Aug 012015
 
 August 1, 2015  Posted by at 11:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle August 1 2015


Harris&Ewing “Congressional baseball game. President and Mrs. Wilson.” 1917

Coal Mine Worth $624 Million Three Years Ago Sold for $1 (Bloomberg)
Carlyle Fund Walloped in Commodities Rout (WSJ)
Raoul Pal, Who Called Dollar Rally, Sees -German- Catastrophe Ahead (CNBC)
Why 99% Of Trading, Worth $32 Trillion, Is Pointless (MarketWatch)
OPEC Shale War Leaves Big Oil Companies as Surprise Victims (Bloomberg)
Who Really Benefits From Bailouts? (Ritholtz)
The Euro, Like The Gold Standard, Is Doomed To Fail (Ann Pettifor)
Tsipras Survives for Now as Party Rebels Blast Greece Rescue (Bloomberg)
Greek PM Defends Varoufakis and Controversial ‘Plan B’ (Reuters)
Alexis Tsipras: I Ordered Varoufakis To ‘Defend Greece’ (Telegraph)
Greek Stock Market To Reopen Monday, With Restrictions (CNN)
Greek Bailout Is Far From Being A Done Deal (Andrew Lilico)
Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Find A Home Away From Home in Athens (Kath.)
Prosecutor Summons Ex-PM Samaras’ Aide Over €5.5million HSCB Bank Account (KTG)
Italian Youth Unemployment Rises to its Highest Level Ever (Bloomberg)
People Smuggling: How It Works, Who Benefits, How It Can Be Stopped (Guardian)
David Cameron To Send Dogs And Fences To Quell Calais Migrant Crisis (Guardian)
We Can’t Stop The Flow Of Migrants To Europe, Only Rehouse Them (Guardian)
As World Mourned Cecil The Lion, 5 Endangered Elephants Slain in Kenya (WaPo)
Climate Models Are Even More Accurate Than You Thought (Guardian)

“Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the biggest U.S. producer, plans to file for bankruptcy protection in Virginia as soon as Monday [..] It was valued at $7.3 billion in 2008.”

Coal Mine Worth $624 Million Three Years Ago Sold for $1 (Bloomberg)

The destructive force of a collapse in world coal prices has been underscored by the sale of a mine valued at A$860 million ($631 million) three years ago for just a dollar. Brazilian miner Vale and Japan’s Sumitomo sold the Isaac Plains coking-coal mine in Australia to Stanmore Coal Ltd., the Brisbane-based company said Thursday in a statement. Sumitomo bought a half stake for A$430 million in 2012. A slump in the price of coking coal, used to make steel, to a decade low is forcing mines to close across the world and bankrupting some producers. Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the biggest U.S. producer, plans to file for bankruptcy protection in Virginia as soon as Monday, said three people with direct knowledge of the matter. It was valued at $7.3 billion in 2008.

Isaac Plains in Queensland “was one of the most exciting coal projects in Australia,” Investec Plc analysts said in a note to investors on Friday. The site has a resource of 30 million metric tons, according to Stanmore. “The outlook for coal is still very difficult,” Roger Downey, Vale’s executive director for fertilizers and coal, said on Thursday after Stanmore announced the sale. “We see even in Australia mines that are still in the red and at some point that has to change. We have quite adverse and challenging markets.” Coal’s demise is just part of a broader slump in commodity prices, which fell to the lowest in 13 years this month. The benchmark price for coking coal exported from Australia has slumped 24% this year to $85.40 a ton on Friday, according to prices from Steel Business Briefing. The quarterly benchmark price peaked at $330 a ton in 2011.

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More Poof! Now you see it….

Carlyle Fund Walloped in Commodities Rout (WSJ)

Three years after private-equity giant Carlyle Group touted its purchase of a hedge-fund firm, a rout in raw materials has helped drive down holdings in its flagship fund from about $2 billion to less than $50 million, according to people familiar with the matter. The firm, Vermillion Asset Management, suffered steep losses and a wave of client redemptions in its commodity fund after a string of bad bets, including one tied to the price of shipping of dry goods, such as iron ore, coal or grains. At one point, two of Carlyle’s co-founders, David Rubenstein and William Conway, put tens of millions of dollars of their own money in the fund and left it in amid the losses and redemptions, according to people familiar with the matter.

Vermillion is in the midst of a restructuring, its co-founders left at the end of June, and it is pulling back from trading in several markets. A collapsing market for raw materials is spreading pain well beyond commodities specialists to some of the heaviest hitters on Wall Street. This week alone, commodity-trading firms Armajaro Asset Management and Black River Asset Managemen, a unit of agricultural conglomerate Cargill, said they are closing funds. Several other firms that managed billions of dollars already have closed their doors, including London-based Clive Capital and BlueGold Capital Management. Large money managers including Brevan Howard Asset Management and Fortress Investment Group have wound down commodity strategies.

Assets under management at commodity hedge funds have fallen 15%, to $24.1 billion, since their peak in 2012, and nearly 30 firms out of 250 have shut down since that year, according to industry consultant HFR Inc. Commodity firms lost money for three years in a row before 2014, HFR said. Commodities are one of the most challenging markets to invest in, because of their complexities and penchant for volatility. Some of the biggest hedge-fund blowups have involved commodity trading, such as the 2006 collapse of Amaranth Advisors after sustaining more than $5 billion in losses on natural-gas trades.

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As the US economy weakens, the USD will come home, leaving the rest of the world a lot poorer.

Raoul Pal, Who Called Dollar Rally, Sees -German- Catastrophe Ahead (CNBC)

Former hedge fund manager and Goldman Sachs alumnus Raoul Pal isn’t one to shy away from making bold predictions. Back in November 2014, Pal, who is currently the publisher of the Global Macro Investor newsletter and the founder of Real Vision TV, said the U.S. dollar index was poised to make a move the likes of which hadn’t been seen in “many, many years.” Now, after the dollar index surged 10%, Pal is out with a new prediction, and it could spell trouble for global equities. “I think the dollar will go up for another few years from here, so I’m expecting to see, by the end of this year, the dollar up maybe 20%,” said Pal on CNBC’s “Fast Money” this week. “So we’ve got another 10-12% or so to go this year alone, and then next year something similar,” he added.

If true, those predictions could have dire consequences for the global market. According to Pal, a rapidly accelerating bull market for the dollar could lead oil prices to “come back down into the 20s” in the not-so-distant future. “As the dollar gets stronger, global growth is falling and global export growth is falling, and that means generally that commodity prices should fall as well,” he explained. Pal said the slowdown in global growth, spurred by an ever-strengthening dollar, could have deleterious effects on one country in particular. “Germany is the big exporting nation of Europe, and I see them slowing down,” he said. Pal explained that a weaker U.S. economy will bleed into Europe and further impact German growth.

“The first half of this year is the weakest first half since the recession” for the United States, he said. “Europe lags the U.S, so I think that won’t help Germany at all because obviously the U.S. is buying less goods from Germany.” By Pal’s logic, a slowdown in Germany could eventually put all of Europe in harm’s way. “I think Germany is at risk of leading Europe into a recession, which is against everybody else’s opinion.”

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Circle jerk keeps brokers alive.

Why 99% Of Trading, Worth $32 Trillion, Is Pointless (MarketWatch)

An astonishing $32 trillion in securities changes hands every year with no net positive impact for investors, charges Vanguard Group Founder John Bogle. Meanwhile, corporate finance — the reason Wall Street exists — is just a tiny slice of the total business. The nation’s big investment banks probably could work for less than a week and take the rest of the year off with no real effect on the economy. “The job of finance is to provide capital to companies. We do it to the tune of $250 billion a year in IPOs and secondary offerings,” Bogle told Time in an interview. “What else do we do? We encourage investors to trade about $32 trillion a year. So the way I calculate it, 99% of what we do in this industry is people trading with one another, with a gain only to the middleman. It’s a waste of resources.”

It’s a lot of money, $32 trillion. Nearly double the entire U.S. economy moving from one pocket to another, with a toll-taker in the middle. Most people refer to them as “stock brokers,” but let’s call them what they are — toll-takers and rent-seekers. Rent-seeking as an occupation is as old as the hills. In exchange for working to build up credentials and relative fluency in the arcane rules of an industry, one gets to stand back from actual work and just collect money. Ostensibly, the job of a financial adviser is to provide advice. Do you actually get that from your broker? It is worth anything? Research shows, over and over, that stock brokers can’t do much of anything demonstrably valuable. They don’t know which stocks will go up or down and when.

They don’t know which asset classes will outperform this year or next. Nobody knows. That’s the point. If you’re among that small cadre of extremely high-level traders who can throw loads of cash at a short-term fluke, fantastic. If you have a mind for numbers like Warren Buffett that allows you to buy companies on the cheap and hold them forever, excellent. If you’re a normal retirement investor trying to get from A to B and retire on time, well, you have a really big problem to face: The toll-taker wants your money.

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Surprise? Really?

OPEC Shale War Leaves Big Oil Companies as Surprise Victims (Bloomberg)

When OPEC started a price war last November, driving oil down to its current $65 a barrel, U.S. shale drillers looked doomed. Six months later, it’s the world’s largest oil companies that are emerging as the unexpected casualties. The reason: the multibillion-dollar projects at the heart of the oil majors’ strategy need prices closer to $100 to make them economically feasible. “Big Oil is today squeezed by two low-cost producers: OPEC and U.S. shale,” said Michele Della Vigna at Goldman Sachs. “Big Oil needs to re-invent itself.” The new period of cheap oil and ample supplies raises a prospect unthinkable as recently as a few months ago – that the world no longer needs all the big, expensive projects planned by companies such as Shell, Chevron. and Total.

Rising supplies from Saudi Arabia, Iraq and perhaps Iran combined with a more efficient shale industry could deliver the bulk of new production. Big Oil will continue to play a significant role, particularly as field developments sanctioned in the era of $100 a barrel come to fruition – but new projects will suffer. Only six months ago, the industry’s thinking was very different. The view then was that shale firms could only survive with $100 oil. The expected wave of bankruptcies never came about, however, and shale output has continued growing as drillers cut costs in response to low prices. Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips, said in Vienna on Wednesday that the industry now accepted that the U.S. shale drillers were far more resilient than expected. “They are reducing the cost and restoring the margins that we enjoy at $80 to $90 to get those at $60 to $70,” Lance said in an interview. “That is how resilient the opportunity set is.”

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“Our moral compass informs us that bailouts shouldn’t work to the benefit of the reckless and irresponsible. Reality teaches us a very different lesson.”

Who Really Benefits From Bailouts? (Ritholtz)

I always find it amusing whenever someone expresses surprise that the financial bailouts for Greece haven’t benefitted Greek citizens. “Bailout Money Goes to Greece, Only to Flow Out Again” in the New York Times is just the latest example. “The cash exodus is a small piece of a bigger puzzle over why – despite two major international bailouts — the Greek economy is in worse shape and more deeply in debt.” Unfortunately, this is a feature of bailout, not a bug. A plethora of financial rescues during the past decades has proven quite convincingly that this isn’t an aberration. Follow the money instead of following the headlines. That’s how you learn who profits from a bailout.

Look around the world – Japan, Sweden, Brazil, Mexico, Ireland, the U.S. and now Greece to learn who is and isn’t helped by these enormous government-backed bailouts. No, it isn’t the Greek people, nor even their banks. They never were the intended beneficiaries of the bailouts, nor were Irish citizens in that bailout. Indeed, homeowners in the U.S. were little more that incidental recipients of aid as a%age of total rescue spending. You probably learned the phrase “moral hazard” during the financial crisis. In short, what it means is that the bailouts rescued leveraged, reckless speculators from the results of their unwise professional folly and gave them an incentive to do it all over again. They were and the intended rescuees.

Do you think I am exaggerating? Consider the U.S. bailout in its manifold forms, from TARP to ZIRP to QE. How many bondholders suffered losses from their poor investment decisions? With the exception of holders of Lehman Brothers’ debt and a handful of banks that weren’t deemed too big to fail, just about every other bondholder was made whole, 100 cents on the dollar. Thanks to rescue plans such as the Trouble Asset Relief Program, holders of bonds from a diverse assortment of failed and failing companies suffered literally no losses. AIG? Zero losses. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Zero losses. Citigroup and Bank of America? Zero losses. Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns? Zero losses.

History teaches us that when companies fail, they file either a reorganization or liquidation in a bankruptcy court. The exceptions are when well-placed executives are friendly with Congress (Chrysler 1980) or members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Lockheed 1972) or Treasury secretaries (all of Wall Street except Dick Fuld in 2008-09). Having well-connected corporate executives on your board or in senior management sure comes in handy during an emergency.

[..] In the case of Greece, the money flows in large part from European governments and the IMF through Greece, and then to various private-sector lenders. We all call it a Greek bailout, because if it were called the “Rescue of German bankers from the results of their Athenian lending folly,” who would support it? Our moral compass informs us that bailouts shouldn’t work to the benefit of the reckless and irresponsible. Reality teaches us a very different lesson.

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A fetish.

The Euro, Like The Gold Standard, Is Doomed To Fail (Ann Pettifor)

Pierre Werner was appointed by the EU Council of Ministers on 6 March 1970, to chair a committee of experts to design a monetary system for the EU. The key elements of his committee’s recommendations was to be developed subsequently by the Delors Committee of twelve central bankers, which reported in 1989. Both sets of proposals – the Werner Report and the Delors Report – replicated the financial architecture of the nineteenth century gold standard. The parallels between the two systems include the abandonment by governments of control over exchange rates; the loss of a central bank accountable to the state; the initial euphoria as an over-valued exchanged rate cheapens imports & capital mobility encourages reckless lending; subsequent deflationary pressures; the absence of a co-ordinating body to check imbalances across the zone, and finally growing political resistance to the monetary system.

However it is important to note also just how much the two systems differ. The genius of those who designed the European Monetary Union (EMU) was this: unlike the architects of the gold standard, which attempted to remove central bank and state control over the exchange rate – Delors’s bankers simply abolished all European currencies, and replaced them with a new, shared currency, the euro – well beyond the reach of any state. That currency – the euro – not only acts as a store of value and facilitates financial transactions across borders – it also acts as a powerful symbol of European unity.

So in addition to serving the interests of Luxembourg bankers and European financiers – the euro was in part created, and heavily sold to citizens, as a perceived way and a symbol for bringing Europe and Europeans together. Like gold under the gold standard, the currency acquired the status of a fetish for many, both amongst the European elites in Brussels and Frankfurt, but also amongst those in periphery countries.

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Tsipras needs the discord. Apparently that is hard to fathom.

Tsipras Survives for Now as Party Rebels Blast Greece Rescue (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras staved off an immediate challenge to his premiership, though failure to appease his party’s hard-left fringe brought early elections into view. After 12 hours of talks, the central committee of the anti-austerity Syriza party decided in the early hours of Friday to hold an emergency congress in September, in which Tsipras’ move to accept a strings-attached rescue program from international creditors will be put to the vote. Leaders of the party’s Left Platform protested that will be too late to stop the bailout, but failed in their bid to force a party congress this weekend. “We opted for a difficult compromise and a recessionary program, we admit it”

With the government vulnerable, Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos meets representatives from international creditors on Friday to discuss the austerity measures his party has long opposed. The quarrel within Syriza, in power since January, means that Tsipras will have to rely on opposition parties’ support to approve measures attached to Greece’s emergency loans, a situation he has said isn’t sustainable. “Tsipras might call an early election as a way to reinforce his mandate,” Roubini analysts wrote in a note to clients. “It cannot yet be known if a new government – or Tsipras’s second mandate – would lead to stronger compliance with the creditors’ terms or would merely be a sign of Tsipras’s intention to push for better terms, including debt reduction.”

Former Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, who leads the Left Platform, opposed the September confidence vote, arguing the government will have signed a new bailout with creditors by then, and it will be all but impossible to annul bilateral agreements ratified by parliament. Lafazanis led a revolt of more than 30 Syriza lawmakers this month against the upfront actions demanded by European states and the IMF, effectively stripping Tsipras of his parliamentary majority. The central committee’s decision to hold a congress in September, approving a motion by Tsipras, “is a parody,” the Platform said in a statement. In a separate statement posted on the website of government-affiliated Avgi newspaper, 17 members of the central committee said they are resigning from the body, protesting the “transformation” of Syriza into a pro-austerity party.

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“If our partners and lenders had prepared a Grexit plan, shouldn’t we as a government have prepared our defense?”

Greek PM Defends Varoufakis and Controversial ‘Plan B’ (Reuters)

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras acknowledged on Friday that his government had made covert contingency plans in case Greece was forced out of the euro, but rejected accusations that he had plotted a return to the drachma. Tsipras was forced to respond to the issue in parliament after former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis this week revealed efforts to hack into citizens’ tax codes to create a parallel payment system, prompting shock and outrage in Greece. The disclosure heaped new pressure on Tsipras, who is also battling a rebellion within his Syriza party and starting tough talks with the European Union and International Monetary Fund to seal a third bailout program in less than three weeks.

“We didn’t design or have a plan to pull the country out of the euro, but we did have emergency plans,” Tsipras told parliament. “If our partners and lenders had prepared a Grexit plan, shouldn’t we as a government have prepared our defense?” He compared the plan to a country preparing its defenses ahead of war, saying it was the obligation of a responsible government to have contingency arrangements in place. He did not directly refer to Varoufakis’ disclosure of plans to hack into his ministry’s software to obtain tax codes. But Tspiras said the idea of a database giving Greeks passwords to make payments to settle arrears was hardly “a covert and satanic plan to take the country out of the euro”.

Tsipras also defended his embattled former finance minister, who has continued to create headaches for the government since being ousted earlier this month. “Mr. Varoufakis might have made mistakes, as all of us have … You can blame him as much as you want for his political plan, his statements, for his taste in shirts, for vacations in Aegina,” Tsipras said. “But you cannot accuse him of stealing the money of Greek people or having a covert plan to take Greece to the precipice.”

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What about this is not clear?

Alexis Tsipras: I Ordered Varoufakis To ‘Defend Greece’ (Telegraph)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras launched a staunch defence of his embattled former finance minister on Friday, as he spoke for the first time about the secret “Plan B” he ordered from Yanis Varoufakis. Following almost a week of silence, Mr Tsipras told his parliament he had authorised preparations for a system of “parallel liquidity” should the ECB pull the plug on the Greek banking system. “I personally gave the order to prepare a team to prepare a defence plan in case of emergency,” said Mr Tsipras, who compared Greece’s situation with being on a war footing. “If our creditors were preparing a Grexit plan, should we not have prepared our defences?” But the prime minister said he “did not have, and never prepared, plans to take the country out of the euro”.

Since the airing of the “Plan B” talks, in a recorded conversation between Mr Varoufakis and city investors, two private lawsuits have been brought against the divisive politician, raising the prospect of a criminal prosecution over charges relating to treason. Opposition parties in Greece have also called for the former Essex University economist to have his parliamentary immunity from criminal charges revoked over his role in the clandestine plans. However, the prime minister rejected accusations from some that the blueprint amounted to a “coup d’etat” against his government. “You can blame him as much as you want for his political plan, his statements, for his taste in shirts, for vacations in Aegina.” “But you cannot accuse him of stealing the money of Greek people or having a covert plan to take Greece to the precipice”, said Mr Tsipras.

The four main heads of Greece’s creditor powers met with current finance minister Euclid Tskalatos on Friday, as both sides race to secure an agreement by the second week of August. Greece’s institutions are said to be demanding the government scrap a “solidarity tax” of 8pc on incomes of more than €500,000, a levy which only affects 350 people but which lenders want to abolish to deter tax evasion. They also want Athens’ Leftist government to scrap fuel subsidies and liberalise professions such as ship-building before an agreement for a new €86bn bail-out can proceed. Progress on securing a third international bail-out for Greece hit the rocks on Wednesday night after the IMF said it was unwilling to consider providing any more money until the reforms were agreed and Europe finally granted a programme of debt relief to Greece.

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Casino.

Greek Stock Market To Reopen Monday, With Restrictions (CNN)

The Athens stock exchange will reopen Monday, more than a month after Greece’s financial crisis forced the authorities to suspend all trading. But there will be some restrictions for local investors, the Greek finance ministry said, to prevent more money flooding out of the banking system. They will only be allowed to buy shares with existing holdings of cash, and won’t be able to draw on their Greek bank accounts. Greece’s banks were bleeding cash at a furious pace on fears the country’s debt crisis would force it to abandon the euro. Capital controls were introduced on June 29, including the closure of banks and financial markets. ATM withdrawals were limited to €60 per day.

The banks reopened on July 20, after Europe agreed in principle to a new bailout, but withdrawals remain limited to €420 a week. Some capital controls have been relaxed, so Greek companies could make payments abroad. Shares in the biggest Greek banks were tanking before the market closure – Piraeus Bank lost 57% this year, while Alpha Bank is down 29%. The benchmark Athens index has dropped 32% over the last 12 months. The European Central Bank has approved the reopening of the exchange. The ECB doesn’t control the stock market, but its opinion is crucial because it is keeping the Greek banking system afloat with regular injections of cash.

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Getting more undone by the minute.

Greek Bailout Is Far From Being A Done Deal (Andrew Lilico)

Yesterday everyone learned what those who had been watching closely had realised for some time: the IMF won’t (at least for now) be offering a third loan to Greece. The IMF believes that Greece has not sufficiently stuck to the conditions of previous loans and that its debts after a third bailout would be unsustainably high. That means an IMF loan would not enable Greece to return to financial markets to fund itself (a normal requirement for an IMF loan). It might be added that the IMF would not be confident, either, that Greece could obtain further financing from alternative sources – ie its Eurozone partners, whose patience is clearly spent.

Given that Greece defaulted on an IMF payment only a few weeks ago – an action which placed it in a not-so-elite group of international pariah states that had ever done so – the IMF not wanting to lend to it again should hardly be a surprise. Many commentators appear to assume the Eurozone will simply shrug off IMF non-involvement and cover the difference themselves. After all, back in 2009/2010 when the first Greek bailout was initially mooted, many EU Member States and institutions would have preferred the IMF not to be involved. But the country that was most adamant the IMF had to be in was Germany. And again for the current discussions about a third bailout to be given authority to proceed, the German government promised the Bundestag that the IMF would be in.

So now we have the following stand-off. The Germans insist the IMF must be part of a third bailout; the IMF says it cannot be in unless Greece’s debts are forgiven on a scale that would make them sustainable; the Germans refuse even to contemplate debt forgiveness whilst Greece remains in the euro. Could this derail the whole deal? Yes. Indeed I would assume that this scenario was so obviously likely that some parties to the mid-July talks probably only ever agreed to what they did because they expected it to fall apart in just this way.

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Bless you: “The center is a response to intolerance, to the “migrants go home” attitude..”

Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Find A Home Away From Home in Athens (Kath.)

Next-door neighbor Katerina comes over to the house almost every day to have a coffee in the garden and bring a “little something for the kids.” The Hospitality Center for Unaccompanied Minors in the Athenian neighborhood of Ano Petralona, which went into operation in late May, is currently home to 18 children aged 13-17, and is a hub of social activity. The hostel for young migrants who crossed Greek borders without a guardian is run by the nongovernmental organization Praksis, which took on the responsibility of housing dozens of young refugees from countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan who were being held at migrant detention centers such as Amygdaleza, north of Athens.

The detention centers were closed down by the then new government as one of its first orders of business, citing “inhuman” living conditions. However, one of the first issues then to rise was what was to happen to the minors. The government was short of cash, prompting Alternate Minister for Immigration Policy Tasia Christodoulopoulou to reach out to the Latsis Foundation for help. “Surprisingly fast for a public organization,” says Latsis Foundation Executive Board secretary Dimitris Afendoulis, the ministry and the foundation created the hostel, which can take in 24 guests at a time, in a house in Ano Petralona within just a few months. There are currently 99 minors still waiting to be placed in similar facilities, while authorities estimate that some 2,500 children make their way through Greece alone every year.

“This center may provide just a small amount of relief for the thousands of children waiting to find shelter in this country but on a symbolic level it is an amazing initiative, particularly as it happened thanks to funding from a private foundation,” says Christodoulopoulou. “We have a funding gap as far as European Union funds are concerned and such initiatives contribute to social solidarity and awareness.” “Caring for and protecting unaccompanied minors brings together all those people who have the capability to contribute,” says Afendoulis, adding that the foundation has also undertaken to cover the hostel’s operating costs until EU funding becomes available.

The center is a response to intolerance, to the “migrants go home” attitude, says Antypas Tzanetos, president of the Praksis board. “It is a response with actions, not words,” he adds.

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Lagarde list years later.

Prosecutor Summons Ex-PM Samaras’ Aide Over €5.5 Million HSCB Bank Account (KTG)

“I wish we had ten Papastavrou!” It was former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras who had praised the morals of his close aide Stavros Papastravou, a lawyer consultant at the Prime Ministry, during a speech in the Greek Parliament. Now, one of the ‘ten’ the real Stavros Papastavrou has been summoned by an Athens financial crimes prosecutor to give explanation about €5.5 million in his accounts at the HSBC Geneva branch. Papastavrou’s name was one of more than 2,000 Greek names on the so-called Lagarde list of wealthy Greek depositors with accounts at HSBC Geneva branch that was ‘stolen’ by former bank employee Herve Falciani in 2009. The Lagarde-List has been in the hands of the Greek authorities since 2010.

“Prosecutor Yiannis Dragatsis called lawyer Stavros Papastavrou to answer questions regarding his suspected involvement in tax evasion and money laundering through an account containing 5.5 million euros that was among hundreds on a list submitted to the Greek authorities in 2010 by then-French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde, currently managing director of the IMF. Papastavrou’s legal counsel requested an extension so that the former prime minister’s adviser can prepare his defense. A new date will be set for his deposition after the August 15th break.” (ekathimerini)

According to several Greek media, Papastavrou claims that the money does not belong to him but to Israeli businessman Sabi Mioni. Papastavrou is reportedly co-holder of the account together with his mother and his father who deceased some years ago. Papastavrou had alleged that he was just managing the bank account. The former aide has to prove through documents that he is telling the truth, but also Mioni has to testify in the case. In his testimony in 2013, Mioni had claimed that he had given access to one of his corporate bank accounts to Papastavrou.

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Recovery.

Italian Youth Unemployment Rises to its Highest Level Ever (Bloomberg)

Italy’s jobless rate unexpectedly rose in June as businesses continue to dimiss workers amid concerns that the country’s exit from recession may not be sustainable. Youth unemployment jumped to a record-high 44.2%. Unemployment increased to 12.7% from a revised 12.5% in May, statistics agency Istat said in a preliminary report in Rome on Friday. The median estimate in a survey of nine analysts called for a rate of 12.3%. Youth unemployment in June rose to the highest rate since the series began in 2004, from 42.4% in May. Employment dropped for a second month in a row, with about 22,000 jobs lost in June alone, according to the report.

Joblessness in the euro area’s third-largest economy has been at 12% or above for more than two years as the record slump deepened before GDP started to rise again at the end of 2014. On Monday, the IMF said in a report that “without a significant pick-up in growth,” it would take Italy “nearly 20 years to reduce the unemployment rate to pre-crisis” levels of about half the current one. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s changes to Italy’s labor code showed early results as the number of open-ended contracts taking effect in the first half increased, the government said. Still, executives’ confidence declined this month amid doubts on the outlook for economic recovery and employment.

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Bad idea to focus on smuggling. The refugees need the attention.

People Smuggling: How It Works, Who Benefits, How It Can Be Stopped (Guardian)

One of the most distressing elements of the worldwide migrant crisis is that people who have risked all for a better life should be held to ransom by smugglers. The lines between migration and human trafficking all too easily converge. While migration implies a level of individual choice, migrants are sometimes detained and even tortured by the people they pay to lead them across borders. Following the cash across borders – through a network of kingpins, spotters, drivers and enforcers – is central to understanding how this opaque and complex business works. Everyone agrees there is not enough data. No one knows how many migrants are smuggled. However, enough is known about the money paid – by Eritreans, Syrians, Rohingya, and Afghans, among others – to demonstrate it is a multimillion-dollar business.

As Europe debates measures ranging from military attacks to destroying smugglers’ boats to increasing asylum places, what more can be done to prosecute those profiting at the crossroads of dreams and despair? How much do migrants pay? The cost varies depending on the distance, destination, level of difficulty, method of transport (air travel is dearer and requires fake documents) and whether the migrant has personal links to the smugglers, or decides to work for them. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says journeys in Asia can cost from a few hundred dollars up to $10,000 (£6,422) or more. For Mexicans wanting to enter the US, fees can run to $3,500, while Africans trying to cross the Mediterranean can pay up to $1,000, and Syrians up to $2,500.

Abu Hamada, 62, a Syrian-Palestinian refugee, reckons he has earned about £1.5m ($2.3m) over six months by smuggling people across the Mediterranean from Egypt. A place on a boat from Turkey to Greece costs between €1,000 and €1,200(£700 and £840), say migrants. Afghans pay between €10,000 and €11,000 to get to Hungary, which includes help from smugglers. The UNODC says smugglers operating from Africa to Europe earn about $150m annually, while those from Latin America to North America are believed to earn roughly $6.6bn a year. Money is often paid in instalments as a migrant moves from one group of smugglers to the next. For example, migrants from Afghanistan often use informal remittance systems, such as hawala. Funds are deposited with a hawaladar in Afghanistan, and on each stage of the journey the migrant will contact that person to release money to other hawaladars in transit countries.

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Morons.

David Cameron To Send Dogs And Fences To Quell Calais Migrant Crisis (Guardian)

Extra sniffer dogs and fencing will be sent to France to help deal with the Calais migrant crisis, and Ministry of Defence land will be used to ease congestion on the UK side of the Channel tunnel, David Cameron has said. Speaking in Downing Street after chairing a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee, the prime minister said the situation was “unacceptable” and that he would be speaking to the French president, François Hollande, later on Friday. Cameron said: “This is going to be a difficult issue right across the summer. “I will have a team of senior ministers who will be working to deal with it, and we rule nothing out in taking action to deal with this very serious problem. “We are absolutely on it. We know it needs more work.”

The Cobra meeting came after another night during which police in France blocked people from reaching the Channel tunnel. About 3,000 people from countries including Syria and Eritrea are camping out in Calais and trying to cross into Britain illegally by climbing on board lorries and trains. France bolstered its police presence. The tunnel was temporarily closed on Friday morning while officials carried out an inspection after more migrants attempted to enter overnight at the entrance in Coquelles. French police attempted to form a ring of steel around the tunnel on Thursday night, prompting an evening of scuffles and standoffs with migrants attempting to breach the terminal in Calais. Up to a hundred migrants attempted to overrun police lines at a petrol station near the Eurostar terminal but were held back by baton-wielding gendarmes and riot vans.

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It’ll take a long time and a lot of deaths before people accept this.

We Can’t Stop The Flow Of Migrants To Europe, Only Rehouse Them (Guardian)

Rarely since 1558, when Queen Mary lost the town to the French, can Calais have ruffled as many British feathers as it has this July. British lorry-drivers, British holidaymakers, and British booze-runners – they’ve all had their journeys wrecked by a recent rise in refugees attempting to break into the Calais end of the Channel tunnel. Without wanting to entirely dismiss their experiences, it is nevertheless useful to remember that the Calais crisis is just a tiny part of a wider one. Of the nearly 200,000 refugees and migrants who have reached Europe via the Mediterranean this year, only 3,000 have made their way to Calais. This means that the migrants at Calais constitute between 1% and 2% of the total number of arrivals in Italy and Greece in 2015.

Far from the UK being a primary target for refugees, the country is much less sought-after than several of its northern European neighbours, notably Sweden and Germany. And while the chaos at Calais may seem unique, many more migrants arrive every week on the shores of Italy and Greece than will reach northern France all year. Debunking this Anglo-centrism is not an academic exercise. It is crucial to understanding how the Calais crisis can be better managed. Britain’s responses to the phenomenon are based on the assumption that it is a local problem. They include building more fences (Theresa May’s proposed recourse), sending in the army (Nigel Farage’s), or clearing the camp entirely (the default reaction in years gone by).

Such solutions presuppose that the crisis is a one-off event peculiar to the British-French border, and that these migrants – once cordoned-off and forgotten about – won’t come back and try again. But such short-termism ignores a vital fact: the migrants at Calais are merely the crest of the biggest global wave of mass migration since the second world war. Others will keep coming in their wake, whether we like it or not. Previous camp clearances over the past decade have ultimately not stopped the flow at Calais. Why would they work now?

[..] For many, the implications of this will be hard to swallow. But the reality is clear: the only logical, long-term response to the Calais crisis is to create a legal means for vast numbers of refugees to reach Europe in safety. This may sound counter-intuitive. But at the current rate, whether we like it or not, 1 million refugees will arrive on European shores within the next four or five years. Whether they set up camps at Calais depends on how orderly we make that process of resettlement.

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Time to act?!

As World Mourned Cecil The Lion, 5 Endangered Elephants Slain in Kenya (WaPo)

While the world mourned Cecil, the 13-year-old lion that was allegedly shot by an American hunter in Zimbabwe, an even more devastating poaching incident was quietly carried out in Kenya. Poachers killed five elephants in Tsavo West National Park on Monday night. The carcasses were recovered by rangers on Tuesday morning — what appeared to be an adult female and her four offspring, their tusks hacked off. While the killing of the lion in Zimbabwe has attracted the world’s attention, the death of the five elephants has received almost no coverage, even though elephants are under a far greater threat from poachers than lions. Their tusks can be sold in Asia for more than $1,000 per pound.

“It’s just devastating,” said Paul Gathitu, a spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Service. “It took us completely by surprise.” Kenyan investigators say the poachers crossed the border from neighboring Tanzania, slaughtered the elephants and then quickly returned to their base, making them difficult to track. Tsavo stretches along the border for more than 50 miles. Rangers heard gunshots ring out on Monday evening. They searched all night through the vast park and discovered the carnage the next morning. There was blood and loose skin where the tusks were cut off. Kenyan authorities say the poachers escaped on motorcycles, carrying their loot.

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“..sea surface temperatures haven’t been warming fast as marine air temperatures, so this comparison introduces a bias that makes the observations look cooler than the model simulations.”

Climate Models Are Even More Accurate Than You Thought (Guardian)

Global climate models aren’t given nearly enough credit for their accurate global temperature change projections. As the 2014 IPCC report showed, observed global surface temperature changes have been within the range of climate model simulations. Now a new study shows that the models were even more accurate than previously thought. In previous evaluations like the one done by the IPCC, climate model simulations of global surface air temperature were compared to global surface temperature observational records like HadCRUT4. However, over the oceans, HadCRUT4 uses sea surface temperatures rather than air temperatures. Thus looking at modeled air temperatures and HadCRUT4 observations isn’t quite an apples-to-apples comparison for the oceans.

As it turns out, sea surface temperatures haven’t been warming fast as marine air temperatures, so this comparison introduces a bias that makes the observations look cooler than the model simulations. In reality, the comparisons weren’t quite correct. As lead author Kevin Cowtan told me,

“We have highlighted the fact that the planet does not warm uniformly. Air temperatures warm faster than the oceans, air temperatures over land warm faster than global air temperatures. When you put a number on global warming, that number always depends on what you are measuring. And when you do a comparison, you need to ensure you are comparing the same things.

The model projections have generally reported global air temperatures. That’s quite helpful, because we generally live in the air rather than the water. The observations, by mixing air and water temperatures, are expected to slightly underestimate the warming of the atmosphere.

The new study addresses this problem by instead blending the modeled air temperatures over land with the modeled sea surface temperatures to allow for an apples-to-apples comparison. The authors also identified another challenging issue for these model-data comparisons in the Arctic. Over sea ice, surface air temperature measurements are used, but for open ocean, sea surface temperatures are used. As co-author Michael Mann notes, as Arctic sea ice continues to melt away, this is another factor that accurate model-data comparisons must account for.

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Apr 022015
 
 April 2, 2015  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »


Marion Post Wolcott Negro woman carrying laundry between Durham and Mebane, NC 1939

The Committee To Destroy The World (Michael Lewitt)
Our Current Illusion Of Prosperity (Mises Inst.)
Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think (Scientific American)
Burning Down The House: Land, Water & Food (Eastwood)
The Warren Effect: Here Is A Bluff That Needs To Be Called (Esquire)
Companies Go All-In Before Rate Hike, Issue Record Debt In Q1 (Zero Hedge)
Shanghai Traders Make Trillion-Yuan Stock Bet With Borrowed Cash (Bloomberg)
Greek Defiance Mounts As Alexis Tsipras Turns To Russia And China (AEP)
Greece Threatens Default As Fresh Reform Bid Falters (Telegraph)
China’s Fuel Demand to Peak Sooner Than Oil Giants Expect (Bloomberg)
The Saudis Are Losing Their Lock on Asian Oil Sales (Bloomberg)
Reckoning Arrives for Cash-Strapped Oil Firms Amid Bank Squeeze (Bloomberg)
Appalachia Miners Wiped Out by Coal Glut That They Can’t Reverse (Bloomberg)
World Dairy Prices Slide 10.8% On Supply Concerns (NZ Herald)
CFTC Charges Kraft, Mondelez With Manipulating Wheat Futures (MarketWatch)
Brazil’s Richest Man May Reap $5.6 Billion in Kraft-Heinz Merger
The Cuban Money Crisis (Bloomberg)
California Orders Mandatory Water Cuts Of 25% Amid Record Drought (WSJ)

Absolute must read. And then a second time.

The Committee To Destroy The World (Michael Lewitt)

Last month, the world mourned the death of beloved actor Leonard Nimoy. Mr. Nimoy, of course, was renowned for his portrayal of the iconic character Mr. Spock on the 1960s television series Star Trek. One of the most memorable Star Trek inventions was the transporter that allowed human beings to be beamed through space and time like light and energy. Investors expecting central bankers to solve the world’s economic problems might as well believe that Janet Yellen is capable of beaming them straight into the Marriner S. Eccles Building in Washington, D.C. Their failure to acknowledge that the Fed is failing to generate sustainable economic growth while contributing to income inequality and crushing debt burdens is inexplicable.

Central banks that purport to be promoting financial stability are actually undermining it – with the able assistance of regulators who have drained liquidity from the world’s most important markets. Negative interest rates on $3 trillion of European debt are an obvious sign of policy failure, yet the policy elite stands mute. Actually that’s not correct – the cognoscenti is cheering on Mario Draghi as he destroys the European bond markets just as they celebrated Janet Yellen’s demolition of the Treasury market. Negative interest rates are not some curiosity; they represent a symptom of policy failure and a violation of the very tenets of capitalist economics. The same is true of persistent near-zero interest rates in the United States and Japan.

Zero gravity renders it impossible for fiduciaries to generate positive returns for their clients, insurance companies to issue policies, and savers to entrust their money to banks. They are a byproduct of failed economic policies, not some clever device to defeat deflation and stimulate economic growth. They are mathematically doomed to fail regardless of what economists, who are merely failed monetary philosophers practicing a soft social science, purport to tell us. The fact that European and American central banks are following the path of Japan with virtually no objection represents one of the most profound intellectual failures in the history of economic policy history.[..]

Christopher Whalen, one of the best bank analysts on Wall Street, argued that global banks face trillions of bad off-balance sheet debts that must eventually be resolved (i.e. written off) and are dragging on economic growth. These debts include everything from loans by German banks to Greece to home equity loans in the U.S. for homes that are underwater on their first mortgage. Banks and governments refuse to restructure (i.e. write off) these bad debts because doing so would trigger capital losses for banks and governments. As Mr. Whalen explains, “the Fed and ECB have decided to address the issue of debt by slowly confiscating value from investors via negative rates, this because the fiscal authorities in the respective industrial nations cannot or will not address the problem directly.”

But in addition to avoiding the bad debt problem, these policies are causing further economic damage by depressing growth and starving savers. Per Mr. Whalen: “ZIRP and QE as practiced by the Fed and ECB are not boosting, but instead depressing, private sector economic activity. By using bank reserves to acquire government and agency securities, the FOMC has actually been retarding private economic growth, even while pushing up the prices of financial assets around the world.”

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“Massive layoffs in the energy sector are now a certainty. Few realize that most of the gains in employment in the US since 2008 have been in shale states. Yet the carnage is not over.”

Our Current Illusion Of Prosperity (Mises Inst.)

President Obama and Fed Chair Janet Yellen have been crowing about improving economic conditions in the US. Unemployment is down to 5.5% and growth in 2014 hit 2.2%. Journalists and economists point to this improvement as proof that quantitative easing was effective. Unfortunately, this latest boom is artificial and has been built by adding debt on top of debt. Total household debt increased 2.5% in 2014 — the highest level since 2010. Mortgage loans increased 1.5%, student loans 6.6% while auto loans increased a hefty 9.6%. The improving auto sales are built mostly on a bubble of sub-prime borrowers. Auto sales have been brisk because of a surge in loans to individuals with credit scores below 620. Since 2010, such loans have increased over 100% and have gone from 20% of originations in 2009 to 27% in 2013.

Yet, auto loans to individuals with strong credit scores, above 760, have barely budged over the last year. Subprime consumer borrowing climbed $189 billion in the first eleven months of 2014. Excluding home mortgages, this accounted for 41% of total consumer lending. This is exactly the kind of lending that got us into trouble less than a decade ago, and for many consumers, this will only end in tears. But we need to ask ourselves: is the current boom built on sound foundations? In other words, do we have sharp increases in productivity or real wage growth? Productivity increased less than 1% on average in the last three years and real wages have flat lined or declined for decades. From mid-2007 to mid-2014, real wages declined 4.9% for workers with a high school degree, dropped 2.5% for workers with a college degree and rose just 0.2% for workers with an advanced degree.

Is the boom being built on broad base investment in plant and equipment? The current average age of working plants and equipment in the US is one of the oldest on record. Meanwhile, it is now clear that the shale boom was an illusion of prosperity. Oil prices have dipped below $50 with some analysts calling for $20 oil by the end of the year. This is a drop from over $100 from last year. Many shale outfits need oil above $65 just to break even. Massive layoffs in the energy sector are now a certainty. Few realize that most of the gains in employment in the US since 2008 have been in shale states. Yet the carnage is not over. Induced by low interest, investment banks loaned over $1 trillion to the energy industry. The impact on the financial sector is still to be felt.

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Do read.

Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think (Scientific American)

In a candid conversation with Frank Rich last fall, Chris Rock said, “Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” The findings of three studies, published over the last several years in Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggest that Rock is right. We have no idea how unequal our society has become. In their 2011 paper, Michael Norton and Dan Ariely analyzed beliefs about wealth inequality. They asked more than 5,000 Americans to guess the%age of wealth (i.e., savings, property, stocks, etc., minus debts) owned by each fifth of the population. Next, they asked people to construct their ideal distributions. Imagine a pizza of all the wealth in the United States. What%age of that pizza belongs to the top 20% of Americans?

How big of a slice does the bottom 40% have? In an ideal world, how much should they have? The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined. We don’t want to live like this. In our ideal distribution, the top quintile owns 32% and the bottom two quintiles own 25%. As the journalist Chrystia Freeland put it, “Americans actually live in Russia, although they think they live in Sweden. And they would like to live on a kibbutz.” Norton and Ariely found a surprising level of consensus: everyone — even Republicans and the wealthy—wants a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo.

This all might ring a bell. An infographic video of the study went viral and has been watched more than 16 million times. In a study published last year, Norton and Sorapop Kiatpongsan used a similar approach to assess perceptions of income inequality. They asked about 55,000 people from 40 countries to estimate how much corporate CEOs and unskilled workers earned. Then they asked people how much CEOs and workers should earn. The median American estimated that the CEO-to-worker pay-ratio was 30-to-1, and that ideally, it’d be 7-to-1. The reality? 354-to-1. Fifty years ago, it was 20-to-1. Again, the patterns were the same for all subgroups, regardless of age, education, political affiliation, or opinion on inequality and pay. “In sum,” the researchers concluded, “respondents underestimate actual pay gaps, and their ideal pay gaps are even further from reality than those underestimates.”

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Can man stop himself?

Burning Down The House: Land, Water & Food (Eastwood)

I’m sure when Talking Heads wrote “Burning Down The House” that they didn’t exactly have financial collapse and environmental degradation in mind. Although with a verse like “Hold tight wait till the party’s over. Hold tight we’re in for nasty weather. There has got to be a way. Burning down the house” it’s hard not to see that song as strangely prophetic. What we are now doing to the planet and to human society is exactly that – burning down the house while we are still living in it. Everyone needs fuel, especially during a bitter winter, but only a mad man starts deconstructing the house in order to burn bits of it in the stove or fireplace. Almost as mad as that is stealing bits of other people’s houses to burn, but that at least is not soiling your own doorstep – well not at first.

In a world of limited resources and limited space we’ve now reached the point where raiding our neighbours’ houses is the same thing as raiding our own house, because the net effect is the same – disaster on an unprecedented level. Of course it’s easier to live in denial and keep on cannibalising the world’s vital resources at an ever-increasing rate and pretend that it’s business as usual, but in reality it is anything but that. The alarm bells from commentators from all sectors: science, economics, religion etc. are getting louder and more frequent, better argued and with the raw data to back it up, but we are still not listening. Of course, the alarm bell was being rung fifty or more years ago by people such as Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1957, the now retiring Lester Brown and the late Rachel Carson (author of Silent Spring).

Nobody really listened that well back then, although governments paid lip-service to these troublesome do-gooders. Now we know that what they said was entirely true, that we are headed for disaster and yet will still only get the tired old lip-service, as before or Koch Brother inspired denial. The evidence is clearly there that we are depleting all of our resources far too quickly, especially the land we use to produce food and draw raw materials from. In part a consequence of this, the fresh water supplies that are even more vital are also being depleted way too fast. Devastation of the land, especially deforestation exacerbates water loss and soil erosion. Couple this with increased damming of rivers, pollutant run-off into rivers, fracking and mining and you’ve a recipe for a water crisis, which will, in turn, lead to a food crisis.

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Amen.

The Warren Effect: Here Is A Bluff That Needs To Be Called (Esquire)

Let us be quite definite about this. Any Democratic politician who thinks this is a bad situation – or, worse, will not stand by a Democratic colleague in this situation – is not worth the hankie to blow Joe Lieberman’s nose.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party’s tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week. Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

My god, what a prodigious bluff. Also, my god, what towering arrogance? These guys own half the world and have enough money to buy the other half, and they’re threatening the party still most likely to control the White House because they don’t like the Senator Professor’s tone? Her tone? Sherrod Brown’s tone? These are guys who should be worried about the tone of the guard who’s calling them down to breakfast at Danbury and they’re concerned about the tenderness of their Savile Row’d fee-fees? Honkies, please.

The tensions are a sign that the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis – the bank bailouts and the fights over financial reforms to rein in Wall Street – are still a factor in the 2016 elections. Citigroup has decided to withhold donations for now to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee over concerns that Senate Democrats could give Warren and lawmakers who share her views more power, sources inside the bank told Reuters.

Tensions? These are the guys who should have spent the last six years going door to door apologizing to every American for blowing up the world economy and then buying up the splinters. That is, they should have been going door-to-door to apologize to all those Americans who still have doors they can call their own. Call this. Do it now. Tell them their money is no good here any more. Give these brigands the 86 the way any respectable saloonkeeper gives the heave to a chronic deadbeat who’s run up an unpayable tab. Show the country in simple (and not necessarily civil) words what these people really are.

Demonstrate, speech by speech, that they have no loyalty to the political entity that is the United States of America, that they are stateless gombeen bastards who would sell this country’s democracy off like a subprime mortgage to put another ten bucks into their pockets. They are threatening the people whom they still should be thanking for saving them from themselves. And Senator Professor Warren is only their most conspicuous target. Don’t kid yourselves, this is a message they’re sending to every politician, up and down the line, national and local. Don’t cross us. We own you. There is only one response for a democratic people to make to this ongoing gross obscenity. Bring it, motherfkers. Bring your lunch. And your lawyers.

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What could possibly go wrong?

Companies Go All-In Before Rate Hike, Issue Record Debt In Q1 (Zero Hedge)

It should come as no surprise that Q1 was a banner quarter for corporate debt issuance as struggling oil producers tapped HY markets to stay afloat, companies scrambled to max out the stock-buyback-via-balance-sheet re-leveraging play before a certain “diminutive” superwoman in the Eccles Building decides to do the unthinkable and actually hike rates, and there was M&A. As we discussed last week, rising stock prices have tipped investors’ asset allocation towards equities even as money continues to flow into bonds, meaning that yet more money must be funneled into fixed income for rebalancing purposes, which ironically drives demand for the very same debt that US corporates are using to fund the very same buy backs that are driving equity outperformance in the first place. Put more simply: the bubble machine is in hyperdrive. Not only did Q1 mark a record quarter for issuance, March supply also hit a record at $143 billion, tying the total put up in May of 2008. Here’s more from BofAML:

1Q set records for both supply and trading volumes in high grade, as new issue supply volumes reached $348bn, up from the previous record of $310bn in 1Q- 2014, whereas trading volumes averaged 15.6bn per day, up from the previous record of $14.3bn during the same quarter last year… Issuance in March totaled $143bn and it tied with May 2008 and September of 2013 for the highest monthly supply on record going back to at least 1998. September of 2013 was the month when the record $49bn VZ deal was priced… Supply in March was supported by low interest rates (encouraging opportunistic issuance on the supply side and supporting investor demand by diminishing interest rate risk concerns) and a busy M&A-related calendar. Some of these trends will continue in April, although investors are becoming more concerned about the Fed hiking cycle…

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The China casino.

Shanghai Traders Make Trillion-Yuan Stock Bet With Borrowed Cash (Bloomberg)

Shanghai traders now have more than 1 trillion yuan ($161 billion) of borrowed cash riding on the world’s highest-flying stock market. The outstanding balance of margin debt on the Shanghai Stock Exchange surpassed the trillion-yuan mark for the first time on Wednesday, a nearly fourfold jump from just 12 months ago. The city’s benchmark index has surged 86% during that time, more than any of the world’s major stock gauges. While the extra buying power that comes from leverage has fueled the Shanghai Composite Index’s rally, it’s also sending equity volatility to five-year highs and may accelerate losses if a market reversal forces traders to sell.

Margin debt has increased even after regulators suspended three of the nation’s biggest brokers from adding new accounts in January and said securities firms shouldn’t lend to investors with less than 500,000 yuan. “It’s like a two-edged sword,” said Wu Kan, a money manager at Dragon Life Insurance Co. in Shanghai, which oversees about $3.3 billion. “When the market starts a correction or falls, it will increase the magnitude of declines.” In a margin trade, investors use their own money for just a portion of their stock purchase, borrowing the rest from a brokerage. The loans are backed by the investors’ equity holdings, meaning that they may be compelled to sell when prices fall to repay their debt.

Chinese investors have been piling into the stock market after the central bank cut interest rates twice since November and authorities from the China Securities Regulatory Commission to central bank Governor Zhou Xiaochuan endorsed the flow of funds into equities. Traders have opened 2.8 million new stock accounts in just the past two weeks, almost on par with Chicago’s entire population. The outstanding balance of the margin debt on China’s smaller exchange in Shenzhen was 493.8 billion yuan on March 31. That puts the combined figure for China’s two main bourses at the equivalent of about $241 billion. In the U.S., which has a stock market almost four times the size of China’s, margin debt on the New York Stock Exchange was about $465 billion at the end of February.

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Strong effort by Ambrose. He manages to look behind the obvious veil: “When Warren Buffett suggests that Europe might emerge stronger after a salutary purge of its weak link in Greece, he confirms his own rule that you should never dabble in matters beyond your ken.”

Greek Defiance Mounts As Alexis Tsipras Turns To Russia And China (AEP)

Two months of EU bluster and reproof have failed to cow Greece. It is becoming clear that Europe’s creditor powers have misjudged the nature of the Greek crisis and can no longer avoid facing the Morton’s Fork in front of them. Any deal that goes far enough to assuage Greece’s justly-aggrieved people must automatically blow apart the austerity settlement already fraying in the rest of southern Europe. The necessary concessions would embolden populist defiance in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and bring German euroscepticism to the boil. Emotional consent for monetary union is ebbing dangerously in Bavaria and most of eastern Germany, even if formulaic surveys do not fully catch the strength of the undercurrents. This week’s resignation of Bavarian MP Peter Gauweiler over Greece’s bail-out extension can, of course, be over-played. He has long been a foe of EMU.

But his protest is unquestionably a warning shot for Angela Merkel’s political family. Mr Gauweiler was made vice-chairman of Bavaria’s Social Christians (CSU) in 2013 for the express purpose of shoring up the party’s eurosceptic wing and heading off threats from the anti-euro Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). Yet if the EMU powers persist mechanically with their stale demands – even reverting to terms that the previous pro-EMU government in Athens rejected in December – they risk setting off a political chain-reaction that can only eviscerate the EU Project as a motivating ideology in Europe. Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s chief, understands the risk perfectly, warning anybody who will listen that Grexit would lead to an “irreparable loss of global prestige for the whole EU” and crystallize Europe’s final fall from grace.

When Warren Buffett suggests that Europe might emerge stronger after a salutary purge of its weak link in Greece, he confirms his own rule that you should never dabble in matters beyond your ken. Alexis Tsipras leads the first radical-Leftist government elected in Europe since the Second World War. His Syriza movement is, in a sense, totemic for the European Left, even if sympathisers despair over its chaotic twists and turns. As such, it is a litmus test of whether progressives can pursue anything resembling an autonomous economic policy within EMU. There are faint echoes of what happened to the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, a litmus test for the Latin American Left in its day. His experiment in land reform was famously snuffed out by a CIA coup in 1954, with lasting consequences. It was the moment of epiphany for Che Guevara, then working as a volunteer doctor in the country.

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Believe it or not, this thing will have to reach a conclusion soon.

Greece Threatens Default As Fresh Reform Bid Falters (Telegraph)

The Greek government has threatened to default on its loans to the International Monetary Fund, as Athens continued its battle to convince creditors for a fresh injection of bail-out cash. Greece’s interior minister told Germany’s Spiegel magazine, his country would not respect a looming €450m loan repayment to the fund on April 9, without a release of much-needed bail-out funds. “If no money is flowing on April 9, we will first determine the salaries and pensions paid here in Greece and then ask our partners abroad to achieve consensus that we will not pay €450 million to the IMF on time,” said Nikos Voutzis. The cash-strapped government has struggled to keep up with its wage and pensions obligations having agreed a bail-out extension on February 20.

Athens insists it has enough money to last it until the middle of April, but a final agreement on any deal is unlikely to be secured before the end of the month. A Greek government spokesperson later denied the reports of a deliberate default, saying the country still hoped for a “positive outcome” to its debt negotiations. The comments came as the eurozone’s working group discussed a new 26-page plan of reforms from Athens on Wednesday. Aiming to generate an estimated €6bn in 2015, Athens has pledged a range of revenue-raising measures including cracking down on tax evasion, carrying out an audit on overseas bank transfers, and introducing a “luxury tax”. The document also warned brinkmanship on the part of the eurozone meant the “viability” of the currency union was now “in question.”

“It is necessary now, without further delay to turn a corner on the mistakes of the past and to forge a new relationship between member states, a relationship based on solidarity, resolve, mutual respect,” said the proposal. The Leftist government has continually fallen short of creditor demands, who hold the purse strings on €7.2bn in bail-out cash the government requires over the next three months. However, the latest blueprint is unlikely to satisfy lenders as it lacks details on labour market liberalisation or pensions reforms. Previous privatisations of the country’s assets were also described as a “spectacular” failure, generating far less in revenues for the state than first envisaged..

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Wrong on purpose?

China’s Fuel Demand to Peak Sooner Than Oil Giants Expect (Bloomberg)

China’s biggest oil refiner is signaling the nation is headed to its peak in diesel and gasoline consumption far sooner than most Western energy companies and analysts are forecasting. If correct, the projections by China Petroleum & Chemical, or Sinopec, a state-controlled enterprise with public shareholders in Hong Kong, pose a big challenge to the world’s largest oil companies. They’re counting on demand from China and other developing countries to keep their businesses growing as energy consumption falls in more advanced economies. “Plenty of people are talking about the peak in Chinese coal, but not many are talking about the peak in Chinese diesel demand, or Chinese oil generally,” said Mark C. Lewis at Kepler Cheuvreux. “It is shocking.”

Sinopec has offered a view of the country that should serve as a reality check to any oil bull. For diesel, the fuel that most closely tracks economic growth, the peak in China’s demand is just two years away, in 2017, according to Sinopec Chairman Fu Chengyu, who gave his outlook on a little reported March 23 conference call. The high point in gasoline sales is likely to come in about a decade, he said, and the company is already preparing for the day when selling fuel is what he called a “non-core” activity. That forecast, from a company whose 30,000 gas stations and 23,000 convenience stores arguably give it a better view on the market than anyone else, runs counter to the narrative heard regularly from oil drillers from the U.S. and Europe that Chinese demand for their product will increase for decades to come.

“From 2010 to 2040, transportation energy needs in OECD32 countries are projected to fall about 10% while in the rest of the world these needs are expected to double,” Exxon Mobil said in a December report on its view of the future. “China and India will together account for about half of the global increase.” Exxon expects most of that growth to be driven by commercial transportation for heavy-duty vehicles, specifically ships, trucks, planes and trains that run on diesel and similar fuels. BP’s latest public projection for China, released in February, sounds a similar note. “Energy consumed in transport grows by 98%. Oil remains the dominant fuel but loses market share, dropping from 90% to 83% in 2035.”

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“Asian-Pacific refiners are forecast to add 5.4 million barrels a day of capacity in the next five years..”

The Saudis Are Losing Their Lock on Asian Oil Sales (Bloomberg)

Ships carrying oil from Mexico docked in South Korea this year for the first time in more than two decades as the global fight for market share intensifies. Latin American producers are providing increasing amounts of heavy crude to bargain-hungry Asian refiners in a challenge to Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter and the region’s dominant supplier. “By diversifying, more Asian refiners will be able to reduce the clout that Saudi Arabia has on the market,” said Suresh Sivanandam, a refining and chemical analyst with Wood Mackenzie Ltd. in Singapore. “They will be getting more bargaining power for sure.”

The U.S., enjoying a surge of light oil from shale formations, has raised imports of heavy grades from Canada, displacing crude from nations such as Mexico and Venezuela. That’s boosting South American deliveries to Asia even after Saudi Arabia cut prices for March oil sales to the region, its largest market, to the lowest in at least 14 years. The shale boom also has transformed the flow of oil to Asia. South Korea received its first shipment of Alaskan crude in at least eight years as output from Texas and North Dakota displaces oil that fed U.S. refineries for years. The country was one of the first to receive a cargo of the ultralight U.S. crude known as condensate after export rules were eased.

Petrobras and partner operators are also shipping to Asia and were scheduled to load nine tankers bound for the region in March, according to Energy Aspects, as Latin American oil’s discount to Middle East benchmark Dubai widens to almost double the average of the past year. Asian-Pacific refiners are forecast to add 5.4 million barrels a day of capacity in the next five years, according to Gaffney, Cline & Associates, a petroleum consultant.

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“April is a crucial month for the industry because it’s when lenders are due to recalculate the value of properties that energy companies staked as loan collateral.” Calculations until now are stil based on $90 oil.

Reckoning Arrives for Cash-Strapped Oil Firms Amid Bank Squeeze (Bloomberg)

Lenders are preparing to cut the credit lines to a group of junk-rated shale oil companies by as much as 30% in the coming days, dealing another blow as they struggle with a slump in crude prices, according to people familiar with the matter.
Sabine Oil & Gas became one of the first companies to warn investors that it faces a cash shortage from a reduced credit line, saying Tuesday that it raises “substantial doubt” about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern. About 10 firms are having trouble finding backup financing, said the people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information hasn’t been announced. April is a crucial month for the industry because it’s when lenders are due to recalculate the value of properties that energy companies staked as loan collateral.

With those assets in decline along with oil prices, banks are preparing to cut the amount they’re willing to lend. And that will only squeeze companies’ ability to produce more oil. “If they can’t drill, they can’t make money,” said Kristen Campana at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP’s finance and financial restructuring groups. “It’s a downward spiral.” Sabine, the Houston-based exploration and production company that merged with Forest Oil Corp. last year, told investors Tuesday that it’s at risk of defaulting on $2 billion of loans and other debt if its banks don’t grant a waiver. Publicly traded firms are required to disclose such news to investors within four business days, under U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rules.

Some of the companies facing liquidity shortfalls will also disclose that they have fully drawn down their revolving credit lines like Sabine, according to one of the people. The credit discussions are ongoing and a number of banks may opt to be more lenient, giving companies more time to prepare for bigger cuts later in the year, the people said. Credit lines for some of the companies may be reduced by as little as 10%, they said. The companies are among speculative-grade energy producers that were able to load up on cheap debt as crude prices climbed above $100 a barrel. The borrowing limits are tied to reserves, the amount of oil and gas a company has in the ground that can profitably be extracted based on its land holdings. With oil prices plunging below $50 from last year’s peak of $107 in June, some are now fighting to survive.

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Commodities have been overvalued for a long time, due to crazy expectations for China growth.

Appalachia Miners Wiped Out by Coal Glut That They Can’t Reverse (Bloomberg)

Douglas Blackburn has been crawling in and out of the coal mines of Central Appalachia since he was a boy accompanying his father and grandfather some 50 years ago. The only time that Blackburn, now a coal industry consultant, remembers things being this bad was in the 1990s. Back then, he estimates, almost 40% of the region’s mines went bankrupt. “It’s a similar situation,” said Blackburn, who owns Blackacre, a Richmond, Va consulting firm. Now, like then, the principal problem is sinking coal prices. They’ve dropped 33% over the past four years to levels that have made most mining companies across the Appalachia mountain region unprofitable. To make matters worse, there’s little chance of a quick rebound in prices. That’s because idling a mine to cut output and stem losses isn’t an option for many companies.

The cost of doing so – even on a temporary basis – has become so prohibitive that it can put a miner out of business fast, Blackburn and other industry analysts say. So companies keep pulling coal out of the ground, opting to take a small, steady loss rather than one big writedown, in the hope that prices will bounce back. That, of course, is only adding to the supply glut in the U.S., the world’s second-biggest producer, and driving prices down further. It’s become, in essence, a trap for miners. “You have this really perverse situation where they keep producing,” James Stevenson at IHS said in a telephone interview. “You’re just shoveling coal into this market that’s oversupplied.” Companies will dig up at least 17 million tons more coal than power plants need this year, Morgan Stanley estimates. Coal is burned at the plants to generate electricity. That’s creating the latest fossil fuel glut in the U.S., joining oil and natural gas.

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I was just sent this. Don’t know enough about it, I must admit. The article suggests that prices are still 11% higher than 3 months ago. That would seem to mean they rose 20% or so in 2015. It doesn’t make much sense to me right now.

World Dairy Prices Slide 10.8% On Supply Concerns (NZ Herald)

International dairy prices continued to reverse gains made early this year at this morning’s GlobalDairyTrade (GDT) auction, putting downward pressure on Fonterra’s $4.70 a kg farmgate milk price forecast and raising concerns about next season’s likely payout. The GDT price index fell by 10.8% compared with the last sale a fortnight ago, when prices dropped by 8.8%. Big falls were recorded for the key products of wholemilk powder – down 13.3% to US$2,538 a tonne, skim milk powder – down 9.9% to US$2,467/tonne. Wholemilk prices are now just 11% higher than than they were by the end of 2014. ANZ rural economist Con Williams said that with milk powder making up the bulk of New Zealand’s product mix, the GDT result suggested a payout of $4.50-4.70 a kg this year.

The largest price falls at the auction were generally seen in the longer-dated contracts, up to 6 months out – into the new season. “While these prices remain higher than those for the end of this season, the curve has flattened, suggesting less price recovery is now anticipated – not boding well for next year’s payout,” Williams said. The fall comes as the New Zealand season enters its final phase, with about 80% of production now out of the way. Most of the price weakness was put down to better-than-expected supply, with the effects of this year’s drought being offset by rain in many parts of the country.

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Warren!

CFTC Charges Kraft, Mondelez With Manipulating Wheat Futures (MarketWatch)

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission on Wednesday charged Kraft Foods and Mondelez Global with manipulating wheat futures and cash wheat prices. The CFTC says that, in response to high cash wheat prices in summer 2011, the two companies developed and executed in early December 2011 a strategy to buy $90 million of wheat futures they didn’t intend on receiving. The companies expected the market would react to their “enormous” long position in futures by lowering cash prices, the CFTC said. They later earned more than $5.4 million in profits, according to the CFTC’s complaint. The agency says litigation is continuing against the companies and it is seeking disgorgement and civil monetary penalties.

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“3G, co-founded by Lemann, eliminated more than 7,000 Heinz jobs in 20 months..”

Brazil’s Richest Man May Reap $5.6 Billion in Kraft-Heinz Merger

Brazil’s richest man Jorge Paulo Lemann may add more than $5 billion to his personal fortune after ketchup maker H.J. Heinz merges with Kraft Foods. Heinz, controlled by Lemann’s 3G Capital and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, agreed last week to buy the macaroni-and-cheese maker Kraft in a cash-and-stock deal. Heinz’s 51% of the combined company will be worth about $45 billion, valuing Lemann’s stake at about $9.6 billion, said Kevin Dreyer, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Equity. Lemann has invested about $4 billion through 3G Capital, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“A combination of synergies from the deal and the sprinkling of the magic 3G dust is giving Kraft a higher valuation than it would otherwise have,” Dreyer said in a phone interview from New York. “3G has a track record of drastically expanding margins. There’s an expectation they’ll achieve the number they put in and then some.” 3G, co-founded by Lemann, eliminated more than 7,000 Heinz jobs in 20 months after taking the company over with Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett defended the job reductions his partners at 3G have taken when they buy businesses during a March 31 interview on CNBC.

The share price of Kraft, which surged 36% the day of the deal, can be used to estimate the future value of closely held Heinz, Dreyer said. His calculation takes into account the ketchup maker’s special dividend payment and assumes a market capitalization of about $87 billion for the new company. 3G owns 48% of Heinz, co-founder Alex Behring told reporters March 25. The buyout firm contributed $4.25 billion to Heinz in 2013 and another $4.8 billion in the Kraft deal. Lemann hasn’t disclosed his personal stake in Heinz. His investments in publicly traded companies show he tends to have a larger stake than Brazilian 3G partners Marcel Telles and Carlos Alberto Sicupira..

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Multiple currencies. Looks inevitable for Greece too.

The Cuban Money Crisis (Bloomberg)

The currency crisis starts about 75 feet into Cuba. I land in the late afternoon and, after clearing customs, step into the busy arrivals hall of Havana’s airport looking for help. I ask a woman in a gray, military-like uniform where I can change money. Follow me, she says. But she doesn’t turn left, toward the airport’s exchange kiosk. Called cadecas, these government-run currency shops are the only legal way, along with banks, to swap your foreign money for Cuba s tourist tender, the CUC. Instead, my guide turns right and only comes clean when we reach a quiet area at the top of an escalator. The official rate is 87 for a hundred, she whispers, meaning CUCs to dollars. I’m giving you 90. So it’s a good deal for you.

I want to convert $500, and she doesn’t blink an eye. Go in the men’s room and count your money out, she instructs. I’ll do the same in the ladies room. The bathroom is crowded, with not one but two staff and the usual traffic of an airport in the evening. There s no toilet paper. In an unlit stall I try counting to 25 while laying $20 bills on my knees. There’s an urgent knock, and under the door I see high heels. I’m still counting, I say. She’s back two minutes later and pushes her way into my stall. We trade stacks, count, and the tryst is over. For my $500, I get 450 CUCs, the currency that’s been required for the purchase of almost anything important in Cuba since 1994. CUCs aren’t paid to Cubans; islanders receive their wages in a different currency, the grubby national peso that features Che Guevara’s face, among others, but is worth just 1/25th as much as a CUC.

Issued in shades of citrus and berry, the CUC dollarized, tourist-friendly money has for 21 years been the key to a better life in Cuba, as well as a stinging reminder of the difference between the haves and the have-nots. But that’s about to change: Cuba is going to kill the CUC. Described as a matter of fairness by President Raul Castro, the end of the two-currency system is also the key to overhauling the uniquely incompetent and centrally planned chaos machine that is the Cuban economy.

Even in Cuba there are markets, and the effects of Castro’s October announcement of a five-step plan for phasing out the CUC are already rippling out to every wallet in the country. The government has issued notifications and price conversion charts, and introduced new, larger bills to supplement the low-value national peso. Over the next year, the CUC will be invalidated what Cuban economists call Day Zero and then, in steps four and five, the regular Cuban peso will become exchangeable and be floated against a basket of five currencies: the yuan, the euro, the U.S. dollar, and two others to be named later.

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But still in complete denial: “..the governor’s action won’t mean mandatory rationing for households.”

California Orders Mandatory Water Cuts Of 25% Amid Record Drought (WSJ)

California Gov. Jerry Brown ordered unprecedented mandatory water cuts across the Golden State after the latest measurements show the state’s mountain snowpack – which accounts for roughly a third of California’s water supply – has shrunk to a record low of 5% of normal for this time of year. The Democratic governor took the action on Wednesday after accompanying state surveyors into the Sierra Nevada mountains to manually verify electronic readings that show an average snow water equivalent of 1.4 inches, the lowest ever recorded on April 1. “Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow,” the governor said. “This historic drought demands unprecedented action.”

Gov. Brown directed the State Water Resources Control Board to implement mandatory water reductions of 25%. Details on how the cuts would be implemented weren’t immediately released, although the governor said in his order that reductions would fall hardest in water districts that haven’t adequately followed his voluntary calls for conservation last year. According to monthly surveys of water use, conservation levels have varied widely around the state. In general, reductions have been lower in Southern California than the rest of the state, in part because of the region’s concentration of estate-sized lots homes and golf courses. A spokesman for the state water control board, which has already ordered limits in outdoor lawn watering, said the governor’s action won’t mean mandatory rationing for households.

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Mar 242015
 
 March 24, 2015  Posted by at 7:27 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  4 Responses »


DPC Surf Avenue, Coney Island, NY 1903

The World’s Next Credit Crunch Could Make 2008 Look Like A Hiccup (Telegraph)
No Risk Too Big as Bond Traders Plot Escape From Negative Yields (Bloomberg)
Fed’s Fischer Says Rate Rise Probably Warranted by End-2015 (Bloomberg)
Shadow Banking System Shows Signs of Stabilizing After Collapse (Bloomberg)
The Unbearable Exuberance of China’s Markets (Pesek)
Oil Majors Pile On Record Debt To Plug Cash Shortfalls (FT)
Pension Funds Shun Bonds Just as Southeast Asia Needs Them Most (Bloomberg)
Hedge Funds Are Boosting Tech Valuations to Dangerous Heights (Bloomberg)
IMF, World Bank Throw Weight Behind China-Led Bank (CNBC)
Tsipras Raises Nazi War Reparations Claim At Berlin Press Conference (Guardian)
Why Greek Default Looms (BBC)
Draghi Rejects Accusation That ECB Is Blackmailing Greece (Bloomberg)
Merkel Points Tsipras Toward Deal With Greece’s Creditors (Bloomberg)
Barroso: Greece Should Blame Itself (CNBC)
Andalusia Election Increases Pressure on Spain’s Rajoy (Bloomberg)
‘The Fourth Reich’: What Some Europeans See When They Look at Germany (Spiegel)
Beijing to Close All Major Coal Power Plants to Curb Pollution (Bloomberg)

Or 1937.

The World’s Next Credit Crunch Could Make 2008 Look Like A Hiccup (Telegraph)

In 1937 the US was, economically speaking, an island, entire of itself; today, thanks to globalisation, the power of the dollar and a long period of ultra-loose monetary policy, it is a part of the main. Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, recently raised concerns in India about the ripple effect of Fed tightening on countries that have borrowed heavily in dollars and whose still-recovering economies remain vulnerable to a rate rise. And in 1937 the equity markets were the financial be-all and end-all; today they are dwarfed by the debt markets, which are, in turn, dwarfed by the derivatives markets. The total value of all global equities was around $70 trillion in June last year, according to the World Federation of Exchanges; meanwhile, the notional value of all outstanding derivatives contracts was more than $690 trillion.

It is worth noting that the vast majority (around four-fifths) of all existing derivatives contracts are based on interest rates. The derivatives market is the not the vast roulette table of popular perception. These financial instruments are essentially insurance policies – they are designed to protect the holder from adverse price movements. If you are worried about (to pick some unlikely examples) a strong euro, or expensive oil, or rising interest rates, you can buy a contract that pays out if your fears are realised. Managed well, the gain from the derivative should offset the loss from the underlying price movement. Nevertheless, the arguments employed by the derivatives industry sometimes sound similar to those employed by the pro-gun lobby: derivatives aren’t dangerous, it’s the people using them that you need to worry about. That’s not hugely reassuring.

What could go wrong? Let’s say that US interest rates do rise sooner and faster than the market expects. That means bond prices, which always move in the opposite direction to yields, will plummet. US Treasury bonds are like a mountain guide to which most other global securities are roped – if they fall, they take everything else with them. Who will get hurt? Everyone. But it’ll likely be the world’s banks, where even little mistakes can create big problems, that suffer the most pain. The European Banking Authority estimates that the average large European lender still has 27 times more assets than it does equity. This means that if the stuff on their balance sheets (including bonds and other securities priced off Treasury yields) turns out to be worth just 3.7pc less than was assumed, it will be time to order in the pizzas for late night discussions about bail-outs.

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Casino.

No Risk Too Big as Bond Traders Plot Escape From Negative Yields (Bloomberg)

In the negative-yield vortex that is the European bond market, investors are discovering just what lengths they’re willing to go to generate returns. Norway’s $870 billion sovereign wealth fund said this month that it added Nigeria and lifted its share of lower-rated company debt to the highest since at least 2006. Allianz SE, Europe’s biggest insurer, is shifting from German bunds to bulk up on mortgages. JPMorganis buying speculative-grade corporate debt to boost returns. With the ECB’s fight against deflation pushing yields on almost a third of the euro area’s $6.26 trillion of government bonds below zero, even the most risk-averse investors are taking chances on assets and regions that few would have considered just months ago.

That’s exposing more clients to the inevitable trade-off that comes with the lure of higher returns: the likelihood of deeper losses. “We are wandering into uncharted territory that’s subject to uncertainty and mistakes,” said Erik Weisman at MFS Investment Management. He’s buying debt with longer maturities and increasing his allocation of top-quality government holdings to Australia and New Zealand, which have some of the highest yields in the developed world. The shift is a consequence of how topsy-turvy the bond market has become as falling consumer prices and stubbornly high unemployment prompted the ECB to step up its quantitative easing with government debt purchases.

About €1.44 trillion sovereign debt, valued at about $1.9 trillion as of their issue dates, from Germany to Finland and even Slovakia, carry negative yields. That means the bonds guarantee losses for buyers who hold them to maturity. In effect, investors are betting the securities will appreciate in price before then, allowing them to sell at a profit before they come due. [..] The bond market worldwide is more vulnerable to losses than at any time on record, based a metric known as duration, index data compiled by Bank of America show. The risk has ballooned as issuers worldwide took advantage of the decline in borrowing costs to sell more and more longer-term bonds. This probably means we end up seeing all these reverse in a very unpleasant fashion,” Weisman said.

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The multi-voiced good cop bad cop narrative continues.

Fed’s Fischer Says Rate Rise Probably Warranted by End-2015 (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said raising interest rates from near zero “likely will be warranted before the end of the year” and subsequent increases probably won’t be uniform or predictable. “A smooth path upward in the federal funds rate will almost certainly not be realized” as the economy encounters shocks such as the surprise plunge in oil prices, Fischer, said on Monday in remarks to the Economic Club of New York. Officials last week opened the door to a rate increase as soon as June, while also indicating in their forecasts they will go slow once they get started. Fischer’s comments are the first from Fed leadership since Chair Janet Yellen’s press conference after the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The Fed wants to be “reasonably confident” inflation is rising toward its 2% goal before moving. A stronger dollar could interfere by holding down import prices. Fisher, however, was unfazed by the strength of the dollar, which has advanced almost 5% this year on the Bloomberg Dollar Spot index. He argued that its rise reflected the performance of the U.S. economy and central bank bond buying in Europe and Japan, which will also benefit U.S. growth. “What is not acceptable is manipulating exchange rates – purely exchange rates – trying to use that as the sole means of generating growth,” Fischer told the audience. “That has not happened as far as we can tell in our partner countries.”

The dollar dropped against all its 16 major peers except the pound on Fischer’s comments on rate-increase timing, which he left vague and stressed would be data-dependent. “Whether it’s going to be June or September, or some later date, or some date in between, will depend on the data,” said Fischer, although he said labor market readings would be an important guide. The March payrolls report is due on April 3. “We’ve got two very positive numbers for the first quarter of 2015 and we’re waiting for another one,” said Fischer, 71, the former Bank of Israel governor who joined the Fed in May. U.S. employers added 534,000 new jobs in the first two months of 2015 and the jobless rate fell to 5.5% in February.

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Make it sound like a good thing, why don’t you?

Shadow Banking System Shows Signs of Stabilizing After Collapse (Bloomberg)

The financing markets that help ease most U.S. debt trading are showing signs of stabilizing after shrinking by almost 50% since the financial crisis. The amount, known as shadow banking, was $4.124 trillion in February and averaged $4.139 trillion over the past three months, according to data compiled by the Center for Financial Stability, a nonpartisan research group. The measure, which includes money-market funds, repurchase agreements and commercial paper, all adjusted for inflation, peaked at $7.61 trillion in March 2008. “The flicker of good news is that we are starting to see a bottom form and hopefully we will start to see a recovery,” Lawrence Goodman at the Center for Financial Stability.

“The damage is done and we still have a long ways to go for there to be re-engagement of market finance in the economy. The economy has been growing substantially below potential, in part because market finance has failed to provide the fuel to the economy.”
Federal Reserve officials last week cut their economic growth estimate for the fourth quarter from a year earlier to 2.3% to 2.7%, down from as much as 3% in December. Inflation will range from 0.6% to 0.8% at the end of this year, policy makers forecast, down from a range of 1% to 1.6% projected in December.

Global regulators have focused on reducing the footprint of shadow banking, which was viewed as a catalyst for the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008 that shook markets worldwide. In the process, market finance contracted to a degree that starved financial markets of liquidity and was detrimental to growth, according to the CFS. Repo agreements are a source of short-term finance for banks, allowing them to use securities as collateral for short-term loans from investors such as other banks or money-market mutual funds. The amount of securities financed through a part of the market known as tri-party repo averaged $1.62 trillion as of Feb. 10, compared with $1.58 trillion in January and down from $1.96 trillion in December 2012, according to data compiled by the Fed.

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The term ‘bubble’ doesn’t begin to describe it.

The Unbearable Exuberance of China’s Markets (Pesek)

Chinese investors are acting as giddy as Americans were on Dec. 5, 1996, the day Alan Greenspan made his infamous “irrational exuberance” dig at markets. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what the country’s securities regulator said Friday, the day the Shanghai Composite Index rallied to its highest close since May 2008: “Investors should be cautious about market risks,” the China Securities Regulatory Commission said on its microblog. “We shouldn’t be thinking if we don’t buy now, we will miss it.” Not much ambiguity there, and yet Shanghai stocks rallied Monday, heading to their longest streak of gains since 2007. What gives? Beijing is making the same mistake Washington did 18-plus years ago by not clamping down on a stock-market boom that’s based more on leverage than reality.

Then-Federal Reserve Chairman’s Greenspan’s swipe at Wall Street froth was a halfhearted one – so cryptic, in fact, that many seasoned Fed reporters missed it. It came in the middle of a mind-numbingly boring speech about Japan’s 1980s bubble. For a couple of days, markets quaked at the prospect that the Fed might cut short the ongoing rally, which had assigned astronomical valuations to the dodgiest startups. But then Greenspan blew the endgame. Lawmakers were apoplectic over the Fed targeting stocks. Rather than stand his ground, Greenspan shut up and moved on. If the Fed had clamped down more assertively in the late 1990s – say, with stringent margin requirements – a Nasdaq crash might’ve been averted. Chastened investors might’ve been less inclined to overleverage in the decade that followed.

In Beijing, central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan can’t afford to make the same mistake. Economic fundamentals aren’t driving this rally – political expedience is. Chinese growth is slowing – an early indicator of factory activity hit an 11-month low in March – Beijing is clamping down on credit and a property market that once seemed unstoppable is reeling. That leaves one place for Chinese to satisfy their urge to get rich quick: equities. And recent policy tweaks are helping them. In September, China reduced fees by more than half for individuals and institutions to open share accounts. At the same time, the futures exchange cut margin requirements for equity-index contracts. Last month, it trimmed the amount of cash banks must hold back from lending by 50 basis points to 19.5%.

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Everyone piles on debt. There’s nothing else left.

Oil Majors Pile On Record Debt To Plug Cash Shortfalls (FT)

The world’s biggest energy groups have sold record amounts of debt this year, taking advantage of historically low interest rates to plug cash shortfalls with borrowing, after a 50% plunge in oil prices. The total debt raised in the first two months of 2015 by large US and European oil and gas companies has jumped by more than 60% from the final three months of 2014. It outstrips the previous quarterly record set six years ago after the last price collapse, Morgan Stanley research shows. Sales by half a dozen of these companies, which include multibillion dollar bond offerings from ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total and BP, reached $31bn in January and February, accounting for almost half the $63bn raised by oil and gas groups globally.

The dominance of the majors also reflects the increasing difficulties faced by the smaller oil explorers, whose borrowing costs are rising. Gulf Keystone recently put itself up for sale and EnQuest had to renegotiate its banking covenants. Martijn Rats, analyst at the US bank, says some of the so-called oil “majors” could be preparing the ground for acquisitions, borrowing now to be able to act quickly should smaller, weakened groups become vulnerable to take over. Mr Rats said that mergers and acquisitions could pick up as early as the second half of this year: “As a result, it would seem reasonable for integrated oil companies to lock in extremely competitive rates of financing,” he said. Another reason for the high levels of issuance is that debt remains a relatively cheap way to cover spending on big projects and fund dividends as cash flow dwindles due to lower prices.

Apart from Italy’s Eni, which has said it will cut its dividend this year, most of the big groups have vowed to protect payouts to investors. They are also pressing suppliers to cut costs, delaying projects and selling assets. “If you see a protracted period of lower oil prices ahead, you will probably think that it takes a while for cost deflation to come through and restore cash flow, so the first thing you can do is use the balance sheet to borrow money to plug that gap,” said Mr Rats. The majors have made up a much larger share of overall oil and gas debt issuance, accounting for 48% of such fundraising this year, up from 30% in the last three months of 2014. By contrast, the share of state-owned oil companies has fallen to just 22% from 35% in the first quarter of last year.

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No more road building.

Pension Funds Shun Bonds Just as Southeast Asia Needs Them Most (Bloomberg)

The biggest state pension funds in Thailand and the Philippines are shifting money from bonds to stocks, which could push up the cost of government stimulus programs. The Social Security Office and Government Service Insurance System said they’re increasing holdings of shares, while the head of Indonesia’s BPJS Ketenagakerjaan said he sees the nation’s stock index rising 14% by year-end. Rupiah, baht and peso notes have lost money since the end of January, after handing investors respective returns of 13%, 9.9% and 6.6% last year, Bloomberg indexes show. “There has been frustration among domestic institutional investors about the falling returns on bonds,” Win Phromphaet, who manages 1.2 trillion baht ($37 billion) as Social Security Office’s head of investment in Bangkok, said.

“Large investors including SSO must quickly expand our investments in other riskier assets.” Appetite for sovereign debt is cooling just as Southeast Asian governments speed up construction plans in response to slowing growth in China and stuttering recoveries in Europe and Japan. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has added 100 trillion rupiah ($7.7 billion) of spending on projects including ports and power plants in his 2015 budget, Thailand’s military rulers are accelerating outlays on rail and roads and Philippine President Benigno Aquino is relying on new infrastructure to increase growth to 8% in his last two years in office.

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“Some of the valuations are mind-boggling..”

Hedge Funds Are Boosting Tech Valuations to Dangerous Heights (Bloomberg)

A flood of money from unconventional sources has sent valuations of late-stage technology startups, including Uber Technologies Inc. and Snapchat Inc., to levels that haven’t been seen since before the dot-com crash. Hedge funds and mutual funds that once shunned venture-style deals are flocking to the market’s hottest corner, paying 15 to 18 times projected sales for the year ahead in recent private-funding rounds, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. That compares with 10 to 12 times five years ago for the priciest companies, one said. While some of the startups may become profitable, others are consuming cash and could fail.

The torrid action is spurring talk that 15 years after the collapse of the Internet bubble, the market may be setting itself up for another bruising fall. “Some of the valuations are mind-boggling,” said Sven Weber, investment manager of the Menlo Park, California-based SharesPost 100 Fund, which backs late-stage tech startups. Companies now valued at 16 times future revenue could easily lose a third of their value in a market pullback that Weber and others say may occur in the next three years. The other people asked not to be named because they didn’t want to be seen criticizing competitors’ deals. Such worries have done little to cool the market. Investors’ appetites have been stoked by jackpots won in initial public offerings.

Among the biggest: an almost fourfold $3.2 billion paper profit earned by Silver Lake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s record-breaking, $21.8 billion September IPO. It was a quick kill for Silver Lake, coming three years after the private-equity firm’s investment in the company. Private values also are soaring. Online scrapbooking startup Pinterest Inc. raised $367 million this month, valuing the company at $11 billion. Snapchat, the mobile application for sending disappearing photos, is valued at $15 billion, based on a planned investment by Alibaba, according to people with knowledge of the deal. Uber’s valuation climbed more than 10-fold since the middle of 2013, reaching $40 billion in December.

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“The frustration with the U.S. is palpable.”

IMF, World Bank Throw Weight Behind China-Led Bank (CNBC)

Global institutions, including the IMF and the World Bank, have endorsed a China-led international bank, despite opposition from the U.S. “We are comfortable with the idea of a bank that puts together finance for infrastructure, because our view is that there is a huge need for infrastructure in emerging markets countries,” David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the IMF, told CNBC early on Monday. The $50-billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is being established to meet the need for greater infrastructure investment in lower- and middle-income Asian countries. It comes amid complaints by China and other major emerging economies that they lack influence in institutions such as the IMF, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank.

Support for the AIIB has gathered speed in Europe this month, with the U.K. the first country to sign up, followed by Germany, France and Italy and then Luxembourg and Switzerland. However, Washington has expressed misgivings, officially because of concerns about standards of governance and environmental and societal safeguards. Unofficially, the country’s is thought to be worried about sacrificing its clout in Asia to China, as well as piqued by criticism of slow reforms in the IMF and World Bank. “While this is seen as a diplomatic setback for the Obama administration, the underlying (blame) may lie with Congress,” said strategists led by Marc Chandler at Brown Brothers Harriman in a research note on Monday.

“It has blocked IMF funding which is the precondition for reforming the voting (quotas), which would give China and other developing countries a greater voice. In contrast, the Obama Administration seems to recognize that if China (and others) do not get a larger voice in the existing institutions, it will create parallel institutions.” He added: “The frustration with the U.S. is palpable.” “China is now the leader of the world,” Sri Mulyani Indrawati, managing director of the World Bank, told CNBC on Sunday in Beijing. “They (Chinese leaders) try to show that they have sound principles in not only presenting a development solution, but also in establishing this new institution and that is why many of the countries now are becoming members of this institution.”

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Timing is everything.

Tsipras Raises Nazi War Reparations Claim At Berlin Press Conference (Guardian)

Greece’s leftwing prime minister Alexis Tsipras stood beside German leader Angela Merkel and demanded war reparations over Nazi atrocities in Greece on Monday night, even as the two leaders sought to bury the hatchet following weeks of worsening friction and mud-slinging. “It’s not a material matter, it’s a moral issue,” said Tsipras, unusually insisting on raising the “shadows of the past” at the heart of German power in the gleaming new chancellery in Berlin. It was believed to be the first time a foreign leader had gone to the capital of the reunified Germany to make such a demand. Merkel was uncompromising, while appearing uncomfortable and irritated. “In the view of the German government, the issue of reparations is politically and legally closed,” she said.

While the two leaders clashed over the second world war, there was no sign of any meeting of minds on the substance of their dispute over Greece’s bailout and what Tsipras has to deliver to secure fresh funding and avoid state insolvency within weeks. Two months after winning the election by promising to abolish “Merkelism” – the harsh austerity ordained by the eurozone and other creditors in return for €240bn in bailout loans over the past five years – Tsipras held to the view that Greece’s crisis was not of his making. He delivered a lengthy diagnosis of what had gone wrong in the last five years, but had next to nothing to say about his own policies except vague references to fighting corruption.

And when he raised the corruption issue, he singled out a German company, Siemens, because of its alleged activities in Greece. A stony-faced Merkel reiterated what she had said in Brussels on Friday after a late-night session with Tsipras – that a 20 February agreement with the eurozone extending Greece’s bailout until the end of June remained the yardstick. That agreement obliges Tsipras to deliver a persuasive menu of detailed fiscal and structural reforms which need to be vetted by the eurozone before any further bailout funding can be released. Asked if she had reached any agreements with Tsipras, Merkel avoided the question and stressed she was only one of 19 eurozone national leaders.

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“.. the punishment of Greek people for the feckless borrowing of their government and the feckless lending of German banks has surely gone well beyond what is necessary to instruct Greece in the merits of fiscal rectitude..”

Why Greek Default Looms (BBC)

I have used the metaphor before of Greece and Germany being a feuding married couple, not really wanting a divorce but so unable ever to understand the other’s point of view that terminal rupture remains a significant probability. So for the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, it must have been personally humiliating to send his “please-send-cash-soon” letter to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor (the letter has been obtained by the FT). He complains that there is no sign, in the conduct of eurozone officials working on the new financial rescue plan, of wanting to make the promised new start in the fraught relationship. Mr Tsipras accuses them of trying to hold the country to a reform and reconstruction programme that his Syriza government has rejected, and which he thought had been dropped, too, by eurozone leaders.

Which broadly points to the biggest flaw in the entente reached in February between Greece and eurozone – namely that the agreement they approved disguised a continuing and profound emotional and ideological gulf. Both sides in essence want the other to admit they were wrong in the past and have turned over a new leaf: neither shows the inclination to do that. The clearest manifestation of mutual misunderstanding being a long way off was last week’s blog by the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. He makes a point that is both true and incendiary (in the present circumstances): namely that the eurozone’s and IMF’s original €240bn bailout was, in practice, a bailout of the feckless banks and investors who had lent to Greece, rather than of Greece itself. [..]

There is a high probability, most economists would say, of history vindicating Mr Varoufakis’s critique: the punishment of Greek people for the feckless borrowing of their government and the feckless lending of German banks has surely gone well beyond what is necessary to instruct Greece in the merits of fiscal rectitude. But whether it is altogether wise and diplomatic to tell the Germans they were selfish and wrong, at this juncture, is moot. There is no sign of the two sides forgiving each other and moving on.

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I did not have financial realationships with that country.

Draghi Rejects Accusation That ECB Is Blackmailing Greece (Bloomberg)

Mario Draghi pushed back against an accusation that the European Central Bank is blackmailing Greece and compounding the pressure on the country. “Let me disagree with you about everything you said,” Draghi told Portuguese lawmaker Marisa Matias during his regular hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels. He was responding to a question about the withdrawal of a waiver that allowed the ECB to accept the country’s junk-rated debt as collateral. “It’s bit rich when you look at our exposure to Greece” which totals €104 billion, Draghi says. “What sort of blackmail is this? We haven’t created any rule for Greece, rules were in place and they’ve been applied. The exchange came amid signs that Greece could run out of money by early next month.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is meeting today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss reform commitments that could unlock stalled aid money. Draghi said the ECB will reintroduce the waiver at some point, ‘‘but several conditions have to be satisfied.’’ Shut out from ECB funding, Greek banks currently rely on emergency liquidity from their national central bank. The ECB reviews the allowance on a weekly basis to make sure it doesn’t run against a ban on state financing. Draghi said Greek lenders are solvent ‘‘at present,’’ even though ‘‘the liquidity situation has been deteriorating.’’ In his opening statement to the parliament in Brussels, Draghi pushed aside concerns that the ECB’s quantitative-easing plan will be hampered by a shortage of bonds available to buy.

‘‘We see no signs that there will not be enough bonds for us to purchase,’’ he said. ‘‘Feedback from market participants so far suggests that implementation has been very smooth and that market liquidity remains ample.’’ The central bank started buying government debt this month to revive inflation. While the region’s recovery is being helped by cheap oil and a weak euro, Draghi is faced with a resumption of the crisis in Greece, with the country on the verge of a default that would shake the foundations of the single currency. The ECB plans to buy €60 billion a month of public-sector debt under its latest stimulus program, which is slated to last until September 2016, or until inflation is back on track toward the central bank’s goal of just under 2%. In the first two weeks of the program, €26.3 billion of public sector purchases were settled.

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Concerted effort to make Merkel look good.

Merkel Points Tsipras Toward Deal With Greece’s Creditors (Bloomberg)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to follow the path set out by Greece’s creditors, saying his country belongs in Europe and she wants its economy to succeed. Merkel gave Tsipras a red-carpet reception at the Chancellery in Berlin on Monday without giving any signal that the emergency aid the Greek government is urgently seeking would be unlocked. Instead, she talked at their joint briefing of how she wanted to build trust with her Greek counterpart. “We want Greece to be economically strong, we want Greece to have growth,” Merkel said. “And I think we share the view that this requires structural reforms, solid finances and a functioning administration.”

Meeting the chancellor for the second time in five days in an effort to build bridges between their governments after weeks of sniping, Tsipras echoed her tone, while resisting the embrace of the policy prescriptions that she has shaped for the past five years. “The Greek bailout program was an unprecedented adjustment effort but in our view it wasn’t a success story,” he said. “We’re trying to find common ground to reach an agreement soon on the reforms that the Greek economy needs and for the disbursement of the funds that it also needs.” The two countries have often been at loggerheads since Tsipras’s January election victory as the Greek leader tries to shape an alternative to the austerity program set out in the country’s bailout agreement. Merkel insists Greece must stick to the broad terms of that deal, though holding out the prospect of some flexibility.

With Greece’s financial predicament becoming ever more parlous, Tsipras was greeted by a group of supporters demonstrating outside the Chancellery who could be heard chanting during the ceremonial reception. His government needs to persuade its creditors to sign off on a package of economic measures to free up long-withheld aid payments that will keep the country afloat. Finance ministry officials may submit their latest plans as soon as this week, a Greek official said earlier. Hinting at the prickly relationship between their respective finance ministers, Tsipras said that he wants to avoid widening splits in the euro area and urged Germans and Greeks to avoid stereotyping each other, saying Germany isn’t to blame for all of Greece’s problems. “We have to understand each other better,” he said.

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Who’s he again?

Barroso: Greece Should Blame Itself (CNBC)

Greece’s problems can be laid at its own door and the country needs to provide a clear commitment to reform to reach an agreement with its creditors, Jose Manuel Barroso, the former president of the European Commission, told investors in Hong Kong. “The Greek people went through extremely difficult moments, hardship. But these difficulties of Greece were not provoked by Europe,” Barroso said in an address at the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference in Hong Kong. “It was provoked by the irresponsible behavior of the Greek government.” “The situation of Greece is the result of unsustainable debt that was created by the Greek government, mismanagement of their public finances, huge problems with tax evasion and tax fraud [and] problems of the administration,” he said, noting that the country had also misled the European Union by filing false figures on its economy. [..]

Barroso was generally unsympathetic to the Greek stance. “There is nothing that condemns Greece to be in a difficult situation. There are reforms they can make and they are as able as any other country to do,” he said. “There is an ideological difficulty that exists in the Greek government to understand that the way for Greece to recover the confidence of the markets is in fact for to go on with structural reforms that Greece has committed to.”

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Podemos did not do well.

Andalusia Election Increases Pressure on Spain’s Rajoy (Bloomberg)

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party scored its worst election result in 25 years in Spain’s most populous region, adding to pressure on the party leadership before general elections. Rajoy’s PP got 26.8% in Andalusia, compared with 40.7% in the last regional vote in 2012, according to the regional government data. That’s the lowest level of support since 1990, when the PP got 22.2%. Andalusia’s ballot marks the start of a Spanish electoral marathon to choose another 14 regional presidents, more than 8,000 mayors, and a new national government in the next 10 months. Rajoy struggled to mobilize his voters even as the fourth largest economy in the euro region is growing at the fastest pace since 2007. No date has been set for the national election which must be held by January 2016.

“Alternative leadership to Rajoy should be an urgent first point of discussion for the party based on public opinion criteria,” said Lluis Orriols, a political scientist at Carlos III University in Madrid. “Still, sometimes internal party power dynamics and public opinion follow different patterns.” Rajoy is scheduled to chair a meeting of his party’s executive committee in Madrid on Monday. The Spanish leader attended five political events in Andalusia during the two-week electoral campaign in the southern region, compared with two visited by his Socialist counterpart, Pedro Sanchez. Andalusia’s President Susana Diaz won the regional vote, paving the way for the Spanish Socialist Party, PSOE, to run the country’s most-populous area for the 10th term in a row.

Andalusia, located in southern Spain, is the nation’s largest and most populous region. It struggles with unemployment of about 35%, compared with 26% in Greece, the European Union state with the highest jobless rate. Farming and tourism comprise two of the largest sources of revenue and the region’s 16,843 euro ($18,330) gross domestic product per capita is the second lowest in the country after Extremadura. Sunday’s election also tested the advance of Podemos, allied to Greece’s Syriza party that won power in January in Athens after promising to raise public spending in defiance of its bailout agreement. The anti-austerity Podemos won 15 seats.

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“German capital dominates Europe and it profits from the misery in Greece,” Glezos says. “But we don’t need your money.”

‘The Fourth Reich’: What Some Europeans See When They Look at Germany (Spiegel)

May 30, 1941 was the day when Manolis Glezos made a fool of Adolf Hitler. He and a friend snuck up to a flag pole on the Acropolis in Athens on which a gigantic swastika flag was flying. The Germans had raised the banner four weeks earlier when they occupied the country, but Glezos took down the hated flag and ripped it up. The deed turned both him and his friend into heroes. Back then, Glezos was a resistance fighter. Today, the soon-to-be 93-year-old is a member of the European Parliament for the Greek governing party Syriza. Sitting in his Brussels office on the third floor of the Willy Brandt Building, he is telling the story of his fight against the Nazis of old and about his current fight against the Germans of today.

Glezos’ white hair is wild and unkempt, making him look like an aging Che Guevara; his wrinkled face carries the traces of a European century. Initially, he fought against the Italian fascists, later he took up arms against the German Wehrmacht, as the country’s Nazi-era military was known. He then did battle against the Greek military dictatorship. He was sent to prison frequently, spending a total of almost 12 years behind bars, time he spent writing poetry. When he was let out, he would rejoin the fight. “That era is still very alive in me,” he says. Glezos knows what it can mean when Germans strive for predominance in Europe and says that’s what is happening again now. This time, though, it isn’t soldiers who have a chokehold on Greece, he says, but business leaders and politicians.

“German capital dominates Europe and it profits from the misery in Greece,” Glezos says. “But we don’t need your money.” In his eyes, the German present is directly connected to its horrible past, though he emphasizes that he doesn’t mean the German people but the country’s ruling classes. Germany for him is once again an aggressor today: “Its relationship with Greece is comparable to that between a tyrant and his slaves.” Glezos says that he is reminded of a text written by Joseph Goebbels in which the Nazi propaganda minister reflects about a future Europe under German leadership. It’s called “The Year 2000.” “Goebbels was only wrong by 10 years,” Glezos says, adding that in 2010, in the financial crisis, German dominance began.

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Let’s see them try.

Beijing to Close All Major Coal Power Plants to Curb Pollution (Bloomberg)

Beijing, where pollution averaged more than twice China’s national standard last year, will close the last of its four major coal-fired power plants next year. China’s capital city will close China Huaneng’s 845 megawatt power plant next year, after last week closing plants owned by Guohua Electric and Beijing Energy Investment, according to a statement Monday on the website of the city’s economic planning agency. A fourth major power plant, owned by China Datang, was shut last year. The plants will be replaced by four gas-fired stations with capacity to supply 2.6 times more electricity than the coal plants. Once complete, the city’s power and its central heating will be entirely generated by clean energy, according to the Municipal Commission of Development and Reform.

Air pollution has attracted more public attention in the past few years as heavy smog envelops swathes of the nation including Beijing and Shanghai. About 90% of the 161 cities whose air quality was monitored in 2014 failed to meet official standards, according to a report by China’s National Bureau of Statistics earlier this month. The level of PM2.5, the small particles that pose the greatest risk to human health, averaged 85.9 micrograms per cubic meter last year in the capital, compared with the national standard of 35. Beijing plans to cut annual coal consumption by 13 million metric tons by 2017 from the 2012 level in a bid to slash the concentration of pollutants. The city also aims to take other measures such as closing polluted companies and cutting cement production capacity to clear the air this year, according to the Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau.

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Nov 112014
 
 November 11, 2014  Posted by at 7:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  12 Responses »


Marjory Collins Window of Jewish religious shop on Broome Street, New York Aug 1942

There are things in this world which simply look plain stupid, and then there are those that at closer examination prove to be way beyond stupid. How about this one:

1) G20 taxpayers (you, me) subsidize the fossil fuel industry. That in itself is crazy enough, and it should stop as per last week; industry participants must be able to fend for themselves, or fold. That they don’t, speaks to a very unhealthy level of power in and over our political systems. Subsidizing coal and oil is as insane as bailing out Wall Street banks. It’s money that defies gravity, by flowing from the bottom to the top, from the poor to the rich.

2) Then there’s the huge amount of the subsidies: $88 billion a year. That could solve a lot of misery for a lot of people. It adds up to well over $1 trillion in this century alone. Next time you feel good about prices at the pump, please add that number, it should set you straight.

3) But that’s just the start. Those $88 billion go towards exploration for new oil, gas and coal resources which, according to the UN’s IPCC climate panel, can never even be ‘consumed’ lest we go way beyond our – minimum – goals for CO2 concentrations and a global 2ºC warming limit.

4) And it keeps getting better. For who do you think pays for the research conducted for the IPCC reports? That’s right, the same G20 taxpayer. As in: you and me. We pay for both ends of the divine tragedy. We got it al covered. We pay for exploratory drilling in the Arctic, the Gulf of Mexico and all other ever harder to find, riskier and more polluting resources.

If this were not about us, we’d undoubtedly declare ourselves stark raving mad. Since it does directly involve us, though, we of course favor a more nuanced approach. Like sticking our heads in the sand.

I got that $88 billion a year number from a new report by British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International, The Fossil Fuel Bailout: G20 Subsidies For Oil, Gas And Coal Exploration. The Guardian has a few more juicy tidbits:

Rich Countries Subsidising Oil, Gas And Coal Companies By $88 Billion A Year

Rich countries are subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by about $88bn (£55.4bn) a year to explore for new reserves, despite evidence that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change.

The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has found that the US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. Most of the support was in the form of tax breaks for exploration in deep offshore fields.

The public money went to major multinationals as well as smaller ones who specialise in exploratory work, according to British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International.

Britain, says their report, proved to be one of the most generous countries. In the five year period to 2014 it gave tax breaks totalling over $4.5bn to French, US, Middle Eastern and north American companies to explore the North Sea for fast-declining oil and gas reserves. A breakdown of that figure showed over $1.2bn of British money went to two French companies, GDF-Suez and Total, $450m went to five US companies including Chevron, and $992m to five British companies.

Britain also spent public funds for foreign companies to explore in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, India and Indonesia, as well as Russia, Uganda and Qatar, according to the report’s data, which is drawn from the OECD, government documents, company reports and institutions.

The figures, published ahead of this week’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, contains the first detailed breakdown of global fossil fuel exploration subsidies. It shows an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

“The evidence points to a publicly financed bail-out for carbon-intensive companies, and support for uneconomic investments that could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2C,” say the report’s authors.

“This is real money which could be put into schools or hospitals. It is simply not economic to invest like this. This is the insanity of the situation. They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro-power and they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious UN climate deal in 2015,” said Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI.

“The IPCC [UN climate science panel] is quite clear about the need to leave the vast majority of already proven reserves in the ground, if we are to meet the 2C goal. The fact that despite this science, governments are spending billions of tax dollars each year to find more fossil fuels that we cannot ever afford to burn, reveals the extent of climate denial still ongoing within the G20,” said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzman.

The report further criticises the G20 countries for providing over $520m a year of indirect exploration subsidies via the World Bank group and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) to which they contribute funds.

That’s right, as you see in the graph we pay more towards Big Oil’s future profits then the companies do themselves. Without getting shares in those companies, mind you. We pay Big Oil and coal to produce more fossil fuels, and at the same time we pay the UN to publish reports demanding they produce less of them. Feel crazy yet?

Did you have any idea that your government sponsors oil companies with your money, which they don’t need, and certainly shouldn’t? Aren’t we supposed to at least take a serious look at alternative energy sources, and more importantly, use less energy, whether it’s coal or solar? If only to show we do indeed understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics?!

Big Oil, like Wall Street banks, should be, and can, take care of themselves, and very well. May I suggest you try and find out who in your respective government has given the thumbs up to these crazy handouts, and when you do, make sure they’re fired.

Nov 112014
 
 November 11, 2014  Posted by at 11:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


Dorothea Lange Country filling station, Granville County, NC July 1939

Is ‘Too Big To Fail’ For Banks Really Coming To An End? (BBC)
Banks Poised to Settle With Derivatives Regulator in FX-Rigging Cases (BW)
Bond Swings Draw Scrutiny (WSJ)
China, Japan And An Ugly Currency War (Steen Jakobsen)
Subprime Credit Card Lending Swells (CNBC)
Why Iron Ore’s Meltdown Is Far From Over (CNBC)
It’s Time to Put Juncker on the Hot Seat (Spiegel Ed.)
The Ghosts of Juncker’s Past Come Back to Haunt Him (Spiegel)
The Return Of The US Dollar (El-Erian)
Fears Of German Recession As Moment Of Truth Looms (CNBC)
Russia Ends Dollar/Euro Currency Peg, Moves To Free Float (RT)
Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize (NY Times)
Alleged Sarkozy Plot Rocks French Political Establishment (FT)
Nearly A Third Of Indian Cabinet Charged With Crimes (Reuters)
Energy Is Europe’s ‘Big Disadvantage’: Deutsche Bank Co-Ceo (CNBC)
Rich Nations Subsidize Fossil Fuel Industry By $88 Billion A Year (Guardian)
The Real Story Of US Coal: Inside The World’s Biggest Coalmine (Guardian)
Angry Canary Islanders Brace For An Unwanted Guest: The Oil Industry (Guardian)
Fukushima Radiation Found in Pacific Off California Coast (Bloomberg)
The Fate of the Turtle (James Howard Kunstler)

Make that a no.

Is ‘Too Big To Fail’ For Banks Really Coming To An End? (BBC)

Interviewing Alistair Darling in 2011, three years after the financial crisis during which he was chancellor, his most striking answer to me was not about the fear that Britain’s economic system was on the point of collapse. It wasn’t even his worry that ATMs up and down the country might simply stop functioning. Those answers were of course chilling. But they were symptoms of a wider disease. Mr Darling’s most striking answer was the “absolute astonishment” he felt when he asked Britain’s largest banks to account for the risks contained in their businesses – and they were unable to come up with a coherent answer. This total lack of knowledge – coupled with the hubris of profit-taking built on lax credit – went to the heart of the financial crisis. Regulators appeared similarly non-plussed.

Such was the global complexity and lack of governance in the international financial system, when it came to rescuing the banks from having to eat their own sick, the UK government – and many other governments around the world – initially had no idea how large the bill would be. And neither did the banks. The only funding avenues large enough to contain such unquantifiable risks were those provided by central banks and the taxpayer. The alternative was financial meltdown. The numbers turned out to be astronomical. A National Audit Office report in August this year suggested the value of the UK government’s total support for the financial system alone exceeded £1.1tn at its height. Many tens of billions of pounds worth of capital was directly injected into failing banks and building societies.

The rest of that dizzying £1.1tn was the total value of liability insurance – the government guaranteeing banks’ security as lender of last resort. Put simply, the taxpayer had become the guarantor of the global financial system and the banks that are the essential plumbing of that system. In direct capital the UK government (the taxpayer) ultimately had to find over £100bn. More than £66bn was used to rescue the Royal Bank of Scotland (still 80% owned by the government) and Lloyds Bank (still 25% owned by the government). Of that, the sale of two chunks of Lloyds since the last election in 2010 has raised the princely sum of £7.4bn.

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For rigging a $5.300.000.000.000 a day market, banks are fined $300.000.000. Remove a few zeroes and it’s like being fined $300 for rigging a $5.300.000 million market. Sounds profitable.

Banks Poised to Settle With Derivatives Regulator in FX-Rigging Cases (BW)

Banks suspected of rigging the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency market are preparing to reach settlements as early as this week with the main U.S. derivatives regulator, according to a person with knowledge of the cases. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission may levy fines of about $300 million against each firm, depending on the level of their involvement, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because deals haven’t been announced. It’s unclear how many firms may settle with the CFTC as U.K. and U.S. bank regulators prepare to levy related penalties this week, the person said. There was no immediate response to an e-mailed request for comment from the CFTC after normal business hours. The New York Times reported late yesterday on the talks with the agency.

Investigations are under way on three continents as authorities probe allegations that dealers at the world’s biggest banks traded ahead of clients and colluded to rig benchmarks used by pension funds and money managers to determine what they pay for foreign currencies. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority is poised to reach settlements as soon as this week with six banks, which together have set aside about $5.3 billion in recent weeks for legal matters including the currency investigations, people with knowledge of those talks have said. Barclays, Citigroup, HSBC, JPMorgan, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBSare in settlement talks with the FCA, people with knowledge of the situation have said.

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How many years is the investigation going to take?

Bond Swings Draw Scrutiny (WSJ)

The day’s trading was just hitting its stride in New York on the morning of Oct. 15 when bond investors, traders and strategists were stunned by an unusual move in the $12 trillion U.S. Treasury market playing out on their computer screens. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note took a sharp dive below 2% within minutes, and few could understand exactly why. Some dealers immediately pulled the plug on automated trading systems that provided price quotes to customers. Fund managers rushed to convene meetings. Many investors scrambled to pinpoint the reason behind the accelerating decline. “It starts moving faster and faster, and you can’t point to anything,” recalled Mark Cernicky, managing director at Principal Global Investors , which oversees $78 billion. Now, investors and regulators are burrowing into the causes of the plunge in yields to try to understand whether electronic trading and new regulations are fueling sudden price swings in a market that acts as a key benchmark for interest rates, investments and U.S. home loans.

At the time, bond-market analysts attributed the fall in yields to weak U.S. economic data, shaky European markets and hedge funds scrambling to cover wrong-way bets. But many investors felt that didn’t fully explain why the yield on the 10-year Treasury note tumbled to its biggest one-day decline since 2009. When yields fall, prices rise. Regulators and other experts are examining deep-seated shifts in trading since the financial crisis, which could help explain the unusual size of the move in a market many investors rely on for its relative stability. “What happened on Oct. 15 is the result of things that had been building for a while,” said Alex Roever, a strategist at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. who follows the government-bond market. The Federal Reserve, Treasury and Commodity Futures Trading Commission are looking at that day’s trading activity, according to people familiar with the situation. One focus is the role of high-speed electronic trading in the bond market, although regulators haven’t yet drawn any conclusions, these people said.

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More trouble for Tokyo.

China, Japan And An Ugly Currency War (Steen Jakobsen)

There’s increasing risk we’ll soon see a “significant paradigm shift” from China in its attitude to the strength of its currency. So says Saxo Bank’s Chief Economist, Steen Jakobsen. He says we’re about to see a full-scale currency war, notably between China and Japan, two of the world’s greatest exporting countries. There are a number of important world meetings over the coming few weeks and the Chinese will be “very vocal”, says Steen, as it’s getting increasingly worried about its loss of growth momentum. The yuan has strengthened significantly in recent weeks while the yen has declined substantially. The country’s determined, he says, to refocus and maintain its export share of total growth.

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And Washington just sits by and lets it happen all over again.

Subprime Credit Card Lending Swells (CNBC)

Consumers with dinged credit are back in a borrowing mood, and lenders are more than happy to give them new credit cards, according to new data. Since the Great Recession ended five years ago, consumers have been gradually taking on more debt and lenders have been accommodating them, easing up on tighter standards. Much of the growth has been in so-called non-revolving credit, especially car loans, thanks to record low interest rates. But revolving credit—mainly in the form of credit cards—is picking up. And the biggest growth in new credit cards is coming from so-called subprime borrowers whose credit scores are less than 660, according to the latest Equifax data.

Through July of this year, banks handed out cards to 9.8 million subprime consumers, a six-year high and an increase of 43% from the same period last year. Another 7.8 million cards have been issued to subprime borrowers by retailers this year, up 13% from 2013 to an eight-year high. Lenders are also giving subprime borrowers higher credit limits. Bank-issued card limits jumped to $12.7 billion for the first seven months of the year—up 4% from the same period a year ago to a six-year high. Retailers lifted their card limits by 16% to $6.8 billion, an eight-year high. Part of the growth is the result of an easing of the tighter standards that followed the 2008 credit bust after the boom of the early-2000s. Now that banks have repaired the damage from billions of dollars in bad debts, they’re better able to take on more risk. A stronger job market is also putting more consumers in a borrowing mood, according to economists at Wells Fargo.

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Chinese fake numbers have distorted the market for years.

Why Iron Ore’s Meltdown Is Far From Over (CNBC)

Iron ore prices have dived an eye-watering 44% this year and there’s no respite ahead for the metal, according to Citi, which forecasts double-digit declines in 2015. The bank on Tuesday slashed its price forecasts for the metal to average $74 dollars per ton in the first quarter of next year, before moving down to $60 in the third quarter. It previously forecast $82 and $78, respectively. “We expect renewed supply growth to once again drive the market lower in 2015, combined with further demand weakness,” Ivan Szpakowski, analyst at Citi wrote in a report, noting that prices could briefly dip into the $50 range in the third quarter. The price of spot iron ore fell $75.50 this week, its lowest level since 2009, according to Reuters.

Price declines in the first half of this year were driven by rapid growth in export supply, which has slowed in the second half of the year. In recent months, deteriorating Chinese steel demand and deleveraging by traders and Chinese steel mills has dragged the metal. Iron ore is an important raw material for steel production. However, iron ore supply growth will return in the first half of next year, Citi said, as industry heavyweights Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Vale rev up expansions and Anglo American’s Minas-Rio iron ore project in Brazil ramps up. Meanwhile, demand out of China – the world’s biggest buyer of iron ore – will remain under pressure due subdued steel demand. Demand for steel is being compressed due to tighter credit conditions and an uncertain export outlook.

“Chinese manufacturing exports have improved in recent months, helping to boost steel demand for machinery, metal products, etc. However, with European growth having slowed such positive momentum is unlikely to continue,” Szpakowski said. ANZ also substantially downgraded its 2015 price forecast for iron ore this week. However, it was not quite as bearish as Citi. The bank, in a report published on Monday, said the metal will not breach $100 a ton again, forecasting prices to average $78 next year, 22% lower than its previous estimate. “Recent trip to China highlights that demand conditions are more challenging than we thought,” ANZ said.

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I bet he thinks he’s awfully smart.

The Ghosts of Juncker’s Past Come Back to Haunt Him (Spiegel)

Jean-Claude Juncker’s first public appearance as the new European Commission president was a symbolic one. Early this month, he traveled to Frankfurt to present former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s new book in the luxury hotel Villa Kennedy. Called “Aus Sorge um Europa” – “Out of Concern for Europe” – the book warns that the pursuit of national interests represents a danger to the European ideal. And Juncker is quick to endorse Kohl, a man he calls “a friend and role model.” “Kohl is right in deploring the fact that we are increasingly sliding down the slope toward reflexive regionalism and nationalism,” Juncker said. It is certainly not the first time Juncker has uttered such a sentence. Indeed, his delivery of the message has often been even more direct. “I’ve had it,” he erupted during an EU summit in December of 2012, for example. “80% of the time, only national interests are being presented. We can’t go on like this!”

Such sentiments have served Juncker well throughout his career and have helped transform the politician from tiny Luxembourg into a well-known defender of Europe. Now, though, at the apex of his European career, Juncker and his beloved European Union are facing a significant problem. And it is one that has led even advisors close to Juncker to wonder whether he may soon have to step down from his new position, despite having taken office only recently. Last week, several media outlets, including the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, published the most detailed accounts yet of the tricks used – and the eagerness brought to bear – by Luxembourg officials to help companies avoid paying taxes. The strategies were often developed together with company leaders and served to entice multinationals to set up shop in Luxembourg. The tiny country on Germany’s western border, for its part, benefited from tax revenues it wouldn’t otherwise have seen. It was, in short, a reciprocal relationship.

But it was also a relationship that was disadvantageous for Luxembourg’s EU partners – and for European cooperation itself. Many of the companies that set up shop in Luxembourg, after all, no longer paid taxes in their home countries where they produced or sold the lion’s share of their products.

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But with the Spiegel editorial board turning against him, how long can Jean-Claude last?

It’s Time to Put Juncker on the Hot Seat (Spiegel Ed.)

Can the European Commission be led by a man who transformed his own country into a tax oasis? [..] The European Union has a problem – and a serious one at that. On the surface, the issue is about the tax avoidance schemes in Luxembourg that were engineered during former Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s tenure. And about the billions of euros in revenues lost by other EU countries as a result. But the true problem in this affair actually runs a lot deeper. At issue is just how seriously we take the new European democracy that Juncker himself often touts. The criticism of Juncker came less than a week after he took office. Leaked tax documents released last Wednesday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists showed how large corporations have taken advantage of loose policies in Luxembourg to evade paying taxes. At a time of slow economic growth and tight national budgets, sensitivity has grown in large parts of the EU over countries that facilitate legal tax evasion.

Juncker is fond of pointing out proudly that he was Europe’s first “leading candidate,” and the first to be more-or-less directly elected as president of the European Commission. Across Europe, many celebrated it as the moment when more democracy came to the EU. Unfortunately, optimism blinded people to one salient fact: European politicians themselves never took this newfound democracy particularly seriously. In contrast to the United States, where getting to know the candidates is a matter of course, the EU never had any intent of truly introducing its leading politicians to the people. This has created a situation in which a person like Juncker can effectively lead two lives. One as an (honest) proponent of the EU and the other as a cunning former leader of an EU member state who promoted Luxembourg’s self-interest by blocking treaties that would have forced the country to adopt stricter tax policies.

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Mo talks his book.

The Return Of The US Dollar (El-Erian)

The US dollar is on the move. In the last four months alone, it has soared by more than 7% compared with a basket of more than a dozen global currencies, and by even more against the euro and the Japanese yen. This dollar rally, the result of genuine economic progress and divergent policy developments, could contribute to the “rebalancing” that has long eluded the world economy. But that outcome is far from guaranteed, especially given the related risks of financial instability. Two major factors are currently working in the dollar’s favour, particularly compared to the euro and the yen. First, the United States is consistently outperforming Europe and Japan in terms of economic growth and dynamism – and will likely continue to do so – owing not only to its economic flexibility and entrepreneurial energy, but also to its more decisive policy action since the start of the global financial crisis.

Second, after a period of alignment, the monetary policies of these three large and systemically important economies are diverging, taking the world economy from a multi-speed trajectory to a multi-track one. Indeed, whereas the US Federal Reserve terminated its large-scale securities purchases, known as “quantitative easing” (QE), last month, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank recently announced the expansion of their monetary-stimulus programs. In fact, ECB President Mario Draghi signalled a willingness to expand his institution’s balance sheet by a massive €1 trillion ($1.25 trillion). With higher US market interest rates attracting additional capital inflows and pushing the dollar even higher, the currency’s revaluation would appear to be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to catalysing a long-awaited global rebalancing – one that promotes stronger growth and mitigates deflation risk in Europe and Japan.

Specifically, an appreciating dollar improves the price competitiveness of European and Japanese companies in the US and other markets, while moderating some of the structural deflationary pressure in the lagging economies by causing import prices to rise. Yet the benefits of the dollar’s rally are far from guaranteed, for both economic and financial reasons. While the US economy is more resilient and agile than its developed counterparts, it is not yet robust enough to be able to adjust smoothly to a significant shift in external demand to other countries. There is also the risk that, given the role of the ECB and the Bank of Japan in shaping their currencies’ performance, such a shift could be characterized as a “currency war” in the US Congress, prompting a retaliatory policy response. Furthermore, sudden large currency moves tend to translate into financial-market instability.

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Not looking good.

Fears Of German Recession As Moment Of Truth Looms (CNBC)

Just days before Germany’s much anticipated third quarter gross domestic product (GDP) data is released, business leaders and policy makers warn that the euro zone’s largest economy has lost its competitiveness and is on the brink of a recession. The chair of the German Banking Association, Juergen Fitschen, told CNBC on Monday that it was “undeniable that we have slowed down recently.” “We cannot insulate ourselves against the factors that have contributed to the current state of affairs…But, also, [thereis a] slow recovery in some of our neighboring countries and also a lack o fdemand to finance infrastructure projects in Germany itself,” he said. Speaking to CNBC on the sidelines of a press conference held by the association, he said: “We have to remind ourselves that we have not spared continuing efforts to renew our competitiveness and that is something that applies obviously to our neighboring countries as well,” he continued.

Fitschen’s comments came amid other severe critiques of the German economy and outlook, just days before the release of the GDP data on Friday. Second quarter data in August showed data showed Germany’s economy had lost momentum, contracting for the first time in over a year. Quarter-on-quarter, GDP contracted 0.2%. If the economy contracts again in the third quarter, Germany will technically be in recession. The head of Germany’s influential Ifo economic research institute said that was a distinct possibility on Monday.Speaking to Reuters, Hans-Werner Sinn said that Germany was teetering on the brink of a recession due to weakness in major emerging trading partners. “It is going to be really close,” Sinn warned, saying that surveys by the Ifo institute pointed more towards a recession.

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Flipping the west the bird.

Russia Ends Dollar/Euro Currency Peg, Moves To Free Float (RT)

The Bank of Russia took another step towards a free float ruble by abolishing the dual currency soft peg, as well as automatic interventions. Before, the bank propped up the ruble when the exchange rate against the euro and dollar exceeded its boundaries. “Instead, we will intervene in the currency market at whichever moment and amount needed to decrease the speculative demand,” the bank’s chairwoman, Elvira Nabiullina, said in an interview with Rossiya 24 Monday. The move is edging towards a floating exchange rate, which the bank hopes to attain by 2015. “Effective starting November 10, 2014, the Bank of Russia abolished the acting exchange rate policy mechanism by cancelling the allowed range of the dual-currency basket ruble values (operational band) and regular interventions within and outside the borders of this band,” the bank said in a statement Monday.

“As a result of the decision the ruble exchange rate will be determined by market factors, which should promote efficiency of the monetary policy of the Bank of Russia and ensure price stability,” the central bank said. Foreign exchange intervention is still at the bank’s disposal, and is ready to use in the case of “threats to financial stability,” according to the statement. Propping up the ruble can cost the Central Bank of Russia billions of dollars per day, coming out of the country’s reserve fund. In October alone, the bank was forced to spend $30 billion to defend the weakening ruble. On November 5, the bank announced it had limited the reserves it is willing to spend to inflate the ruble to $350 million per day in order to slash speculation and volatility. The decision triggered a 3-day plunge for the Russian currency. On Monday, the ruble recovered slightly after Russian President Vladimir Putin assured speculative drops would cease in the near future.

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Welcome to the third world.

Police Use Department Wish List When Deciding Which Assets to Seize (NY Times)

The seminars offered police officers some useful tips on seizing property from suspected criminals. Don’t bother with jewelry (too hard to dispose of) and computers (“everybody’s got one already”), the experts counseled. Do go after flat screen TVs, cash and cars. Especially nice cars. In one seminar, captured on video in September, Harry S. Connelly Jr., the city attorney of Las Cruces, N.M., called them “little goodies.” And then Mr. Connelly described how officers in his jurisdiction could not wait to seize one man’s “exotic vehicle” outside a local bar. “A guy drives up in a 2008 Mercedes, brand new,” he explained. “Just so beautiful, I mean, the cops were undercover and they were just like ‘Ahhhh.’ And he gets out and he’s just reeking of alcohol. And it’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness, we can hardly wait.’ ”Mr. Connelly was talking about a practice known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime.

The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. It is difficult to tell how much has been seized by state and local law enforcement, but under a Justice Department program, the value of assets seized has ballooned to $4.3 billion in the 2012 fiscal year from $407 million in 2001. Much of that money is shared with local police forces. The practice of civil forfeiture has come under fire in recent months, amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. In one oft-cited case, a Philadelphia couple’s home was seized after their son made $40 worth of drug sales on the porch.

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Politicians caught up in their own lies and denials. It shows you what France is made of. Marine Le Pen’s popularity doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Alleged Sarkozy Plot Rocks French Political Establishment (FT)

Leading figures from France’s two traditional parties have been enmeshed in a fresh political scandal involving former president Nicolas Sarkozy, complicating their attempts to halt voter defection to the far-right National Front. The latest “affair” to rock France’s political establishment involves the chief of staff of President François Hollande, who is already struggling with the lowest popularity ratings of any French leader since the second world war. It also touches François Fillon, a leading figure in the country’s centre-right UMP party and a former prime minister who has stated his determination to run for the presidency in 2017.

The scandal centres on a lunch in June during which Mr Fillon reportedly asked Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Mr Hollande’s chief of staff, to speed up judicial investigations into an alleged UMP cover-up of illegal overspending during the 2012 presidential re-election campaign of Mr Sarkozy, the UMP’s then candidate. “Hit him quickly,” Mr Fillon is alleged to have said to Mr Jouyet, referring to Mr Sarkozy. “If you don’t hit him quickly, you will see him come back.” Mr Sarkozy recently announced his return to French politics, and is campaigning to become head of his party in elections at the end of the month. The move is seen widely as the first step in a longer-term goal of competing for the presidency in 2017. Mr Fillon has vehemently denied the conversation about campaign financing with Mr Jouyet, which was first reported by two journalists at Le Monde, the French daily newspaper.

“I can only see in these incredible attacks an attempt at destabilisation and a plot,” Mr Fillon said on Sunday. He threatened the two Le Monde journalists with legal action and then turned his wrath on Mr Jouyet, accusing him of lying and threatening to take him to court. Mr Jouyet, a close personal friend of Mr Hollande but who also served in the previous centre-right government of Mr Sarkozy, on Sunday admitted he had discussed the alleged illegal overspending issue during the lunch with Mr Fillon – though stopped short of confirming Mr Fillon’s alleged request to speed up the judicial investigations against Mr Sarkozy. Mr Jouyet’s admission, reported by France’s AFP, came just a few days after he had told the news agency that the subject of the UMP campaign financing had not come up during the June lunch with Mr Fillon.

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Almost funny: “At least five people in the cabinet have been charged with serious offences such as rape and rioting. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said any suggestions there were criminals in the cabinet were “completely baseless. “These are cases arising out of criminal accusations, not cases out of a crime .. ”

Nearly A Third Of Indian Cabinet Charged With Crimes (Reuters)

Attempted murder, waging war on the state, criminal intimidation and fraud are some of the charges on the rap sheets of ministers Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appointed to the cabinet on Sunday, jarring with his pledge to clean up politics. Seven of 21 new ministers face prosecution, taking the total in the 66-member cabinet to almost one third, a higher proportion than before the weekend expansion. At least five people in the cabinet have been charged with serious offences such as rape and rioting. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said any suggestions there were criminals in the cabinet were “completely baseless. “These are cases arising out of criminal accusations, not cases out of a crime,” he told reporters on Monday, adding that Modi had personally vetted the new ministers. Ram Shankar Katheria, a lawmaker from Agra, was appointed junior education minister yet has been accused of more than 20 criminal offences including attempted murder and promoting religious or racial hostility.

The inclusion of such politicians does not sit easily with Modi’s election promise to root out corruption, and has led to criticism that he is failing to change the political culture in India where wealthy, tainted politicians sometimes find it easier to win votes. “It shows scant respect for the rule of law or public sentiment,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, co-founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) which campaigns for better governance. “Including these people in the cabinet is a bad omen for our democracy.”Modi won the biggest parliamentary majority in three decades in May with a promise of graft-free governance after the previous government led by Congress party was mired in a series of damaging corruption scandals.

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” ..High energy prices and resistance to fracking are two key reasons why Europe’s economic recovery has lagged the U.S.”

Energy Is Europe’s ‘Big Disadvantage’: Deutsche Bank Co-Ceo (CNBC)

High energy prices and resistance to fracking are two key reasons why Europe’s economic recovery has lagged the U.S., the joint head of Germany’s largest bank by assets told CNBC. Jürgen Fitschen, co-chief executive of Deutsche Bank, said bureaucracy, education and productivity partially explained Europe’s difficulties, but laid much of the blame on the cost of energy in the region. “It is undeniable that Europe overall faces one very big disadvantage: that is cost of energy,” Fitschen, who is also head of the German Bankers Association, told CNBC in Frankfurt on Monday. “That (low energy prices) has been one of the factors that have stimulated the euphoria and the growth momentum in the States. That is something that cannot be replicated easily in Europe.”

Including taxes, domestic U.S. gas prices fell by 2.2% in 2013 on the previous year to 2.18 U.K. pence (3 U.S. cents) per kilowatt hour (kWh), according to the International Energy Agency. By comparison, Spanish domestic prices rose by 7.8% to 6.93 pence and British prices rose by 7.7% to 4.90 pence respectively. Fitschen said that the shale gas revolution helped explain why U.S. energy prices had fallen. The U.S. has embraced fracking—or hydraulic fracturing—for shale, which has helped lead a revival in some manufacturing industries and helped the country become less reliant on oil and gas imports. However, the process has met with far more opposition in Europe, due to environmental concerns relating to possible seismic tremors and a risk to water supplies.

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” .. an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico. ”

Rich Nations Subsidize Fossil Fuel Industry By $88 Billion A Year (Guardian)

Rich countries are subsidising oil, gas and coal companies by about $88bn (£55.4bn) a year to explore for new reserves, despite evidence that most fossil fuels must be left in the ground if the world is to avoid dangerous climate change. The most detailed breakdown yet of global fossil fuel subsidies has found that the US government provided companies with $5.2bn for fossil fuel exploration in 2013, Australia spent $3.5bn, Russia $2.4bn and the UK $1.2bn. Most of the support was in the form of tax breaks for exploration in deep offshore fields. The public money went to major multinationals as well as smaller ones who specialise in exploratory work, according to British thinktank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Washington-based analysts Oil Change International. Britain, says their report, proved to be one of the most generous countries. In the five year period to 2014 it gave tax breaks totalling over $4.5bn to French, US, Middle Eastern and north American companies to explore the North Sea for fast-declining oil and gas reserves.

A breakdown of that figure showed over $1.2bn of British money went to two French companies, GDF-Suez and Total, $450m went to five US companies including Chevron, and $992m to five British companies. Britain also spent public funds for foreign companies to explore in Azerbaijan, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, India and Indonesia, as well as Russia, Uganda and Qatar, according to the report’s data, which is drawn from the OECD, government documents, company reports and institutions. The figures, published ahead of this week’s G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, contains the first detailed breakdown of global fossil fuel exploration subsidies. It shows an extraordinary “merry-go-round” of countries supporting each others’ companies. The US spends $1.4bn a year for exploration in Columbia, Nigeria and Russia, while Russia is subsidising exploration in Venezuela and China, which in turn supports companies exploring Canada, Brazil and Mexico.

“The evidence points to a publicly financed bail-out for carbon-intensive companies, and support for uneconomic investments that could drive the planet far beyond the internationally agreed target of limiting global temperature increases to no more than 2C,” say the report’s authors. “This is real money which could be put into schools or hospitals. It is simply not economic to invest like this. This is the insanity of the situation. They are diverting investment from economic low-carbon alternatives such as solar, wind and hydro-power and they are undermining the prospects for an ambitious UN climate deal in 2015,” said Kevin Watkins, director of the ODI. [..] “The IPCC is quite clear about the need to leave the vast majority of already proven reserves in the ground, if we are to meet the 2C goal. The fact that despite this science, governments are spending billions of tax dollars each year to find more fossil fuels that we cannot ever afford to burn, reveals the extent of climate denial still ongoing within the G20,” said Oil Change International director Steve Kretzman.

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” .. It’s not for the United States. They want to sell it overseas, and I want to see that stopped.”

The Real Story Of US Coal: Inside The World’s Biggest Coalmine (Guardian)

In the world’s biggest coalmine, even a 400 tonne truck looks like a toy. Everything about the scale of Peabody Energy’s operations in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming is big and the mines are only going to get bigger – despite new warnings from the United Nations on the dangerous burning of fossil fuels, despite Barack Obama’s promises to fight climate change, and despite reports that coal is in its death throes. At the east pit of Peabody’s North Antelope Rochelle mine, the layer of coal takes up 60ft of a 250ft trough in the earth, and runs in an interrupted black stripe for 50 miles. With those vast, easy-to-reach deposits, Powder River has overtaken West Virginia and Kentucky as the big coalmining territory. The pro-coal Republicans’ takeover of Congress in the mid-term elections also favours Powder River.

“You’re looking at the world’s largest mine,” said Scott Durgin, senior vice-president for Peabody’s operations in the Powder River Basin, watching the giant machinery at work. “This is one of the biggest seams you will ever see. This particular shovel is one of the largest shovels you can buy, and that is the largest truck you can buy.” By Durgin’s rough estimate, the mine occupies 100 square miles of high treeless prairie, about the same size as Washington DC. It contains an estimated three billion tonnes of coal reserves. It would take Peabody 25 or 30 years to mine it all. But it’s still not big enough. On the conference room wall, a map of North Antelope Rochelle shows two big shaded areas containing an estimated one billion tonnes of coal. Peabody is preparing to acquire leasing rights when they come up in about 2022 or 2024. “You’ve got to think way ahead,” said Durgin.

In the fossil fuel jackpot that is Wyoming, it can be hard to see a future beyond coal. One of the few who can is LJ Turner, whose grandfather and father homesteaded on the high treeless plains nearly a century ago. Turner, who raises sheep and cattle, said his business had suffered in the 30 years of the mines’ explosive growth. Dust from the mines was aggravating pneumonia among his Red Angus calves. One year, he lost 25 calves, he said. “We are making a national sacrifice out of this region,” he said. “Peabody coal and other coal companies want to keep on mining, and mine this country out and leave it as a sacrifice and they want to do it for their bottom line. It’s not for the United States. They want to sell it overseas, and I want to see that stopped.”

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There’s a pattern here: ” .. the Madrid government contrived to have the plebiscite banned as unconstitutional”.

Angry Canary Islanders Brace For An Unwanted Guest: The Oil Industry (Guardian)

In most places the news that you’ve struck oil would be cause to crack open the champagne. But not in the Canary Islands where Spain’s biggest oil company Repsol is due to begin drilling off Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. “Our wealth is in our climate, our sky, our sea and the archipelago’s extraordinary biodiversity and landscape,” the Canary Islands president, Paulino Rivero, said. “Its value is that it’s natural and this is what attracts tourism. Oil is incompatible with tourism and a sustainable economy.” Rivero, a former primary school teacher, is on a crusade against oil and he is not alone. Protest marches have drawn as many as 200,000 of the islands’ 2 million inhabitants on to the streets. The regional government planned to consolidate public opinion with a referendum on 23 November. Voters were to be asked: “Do you believe the Canaries should exchange its environmental and tourism model for oil and gas exploration?”

As with the weekend’s scheduled referendum on Catalan independence, the Madrid government contrived to have the plebiscite banned as unconstitutional and Rivero has now commissioned a private poll he hopes will demonstrate the strength of public opinion. “The banning of the referendum reveals a huge weakness in the system,” said Rivero. “You have to listen to the people. There’s a serious discrepancy between what people here want and what the Spanish government wants. You are allowed to hold consultations under the Spanish constitution and what we wanted to do was completely legal. The problem we have is that some government departments have too close a relationship with Repsol.” Repsol is flush with cash after settling a long dispute with Argentina and is keen to develop what may be the country’s biggest oilfield after winning permission to drill in August. The company believes the fields may contain as much as 2.2bn barrels of oil and is investing €7.5bn to explore two sites about 40 miles (60km) east of Fuerteventura.

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Don’t worry be happy, nuke style.

Fukushima Radiation Found in Pacific Off California Coast (Bloomberg)

Oceanographers have detected isotopes linked to Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant off California’s coast, though at levels far below those that could pose a measurable health risk. Volunteer ocean monitors collected the samples that tested positive for trace amounts of the isotope cesium-134 about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Eureka, California, the Massachusetts-based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said yesterday on its website. Tepco’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant, which released “unprecedented levels” of radioactivity during the March 2011 accident, was the only conceivable source of the detected isotopes, Woods Hole oceanographer Ken Buesseler said in the release.

Explosions during the accident, during which three reactors suffered meltdowns, sent a burst of radioactivity into the atmosphere, while water used to cool overheating fuel rods flowed into the ocean in the weeks after the disaster. Lower levels of radiation have continued to trickle into the ocean via contaminated groundwater. The radioactivity detected off the California coast was at levels deemed by international health agencies to be “far below where one might expect any measurable risk to human health or marine life,” according to Woods Hole. It’s also more than 1,000 times lower than acceptable limits in drinking water set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the organization said.

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” .. the background reality is too difficult to contemplate: an American living arrangement with no future.”

The Fate of the Turtle (James Howard Kunstler)

Anybody truly interested in government, and therefore politics, should be cognizant above all that ours have already entered systemic failure. The management of societal affairs is on an arc to become more inept and ineffectual, no matter how either of the current major parties pretends to control things. Instead of Big Brother, government in our time turns out to be Autistic Brother. It makes weird noises and flaps its appendages, but can barely tie its own shoelaces. The one thing it does exceedingly well is drain the remaining capital from endeavors that might contribute to the greater good. This includes intellectual capital, by the way, which, under better circumstances, might gird the political will to reform the sub-systems that civilized life depends on. These include: food production (industrial agri-business), commerce (the WalMart model), transportation (Happy Motoring), school (a matrix of rackets), medicine (ditto with the patient as hostage), and banking (a matrix of fraud and swindling).

All of these systems have something in common: they’ve exceeded their fragility threshold and crossed into the frontier of criticality. They have nowhere to go except failure. It would be nice if we could construct leaner and more local systems to replace these monsters, but there is too much vested interest in them. For instance, the voters slapped down virtually every major ballot proposition to invest in light rail and public transit around the country. The likely explanation is that they’ve bought the story that shale oil will allow them to drive to WalMart forever. That story is false, by the way. The politicos put it over because they believe the Wall Street fraudsters who are pimping a junk finance racket in shale oil for short-term, high-yield returns. The politicos want desperately to believe the story because the background reality is too difficult to contemplate: an American living arrangement with no future. The public, of course, is eager to believe the same story for the same reasons, but at some point they’ll flip and blame the story-tellers, and their wrath could truly wreck what remains of this polity. When it is really too late to fix any of these things, they’ll beg someone to tell them what to do, and the job-description for that position is ‘dictator’.

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Oct 122014
 
 October 12, 2014  Posted by at 12:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »


John Vachon Michigan Avenue, Chicago July 1941

IMF: Get Bold On Economy, Ease Up On Budget Cuts (Reuters)
Financial Storm Clouds Cast A Deep Shadow Over IMF Summit (Observer)
Fed’s Evans: Stronger Dollar Will Hurt Growth, Inflation Fight (MarketWatch)
Fed’s Williams: What Emerging Markets Should Fear (MarketWatch)
Fed’s Tarullo: Banking Scandals More Than Just A Few Bad Apples (MarketWatch)
Europe Growth Pact Floated As Euro Zone Recession Fears Mount (Reuters)
Italy’s Beppe Grillo Prepares Referendum On Leaving The Eurozone (RT)
Italian PM Stakes His Credibility On Passage Of Big Reforms (Economist)
Grillo’s M5S Stages 3-Day Gathering In Rome To Protest Reform Bill (PressTV)
Irish Voters Take To The Streets In Anti-Austerity Protests (Reuters)
US Seeks ‘Total Cooperation’ From Swiss On Tax Dodging (Reuters)
An ISIS/Al-Qaeda Merger Could Cripple the Civilized World (Fiscal Times)
IMF: Price Drop Shouldn’t Disrupt Oil Producers’ Government Spending (Reuters)
Hackers Plan $1 Billion ‘Cyber-Heist’ On Global Bank (ES)
Banks Accept Derivatives Rule Change To End ‘Too Big To Fail’ (Reuters)
New China Import Tariffs Mean ‘Game Is Over For Australian Coal’ (Reuters)
One In Seven Australians Living Below The Poverty Line (Guardian)
Fracking Firms Get Tested by Oil’s Price Drop (WSJ)
‘The Overnighters’ Shows Dark Side Of North Dakota Oil Boom (Reuters)
Health Care Worker Who Treated Texas Victim Tests Positive For Ebola (BBC)
Second Leaker In US intelligence, Says Glenn Greenwald (Guardian)

We should dissolve the IMF. They’ve become even more dangerous than they are useless.

IMF: Get Bold On Economy, Ease Up On Budget Cuts (Reuters)

The IMF’s member countries on Saturday said bold action was needed to bolster the global economic recovery, and they urged governments to take care not to squelch growth by tightening budgets too drastically. With Japan’s economy floundering, the euro zone at risk of recession and the U.S. recovery too weak to generate a rise in incomes, the IMF’s steering committee said focusing on growth was the priority. “A number of countries face the prospect of low or slowing growth, with unemployment remaining unacceptably high,” the International Monetary and Financial Committee said on behalf of the Fund’s 188 member countries. The Fund this week cut its 2014 global growth forecast to 3.3% from 3.4%, the third reduction this year as the prospects for a sustainable recovery from the 2007-2009 global financial crisis have ebbed, despite hefty injections of cash by the world’s central banks.

The IMF has flagged Europe’s weakness as the top concern, a sentiment echoed by many policymakers, economists and investors gathered in Washington for the Fund’s fall meetings, which wrap up on Sunday. European officials have sought to dispel the gloom, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi on Saturday talking about a delay, not an end, to the region’s recovery. But efforts to provide more room for France to meet its European Union deficit target looked set to founder on Germany’s insistence that the agreement on fiscal rectitude was set in stone. The IMF panel urged countries to carry out politically tough reforms to labor markets and social security to free up government money to invest in infrastructure to create jobs and lift growth. It called on central banks to be careful when communicating changes in policy in order to avoid financial market shocks. While not naming any central banks, the warning appeared aimed at the U.S. Federal Reserve, which will end its quantitative easing policy this month and appears poised to begin raising interest rates around the middle of next year.

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And dissolve the World Bank, too. These institutions serve only special interests, they’re an insurance policy for a world order gone haywire.

Financial Storm Clouds Cast A Deep Shadow Over IMF Summit (Observer)

Six years ago, finance ministers and central bank governors gathered in Washington for the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund with the global financial system teetering on the brink. It was less than a month since the collapse of the US investment bank Lehman Brothers and in the aftermath no institution, however big and powerful, looked safe. After staring into the abyss, they put together a co-ordinated plan to rescue ailing banks. This was followed by further joint moves when the drying up of credit flows plunged the world economy into recession. A second Great Depression was averted, but only just – and at a price. Last week, the IMF and World Bank celebrated their 70th birthdays, but there was a distinct lack of party atmosphere in Washington. While not as tense as during the dark days of October 2008, the mood was distinctly sombre as the two organisations –created at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference – worked their way through a packed agenda that was dominated by six big themes.

Ever since the global economy bottomed out in the spring of 2009, the hope has been that the world would return to the robust levels of growth seen in the years leading up to the financial crash. Time and again, the optimism has proved misplaced, with the IMF repeatedly revising down its forecasts. This year was no exception. “The recovery continues but it is weak and uneven,” said the IMF’s economic counsellor, Olivier Blanchard, as he announced that at 3.3%, growth rates would be 0.4 points lower than anticipated in the spring. What concerns the IMF is that the slowdown – particularly in the advanced countries of the west – may be permanent. The phrase being bandied around in Washington was “secular stagnation”, the notion that there has been a structural decline in potential growth rates. Blanchard said it was entirely possible that developed countries would never return to their pre-crisis growth levels, and that even achieving the lower rates of expansion now expected would require interest rates to be maintained at historically low levels.

Having failed spectacularly to spot the last financial crisis coming, the IMF is now alert to the possibility that a long period of ultra-low interest rates is storing up problems for the future. José Viñals, the IMF’s financial counsellor, said: “Policymakers are facing a new global imbalance: not enough economic risk-taking in support of growth, but increasing excesses in financial risk-taking posing stability challenges.” This is not what the central banks intended when they cut the cost of borrowing and cranked up the electronic-money printing presses in the process known as quantitative easing. They expected cheap and plentiful money to rouse the animal spirits of entrepreneurs, encouraging them to invest. Instead, they have provided the casino chips for speculators.

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Part of a carefully planned spin.

Fed’s Evans: Stronger Dollar Will Hurt Growth, Inflation Fight (MarketWatch)

A stronger U.S. dollar is an obstacle to the Federal Reserve’s ability to meet its inflation mandate and will impede growth, Charles Evans, the president of the Chicago Fed, said on Saturday. “It’s a headwind,” Evans told reporters after giving a speech on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting. “[A] Higher dollar is going to have an effect on our net exports, it is going to reduce it a bit. And it is also going to lead to lower import prices and likely have an effect that our inflation data will be lower,” Evans said. Earlier, in his speech, Evans said there is “more uncertainty” in the global economic outlook than the Fed had expected. Evans said he was restricting his comments to the effects of the stronger dollar on the U.S. economy and had no comment on U.S. dollar policy. Evans said that he expects the economy to growth at a 3% pace, but because housing isn’t acting as its typical engine of growth, a lot of things have to go right to get that growth rate.

“It is in that context that as I see the global uncertainties at a fairly high level it makes me a little concerned about the forecast,” he said. “It is much too soon to take on any headwinds from around the world,” he added. Experts said the U.S. government would only tolerate a stronger dollar versus the euro as long as European officials follow through with structural reforms. Evans is one of the most dovish of the regional Fed presidents, and said the Fed should wait until early 2016 to raise interest rates. He will be a voting member of the Fed policy committee next year. Evans suggested he would support altering the Fed’s guidance to give some quantitative sense that the central bank would tolerate inflation above 2% for some time, as long as projections did not show prices spiking higher.

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‘It’s not only rising rates’ …

Fed’s Williams: What Emerging Markets Should Fear (MarketWatch)

Emerging markets face more risks than from the Federal Reserve, John Williams, the president of the San Francisco Fed, said on Saturday. Many experts, including Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, have urged the Fed to be sensitive to the impact that the timing of its increase in interest rates will have on the developing world. Williams said that market volatility may stem more from the fact that major global central banks are moving in different directions. “Everyone is talking about the Federal Reserve. quite honestly, unconventional policy is going on in Japan and the European Central Bank, so to me it is really the cross currents that really, to my mind, drive the uncertainty and some of that risk out there in global markets.

It is not just what the Fed is doing, it is that fact that different central banks are moving in different directions for appropriate reasons,” Williams said at the Institute of International Finance meeting, taking place on the sideline of the International Monetary Fund’s annual meeting. Higher interest rates are expected to draw back money from riskier markets. Last year, just the suggestion by the Fed that it was thinking about ending its quantitative easing program sparked a selloff in currencies and assets in emerging markets. Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia Pacific Sovereigns at Fitch Ratings, said recent research by his firm shows that Indonesia, India, Turkey and Brazil might be vulnerable if there were a shock to financial market conditions as a result of the Fed raising rates.

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So what are you going to do about it?

Fed’s Tarullo: Banking Scandals More Than Just A Few Bad Apples (MarketWatch)

The plethora of banking scandals cannot be written off as just the work of a few bad actors, Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo said Saturday. In remarks to the Institute of International Finance, Tarullo said that the average U.S. citizen reading the newspaper would be understandably upset after reading stories about bank mortgage fraud, and more recent scandals involving efforts to manipulate the Libor reference rate and allegations of manipulation of foreign exchange rates. “The problem at this juncture is that there are so many problems,” Tarullo said. The institute is meeting on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund.

“You can’t just be telling yourself that there are a few apples. There is something about the structure of incentives and expectations within firms that needs to be addressed,” Tarullo said. “ I think a lot of boards, and management, know it needs to be addressed.” Tarullo is the Fed’s point man on bank regulation. In other remarks, Tarullo said it was premature to declare that the problem of too-big-to-fail banks has been solved, noting that cross-border complications remain. As the Fed puts higher liquidity and capital standards on the biggest banks, Tarullo said the central bank will be watching closely to see if any activities move into the shadow banking sector. “That is something we are all going to need to keep a watch on and make sure risk is not building up in other places in the system.”

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Could have been a headline in any of the past 8 years. The more things change …

Europe Growth Pact Floated As Euro Zone Recession Fears Mount (Reuters)

Heeding global calls for action to shore up Europe’s sagging economy, euro zone’s top finance official proposed a new growth pact on Friday to break a policy logjam and spur reforms by rewarding countries with cheap funds and leeway on budget targets. The International Monetary Fund, which cut its global growth forecasts for the third time this year this week, flagged Europe’s weakness as the top concern, a sentiment echoed by many policymakers, economists and investors. European officials in Washington for the IMF and World Bank annual meetings sought to dispel the gloom, with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi talking about a delay, not an end, to the region’s recovery. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the chairman of euro zone’s finance ministers, used the forum to propose a new “growth deal” for Europe offering nations embarking on ambitious economic reforms more fiscal wiggle room and low-interest EU funds.

“There is no reason for this gloominess about Europe,” Dijsselbloem told Reuters. “Those countries that have actually implemented the strategy and done the reforms, have returned to growth, in southern Europe, in the Baltics, in Ireland. Which once again proves that reforms do not hurt growth, but help recovery quite quickly.” It would take months of political negotiations for the proposed pact to take shape. In the meantime, a steady stream of poor economic data looks set to keep Europe’s partners on edge. “The biggest risk to the global economy at the moment … is the risk of the euro zone falling back into recession and into crisis,” British finance minister George Osborne told reporters.

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It’s been three years since Nicole and I went to visit Beppe. Good to see he’s still at it. Best chance Italians have.

Italy’s Beppe Grillo Prepares Referendum On Leaving The Eurozone (RT)

The leader of an influential Italian Eurosceptic political party, the Five Star Movement (M5S), says he will collect one million signatures required to petition the Parliament to conduct a referendum on Italy leaving the Eurozone as soon as possible. The Italian government is not effective in restoring jobs and helping people, said Beppe Grillo, the leader of Italy’s anti-establishment M5S, which burst onto the political scene last year winning 25% of the vote in its first parliamentary election in 2013. “Leave the euro and defend the sovereignty of the Italian people from the European Central Bank,” Grillo told his supporters at a M5S event in Rome. “We have to leave the euro as soon as possible,” he said. “We will collect one million signatures in six months and bring them to the Parliament to ask for a referendum to express our opinion.” Grillo hopes his party’s recent success and growing support will allow them to gather enough signatures and push the idea through the Parliament by December 2015.

“This time, we have 150 parliamentarians and senators, and we have time to submit [the signatures] to the Parliament and adopt a law on the referendum,” Grillo said referring to 109 seats out of 630 in the Chamber of Deputies and 54 seats out of 315 in the Senate that his party holds. The constitution of Italy prohibits popular referendums on financial laws and ratifications of international treaties, but in any case the move will send a clear message to the government, Grillo believes. The Five Star Movement was started by Grillo in 2010 and has made a splash at local elections, receiving the third highest number of votes overall and winning the mayoral election for Parma before the success in general election. In the 2014 European election, M5S came in second place nationally, taking 17 of Italy’s seats in the European Parliament.

Beppe Grillo was a popular comedian on Italian television in 80s, but he disappeared from the screen in the 90s, with many suggesting that his harsh satire was too much to handle for Italian politicians. After that he mainly performed in theatres and staged a series of mass rallies, protesting against the criminal activities of the Italian political elite. At a time when unemployment in the Eurozone’s third largest economy is running above 12% and all-time high of 44% for Italians under the age of 25, Grillo’s belief in direct participation through forms of digital democracy might be the only way to get Italian frustration across. Although the IMF predicts Italy’s recession will break in 2015, when the growth is expected to reach 1.1%, the country is struggling to keep its budget deficit below the EU’s cap of 3% of GDP.

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Renzi resorts to sneaky methods to push his ‘reforms’ through. Never a good sign.

Italian PM Stakes His Credibility On Passage Of Big Reforms (Economist)

THE Sala Verde (green room) in the prime minister’s official residence, Palazzo Chigi, in Rome has in the past been the scene of three-way talks between the government, the unions and employers that lasted for days. It was to this chamber that Matteo Renzi, the present prime minister, invited representatives of both sides on October 7th to discuss a revamped employment bill crucial to his government’s credibility as a liberalising administration. He gave them each 60 minutes, starting at 8am. “Only once before has [such] an absence of social dialogue been seen in Europe,” spluttered Susanna Camusso, leader of the biggest trade union federation. “With Thatcher.” But in Italy, where “face” can be as important as it is in several East Asian countries, appearances are one thing and substance another. The employment bill, which passed its first test in the Senate a day later, is far from Thatcherite. It aims to give most new employees gradually increasing job security, potentially improving the lot of young Italians who now often work only on short-term contracts.

But it leaves to enabling legislation the fate of Article 18, an emblematic provision in Italian labour law that makes it almost impossible for companies with more than 15 staff to dismiss workers on open-ended contracts (even if, in practice, most employees are willing to negotiate a settlement). It is too early to assess the likely impact of the bill. It will be heavily conditioned by further legislation, some of it not due for approval until next year. But it is nevertheless Mr Renzi’s first big structural economic reform, and as such it is a much-needed prize for the euro zone’s austerity hawks. With Italy mired yet again in recession and GDP in real terms below its level in 2000, never mind 2008 (see chart), Mr Renzi is desperate for the hawks to take a more flexible view of his budget deficit so as to sustain demand. “Either we promote growth, or the euro is finished,” he says.

This week the IMF reduced its forecast for Italian GDP growth this year to minus 0.2%, from plus 0.3% previously. Not even Italy’s innately optimistic prime minister expects it to get above 1% in 2015. His country’s public debt, already 135% of GDP, continues to grow despite relatively tight fiscal policy. One reason for the brevity of Mr Renzi’s talks with the unions and employers was that he wanted them out of the way before racing his employment bill into the Senate so as to coincide with a one-day European Union jobs summit that he was hosting in Milan on October 8th (Italy occupies the rotating EU presidency until the end of the year). To get the bill approved in the face of misgivings on the left of his Democratic Party (PD) and in other parties, Mr Renzi staked the fate of his government, turning the vote into one of confidence. The result was a tumultuous session in the upper house. No fewer than 26 PD senators put their names to a document criticising the lack of detail in the bill.

Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) also objected to the government’s being given such wide powers to frame the enabling legislation. Some M5S senators threw coins at the government benches; their leader was expelled from the chamber. A lengthy break in the proceedings failed to calm the mood. At one point, a book was hurled at the speaker after he refused to postpone the vote. The bill eventually passed with 165 in favour and 111 against. The passage of this and other reforms is vital if Mr Renzi is to convince Germany and other euro-zone austerians to cut him enough budgetary slack in order to boost growth. For the time being, and unlike France’s leaders, he says he is prepared to stick to the euro zone’s deficit ceiling of 3% of GDP: “An absolute must, for reasons of credibility,” he insists. Yet Italy was originally meant to get the deficit this year down to 2.6%. It stands to lose some EU co-financing if its deficit rises above 3%.

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44% long-term youth unemployment.

Grillo’s M5S Stages 3-Day Gathering In Rome To Protest Reform Bill (PressTV)

Italy’s opposition party, the Five Star Movement has launched a three-day gathering in Rome, attended by thousands of people from across the country. As discontent and disillusion continue to grow in the country, an increasing number of Italians are opting to line up with the Five Star Movement which has taken a hard-line on Italy’s old guard of politicians. Many hold traditional politics responsible for the country’s high level of corruption and skyrocketing unemployment rate. The 5-Star Movement is well known for its anti-establishment agenda. The movement has announced that it would use obstructionism in the parliament against all government measures after an executive’s controversial labor market reform bill recently won a confidence vote in the Senate. During the gathering, the movement leader Beppe Grillo has once again accused Italian media of staging disinformation campaigns against his movement. Also, the 5-Star Movement members of the parliament are currently not attending TV shows as a sign of protest.

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To think that Ireland was presented as an austerity poster child earlier this year…

Irish Voters Take To The Streets In Anti-Austerity Protests (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of people rallied against new water bills in Dublin on Saturday in Ireland’s biggest anti-austerity protest for years as a candidate calling for a boycott of the charges was elected to parliament in a by-election. After years of free water services, the centre-right coalition has decided to charge households hundreds of euros from the start of next year, an unpopular move just 18 months before the next election where the government parties hope to be rewarded by voters for an economic upturn. Ireland has seen relatively few protests compared to other bailed-out euro zone members such as Greece and Portugal, but Saturday’s protesters said the water charges were a step too far. “There is absolute fury against what the government has imposed on the people,” said Martin Kelly, 50, a rail worker holding a placard calling for the government to “stop the great water heist.” “They say this is the last bit, but it’s the hardest. People can’t take any more,” he said.

Since completing an international bailout last year, Ireland has been bucking the trend in Europe’s stalled economic recovery, with the government forecasting gross domestic product to grow by 4.7% this year. The improvement has allowed the government to promise its first budget without any new austerity measures in seven years on Tuesday, but opposition groups say working people are not feeling the upturn. More than one in 10 are unemployed and more than 100,000 mortgage holders in arrears in a population of 4.6 million. Paul Murphy from the Anti-Austerity Alliance, whose campaign was dominated by a call to boycott the water charges, won the parliamentary seat in the Dublin South West constituency that was vacated by a member of the governing Fine Gael party who was elected to the European Parliament. Murphy, told supporters: “Recovery is for the rich, it’s for the 1% … it’s not for the working class people.” His supporters chanted: “No way, we won’t pay.”

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And why not?

US Seeks ‘Total Cooperation’ From Swiss On Tax Dodging (Reuters)

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking “total cooperation” from Swiss banks in a draft agreement aimed at allowing the banks to make amends for aiding tax evasion by wealthy Americans, a Swiss newspaper reported on Saturday. About 100 Swiss banks signed up to work with U.S. authorities at the end of last year in a program brokered by the Swiss government. That followed criminal investigations of roughly a dozen Swiss banks in the United States. Under the program so-called category two banks – those that have reason to believe they may have committed tax offenses – will escape prosecution if they detail their wrongdoing with U.S. clients and pay fines.

These banks have now received a draft non-prosecution agreement from the United States, which would require them to report in full to U.S. authorities any information or knowledge of activity relating to U.S. tax, the the Neue Zuercher Zeitung (NZZ) said, citing unnamed banking sources. These requirements would also apply to parent companies, subsidiaries, management, workers and external advisors, the NZZ reported. This total cooperation would, in addition, not only apply with respect to the DOJ and the Internal Revenue Service, but also to anyone, even foreign law enforcement agencies, that the DOJ is supporting in its investigations,” the NZZ reported. It said that no end date for this cooperation was given in the draft.

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One would think so.

An ISIS/Al-Qaeda Merger Could Cripple the Civilized World (Fiscal Times)

As ISIS continues to advance on the Syrian town of Kobani and close in on Turkey’s border, experts in Islamic radical movements think the terror group may merge with its al-Qaeda mother organization soon. Together, the group would represent the greatest terror threat to the civilized world. “I think Britain, Germany and France will witness significant attacks in their territories by the Islamic State. Al-Baghdadi [the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, otherwise known as ISIS] may reconcile with al-Zawhiri [the leader of the al-Qaeda central organization] to fight the crusader enemy. The attacks by the United States and her allies will unite the two groups,” said Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi researcher who just finished writing a book about ISIS based on his unique access to the organization’s documents and years of research and advising Iraqi security forces.

“I have been monitoring al-Qaeda’s leaders’ rhetoric towards Baghdadi. They are getting softer and softer….The Islamic State, regardless of how big or small it becomes, will come back to its mother: al-Qaeda,” he added. ISIS and al-Qaeda have a long, tangled history with one another. ISIS was the al-Qaeda official branch in Iraq until last February. However, they finally split after disagreements over operations in Syria. The recent US intervention in the region along with the new US-led airstrike campaign against ISIS has actually forced the two groups to renew negotiations. For example, recent reports suggested that ISIS and al-Nusra Front are together planning the war against the US-led alliance. The al-Qaeda affiliated Khorasan group in Syria that was also targeted in the recent air attacks declared a few days ago in an audio message that it had joined ISIS. Add to that the Taliban in Pakistan who are hopping on board the ISIS train and you have a potential jihadi World War III.

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Collateral damage of US/Saudi policies.

IMF: Price Drop Shouldn’t Disrupt Oil Producers’ Government Spending (Reuters)

The drop in global oil prices should not affect the spending plans of oil-producing countries in the Middle East in the near-term given their large financial reserves, the head of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department said on Friday. The official, Masood Ahmed, told reporters that every oil producer in the region outside of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Bahrain were running fiscal deficits, and that the drop in prices would push those budget gaps even wider. However, he said their sizable financial reserves would allow those countries to continue with their spending plans in the short-term, although the price drop has raised a longer-term issue.

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Criminals targeting criminals?!

Hackers Plan $1 Billion ‘Cyber-Heist’ On Global Banks (ES)

Criminal gangs are plotting a $1 billion (£618 million) cyber-heist on global financial institutions, Europol has warned, as they ratchet up the pressure on banks reeling from the record-breaking hit on JPMorgan Chase. Secret listening on internet chatrooms by the European police investigative body has discovered planning by sophisticated Russian cyber-criminals aimed at pulling off one massive hit on a bank. “We have intelligence and information about planning in this direction,” Troels Oerting, pictured, head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre in The Hague, said. Bank insiders are being groomed, says Europol, to put in place programs that will override monitoring apparatus. These insiders will close down alarm systems designed to alert staff when large amounts are unexpectedly transferred out of a bank. “The criminals don’t want to make thousands of small thefts,” said Oerting. “Instead they want one big one on a financial institution.”

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Never trust anything the banks readily accept.

Banks Accept Derivatives Rule Change To End ‘Too Big To Fail’ (Reuters)

The $700 trillion financial derivatives industry has agreed to a fundamental rule change from January to help regulators to wind down failed banks without destabilizing markets. The International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and 18 major banks that dominate the market will now allow financial watchdogs to apply temporary stays to prevent a rush to close derivatives contracts if a bank runs into trouble, the ISDA said on Saturday. A delay would give regulators time to ensure that critical parts of a bank, such as customer accounts, continue smoothly while the rest is wound down or sold off in an orderly way. That would help to avoid the type of market chaos sparked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and also end the problem of banks being considered too big to fail. The Financial Stability Board (FSB), a regulatory task force for the Group of 20 economies (G20), had asked the ISDA to make the changes with the aim of ending the too-big-to-fail scenario in which banks are propped up with taxpayer money to avoid market disruption.

Under the new contract terms, default clauses in derivatives contracts such as interest rate or credit default swaps would be suspended for a maximum of 48 hours. “Ending too-big-to-fail is going to be an evolutionary process, but the agreement of the first wave of banks to sign the protocol is a big step forward,” ISDA Chief Executive Scott O’Malia said. The ISDA template for millions of derivatives trades will now include the possibility of stays on both new and existing contracts, with the 18 leading players—including the likes of Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs —agreeing to change their contracts from January. Many derivatives are traded among banks. “Well over 90% of the outstanding derivatives notionally held by the G18 banks will be covered with stays, which will give regulators some time to deal with a resolution of a bank in an orderly way,” O’Malia said.

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The big one.

New China Import Tariffs Mean ‘Game Is Over For Australian Coal’ (Reuters)

China, the world’s top coal importer, will levy import tariffs on the commodity after nearly a decade, in its latest bid to prop up ailing domestic miners who have been buffeted by rising costs and tumbling prices. The sudden move by China to levy import tariffs of between 3% and 6% from October 15 is set to hit miners in Australia and Russia – among the top coal exporters into the country. Traders said Indonesia, the second-biggest shipper of the fuel to China, will be exempt from the tariffs since a free trade agreement between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) means Beijing has promised the signatory nations zero import tariffs for some resources. A 3% import tariff imposed on lignite last year did not include Indonesia. “China is clearly moving to protect its local miners. Given that the tariff also covers coking coal, Australia, being the top supplier to China, is likely going to be the most affected,” said Serene Lim, an analyst at Standard Chartered.

The Ministry of Finance said in a statement on Thursday that import tariffs for anthracite coal and coking coal will return to 3%, while non-coking coal will have an import tax of 6%. Briquettes, a fuel manufactured from coal, and other coal-based fuels will see their import tariffs return to 5%. Import taxes for all coals, with the exception of coking coal, was at 6% prior to 2005 before they were scrapped in 2007. Coking coal import taxes were set at 3% before being abolished in 2005. News of the tariff lifted China’s thermal coal futures by 1.9% to 529.2 yuan ($86.33) a tonne, while China-listed shares in top miners such as Shenhua Energy and China Coal Energy also rose. Chinese traders were only willing to pay about $65 a tonne for coal with heating value of 5,500 kcal/kg (NAR) on a landed basis before the tariff was announced, against offers of about $66 a tonne by Australians, traders said. “With the latest tax, Chinese can only offer around $62, which means Australian sellers will need to cut prices by about $3.50-$4 a tonne,” said a senior trader at major international trading house. “It is game over for Australian coal.”

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The scandal that happens all over the western world, and will end up tearing it apart.

One In Seven Australians Living Below The Poverty Line (Guardian)

Four in 10 Australians who rely on social welfare payments – and nearly half of people on the disability support pension – are living below the poverty line, according to a major new report. The research, published by the Australian Council of Social Services (Acoss), found that more than 2.5 million – or one in seven – Australians were living in poverty in 2012, a slight increase on the same survey two years earlier. Nearly 18% of children live beneath the poverty line, one-third of them in sole-parent families, Acoss found. The governor general, Peter Cosgrove, said the report revealed the problem of poverty in Australia to be “insidious and all-encompassing”. “It deprives [the poor] of their freedom and assaults their dignity. As a nation we can’t allow it to continue,” he told the launch of Anti-Poverty Week in Sydney.

The chief executive of Acoss, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said the findings were “deeply disturbing and highlight the need for a national plan to tackle the scourge of poverty which diminishes us all in one of the wealthiest countries in the world”. Single adults on less than $400 per week, and families with two children on less than $841 each week, were deemed as living below the poverty line. More than half of Australians on the Newstart Allowance, 48% of disability pensioners and 15% of aged pensioners struggle to meet basic living costs, the report says. “This finding brings into focus the sheer inadequacy of these allowance payments which fall well below the poverty line,” Goldie said. The maximum payment for a single person on Newstart is $303 per week, nearly 25% less than what is required to stay out of poverty.

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Lots of positivism from the Wall Street Journal. Must be hard to find reporters who can think for themselves.

Fracking Firms Get Tested by Oil’s Price Drop (WSJ)

Tumbling oil prices are starting to frighten energy companies around the globe, especially drillers in North America, where crude is expensive to pump. Global oil prices have fallen about 8% in the past four weeks. The European oil benchmark closed Thursday at $90.05 a barrel, its lowest point in 29 months. The price of a barrel in the U.S. closed at $85.77, its lowest since December 2012. Weakening oil prices could put a crimp in the U.S. energy boom. At $90 a barrel and below, many hydraulic-fracturing projects start to become uneconomic, according to a recent report by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. While fracking costs run the gamut, producers often break even around $80 to $85.

Paul Sankey, an energy analyst with Wolfe Research LLC, said the first drillers to react to declining crude prices would be some in the least productive fringes of North Dakota’s Bakken Shale. “We’re not quite there yet,” he said, but a further drop of $4 or $5 a barrel will force companies to begin trimming their capital budgets. Shares of Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum, which are focused in the Bakken, fell by more than 5% each on Thursday. Shares of major shale-oil and gas developer Chesapeake Energy fell 7%. Jim Noe, executive vice president at Hercules Offshore, a Houston-based drilling-services company with rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mideast, India and West Africa, said companies such as his are monitoring weak oil prices closely. Hercules said its business was affected by a slowdown in drilling activity in the second quarter. Hercules’s stock fell 6.3%.

The fundamental problem is that the world is awash with oil, but demand for energy is growing more slowly amid tepid economic growth around the globe, especially in China. Companies are always reluctant to be the first to cut their energy output, hoping that others flinch first. And hedging can help companies weather temporary drops. The overall U.S. economy, and especially industries such as refining and air travel, would benefit from lower oil prices. Some U.S. oil fields, including the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin in Texas, would remain attractive for drillers even at much lower oil prices.

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“Variety magazine compared it to a John Steinbeck tale from the Great Depression”.

‘The Overnighters’ Shows Dark Side Of North Dakota Oil Boom (Reuters)

Desperate for a fresh start, unemployed workers from all over the world have converged on North Dakota’s burgeoning oil patch, seeking six-figure salaries and the rewards of living in the fastest-growing economy in the nation. But award-winning documentary “The Overnighters,” opening in New York on Friday before expanding nationally, shows the bleak side of that American Dream and the complex efforts of one man to be a Good Samaritan. “The film does show how much harder it is to survive here than people think,” filmmaker Jesse Moss told Reuters. “The Overnighters” tracks the men, and a handful of women, whose dreams of wealth and redemption from past mistakes collide with unwelcoming residents and limited housing in Williston, the epicenter of the energy boom in North Dakota, where more than 1 million barrels of oil are produced monthly.

Lutheran pastor Jay Reinke offers down-on-their luck emigrants a place to sleep inside his church while they acclimate, labeling the newcomers as “overnighters.” About 1,000 took up his offer over a period of about two years. That decision quickly becomes unpopular with the Williston establishment and nearly tears Reinke’s church and family apart. “The people arriving on our doorsteps are gifts to us,” Reinke says in the film. “Not only are these men my neighbors, the people who don’t want them here are also my neighbors,” adds Reinke, a tall, effusive man who spent 20 years pastoring to the community in obscurity. The film won a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has generated widespread acclaim. Variety magazine compared it to a John Steinbeck tale from the Great Depression of the 1930s, and The Hollywood Reporter called it “a sobering illustration of the tenuousness of stability in 21st-Century America.”

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The same as happened with the Spanish nurse in Madrid. The apparent lack of precautions is scary.

Health Care Worker Who Treated Texas Victim Tests Positive For Ebola (BBC)

A Texas health care worker who treated US Ebola victim Thomas Duncan before his death has tested positive for the virus, officials say. “We knew a second case could be a reality, and we’ve been preparing for this possibility,” said Dr David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Mr Duncan, who caught the virus in his native Liberia, died at a Dallas hospital on Wednesday. The health worker has not been named.

Mr Duncan tested positive in Dallas on 30 September, 10 days after arriving on a flight from Monrovia via Brussels. He became ill a few days after arriving in the US, but after going to hospital and telling medical staff he had been in Liberia, he was sent home with antibiotics. He was later put into an isolation unit at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas but died despite being given an experimental drug. It is not clear at which point the health worker, who has tested positive in a preliminary test, came into contact with Mr Duncan.

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1.2 million people are on the US government’s watchlist of people under surveillance as a potential threat or as a suspect.

Second Leaker In US intelligence, Says Glenn Greenwald (Guardian)

The investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald has found a second leaker inside the US intelligence agencies, according to a new documentary about Edward Snowden that premiered in New York on Friday night. Towards the end of filmmaker Laura Poitras’s portrait of Snowden – titled Citizenfour, the label he used when he first contacted her – Greenwald is seen telling Snowden about a second source. Snowden, at a meeting with Greenwald in Moscow, expresses surprise at the level of information apparently coming from this new source. Greenwald, fearing he will be overheard, writes the details on scraps of paper.

The specific information relates to the number of the people on the US government’s watchlist of people under surveillance as a potential threat or as a suspect. The figure is an astonishing 1.2 million. The scene comes after speculation in August by government officials, reported by CNN, that there was a second leaker. The assessment was made on the basis that Snowden was not identified as usual as the source and because at least one piece of information only became available after he ceased to be an NSA contractor and went on the run.

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