half Way To Meeting Emissions Target With Current Pledges (Guardian)

Current global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions leave about half of the reductions needed still to be found, according to a new analysis by the UN. The report suggests that governments will have to go much further in their pledges to limit future carbon dioxide emissions, which have been submitted to the UN ahead of the crunch conference on climate change taking place this December in Paris. Ways for governments to ramp up their commitments in future are one of the key components of the Paris talks. The UN Environment Programme (Unep) published a report showing that global emissions levels should not exceed 48 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025, and 42 GT in 2030, if the world is to have a good chance of holding global warming to no more than 2C on average above pre-industrial temperatures.

The 2C threshold is regarded by scientists as the limit of safety, beyond which the ravages of climate change – such as droughts, floods, heatwaves and sea level rises – are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible. But current pledges, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), are likely to lead to emissions of 53 to 58 GT of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2025, and between 54 and 59 GT in 2030. This means that emissions in 2030 are likely to be about 11GT lower than they would have been without the INDCs. But, according to Unep, they need to be about 12GT lower than that to give the world a two-thirds chance of avoiding more than 2C of warming. This leaves a large “emissions gap” to be made up.

Much work has gone into analysing the emissions pledges that countries have made, with branches of the UN, the International Energy Agency, the New Climate Economy group, and other independent organisations producing reports on what can be expected if the Paris pledges are fulfilled. There is broad consensus that the commitments that have so far been made are not yet adequate to meet the 2C limit. However, the commitments – which will come into force from 2020, when current international commitments on emissions, agreed at the Copenhagen summit in 2009, are scheduled to run out – represent a marked improvement on “business as usual”. The IEA has calculated that, if followed through, the emission plans would result in the growth of emissions from the energy sector slowing to near zero by the end of the next decade.

This would not be enough to meet scientific advice, but would be a remarkable reversal of the near-relentless upward trend of greenhouse gas emissions in modern times. Other analyses, endorsed by the UN, have suggested that warming would be limited to about 2.7C to 3C by the end of this century, under the current INDCs. While this would still not satisfy scientific advice, it would put the world on a much better footing than it is at present, as on current trends warming would reach as much as 5C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

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Apr 102015
 
 April 10, 2015  Posted by at 10:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  9 Responses »
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G. G. Bain Navy dirigible, Long Island 1915

It’s A Crime To Be Poor In America (MarketWatch)
US States Are Not Prepared for the Next Fiscal Shock (Bloomberg)
Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think (Bloomberg)
The Fed’s Calamitous Corruption Of Corporate Finance (David Stockman)
U.S. Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough (Bloomberg)
We Traveled Across China and Returned Terrified for the Economy (Bloomberg)
Lagarde Warns of ‘Bumpy Ride’ as Fed Prepares for Rates Liftoff (Bloomberg)
Wall Street Fees Wipe Out $2.5 Billion in New York City Pension Gains (NY Times)
China Seeks Dominance in Athens Harbor (Spiegel)
Varoufakis: The Three Critical Elements of a Good Deal for Greece (Bloomberg)
Varoufakis Says Greece Not Looking to Russia to Fix Debt Crisis (Bloomberg)
Greece Met Its Latest Debt Payment, But Where Did The Money Come From? (Ind.)
The Changes To Russia’s Business Environment That Flew Below The Radar (Forbes)
Here’s How Iran Could Prevent A Rebound In Oil Prices (MarketWatch)
Shell Shareholders Less Than Impressed With $70 Billion Bid For BG (Ind.)
Ukraine Creditor Group Has Plan to Avoid Writedown in Debt Talks (Bloomberg)
Homeowners In Auckland’s Fringe Saving Up To $50,000 A Year (NZ Herald)
New Zealand Unlikely to Deliver on 2015 Budget Surplus Promise (Bloomberg)
Japan To Pledge 20% CO2 Cut (Guardian)
Dying at Europe’s Doorstep (Bloomberg)

“In many states, offenders are expected to finance the justice system, including court costs, room and board while incarcerated, probation supervision and drug-treatment programs.”

It’s A Crime To Be Poor In America (MarketWatch)

In America, you’re presumed innocent until proven guilty. Unless you’re poor, that is. Increasingly, it’s a crime to be poor, and the punishment is often further impoverishment. Fifty years ago, Chuck Berry sang about a brown-eyed handsome man who was “arrested for the crime of unemployment.” Little has changed since then. For poor people, even minor scrapes with the law can have major consequences, including prison time, probation, endless debt and permanent joblessness. For people of means, those same legal problems are a nuisance, but they aren’t life-changing events. More cities and states have realized that poverty can be a profit center.

Not for poor people, of course, but for government treasuries and for private companies hired to handle the influx into the criminal justice system of people whose only crime was the inability to pay a traffic ticket or a misdemeanor fine. Cash-strapped cities like Ferguson, Mo., count on fines and court-imposed fees to balance their budgets, and that reliance on the revenue from petty violations was cited by the Justice Department as a contributing factor in Ferguson’s high rates of traffic stops and arrests for minor crimes and misdemeanors. In many states, offenders are expected to finance the justice system, including court costs, room and board while incarcerated, probation supervision and drug-treatment programs.

For anyone living paycheck to paycheck, even a $100 fine can be a challenge, and paying off the debt to the court and to the privatized probation company can be impossible, especially if the arrest has led to the loss of a job or a driver’s license. Just being arrested can be devastating: Half a million people are languishing in jail awaiting trial because they can’t afford to pay the bail. People who are let out of prison are often said to have “paid their debt to society.” But in most cases, they haven’t paid their debt for the costs of their imprisonment and probation. More than 80% of people let out of prison leave owing money, according to an investigation by NPR and the Brennan Center for Justice. Those of us who live sheltered middle-class lives often wonder why anyone would run away from the police or resist arrest.

Running away can cost you your life, as what happened to Walter Scott. Why would he risk being shot in the back by a police officer? Perhaps he feared that an arrest for a minor traffic violation (the tail light on his car was out) would lead to a downward spiral of fines, jail time and permanent joblessness, as it has for others. According to relatives, Scott was behind on his child-support payments, and he may have feared that he’d be jailed for his failure to pay. Which, of course, would have cost him his job and any chance he and his family had of a future. So he ran, and he died.

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Hanging on by their fingernails.

US States Are Not Prepared for the Next Fiscal Shock (Bloomberg)

U.S. states, still grappling with the lingering effects of the longest recession since the 1930s, are even more vulnerable to another fiscal shock. The governments have a little more than half the reserves they’d stashed away before the 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, according to a report last month by Pew Charitable Trusts. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Arkansas have saved the least. Skimpier rainy-day funds have implications for the national economy, which is in its sixth year of expansion. States would have to cut spending or raise revenue by a combined $21 billion in the event of a recession, exacerbating economic weakness, Moody’s found in a stress test of state finances. Reserves take on added importance for governments balancing obligatory pension and health-care costs with swings in tax collections, said Daniel White at Moody’s.

“What the Great Recession has shown is that things have fundamentally changed in terms of the way that state fiscal conditions are determined,” White said. “They need to be much more prepared for very volatile fiscal conditions than they had been in the past.” Investors are monitoring states’ fiscal balances after seeing how reserves helped some governments weather the recession, said John Donaldson at Haverford Trust. California won credit upgrades and saw borrowing costs shrink after voters in November agreed to bolster rainy-day funds. With Fitch Ratings lifting California to A+ in February, its fifth-highest level, the state has its highest marks from the three biggest rating companies since at least 2009.

Bond buyers demand about 0.3 percentage point of extra yield to own 10-year California munis instead of benchmark debt, close to the lowest spread since 2007, data compiled by Bloomberg show. “We’re looking for stability and credit quality,” said Richard Ciccarone at Merritt Research. “A rainy-day fund is a symbol of conservative financial management.” States were unprepared for the last recession. In 2009, budget gaps totaled $117 billion, about twice the level of reserves, according to Pew, a research group. With more of a cushion, they would’ve cut fewer jobs, White said. The governments employ about 5.1 million nonfarm workers, about 140,000 fewer than the 2008 peak, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show.

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Because the whole shebang is imploding.

Why Your Wages Could Be Depressed for a Lot Longer Than You Think (Bloomberg)

As if watching your paycheck stagnate for the last couple years hasn’t been bad enough, Federal Reserve researchers are out with more (potentially) bad news: Unless we get some big shifts in global economic forces, your wages could be weak for a while. Longer-term changes including soft productivity growth and labor’s declining share of income are at the heart of the problem, Filippo Occhino and Timothy Stehulak at the Cleveland Fed find. These two macroeconomic shifts, which result from broad themes such as globalization and technology, are felt all the way down to the U.S. worker. Productivity is important because it fosters faster economic growth without generating higher inflation. Companies can pay their workers more while still seeing their earnings increase.

Labor productivity — measured as the amount of goods or services produced by an employee in one hour — has averaged 1.5% growth in the 10 years ended 2014. That compares with 3.6% from the second quarter of 1997 to the end of 2003 — the salad days of American productivity. Gains in productivity have been slow to come by as companies hold off on investing in new capital equipment. Some economists such as Robert Gordon have argued that the U.S. is doomed to stagnant growth, with the low-hanging fruit of big technological innovations, such as the steam engine, all picked.

Another factor keeping wage growth depressed is labor’s declining share of income, the Fed authors note. While it’s been on the downtrend for years, “the evolution of the technology used to produce goods and services, increased globalization and trade openness, and developments in labor market institutions and policies” have exacerbated it since 2000, likely holding down wage growth, they wrote. The faster decrease since then has shaved 0.4 percentage point each year from average real wage growth, compared to the period before 2000.

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“..only savings from current production and income generate additional primary capital that can foster future wealth.”

The Fed’s Calamitous Corruption Of Corporate Finance (David Stockman)

Central bank financial repression results in the systematic and severe mispricing of financial assets. And that has sweeping consequences far beyond the munificent windfalls it bestows on the thin slice of mankind that frequents the casinos of Wall Street, London, Tokyo and Shanghai. The fact is, the prices of money, debt, equity, traded commodities and all their derivatives comprise a vast and instantaneous signaling system that cascades through every nook and cranny of the real economy. When these signals are systematically falsified by a few dozen central bankers they cause hundreds of millions of ordinary businessmen, workers, investors and entrepreneurs to alter their economic calculus. And not in a good way. False signals lead to mistakes, excesses, losses and waste.

They ultimately reduce economic efficiency and productivity and lower the rate of economic growth and real wealth gains. Since the Greenspan age of financial repression incepted in the late 1980s, for example, the returns to savings have been obliterated while the rewards for speculation have soared. That’s important because only savings from current production and income generate additional primary capital that can foster future wealth. By contrast, leveraged speculation merely causes existing financial assets to be re-priced and a temporary redistribution of paper wealth from the cautious to the gamblers. In an honest free market, in fact, there is no excess return to leveraged speculation at all.

Natural market makers arbitrage out the spread between the costs of carry and the returns to carried assets such as long-dated futures contracts, term debt and various and sundry forms of equity and other risk assets. A relative handful of market makers can make a decent living arbing an honest market, but the mass of investors can not speculate their way to wealth. The latter can happen only when the central bank has its big fat thumb on the financial scales, pressing the cost of carry – that is, leveraged financial gambling – toward the zero bound.

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Dumbest piece so far this year? Then again, competition is fierce.

U.S. Consumers Will Open Their Wallets Soon Enough (Bloomberg)

People are constantly exhorted to save, but as soon as they do, economists pop up to complain they aren’t spending enough to keep the economy growing. A new blogger named Ben Bernanke wrote on April 1 that there’s still a “global savings glut.” Two days later the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the weakest job growth since 2013, which economists quickly attributed to soft consumer spending. The U.S. personal savings rate—5.8% in February—is the highest since 2012. “After years of spending as if there were no tomorrow, consumers are now saving like there is a tomorrow,” Richard Moody, chief economist at Regions Financial, wrote to clients in March. Saving too much really can be a problem when spending is weak.

There are only two things you can do with a dollar, after all: spend it or save it. If you spend it, great—that’s money in someone else’s pocket. If you save it, the financial system is supposed to recycle your dollar into productive investment with loans for new houses, factories, software, and research and development. But if no one’s in the mood to invest more and interest rates are already as low as they can go (as they are in much of the world), the compulsion to save can sap demand and throw people out of work. For the U.S. economy, the good news is that the jump in the personal savings rate is probably no more than a blip. Three economists from Deutsche Bank Securities in New York explained why in a March 25 report called U.S. Consumers: Still Shopping, Not Dropping.

While noting a “deceleration” in consumer spending, they wrote, “we think that concerns about the outlook for the consumer are overstated.” Their model of the U.S. economy predicts the savings rate will fall to 3% to 3.5% by 2017. Other economists have also concluded that the spending dropoff is temporary, which is why the slowdown in job growth, to just 126,000 in March, didn’t set off many alarm bells. “Consumer spending is starting to look more and more like a coiled spring,” says Guy Berger, U.S. economist at RBS Securities. One sign that consumers aren’t retrenching: On April 7 the Federal Reserve reported that consumer credit rose $15.5 billion in February, in line with the recent past.

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And yet, still persisting in that 7% growth prediction?

We Traveled Across China and Returned Terrified for the Economy (Bloomberg)

China’s steel and metals markets, a barometer of the world’s second-biggest economy, are “a lot worse than you think,” according to a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst who just completed a tour of the country. What he saw: idle cranes, empty construction sites and half-finished, abandoned buildings in several cities. Conversations with executives reinforced the “gloomy” outlook. “China’s metals demand is plummeting,” wrote Kenneth Hoffman, the metals analyst who spent a week traveling across the country, meeting with executives, traders, industry groups and analysts. “Demand is rapidly deteriorating as the government slows its infrastructure building and transforms into a consumer economy.”

The China Steel Profitability Index compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence barely rose in March, a time after the annual Lunar New Year when demand would usually surge, and so far this month has resumed its decline. Steel use this year is down 3.4%, after slumping as much as 4% in 2014, according to BI. It had steadily risen for more than a decade. Prices for commodities from iron ore to coal are sinking as China’s leadership tries to steer the economy away from debt-fueled property investment and smokestack industries, embracing services and domestic-led consumption. At the same time, President Xi Jinping is stepping up efforts to combat pollution, further squeezing industry. Deteriorating economic data has led traders and analysts to speculate that China’s central bank will act to revive growth.

The bank has said it will keep an “appropriate balance between loosening and tightening” of interest rates. It has cut interest rates twice since November and lowered lenders’ reserve-requirement ratios once. Economists are forecasting 7% growth in China for this year, in line with government targets and down from 7.4% in 2014, according to the median of 59 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That’s about half the last decade’s peak rate of 14.2% in 2007. The slowing steel and metals activity suggests the outlook could be grimmer. “There is a big fear this is going to get worse before it gets better,” Hoffman said in an interview. “It’s as bad as the data looks, if not worse.”

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She sounds like The Automatic Earth: “..liquidity can evaporate quickly if everyone rushes for the exit at the same time..”

Lagarde Warns of ‘Bumpy Ride’ as Fed Prepares for Rates Liftoff (Bloomberg)

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde says the world could be in for a “bumpy ride” when the Federal Reserve starts raising interest rates, with overpriced markets and emerging economies likely to take the biggest hits. While risks to the global economy have decreased over the last six months, threats to the world’s financial system have actually risen, Lagarde said on Thursday ahead of next week’s spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Washington. A long period of low interest rates in the U.S. and other advanced economies has fostered a higher risk tolerance among investors, “which can lead to overpricing” and could pose “solvency challenges” for life insurers and defined-benefit pension fund, she said.

Lagarde, 59, warned that “liquidity can evaporate quickly if everyone rushes for the exit at the same time – which could, for example, make for a bumpy ride when the Federal Reserve begins to raise short-term rates,” she said the text of a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington. The turbulence could be especially rough for commodity-exporting emerging economies, which may find themselves caught between falling prices for their goods and a stronger dollar, which increases the burden of dollar-dominated debt, she said. Lagarde’s warning comes as Fed policy makers led by Chair Janet Yellen consider when to raise their benchmark lending rate amid a strengthening labor market, which has pushed U.S. unemployment to the lowest level since May 2008.

The dollar has appreciated 19% over the last year as the U.S. economy has strengthened. The risk is that a surging greenback and higher interest rates will make it harder to service U.S.-denominated debt held outside the country by non-bank borrowers. This debt is estimated at $9 trillion by the Bank for International Settlements. Lagarde urged policy makers to take steps to ensure that markets have enough liquidity, improve prudential policies for non-banks, and follow through on regulatory reforms such as shielding “too-big-to-fail” institutions.

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This is repeated all across the nation, if not the entire world.

Wall Street Fees Wipe Out $2.5 Billion in New York City Pension Gains (NY Times)

The Lenape tribe got a better deal on the sale of Manhattan island than New York City’s pension funds have been getting from Wall Street, according to a new analysis by the city comptroller’s office. The analysis concluded that, over the past 10 years, the five pension funds have paid more than $2 billion in fees to money managers and have received virtually nothing in return, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said in an interview on Wednesday. “We asked a simple question: Are we getting value for the fees we’re paying to Wall Street?” Mr. Stringer said. “The answer, based on this 10-year analysis, is no.” Until now, Mr. Stringer said, the pension funds have reported the performance of many of their investments before taking the fees paid to money managers into account.

After factoring in those fees, his staff found that they had dragged the overall returns $2.5 billion below expectations over the last 10 years. “When you do the math on what we pay Wall Street to actively manage our funds, it’s shocking to realize that fees have not only wiped out any benefit to the funds, but have in fact cost taxpayers billions of dollars in lost returns,” Mr. Stringer said. Why the trustees of the funds — Mr. Stringer included — would not have performed those calculations in the past is not clear. Mr. Stringer, who was a trustee of one of the funds when he was Manhattan borough president before being elected comptroller, said the returns on investments in publicly traded assets, mostly stocks and bonds, have traditionally been reported without taking fees into account.

The fees have been disclosed only in footnotes to the funds’ quarterly statements, he said. The stakes in this arena are huge. The city’s pension system is the fourth largest in the country, with total assets of nearly $160 billion. It holds retirement funds for about 715,000 city employees, including teachers, police officers and firefighters. Most of the funds’ money – more than 80% – is invested in plain vanilla assets like domestic and foreign stocks and bonds. The managers of those “public asset classes” are usually paid based on the amount of money they manage, not the returns they achieve. Over the last 10 years, the return on those “public asset classes” has surpassed expectations by more than $2 billion, according to the comptroller’s analysis. But nearly all of that extra gain — about 97% — has been eaten up by management fees, leaving just $40 million for the retirees, it found.

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Solid read.

China Seeks Dominance in Athens Harbor (Spiegel)

One could argue that China’s long path to Piraeus, Greece, began on April 27, 1961. It’s the day Mao Zedong founded the communist state’s first freight company, the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO). The Great Leap Forward, Mao’s plan for industrialization, had proven to be a disaster at the time, leaving millions dead or starving. With Cosco, China had its eyes on overseas markets. Almost 54 years later, the company is steering toward a major prize in Greece. After lengthy wavering, the Greek government – comprised of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, his far-left Syriza party and the right-wing populist Independent Greeks – has announced it will be selling the majority of its share in Athens’ Piraeus Port Authority. So far, Cosco is the most promising bidder.

Throughout, Fu Cheng Qui, or “Captain Fu,” as the chief executive of Cosco’s Piraeus subsidiary is called by those who know him, will be closely monitoring the bidding process. Fu has already been in Piraeus for a long time with the company, and he is determined to stay. He has placed the bid on behalf of his company and has little doubt it will be accepted. In his position, 65-year-old Fu is the guardian of China’s gateway to Europe. He may soon control the container piers, cruise-ship terminals and ferry quays of Greece’s biggest port. “The government has changed four times since I have been in Greece,” Fu says. “They all always talk a lot. But what counts? Actions count. Actions! Only actions!”

On the way to the cargo port, a small sign indicates a fork in the road – with one route leading to OLP and the other to PCT. Each to a different world. Pier I belongs to the primarily Greek state-owned OLP port authority. These days, though, most trucks take the other route, to PCT, to pier II and pier III, which is run by Piraeus Container Terminal, a subsidiary of Cosco. “Just look,” Fu says as he steps up to the window. Then the show begins. On Pier II, 11 container gantry cranes are in constant, powerful movement. All are new and made in China. Trucks move across the ground at an interval of only minutes.

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“.. we are prepared to make all sorts of compromises, we are not prepared to be compromised.”

Varoufakis: The Three Critical Elements of a Good Deal for Greece (Bloomberg)

In an interview with Bloomberg TV at the Institute for New Economic Thinking earlier today, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said he is confident that an agreement will be reached later this month. He identified three pre-conditions for such a deal.

• “Prioritize deep reforms that will deal with the malignancy of the Greek social economy, of the Greek state.”

• “Deal with the ill effects of a five-year catastrophic recession.”

• “A resolution of long term, sustainable fiscal plan that involves three elements. One has to do with appropriate primary surpluses, so we need primary surplus. We never are going to fall back into primary deficits again, but at the same time this should not be excessive because it will crush the private sector. We need a sensible policy for crowding in private investment and that must involve a package of public investment..from some kind of European authority or institution that will help with the process of crowding in private investment..and a rationalization on the different slices of the Greek debt without any haircuts for anyone but in a way that maximizes the amount of value that our creditors will get back from the Greek state.”

He ended the interview by saying that compromises are to be expected, but he is not ready to be compromised. “We wouldn’t be fit for the purpose if we were not prepared to take the political costs which are necessary to stabilize Greece and lead it to growth, but let me be very precise on this, we are prepared to make all sorts of compromises, we are not prepared to be compromised.”

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“We should be very clear: our bailout fallout needs to be dealt with in the European family..”

Varoufakis Says Greece Not Looking to Russia to Fix Debt Crisis (Bloomberg)

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said his country isn’t looking outside Europe to resolve its financial crisis, adding that he’s confident of reaching an agreement with European partners this month. Asked about a meeting between Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras and Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, Varoufakis denied any links with talks Greece is holding with euro-area governments that are the country’s creditors. “We should be very clear: our bailout fallout needs to be dealt with in the European family,” Varoufakis said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Paris. “This government is not seeking an extra-European solution to a European problem.”

Greece, Europe’s most-indebted state, is negotiating with euro-area countries and the IMF on the terms of its €240 billion rescue. The standoff, which has left Greece dependent upon ECB loans, risks leading to a default within weeks and the country’s potential exit from the euro area. The ECB approved a €1.2 billion increase in the emergency funds available to Greek lenders Thursday, a person familiar with the decision said. The Governing Council raised the cap on Emergency Liquidity Assistance provided by the Bank of Greece to €73.2 billion in a telephone conference, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision is confidential.

Greek officials said this week they are targeting an April 24 meeting of euro-area finance ministers as a deadline for approving new money. A looming cash crunch in the summer, when the ECB needs to be repaid, means a new bailout deal will be needed before then.
“I am very confident,” Varoufakis said, when asked about the talks. “The negotiations are proceeding quite well. It is in our mutual interest to strike a deal by the 24th and I’m sure we will.”

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With all the next payments coming up, it’s more interesting to wonder where the money WILL come from.

Greece Met Its Latest Debt Payment, But Where Did The Money Come From? (Ind.)

Greece met a loan payment of €459 million to the IMF on Thursday, according to reports, as the EU discusses whether the country has reformed enough to merit a further cash injection. “The payment order has been given,” a finance ministry source told AFP. But no one is quite sure where the money came from – a consequence of the opaque Greek finance system. There are few trained accountants in the country and they do not adhere to international accounting standards, so records are thin and many citizens do not pay tax. Poor accounting standards are blamed by some for the uncertain numbers that have come out of Greece regarding the country’s debt.

Athens is aware of the tax problem. It promised to hire tourists and cleaners as part time tax inspectors in a recent round of reforms drawn up to meet EU criteria for further cash. The latest IMF payment was ordered at the same time as Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras met Putin in Moscow to discuss co-operation between the two orthodox Catholic nations. While both parties denied that Greece had financial aid had been requested, the two sides are said to have talked about extending a Turkish natural gas pipeline through Greece and relief from Russian sanctions on European food produce. Russian investment in key Greek infrastructure, including the port of Thessaloniki, is also in discussion.

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis said during a visit to Washington this week that Greece would meet the April 9 payment and every other until the debts are cleared. He still has some way to go – next month, Athens owes a further €950 million to the IMF. Over €2 billion euros in six- and three-month treasury bills are also due to mature on April 14 and 17 – though they should roll on to the next maturity without incurring further cost. This week Athens raised another €1.14 billion in six-month Treasury bills and announced a further sale of €625 million next week. The country is dependent on such short terms bonds to raise cash, but the takers are mostly domestic investors because Greece is shut out of international debt markets.

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Bit dull perhaps, but potentially powerful.

The Changes To Russia’s Business Environment That Flew Below The Radar (Forbes)

Companies doing business in Russia have been on a roller coaster ride for the last year. The combination of Western sanctions, a weakened currency and continued geopolitical uncertainty have threatened even the most robust of balance sheets. Yet amid these headline-grabbing harbingers of new challenges in Russia’s business environment, one seems to have gone largely overlooked: last September, Russian lawmakers passed unprecedented changes to their country’s corporate legislation. The aim was to update business legal frameworks and to extend additional protections to minority corporate stakeholders, but it remains uncertain whether the law will have the desired effect. The sweeping changes generally affect the rules for how companies and their stakeholders interact. They also overhaul the different classes of legal entities that are permitted to do business. Some highlights:

• All Russian legal entities are reclassified. Previously, entities were conceptually seen as either for-profit and “commercial” or “non-commercial,” today all organizations are split between the “unitary” and “corporate” categories. A “unitary” organization’s founder does not directly participate in the business’s affairs or ownership, while the founder of a “corporate” entity retains the right to remain a shareholder or manager.
• The rules for joint stock companies have changed. Companies were previously classified as open or closed, according to whether new shareholders could legally enter the company’s ownership structure. Now they are classified as public or non-public. The option to publicly trade their securities or shares distinguishes the former, who must accordingly include the word “public” in their name. All other corporation types, including the non-trading joint stock companies, are non-public by default and face no need to alter their names. Notably, the obsolescent open and closed joint stock companies do not have to reclassify themselves by the new guidelines until they have to alter their charter documents, but must comply with the new rules regardless.

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“.. Iran would be able to grow production and exports by 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day within weeks of a final deal.”

Here’s How Iran Could Prevent A Rebound In Oil Prices (MarketWatch)

Investors looking for a bottom in oil prices argue that a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program and ease sanctions against the country won’t flood the market with more unwanted crude. But one analyst thinks Iran’s return to the market would continue to keep a lid on prices. Oil futures plunged Wednesday as U.S. crude inventories rose yet again. But oil had rallied earlier this week on ideas that fears Iran would soon be able to dump more supply on the market had been overdone. After all, a final deal isn’t due until June 30—and that deadline could easily slip. Moreover, Iran’s degraded infrastructure is likely to keep a lid on production even if a deal is struck, analysts said.

Of course, the likelihood of a deal remains up for debate. Iran’s supreme leader declared Thursday that there was no guarantee of a final agreement, saying world powers couldn’t be trusted to negotiate in good faith. Vikas Dwivedi, a Houston-based oil and gas strategist at Macquarie Capital, sounds far from convinced that a return to the market by Iran would be taken in stride. Making a pun on a 1982 New Wave hit, Dwivedi wrote a note this week entitled “Iran Not So Far Away, Dwivedi argues that Iran would be able to ramp up production significantly in the weeks after the final approval of a deal. But the real pressure, he says, might come from how Arab Gulf producers respond.

Dwivedi says Iran would be able to grow production and exports by 300,000 to 400,000 barrels a day within weeks of a final deal, but that the need for substantial capital upgrades to Iran’s reservoirs means it would take another six to nine months to ramp up production by the 1 million barrels a day needed to recapture the level of output seen before the sanctions.. Meanwhile, Arab Gulf members of OPEC would probably prove themselves unwilling to cede market share to accommodate rising Iranian output, Dwivedi writes. That means OPEC 2015 production could reach 32 million barrels a day or higher versus a previous call of 28.2 million, Dwivedi said. OPEC supply rose to 30.63 million barrels a day in March, according to a Reuters survey.

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“To make it pay, Shell really needs the oil price to move up to $90, and quickly.”

Shell Shareholders Less Than Impressed With $70 Billion Bid For BG (Ind.)

The City is slathering with excitement at Shell’s £47bn bid for BG group. Its shareholders are less than impressed. The problem for them is that the price represents a 50 per cent premium to where BG shares languished prior to the deal’s announcement. To make it pay, Shell really needs the oil price to move up to $90, and quickly. The question its investors have to ask themselves is whether Shell could pick up something like BG’s portfolio, the opportunity it represents and the earnings stream it generates, with its existing assets and resources. Even if they think it can, and such an outcome won’t be quick, they still have to ask if they’d be happy for someone else to have BG, the profits of which will at least help to power the generous dividend Shell pays them. A dividend that represents a welter burden to their company.

What is certain is that this will not be the last mega-deal to be done in the energy sector, as its giants seek cheaper alternatives to risking cash they’re not earning on exploration. It likely won’t be the biggest either. BG’s most likely suitor was long rumoured to be Exxon, the American giant, which represents the most likely threat to this deal’s completion. But Exxon may have it’s eyes cast in the direction of an even bigger B in the form of BP. BG’s drift had become sufficiently aimless that its board felt the need to risk shareholders ire by offering an appalling £25m with nary a condition attached to lure Helge Lund from Norway’s Statoil. He’s now going to sail off into the sunset in a boat filled with cash.

BP’s board might wish it had only that to worry about. For the US lawyers ranged against it, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is the gift that keeps on giving. The company is more than half owned by Americans, it is run by one (Bob Dudley), and it has substantial operations in the country. But they still insist on referring to it as “British” Petroleum across the Atlantic. The logic of putting it formally into American hands via the mega-deal to end all mega-deals with Exxon is that it could take an awful lot of feet from off its neck.

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Let me guess: what’s that plan? Make the people pay?

Ukraine Creditor Group Has Plan to Avoid Writedown in Debt Talks (Bloomberg)

Five creditors that own about $10 billion of Ukraine’s bonds are working on a debt-restructuring deal that won’t involve a reduction to their principal holdings as the government seeks to change the terms of its external debt. The committee is working on a plan that “provides Ukraine with the necessary financial liquidity support,” the group said in a statement released by Blackstone. Franklin Templeton, Ukraine’s biggest bondholder with about $7 billion of the nation’s debt, hired Blackstone to represent the creditor group in mid-March, according to Blackstone. Ukraine needs to reach an agreement with creditors by the end of May to save $15.3 billion over four years as a condition for receiving the next tranche of a $17.5 billion IMF loan.

“For sure, the creditors will try to achieve” a deal with no principal reduction, “but realistically it is not viable,” Michael Ganske at Rogge in London, said. “Ukraine’s debt-to-GDP is much too high and the economy is shrinking.” Public-sector debt is set to rise to 94% of gross domestic product this year, according to the IMF, after a yearlong conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the nation’s east crippled its economy. Output shrank 7 to 10% in the first quarter, Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko said on March 24. The country is seeking to restructure at least $21.7 billion, data compiled by Bloomberg News. A price of about 40 cents signals creditors will face writedowns to their principal holdings of about 20%, Bank of America said in March.

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Think I’ll keep my New Zealand theme going for a bit.

Homeowners In Auckland’s Fringe Saving Up To $50,000 A Year (NZ Herald)

Buying a house on the city’s outskirts can save Aucklanders up to $50,000 each year in mortgage repayments, despite the added commuting costs, new figures reveal. The research, carried out by real estate firm Bayleys, factored in the cost of mortgage repayments as well as the cost of travel from the respective areas. Lower house prices in outlying suburbs – like Papakura, New Lynn, Sunnyvale and Manukau – meant even with transport costs homeowners were still paying significantly less than those in city-fringe suburbs. Bayleys calculated the first-year mortgage repayment costs for different suburbs based on median house prices from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ) and the ANZ variable rate of 6.74%.

It found the annual cost of servicing a mortgage for a median priced Orakei or Remuera home ($1.35 million) was $84,060 in the first year. In Pukekohe, where the median price of a home is $500,000, the annual mortgage repayment in the first year would be $31,128. Even factoring in the $4032 annual cost of commuting from Pukekohe to the CBD by train on the At Hop card system – as well as the $768 public transport cost from Orakei to the city – living in the southern suburb was about $50,000 cheaper. Bayleys Research manager Ian Little said even if a Pukekohe resident commuted by car and chose to park in the central city, it was still cheaper.

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Elected on a promise, and then back out with feeble excuses? Tar and feathers!

New Zealand Unlikely to Deliver on 2015 Budget Surplus Promise (Bloomberg)

New Zealand’s government is unlikely to return its budget to surplus this year as it promised ahead of an election in 2014, Finance Minister Bill English said. “Lower inflation, while good for consumers, is making it less likely that the final accounts in October will show a surplus for the whole year,” English said in a statement Friday. The budget showed a NZ$269 million ($203 million) deficit in the eight months ended Feb. 28, the Treasury Department said earlier Friday. Prime Minister John Key won a third term last year, campaigning on his economic management and pledging to post the nation’s first budget surplus in seven years in the 12 months ending June 30, 2015.

In May last year, English projected a surplus of NZ$372 million for 2014-15. The Treasury in December said low inflation, which curbs nominal economic growth and tax revenue, suggested the budget would remain in deficit. English, who delivers his next annual budget May 21, previously said that the Treasury forecasts may be proved wrong by the time the full-year financial statements are prepared in October. Consumer prices rose 0.8% in the fourth quarter from a year earlier and were down 0.2% from the prior three-month period – the first quarterly decline in three years. The central bank last month forecast annual inflation would fall to zero in the first quarter.

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Only possible with more nukes.

Japan To Pledge 20% CO2 Cut (Guardian)

Japan will promise to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 2013 levels ahead of a global summit on climate change this year, a report said Thursday, despite uncertainty over post-Fukushima energy policy. The government will likely announce the new target at the G7 summit in June in Germany, the leading business daily Nikkei reported, citing unnamed government sources. In a separate report, Kyodo News said Tokyo will set a target of cutting gas emissions “by at least 20% by 2030, from 2005 levels.” Japan is one of the few leading polluters that has not yet declared a target on emission cuts, as the world works towards a new framework for combating climate change, to be finalised at December’s COP 21 gathering in Paris.

A total of 33 countries – including the no.2 emitter the United States, the no.3 emitter the European Union, and Russia, ranked fifth – submitted their reduction goals to the UN secretariat by the end of last month. The US has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% over 2005 levels within the next decade, while the EU said it will cut its pollution by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels. Russia said it could drive down emissions by up to 30% compared to 1990 levels, subject to conditions. In earlier rounds of climate talks, Tokyo pledged it would reduce its greenhouse gas output by 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels. But that target was slashed to a 3.8% cut from 2005 levels in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which led to idling of the country’s entire nuclear stable.

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Finally US media are catching up to this story?

Dying at Europe’s Doorstep (Bloomberg)

For people who court danger in foreign lands, Chris Catrambone is a good guy to know. Originally from Louisiana, he made his first $10 million before age 30 investigating insurance claims and lining up medical care for injured workers in some of the world’s most violent places, especially contractors of U.S.-owned companies operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, at 27, he moved his two-year-old multinational company, the Tangiers Group, to Malta, the island nation in the central Mediterranean that’s been vital to various empires for more than two millennia, and where moorings are as common as parking spots. Tangiers Group’s portfolio includes travel insurance, up-to-date CIA World Factbook-type reports on emerging markets, and hospitalization and evacuations for expats.

In the summer of 2013, with his wife, Regina, and stepdaughter, Maria Luisa, Catrambone chartered a yacht for a trip to the coast of Tunisia with a stop on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a popular vacation spot. It’s also a landing point used by migrants trying to enter Europe illegally. As the Catrambones left the harbor, Regina spotted a parka floating on the waves. It struck her as incongruous—a winter coat being carried by the warm tide—and she asked their captain about it. He replied that it had almost certainly belonged to one of the thousands who’ve attempted a water crossing to Lampedusa from Libya in inflatable dinghies—one who didn’t make it. “Lampedusa has a beach called Rabbit Beach, and every year it’s rated as one of the top beaches in the world, so of course we wanted to visit it,” Chris says.

“But then we learned that there are bodies of refugees literally washing ashore on this most beautiful beach. So what, you’re going to have a nice swim in the same water where these people are dying? Is that right?” That afternoon, and well into the night, he and Regina discussed what Pope Francis, on his first visit outside the Vatican, had described as “the globalization of indifference” to the plight of refugees at sea. “Papa Francesco said that everyone that could help, should do it, [and] with his own skills,” says Regina, who speaks English as well as her native Italian. “So we start to think, what are our capabilities? We have a good background in helping people in trouble.”

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 November 21, 2014  Posted by at 12:47 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Russell Lee Hammond Ranch general store, Chicot, Arkansas Jan 1939

Americans, With Record $3.2 Trillion Consumer Debt, Borrow More (Guardian)
How Wall Street Banks Traded Lending For Oil, Gas And Nukes (MarketWatch)
Citigroup Ejected From ECB FX Group for Rigging (Bloomberg)
China ‘Triple Bubble’ Points To Long Slide For Commodities (MarketWatch)
ECB Dips Toe Into Dead Sea Of Rebundled Debt (Reuters)
ECB’s Draghi: ‘Strong Recovery Unlikely’ (CNBC)
Draghi Says ECB Must Raise Inflation as Fast as Possible (Bloomberg)
Greece To Submit Contentious Budget For 2015 (CNBC)
Hanging Around: Why Abe’s Holding an Election in a Recession (Bloomberg)
Abe Listening to Krugman After Tokyo Limo Ride on Abenomics Fate (Bloomberg)
US Federal Reserve To Review How It Supervises Major Banks (Reuters)
Hugh Hendry: “QE ‘Worked’ By Redistributing Wealth Not Creating It” (Zero Hedge)
Britain Abandons Banker Bonus Fight After EU Court Blow (Bloomberg)
Russia Warns US Against Supplying ‘Lethal Defensive Aid’ To Ukraine (RT)
EuroMaidan Anniversary: 21 Steps From Peaceful Rally To Civil War (RT)
Dutch Government Refuses To Reveal ‘Secret Deal’ Into MH17 Crash Probe (RT)
Creativity, Companies, And The Wisdom Of Crowds (Robert Shiller)
China Starts $2 Trillion Leap Forward to Slash Pollution (Bloomberg)
The Magical Thought That’s Assumed in Climate Studies (Bloomberg)
Rhino Poaching Death Toll Reaches Record in South Africa (Bloomberg)
Growth First. Then These Other Things Can Be Dealt With (Clarke&Dawe)

This is going to end well, right?

Americans, With Record $3.2 Trillion Consumer Debt, Borrow More (Guardian)

Americans are borrowing more even as they have racked up enormous amounts of consumer debt, Federal Reserve data show. The newly released minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting in October give a wider picture of the US economy. A weak housing market weighed on the US economy, while the fear of Ebola put some brief pressure on the stock markets, the Fed found. The interesting trend, however, is the growing indebtedness of US consumers now that banks have loosened the spigots on lending. The Federal Reserve customarily releases the minutes of its meetings, where the board of governors and staff discuss the major forces at work in the US economy, including employment, housing, borrowing and inflation. The Fed took a positive view of overall economic progress, noting a low unemployment rate, low inflation and, generally, “a continued improvement in labor market conditions”. While the minutes provide a big-picture view of the economy, there are some specific – and strange – worries that make it into the Fed’s discussions.

“Worries about a possible spread of Ebola also appeared to weigh on market sentiment somewhat at times,” the Fed said. The Fed’s meeting was shortly after the first American Ebola patients were being admitted to hospitals. Elsewhere in the economy, the Fed acknowledged that the housing market had slowed. After new home prices hit record highs in 2013, prices have been drifting downward as homeowners still struggle to get mortgages. “Housing market conditions seemed to be improving only slowly,” the central bank said, noting that new home sales were flat in September after moving up in August, and sales of existing single-family homes had not showed much progress and “moved essentially sideways” over the past several months. Banks also loosened the reins and started extending more credit to consumers, particularly through credit cards and auto loans, which some have suggested may be a bubble.

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“The three financial holding companies chose to engage in commodity-related businesses that carried potential catastrophic event risks.”

How Wall Street Banks Traded Lending For Oil, Gas And Nukes (MarketWatch)

A U.S. Senate subcommittee investigation into bank commodities trading has produced some eye-popping findings: Goldman Sachs owned a uranium business that carried the liability of a nuclear accident. J.P. Morgan operated as if it were Con Edison. It owned multiple power-generation plants, exposing it to potential accidents there. Morgan Stanley played the role of Exxon Mobil, stockpiling storage, pipelines, and other natural gas and oil infrastructure.

Together, the report found that banks not only were out of their comfort zone, but put the financial system at risk because they turbo-charged these investments with derivative contracts. They ended up with “huge commodity inventories and participating in outsized transactions,” the Senate Permanent Subcommittee for Investigations said. “The three financial holding companies chose to engage in commodity-related businesses that carried potential catastrophic event risks.” The overreaching foray into commodities underscores how bank “innovation” can take simple services for clients and create massive risk. Banks entered the commodities markets to provide hedges for providers, traders and other market participants. They ended up with huge stakes and, according to the committee, were able to corner at least parts of the market.

This is a far cry from simple brokerage services and investment banking. It is a quantum leap from deposit-taking and lending institutions that are backed by the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. And it all took place in a market supposedly regulated by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which should have at least raised red flags, even if its powers were limited by Congress. While many banks have either left, reduced or signaled they want to exit commodities, the pattern in which simple banking and brokerage products become suddenly dangerous and enormous quagmires may be the larger problem. Regulators can’t put a cop in every division and office on Wall Street, much less every power plant across the country.

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“Citigroup is the world’s biggest foreign-exchange dealer ..”

Citigroup Ejected From ECB FX Group for Rigging (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank ejected Citigroup from its foreign-exchange market liaison group after the U.S. bank was fined for rigging the institution’s own currency benchmark, two people with knowledge of the move said. The ECB removed Citigroup from the panel, which advises the central bank on market trends, after regulators fined the lender $1 billion for rigging currency benchmarks including the ECB’s 1:15 p.m. fix, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been made public. Citigroup was one of six banks fined $4.3 billion by U.S. and U.K. regulators last week and is the only one that also sits on the ECB Foreign Exchange Contact Group. About 20 firms with large foreign-currency operations, ranging from Airbus to Deutsche Bank sit on the committee. The panel’s agenda includes how to improve currency benchmarks.

Citigroup is the world’s biggest foreign-exchange dealer, with a 16% market share, according to a survey by London-based Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc. A spokesman for the New York-based bank declined to comment. The panel isn’t involved in how the ECB’s daily fix is calculated. Currency benchmarks such as the ECB fix and the WM/Reuters rates are used by asset managers and pension funds to value their holdings, including $3.6 trillion in index tracker funds around the world. According to documents released with the settlements, senior traders at the firms shared information about their positions with each other and coordinated trading strategies to the detriment of their clients. They’d congregate in electronic chat rooms an hour or so before benchmark rates were set to discuss their orders and how to execute them to their mutual benefit.

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China’s share for some commodities is insane. And it won’t last.

China ‘Triple Bubble’ Points To Long Slide For Commodities (MarketWatch)

The “commodity super cycle” is dead. Now, it’s time to get used to the “commodity super down cycle, and China is the biggest reason why, warn strategists at Credit Suisse in a Thursday note. Commodity demand tends to be very cyclical. Commodities, however, have been underperforming cyclical indicators of growth, including industrial production and new manufacturing orders (as measured by Institute for Supply Management survey data), they say. Much of the blame is on China, the strategists argue, noting that the country remains the “most significant source” of demand for most industrial commodities. Moreover, they see China on track for a “hard landing” at some point in the next three years. The report adds to some of the recent gloom around China, where the fate of the economy remains a topic for debate.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services on Wednesday said its negative outlook for Chinese property developers is casting a pall on the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, though it sees prospects for the sentiment to recover next year thanks to looser government policies, particularly on mortgages. The Credit Suisse strategists, meanwhile, see a “triple bubble” in credit, real estate and investment. On credit, they highlight a private-sector to GDP ratio that is 30%age points above trend. China’s investment share of GDP is 48%, much higher than Japan or Korea at similar stages of industrialization, Credit Suisse says. Real estate, meanwhile, is in a “classic bubble.” Prices have dropped six months in a row. A drop of another 20% or more will make for a “hard landing,” they write.

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The headline tells the story.

ECB Dips Toe Into Dead Sea Of Rebundled Debt (Reuters)

The European Central Bank is set to embark this week on a scheme to buy the kind of rebundled debt that sparked the global economic crash. With sparse investor interest its efforts could fall short. Asset backed securities (ABS), reparcelled debt that mixes high-risk loans with safer credit, gained notoriety when rebundled home loans in the United States unravelled to spark financial turmoil. Seven years on, seeking to pump money into a moribund euro zone economy, the ECB believes the same type of debt may make it easier to get credit to companies. It will be safe, the ECB argues, because such European debt, whether car loans or credit cards, is typically repaid and its repackaging should be simpler to understand. The programme is one plank in a strategy which ECB chief Mario Draghi hopes will increase its balance sheet by up to €1 trillion.

If it falls short and fails to boost the economy significantly, pressure to launch full quantitative easing will reach fever pitch. Regulators and investors are sceptical and even within the ECB expectations are muted, people familiar with its thinking say. To limit its risk, the ECB will buy only the most secure part of such loans in the hope that others pile in behind it to buy riskier credit. It is a strategy with little prospect of success, says Jacques de Larosiere, the former head of the International Monetary Fund who has pushed for the repackaging and sale of loans. “While I welcome the ECB’s initiative … it cannot work if it is alone in buying the senior tranches,” he told Reuters. “That is the very area where there is no problem in finding buyers. In order to have an impact, the ECB or other buyers must also be able to buy the lower-quality riskier tranches of ABS.”

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Gee, we had no idea.

ECB’s Draghi: ‘Strong Recovery Unlikely’ (CNBC)

TThe euro zone economy is likely to remain stagnant in the short-to-medium term and the European Central Bank stands ready to act fast to combat low inflation, President Mario Draghi said on Friday. “A stronger recovery is unlikely in the coming months,” Draghi said in an opening speech at the Frankfurt European Banking Congress, referring to the latest flash euro area Purchasing Managers Index (PMI). The PMI, published on Thursday, showed that new orders in the euro zone fell this month for the first time since July 2013. The composite index read 51.4—below forecasts and below October’s final reading of 52.1.

The ECB has launched a slew of measures to ease credit conditions in the region in order to boost growth and combat dangerously low inflation. These include cutting interest rates to record lows and announcing plans to purchase covered bonds and asset-backed securities (ABS). The latest reading for headline inflation in the euro zone was 0.4%—well below the close to 2% level targeted by the ECB and down from 0.9% a year ago. “The inflation situation in the euro area has also become increasingly challenging,” said Draghi on Friday. “We see that it has been essential that the ECB has acted —and is continuing to act—to bring inflation back towards 2%.” Speculation has been rife as to if and when the ECB will start a U.S -style sovereign bond-buying program, as a further measures to ease monetary conditions.

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Mario must be needing tranquilizers by now.

Draghi Says ECB Must Raise Inflation as Fast as Possible (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi said the European Central Bank must drive inflation higher quickly, and will broaden its asset-purchase program if needed to achieve that. “We will do what we must to raise inflation and inflation expectations as fast as possible, as our price-stability mandate requires,” the ECB president said at a conference in Frankfurt today. Shorter-term inflation expectations “have been declining to levels that I would deem excessively low,” he said. Any new action would follow a flurry of activity since June that has included interest-rate cuts, long-term bank loans, and covered-bond purchases, with buying of asset-backed securities due to start as soon as today.

Draghi has declined to rule out large-scale government-bond buying and said after this month’s monetary policy meeting that staff are studying further measures to boost the economy if needed. “Draghi is sending a clear signal that more stimulus is coming,” said Lena Komileva, chief economist at G Plus Economics . in London. “If the ECB’s current measures prove underwhelming and inflation expectations fail to recover, the ECB will act to expand quantitative easing.”

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When will the next bond attack start?

Greece To Submit Contentious Budget For 2015 (CNBC)

Greece’s proposed budget for 2015 has put it at loggerheads again with the “Troika” of international monitors, who are worried the plan will land it with a bigger fiscal gap than forecast. The coalition government led by Antonis Samaras has promised the budget will include no further austerity measures—on which its bailout is contingent— in an effort to combat the risk of snap national elections next year. The latest polls show that the anti-austerity left-wing opposition party SYRIZA would win an election, if it was held now. Greek Finance Minister Gikas Hardouvelis will submit the final plan for 2015 to the President of the Parliament at 10 a.m. GMT on Friday. Negotiations in Parliament on the Greek budget for 2015 will then start December 4.

The Troika—the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – is worried that the budget will land Greece with a much bigger fiscal gap next year than the government says. The disagreement has already delayed the country’s review by the Troika and Greece risks missing a December 8 deadline to receive the final instalment of its bailout from Europe, which is worth 144.6 billion euros. This completion of the review would also pave the way for talks on a possible financial backstop for Greece after the European part of its bailout expires at the end of this year.”Only once a staff-level agreement has been reached for the conclusion of the review can discussions on the follow-up to the program take place. The full staff mission will return to Athens as soon as the conditions are there,” Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesperson of the European Commission told CNBC.

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Power games save faces, but not countries.

Hanging Around: Why Abe’s Holding an Election in a Recession (Bloomberg)

The economy’s in recession, his support is sliding, and he has two years left in office with a big majority. Hardly surprising Japanese voters say they don’t understand why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called an election. Abe dissolved the lower house of parliament today for the vote to be held in mid-December. His coalition isn’t likely to lose its majority as the opposition is in disarray. A solid win now would snuff out potential threats from within his own party in a leadership election set for next year. Abe is taking a page out of his family’s history. His great-uncle Eisaku Sato, the longest-serving prime minister since the war, twice called early elections during his eight years in office from 1964-1972 to consolidate his grip on power.

While Abe has already closed the revolving door of one-year prime ministers that began with his own resignation in 2007, he needs to be seen as keeping his pledges to revive the economy to be able to challenge Sato’s record. “Tradition is that as soon as a prime minister’s popularity goes down, you put in another guy,” said Steven Reed, professor of political science at Chuo University in Tokyo. Each of the last six prime ministers “lost popularity rapidly because they didn’t keep any promises,” he said. The risk is that Abe’s plan backfires and he loses enough seats to fuel a challenge from his own allies, who in Japanese politics are often a more formidable threat to a sitting prime minister than the opposition. 63% of respondents in a Kyodo News poll yesterday said they didn’t understand his reasons for calling an election.

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Say sayonara Nippon.

Abe Listening to Krugman After Tokyo Limo Ride on Abenomics Fate (Bloomberg)

When Japanese economist Etsuro Honda heard that Paul Krugman was planning a visit to Tokyo, he saw an opportunity to seize the advantage in Japan’s sales-tax debate. With a December deadline approaching, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was considering whether to go ahead with a 2015 boost to the consumption levy. Evidence was mounting that the world’s third-largest economy was struggling to shake off the blow from raising the rate in April, which had triggered Japan’s deepest quarterly contraction since the global credit crisis. Honda, 59, an academic who’s known Abe, 60, for three decades and serves as an economic adviser to the prime minister, had opposed the April move and was telling him to delay the next one. Enter Krugman, the Nobel laureate who had been writing columns on why a postponement was needed.

“That nailed Abe’s decision – Krugman was Krugman, he was so powerful,” Honda said in an interview yesterday in the prime minister’s residence, where he has an office. “I call it a historic meeting.” It was in a limousine ride from the Imperial Hotel — the property near the emperor’s palace that in a previous construction was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — that Honda told Krugman, 61, what was at stake for the meeting. The economist, who’s now heading to the City University of New York from Princeton University, had the chance to help convince the prime minister that he had to put off the 2015 increase. Confronting Honda and fellow members of Abe’s reflationist brain-trust – such as Koichi Hamada, a former Yale University economist, and Kozo Yamamoto, a senior ruling-party lawmaker — were Ministry of Finance bureaucrats.

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Timing is everything. What year is today?

US Federal Reserve To Review How It Supervises Major Banks (Reuters)

The U.S. Federal Reserve said on Thursday it has launched a review of how it oversees major banks, calling on its inspector general to help with the probe after a series of critical reports. Separate studies to be undertaken by the Fed’s Washington-based Board of Governors and its Office of Inspector General are meant to ensure that “divergent views” about the state of large banks are adequately aired. The reviews will determine whether frontline supervisors and other officials at the regional Federal Reserve banks, as well as at the board level, “receive the information needed to ensure consistent and sound supervisory decisions,” the Fed said in a press release.

That includes being made aware of “divergent views” about a bank’s operations, a reference to criticism that supervisors at the Fed’s regional banks have sometimes suppressed the views of staff members considered too critical of the banks they examine. The issue will be the focus of a Senate Banking committee hearing on Friday that features New York Fed President William Dudley as the chief witness. Several Fed regional banks are involved in supervising the country’s 15 largest financial institutions, including Citigroup and Bank of America, that generally have more than $50 billion in assets. But the New York Fed in particular has come under fire for being lax with the banks it oversees and for not reacting forcefully enough in the run-up to the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

A recent inspector general’s report said supervision at the New York Fed was hampered by the loss of key personnel and an inadequate plan for succession into important positions. Secret recordings made by former New York Fed supervisor Carmen Segarra also portrayed the bank as cozy with major institutions like Goldman Sachs. In testimony prepared for the Senate hearing but released on Thursday afternoon, Dudley said “it is undeniable that banking supervisors could have done better in their prudential oversight of the financial system” in advance of the financial crisis.

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More Hugh. He has very original insights.

Hugh Hendry: “QE ‘Worked’ By Redistributing Wealth Not Creating It” (Zero Hedge)

Hendry: This is almost unparalleled in being the most exciting moment for global macro today. And I predicate that upon making an analogy with the Central Bank coordinated policy intervention, in the foreign exchange markets, after the Plaza Accord in, I believe, 1985. There was a profound unease at the current account and particularly the trade deficit that America was running up, especially against the Japanese, which was deemed to be contentious. The real economy is composed of slow-moving prices, wages are slow and the notion of having to wait for productivity improvements and wage price negotiations to work their course, via the U.S. corporate landscape in Japan, such as those deficits would be resolved successfully and become less politically contentious. It was just too long. Politicians just don’t have that time and so they jumped into the world of macro. Macro’s all about fast-moving prices. Foreign exchange is fast. Stock markets prices are fast.

So the notion then was that the Yen and the Deutschmark would appreciate. Now for hedge funds that was amazing. This is the period of the alchemy of finance, as George Soros has celebrated in very successful financial adventures. They just run the biggest long positions. No one stopped to say “Well, the Deutschmark’s getting expensive.” It didn’t really enter into the vernacular of trading in that market. It was macro, there was a policy impulse, a sponsorship by the world’s monetary authorities and you were trending and you had to have that position. By and large it succeeded. So what I would said to you today is that the policy response can’t be found in foreign exchange markets. It’s been muted somewhat by the “Beggar thy neighbour” way that everyone can pursue the same policy. So currencies, up until very lately, haven’t really moved that much. Instead the drama is unfolding in the stock market.

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Cameron keeps on losing against the EU.

Britain Abandons Banker Bonus Fight After EU Court Blow (Bloomberg)

Britain abandoned a bid to overturn a European Union ban on banker bonuses of more than twice fixed pay after it suffered a setback in the EU’s top court. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said he wouldn’t “spend taxpayers’ money” pursuing the legal challenge any further after Britain’s arguments were rebuffed by a senior official at the EU Court of Justice yesterday. The U.K. government will instead redirect its efforts toward countering the effects of the “badly designed rules,” which include an increase in bankers’ overall pay, Osborne said in a statement. The U.K. Treasury said it may be necessary to “develop standards that ensure that non-bonus or fixed pay is put at risk,” echoing remarks this week by Bank of England Governor Mark Carney.

U.K. banks face a running battle with regulators over the EU remuneration rules, with Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland among more than 30 lenders that have tried to circumvent it by introducing so-called role-based pay. The four banks declined to comment on the court opinion. The European Banking Authority, which brings together financial watchdogs from throughout the 28-nation EU, said in October that role-based allowances violate EU rules in “most cases,” and urged regulators to ensure compliance. Osborne and Carney have criticized the EU bonus curb as counterproductive. Britain started the legal fight against the measure last year.

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“Lethal assistance “remains on the table. It’s something that we’re looking at …”

Russia Warns US Against Supplying ‘Lethal Defensive Aid’ To Ukraine (RT)

Moscow has warned Washington a potential policy shift from supplying Kiev with “non-lethal aid” to “defensive lethal weapons”, mulled as US Vice President visits Ukraine, would be a direct violation of all international agreements. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said that reports of possible deliveries of American “defensive weapons” to Ukraine would be viewed by Russia as a “very serious signal.” “We heard repeated confirmations from the [US] administration, that it only supplies non-lethal aid to Ukraine. If there is a change of this policy, then we are talking about a serious destabilizing factor which could seriously affect the balance of power in the region,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich cautioned.

His remarks follow US deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken Wednesday’s statement at a hearing before the Senate Committee for Foreign Affairs, in which he said that Biden may offer the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” as he visits Ukraine. Lethal assistance “remains on the table. It’s something that we’re looking at,” Blinken said. “We paid attention not only to such statements, but also to the trip of representatives of Ukrainian volunteer battalions to Washington, who tried to muster support of the US administration,” Lukashevich said.

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Useful timeline.

EuroMaidan Anniversary: 21 Steps From Peaceful Rally To Civil War (RT)

Protesters who went out to Kiev’s Maidan Square exactly a year ago have their goal – a deal with the EU – achieved. However, they hardly expected the protest would also trigger a bloody civil war which has already claimed 4,000 lives. RT takes a look at the milestone events of the past 365 days, which brought Ukraine – and the world – to where it is now.

1) Then-President Victor Yanukovich’s unwillingness to sign an Association Agreement with the EU led to Maidan (Independence Square) in Ukraine’s capital Kiev filling with protesters on November 21, 2013. The rally participants were holding hands, waving flags and chanting slogans like “Ukraine is Europe!”

2) The brutal dispersal of a protest camp on the morning of November 30 was a turning point in the ensuing events. It’s still unclear whose idea it was to use force against demonstrators. Yanukovich laid the blame on the city’s police chief and sacked him. But that was not enough for the Maidan protesters, who switched from demands of signing the EU deal to calls for the toppling of the government.

3) Over the course of several weeks, which followed the face of Maidan started to change – peaceful protesters were more and more giving way to masked and armed rioters, often from far-right groups. A collective of radicals called the Right Sector were among the most prominent. Peaceful protests evolved into a continuous stand-off between the rallying people and riot police.

4) The deadliest day of the Maidan protests came on February 20 when over a hundred people were killed in the center of Kiev, most of them by sniper fire. The ongoing official investigation blamed a group of elite soldiers from the Berkut riot police for the killings. But there is a lingering suspicion that the massacre was committed by somebody among the anti-government forces.

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More secrets, just what the situation needed.

Dutch Government Refuses To Reveal ‘Secret Deal’ Into MH17 Crash Probe (RT)

The Dutch government has refused to reveal details of a secret pact between members of the Joint Investigation Team examining the downed Flight MH17. If the participants, including Ukraine, don’t want information to be released, it will be kept secret. The respected Dutch publication Elsevier made a request to the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice under the Freedom of Information Act to disclose the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) agreement, along with 16 other documents. The JIT consists of four countries – the Netherlands, Belgium, Australia and Ukraine – who are carrying out an investigation into the MH17 disaster, but not Malaysia. Malaysian Airlines, who operated the flight, has been criticized for flying through a war zone.

Part of the agreement between the four countries and the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, ensures that all these parties have the right to secrecy. This means that if any of the countries involved believe that some of the evidence may be damaging to them, they have the right to keep this secret. “Of course [it is] an incredible situation: how can Ukraine, one of the two suspected parties, ever be offered such an agreement?” Dutch citizen Jan Fluitketel wrote in the newspaper Malaysia Today. Despite the air crash taking place on July 17 in Eastern Ukraine, very little information has been released about any potential causes. However, rather than give the public a little insight into the investigation, the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice is more worried about saving face among the members of the investigation.

“I believe that this interest [international relations] is of greater importance than making the information public, as it is a unique investigation into an extremely serious event,” the Ministry added, according to Elsevier. Other reasons given for the request being denied included protecting investigation techniques and tactics as well as naming the names of officials who are taking part in the investigation. The Ministry said it would be a breach of privacy if they were revealed. “If the information was to be released then sensitive information would be passed between states and organizations, which would perhaps mean they would be less likely to share such information in the future,” said the Ministry of Security and Justice. Dutch MP Pieter Omtzigt, who is a member of the Christian Democratic Party, has made several requests for the information to be released to the public. “We just do not know if the Netherlands has compromised justice,” he said in reaction to the ministry’s decision. The MP was surprised that this agreement was even signed, never mind kept secret.

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Shiller is a blind man: “If we are to encourage dynamism, we need Keynesian stimulus and other policies that encourage creativity”.

Creativity, Companies, And The Wisdom Of Crowds (Robert Shiller)

Economic growth, as we learned long ago from the works of economists like MIT’s Robert M. Solow, is largely driven by learning and innovation, not just saving and the accumulation of capital. Ultimately, economic progress depends on creativity. That is why fear of “secular stagnation” in today’s advanced economies has many wondering how creativity can be spurred. One prominent argument lately has been that what is needed most is Keynesian economic stimulus – for example, deficit spending. After all, people are most creative when they are active, not when they are unemployed. Others see no connection between stimulus and renewed economic dynamism. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently put it, Europe needs “political courage and creativity rather than billions of euros.” In fact, we need both. If we are to encourage dynamism, we need Keynesian stimulus and other policies that encourage creativity – particularly policies that promote solid financial institutions and social innovation.

In his 2013 book Mass Flourishing, Edmund Phelps argues that we need to promote “a culture protecting and inspiring individuality, imagination, understanding, and self-expression that drives a nation’s indigenous innovation.” He believes that creativity has been stifled by a public philosophy described as corporatism, and that only through thorough reform of our private institutions, financial and others, can individuality and dynamism be restored. Phelps stresses that corporatist thinking has had a long and enduring history, going back to Saint Paul, the author of as many as 14 books of the New Testament. Paul used the human body (corpus in Latin) as a metaphor for society, suggesting that in a healthy society, as in a healthy body, every organ must be preserved and none permitted to die. As a public-policy credo, corporatism has come to mean that the government must support all members of society, whether individuals or organizations, giving support to failing businesses and protecting existing jobs alike.

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Throw a big number out there and see if it sticks.

China Starts $2 Trillion Leap Forward to Slash Pollution (Bloomberg)

China, which does nothing in small doses, is planning an environmental makeover in keeping with the political, cultural and market revolutions it has pursued over the past six decades. In his agreement last week with President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping committed to cap carbon emissions by 2030 and turn to renewable sources for 20% of the country’s energy. His pledge would require China to produce either 67 times more nuclear energy than the country is forecast to have at the end of 2014, 30 times more solar or nine times more wind power – – more non-fossil fuel energy than almost the entire U.S. generating capacity. That means building roughly 1,000 nuclear reactors, 500,000 wind turbines or 50,000 solar farms. The cost will run to almost $2 trillion, holding out the potential of vast riches for nuclear, solar and wind companies that get in on the action.

“China is in the midst of a period of transition, and that calls for a revolution in energy production and consumption, which will to a large extent depend on new energy,” Liang Zhipeng, deputy director of the new energy and renewable energy department under the National Energy Administration, said at a conference in Wuxi outside of Shanghai this month. “Our environment is facing pressure and we must develop clean energy.” By last year, China had already become the world’s largest producer of wind and solar power. Now, with an emerging middle class increasingly outspoken about living in sooty cities reminiscent of Europe’s industrial revolution, China is looking at radical changes in how its economy operates. “China knows that their model, which has done very well up until recent times, has run its course and needs to shift, and they have been talking about this at the highest levels,” said Paul Joffe, senior foreign policy counsel at the World Resources Institute.

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Interesting concept: to meet official goals, ‘We’ll have to suck the carbon out of the air’. We won’t.

The Magical Thought That’s Assumed in Climate Studies (Bloomberg)

Here’s one way to phrase the basic climate change conundrum: There’s a huge gap between the volume of pollution emitted every year and how much scientists say we can safely send aloft. This has a weird implication for potential fixes governments may need in the future. Emission levels in 2020 could end up about 23% higher than what scientists suggest is safe, according to an annual study of the so-called “emissions gap” put out by the UN Environment Program. The carbon overshoot could grow by 2030 to 40%. “Safe” means what the UN-led climate negotiators have defined it to mean: warming of less than two degrees Celsius above global average temperatures from the beginning of the record, or around 1880. But two degrees doesn’t say much to normal people when you’re talking about the temperature of a planet. That’s why scientists have been beating their heads against walls the last several years to translate “two degrees Celsius” into something incrementally more intelligible – more intelligible even than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.

They’ve come up with the idea of a carbon budget, or the volume of pollution we can put into the atmosphere and still have a halfway decent chance of containing the problem. At the rate we’re going, the budget may burn up by the 2040s. Now, in finance, the notion of a budget deficit make sense. When someone overspends, he pays the money back at a later date. Ecological deficits make less sense. How do you pay the ground back in carbon minerals once they’ve been vaporized and are hanging in the atmosphere? Here’s what’s weird, what the Emissions Gap report calls out. It has to do with these “carbon deficits” that result. We’re burning through so much of the budget today that in “safe” projections of the 2070s and 2080s, greenhouse gas emissions must go negative for the climate to stay safe. Smokestacks will have to start inhaling rather than exhaling. We’ll have to suck the carbon out of the air, through reforestation or some as-yet unproven airborne-carbon removal technology.

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This is who we are. This is mankind.

Rhino Poaching Death Toll Reaches Record in South Africa (Bloomberg)

A record 1,020 rhinos have been killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa this year, more than all of 2013 and triple the number four years ago. Kruger National Park, a reserve the size of Israel, has seen 672 rhinos killed since Jan. 1. A total of 1,004 were slaughtered throughout the country in 2013, the Department of Environmental Affairs said today in a statement. The horns are more valuable than gold by weight. Prices for a kilogram of rhino horn range from $65,000 to as much as $95,000 in Asia. “The South African government recognizes that the ongoing killing of the rhino for its horns is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade and that addressing the scourge is not simple,” the department said. Demand for rhino horns has climbed in Asian nations including China and Vietnam because of a belief that they can cure diseases such as cancer.

South Africa has taken measures including setting up an protection zone within Kruger Park, using new technology, intelligence, and moving rhinos to safe areas within South Africa and other countries where they live. Poachers killed 333 rhinos in 2010 and 668 in 2012, Albi Modise, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs, said today in a mobile-phone text message. “Government will continue to strengthen holistic and integrated interventions and explore new innovative options to ensure the long-term survival of the species,” the department said. Authorities have made a record number of arrests for poaching and related activities, according to the department. A total of 344 alleged rhino poachers, couriers and poaching syndicate members have been apprehended this year, compared with 343 in all of last year, Modise said. Most rhinos in South Africa are white rhinos, the bigger of the two types of the animal found in Africa. They can weigh more than 2 metric tons. The horns are largely made up of keratin, a substance similar to human hair.

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The world’s best economic analysts are two Australian comedians. Fitting.

Growth First. Then These Other Things Can Be Dealt With (Clarke&Dawe)

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Nov 032014
 
 November 3, 2014  Posted by at 1:11 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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DPC Masonic Temple, New Orleans 1910

Bank of Japan Bazooka To Spark Currency War (CNBC)
China Faces Trap In Currency War (MarketWatch)
Germany Ready To Accept British Exit From Europe (Daily Mail)
For Japanese, Are Higher Prices Really A Good Thing? (Reuters)
Yen’s Worst Yet to Come in Options After Kuroda Shocks (Bloomberg)
The Experiment that Will Blow Up the World (Tenebrarum)
Boj’s Desperate QE Move To Hurt Japanese Spending Power (Steen Jakobsen)
US Consumers Resisting Enticements To Increase Spending (MarketWatch)
More Than One Fifth Of UK Workers Earn Less Than Living Wage (Guardian)
ECB Skips Fireworks for Day One of New Role as Banking Supervisor (Bloomberg)
Europe’s Crazy Finance Tax (Bloomberg)
Vicious Circle of Bad Loans Ensnaring Italian Companies (Bloomberg)
Portugal Sees Chinese Do 90% of Bids at Property Auction (Bloomberg)
Gold Bulls Retreat With $1.3 Billion Pulled From Funds (Bloomberg)
Globalisation Is Turning In On Itself And It Is Each Man For Himself (Pal)
Wanted: 500,000 New Pilots In China By 2035 (Reuters)
25 Years Ago, As The Berlin Wall Fell, Checks On Capitalism Crumbled (Guardian)
Insects Could Be On Your Dinner Menu, Soon (CNBC)
Greenhouse Gas Levels At Highest Point In 800,000 Years (ABC.au)
UN Sees Irreversible Damage to Planet From Fossil Fuels (Bloomberg)

All Asian countries MUST participate.

Bank of Japan Bazooka To Spark Currency War (CNBC)

The Bank of Japan’s (BoJ) stimulus blitz raises the specter of currency wars as a rapidly weakening yen threatens the competitiveness of export-driven economies, say strategists. “Whenever you have these kinds of disruptive moves by central banks, there’s always going to be fall out effects,” said Boris Schlossberg, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management. Markets were caught off guard by the BoJ’s announcement on Friday that it would expand purchases of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and real estate investment trusts, extend the duration of its portfolio of Japanese government bonds (JGBs), and increase the pace of monetary base expansion. The yen plunged nearly 3% against the U.S. dollar on Friday and extended its selloff on Monday, falling to a fresh 7-year low in early Asian trade. It last traded at 112.71.

“The hottest currency war today is Japan vs Korea. That’s probably the one to keep an eye on. The yen-won cross rate is very sensitive as Japan and Korea compete in a lot of key areas,” said Sean Callow, senior currency strategist at Westpac. The Japanese currency has fallen around 20% against the won since the BoJ launched its unprecedented stimulus program in April 2013. Currency strategists say the BoJ’s actions could encourage the Bank of Korea (BoK) to become more defensive against local currency strength through intervention in the foreign exchange market or a rate cut. “We see increasing risks that it may cut rates by 25 basis points to 1.75% in coming months,” Young Sun Kwon, economist at Nomura wrote in a note late Friday, highlighting that Korea’s export momentum already looks weak.

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“The move will be particularly problematic for China, as its slow-crawling managed rate to the U.S. dollar renders it is effectively defenseless when confronted by currency wars.”

China Faces Trap In Currency War (MarketWatch)

Last Friday, the Bank of Japan effectively tossed a grenade into the region’s currency markets with its surprise announcement of a new round of quantitative easing sending the yen to fresh lows. The move will be particularly problematic for China, as its slow-crawling managed rate to the U.S. dollar renders it is effectively defenseless when confronted by currency wars, in which countries try to steal growth from their trading partners through competitive devaluations. It also comes at a time when Beijing is already battling foes on two fronts: hot-money outflows and an economy flirting with deflation. The consensus is that the world’s largest trading nation will resist the temptation to enter the fray with a competitive devaluation or move to a market-based exchange rate. Yet Japan’s latest actions will hurt, as they hold Beijing’s feet to the fire.

The decision last Friday by the Bank of Japan to boost its bond purchases by more than a third to roughly $725 billion a year, among other actions, sent the yen tumbling to a seven-year low as the dollar rallied to above ¥112. This means the currency of the world’s second-biggest economy has now risen by roughly a third against that of the world’s third-biggest since late 2012. That’s a significant revaluation to swallow by any measure, all the more so as Japan and China are increasingly competing with each other, say analysts. According to new report by HSBC, Japan and China are already rivals in 19 manufactured product lines, and this total is growing. Panasonic has already said it is considering “on-shoring” certain production back to Japan. The other reason Japan’s escalation of QE turns up the heat on China is that it risks exposing the vulnerabilities in Beijing’s piecemeal approach to opening up its capital account.

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Major loss of face for Cameron.

Germany Ready To Accept British Exit From Europe (Daily Mail)

Germany would rather see Britain leave the EU than allow David Cameron to tear up its rules on free movement of labour, Angela Merkel has said. The Chancellor warned the Prime Minister that he is reaching a ‘point of no return’ by pushing for reform of the bloc’s sacred free movement system. The threat has forced Mr Cameron to tone down his ambitions for any deal to curb EU immigration. The pair clashed at a summit in Brussels last month, German magazine Der Spiegel said. Citing senior officials, it said Mrs Merkel told Mr Cameron he was nearing a ‘point of no return’ with plans to introduce quotas for the number of EU workers who can come to Britain.

She threatened to abandon her efforts to keep Britain in the EU unless he backed down. One government insider was quoted on Radio Bavaria saying: ‘The time for talking is close to over. ‘Mrs Merkel feels she has done all she can to placate the UK, but will not accept immigration curbs from EU member states under any circumstances. It has come to a Mexican stand-off and it is now a question of who blinks first.’ Mrs Merkel was confident of winning the battle of wills, the insider added. It came amid reports that Mr Cameron is ditching his quota plan to appease Berlin. Ministers will focus on making the existing rules work better for Britain. A source said Mr Cameron’s plans – to be outlined before Christmas – would stretch EU rules ‘to their limits’.

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Why Abenomics and Kuroda will fail: “If prices rise, people might not buy as much.” An entirely overlooked mechanism. Abe et all think that if prices rise, people will spend more, because they’re afraid they’ll rise more.

For Japanese, Are Higher Prices Really A Good Thing? (Reuters)

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda does not need to convince Japanese people like Kazue Shibata that deflation brings problems, but getting them to believe that higher prices will make things better is proving to be a harder sell. Shibata, 65, who runs a small dress shop in central Tokyo, worries the BOJ’s mission to hit a 2% inflation target could end up driving business away unless people also have more money in their pockets. “If prices rise, people might not buy as much,” she said, echoing a concern of many private-sector economists. On Friday, Kuroda’s BOJ doubled down on a high-stakes bet that the central bank can shake Japan’s consumers from a defensive set of expectations hardened by a decade and a half of era of falling prices, lower incomes and stop-and-go growth. “It’s important for the BOJ to strongly commit to achieving its price target to get that price target firmly embedded in people’s mindset,” Kuroda said at a news conference on Friday, after the BOJ stunned markets with an unexpected expansion of its monetary stimulus program.

“It won’t do much good in trying to shake off the public’s deflation mindset if you just say inflation will reach 2% some day,” Kuroda said. At the core of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” agenda is the assumption that the outlook for sustained inflation will prompt consumers to anticipate rising prices, and that consumption will rise as a result. That represents a sea change for a country used to deflation, where clinging to cash today meant greater buying power tomorrow, a set of expectations that has proven hard to shake a year-and-a-half into an unprecedented easing by the BOJ. Kaoru Sakai, 65, who runs a hair salon in Tokyo, did not raise prices even after the national sales tax was raised to 8% to 5% in April, worried the sticker shock could scare away business. “The fact is that people don’t feel confident about the future,” Sakai said. “Our society and economy has tilted people toward lower-end options. For example, it’s like people choosing to eat at fast-food places, or standing-only soba shops even when they could, realistically, eat at proper restaurants.”

Unless Japanese people see real progress in solving fundamental problems, such as lack of wage growth, a shrinking manufacturing base, and an unsustainable welfare system, many might prefer the problem they know to the one Kuroda hopes will replace it. Classical economics would argue that consumers should welcome deflation, because it increases their purchasing power, an argument some consumers echo. “Deflation reflects the underlying economy. Our population is decreasing, production is low and we’re not seeing innovation. We are losing power compared with other countries,” said Yohei Tanaka, 33, an accountant in Tokyo. “I don’t think this is the time to drive the economy to inflation. I don’t think inflation is the end solution. Deflation, in a certain way, is good.”

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The yen will be reduced to something resembling a penny stock.

Yen’s Worst Yet to Come in Options After Kuroda Shocks (Bloomberg)

The worst is yet to come for the yen after Japan’s two-pronged attack on deflation sent the currency tumbling to its weakest level in almost seven years. Option prices show traders see a 6%chance the yen, which has already slumped 6.8% this year, will drop an additional 1.8% to 115 per dollar in the next three months, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s up from 18% on Oct. 30, the day before authorities surprised investors by saying the government pension fund will invest more of its money overseas and Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda will expand currency depreciating stimulus.

“The BOJ has dropped another stimulus bombshell,” Daisaku Ueno, the chief currency strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities Co. in Tokyo, said by phone on Oct. 31. “It’s quite possible the yen will drop to 112 or 113 per dollar by the end of the year, or even 115.” That level – last reached in November 2007 – is already starting to become the consensus. Companies from Nomura Holdings Inc., Japan’s biggest brokerage, to JPMorgan Chase & Co. cut their year-end forecast to 115 per dollar on Friday, while Goldman Sachs said the day’s announcements made its estimate for the yen to reach that level in 12 months suddenly seem “conservative.”

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“… the markets are pouncing on the yen because they are forward-looking: the BoJ is monetizing ever more government debt and this is expected to continue, because the public debtberg has become too large to be funded by any other means. In spite of the relatively low money supply growth this debt monetization has produced so far, it also creates the perverse situation that an ever greater portion of the government’s outstanding stock of debt consists actually of debt the government literally “owes to itself”.

The Experiment that Will Blow Up the World (Tenebrarum)

In order to explain why the pursuit of Kuroda’s policy is edging ever closer to a catastrophic outcome, we have to delve a bit into the details of Japan’s monetary data. In spite of the BoJ’s “QE” reaching record highs, it mainly creates bank reserves and furthers carry trades. The economy sees no private credit growth so far. Commercial banks in Japan continue to shrink the stock of fiduciary media – this is to say, they are reducing outstanding credit, which makes more and more unbacked deposit money disappear. Hence, Japan’s money supply growth has recently decline to a mere 4.3% year-on-year, as the rate of contraction in outstanding fiduciary media (i.e., uncovered money substitutes) has accelerated to 9.4% annualized in spite of the BoJ’s pumping. The reason is a technical one: contrary to the Fed, the BoJ buys most of the securities it acquires in terms of its “QE” operations directly from banks – this creates new bank reserves at the BoJ, but no new deposit money.

By contrast, the Fed buys only from primary dealers, which are legally non-banks (even though most of them belong to banks). This creates both bank reserves and deposit money concurrently. The BoJ’s actions can only directly inflate the money supply to the extent it buys securities from non-banks, e.g. when it buys stocks in REITs to prop up the Nikkei. In short, the effectiveness of the BoJ’s pumping depends on the extent to which commercial banks are prepared to employ additional bank reserves to pyramid new credit atop them and thereby create additional fiduciary media. Japan’s banks are doing the exact opposite, mainly because there simply isn’t sufficient demand for credit. Why would anyone borrow more money, given Japan’s demographic situation?

However, one result of this is that an ever larger portion of Japan’s money supply actually consists of covered money substitutes – deposit money that is “backed” by standard money. Covered money substitutes have grown by more than 77% over the past year. Bank reserves can be transformed into currency when customers withdraw cash from their deposits, hence to the extent that deposit money is “backed” by bank reserves, it ceases to be a form of circulation credit. The narrow money supply in total now amounts to roughly 595 trillion yen; of this, roughly 139 trillion yen consist covered money substitutes and 83.4 trillion yen consist of currency (outstanding banknotes in circulation). Thus the stock of fiduciary media has shrunk to 372.6 trillion yen. It is well known that Japan has a very high public-debt-to GDP ratio. Even with the recent economic upswing, its budget deficit for the current year is projected to clock in at more than 7% of GDP – the latest in a string of huge annual deficits. What is less well known is the ratio of public debt to tax revenues, which is actually the more relevant datum.

We conclude from this that the markets are pouncing on the yen because they are forward-looking: the BoJ is monetizing ever more government debt and this is expected to continue, because the public debtberg has become too large to be funded by any other means. In spite of the relatively low money supply growth this debt monetization has produced so far, it also creates the perverse situation that an ever greater portion of the government’s outstanding stock of debt consists actually of debt the government literally “owes to itself”. On the surface, this monetarist wizardry suggests that one can indeed “get something for nothing” – but that just isn’t true. Deep down, market participants know that it isn’t true – so even though they are celebrating the promise of more liquidity by sending Japanese stocks soaring, they are also creating a fault line – and that fault line is the external value of the yen.

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” … central banks, even the desperate ones like BoJ, are and remain one-trick-pony institutions”

Boj’s Desperate QE Move To Hurt Japanese Spending Power (Steen Jakobsen)

The Bank of Japan has increased the targeted monetary base from JPY 60-70 trillion to JPY 80 trillion an increase of 25-35% and an almost desperate move to keep the Abenomics’ wheels going. The decision is quite controversial as the vote was a narrow 5/4. This is extremely unusual as big decisions like these are generally only done with full consensus, but it clearly shows Abenomics is running out of time and room as core-inflation, excluding tax, was at 1.1% vs. the 2.0% target. The International Monetary Fund has been critical of Abenomics recently telling Japan that is falling short of helping the economy. From a market perspective the move [Friday] was almost perfectly timed coming on the heels of a Federal Open Market Committee meeting which ended quantitative easing and expose the big difference on future monetary paths between the BoJ and the Fed.

There is, however, a dark side to this big move. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs and needs to decide soon on whether to increase sales tax, VAT, again or disappoint on his third arrow. Abenomics has not deserved its name as a new approach. it has been all about printing money and making the state take a bigger and bigger role. It is hardly a new policy but more a reflection on an inability to change a conservative society with poor demographics. Tactical and trading wise, the USDJPY has reached a new high and it’s hard to fade a central so desperate is very likely as US dollar strength the name of the game through Mid-November. The easier monetary policy will force USDJPY and NIKKEI higher as it’s a one-way street, but it will more importantly force Japanese banks to lend out and overseas. I see/hear desperate Japanese bankers trolling the world to find things to finance and it seems they are in desperate need of US dollar funding (I.e: they have not hedged proportionally).

This could make USDJPY test 125/135 over coming months but the “risk” remains China, which even prior to this action was upset at the ‘beggar thy neighbour’ policy of Japan. Overall, tactically, it confirms the world is again moving towards lower yields in G10. A new low remains my only and main call and furthermore as big a move as this is, it also tells a story of how central banks, even the desperate ones like BoJ, are and remain one-trick-pony institutions. Personally I see this as the final round – Japan was ALWAYS going to give it one more shot – now it happened.

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They have no money left to spend. And you want to tell me your economy is doing well?

US Consumers Resisting Enticements To Increase Spending (MarketWatch)

The U.S. is adding jobs at the fastest rate since the end of the Great Recession and another strong month of hiring is expected in October, but Americans still aren’t spending like good times are here to stay. The lackluster pace of consumer spending — outlays fell in September for the first time in eight months — largely explains why the U.S. is only growing at a post-recession annual average of 2.2%. Yet most economists think that could change in the near future. The reason: wages finally appear to be moving higher as the unemployment rate falls and companies find it harder to attracted talented workers. Employment costs jump for second straight quarter.

Even more jobs and higher pay for the average worker, however, might not be enough to get consumers to sharply boost spending, other economists say. Despite rising consumer confidence, they point out, many Americans still aren’t sharing in the spoils of a healing economy. And many bear psychological scars from the Great Recession that impel them to save more than they used to in order to protect themselves against another downturn. The U.S. savings rate, for example, rose to 5.6% in September to match a two-year peak, putting it twice as high as it was in the last year before the recession. “The economy is doing well for some people but very poorly for many others,” said Joshua Shapiro, chief economist at MFR Inc. in New York. “People understand that things are improving slowly, but until they see it in their paychecks it’s hard to truly believe that.”

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Three-quarters of young people make less than a living wage. And you want to tell me your economy is doing well?

More Than One Fifth Of UK Workers Earn Less Than Living Wage (Guardian)

More than a fifth of UK workers earn less than the living wage, with bar staff and shop assistants among the most likely to live “hand to mouth” because of low pay, a report warns on Monday. Published to mark living wage week, the research also finds that younger workers, women and part-timers are more likely to be paid less than the living wage, a voluntary threshold calculated to provide a basic but decent standard of living. New living wage rates will be announced on Monday, with the current rate at £8.80 per hour in London and £7.65 elsewhere. The report by consultancy firm KPMG adds to evidence of low pay remaining prevalent in Britain, despite the economic recovery. The proportion of employees on less than the living wage is now 22%, up from 21% last year, the study found. In real terms, that was a rise of 147,000 people to 5.28 million.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) urged more employers to adopt the pay benchmark, following news that more than 1,000 companies representing around 60,000 employees are now committed to the wage and will adopt the new rate on Monday. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said: “Low pay is blighting the lives of millions of families. And it’s adding to the deficit because it means more spent on tax credits and less collected in tax. We have the wrong kind of recovery with the wrong kind of jobs – we need to create far more living wage jobs, with decent hours and permanent contracts.” Alan Milburn, the government’s social mobility tsar, said both employers and government must do more to make Britain a living wage country. “This research is further proof that more workers are getting stuck in low paid work with little opportunity for progression,” said the former Labour cabinet minister, now chair of the government’s Commission on Social Mobility.

“It is welcome that the number of accredited living wage firms has increased. But far more needs to be done to help millions of people move from low pay to living pay.” The research, conducted by Markit for KPMG, shows 43% of part-time workers earn less than the living wage, compared with 13% of full-time employees. It found 72% of 18-21 year olds were earning less than the living wage, compared with just 15% of those aged 30-39. One in four women earn less than the benchmark, compared to 16% of men. “Far too many UK employees are stuck in the spiral of low pay,” said Mike Kelly, head of living wage at KPMG. “With the cost of living still high, the squeeze on household finances remains acute, meaning that the reality for many is that they are forced to live hand to mouth,” added Kelly, also chair of the Living Wage Foundation.

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All the wrong people do a job the ECB should never have been assigned. They can only make things worse.

ECB Skips Fireworks for Day One of New Role as Banking Supervisor (Bloomberg)

The European Central Bank is about to achieve its biggest expansion of powers since the start of the euro. No celebrations are planned. As the Single Supervisory Mechanism takes charge of the euro area’s 120 biggest institutions tomorrow, officials aren’t in the mood for fanfare. Instead, staff at the ECB’s new overseer are preparing to monitor capital issuance by banks, and processing the results of a year-long asset review that revealed a stash of soured loans in the bloc now amounts to almost €900 billion ($1.1 trillion). Led by France’s Daniele Nouy, the SSM in Frankfurt will immediately set about trying to blend 18 sets of national supervisory habits into pan-European consistency, and prod banks to take more precautions against crises. While the ECB will have the status of a new heavyweight among global regulators, that role carries with it the burden of restoring confidence in a battered banking system vulnerable to renewed economic shocks. “They have an awful lot on their plate from day one,” said Guntram Wolff, Director of the Bruegel institute in Brussels.

“There’s a very big pile of bad loans, profitability in this environment is going to be difficult, and the banking system itself probably needs to be restructured. The question is how the new supervisor can address that.” [..] While the ECB found an overall shortfall of €9.47 billion euros, that becomes €6.35 billion when discounting five failing lenders that have agreed restructuring plans or are in resolution. The outstanding sum “doesn’t seem insurmountable,” Mathias Dewatripont, a Belgian member of the new SSM board, said last week in Berlin. “I would still be happier if we had more capital in the system.” Soon to be in charge of that system is a new corps of almost 1,000 bank supervisors drawn from all over Europe, including existing authorities and the private sector. Notables among senior management include Stefan Walter, a former official of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who will lead oversight of the biggest lenders including Deutsche Bank, and Finland’s Jukka Vesala, who oversaw the Comprehensive Assessment.

They inherit a banking industry loaded with unpaid debt. While the ECB says credit standards eased for a second quarter in the three months through September, an extra €136 billion in bad loans identified by the Comprehensive Assessment could hamper a return to growth. The path towards managing that legacy will be trodden by both the ECB’s new cadres and 5,000 national supervisors who remain in charge of the thousands of smaller banks in the euro region. The Frankfurt hub will make its presence felt by having its say on everything from bank licensing to merger approval, imposing fines and influencing international regulation.

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is it really that crazy to tax what cost us all those trillions? Bloomberg’s ed. staff is not its brightest segment.

Europe’s Crazy Finance Tax (Bloomberg)

Wrangling among the 11 euro-region nations planning to tax financial transactions is further evidence, if any were needed, that the levy is a bad idea that should be abandoned. The European Commission acknowledges that the latest version of its planned financial transactions tax (or Tobin tax, or Robin Hood tax, if you prefer) isn’t the best option. That, it says, would be a globally coordinated toll on trading – which is laughably unlikely. The narrower the tax’s coverage, the less sense it makes. That’s why Europe’s proposed transactions tax isn’t even second-best: An earlier effort to apply it across all 27 European Union members failed. In its current diluted form, the tax would charge 0.1% for nonderivative securities such as government bonds or company shares, and 0.01% on the notional value of derivatives trades. Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain are the willing 11 countries; but they can’t agree on how to divvy up the proceeds.

They’re struggling to meet a self-imposed deadline for an agreement by the end of the year, with the duty scheduled to be imposed by the end of 2015. The most fundamental question about the tax still hasn’t been answered – what’s it for? If the aim is to reduce volatility and speculation in the securities markets, it’s far from clear that the tax would work, according to a study by the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. If the idea is to strengthen the economy, the tax is a failure at the planning stage. Depending on how the proceeds were spent, the commission itself estimates the transactions tax would raise the cost of capital and could cut as much as 0.28% from gross domestic product — a little more than it would raise in extra revenue. With the bloc threatening to slide back into recession, you’d think any policy that risked hurting growth would be rejected out of hand. The chief motivation for the tax is populist politics: It’s mostly about vengeance for the financial crisis. Bashing bankers, regardless of the collateral damage, remains popular with European politicians.

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Get out of the EU!

Vicious Circle of Bad Loans Ensnaring Italian Companies (Bloomberg)

Italian borrowers are becoming trapped in a vicious circle. As bank loans turn sour at the rate of about €2 billion ($2.5 billion) a month, corporate lending is dwindling to the least in more than a decade. Lenders are sitting on a total €174 billion of non-performing loans, an increase of 62% from three years ago, according to the latest data from Bank of Italy. New corporate lending dropped in August to €21 billion, the lowest since at least 2003, the data show. With public debt of more than €2 trillion, Italy is battling the longest economic slump since World War II that has thrown millions of people out of work. The scarcity of lending is spurring the European Central Bank’s asset purchase program with President Mario Draghi seeking to boost economic growth by freeing up bank balance sheets.

“Banks’ failure to deal with the soured loans is partly to blame for Italy’s worsening recession,” said Riccardo Serrini, chief executive officer at Prelios Credit Servicing, a Milan-based adviser for debt sales. “Without the debt burden, they could be helping to boost the economy.” Unlike lenders from Spain to the U.K., Italian banks are proving unable, or unwilling, to offload bad debts and free up their balance sheets. About €11 billion of loans where borrowers have fallen behind on payments were sold by Italian institutions since 2011, compared with €189 billion for all European lenders, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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Our world today: China prints $25 trillion and buys up Europe’s oldest civilizations with it.

Portugal Sees Chinese Do 90% of Bids at Property Auction (Bloomberg)

As bargain-hunters waited in a packed room at a property auction in Lisbon last month, one language dominated their chat: Mandarin. About 90% of the bidders for the government-owned apartments and stores on offer were Chinese, according to Jorge Oliveira, the official overseeing the asset sale. They ended up acquiring more than two-thirds of the 45 properties, he said. “A Portuguese investor bought a store to start a bakery and coffee shop, but most of the properties went to the Chinese,” Oliveira said in an interview after the sale.

Portugal is the latest target for Chinese investors who have been acquiring buildings around the world as China allows freer movement of funds in and out of the country. The Chinese accounted for almost one in five foreign property purchases in Portugal during the first nine months, according to the Lisbon-based Portuguese Real Estate Professionals and Brokers Association. Bing Wong, a 52-year-old store-owner from Shanghai who attended the Oct. 24 auction, has been buying properties in Lisbon to create a network of outlets to serve the biggest concentration of Chinese residents in Portugal. “Lisbon is cheap if you compare it with other cities,” he said. “The economy is improving and there are some good deals to be done here.”

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Expect major swings. Like everywhere else.

Gold Bulls Retreat With $1.3 Billion Pulled From Funds (Bloomberg)

Speculators cut their bullish gold bets before prices tumbled to the lowest since 2010 as demand for a hedge against inflation diminished. The net-long position in New York futures and options declined for the first time in three weeks, U.S. government data show. Gains for the American economy have eroded the appeal of bullion as a haven and helped boost the dollar to a four-year high. The Federal Reserve said last week it saw enough improvement to end its bond-buying stimulus program. More than $1.3 billion was pulled from U.S. exchange-traded products tracking precious metals in October, the biggest monthly decline this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Societe Generale’s Michael Haigh, the analyst who correctly predicted gold’s slump into a bear market last year, said the crash in oil prices underscores why inflation is unlikely to accelerate and adds “ammunition” to the pressure on bullion. “We are betting on lower gold prices and telling our clients that they should have zero allocation in gold,” Atul Lele, who helps oversee $5.1 billion as the chief investment officer at Deltec International Group, said Oct. 31. “The dollar will continue to strengthen as other nations are printing money at a time when the U.S. has taken stimulus off the table. U.S. growth is another reason why people will stay away from gold.” [..] Gold climbed 70% from December 2008 to June 2011 as the U.S. central bank bought debt and held borrowing costs near 0% in a bid to shore up growth. Prices slumped 28% last year, the most in three decades. The Fed’s $4 trillion of bond purchases since 2008 have yet to generate the runaway inflation that some gold buyers expected.

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That’s the very essence of globalization.

Globalisation Is Turning In On Itself And It Is Each Man For Himself (Pal)

A few things are also appearing on my radar screen – future visions if you like – that I want to share with you. These are not conclusive, but rather a stream of unfiltered thoughts, which will develop over time. I virtually never use geopolitics to assess asset markets. I have learned the hard way over time that it is the way to the poor house. Economies run financial markets, not wars. But I do note that at the margin, the world’s geopolitics is changing. Gone are the fluffy days of Putin shaking hands with George Bush agreeing to keep the world supplied with oil, gone are the days of China helping US firms make profits using their cheap labour, gone are open-for-business days of Europe, gone is the Japanese military neutrality, gone are the Saudis as an unshakeable ally, gone is Israel also a steadfast ally, etc. What is happening is something deeply concerning. Globalisation is turning in on itself and it is each man for himself. This was always going to be the outcome of an imbalanced, debt-drowning world.

Everyone wants a cheap currency and since that doesn’t work then everyone wants to find some way to get the upper hand on their own terms. I have had recent conversations with a long-term strategy group within the Pentagon about economic threats to the US and the risk of global collapse, and the potential for it to turn into a military outcome. It seems that the Department of Defence’s deep thinkers are mulling over the kinds of issues we all are – is the inevitable outcome a military one? They don’t know either but they give it a probability and thus need to understand it and plan for it. My issue has been for a long time that the true threat to the world is not the Muslim nations we so like to beat as a scapegoat (gotta have an enemy, right?) but China. The Pentagon’s think-tank also agrees. If China has an economic collapse, which again is a high probability event, then what are the odds of massive civil unrest?

And would a military conflict put the people back on the side of the government (i.e. how the Nazis came to power)? I agree. I think this is the risk somewhere down the road. I also, along with this defence strategy group, think that there is a risk that the Western powers meddling in the time of bad economic crisis will form strong alliances between let’s say Russia and China. In direct opposition to the government, many people inside the Pentagon are saying, “Please don’t fuck with Russia, they are not threatening us militarily but securing their own borders, we cannot control the outcomes, and most of them are bad, probably not militarily but economically, and economic instability causes outcomes we can’t forecast – even seizing the assets of powerful Russians has unintended consequences”. Here, here. The law of unintended circumstances is a bitch.

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That’s great news!

Wanted: 500,000 New Pilots In China By 2035 (Reuters)

China’s national civil aviation authority says the country will need to train about half a million civilian pilots by 2035, up from just a few thousand now, as wannabe flyers chase dreams of landing lucrative jobs at new air service operators. The aviation boom comes as China allows private planes to fly below 1,000 meters from next year without military approval, seeking to boost its transport infrastructure. Commercial airlines aren’t affected, but more than 200 new firms have applied for general aviation operating licences, while China’s high-rollers are also eager for permits to fly their own planes.

The civil aviation authority’s own training unit can only handle up to 100 students a year. With the rest of China’s 12 or so existing pilot schools bursting at the seams, foreign players are joining local firms in laying the groundwork for new courses that can run to hundreds of thousands of dollars per trainee. “The first batch of students we enrolled in 2010 were mostly business owners interested in getting a private license,” said Sun Fengwei, deputy chief of the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s (CAAC) pilot school. “But now more and more young people also want to learn flying so that they can get a job at general aviation companies.”

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Reasonable historic view.

25 Years Ago, As The Berlin Wall Fell, Checks On Capitalism Crumbled (Guardian)

It was 25 years ago this month that communism ceased to be a threat to the west and to the free market. When sledgehammers started to dismantle the Berlin Wall in November 1989, an experiment with the command economy begun in St Petersburg more than 70 years before was in effect over, even before the Soviet Union fell apart. The immediate cause for the collapse of communism was that Moscow could not keep pace with Washington in the arms race of the 1980s. Higher defence spending put pressure on an ossifying Soviet economy. Consumer goods were scarce. Living standards suffered. But the problems went deeper. The Soviet Union came to grief because of a lack of trust. The economy delivered only for a small, privileged elite who had access to imported western goods. What started with the best of intentions in 1917 ended tarnished by corruption. The Soviet Union was eaten away from within. As it turned out, the end of the cold war was not unbridled good news for the citizens of the west.

For a large part of the postwar era, the Soviet Union was seen as a real threat and even in the 1980s there was little inkling that it would disappear so quickly. A powerful country with a rival ideology and a strong military acted as a restraint on the west. The fear that workers could “go red” meant they had to be kept happy. The proceeds of growth were shared. Welfare benefits were generous. Investment in public infrastructure was high. There was no need to be so generous once the Soviet Union was no more. What was known as neoliberal economics was born in the 1970s, but it was not until the 1990s that market forces reigned supreme. The free market spread to poorer parts of the world where it had previously been off limits, expanding the global workforce. That meant cheaper goods but it also put downward pressure on wages. What’s more, there was no longer any need to be inhibited. Those running companies could take a bigger slice of profits because there was nowhere else for workers to go. If citizens did not like “reform” of welfare states, they just had to lump it.

And, despite some grumbles, that’s pretty much what they did until the global financial crisis of 2008. This was a blow to the prevailing free-market orthodoxy for three reasons. First, it was the crash that should never have happened. Economists had constructed models that showed markets were always rational and self-correcting. It was quite a shock to find that they weren’t. Second, the financial crash made countries poorer. Deep recessions have been followed by historically weak recoveries characterised by falling real wages and cuts in benefits. Finally, the crisis and its aftermath have revealed the dark side of the post-cold war model. Instead of trickle down, there has been trickle up. Instead of the triumph of democracy, there has been the triumph of the elites.

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A local supermarket had them on the menu just last week.

Insects Could Be On Your Dinner Menu, Soon (CNBC)

Feeding the world’s growing population is a major issue for global policy makers, and Euromonitor thinks it has the answer: insects. The thought of eating insects may turn the stomachs in the western world, but an estimated 2 billion people worldwide eat insects, Euromonitor said in a report. Eating insects for their taste and nutritional value is popular in many developing regions of central and South America, Africa and Asia. Insects contain high levels of protein, minerals and vitamins, and are considered a healthier alternative to meat. Insects could therefore provide a viable solution to food shortages and the increasing demand for meat, the Euromonitor report said. Consumer expenditure on meat will rise by 87.9% in emerging and developing countries in 2014-2030, more than three times higher than the equivalent 25.3% growth in developed economies, according to Euromonitor’s forecasts.

At the same time, global food supply issues have become a more prominent concern. Extreme weather cycles have played havoc with harvests and crops leading to extreme spikes in food prices, protectionist policies and crop hoarding. In the past three years, Australia, Canada, China, Russia and the U.S. have all suffered huge harvest losses from floods and droughts, Reuters reported. Earlier this year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that global food production needed to increase by 60% by mid-century or risk food shortages that could bring social unrest and civil wars. “The most obvious challenge to insects becoming a viable food source for the future is that negative attitudes in Western cultures towards insects as food need to change,” said Media Eghbal, head of countries’ analysis at Euromonitor. Eghbal pointed out that as a result of the western world’s more squeamish palate, a more realistic solution could be using more insects in animal feed, demand for which is bound to increase as global demand for meat rises.

The report also highlighted other benefits of using insects as a source of food. Farming insects is better for the environment than traditional livestock farming as the process requires less land and water, it said, and produces less greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also cheaper. Consumers would pay less for these food products, which could help reduce poverty and boost economic growth. Insects are a popular source of food in countries including Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Africa, Mexico, Columbia and New Guinea. The most popular delicacies include crickets, grasshoppers, ants, scorpions, tarantulas and various species of caterpillar, according to www.insectsarefood.com.

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In human history, that’s a very long time.

Greenhouse Gas Levels At Highest Point In 800,000 Years (ABC.au)

The world’s top scientists have given their clearest warning yet of the severe and irreversible impacts of climate change. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its synthesis report, a summary of its last three reports. It warns greenhouse gas levels are at their highest they have been in 800,000 years, with recent increases mostly due to the burning of fossil fuels. “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,” the report said. “Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks.”

IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri said the comprehensive report brings together “all the pieces of the puzzle” in climate research and predictions. “It’s not discrete, and [highlights] distinct elements of climate change that people have to deal with, but [also] how you might be able to deal with this problem on a comprehensive basis by understanding how these pieces of the puzzle actually come together,” Dr Pachauri said. The report reiterates that the planet is unequivocally warming, that burning fossil fuels is significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions and the effects of climate change – like sea level rises – are already being felt.It also said most of the world’s electricity should be produced from low carbon sources by 2050 and that fossil fuel burning for power should be virtually stopped by the end of the century.

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” … it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice economic growth”. What if it did? Why does an Institute for Climate Impact Research have a chief economist in the first place?

UN Sees Irreversible Damage to Planet From Fossil Fuels (Bloomberg)

Humans are causing irreversible damage to the planet from burning fossil fuels, the biggest ever study of the available science concluded in a report designed to spur the fight against climate change. There’s a high risk of widespread harm from rising global temperatures, including floods, drought, extinction of species and ocean acidification, if the trend for increasing carbon emissions continues, a panel convened by a United Nations body said today in Copenhagen. Humans can avoid the worst if they significantly cut emissions and do so swiftly, it said. “We must act quickly and decisively if we want to avoid increasingly disruptive outcomes,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in Copenhagen. “If we continue business-as-usual, our opportunity to keep temperature rises below” the internationally agreed target of 2 degrees Celsius, “will slip away within the next decades,” he said.

The report is designed to guide policy makers around the world in writing laws and regulations that will curb greenhouse gases and protect nations most at risk from climate change. It will also feed into talks among 195 nations working on an international agreement to rein in emissions that envoys aim to reach in Paris in December 2015. “We need to get to zero emissions by the end of this century” to keep global warming below dangerous levels, Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, outside Berlin, and a co-author of the report, said in a telephone interview. “This requires a huge transformation, but it doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice economic growth.”

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 October 23, 2014  Posted by at 10:38 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  6 Responses »
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DPC Bromfield Street in Boston 1908

Bond Funds Stock Up On Treasuries In Prep For Market Shock (Reuters)
Investors Pull Shale Money, Put Brakes on Wall Street-Funded Boom (Bloomberg)
Solid Majority In US Says Country ‘Out Of Control’ (CNBC)
It Will Take 398,879,561 Years To Pay Off The US Government Debt (Black)
Don’t Be Distracted by the Pass Rate in ECB’s Bank Exams (Bloomberg)
Why It’s Now Too Late For Germany To Rescue The Eurozone Alone (Telegraph)
Why ‘Italy Doesn’t Need Germany’s Help’ (CNBC)
Europe Can Learn From US And Make Each State Liable For Its Own Debt (Sinn)
‘Poets and Alchemists’: Berlin and Paris Undermine Euro Stability (Spiegel)
S&P Warns Crisis Not Over As France Output Tumbles (CNBC)
Central Banker Admits QE Leads To Wealth Inequality (Zero Hedge)
French Envoy To US Says ‘Poker Player’ Putin Bluffed and Won (Bloomberg)
Canada’s Biggest Banks Say Worst to Come for Loonie (Bloomberg)
The Financialization of Life (Real News Network)
Oil Slump Leaves Russia Even Weaker Than Decaying Soviet Union (AEP)
Big Tobacco Puts Countries On Trial As Concerns Over TTIP Mount (Independent)
Tesco’s Profits Black Hole Bigger Than Expected (Guardian)
EU Braces for Battle to Set Energy, CO2 Goals for Next Decade (Bloomberg)
Several Factors Conspire To Increase Fossil Fuel Use (FT)
Water Crisis Seen Worsening as Sao Paulo Nears ‘Collapse’ (Bloomberg)
Some US Hospitals Weigh Withholding Care To Ebola Patients (Reuters)

Too many kinds of bonds carry too much risk going forward.

Bond Funds Stock Up On Treasuries In Prep For Market Shock (Reuters)

U.S. corporate bond funds this year are adding Treasuries to their holdings at more than twice the rate of corporate debt amid concern that the struggling European economy and potential changes in Federal Reserve policy will drag down profits at U.S. corporations. Through September, corporate bond portfolios boosted their holdings of U.S. government debt by 15%, compared with a 6.5% increase in corporate bonds during the same period, according to Lipper Inc data. The funds now hold about $13 billion in Treasuries, 15% more than the $11.3 billion they held at the end of 2013. Corporate bond funds typically invest in a range of debt that includes mortgage-backed securities, U.S. Treasuries and bonds backed by student loans, credit cards and auto loans. Some corporate junk bond funds have guidelines that allow them to buy individual stocks. The move to buy Treasuries, which are more easily traded than most corporate bonds, show that managers anticipate market turmoil that could lead to redemption demands from investors.

Matt Toms, head of fixed income at New York-based Voya Investment Management, said he has cut exposure to corporate bonds in favor of mortgage-backed securities, for example. In particular, he has reduced corporate debt issued by U.S. financial companies because of their exposure to the weak European economy. He sees mortgage-backed bonds as more U.S.-centric because they are backed by the ability of American homeowners to make good on their monthly mortgage payments. “The volatility in Europe could translate more quickly through the corporate debt issued by U.S. banks,” Toms said. A year ago, the Voya Intermediate Bond Fund’s top 10 holdings included debt issued by Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs. But more recently, none of those banks’ debt cracked the top 10 holdings of the fund, disclosures show. Toms, who runs the $1.9 billion Voya Intermediate Bond Fund, said nearly two-thirds of the portfolio’s assets are in government bonds or government-related securities. “That’s a highly liquid pool,” he said.

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“The drop wiped $158.6 billion off the market value of 75 shale producers since the end of August.” Most of it borrowed money. That’s a lot of mullah.

Investors Pull Shale Money, Put Brakes on Wall Street-Funded Boom (Bloomberg)

Falling oil prices are testing investors’ commitment to the Wall Street-funded shale boom. Energy stocks led the plunge earlier this month in U.S. equities and the cost of borrowing rose. The Energy Select Sector Index is down 14% since the end of August, compared with 3.8% for the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The yield for 190 bonds issued by U.S. shale companies increased by an average of 1.16 percentage points. Investors’ sentiment toward the oil and gas industry has “certainly changed in the last 30 days,” said Ron Ormand, managing director of investment banking for New York-based MLV & Co. with more than 30 years of experience in energy. “I don’t think the boom is over but I do think we’re in a period now where people are going to start evaluating their budgets.” What distinguishes this U.S. energy boom from the way the industry operated in the past is the involvement of outside investors. In 1994, drillers funded 42% of their own capital spending, according to an Independent Petroleum Association of America member survey.

Today, shale companies are outspending their cash flow by 50% thanks to borrowed money, according to the IPAA. They’re selling more than twice as much equity to the public as they did 10 years ago, according to Tudor Pickering Holt, a Houston investment bank. “After the tech bubble and then the real estate bubble, Wall Street had to put its money somewhere, and it looks like they put a lot of it into domestic onshore oil and gas production,” said Michael Webber, the deputy director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, who advises private investors. West Texas Intermediate, the benchmark U.S. oil price, has fallen 25% since its recent peak on June 20. Between the S&P 500’s record high on Sept. 18 and its five-month low on Oct. 15, energy companies led the index down 14%, more than any other industry, data compiled by Bloomberg show. When the market rebounded on Oct. 16, energy again took the lead, gaining 1.7%. The drop wiped $158.6 billion off the market value of 75 shale producers since the end of August.

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“Such an environment would tend to favor Republicans, but their advantage is limited by the fact that people don’t like them, either.”

Solid Majority In US Says Country ‘Out Of Control’ (CNBC)

With just two weeks to go until Election Day, a clear picture of the American electorate is emerging, and it is not pretty, for either party. The country is anxious about the economy, Ebola and Islamic extremists, and does not really feel Republicans or Democrats have solutions to any of these vexing problems. The latest Politico Battleground Poll of likely voters in key House and Senate races finds that 50% say the nation is “off on the wrong track” while just 20% say things are “generally headed in the right direction.” A remarkable 64% say things in the U.S. are “out of control” while just 36% say the U.S. is in “good position to meet its economic and national security challenges.” The economy continues to dominant the issue landscape with 40% rating it the top issue, to 20% for national security. President Barack Obama remains mired in negative territory, with 47% approving of his job performance and 53% disapproving.

Such an environment would tend to favor Republicans, but their advantage is limited by the fact that people don’t like them, either. In total, 38% approve of Democrats in Congress, while just 30% approve of Republicans. On the generic ballot questions, Democrats enjoy 41% support (including the independent Senate candidate in Kansas) while Republicans get 36%. That’s hardly the backdrop for a massive GOP wave, though the polls suggest Republicans are still significant favorites to pick up the six seats they need to control the Senate next year. The Ebola outbreak has clearly helped shape the final weeks in several Senate races, emerging as a significant wild card issue. In the Politico poll, only 22% of respondents said they had “a lot of confidence” that the federal government is doing all it can to contain the deadly disease. And the poll finished on Oct. 11, before the hospitalization of a second Dallas nurse.

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Work-years, that is. Not a bad concept.

It Will Take 398,879,561 Years To Pay Off The US Government Debt (Black)

The US government’s debt is getting close to reaching another round number – $18 trillion. It currently stands at more than $17.9 trillion. But what does that really mean? It’s such an abstract number that it’s hard to imagine it. Can you genuinely understand it beyond just being a ridiculously large number? Just like humans find it really hard to comprehend the vastness of the universe. We know it’s huge, but what does that mean? It’s so many times greater than anything we know or have experienced. German astronomer and mathematician Friedrich Bessel managed to successfully measure the distance from Earth to a star other than our sun in the 19th century. But he realized that his measurements meant nothing to people as they were. They were too abstract. So he came up with the idea of a “light-year” to help people get a better understanding of just how far it really is. And rather than using a measurement of distance, he chose to use one of time.

The idea was that since we—or at least scientists—know what the speed of light is, by representing the distance in terms of how long it would take for light to travel that distance, we might be able to comprehend that distance. Ultimately using a metric we are familiar with to understand one with which we aren’t. Why don’t we try to do the same with another thing in the universe that’s incomprehensibly large today—the debt of the US government? Even more incredible than the debt owed right now is what’s owed down the line from all the promises politicians have been making decade after decade. These unfunded liabilities come to an astonishing $116.2 trillion. These numbers are so big in fact, I think we might need to follow Bessel’s lead and come up with an entire new measurement to grasp them. Like light-years, we could try to understand these amounts in terms of how long it would take to pay them off. We can even call them “work-years”.

So let’s see—the Social Security Administration just released data for the average yearly salary in the US in fiscal year that just ended. It stands at $44,888.16. The current debt level of over $17.9 trillion would thus take more than 398 million years of working at the average wage to pay off. This means that even if every man, woman and child in the United States would work for one year just to help pay off the debt the government has piled on in their name, it still wouldn’t be enough. Mind you that this means contributing everything you earn, without taking anything for your basic needs—which equates to slavery.

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The numbers get scary.

Don’t Be Distracted by the Pass Rate in ECB’s Bank Exams (Bloomberg)

For investors, the European Central Bank’s yearlong evaluation of the region’s banks isn’t just about who passes and who fails. The bigger question will be how much the ECB marks down lenders’ capital during its balance sheet inspection known as the asset quality review. The central bank and national regulators will publish their findings on Oct. 26. “The focus will be on how the asset quality review influences the development of capital ratios and non-performing loans,” said Michael Huenseler at Assenagon Asset Management SA in Munich. The largest impact may be on Italian lenders led by Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Unione di Banche Italiane and Banco Popolare, according to a report last month from Mediobanca analysts. They foresee a gap of more than 3 percentage points between the capital ratios published by the companies and the results of the ECB’s asset quality review. Deutsche Bankmay see its capital fall by €6.7 billion, cutting its ratio by 1.9 percentage points, the analysts said.

The biggest lenders may see their combined capital eroded by about €85 billion in the asset quality review because of extra provisioning requirements, according to the Mediobanca analysts, led by Antonio Guglielmi. That’s equivalent to a reduction of 1.05 percentage points in their average common equity Tier 1 ratio, the capital measure the ECB is using to gauge the health of the banks under study, the analysts said. The AQR evaluates lenders’ health by scrutinizing the value of their loan books, provisioning and collateral, using standardized definitions set by European regulators. To pass, a bank must have capital amounting to at least 8% of its assets, when weighted by risk. The bigger the hit to their capital, the more likely lenders will need to take steps to increase it. Banks the ECB will supervise directly already bolstered their balance sheets by almost €203 billion since mid-2013, ECB President Mario Draghi said this month, by selling stock, holding onto earnings, disposing of assets, and issuing bonds that turn into equity when capital falls too low, among other measures.

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It was always just a mirage.

Why It’s Now Too Late For Germany To Rescue The Eurozone Alone (Telegraph)

The eurozone is yet again in a nasty state. As it suffers from low growth and low inflation, the two combine to make a nasty cocktail. Without much of either, unemployment remains stuck at an eye wateringly high 11.5pc, and government debt burdens are likely to feel increasingly heavy. The European Central Bank (ECB) has announced a variety of acronyms – CBPP3, TLTROs, and an ABS purchase scheme – all stimulus measures designed to combat the euro area’s low inflation crisis. Yet so far, they’ve been insufficient to raise expectations of future inflation, implying that the firepower just isn’t strong enough. Economists are hoping that the ECB will deploy outright quantitative easing, and start buying up the sovereign bonds of eurozone governments. Without it, analysts have warned that both the eurozone as a whole, and even Germany – its former powerhouse economy – could now enter their third technical recession since 2008. Yet hopes of a monetary bazooka have so far been quashed by political concerns.

Some corners are hoping for Germany to launch its own form of stimulus. But a new report from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s suggests that such a move would be too little, too late, and “alone would have little effect on the rest of the eurozone”. “On the fiscal side … the margin for manoeuvre available to most eurozone members is still very limited”, the report states. “This is why the focus has unavoidably turned to Germany, the only large eurozone country with both a current surplus and a balanced budget”. According to S&P’s analysis, a stimulus package worth as much as 1pc of German GDP would provide just a 0.3pc boost to eurozone GDP, while creating 210,000 new jobs. The report states that the numbers: “put Germany’s potential contribution to higher growth in the eurozone into perspective, with the conclusion being that a stimulus package in that country alone would have a modest effect on its neighbours”.

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In any case, it shouldn’t. But Italy’s debt is so high (133% of GDP) that the only way out leads out of the EU.

Why ‘Italy Doesn’t Need Germany’s Help’ (CNBC)

Despite Italy slipping back into recession amid a stagnant economic environment, the president of one of the country’s richest regions said the country doesn’t need Germany — or anybody else’s — help to recover. “I don’t want to be helped by the Germans or by anybody else, I want to be strong enough to grow and to sort my own problems. Can we do this as Italians? Yes, we can. We just have to work harder and do the right things,” Roberto Maroni, the President of the Lombardy region in northern Italy, told CNBC on Tuesday. “In Italy, it’s more difficult than elsewhere in the world because we are Italians. It’s a good thing to be Italian but it’s more difficult to do the same thing in Italy than in Germany or in France. But I think that we will have to do it.” Maroni’s comments come at a time of economic woe for Italy. The country slipped back into recession in the second quarter of 2014, according to data released by Italy’s statistics agency ISTAT, in August.

In an attempt to boost growth, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi unveiled a budget-busting program of tax cuts and additional borrowing in order to resuscitate the economy. He has also proposed sweeping reforms to the labor market to encourage hiring as the unemployment rate topped 12.3% in August. The 2015 budget has put Italy on a collision course with Europe, however, as it pushes the country’s public deficit right up to the 3% limit set by the European Commission. Maroni, a senior member and former leader of the opposition right-wing party Northern League, said the proposals were not enough on their own. “I think that he is doing maybe the right things but in the wrong way. He wants to reform the labor market but…it only works if you have economic growth. That is the way you can create new jobs, not simply changing the laws.” “We’re in a moment when economic growth is far away from coming to Italy,” he added. “Before making these reforms you need to boost economic growth and that’s not what Matteo Renzi is doing now.”

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Perhaps true, but certainly too late.

Europe Can Learn From US And Make Each State Liable For Its Own Debt (Sinn)

The French prime minister, Manuel Valls, and his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, have declared – or at least insinuated – that they will not comply with the fiscal compact to which all of the eurozone’s member countries agreed in 2012; instead, they intend to run up fresh debts. Their stance highlights a fundamental flaw in the structure of the European Monetary Union – one that Europe’s leaders must recognise and address before it is too late. The fiscal compact – formally the Treaty on Stability, Coordination, and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union [PDF] – was the quid pro quo for Germany to approve the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), which was essentially a collective bailout package. The compact sets a strict ceiling for a country’s structural budget deficit and stipulates that public-debt ratios in excess of 60% of GDP must be reduced yearly by one-twentieth of the difference between the current ratio and the target.

Yet France’s debt/GDP ratio will rise to 96% by the end of this year, from 91% in 2012, while Italy’s will reach 135%, up from 127% in 2012. The effective renunciation of the fiscal compact by Valls and Renzi suggests that these ratios will rise even further in the coming years. In this context, eurozone leaders must ask themselves tough questions about the sustainability of the current system for managing debt in the EMU. They should begin by considering the two possible models for ensuring stability and debt sustainability in a monetary union: the mutualization model and the liability model.

Europe has so far stuck to the mutualisation model, in which individual states’ debts are underwritten by a common central bank or fiscal bailout system, ensuring security for investors and largely eliminating interest-rate spreads among countries, regardless of their level of indebtedness. In order to prevent the artificial reduction of interest rates from encouraging countries to borrow excessively, political debt brakes are instituted. In the eurozone, mutualisation was realised through generous ESM bailouts and €1tn ($1.27tn) worth of TARGET2 credit from national printing presses for the crisis-stricken countries. Moreover, the European Central Bank pledged to protect these countries from default free of charge through its “outright monetary transactions” (OMT) scheme – that is, by promising to purchase their sovereign debt on secondary markets – which functions roughly as Eurobonds would. The supposed hardening of the debt ceiling in 2012 adhered to this model.

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” … as German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has told confidants, the real test will come when a major member state is forced to submit to the EU corset. That time is now.”

‘Poets and Alchemists’: Berlin and Paris Undermine Euro Stability (Spiegel)

Market uncertainty over the future of the euro has returned, but that hasn’t stopped France from flouting European Union deficit rules. Berlin is already busy hashing out a dubious compromise. Following three hours of questioning at European Parliament, a visibly exhausted Pierre Moscovici switched to German in a final effort to assuage skepticism from certain members of European Parliament. “As commisioner, I will fully respect the pact,” he said. Moscovici was French finance minister from 2012 until this April and will become European commissioner for economic and financial affairs when the new Commission takes office next month. But can he be taken at his word? There is room for doubt. In response to the unprecedented euro-zone debt crisis, the European Union agreed to strengthen its Stability and Growth Pact in recent years. Member states gave the European Commission in Brussels greater leeway to monitor national budgets and also bestowed it with rights to levy stiffer fines for countries that violate those rules.

Smaller member states have already been forced to comply. Still, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself has told confidants, the real test will come when a major member state is forced to submit to the EU corset. That time is now. And the big EU member state in question is France. The development is creating a dilemma for Merkel. The issue is far greater than a few tenths of a percentage point in the French budget deficit. At stake are France’s national pride and sovereignty — and the question as to whether the lessons of the crisis can actually be applied in practice. Also at stake is the euro-zone’s trustworthiness, and whether member states will once again fritter away global faith in the common currency by not abiding by their own internal rules. “The markets are watching us,” says one member of the German government — and he doesn’t sound particularly confident that the world will be impressed.

The markets are indeed jittery. The German economy is growing more sluggishly than expected and is no longer strong enough to buoy the rest of the euro zone. Interest rates for Greek government bonds have suddenly surged, likely because of domestic political instability, rising close to the levels that threatened to push the country into bankruptcy in early 2010. Meanwhile, the European Central Bank has already used up a good deal of the instruments it might have used to combat a new crisis.

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What, did anyone suggest the crisis was over?

S&P Warns Crisis Not Over As France Output Tumbles (CNBC)

Ratings agency Standard & Poor’s warned on Thursday that the euro zone crisis was entering a “stubborn phase of subdued growth” in what it says is a new stage in the region’s economic crisis. The warning comes as new data showed a deepening downturn in France’s private sector economy during October. Markit’s Flash Composite Output Index (PMI) for France slipped to 48.0, from 48.4 in September. That was its lowest reading since February. A reading below 50 marks a contraction in private sector activity. “We believe that the euro zone’s problems are still unresolved,” said Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Moritz Kraemer in a statement. Further data released by Markit showed the private sector in Germany grew, offering some hope after a series of disappointing data for the euro zone’s largest economy. The flash composite PMI for October climbed to 54.3 from 54.1 last month.

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Well, obviously. That’s the whole idea.

Central Banker Admits QE Leads To Wealth Inequality (Zero Hedge)

Six years after QE started, and just about the time when we for the first time said that the primary consequence of QE would be unprecedented wealth and class inequality (in addition to fiat collapse, even if that particular bridge has not yet been crossed), even the central banks themselves – the very institutions that unleashed QE – are now admitting that the record wealth disparity in the world – surpassing that of the Great Depression and even pre-French revolution France – is caused by “monetary policy”, i.e., QE. Case in point, during the Keynote speech by Yves Mersch, ECB executive board member, in Zurich on 17 October 2014 titled “Monetary policy and economic inequality” he said:

More generally, inequality is of interest to central banking discussions because monetary policy itself has distributional consequences which in turn influence the monetary transmission mechanism. For example, the impact of changes in interest rates on the consumer spending of an individual household depend crucially on that household’s overall financial position – whether it is a net debtor or a net creditor; and whether the interest rates on its assets and liabilities are fixed or variable.

Such differences have macroeconomic implications, as the economy’s overall response to policy changes will depend on the distribution of assets, debt and income across households – especially in times of crisis, when economic shocks are large and unevenly distributed. For example, by boosting – first – aggregate demand and – second – employment, monetary easing could reduce economic disparities; at the same time, if low interest rates boost the prices of financial assets while punishing savings deposits, they could lead to widening inequality.

Alas, in the past 6 years, low interest rates have not only boosted financial asset prices but have resulted in the biggest artificial asset bubble ever conceived. As for reducing unemployment, don’t ask Europe – and its unprecedented record unemployment, especially among the youth – how that is going. As for the US where unemployment is “dropping”, ask the 93.5 million Americans who have dropped out of the labor force, those whose real wages haven’t risen in the past 20 years, or the soaring part-time workers just how effective monetary policy has been in the US.

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Weird ideas some people have. But I’m sure they go down well at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington.

French Envoy To US Says ‘Poker Player’ Putin Bluffed and Won (Bloomberg)

Vladimir Putin has outmaneuvered his opponents and humiliated Ukraine by continuing to back pro-Russian separatists and flouting a cease-fire, making it crucial that sanctions on Russia remain firm, France’s ambassador to the U.S. said. The Russian president “has won because we were not ready to die for Ukraine, while apparently he was,” Ambassador Gerard Araud said yesterday at a Bloomberg Government breakfast in Washington, in remarks he said represented his personal opinion. Echoing the view of other European envoys in Washington, Araud expressed concern that the Ukraine conflict has hit an impasse, leaving Putin the winner by default.

While many observers have called Putin a geopolitical chess player, he said, the Russian leader is more a “poker player really, putting all the money on the table, saying, ‘Do the same,’ and of course we blink. We don’t do the same.” The economic sanctions against Russia must stay in place to prevent Putin from going further, said Araud, who moved to Washington in September after serving as the French ambassador to the United Nations. “The question is there on the table: When is Putin going to stop?” Araud said. “That’s the reason that we need to keep the sanctions” because, “let’s be frank, it’s more or less the only weapon that we have. We are not going to send our soldiers in Ukraine. It does not make sense to send weapons to the Ukrainians, because the Ukrainians would be defeated real easily, so it will only prolong the war” and lead to a “still bigger Russian victory.”

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And for them. And for Canadians.

Canada’s Biggest Banks Say Worst to Come for Loonie (Bloomberg)

The oil boom that powered Canada’s recovery from its 2009 recession is turning into a bust for the nation’s dollar. Canada’s currency tumbled this month to a five-year low of C$1.1385 per U.S. dollar as the price of oil, the country’s biggest export, fell 30% from a June peak. Without a sustained increase in crude, the local dollar will weaken at least another 4% to C$1.18, according to Toronto-Dominion Bank and Royal Bank of Canada, the nation’s two biggest lenders. “The risk is, a sustained push lower in oil prices cuts Canadian growth,” Shaun Osborne, the chief currency strategist at Toronto-Dominion, Canada’s largest bank, said by phone on Oct. 15. “Any sort of setback for growth and investment in the energy sector is likely to have a fairly significant knock-on effect for the rest of the economy.”

The slide in oil, caused by a combination of oversupply and falling global demand, is a setback for Canada. Since the recession, most new business investment and jobs have come from the oil-rich province of Alberta. The nation’s trade surplus turned into a deficit in August, and economic growth stalled the previous month. Money managers are boosting bets the Canadian dollar will keep weakening. Hedge funds and other large speculators pushed net-bearish wagers on the currency to 16,167 contracts in the week ending Oct. 17, the most since June, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission in Washington. Investors held net-long positions as recently as Sept. 26.

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Interesting view.

The Financialization of Life (Real News Network)

Costas Lapavitsas, Economics Professor, Univ. of London: I will present to you some ideas that I have dealt with in my new book, Profiting without Producing, which has just come out, which discuss finance and the rise of finance. I can’t tell you very much about Baltimore because I don’t know about it, but I will tell you quite a few things about what I call the financialization of capitalism, which impacts on Baltimore and on many other places. So, getting on with it, and very quickly because time is short, I think it’s fair to say and all of us would agree that finance has an extraordinary presence in contemporary mature economies. It’s very clear in the case of the U.S., but equally clear in the case of the United Kingdom, where I live, Japan, about which I know quite a bit, Germany, and so on. There’s no question at all about it.

Finance is a sector of the economy in mature countries which has grown enormously in terms of size relative to the rest of the economy, in terms of penetration into everyday lives of ordinary people, but also small and medium businesses and just about everybody. And in terms of policy influence, finance clearly influences economic policy on a national level in country after country. The interests of finance are paramount in forming economic policy. So that is clear. Finance has become extraordinarily powerful. And that, in a sense, is the first immediate way in which we can understand financialization. Something has happened there, and modern mature capitalism appears to have financialized. Now, what is this financialization? The best I can do right now is to give you the gist of this argument of mine in my book. And I will come clean immediately and tell you that I think financialization is basically a profound historical transformation of modern capitalism.

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Ambrose has it in for Russia.

Oil Slump Leaves Russia Even Weaker Than Decaying Soviet Union (AEP)

It took two years for crumbling oil prices to bring the Soviet Union to its knees in the mid-1980s, and another two years of stagnation to break the Bolshevik empire altogether. Russian ex-premier Yegor Gaidar famously dated the moment to September 1985, when Saudi Arabia stopped trying to defend the crude market, cranking up output instead. “The Soviet Union lost $20bn per year, money without which the country simply could not survive,” he wrote. The Soviet economy had run out of cash for food imports. Unwilling to impose war-time rationing, its leaders sold gold, down to the pre-1917 imperial bars in the vaults. They then had to beg for “political credits” from the West. That made it unthinkable for Moscow to hold down eastern Europe’s captive nations by force, and the Poles, Czechs and Hungarians knew it. “The collapse of the USSR should serve as a lesson to those who construct policy based on the assumption that oil prices will remain perpetually high. A seemingly stable superpower disintegrated in only a few short years,” he wrote.

Lest we engage in false historicism, it is worth remembering just how strong the USSR still seemed. It knew how to make things. It had an industrial core, with formidable scientists and engineers. Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a weaker animal in key respects, a remarkable indictment of his 15-year reign. He presides over a rentier economy, addicted to oil, gas and metals, a textbook case of the Dutch Disease. The IMF says the real effective exchange rate (REER) rose 130pc from 2000 to 2013 during the commodity super-cycle, smothering everything else. Non-oil exports fell from 21pc to 8pc of GDP. “Russia is already in a perfect storm,” said Lubomir Mitov, Moscow chief for the Institute of International Finance. “Rich Russians are converting as many roubles as they can into foreign currencies and storing the money in vaults. There is chronic capital flight of 4pc to 5pc of GDP each year but this is no longer covered by the current account surplus, and now sanctions have caused foreign capital to turn negative, too.”

“The financing gap has reached 3pc of GDP, and they have to repay $150bn in principal to foreign creditors over the next 12 months. It will be very dangerous if reserves fall below $330bn,” he said. “The benign outcome is a return to the stagnation of the Brezhnev era in the early 1980s, without a financial collapse. The bad outcome could be a lot worse,” he said. Mr Mitov said Russia is fundamentally crippled. “They have outsourced their brains and lost their technology. The best Russian engineers go to work for Boeing. The Russian railways are run on German technology. It looked as if Russia was strong during the oil boom but it was an illusion and now they are in an even worse position than the Soviet Union,” he said.

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The TTIP is a real evil, that’s why it’s being discussed in secret.

Big Tobacco Puts Countries On Trial As Concerns Over TTIP Mount (Independent)

Tiny Uruguay may not seem a likely front line in the war of the quit smoking brigade against Big Tobacco. But the Latin American country has unwittingly found itself not just in the thick of that battle, but in the middle of an even bigger fight – that of the rising opposition to international free trade deals. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay for increasing the size of the health warnings on cigarette packs, and for clamping down on tobacco companies’ use of sub-brands like Malboro Red, Gold, Blue or Green which could give the impression some cigarettes are safe to smoke. The tobacco behemoth is taking its legal action under the terms of a bilateral trade agreement between Switzerland – where it relatively recently moved from the US – and Uruguay. The trade deal has at its heart a provision allowing Swiss multinationals the right to sue the Uruguayan people if they bring in legislation that will damage their profits.

The litigation is allowed to be done in tribunals known as international-state dispute settlements (ISDS), ruled upon by lawyers under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation. Such an ISDS agreement is also core to the EU’s planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaty being negotiated with the US. The critics of TTIP fear the tribunals will see US multinationals sue European governments in such areas as regulating tobacco, health and safety, and quality controls. In the UK, critics have been particularly vocal about fears US healthcare companies now running parts of the NHS might use ISDS tribunals to sue future British governments wanting to reverse the accelerating privatisation of parts of the health service. The British Government argues that such worries are “misguided” and says TTIP will create jobs and be good for the economy. ISDS agreements are necessary to give companies the confidence to invest, it says, particularly in more politically unstable countries.

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Getting worse all the time.

Tesco’s Profits Black Hole Bigger Than Expected (Guardian)

Tesco has revealed that the hole in its first half profits is bigger than previously thought and runs back into previous financial years, plunging the embattled supermarket into fresh turmoil. Confidence in what was once one of the most respected companies in the FTSE 100 was also dealt a fresh blow by the admission that it was unable to provide any guidance on full-year profits because of a number of uncertainties, sending its shares down 6% to 170p.25p when the stock market opened. The company’s shares have almost halved in value since the start of this year. It also revealed that its under fire chairman Sir Richard Broadbent is to be replaced, after a disastrous three year tenure. Tesco said the month-long investigation by forensic accountants from Deloitte had established that its first half profits had been artificially inflated by £263m rather than the £250m the company had originally estimated.

The problem relates to when the retailer books payments received from suppliers who pay the big grocery chains to run in-store promotions on their behalf. Deloitte said £118m of the figure related to the first six months of the current financial year but that £145m related to previous years. Chief executive Dave Lewis said the Deloitte report would be passed to the FCA and that from the company’s perspective this “drew a line” under the issue. With that out of the way he outlined three immediate priorities: to restore the competitiveness of the core UK business, to protect and strengthen its balance sheet and to begin “the long journey of rebuilding trust and transparency in the business and the brand”. The investigation, prompted by information from a whistleblower, has resulted in the suspension of eight senior executives, including Chris Bush, the head of the UK food business.

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The costs of cleaner energy, or the cost of political incompetence?

EU Braces for Battle to Set Energy, CO2 Goals for Next Decade (Bloomberg)

European Union leaders face heated negotiations today on a deal to toughen emission-reduction policies in the next decade and boost the security of energy supplies amid a natural-gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine. The main challenge for the 28 heads of government will be to iron out differences on a strategy that ensures cheaper and safer energy while stepping up climate-protection measures. The agenda of the two-day Brussels summit, the final one to be chaired by EU President Herman Van Rompuy, also features a debate on the European economy and on measures to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus. Countries including Poland, Portugal, Spain, France and the U.K. have signaled that the outstanding issues that leaders will need to resolve at the gathering include sharing the burden of carbon cuts, the nature of energy targets and plans for power and gas interconnectors.

“It will not be easy to reach an accord, many countries have energy problems, and some have re-opened coal mines,” French energy minister Segolene Royale told lawmakers in Paris yesterday. “But I think we will have the wisdom, the strength, and the sense of responsibility to reach an accord.” EU leaders plan to back a binding target to cut greenhouse gases by 40% by 2030 from 1990 levels, accelerating the pace of reduction from 20% set for 2020, according to draft conclusions for the meeting obtained by Bloomberg News. An agreement would ensure the bloc remains the leader in the fight against global warming before a United Nations climate summit in Lima in December and a worldwide deal expected to be clinched in 2015 in Paris, according to the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. While differences among member states on the carbon target are narrowing down, leaders still need to resolve issues including emissions burden-sharing, which pits richer countries in western Europe against mostly ex-communist east and central European nations led by Poland.

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“Coal is at a crossroads in Europe. For some, the fuel is too polluting to keep burning in such high quantities. But for others, it is too cheap, too abundant and too politically strategic to abandon.” Germany invests heavily in brown coal.

Several Factors Conspire To Increase Fossil Fuel Use (FT)

Under slate-grey skies one chilly October morning in Warsaw, Ewa Kopacz, Poland’s new prime minister, saw first-hand the front line in Europe’s high-stakes battle over the future of coal. Outside parliament, where she was to make her maiden speech as the country’s leader, hundreds of helmeted miners sounded foghorns, chanted slogans and waved banners in a protest calling for action to save their industry. Coal is at a crossroads in Europe. For some, the fuel is too polluting to keep burning in such high quantities. But for others, it is too cheap, too abundant and too politically strategic to abandon. The midterm future of Europe’s energy mix, and that of coal, may well be decided in Poland, the EU’s second-largest producer and consumer of the black stuff. Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. Historically, its use in environmentally aware Europe has been falling. But consumption has ticked up since the US shale gas boom sent coal prices tumbling, and countries such as Poland are resisting calls to switch to lower-emission alternatives.

“It will be extremely difficult politically and economically for us just to end our dependence on coal,” says Oktawian Zajac, head of the coal practice at Boston Consulting Group in Warsaw. “In the medium term, the top priority is not to switch away from coal, but to produce coal that is economically justifiable.” That is not the view in Brussels, where diplomats are trying to hammer out an EU deal to curb the bloc’s carbon emissions by 2030. That deal is likely to revolve around whether countries are willing to pay for the environmental benefits of reducing their fossil fuel usage given the costlier alternatives. The biggest impediment to agreement is coal-hungry Poland, and the angry miners who won support in Ms Kopacz’s speech. “I realise how important environmental concerns are … but my government will not accept increases in the costs of energy in Poland and the impact on the economy,” the prime minister said, adding that the fuel was of strategic national importance.

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Sao Paulois sinking into disaster.

Water Crisis Seen Worsening as Sao Paulo Nears ‘Collapse’ (Bloomberg)

Sao Paulo residents were warned by a top government regulator today to brace for more severe water shortages as President Dilma Rousseff makes the crisis a key campaign issue ahead of this weekend’s runoff vote. “If the drought continues, residents will face more dramatic water shortages in the short term,” Vicente Andreu, president of Brazil’s National Water Agency and a member of Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, told reporters in Sao Paulo. “If it doesn’t rain, we run the risk that the region will have a collapse like we’ve never seen before,” he later told state lawmakers. The worst drought in eight decades is threatening drinking supplies in South America’s biggest metropolis, with 60% of respondents in a Datafolha poll published yesterday saying their water supplies were restricted at least once in the past 30 days. Three-quarters of those people said the cut lasted at least six hours.

Rousseff, who is seeking re-election in the Oct. 26 election against opposition candidate Aecio Neves, is stepping up her attacks of Sao Paulo state’s handling of the water crisis, saying in a radio campaign ad yesterday that Governor Geraldo Alckmin was offered federal support and refused. Neves, who polls show is statistically tied with Rousseff, and Alckmin are both members of the Social Democracy Party, known as PSDB. Neves said yesterday on his website that ANA is being used by the PT for it’s own purposes. “The agency could have been a much better partner to Governor Alckmin,” he said.

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How about some solid policies?

Some US Hospitals Weigh Withholding Care To Ebola Patients (Reuters)

The Ebola crisis is forcing the American healthcare system to consider the previously unthinkable: withholding some medical interventions because they are too dangerous to doctors and nurses and unlikely to help a patient. U.S. hospitals have over the years come under criticism for undertaking measures that prolong dying rather than improve patients’ quality of life. But the care of the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the United States, who received dialysis and intubation and infected two nurses caring for him, is spurring hospitals and medical associations to develop the first guidelines for what can reasonably be done and what should be withheld. Officials from at least three hospital systems interviewed by Reuters said they were considering whether to withhold individual procedures or leave it up to individual doctors to determine whether an intervention would be performed. Ethics experts say they are also fielding more calls from doctors asking what their professional obligations are to patients if healthcare workers could be at risk.

U.S. health officials meanwhile are trying to establish a network of about 20 hospitals nationwide that would be fully equipped to handle all aspects of Ebola care. Their concern is that poorly trained or poorly equipped hospitals that perform invasive procedures will expose staff to bodily fluids of a patient when they are most infectious. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with kidney specialists on clinical guidelines for delivering dialysis to Ebola patients. The recommendations could come as early as this week. The possibility of withholding care represents a departure from the “do everything” philosophy in most American hospitals and a return to a view that held sway a century ago, when doctors were at greater risk of becoming infected by treating dying patients. “This is another example of how this 21st century viral threat has pulled us back into the 19th century,” said medical historian Dr. Howard Markel of the University of Michigan.

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