Jun 042018
 


Roy Lichtenstein Crying girl 1964

 

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)
If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)
Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)
The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)
Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)
Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)
Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)
Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)
Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)
Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)
Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)
Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)
Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

 

 

“.. If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages..”

This Is Why The Global Collapse Will Be Devastating (von Greyerz)

“The ECB (European Central Bank) just had its 20th birthday. But there is really nothing to celebrate. The EU is in a total mess and the Euro, which was launched on January 1, 1999, is a failed currency. Every president of the ECB has had to deal with fires that had very little to do with price stability but were more a question of survival. Most of these fires were a lot more serious than the candles in the Euro cake above which Draghi is trying to blow out. During the Frenchman Trichet’s watch, he had to deal with the Great Financial Crisis that started in 2006…

[..] The EU now has major economic and/or political problems in many countries. Italy’s new coalition government is a protest against the EU and Euro. With debt to GDP already the highest in Europe, the new regime will exacerbate the problems. Lower taxes and higher spending will guarantee that. As the chart below shows, Italian debt to GDP is already 140%. By 2050 this is projected to grow to 210%. As interest rates go up, servicing the growing debt will soon absorb all tax revenue. Italy will be bankrupt long before 2050 and default on all its debt.

Between now and 2050, the Italian working age population is forecast to decline by 1/3, from 36 million to 24 million. There will be a lot less people to pay for a much higher debt.

The consequences of massive debt, economic stagnation and population decline will be a much lower GDP, which is expected to decline 35% by 2050.

If the above forecast of a major fall in the population as well as a substantial increase in debt is even vaguely accurate, Italy is on its way to the Dark Ages. I must stress here that I find it so sad that this glorious country is suffering so much already and will suffer a lot more. Personally I love Italy — the people, the food, the architecture, the history and the Giola di Vivere (joie de vivre) of the Italians. It will be so tragic to see all of this disintegrate. Hopefully it will take a long time, although, sadly, the crisis might actually be around the corner.

But Italy is just one of many countries which will collapse in coming years. Spain is in a similar situation and the prime minister has just been kicked out. Greece’s problems have never been resolved and this fine country is also bankrupt and so are the Greek banks. I could go on with Portugal, France, Ireland, the UK and many others. Most of these countries have insoluble problems. It is only a matter of degree and time when the EU/Eurozone house of cards comes down.

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To make tariffs threats credible.

If Trump Wants To Win A Trade War, The Market Has To Crash – Goldman (ZH)

[..] to maintain leverage in negotiations, the Administration must convince trading partners that the US intends to impose trade restrictions. However, and this is the key part, “it is unlikely that the White House can convince trading partners that tariff threats are credible without also convincing financial markets.” In other words, for Trump’s trade negotiations to be successful, and for US trade partners to take a flip-flopping Trump credibly, the market has to crash. Incidentally, this makes sense when one considers that when Trump officially launched the trade war with China in early April, the president explicitly warned that stocks “may take a hit”, and told investors to prepare for “pain” in the market, a statement which promptly became a self-fulfilling prophecy and sent the market sharply lower.

The other consequence is that markets may tumble not as an effect, but as a cause of the trade war: after all Trump needs to be taken seriously, and that could mean another slide in the S&P. Goldman agrees as much: “… we do not expect trade policy risks to fade anytime soon. While we think that financial market sentiment around trade issues is unlikely to become as negative again as it was in early April, when the President floated the possibility of tariffs on another $100 billion in imports from China, we do not expect markets to become entirely comfortable with the outlook for trade policy, either.”

The punchline: “The challenge that the White House faces is that, to maintain leverage in negotiations, trading partners must believe that the US intends to follow through with proposed actions like tariffs. However, repeated threats begin to lose credibility unless they are followed up with action.” In short, just as China said earlier, the US can’t have its cake and eat it too: Trump can’t have trade war, or the threat thereof, and record high stocks.

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It’s going to be public. But can the Fed afford to damage Deutsche?

Deutsche Bank Faces Another Challenge With Fed Stress Test (R.)

Deutsche Bank AG will face another challenge this month when the Federal Reserve publishes the results of a “stress test” on the bulk of its U.S. operations for the first time. Germany’s largest lender is already facing challenges with U.S. bank regulators and in financial markets, with its stock price falling to historic lows on Thursday. Standard & Poor’s downgraded its credit rating to BBB+ from A- on Friday. The downgrade came after reports earlier in the week that the Fed designated one of Deutsche Bank’s U.S. businesses as “troubled” last year, something a person with knowledge of the matter confirmed to Reuters on Friday. The Fed’s stress test results, expected to be released sometime this month, will be the next big public barometer of Deutsche Bank’s financial strength.

It could be difficult for a bank with a subsidiary on the “troubled” list to pass the scenarios, according to a person familiar with the tests who was not authorized to speak publicly. That is because the capital, liquidity and risk management failures that would land a bank on the list are similar to those that lead banks to flunk the stress test, the person said. The Fed has been examining how the biggest U.S. banks would handle a range of adverse economic and market scenarios since 2009, requiring many to shore up their capital buffers and risk management controls. But this is the first year it will publicly release results of six foreign lenders, including Deutsche Bank, after requiring them to create consolidated U.S. holding companies with ring-fenced capital. The Fed tested those new entities last year in a trial run, the results of which are confidential.

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Austerity eats people.

The Big Con: How Neoliberals Convinced Us There Wasn’t Enough To Go Around (G.)

Australia just experienced one of the biggest mining booms in world history. But even at the peak of that boom, there was no talk of the wonderful opportunity we finally had to invest in world-class mental health or domestic violence crisis services. Nor was there much talk from either major party about how the wealth of the mining boom gave us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in remote Indigenous communities. Nope, the peak of the mining boom was not the time to help those who had missed out in decades past, but the Howard government thought it was a great time to introduce permanent tax cuts for high-income earners. These, of course, are the tax cuts that caused the budget deficits we have today.

Millions of tonnes of explosives were used during the mining boom to build more than 100 new mines, but it wasn’t just prime farmland that was blasted away in the boom, it was access to the middle class. At the same time that Gina Rinehart was becoming the world’s richest woman on the back of rising iron-ore prices, those on the minimum wage were falling further and further behind their fellow Australians. Australia isn’t poor; it is rich beyond the imagining of anyone living in the 1970s or ’80s. But so much of that new wealth has been vacuumed up by a few, and so little of that new wealth has been paid in tax, that the public has been convinced that ours is a country struggling to pay its bills.

Convincing Australians that our nation is poor and that our governments “can’t afford” to provide the level of services they provided in the past has not just helped to lower our expectations of our public services and infrastructure, it has helped to lower our expectations of democracy itself. A public school in Sydney has had to ban kids from running in the playground because it was so overcrowded. Trains have become so crowded at peak hours that many people, especially the frail and the disabled, are reluctant to use them.

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Relax capital controls when nobody has any money left to get out of the bank.

Greece Relaxes Capital Controls To Prove Worst Of Turmoil Is Over (G.)

Greece is to take a substantial step towards easing capital controls – restrictions associated with the worst days of economic crisis – as it prepares to exit its current bailout programme. Signalling that confidence is gradually returning to the country’s banking system, the leftist-led government has doubled the amount depositors will be able to withdraw from their accounts as of Monday. “As is usually the case with the economy, this is about psychology,” said a senior official at the Bank of Greece. “The relaxation is as much about boosting confidence among investors and savers as showing banks can now afford to work under normal conditions.” Barely three months before its third international bailout programme expires, the country once at the epicentre of the euro crisis is keen to prove its financial turmoil is over.

Under the new rules, the limit on cash withdrawals from local banks will be raised from €2,300 to €5,000 per month. Business transactions will also be facilitated, with cash transfers abroad being doubled to €40,000 a month. The Greek finance ministry said it had similarly decided to increase the amount depositors can take abroad, in euros or foreign currency, from €2,300 to €3,000 per trip. From 1 July, banks will be allowed to accept customer orders for money transfers overseas for up to €4,000 bi-monthly. In a statement the finance ministry said the aim was to fully lift restrictions “as soon as possible” while ensuring macroeconomic and financial stability.

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“serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times…”

Australia’s Commonwealth Bank Agrees To $530M Fine Over Money-Laundering (AFP)

The Commonwealth Bank Monday agreed to the largest civil penalty in Australian corporate history to settle claims it breached anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The Aus$700 million (US$530 million) fine – which is subject to court approval – comes after mediation between the nation’s biggest lender and the country’s financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC. It follows the bank being taken to court last August for “serious and systemic non-compliance” of anti-money laundering laws more than 53,000 times, with AUSTRAC filing 100 further claims in December. CBA was also accused of failing to adequately monitor suspected terrorist financiers.

“While not deliberate, we fully appreciate the seriousness of the mistakes we made,” said CBA chief executive Matt Comyn in a statement. “Our agreement today is a clear acknowledgement of our failures and is an important step towards moving the bank forward. On behalf of Commonwealth Bank, I apologise to the community for letting them down.” The bank, which in the fallout has replaced senior leadership overseeing financial crimes and pumped millions of dollars into improving its systems, also agreed to pay AUSTRAC’s Aus$2.5 million legal fees.

After slumping more than 10 percent over the past month, during which it admitted losing financial records for almost 20 million customers, CBA’s share price rallied 1.44 percent on the settlement to close at Aus$69.69. The scandal is only the latest issue to damage the reputation of Australian banks, which have been under intense scrutiny amid allegations of dodgy financial advice, life insurance and mortgage fraud, and rigging benchmark interest rates. Last week, ANZ Bank was accused of “cartel arrangements” over a multi-billion-dollar capital raising, along with its advisers Deutsche Bank and Citigroup. They face potential criminal charges.

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Germany blows up the EU in slow motion.

Merkel’s Comeuppance is Europe’s – and the World’s – Misfortune (Varoufakis)

The causal link between Germany’s two political headaches has an economic basis. Trump understands one thing well: Germany and the eurozone are at his mercy, owing to their increasing dependence on large net exports to the US and the rest of the world. And this dependence has grown inexorably as a result of the austerity policies that were first tried out in Greece and then implemented in Italy and elsewhere.

To see the link, recall the “fiscal compact” to eliminate structural budget deficits that Germany insisted upon as a condition of agreeing to bailout loans for distressed governments and banks. Then note that this pan-European austerity drive took place against the backdrop of massive excess savings over investment. Finally, note that large excess savings and balanced government budgets necessarily mean large trade surpluses – and thus the increasing reliance of Germany, and Europe, on massive net exports to the United States and Asia. In other words, the same incompetent policies that gave rise to the xenophobic, anti-Europeanist Italian government also bolstered Trump’s power over Merkel.

Europe’s inability to get its own house in order has engendered a new Italian majority that is planning to expel a half-million migrants, blowing fresh winds into the sails of militant racists in Hungary, Poland, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and, of course, Germany itself. Meanwhile, with Europe too enfeebled to tame Trump, the US will aim to force China to deregulate its financial and tech sectors. If it succeeds, at least 15% of China’s national income will gush out of the country, adding to the deflationary forces that are breeding political monsters in Europe and in the US.

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And still no UN emergency meeting. The shame will not wash away.

Dozens Drown After Migrant Boat Sinks Off Tunisia Coast (G.)

At least 47 people died and 68 others were rescued after their migrant boat sank off Tunisia’s southern coast, according to the country’s defence ministry. Authorities said about 180 people, of both Tunisian and other nationalities, were hemmed in onboard the vessel. A survivor said the captain had abandoned the boat after it hit trouble in order to escape arrest. “I survived by clinging to wood for nine hours,” he told Reuters from a hospital in the city of Sfax where people were arriving in search of relatives and friends. Flavio Di Giacomo, a spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), warned on Twitter that the final number of missing was still not known.

Tunisia has recently seen growing use of its coasts by human traffickers ferrying migrants from Africa to Europe, as Libyan authorities have cracked down on similar activity on their own shores. Tunisia has been suffering from an economic crisis since the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali as president in 2011, which led to rocketing unemployment and inflation. In a separate incident, nine people including six children were killed off the coast of Turkey on Sunday after their speedboat sank, the Turkish coast guard said. By 30 May, the IOM had recorded 32,080 people as having reached Europe by boat in 2018 and around 660 as having died or gone missing in the attempt.

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And there’s always more.

Six Children, Three Adult Migrants Drown Off Turkish Coast (AFP)

Nine migrants, including six children, seeking to head to Europe in a speedboat drowned on Sunday when the vessel sank off Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, state media reports said. The boat hit trouble off the Demre district of Turkey’s Mediterranean Antalya province, a popular holiday spot, the state-run Anadolu news agency said. Five were rescued while one person was still missing, it added. Two adults, one woman and six children lost their lives, it said. The Dogan news agency said that they were seeking to head illegally to Europe but their planned route was not immediately clear. The nearest EU territory is the small Greek island of Kastellorizo to the west which lies off the Turkish resort of Kas.

The nationalities of those on board have yet to be made clear. Over a million people, many fleeing the war in Syria, crossed to European Union member Greece from Turkey in 2015 after the onset of the bloc’s worst migration crisis since World War II. [..] According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 10,948 people crossed to Greece this year up to May 30, sharply more than in the same period in 2017. Thirty-five people lost their lives using this route so far this year, according to the IOM. As well as migrants from countries such as Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the route has been used by Turkish citizens fleeing the crackdown that followed the 2016 failed coup.

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Bayer wants to get rid of the bad name Monsanto has. Let’s give Bayer an even worse name.

Bayer To Close Monsanto Takeover, To Retire Target’s Name (R.)

Germany’s Bayer will wrap up the $62.5 billion takeover of Monsanto on Thursday this week and also retire the name of the U.S. seeds maker, it said on Monday. The German drugmaker had received all required approvals from regulatory authorities, it said in a statement. “Bayer will remain the company name. Monsanto will no longer be a company name. The acquired products will retain their brand names and become part of the Bayer portfolio,” it said. Bayer launched a 6 billion euro ($7 billion) rights issue on Sunday, a cornerstone of the financing package for the deal.

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Yeah. We need more air travel. Without counting the externalities.

Global Airport Capacity Crisis Amid Passenger Boom (AFP)

Governments need to urgently tackle a capacity crisis facing airports as demand for international travel grows, but they should be cautious about private sector involvement, airline industry group IATA warned Monday. With passenger levels projected to nearly double to 7.8 billion by 2036, infrastructure such as airports and air traffic control systems were not keeping pace, the International Air Transport Association said. Major airports have sought to address the crisis by managing slots — giving airlines specific operating rights at particular times. But there was still a need for new airports, IATA chief Alexandre de Juniac said at the body’s annual meeting in Sydney.

“We are in a capacity crisis. And we don’t see the required airport infrastructure investment to solve it,” he said, adding that cash-strapped governments were increasingly turning to private firms to increase airport capacity. But he cautioned against privatised airports, warning that they have “not lived up to airline expectations” with many carriers having “far too many bitter experiences”. [..] IATA Monday projected global air passenger traffic to rise by 6.5 percent this year to 4.36 billion, after increases of 7.0 and 7.3 percent in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

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Not sure it’s wise to blame this on climate change. The extinction stories come too fast. How about blaming Monsanto and booming air travel?

Eerie Silence Falls On Shetland Cliffs That Once Echoed Seabirds’ Cries (G.)

Sumburgh Head lies at the southern tip of mainland Shetland. This dramatic 100-metre-high rocky spur, crowned with a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, has a reputation for being one of the biggest and most accessible seabird colonies in Britain. Thousands of puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars gather there every spring to breed, covering almost every square inch of rock or grass with teeming, screeching birds and their young. Or at least they used to – for this year Sumburgh Head is a quiet and largely deserted place. Where seabirds once swooped and cried in their thousands, only a handful of birds wheel round the cliffs.

The silence is uncanny – the result of a crash in seabird numbers that has been in progress for several years but which has now reached an unprecedented, catastrophic low. One of the nation’s most important conservation centres has been denuded of its wildlife, a victim – according to scientists – of climate change, which has disrupted food chains in the North Sea and North Atlantic and left many seabirds without a source of sustenance. The result has been an apocalyptic drop in numbers of Arctic terns, kittiwakes and many other birds. “In the past, Sumburgh Head was brimming with birds, and the air was thick with the smell of guano. The place was covered with colonies of puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, and guillemots,” said Helen Moncrieff, manager of RSPB Scotland’s office in Shetland.

“There were thousands and thousands of birds and visitors were guaranteed a sight of puffins. Today they have to be very patient. At the same time, guillemots have halved in numbers. It is utterly tragic.” This grim description is backed by figures that reveal the staggering decreases in seabird numbers in Shetland, the most northerly part of the British Isles. In 2000, there were more than 33,000 puffins on the island in early spring. That figure dropped to 570 last year and there are no signs of any recovery this year, although it is still early in the season. Similarly, Shetland’s kittiwake population plummeted from over 55,000 in 1981 to 5,000 in 2011, and observers believe those numbers have declined even further in the past few years.

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Absolutely wonderful from Jim.

Notes on Heartache and Chaos (Jim Kunstler)

I was interviewing a couple of homesteaders on an island north of Seattle at twilight last night when they noticed that the twelve-year-old family dog, name of Lacy, had not come home for dinner as ever and always at that hour. A search ensued and they soon found her dead in the meadow a hundred feet behind the house with two big puncture wounds in her body. Nobody had heard a gunshot. We’d just been talking inside and a nearby window was open. They suspect the dog met up with a black-tailed deer buck out there and was gored to death. We hadn’t heard a yelp, or anything. A week ago, an eagle got one of their geese, and some land-based monster got its companion just the other day.

Nature is what it is, of course, and it’s natural for human beings to think of its random operations as malevolent. That aspersion probably inclines us to think of ourselves as beings apart from nature (some of us, anyway). We at least recognize the tragic side of this condition we’re immersed in, and would wish that encounters between its denizens might end differently — like maybe that two sovereign creatures meeting up by sheer chance on a mild spring evening would exchange pleasantries, ask what each was up to, and go on their ways.

Malevolent nature visited me the night before, back home in upstate New York. Something slit the screened window of my henhouse, got inside, and slaughtered two of my birds. Big Red was missing altogether except for a drift of orange feathers. I found Little Blue just outside in a drift of her own feathers, half-eaten. I suspect a raccoon got them, slitting the window screen cleverly with its dexterous hand-like paws — yes, so much like our own clever hands. (In classic after-the-fact human style, I fortified the window with steel hardware cloth the next day.)

It’s the time of year when the wild critters of field and woodland are birthing their young and anxious to procure food for them. Who can blame them for that. Chicken is an excellent dish. I eat it myself, though never my own hens. I actually rescued Little Blue from the clutches of a red-tailed hawk last year as the hawk struggled to get airborne with her and let go as I screeched at it. Blue recovered from the talon punctures and had a good year — one good year on this earth with all its menace, when it is not busy being beautiful.

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May 072018
 


John French Sloan Sunday, Women Drying Their Hair 1912

 

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)
Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)
WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)
Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)
In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)
Mueller Investigation is In Jeopardy (ZH)
Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)
Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)
Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)
A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)
Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)
Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)
Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

 

 

Argentina, Turkey, Indonesia. Brazil in a bit. The list will grow. As the dollar rises, emerging countries need more dollars to pay their debt, pushing the dollar up even more. And investors pull their money out of these countries. Vicious circles everywhere.

Behold The Sudden Stop. Risk of Emerging Markets Collapse (Lacalle)

Argentina even issued a one-hundred-year bond at a spectacularly low rate (8.25%) with a very high demand, more than 3.5 times bid-to-cover. That $ 2.5 billion issuance seemed crazy. A one-hundred-year bond from a nation that has defaulted at least six times in the previous hundred years! Worse of all, those funds were used to finance current expenditure in local currency. The extraordinary demand for bonds and other assets in Argentina or Turkey was justified by expectations of reforms and a change that, as time passed, simply did not happen. Countries failed to control inflation, deliver lower than expected growth and imbalances soared just as the U.S. started to see some inflation, rates started to rise.

Suddenly, the yield spread between the U.S. 10-year bond and emerging markets debt was unattractive, and liquidity dried up faster than the speed of light even with a modest decrease of the Federal Reserve balance sheet. Liquidity disappears because of extremely leveraged bets on one single trade – a weaker dollar, higher global growth- unwind. However, another problem exacerbates the reaction. An aggressive increase in the monetary base by the Argentine central bank made inflation rise above 23%. With an increase in the monetary base of 28% per year, and seeking to finance excess spending by printing money and raising debt to “buy time”, the seeds of the disaster were planted. Excess liquidity and the US dollar weakness stopped. Local currencies and external funding face risk of collapse.

The Sudden Stop. When most of the emerging economies entered into twin deficits -trade and fiscal deficits- and consensus praised “synchronized growth”, they were sealing their destiny: When the US dollar regains some strength, US rates rise due to an increase in inflation, the flow of cheap money to emerging markets is reversed. Synchronized indebted growth created the risk of synchronized collapse.

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Is this really the end of cheap debt? It’s dangerous too: if Turkey gets into real trouble, Erdogan will seek a scapegoat.

Dollar Surge Bringing Emerging Market Rate Cut Cycle To A Halt (R.)

A resurgent dollar and higher borrowing costs are smashing through Argentina and Turkey’s currencies like a wrecking ball and raising the likelihood more broadly that emerging markets’ three-year long interest rate cutting cycle is at an end. Emerging markets came into the year flying, riding on the back of a healthy global economy and rising commodity prices alongside tame inflation and a weak dollar. It looked more than likely that a wave of rate cuts would keep rolling, allowing a bond rally to continue. From Brazil and Russia to Armenia and Zambia, developing countries, big and small, have been on a rate cutting spree. With hundreds of rate cuts since Jan. 2015, the average emerging market borrowing cost fell under 6% earlier this year from over 7% at the time.

Fund managers’ profits too have soared in this time, with emerging local currency debt among the best performing asset classes, with dollar-based returns of 14% last year. Even in the first quarter of 2018, returns were a buoyant 4.3% Now though, almost exactly five years since the so-called taper tantrum shook an emerging market rally, these gains appear to be on the cusp of reversal. Argentina has jacked up its interest rates to 40% in response to a rout in its peso currency, while Turkey was also forced into a rate rise as its lira hit record lows against the dollar. Indonesia, after heavy interventions to stem rupiah bleeding, has also said it could resort to policy tightening.

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Déja vu.

WTF Just Happened to Argentina’s Peso? (Fernet)

If you’re watching Argentina’s economy, it hasn’t been a banner week. This week, Argentina had to raise its key interest rate three times to keep the Argentine peso from losing even more value against the dollar. Three interest rate hikes in one week is a lot – it implies the first two didn’t work, and the Central Bank is not in control. The interest rate currently sits at 40%. That means the Central Bank pays 40% per year on peso-denominated debt, which can imply that they expect the value of the peso to fall somewhere in the ballpark of 40% over a one year period. A year ago in April, the rate was closer to 26%. Yikes. And the exchange rate kicked off the week at around 20.5 ARS/USD. It jumped almost to 23 ARS/USD, and is currently hovering around 21.8 ARS/USD.

[..] When the US dollar increases in value, emerging market currencies decrease, meaning in Argentina’s case it will take increasingly more pesos to buy dollars. This then amplifies the risk that emerging markets will be unable to make payments on dollar denominated debt, causing investors to sell their emerging market investments, further amplifying the currency stress. The timing specifically in the case of Argentina is uncannily bad. Until this week, non-residents investing in Argentina were exempt from paying the equivalent of capital gains taxes across the board, including local-currency peso-denominated central bank notes, or LEBACs. This Tuesday, this exemption on LEBACs officially no longer applied, meaning foreign holders of these notes now incur a tax equal to 5% on profits.

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“Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy..”

Remedies Trump Prescribes For Trade Problems Harm US (Xinhua)

Remedies the Trump administration is prescribing for U.S. trade problems won’t work, and forays in trade disputes with China will harm the United States, a veteran China expert with decades of experience in bilateral relations said [in Silicon Valley] on Saturday. “I believe that Washington has misdiagnosed our trade problems, that its remedies for them won’t work, and that what it is doing will harm the United States and other countries as much or more than it does China,” said Chas Freeman, senior fellow at Brown University’s Watson Institute, when addressing the annual conference of a prominent Chinese American group, the Committee of 100 (C100).

“The United States and China are each too globalized and dynamic to contain, too big and influential to ignore, and too successful and entangled with each other to divorce without bankrupting ourselves and all associated with us,” Freeman, also former U.S. assistant secretary of defense, said in an opening keynote speech. Pointing out that there are many reasons for the United States to seek cooperative relations with a rising China, Freeman added that the Trump administration has decided “to pick a fight — to confront China both militarily and economically.” “The fact that we Americans consume more than we save means that we import more than we produce. That creates an overall trade deficit. Ironically, the Trump administration has just taken steps guaranteed to increase this deficit,” he said.

“It has reduced tax revenues and boosted deficit spending, mostly on military research, development, and procurement. These actions take the national savings rate even lower while inflating domestic demand for goods and services. They cause imports to surge,” he added. “Increased American consumption born of an overstimulated economy explains why China’s trade surplus with the United States is again rising even as its surplus with the rest of the world falls,” he said. “Unless Americans boost our national savings rate by hiking taxes or cut our consumption by falling into recession, our overall trade deficit is sure to bloat,” he said.

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The Market Will Plummet if Global Central Banks Pull Plug

“..the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors..”

In the Coming Crash We’ll be Falling from a Higher Height – Nomi Prins (USAW)

Join Greg Hunter as he goes One-on-One with two-time, best-selling author Nomi Prins, who just released “Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged The World.” Will the next crash be worse than the last one? Prins says, “Yes, it will because we will be falling from a higher height. The idea here is you are sinking on the Titanic as opposed to sinking on a canoe somewhere. All of this artificial conjured money is puffing up the system, along with money that is borrowed cheaply is also puffing up the system and creating asset bubbles everywhere. So, when things pop, there is more leakage to happen. The air in all these bubbles has created larger bubbles than we have had before.”

How does the common man protect himself? Prins says, “They have to own things, and by that I mean real assets, hard assets like silver and gold. That’s not as liquid, so taking cash out of banks and sort of keeping it in real things and keeping it on site . . . keeping cash physically. You need to extract it from the system because the reality is when a financial crisis happens, banks close their doors to depositors. . . . Also, basically try to decrease your debt.”

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Did Flynn plead guilty because he couldn’t pay the legal bills?

How much longer until Mueller is whistled back by his superiors? Can Rosenstein keep silent as one judge after another slams the Special Counsel?

Mueller Investigation In Jeopardy (ZH)

A funny thing happened on the way to impeaching Donald Trump. After two-years of investigations by a highly politicized FBI and a Special Counsel stacked with Clinton supporters, Robert Mueller’s probe has resulted in the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the arrests of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the indictment of 13 Russian nationals on allegations of hacking the 2016 election – along with the raid of Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen.

The nation has been on the edge of insanity waiting for that much-promised and long awaited link tying President Trump to Vladimir Putin we were all promised, only to find out that there is no link, the deck appears to have been heavily stacked against Donald Trump by bad actors operating at the highest levels of the FBI, DOJ, Obama admin and Clinton camp, and the real Russian conspiracy in the 2016 election was the participation of high level Kremlin sources used in the anti-Trump dossier that Hillary Clinton paid for. Now, as the out-of-control investigation moves from the headlines and into court, the all-encompassing “witch hunt,” as Trump calls it, may be in serious jeopardy.

As of Friday, three separate Judges have rendered harsh setbacks to the Mueller investigation – demanding, if you can believe it, facts and evidence to back up the Special Counsel’s claims – in unredacted format as one Judge demands, or risk having the cases tossed out altogether. [..] And as we noted yesterday, some have suggested that Flynn pleaded guilty due to the fact that federal investigations tend to bankrupt people who aren’t filthy rich – as was the case with former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee “God damn you to hell” after having to sell his home due to mounting legal fees over the inquiry. “Your investigation and others into the allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia are costing my family a great deal of money — more than $125,000 — and making a visceral impact on my children.”

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Quite strong for the Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust.”

Why The Justice Department Defies Congress (WSJ)

Until this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and fellow institutionalists at the department had fought Congress’s demands for information with the tools of banal bureaucracy – resist, delay, ignore, negotiate. But Mr. Rosenstein took things to a new level on Tuesday, accusing House Republicans of “threats,” extortion and wanting to “rummage” through department documents. A Wednesday New York Times story then dropped a new slur, claiming “Mr. Rosenstein and top FBI officials have come to suspect that some lawmakers were using their oversight authority to gain intelligence about [Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s ] investigation so that it could be shared with the White House.”

Mr. Rosenstein isn’t worried about rummaging. That’s a diversion from the department’s opposite concern: that it is being asked to comply with very specific – potentially very revealing – demands. Two House sources confirm for me that the Justice Department was recently delivered first a classified House Intelligence Committee letter and then a subpoena (which arrived Monday) demanding documents related to a new line of inquiry about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Trump investigation. The deadline for complying with the subpoena was Thursday afternoon, and the Justice Department flouted it. As the White House is undoubtedly monitoring any new congressional demands for information, it is likely that President Trump’s tweet Wednesday ripping the department for not turning over documents was in part a reference to this latest demand.

Republicans also demand the FBI drop any objections to declassifying a section of the recently issued House Intelligence Committee report that deals with a briefing former FBI Director James Comey provided about former national security adviser Mike Flynn. House Republicans say Mr. Comey told them his own agents did not believe Mr. Flynn lied to them. On his book tour, Mr. Comey has said that isn’t true. Someone isn’t being honest. Is the FBI more interested in protecting the reputations of two former directors (the other being Mr. Mueller, who dragged Mr. Flynn into court on lying grounds) than in telling the public the truth?

We can’t know the precise motivations behind the Justice Department’s and FBI’s refusal to make key information public. But whether it is out of real concern over declassification or a desire to protect the institutions from embarrassment, the current leadership is about 20 steps behind this narrative. Mr. Comey, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Andrew McCabe – they have already shattered the FBI’s reputation and public trust. There is nothing to be gained from pretending this is business as usual, or attempting to stem continued fallout by hiding further details.

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And debt pooling. So much for closer integration.

Merkel Allies Reject Idea Of European Finance Minister (R.)

Leading politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives want to pass a resolution at a meeting this week to reject any pooling of debts in Europe and any fiscal policy without national parliamentary controls, Handelsblatt reported. The daily business newspaper, citing sources from the conservative bloc’s parliamentary leadership, said the senior politicians also oppose European Commission plans for a European finance minister. The group includes the parliamentary leaders of the conservative bloc in the Bundestag, the European Parliament as well as from Germany’s 16 states, Handelsblatt reported.

Merkel will join them on Monday for a meeting in Frankfurt. The report highlights the resistance among Merkel’s conservatives to any euro zone reforms that could see more German taxpayers’ money being used to fund other member states. The conservatives are nervous about European Union reform after bleeding support to the anti-euro Alternative for Germany (AfD) party at national elections last September. Last month, Merkel called for a spirit of compromise on reforming the euro zone at a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who pressed for solidarity among members of the currency union.

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No smooth sailing.

Weak Foreign Demand Pushes Down German Industrial Orders (R.)

German industrial orders unexpectedly dropped for the third month running in March due to weak foreign demand, data showed on Monday, suggesting factories in Europe’s largest economy are shifting into a lower gear. Contracts for German goods fell 0.9% after a downwardly revised drop of 0.2% the previous month, data from the Federal Statistics Office showed. Analysts polled by Reuters had on average predicted a 0.5% rise in orders. “The economy is slowing down, that’s the sure take-away from today’s industrial orders data,” VP Bank Group analyst Thomas Gitzel said, adding that some growth forecasts would soon have to be revised down.

The government last month cut its 2018 growth forecast to 2.3% from 2.4% and expressed concern about international trade tensions. “The debate about tariffs has probably created great uncertainty in Europe’s export-driven industry,” Gitzel added. As Europe’s biggest exporter to the United States, Germany is desperate to avoid an EU trade war with the United States. In the run-up to a June 1 deadline for U.S. President Donald Trump to decide on whether to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Berlin is urging its European partners to be flexible and pursue a broad deal that benefits both sides. The drop in industrial orders was led by foreign orders which fell by 2.6%, while domestic orders rose 1.5%, the data showed.

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But the government says there a million LESS people in poverty.

A Million More UK Children In Poverty Than In 2010 (G.)

The number of children growing up in poverty in working households will be a million higher than in 2010, a new study has found. Research for the TUC estimates that 3.1 million children with working parents will be below the official breadline this year. About 600,000 children with working parents have been pushed into poverty because of the government’s benefit cuts and public sector pay restrictions, according to the report by the consultancy Landman Economics. The east Midlands will have the biggest increase in child poverty among working families, followed by the West Midlands and Northern Ireland, the research found. Frances O’Grady, the TUC general secretary, said child poverty in working households had shot up since 2010.

“Years of falling incomes and benefit cuts have had a terrible human cost. Millions of parents are struggling to feed and clothe their kids,” she said. “The government is in denial about how many working families just can’t make ends meet. We need ministers to boost the minimum wage now, and use the social security system to make sure no child grows up in a family struggling to get by.” [..] A government spokeswoman said it did not recognise the TUC’s figures. She said: “The reality is there are now 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty compared with 2010, including 300,000 fewer children. “We want every child to get the very best chances in life. We know the best route out of poverty is through work, which is why it’s really encouraging that both the employment rate and household incomes have never been higher.”

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Shares down 13% this morning.

Air France Survival In Doubt Over Strikes (BBC)

The survival of strike-hit Air France is in the balance, according to the country’s economy minister. Bruno Le Maire’s warning that Air France could “disappear” comes as staff begin another round of industrial action over a pay dispute. Despite the French state owning 14.3% of the Air France-KLM parent group, the loss-making airline would not be bailed out, he said. On Friday Air France-KLM’s chief executive quit over the crisis. Air France-KLM is one of Europe’s biggest airlines, but has seen a series of strikes in recent weeks. Monday’s walk-out is the 14th day of action, as staff press for a 5.1% salary increase this year. The government’s response is seen as a test of labour reforms launched by French President Emmanuel Macron. There have also been strikes at the state-owned SNCF rail company.

On Sunday, Mr Le Maire told French news channel BFM: “I call on everyone to be responsible: crew, ground staff, and pilots who are asking for unjustified pay hikes. “The survival of Air France is in the balance,” he said, adding that the state would not serve as a backstop for the airline’s debts. “Air France will disappear if it does not make the necessary efforts to be competitive,” he warned. Despite the strike, the airline insisted that it would be able to maintain 99% of long-haul flights on Monday, 80% of medium-haul services and 87% of short-haul flights. On Friday, Jean-Marc Janaillac, chief executive of parent company Air France-KLM, resigned after staff rejected a final pay offer from him, which would have raised wages by 7% over four years.

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That’s about 1 in 20: “From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more..”

Greece’s Incredibly Shrinking Middle Class (K.)

For salaried workers to bring home 1,500 euros per month net on a 12-month basis, or 18,000 euros per year not including holiday bonuses, their employers need to pay 2,610 euros a month or over 31,300 euros a year, given Greece’s particularly high taxes and social security contributions. For a self-employed professional to pocket the same amount , about 18,000 euros per annum, he or she would have to earn at least 50,000 euros on a yearly basis so as to cover professional expenses, taxes and contributions. As for new pensioners, a net income of 1,500 euros/month or 18,000 euros/year can only be achieved if they worked without pause for 40 years at an average monthly salary of 2,400 euros over that entire period.

The framework that has emerged in the last three years with tax and contribution hikes, in particular, as well as the new way pensions are being calculated are drastically reducing the chances of any worker or pensioner to have a decent monthly salary or pension. Official figures already highlight the shrinking of the so-called middle class: From the 8.8 million individual taxpayers who submitted a declaration last year, no more than 450,000 showed a net annual income of 18,000 euros or more, down from 840,000 in 2010. The shrinking trend of the middle class is expected to continue both for taxation and for practical reasons.

An employer will face the same cost hiring five or six part-timers offering a total of 20-24 working hours per day as in hiring one full-timer offering eight hours of work. Particularly in sectors where there is no need for highly skilled workers, such as retail commerce or tourism, the trend to replace well paid positions has already become dominant. Among the self-employed, overtaxation is this year anticipated to reduce the number of those declaring a taxable income of over 30,000 euros per year. As for pensioners, already the first pensions issues on the basis of the new system of calculation prove that the chances for anyone to secure a benefit of 1,500 euros after retirement are next to zero, and will shrink further in the years to come.

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Curious. Bonaire and St. Eustatius are part of the Dutch Kingdom. Conoco can’t move without their permission.

Conoco Moves To Take Over Venezuelan PDVSA’s Caribbean Assets (R.)

U.S. oil firm ConocoPhillips has moved to take Caribbean assets of Venezuela’s state-run PDVSA to enforce a $2 billion arbitration award over a decade-oil nationalization of its projects in the South American country, according to two sources familiar with its actions. The U.S. firm targeted Caribbean facilities on the islands of Bonaire and St. Eustatius that play critical roles in PDVSA’s oil exports, the country’s main source of revenue. PDVSA relies on the terminals to process, store and blend its oil. “We will work with the community and local authorities to address issues that may arise as a result of enforcement actions,” ConocoPhillips said in a statement to Reuters.

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May 012018
 
 May 1, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Théodore Géricault Prancing Grey Horse 1812

 

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)
The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)
Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)
St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)
US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)
Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)
South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)
Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)
First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)
That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)
Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)
Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

 

 

“..spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth..”

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s unconcerned about the bond market’s ability to absorb rising government debt after his department said it borrowed a record amount for the first quarter. “It’s a very large, robust market — it’s the most liquid market in the world, and there is a lot of supply,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Monday. “But I think the market can easily handle it.” Earlier on Monday the Treasury said net borrowing totaled $488 billion from January through March, a record for that period and about $47 billion more than it had previously estimated, according to a statement released in Washington. The end-of-March cash balance was $290 billion, compared with an initial estimate of $210 billion.

“By definition supply and demand will equate,” Mnuchin said. “I’m not concerned about that. I think that there are still a lot of buyers for U.S. Treasuries,” he said when asked about the risks of reduced demand for Treasuries and increased supply. The Treasury’s debt-management plans were complicated earlier this year by a political fight that was resolved when lawmakers agreed to suspend the federal debt limit in a two-year budget agreement in February. The U.S.’s need to issue more Treasuries is expected to grow as the fiscal picture deteriorates. The budget deficit widened to $600 billion halfway through the fiscal year, as spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth in the October-to-March period, according to Treasury figures released earlier this month.

Tax and spending measures approved by Congress and President Donald Trump are expected to push the budget gap to $804 billion in the current fiscal year, from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, and then surpass $1 trillion by 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In an accompanying statement about the state of the economy, the Treasury said Monday that tax changes are “poised to underpin near-term consumption and investment” and “the stage is set for a pick-up in growth over the near term.”

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The debt keeps the economy going.

The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)

China has developed a craving for consumer goods, the more luxurious, the better. Along with most other countries, China’s credit boom and spending spree are being followed by out-of-control debt. While household debt is spiraling, the Chinese government is pushing to double the size of the economy by 2020 (setting this goal in 2010). This ambitious project will almost certainly entail more lending and increased debts. There is a question as to exactly how much more debt China can handle. China’s debt has been rising steadily, from 141 percent of GDP in 2008 to 256 percent of GDP in 2017. This type of rapidly-increasing debt level has frequently been the precursor of a hard economic fall, and the world is watching China carefully.

While countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. also have large debt-to-GDP ratios, the difference is that both are high-income countries, while China has only reached middle-income status, with only $15,400 in household purchasing power. This is a quarter of the household purchasing power of the US. Getting out of debt on China’s low level of income will be far more difficult than in higher-income nations. [..] China’s economic growth has encouraged widespread home buying and mortgage debts as property prices soar. Mortgage debt has increased by 25 percent in two years. People who have bought during the economic boom are now facing monthly mortgage payments that equal up to half of their monthly income.

Household budgets are stretching to the breaking point. This has forced many to curtail spending elsewhere and putting off other necessary big purchase items. This at a time when the government is encouraging greater consumer consumption.

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“Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.”

Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)

Politicians like to describe government as like a household. When you’ve borrowed too much, you cut your spending so you can pay off debt, don’t you? You might be able to get a better-paid job, which helps you to pay it off faster. But you still budget to reduce your debt over time. Going on a spending spree means tightening your belt later. Similarly, if government borrows too much, there must be austerity to pay it down. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? People understand this reasoning. It is politically popular, especially when times are hard. In March 2009, when the U.S. was in the deepest recession since the 1930s, John Boehner, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said on CBS News that “it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get it.’”

“Government is like a household” can even win elections. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, David Cameron, then leader of the U.K.’s Conservative party, wrote this in the (now defunct) News of the World: “This [Labour] government has maxed out our nation’s credit card—and they want to keep on spending by getting another. We believe we need to get a grip, be responsible and help families now in a way that doesn’t cost us our future.” He became the U.K.’s Prime Minister in May 2010. Keynesian economists such as Paul Krugman argue that instead of trying to reduce public deficits in a recession, government should increase spending, helping businesses to grow and providing employment. Government debt will rise, of course, but the government can run fiscal surpluses to pay it down when growth returns. Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.

But this message has not been heard. In the name of “living within our means,” “balancing the books” and “paying down the debt,” governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pursued austerity policies ever since the Great Recession. The terrible story of Greece shows us that harsh austerity is the wrong medicine for a poorly-performing, highly indebted economy. But Greece is merely the worst example. Many Western countries have suffered deep and lasting damage, both from the Great Recession itself and from premature attempts to reduce public deficits.

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“..bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.”

St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has provided some high-profile validation for a core premise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. A blog post this week based on an earlier Fed research paper said that “bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but added that currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.” The post, titled “Three Ways Bitcoin is Like Regular Currency,” doesn’t precisely endorse Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. In another recent report, the St. Louis Fed was critical of Bitcoin’s inefficiency. Cryptocurrency has also become rife with scams since its surge in value last year, and may constitute a global risk because it enables clandestine money laundering, capital flight, and tax evasion.

But the St. Louis Fed has provided a credible rebuttal to one of the most widespread and misguided criticisms of cryptocurrency: That, because it isn’t tied to a particular real-world commodity, it should have a monetary value of zero. As Fed researchers point out, since decoupling from the gold standard in the early 1970s, almost all global reserve currencies rely on nothing but trust to function as a media of value exchange. In the case of the dollar, that’s mostly trust in the U.S. government and economy. For Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it’s trust in computer code and, at least to some extent, developers.

Surprisingly, the Fed’s new statement also echoes one of the predominant arguments that cryptocurrency fans use to disparage government-backed currency – though in a rather roundabout way. The post argues in part that “there’s a limited supply” of both cash and Bitcoin. The libertarian boosters at the heart of the crytpocurrency movement have often argued that Bitcoin is better than government currency because central banks can devalue national currencies through inflation, while Bitcoin has a strictly fixed supply. Though the Fed’s post points out that it doesn’t actually print cash – in the sense of physical notes – it acknowledges its ability to expand the money supply.

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Concessions will be forthcoming.

US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)

The May 1 deadline for steel and aluminum tariff exemptions for U.S. allies has been extended, the White House said. Instead, the White House has decided to postpone the decision on some allies, including the European Union, for 30 days to allow further discussions. Those extensions will affect the EU, Canada and Mexico. As for Argentina, Australia and Brazil, a senior White House official said agreements have been reached in principle, and they will also receive a 30-day extension so details can be finalized. South Korea’s exemption from tariffs is permanent because it agreed to quotas as part of a new trade deal. Administration officials have asked other countries what level of quotas they would agree to.

One person briefed by the administration told CNBC: “Quotas are an active part of the discussion with every country on the exemption list.” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is leading the process for country exemptions, except for the European Union, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is leading. The Department of Commerce is also spearheading the process for product exemptions. The National Security Council is overseeing the entire process. The May 1 deadline on the tariff exemptions was set in a presidential memorandum on the topic.

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UK says they have a solution, but not what that is.

Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that talks are at risk if the UK does not soften its red line on the Irish border issue. Speaking to reporters on his third visit to Ireland since the referendum, Michel Barnier said he was “not optimistic” and “not pessimistic” but “determined” that the two sides can break the current impasse on talks. He repeated recent declarations that unless Britain came up with fresh thinking on how to avoid a hard border by the June EU council summit, further talks were in danger of collapsing. “Until we reach this agreement and this operational solution for Northern Ireland, a backstop [solution], and we are ready for any proposal … there is a risk, a real risk,” he said.

But he hinted that the UK would not have to come up with the final deal for Ireland, describing the June summit as “a stepping stone” to the October deadline for the wider Brexit deal to be completed. The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said Britain’s “approach to negotiations will need to change in some way” if there is to be agreement over the issue. Appearing alongside Varadkar and his deputy, Simon Coveney, Barnier said the EU was “absolutely united” on the Irish question but wanted to work with the UK to find a practical solution. Coveney warned that there would be “difficulties” at the next EU council summit in June in progressing to wider Brexit talks unless the UK commited to wording for a “backstop” solution for the Irish border.

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It would be fun.

South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said U.S. President Donald Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said on Monday. “President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace,” Moon told a meeting of senior secretaries, according to a presidential Blue House official who briefed media. Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday pledged at a summit to end hostilities between their countries and work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. Trump is preparing for his own summit with Kim, which he said would take place in the next three to four weeks.

The Trump administration has led a global effort to impose ever stricter sanctions on North Korea and the U.S. president exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. In January, Moon said Trump “deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks. It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure”. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just months into his presidency, an award many thought was premature, given that he had little to show for his peace efforts beyond rhetoric.

Even Obama said he was surprised and by the time he collected the prize in Oslo at the end of that year, he had ordered the tripling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. As well as Obama, three U.S. presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter. Moon’s Nobel Prize comment came in response to a congratulatory message from Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, in which she said Moon deserved to win the prize, the Blue House official said. Moon responded by saying Trump should get it.

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Nothing leaks like Washington.

Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the US election, wants to ask Donald Trump about contact between his former election campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russia, the New York Times reported on Monday. The paper said it had obtained a list of nearly 50 questions that Mueller, investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, wants to put to the US president. More than half relate to potential obstruction of justice. “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” is one of the more dramatic questions published by the Times.

The pointed reference to Manafort breaks tantalising new ground, since there was no previous evidence linking him to outreach to Moscow. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, tweeted: “This is very interesting – strong evidence that there are still collusion threads that are not yet public.” Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty last October to a 12-count indictment accusing them of conspiring to defraud the US by laundering $30m from their work for a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine. a dramatic insight into the special counsel’s mind and make clear that Trump is a subject, not a mere witness, in the investigation. It is not yet known whether the president will agree to be interviewed.

One batch of questions relates to alleged coordination between the Trump election campaign and Moscow. Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about rival Hillary Clinton is naturally under scrutiny. Mueller wants to ask when Trump became aware of the meeting; Trump Jr claimed his father did not know about it in advance.

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Set up a program to bring peace to Central America. Kick out the CIA. They will stop coming.

First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)

The first eight members of a “caravan” of Central American migrants entered U.S. territory to seek asylum on Monday, after a month-long journey through Mexico that drew the wrath of President Donald Trump. The eight women and children walked through a door into the San Ysidro port of entry on the bidding of a customs and border patrol officer, a Reuters witness said, hours after Vice President Mike Pence promised they would be processed in line with U.S. law. About three quarters of claims by Central American asylum seekers are ultimately unsuccessful, resulting in detention and deportation.

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Medium or well-done?

That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)

I had a fellow on my latest podcast, released Sunday, who insists that the world population will crash 90-plus percent from the current 7.6 billion to 600 million by the end of this century. Jack Alpert heads an outfit called the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab (SKIL) which he started at Stanford University in 1978 and now runs as a private research foundation. Alpert is primarily an engineer. At 600 million, the living standard in the USA would be on a level with the post-Roman peasantry of Fifth century Europe, but without the charm, since many of the planet’s linked systems — soils, oceans, climate, mineral resources — will be in much greater disarray than was the case 1,500 years ago.

Anyway, that state-of-life may be a way-station to something more dire. Alpert’s optimal case would be a world human population of 50 million, deployed in three “city-states,” in the Pacific Northwest, the Uruguay / Paraguay border region, and China, that could support something close to today’s living standards for a tiny population, along with science and advanced technology, run on hydropower. The rest of world, he says, would just go back to nature, or what’s left of it. Alpert’s project aims to engineer a path to that optimal outcome. I hadn’t encountered quite such an extreme view of the future before, except for some fictional exercises like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. (Alpert, too, sees cannibalism as one likely byproduct of the journey ahead.)

Obviously, my own venture into the fictionalized future of the World Made by Hand books depicted a much kinder and gentler re-set to life at the circa-1800 level of living, at least in the USA. Apparently, I’m a sentimental softie. Both of us are at odds with the more generic techno-optimists who are waiting patiently for miracle rescue remedies like cold fusion while enjoying re-runs of The Big Bang Theory. (Alpert doesn’t completely rule out as-yet-undeveloped energy sources, though he acknowledges that they’re a low-percentage prospect.) We do agree with basic premise that the energy supply is mainly what supports the way we live now, and that it shows every evidence of entering a deep and destabilizing decline that will halt the activities necessary to keep our networks of dynamic systems running.

A question of interest to many readers is how soon or how rapid the unraveling of these systems might be. When civilizations crumble, it tends to fast-track. The Roman empire seems to be an exception, but in many ways it was far more resilient than ours, being a sort of advanced Flintstones economy, with even its giant-scale activities (e.g. building the Coliseum) being accomplished by human-powered work.

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Never again.

Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)

In May, tough new privacy laws are being introduced across Europe, offering EU consumers far greater control over their data and large fines for firms which break the rules. It is worth pausing to think about how we got to this point. To begin to understand, we must remember that data can easily be copied, shared and collected from multiple sources. Whenever we use digital devices – everything from web browsers, to phones, loyalty cards and CCTV cameras – we create data that allows advertisers, insurers, the police and others to understand aspects of our lives. Only its availability and the ingenuity of its handler limits what it can tell us. This is very different to a traditional commodity that can be bought and sold: a house, for example.

If you sell your house, the buyer might come to understand something of your personality, perhaps through a taste for high-spec kitchens and red carpets. Beyond that, the potential insight into your life is limited – your diaries and photo albums will have moved with you. With data, it is more complicated. Once you sign up for an online service, constant and often seamless data collection starts. Minimal understanding and agreement are often sufficient for this collection to begin: clicking “I agree” to terms and conditions you may or may not have read can be enough. It’s as if, rather than handing over a clean and tidy house, you have invited the buyer to move in with you and start taking notes: how you behave, whom you talk to, who visits you and who spends the night.

Many people never have a clear understanding of how the data they produce is shared, collected and interpreted. It can be combined with data from other sources, and investigated in unpredictable and unforeseen ways to gain in-depth knowledge about our lives, preferences, and likely future behaviours. This knowledge can be used to influence us in subtle but powerful ways. The advertisements, news, and friends we encounter online are often the result of this nudging. And, unlike a house, the data can be copied again and again at little to no cost, reaching an unlimited number of people. It is clear that the risks to privacy with data are substantial. Recognising this, additional safeguards are being introduced.

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The damage being done to Britain is unbelievable.

Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

In 2014 Gemma Morton, the headteacher of a large secondary school, told Education Guardian her school had helped to pay for the funeral of a student whose family couldn’t afford it, even after they had sold their car. Three years on, she has helped to pay for two more funerals. “When a child dies, nobody’s saved for it,” says Morton. “There is literally nowhere for families to go apart from the people they already know, and most of them are poverty-struck too.” Over the past few years, as austerity has deepened, more schools and individual teachers are bailing out disadvantaged families because they simply can’t say no. The latest government figures show 100,000 more children propelled into poverty in just 12 months.

There are 4.1 million children – nearly a third of the entire child population – living in households on less than 60% of the average income. At Gill Williams’s primary school in the north-west of England, local supermarkets deliver bread and fresh vegetables three times a week, which are placed in the playground for parents to help themselves. There is rarely a crumb left. Williams says it is not so much that poverty is more severe, but that it has spread. “It’s everybody. Your average family is like that now.” The core group of those needing support in her school is three times larger than when she became a head 10 years ago.

Evidence of hungry children is clear, say teachers. “You notice kids borrowing money from friends to buy food, kids falling asleep, kids saying they’ve got a tummy ache, and they didn’t have breakfast because Mummy didn’t have anything in,” says Morton. She has also seen children taking scraps from the school bins. Heads in poor catchments notice a difference when they attend meetings at other schools. “If you go and see kids in two different areas, they’ll be noticeably different heights,” says Morton.

Read more …

Mar 302018
 
 March 30, 2018  Posted by at 7:07 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Jerome Liebling May Day Union Square Park New York City 1948

 

 

Dr. D. peels the American political onion to get down to what it’s all about. I’m impressed. He explains America better than just about anyone. Turns out, there ain’t much left. So yeah, what happened?

 

 

Dr. D: The news cycle runs so frenetically it’s easy to lose track of the bigger tide. Let’s go back a week and look at something the Automatic Earth has been talking about since the beginning.

This weekend at a speech in Mumbai, Hillary Clinton said:

“If you look at the map of the United States, there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won. …I win the coast….I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, ‘Make America Great Again,’ was looking backwards.”

There are many ways to look at this: for one thing, by number, over 90% of the counties are Red. Yet over 50% of the population is concentrated in the cities and Blue counties. Clinton officially won the popular vote. Yet the United States has always had a geographical Electoral College system. A compromise of representation between small, weak states and strong, large states, and the rules of the 2016 campaign were no mystery or surprise. Yet that’s only the middle-sized picture.

The Big Picture is Mrs. Clinton saying she’s representing the important people, the right people – even the working people – and that 2/3rds of those people live exclusively in Blue districts on both coasts. While this is arguably true, it wasn’t always true. NYC or San Francisco have always been important, but from their founding until now, places like Dayton, St. Paul, Pittsburgh, or New Orleans were considered vital, important places, places where their own specialty happened: tires or flour, steel or shipping, lumber or mining.

What Happened? In a way the election was a referendum on “What Happened?” What happened to my community, my country, my area, and all the vital work those long-abandoned areas used to do, what happened to the massive GDP those areas used to contribute, and the answer is simple:

 

An organism contracts from the periphery to the core.

 

There’s a lot in that statement. As it took decades, even a century to happen, you can see which peripheries were sacrificed first and next, who had power, who didn’t, and how long they could maintain it; and that’s interesting, because it was not East or West, white or black, rural or urban as they might have you believe. There are as many hopeless, abandoned people in Baltimore as there are in Billings, Montana, possibly more, and possibly started far sooner. But if it’s not ethnic or geographical, then what is it?

 

An organism contracting from the periphery to the core is a consequence of centralization.

 

The Automatic Earth began with discussing the shrinking of the country, of industrialization, in terms of who would receive the ever-dwindling supplies oil and energy, the infrastructure and attention, but that is not necessarily a function of practicality. It is more often a function of political power, and we largely have a political problem and not a practical one.

The Core has been using their power to attract and concentrate more wealth and more power to themselves and their areas until most of the nation’s wealth and power are concentrated in Clinton’s 2/3rds of GDP, the sub-10% of the counties. All top 10 richest zip codes are now in one region: the Washington D.C. area.

Economic wealth and power is used to expand political power, further extracting the wealth of the Periphery to maintain the lifestyle of the Core. While this may seem a practical strategy, it isn’t. At one time the Periphery was creating maybe 2/3rds of the wealth of the nation, costing nothing, and that was with no more infrastructure than remains today.

So when those places are idled, 2/3rds of the nation’s GDP also vanishes, and while the Core can maintain their lifestyle by cannibalizing the remaining energy and attention, the entire nation they are part of only becomes far poorer. So far from the concentration of power making them stronger , it’s making them weaker , as they have a fraction of the former wealth and ability, cohesion and cooperation, men and materials to draw on.

 

This leads to the problem she highlights, which is social and political fracturing. With a majority of the wealth pulled to the Core, the Periphery withdraws its economic and social consent in a sense of unfairness that is only validated by further extractions, concentrations, and non-cooperations.

This can make it more difficult to run even the Core economy as disagreements develop between Core vs Periphery or entitled vs disenfranchised peoples even within the Core itself, leading to a difficulty maintaining compliance, resource supplies, disagreements on how to allocate wealth, support infrastructure, and so on.

This may seem an engineering issue, but this is also Tainter’s “Collapse of Complex Societies”, where cultures weather many storms, many expansions and contractions, but what causes “Collapse” is the attempt to maintain expensive infrastructure built up during the good times, at the expense of one portion of society. If compromise can be reached, Society survives.

If a compromise cannot be reached and the Core attempts to force its will via social and military force, the price of compliance becomes too high and fails, and with it, the cooperation, the social contract that makes a people or a nation one unit. It fractures, and when it does, those pieces break up and become, as he says, simpler, Less Complex societies. Less specialized, less concentrated, and less centralized, or by our modern pejorative view, “Primitive.”

As our American society has measurably less energy since 1974, we have seen the re-allocation and distribution of that energy ring-fenced into an ever-dwindling core of fewer counties, and fewer participants in those counties, and like other complex societies, we have been socially fracturing since that time as well, as fewer and fewer within the system benefit from it.

There’s much more to unpack in this, but let’s just ask some questions:

• What makes a “Core”? What constitutes the “Periphery”?

• Since the Periphery has and could contribute a majority of overall GDP, what inspires the Core to sacrifice it rather than expand their wealth through it?

• As a metaphor for a bodily process, a biological “contraction” occurs during emergencies such as starvation, freezing, or flight. But would the body really survive if it crippled the legs, lost its fingers, or its hearing to save itself? Contrarily, would the body survive and function if the brain, liver, or heart swelled to 3 times their original size?

• What is the resource load of a brain or stomach that is 3x larger than necessary?

• Since from an engineering perspective all parts of a machine must be in working order for it to work at all, what impractical, non-engineering priorities must be established to cause the core and periphery to become so mismatched?

• How are those impracticalities decided? How are they maintained?

• Is the deciding and maintaining of inequity and non-function a benefit to the Core? To the Periphery? Both? Neither?

• Once the Periphery has been sacrificed to the Core, what must happen for them to be re-joined and freely cooperate again?

• Can this be done? What would have to be sacrificed that wasn’t sacrificed before? By which side? One? Both?

 

Mrs. Clinton’s idle quote has meaning. If her places are “optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward” then logically the other , the 90% of Red America is “pessimistic, oppressive, racist, dull, lazy, and backwards.” “Deplorable,” if you will. Aside from how this doesn’t seem to be a good pitch to win votes among 90% of voting counties, you have to ask, “How did they get this way?” and “What is your plan to gather your countrymen and make them optimistic, productive, and to work again, and thus help all?” Yet oddly, that was her opponent’s slogan.

If she’s not asking the question of how to include and elevate everyone, isn’t she really saying “I’m in favor of further enriching my Core at your expense”? And while historically that is indeed a common response to dwindling energy, Tainter warns it may also be one that can collapse both the economy and the society.

Since large, concentrated societies contract to the Core to protect themselves and their critical assets, those in the core historically won’t offer time or resources to help anyone but themselves: the army, the police, the roads, the tax officials. When that is true, you may want to localize, decentralize and maintain your own Core, with your own people, at home. This re-localizing will re-establish the balance of power in the Periphery where most people live.

 

 

Mar 232018
 
 March 23, 2018  Posted by at 9:48 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Edvard Munch Spring 1889

 

China Hits Back on Trump Tariffs as Europe Off the Hook for Now (BBG)
Asian Stocks Plunge As Trump’s Trade War Heats Up (MW)
Dow Jones Closes Down More Than 700 Points (Ind.)
UK Politicians To Be Exempt From Data Crackdown (Ind.)
Steve Bannon: ‘Facebook Data Is For Sale All Over The World’ (G.)
Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic (G.)
The Digital Military Industrial Complex (NYBooks)
EU Countries Prepare To Follow May And Expel Russian Diplomats (G.)
Number Of British Children In Poverty Surges By 100,000 In A Year (Ind.)
UK Rebel Bank Prints Its Own Notes And Buys Back People’s Debts (G.)
Shaking the Superflux (Varoufakis)
‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ 16 Times Larger Than Previously Estimated (G.)
Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Rapidly Accumulating Plastic (Nature)
‘Collapse Of Civilisation Is A Near Certainty Within Decades’ – Ehrlich (G.)
Mammoth Survey Of Nature’s Vital Signs Released (AFP)

 

 

All involved know a realignment was inevitable. This is simply the art of the deal.

China Hits Back on Trump Tariffs as Europe Off the Hook for Now (BBG)

The trade conflict between China and the U.S. escalated, with Beijing announcing its first retaliation against metals levies hours after President Donald Trump outlined fresh tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports and pledged there’s more on the way. On Friday, China unveiled tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to steel and aluminum duties ordered by Trump earlier this month. The White House then declared a temporary exemption for the European Union and other nations on those levies, making the focus on China clear. Though Beijing’s actions so far are seen by analysts as measured, there may be more to come.

Equity indexes from Tokyo to Shanghai tumbled more than 3% and U.S. stock futures fell, signaling a further retreat for the S&P 500 Index after it fell 2.5%, on risks a further escalation in trade tensions will undermine an unusual phase of synchronized global economic growth. Suppliers to Apple were among the hardest hit in Hong Kong and mainland markets on Friday, as investors focused on potential losers from the trade spat. “China’s response is surprisingly modest in light of the U.S. actions, suggesting there could be a good deal more to come,” said Stephen Roach, a former non-executive chairman for Morgan Stanley in Asia and now a senior fellow at Yale University. “As America’s third largest and most rapidly growing export market and as the largest foreign owner of Treasuries, China has considerably more leverage over the U.S. than Washington politicians care to admit.”

[..] The White House gave the European Union, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, and South Korea, until May 1 to negotiate levies on steel and aluminum. The administration said the suspensions can be renewed or revoked then, “pending discussions of satisfactory long-term alternative means to address the threatened impairment to U.S. national security.” “This has been long in the making,” Trump said signing the intellectual-property order, adding that the tariffs could affect as much as $60 billion in goods. He told reporters, “This is the first of many.”

Read more …

There’ll be a bit of to and fro, with big words and big numbers and big threats, and then everyone will get back to business.

Asian Stocks Plunge As Trump’s Trade War Heats Up (MW)

The global equities swoon rolled over to Asia on Friday, where markets reacted negatively to the Trump administration’s trade broadside against China. Although the import tariffs had been telegraphed for weeks, Thursday’s package, covering about $60 billion in goods, sent investors running for havens. Bonds and gold prices rose and the Japanese yen hit its highest point against the U.S. dollar since Donald Trump won the presidential election. “Yes, the news was out for a while, but the actual action was a bit of a surprise to the market,” said Shinchiro Kadota, a senior forex and rates strategist at Barclays. “Maybe they thought it would be smaller, maybe later.”

China’s commerce ministry responded Friday morning and announced it would levy tariffs against $3 billion worth of U.S. goods including pork and recycled aluminum. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average closed down 4.5% as the yen’s sharp gains on Thursday also pressured stocks lower. The yen rose further on Friday, hitting 16-month highs as the dollar went below ¥105. The WSJ Dollar Index fell 0.2% in Asia, extending the afternoon pullback seen during U.S. trading. Stocks in China also fell with the Shanghai Composite Index down 4%, the Shenzhen Composite Index down 5.3% and the small-cap-heavy Chinext Index down 5.1%.

Read more …

Realignment.

Dow Jones Closes Down More Than 700 Points (Ind.)

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down more than 700 points, with investors fearing that trade tensions will spike between the US and China after President Donald Trump unveiled new tariffs against Beijing. Industrial and technology companies, which depend heavily on foreign trade, took some of the worst losses with Boeing, Caterpillar and Microsoft all falling sharply. The Dow sank 724 points, or 2.9%, to 23,957. The Nasdaq lost 178 points, or 2.4%, to 7,166. The S&P 500 index dropped 68 points, or 2.5%, to 2,643, erasing its gain for the year. It is the fifth-worst daily point drop ever for the Dow and the worst since the beginning of February.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Trump unveiled a plan to impose up to $60bn in new tariffs on Chinese goods, as well as limiting the country’s investment in the US as payback for what his administration alleges is years of intellectual property theft. The president’s order – which report from the White House had previously suggested would be nearer $50bn – is likely to trigger retaliation by Beijing and could further stoke fears of a global trade war. Just before signing the trade action, Mr Trump said it was “the first of many” as he looks to correct what has repeatedly called “unfair” trade deals with nations around the world.

“Markets are saying that these tariffs are going to cut into the global growth story that looked pretty strong just a few weeks ago. The prospect of more tariffs is making markets very unsettled and you’re going to see choppy trading until we see the effect they are having on earnings,” Jamie Cox, a managing partner for Harris Financial Group told Reuters.

Read more …

All you need to know about the Cambridge Analytica outrage. It’s theater.

UK Politicians To Be Exempt From Data Crackdown (Ind.)

Britain’s political parties are poised to grant themselves special powers to use personal data to find out how people are likely to vote, despite the Cambridge Analytica scandal, The Independent can reveal. Legislation set to clear Parliament within weeks will allow the profiling of voters to help infer their political opinions, privacy campaigners have warned. The move comes as controversy has engulfed Cambridge Analytica over its collection of Facebook data, with the aim of using it to profile and target people during election campaigns. Even before the scandal erupted, political parties had faced questions about their use of social media to carry out online campaigning.

All the major parties have agreed to the exemption from new data protection laws, arguing it clarifies their widely recognised right to canvas voters in order to target possible supporters. But critics say technological advances now enable such data to be mined to discover people’s opinions without their active consent. Organisations outside of the main political parties will be barred from collating voting data in this way. Ailidh Callander, a lawyer at the group Privacy International, told The Independent that “no meaningful justification” had been given for the powers in the Data Protection Bill. “This exemption is open to abuse by political parties and those working for them and can be used to facilitate targeted and exploitative political advertising,” she warned.

[..] “As we can see from the work of Cambridge Analytica, personal data that might not have previously revealed political opinions can now be used to infer information about the political opinions of an individual,” Ms Callander added. It would allow private firms, under contract to political parties, to “process personal data revealing political opinions for a wide range of purposes” without the explicit consent of the person concerned, Ms Callander said. Mr Bernal said data that could reveal voting preferences should be given “more protection”, warning: “Almost anything can be used to at least have a guess at your political leanings.”

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Business model. And if anyone can buy this stuff, you wonder what the NSA keeps for itself.

Steve Bannon: ‘Facebook Data Is For Sale All Over The World’ (G.)

Steve Bannon tried to distance himself from the Cambridge Analytica scandal on Thursday, claiming: “I didn’t even know anything about the Facebook mining.” Bannon is a former vice-president and board member of the political consultancy, which he agreed he “put together.” He claimed to a conference in New York that neither he nor Cambridge Analytica had anything to do with “dirty tricks” in the use of information harvested from Facebook to make computer models to sway elections. Besides, he said, “Facebook data is for sale all over the world”.

Bannon – Donald Trump’s former chief strategist – later said outside the conference room that he “did not remember” being part of any scheme to buy data that came from Facebook and divert it to use for election propaganda, as the Observer revealed last weekend. He blamed any “dirty tricks” on Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL, which he described as “the British guys, old Etonians and guys from Oxford and Cambridge” [..] Bannon denied there was any scandal involving companies acquiring people’s personal information from Facebook and using it for other purposes.

“It’s just about the cost of it. It’s bought and sold every day, it’s just a marketplace,” he said, adding: “I didn’t even know about the Facebook mining, that’s Facebook’s business … They went to Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 and told him all about the power of personal data.” Bannon turned to the conference audience and said: “You’re all serfs. Well paid serfs, but still serfs … The data is all out there, they [Facebook] take your stuff for free and monetize it for huge margins, they take over your life.”

Read more …

About that claim that Facebook was cheated, it wasn’t. It was always part of the whole thing. This is not something Kogan ‘harvested’, Facebook had already done that.

Facebook Gave Data About 57 Billion Friendships To Academic (G.)

Before Facebook suspended Aleksandr Kogan from its platform for the data harvesting “scam” at the centre of the unfolding Cambridge Analytica scandal, the social media company enjoyed a close enough relationship with the researcher that it provided him with an anonymised, aggregate dataset of 57bn Facebook friendships. Facebook provided the dataset of “every friendship formed in 2011 in every country in the world at the national aggregate level” to Kogan’s University of Cambridge laboratory for a study on international friendships published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2015. Two Facebook employees were named as co-authors of the study, alongside researchers from Cambridge, Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. Kogan was publishing under the name Aleksandr Spectre at the time.

A University of Cambridge press release on the study’s publication noted that the paper was “the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre’s lab in Cambridge and Facebook”. Facebook did not respond to queries about whether any other collaborations occurred. “The sheer volume of the 57bn friend pairs implies a pre-existing relationship,” said Jonathan Albright, research director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. “It’s not common for Facebook to share that kind of data. It suggests a trusted partnership between Aleksandr Kogan/Spectre and Facebook.”

Facebook downplayed the significance of the dataset, which it said was shared with Kogan in 2013. “The data that was shared was literally numbers – numbers of how many friendships were made between pairs of countries – ie x number of friendships made between the US and UK,” Facebook spokeswoman Christine Chen said by email. “There was no personally identifiable information included in this data.”

Read more …

Excellent long background by Tamsin Shaw for the Facebook story. It’s a who’s who.

The Digital Military Industrial Complex (NYBooks)

In a 2014 interview, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, speaking then as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said that such open-source data initiatives, and in particular the study of social media such as Facebook, had entirely transformed intelligence-gathering. He reported that traditional signals intelligence and human intelligence were increasingly being replaced by this open-source work and that the way in which intelligence agents are trained had been modified to accommodate the shift. A growing portion of the military’s $50 billion budget would be spent on this data analytics work, he claimed, creating a “gold rush” for contractors. A few weeks after this interview, Flynn left the DIA to establish the Flynn Intel Group Inc. He later acted as a consultant to the SCL Group.”

Carole Cadwalladr reported in The Observer last year that it was Sophie Schmidt, daughter of Alphabet founder Eric Schmidt, who made SCL aware of this gold rush, telling Alexander Nix, then head of SCL Elections, that the company should emulate Palantir, the company set up by Peter Thiel and funded with CIA venture capital that has now won important national security contracts. Schmidt threatened to sue Cadwalladr for reporting this information. But Nix recently admitted before a parliamentary select committee in London that Schmidt had interned for Cambridge Analytica, though he denied that she had introduced him to Peter Thiel. Aleksandr Kogan and Christopher Wylie allowed Cambridge Analytica to evolve into an extremely competitive operator in this arena.

Read more …

Proof is overrated.

EU Countries Prepare To Follow May And Expel Russian Diplomats (G.)

EU leaders have thrown their weight behind Theresa May’s stance on Russia, with several countries poised to announce expulsions of diplomats, in a bid to dismantle Vladimir Putin’s spy network. Following a summit in Brussels to discuss the response to the Salisbury nerve agent attack, EU leaders gave their full-throated backing to the prime minister by adopting a statement declaring it was “highly likely Russia is responsible” for poisoning Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia. Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, tweeted that all leaders agreed Russia’s responsibility for the attack was highly likely. In a significant point for May, the statement goes further than a declaration by foreign ministers earlier this week, which avoided pinning the blame on Russia.

British diplomats believe that a strong message of solidarity with the UK, from Russia’s closest European neighbours, will hit home with President Putin. France, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are understood to be considering expelling Russian diplomats, as requested by the UK government, in a coordinated strike against Moscow. The Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said: “All of us, we are considering such measures.” She added that she had not congratulated Putin on his election victory. EU leaders discussed their response to the Salisbury poisoning over a European council summit dinner in Brussels. The UK prime minister told her fellow leaders the attack formed part of a long-term pattern of behaviour by Russia, and urged them to present a united front.

Read more …

What all the talk about Russia serves to hide…

Number Of British Children In Poverty Surges By 100,000 In A Year (Ind.)

The number of children in poverty across the UK has surged by 100,000 in a year, new figures show, prompting calls for ministers to urgently review cuts to child welfare. Government statistics published on Thursday show 4.1 million children are now living in relative poverty after household costs, compared with four million the previous year, accounting for more than 30% of children in the country. Compared to the overall population, children remained the most likely to be in relative poverty, at almost one in three compared with 21% of working age adults and 16% of pensioners.

The figures will fuel concerns that benefit cuts and tax credits under the Tory Government are seeing children hardest hit, with around one and a half million more under-18s forecasted to live in households below the relative poverty line by 2022. Relative child poverty is measured as children living in homes where the income is 60% of the median household income in the UK, adjusted for family size and after housing costs. Separate government statistics published on Thursday show the number of households in temporary accommodation has surged 64% since the Tories came to power in 2010, of which more than 2,000 had children.

Responding to the rise in child poverty levels, Labour MP Margaret Greenwood, the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “These figures show that after eight years of Conservative austerity, Labour’s progress in tackling child poverty has been reversed with a shocking increase in the numbers of children living in poverty.

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Don’t get too successful, or else…

UK Rebel Bank Prints Its Own Notes And Buys Back People’s Debts (G.)

First there were the banks. Sending credit cards through the post, offering easy loans. They overstretched, teetered. Then came the billion-dollar bailouts, recession, austerity, poverty and payday loans. Then, slowly, came the movement: a piecemeal, sporadic effort to buy back the debt of ordinary people. Now in north-east London, an enterprise that is part art installation, part stunt and part charitable endeavour, has brought all the threads together: a bank that prints its own money, sells it for real tender and uses the proceeds to buy back the debt.

Hilary Powell and Dan Edelstyn have taken over an old Co-op Bank on a high street in Walthamstow and are printing money featuring the faces of people behind four local services – a primary school, a foodbank, a youth project and a soup kitchen. As well as raising money for those projects, Hoe Street Central Bank aims to raise enough money to buy out £1m of debt owned by people within the E17 postcode, in a London borough ranked 35th most deprived in the country.

“We see it as a community heist taking on the economic discourse,” says Powell. One of the delightful ironies of the undertaking is that the ‘bank’ could only have to raise as little as £20,000 to buy out £1m of local debt, because bad loans are often written down to a fraction of their face value in the secondary market. “The system forces people into debt for basic needs,” says Powell. “We are the forerunners of what we hope will be a bigger movement for debt abolition.” As the bank did its unusual trade this week, schoolchildren were invited in to watch a batch of £5, £10 and £20 notes, all designed by artists, roll off the presses. After all, it’s not every day that you see your headteacher’s face on a fiver.

Read more …

Varoufakis’ Shakespeare lecture. The recent Facebook and Novichok stories would fit right in.

Shaking the Superflux (Varoufakis)

As is, alas, well known, my country went bankrupt in 2010. And the oligarchies, Greek and European, in power decided to cover it up by means of largest loan in History to the most bankrupt European state – money that was, always, meant to flow on to France’s and Germany’s bankrupt bankers while the Greeks were thrown indefinitely into debtor’s prison and treated to the harshest austerity this planet has ever seen. Yes, there was method to the madness of the powers-that-be, just as in any Shakespearean play. Watching them stumble from one idiotic decision to the next, making things up as they were going along, and intensifying the crisis that they were trying to quell, was like watching a version of Othello, wondering how smart people could be so foolish, or of a Macbeth scheming in the land of Oedipus.

Like King Laius of Thebes unwittingly brought about his own murder by his son Oedipus because he believed the prophecy that Oedipus would kill him once he grew up, so too did Europe’s Deep Establishment, in a bid to save their bankers while safeguarding their legitimacy, undermined their legitimacy by committing successive, Macbeth-like, crimes against logic – so much so that, today, the so-called political centre traditionally in the service of the Establishment lays in ruins everywhere in Europe: Think France, Austria, Germany, recently Italy, where political monsters are rising up across Europe bringing to mind Brutus’ line in Julius Caesar about the hatchling of the serpent’s egg that must be “killed in the shell” before it emerges. Except that, instead of crushing the shell before the new serpents hatched, the Establishment kept it warm, facilitated its hatching, and is now repeatedly bitten by them.

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Global plastic production is increasing exponentially.

‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ 16 Times Larger Than Previously Estimated (G.)

An enormous area of rubbish floating in the Pacific Ocean is teeming with far more debris than previously thought, heightening alarm that the world’s oceans are being increasingly choked by trillions of pieces of plastic. The sprawling patch of detritus – spanning 1.6m sq km, (617,763 sq miles) more than twice the size of France – contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic, new research published in Nature has found. This mass of waste is up to 16 times larger than previous estimates and provides a sobering challenge to a team that will start an ambitious attempt to clean up the vast swath of the Pacific this summer.

The analysis, conducted by boat and air surveys taken over two years, found that pollution in the so-called Great Pacific garbage patch is almost exclusively plastic and is “increasing exponentially”. Microplastics, measuring less than 0.5cm (0.2in), make up the bulk of the estimated 1.8tn pieces floating in the garbage patch, which is kept in rough formation by a swirling ocean gyre. While tiny fragments of plastic are the most numerous, nearly half of the weight of rubbish is composed of discarded fishing nets. Other items spotted in the stew of plastic include bottles, plates, buoys, ropes and even a toilet seat.

“I’ve been doing this research for a while, but it was depressing to see,” said Laurent Lebreton, an oceanographer and lead author of the study. Lebreton works for the Ocean Cleanup, a Dutch-based non-profit that is aiming to tackle the garbage patch. [..] The organization is developing a system of large floating barriers with underwater screens that capture and concentrate plastics into one area ready to be scooped out of the ocean. A prototype, to be launched from San Francisco this summer with the aim of spawning a clutch of devices each of which can collect five tons of waste a month, will, if successful, be followed by dozens of other boom-like systems measuring up to 2km (1.2 miles) long.

The project comes with caveats, however – its system will not catch the proliferation of microplastics measuring under 10 millimeters (0.39in) and the whole operation will require further funding from next year. Any successful clean-up may also be overwhelmed by a global surge in plastic production – a recent UK government report warned the amount of plastic in the ocean could treble within the next decade. “There is a big mine of microplastics there coming from larger stuff that’s crumbling down, so we need to get in there quickly to clean it up,” said Joost Dubois, a spokesman for the Ocean Cleanup.

Read more …

The official report. Half of the garbage is fishing nets. A recent report estimated 70% of all visible plastic is discarded nets.

Great Pacific Garbage Patch Is Rapidly Accumulating Plastic (Nature)

Ocean plastic can persist in sea surface waters, eventually accumulating in remote areas of the world s oceans. Here we characterise and quantify a major ocean plastic accumulation zone formed in subtropical waters between California and Hawaii: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). Our model, calibrated with data from multi-vessel and aircraft surveys, predicted at least 79 (45-129) thousand tonnes of ocean plastic are floating inside an area of 1.6 million km2; a figure four to sixteen times higher than previously reported.

We explain this difference through the use of more robust methods to quantify larger debris. Over three-quarters of the GPGP mass was carried by debris larger than 5 cm and at least 46% was comprised of fishing nets. Microplastics accounted for 8% of the total mass but 94% of the estimated 1.8 (1.1-3.6) trillion pieces floating in the area. Plastic collected during our study has specific characteristics such as small surface-to-volume ratio, indicating that only certain types of debris have the capacity to persist and accumulate at the surface of the GPGP. Finally, our results suggest that ocean plastic pollution within the GPGP is increasing exponentially and at a faster rate than in surrounding waters.

Global annual plastic consumption has now reached over 320 million tonnes with more plastic produced in the last decade than ever before. A significant amount of the produced material serves an ephemeral purpose and is rapidly converted into waste. A small portion may be recycled or incinerated while the majority will either be discarded into landfill or littered into natural environments, including the world’s oceans. While the introduction of synthetic fibres in fishing and aquaculture gear represented an important technological advance specifically for its persistence in the marine environment, accidental and deliberate gear losses became a major source of ocean plastic pollution. Lost or discarded fishing nets known as ghostnets are of particular concern as they yield direct negative impacts on the economy and marine habitats worldwide.

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Ehrlich still claims it’s preventable. Why?

‘Collapse Of Civilisation Is A Near Certainty Within Decades’ – Ehrlich (G.)

A shattering collapse of civilisation is a “near certainty” in the next few decades due to humanity’s continuing destruction of the natural world that sustains all life on Earth, according to biologist Prof Paul Ehrlich. In May, it will be 50 years since the eminent biologist published his most famous and controversial book, the Population Bomb. But Ehrlich remains as outspoken as ever. The world’s optimum population is less than two billion people – 5.6 billion fewer than on the planet today, he argues, and there is an increasing toxification of the entire planet by synthetic chemicals that may be more dangerous to people and wildlife than climate change.

Ehrlich also says an unprecedented redistribution of wealth is needed to end the over-consumption of resources, but “the rich who now run the global system – that hold the annual ‘world destroyer’ meetings in Davos – are unlikely to let it happen”. The Population Bomb, written with his wife Anne Ehrlich in 1968, predicted “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death” in the 1970s – a fate that was avoided by the green revolution in intensive agriculture. Many details and timings of events were wrong, Paul Ehrlich acknowledges today, but he says the book was correct overall. “Population growth, along with over-consumption per capita, is driving civilisation over the edge: billions of people are now hungry or micronutrient malnourished, and climate disruption is killing people.”

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I doubt that “it’s not too late”.

Mammoth Survey Of Nature’s Vital Signs Released (AFP)

Scientists will deliver a comprehensive assessment Friday of the state of biodiversity — the animals and plants that humankind depends on to survive but has driven into a mass species extinction. The labor of some 600 scientists over three years, four reports will be unveiled in Medellin, Colombia, under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The diagnosis is expected to be dire. “If we continue the way we are, yes the… sixth mass extinction, the first one ever caused by humans, will continue,” IPBES chairman Robert Watson told AFP ahead of the much-anticipated release. But the good news, he said, “It’s not too late” to slow the rate of loss.

Scientists say mankind’s voracious consumption and wanton destruction of Nature has unleashed the first mass species die-off since the demise of the dinosaurs – only the sixth on our planet in half-a-billion years. The first major biodiversity assessment in 13 years comes in the same week that Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino, died in Kenya – a stark reminder of the stakes. “The IPBES conference is going to tell us that the situation is continuing to deteriorate, they are going to tell us some ecosystems are being brought to the brink of collapse,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini told AFP on Thursday. “The IPBES is going to make a strong case for the importance of protecting Nature for our own wellbeing.”

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Mar 212018
 
 March 21, 2018  Posted by at 9:24 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Dirk de Herder Amstel Bridge, Amsterdam1946

 

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)
EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)
UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)
Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)
The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)
Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)
German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)
Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)
Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)
France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

 

 

Net worth my ass.

Sign of Pending Recession? Total American Net Worth Ratio At New High (CNBC)

Nine years into the second-longest bull market run in history, the level of total net worth compared with income has reached a record, according to Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis, citing Federal Reserve data. Since the Great Recession ended in June 2009, the disparity between net worth and income has soared, attributable in large part to the growth in financial assets, which have increased by $33.9 trillion, compared with $10.4 trillion in nonfinancial assets. Essentially, that means that American wallets have grown fatter from the accumulation of financial assets like stocks and mutual fund holdings than they have from gains in their homes and other physical assets like autos.

In all, total net worth of $98.75 trillion is now 6.79 times the $14.55 trillion in disposable income for households as of the fourth quarter, according to Fed financial accounts figures. That’s up from 6.71 times in the third quarter. The previous tops came in the first quarter of 2006, with 6.51, and the first quarter of 2000, at 6.12. Those two levels cast ominous signals over the U.S. economy. “A recession started four quarters from the peak of the former and eight quarters from the zenith in the latter,” LaVorgna said Tuesday in a note to clients. As a practical matter, the level should serve as a yellow flag for Fed officials, who are on a course of hiking rates gradually but steadily.

[..] The Fed is an important part of the equation in that it helped boost financial assets through historically low interest rates and an aggressive policy of monthly bond buying called quantitative easing. This is the first meeting for new Chairman Jerome Powell, who must navigate the Fed through rate increases aimed at controlling but not stopping growth. After years of mostly steady gains since the bull market run began in 2009, volatility has crept in 2018 and raised the specter that forward gains will be tougher to achieve. “Powell needs to be mindful of the current backdrop and not signal aggressive rate hikes to come,” LaVorgna said. “Otherwise, stock prices and the economy are in trouble.”

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Brussels and Facebook: they’re going to come for part of the loot of selling your data.

EU To Unveil Digital Tax Targeting Facebook, Google (AFP)

The EU will unveil proposals for a digital tax on US tech giants on Wednesday, bringing yet more turmoil to Facebook after revelations over misused data of 50 million users shocked the world. The special tax is the latest measure by the 28-nation European Union to rein in Silicon Valley giants and could further embitter the bad-tempered trade row pitting the EU against US President Donald Trump. EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici will present proposals aimed at recovering billions of euros from mainly US multinationals that shift earnings around Europe to pay lower tax rates.

The transatlantic blow has been championed by French President Emmanuel Macron and will be discussed over dinner at an EU leaders summit on Thursday. “This will be given top priority as tax file. There is a lot of political momentum on this issue,” an EU official said ahead of the announcement. The unprecedented tech tax follows major anti-trust decisions by the EU that have cost Apple and Google billions and also caught out Amazon. The commission’s tax, expected to be about 3% of sales, would affect revenue from digital advertising, paid subscriptions and the selling of personal data.

The EU tax plan will target mainly US companies with worldwide annual turnover above 750 million euros ($924 million), such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, Airbnb and Uber. Spared are smaller European start-ups that struggle to compete with them. Companies like Netflix, which depend on subscriptions, will also avoid the chop. Brussels is seeking to choke tax-avoidance strategies used by the tech giants that, although legal, deprive EU governments of billions of euros in revenue.

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Got to admit, hard to say who I’d trust least with this, Facebook or the UK deep state.

UK Tells Facebook’s Auditors Visiting Cambridge Analytica To Stand Down (CNBC)

The U.K.’s data protection watchdog ordered Facebook’s auditors to back down from a probe into a political analytics company accused of wrongly harvesting the data of millions of its users. The tech giant was planning to investigate Cambridge Analytica’s servers and systems, but the Information Commissioner’s Office told Facebook on Monday that it should withdraw from the research firm’s London premises. The ICO said it would seek to gain its own warrant to access the company’s computers and servers.

Facebook had said Monday that it was pursuing a forensic audit of Cambridge Analytica and had hired digital forensics firm Stroz Friedberg to determine whether the data analytics company still possessed Facebook user data. But in an updated statement later that day, Facebook said: “Independent forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg were on site at Cambridge Analytica’s London office this evening. At the request of the U.K. Information Commissioner’s Office, which has announced it is pursuing a warrant to conduct its own on-site investigation, the Stroz Friedberg auditors stood down.”

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Sold his shares first?!

Whatsapp Co-Founder Who Made Billions From Facebook Now Says To Delete It (MW)

WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton left Facebook last year. Now he’s saying others should do the same. In a tweet Tuesday, Action said: “It is time. #deletefacebook,” referencing the online movement that is gaining steam in the wake of revelations that the personal data of 50 million Facebook users was used without their permission by political data company Cambridge Analytica during the 2016 presidential campaign. He did not immediately expand on his comment. While his Facebook profile was still active for hours after his tweet, it appeared deactivated later Tuesday night.

Acton and fellow co-founder Jan Koum sold the messaging service WhatsApp to Facebook in 2014 for $22 billion. Acton received about $3 billion in the deal, and has a net worth of about $5.5 billion, according to Forbes. After staying on for three years, Acton quit Facebook in September, and is now a major backer of rival messaging service Signal, which boasts encryption to make its messages resistent to government surveillance. In February, he joined the newly launched nonprofit Signal Foundation as executive chairman, and invested $50 million into the app.

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Now connect this to the Facebook stories.

The NSA Worked To “Track Down” Bitcoin Users – Snowden Documents (IC)

Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. Although the agency was interested in surveilling some competing cryptocurrencies, “Bitcoin is #1 priority,” a March 15, 2013 internal NSA report stated.

The documents indicate that “tracking down” bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”

The agency appears to have wanted even more data: The March 29 memo raised the question of whether the data source validated its users, and suggested that the agency retained bitcoin information in a file named “Provider user full.csv.” It also suggested powerful search capabilities against bitcoin targets, hinting that the NSA may have been using its XKeyScore searching system, where the bitcoin information and wide range of other NSA data was cataloged, to enhance its information on bitcoin users. An NSA reference document indicated that the data source provided “user data such as billing information and Internet Protocol addresses.” With this sort of information in hand, putting a name to a given bitcoin user would be easy.

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One took 519 days, the other 35 days. That’s an actual compariosn?

Bitcoin Bust Is Like Nasdaq Crash, But Faster (BBG)

Bitcoin has long been compared to the dot-com bubble. Morgan Stanley says its recent moves are similar to the tech boom and bust, but on steroids. Bitcoin’s recent moves almost mirror that of the Nasdaq Composite Index in the lead-up to and aftermath of 2000, but at 15 times the speed, Morgan Stanley said. The Nasdaq climbed 278% in 519 days in the rally leading up to its high in March 2000, while Bitcoin soared 248% in 35 days in the last leg of the rally to its $19,511 high in December, according to the report. There have been three waves of weakness since Bitcoin peaked in December, with prices falling between 45% and 50% each time, before rebounding.

The Nasdaq’s bear market from 2000 had five price declines, averaging a similar 44%. The bear market also looks similar on the way up. There have been two Bitcoin bear market rallies of 43% on average, while the Nasdaq bear market rallies averaged 40%. Bear markets are nothing new for the first decentralized digital currency. Since the coin’s creation in 2009 there have been four bear markets with price declines ranging from 28% to 92%. From the December peak to the most recent low on February, Bitcoin’s price fell by 70%, “nothing out of the ordinary,” Morgan Stanley said.

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C’mon, close them down already. This movie’s getting boring.

German Prosecutors Launch New Enquiry Into VW Over Market Manipulation (R.)

German prosecutors said on Tuesday they had searched Volkswagen’s headquarters as part of a new investigation into whether the carmaker had overstated the fuel efficiency of more vehicles than previously disclosed. The news is the latest setback in the German company’s efforts to move on from a 2015 scandal in which it admitted to cheating U.S. emissions tests on diesel engines. Prosecutors from the city of Braunschweig searched 13 offices at Volkswagen’s (VW) headquarters in nearby Wolfsburg at the start of March, seizing documents and computer files that will now be reviewed, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office said, confirming a report by German magazine WirtschaftsWoche.

They were checking a statement issued by VW on Dec. 9, 2015—about three months after its “dieselgate” scandal broke in the United States—over suspicions its contents were incorrect In that statement, VW said its own investigations found it had understated fuel consumption, and hence carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, on no more than 36,000 vehicles. That was much lower than its preliminary estimate of around 800,000 diesel and gasoline vehicles produced five weeks earlier, which caused VW to warn it could face a 2 billion euro ($2.5 billion) hit to profits from the disclosure. VW also said in its December 2015 statement that it had found no evidence of unlawful alterations to CO2 emissions data.

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We might as well keep thinking as long as we still can.

Capitalism And The Veil Of Ignorance (Claire Connelly)

So our taxes don’t pay for spending, so what? So the government can’t run out of money. Big deal. Does that change anything? ‘We can’t afford it’ has been the proverbial comforter of opponents of the welfare state harking back to the Clinton / Blair days. Perhaps even earlier. And while it might make you feel good to believe that, it is simply untrue. This argument has been used as an emotional crutch for people who don’t want to admit that they’re comfortable with homelessness and unemployment if it keeps export prices low. Or the currency competitive. Or their bottom line stable. Ultimately, this comes down to what government is for, and what role markets should play in our lives. People are divided on this. And that is ok. Civil disagreements are a hallmark of a civilised society.

Economies and markets are complex beasts, that perform differently in different environments, under different conditions. Arguably across the duration of time, a range of potential solutions could apply at any given scenario. And the best solution is to pick and choose from a range of different economic schools of thought, and use them in combination. Unfortunately, across the world, the economists and historians that are seeking to gain greater clarity of how to do just that, by understanding the true function of economies and markets are being pushed out of universities and barred from institutions and organisations that would allow their research to come to fruition. This is not a mark of a civilised society, but corporate fascism that is actively suppressing research that threatens the dominance of late-stage capitalism.

If you feel comfortable convincing yourself that unemployment and homelessness is acceptable, if you think the fact that wages have not only stagnated but are in many countries actually going backwards somehow doesn’t affect you, that what most people earn in a lifetime will be insufficient to cover a modestly comfortable retirement should not concern you, that addressing any one of these things would be a detriment not only to your bottom line but to the economy itself, if you can justify that position without relying on arguments over deficits and balanced budgets, well, more power to you, I guess. But we should be honest about our disagreements. And our opinions should be informed by an as accurate understanding of how wealth is created as possible.

For many people, whether or not government can afford to address unemployment and social spending isn’t the issue, the question is whether it should. The argument over budgets, debt ceilings and deficits have been used as a national pacifier that would have us believe that the health of the economy and our ability to earn a living relies on a degree of human suffering. We have been convinced that the balancing of federal budgets somehow relates to our ability to put food on the table, when in fact the opposite is true. These lies have made us paranoid and competitive, where the well-being of everyone else is a direct threat to our own. It’s a pretty genius strategy, really.

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On the 15th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

“Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.”

Libya: The True Face Of ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ (RT)

Seven years ago today, NATO began its “humanitarian bombing” of Libya. While “humanitarian bombing” is an oxymoron, many believe that a country is not truly advancing human rights if it’s not bombing another back to the Stone Age. As an initial matter, it must be said that while the UN had authorized a NATO fly-zone over Libya to protect civilians – all civilians, by the way – there was never authorization for the full-scale invasion which was carried out and which quickly became aimed at regime change. Therefore, the NATO operation which actually took place was illegal.

[..] the intervention was spearheaded by Hillary Clinton, Samantha Power and Susan Rice – three self-described warriors for human and women’s rights. Instead, they became three ushers of the Apocalypse. In addition, Italy and France, which also helped lead the charge for invasion, had their own reasons for intervening in Libya. For his part, French President Nicolas Sarkozy appeared to be singularly focused on killing Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who allegedly gave him €50 million for his presidential campaign – a claim which was just coming to light and to which Gaddafi was the chief witness.

[..] Gaddafi had taken Libya from being the least prosperous country in Africa to the being the most prosperous by the time of the NATO operation. Thus, as one commentator explains, before the intervention, “Libya had the highest GDP per capita and life expectancy on the continent. Less people lived below the poverty line than in the Netherlands.” Moreover, one of the main reasons, we were told, that NATO needed to intervene in 2011 was to save Benghazi from imminent harm from the government forces of Gaddafi.

However, Hillary Clinton’s own internal emails show that her team recognized that any humanitarian problems confronting Benghazi had passed by the time of the NATO bombing. For example, Clinton’s assistant, Huma Abedin, in an email dated February 21, 2011 – that is, just a mere four days after the initial anti-government protests broke out in Libya – explains that the Gaddafi forces no longer controlled Benghazi and that the mood in the city was indeed “celebratory” by that time. Then, on March 2, just over two weeks before the bombing began, Harriet Spanos of USAID sent an email describing “[s]ecurity reports” which “confirm that Benghazi has been calm over the past couple of days.”

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Rhinos, insects, birds. You are next.

Bird populations in France have fallen by 33% in just 15 years.

France’s Bird Population Collapses As Pesticides Kill Off Insects (AFP)

Bird populations across the French countryside have fallen by a third over the last decade and a half, researchers have said. Dozens of species have seen their numbers decline, in some cases by two-thirds, the scientists said in a pair of studies – one national in scope and the other covering a large agricultural region in central France. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Benoit Fontaine, a conservation biologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of one of the studies. “Our countryside is in the process of becoming a veritable desert,” he said in a communique released by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), which also contributed to the findings.

The common white throat, the ortolan bunting, the Eurasian skylark and other once-ubiquitous species have all fallen off by at least a third, according a detailed, annual census initiated at the start of the century. A migratory song bird, the meadow pipit, has declined by nearly 70%. The museum described the pace and extent of the wipe-out as “a level approaching an ecological catastrophe”. The primary culprit, researchers speculate, is the intensive use of pesticides on vast tracts of monoculture crops, especially wheat and corn. The problem is not that birds are being poisoned, but that the insects on which they depend for food have disappeared.

“There are hardly any insects left, that’s the number one problem,” said Vincent Bretagnolle, a CNRS ecologist at the Centre for Biological Studies in Chize. Recent research, he noted, has uncovered similar trends across Europe, estimating that flying insects have declined by 80%, and bird populations has dropped by more than 400m in 30 years. Despite a government plan to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, sales in France have climbed steadily, reaching more than 75,000 tonnes of active ingredient in 2014, according to EU figures. “What is really alarming, is that all the birds in an agricultural setting are declining at the same speed, even ’generalist’ birds,” which also thrive in other settings such as wooded areas, said Bretagnolle.

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Jul 112017
 
 July 11, 2017  Posted by at 9:39 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Max Ernst Santa Conversazione 1921

 

Trump Bump for President’s Media Archenemies Eludes Local Papers (BBG)
How Economics Became A Religion (Rapley)
The Breaking Point & Death Of Keynes (Roberts)
Central Banks’ Focus on Financial Stability Has Unintended Consequences (BBG)
Janet Yellen’s Complacency Is Criminal (Bill Black)
‘We’re Flowing Toward The Path Of 1928-29’ – Yusko (CNBC)
Fresh Fears Of UK Housing Market Collapse (Sun)
The European Union Has a Currency Problem (NI)
Schaeuble Says Italy Bank-Liquidation Aid Shows Rule Discord (BBG)
Is This the End of China’s Second Housing Bubble? (ET)
The World Is Facing A ‘Biological Annihilation’ Of Species (Ind.)

 

 

The echo chamber is highly profitable. Gossip sells. It’s not personal. It’s only business. And in many boardrooms the question these days is: Why are we not more like the New York TImes?

Trump Bump for President’s Media Archenemies Eludes Local Papers (BBG)

President Donald Trump loves to hurl his Twitter-ready insult at the New York Times: #failingnytimes. But in the stock market, the New York Times Co. has been looking like a roaring success lately, particularly by the standards of the beleaguered newspaper industry. Since Trump won the presidency in November, the publisher’s share price has soared 57%. Online subscriptions are up, bigly – about 19% in the first quarter alone. Scrutinizing the president turns out to be good business, at least for top national papers like the Times and the Washington Post. A different story is playing out for local publications, which are still suffering through the industry’s long decline and need to retain subscribers who are sympathetic to Trump.

Consider McClatchy Co., which owns about 30 papers, including the Miami Herald. Its shares have plummeted 31% since Election Day. Subscriptions have barely budged. The diverging fortunes in the industry have underscored what many in the traditional news business know only too well: Famous titles can lumber on as they grope for a digital future, but most local papers are fighting for survival. “For us in Texas, the bump has definitely been more muted because we’re not the primary source of news out of the White House,” said Mike Wilson, editor of the Dallas Morning News. “We serve a community with many deeply conservative pockets. That may be a different demographic from the New York Times and Washington Post audience.”

[..] The Washington Post, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, has more than 900,000 digital subscribers, including hundreds of thousands who signed up in the first quarter, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified discussing private information. The newspaper declined to comment on its subscriber figures. The Post and the Times have been competing for scoops on the biggest story of the year: the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia. On several occasions, they’ve published blockbuster stories within hours of each other. Trump often attacks their coverage on Twitter, which seems to drive even more readers to subscribe.

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We adhere to the school of economics that suits the powerful best.

How Economics Became A Religion (Rapley)

Although Britain has an established church, few of us today pay it much mind. We follow an even more powerful religion, around which we have oriented our lives: economics. Think about it. Economics offers a comprehensive doctrine with a moral code promising adherents salvation in this world; an ideology so compelling that the faithful remake whole societies to conform to its demands. It has its gnostics, mystics and magicians who conjure money out of thin air, using spells such as “derivative” or “structured investment vehicle”. And, like the old religions it has displaced, it has its prophets, reformists, moralists and above all, its high priests who uphold orthodoxy in the face of heresy. Over time, successive economists slid into the role we had removed from the churchmen: giving us guidance on how to reach a promised land of material abundance and endless contentment.

For a long time, they seemed to deliver on that promise, succeeding in a way few other religions had ever done, our incomes rising thousands of times over and delivering a cornucopia bursting with new inventions, cures and delights. This was our heaven, and richly did we reward the economic priesthood, with status, wealth and power to shape our societies according to their vision. At the end of the 20th century, amid an economic boom that saw the western economies become richer than humanity had ever known, economics seemed to have conquered the globe. With nearly every country on the planet adhering to the same free-market playbook, and with university students flocking to do degrees in the subject, economics seemed to be attaining the goal that had eluded every other religious doctrine in history: converting the entire planet to its creed.

Yet if history teaches anything, it’s that whenever economists feel certain that they have found the holy grail of endless peace and prosperity, the end of the present regime is nigh. On the eve of the 1929 Wall Street crash, the American economist Irving Fisher advised people to go out and buy shares; in the 1960s, Keynesian economists said there would never be another recession because they had perfected the tools of demand management. The 2008 crash was no different. Five years earlier, on 4 January 2003, the Nobel laureate Robert Lucas had delivered a triumphal presidential address to the American Economics Association. Reminding his colleagues that macroeconomics had been born in the depression precisely to try to prevent another such disaster ever recurring, he declared that he and his colleagues had reached their own end of history:

“Macroeconomics in this original sense has succeeded,” he instructed the conclave. “Its central problem of depression prevention has been solved.”

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Will the last days of our economics coincide with the last days of our economic model? Will Keynes die in a collapse?

The Breaking Point & Death Of Keynes (Roberts)

Keynes contended that “a general glut would occur when aggregate demand for goods was insufficient, leading to an economic downturn resulting in losses of potential output due to unnecessarily high unemployment, which results from the defensive (or reactive) decisions of the producers.” In other words, when there is a lack of demand from consumers due to high unemployment then the contraction in demand would, therefore, force producers to take defensive, or react, actions to reduce output. In such a situation, Keynesian economics states that government policies could be used to increase aggregate demand, thus increasing economic activity and reducing unemployment and deflation. Investment by government injects income, which results in more spending in the general economy, which in turn stimulates more production and investment involving still more income and spending and so forth.

The initial stimulation starts a cascade of events, whose total increase in economic activity is a multiple of the original investment. Unfortunately, as shown below, monetary interventions and the Keynesian economic theory of deficit spending has failed to produce a rising trend of economic growth.

Take a look at the chart above. Beginning in the 1950’s, and continuing through the late 1970’s, interest rates were in a generally rising trend along with economic growth. Consequently, despite recessions, budget deficits were non-existent allowing for the productive use of capital. When the economy went through its natural and inevitable slowdowns, or recessions, the Federal Reserve could lower interest rates which in turn would incentivize producers to borrow at cheaper rates, refinance activities, etc. which spurred production and ultimately hiring and consumption.

However, beginning in 1980 the trend changed with what I have called the “Breaking Point.” It’s hard to identify the exact culprit which ranged from the Reagan Administration’s launch into massive deficit spending, deregulation, exportation of manufacturing, a shift to a serviced based economy, or a myriad of other possibilities or even a combination of all of them. Whatever the specific reason; the policies that have been followed since the “breaking point” have continued to work at odds with the “American Dream,” and economic models.

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Central banks focus on their member banks.

Central Banks’ Focus on Financial Stability Has Unintended Consequences (BBG)

Central bankers are spending a lot of time talking about financial stability. So much so that many economists, strategists and investors are saying financial stability has become a de facto third mandate for policy makers along with price stability and full employment. This development, however, has the potential to bring about some unintended consequences such as central banks adopting a much shallower tightening path than they currently envision. It’s important to understand two things. First, in highly levered economies, like those we currently see in developed nations around the world, interest rates and financial stability are closely linked. That was evident in the recent “synchronized” global sell-off in the rates markets triggered by central banks signaling concern about relatively high asset prices brought on by artificially low borrowing costs, and their potential to foster financial instability.

Second, central banks have, perhaps paradoxically, contributed to financial instability by employing so-called forward guidance that provided investors with a sense of how long they would be keeping rates at record-low levels. So, with economies gradually recovering and employment generally robust, it’s understandable that investors would behave in a manner that suggests they expect favorable financial conditions to seemingly last in perpetuity. Consider the dollar. Its weakness against both developed and emerging-market currencies this year occurred even though expectations for stronger economic growth and fiscal stimulus rose. The decline in the value of the dollar value means the cost to borrow in the currency has dropped despite the Federal Reserve’s three interest-rate increases since mid-December.

It also means hedging costs in currencies ranging from the euro to the South Korean won are rising at a less-than-ideal time. That can be seen in cross-currency basis swap rates, which are essentially the cost to exchange a fixed-rate obligation for a floating-rate obligation. In the case of the won, the swap rate has turned more negative, suggesting a possible “shortage” of the currency to borrow in the interbank market as geopolitical tensions in the region reach levels not seen in years. And, the almost 8% appreciation in the euro in both nominal and real effective exchange rate terms has driven the cost to borrow in the shared currency higher as European Central Bank officials surprise markets by starting to talk about pulling back from unprecedented monetary easing measures.

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Looks like the world would have been much better off without central banks.

Janet Yellen’s Complacency Is Criminal (Bill Black)

[..] her inaction as Fed chairman has encouraged criminal behaviour. First, Yellen’s “lifetime” pronouncement in 2017 ignored Yellen’s pronouncements in 1996 – and how disastrously they fared in the most recent financial crisis. In 1996, Yellen gave a talk at a conference at the Levy Institute at Bard College, which Minsky attended. The Minneapolis Fed published her speech as an article entitled “The New Science of Credit Risk Management.” The speech was an ode to financial securitization and credit derivatives. The Minneapolis Fed, particularly in this era, was ultra-right wing in its economic and social views. Yellen’s piece is memorable for several themes. With the exception of two passages, it reads as gushing propaganda for the largest banks. It is relentlessly optimistic. Securitization and credit derivatives will reduce individual and systematic risk.

Yellen assures the reader that finance is highly competitive and that the banks will pass on the savings from reducing risk to even unsophisticated borrowers in the form of lower interest rates. The regulators should reduce capital requirements, particularly for credit instruments with high credit ratings. Banks now have a vastly more sophisticated understanding of their credit risks and manage them prudently. There is no discussion of perverse incentives even though bank CEOs were making them ever more perverse at an increasing rate. There is no discussion of the fate of the first collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Michael Milken, a confessed felon, devised and sold the first CDO – backed by junk bonds. That disaster blew up five years before she gave her speech. At the time Yellen published her article the second generation of CDOs was becoming common.

That generation of CDOs was backed by a hodgepodge of risky loans. They blew up about four years after she gave her speech. The third wave of CDOs was backed by toxic mortgages, particularly endemically fraudulent “liar’s” loans. They blew up in 2008. Securitization contributed to the disaster. The Fed championed vastly lower capital requirements for banks – particularly he largest banks. Fortunately, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) fought a ferocious rearguard opposition that blocked this effort. The Fed succeeded, however, in allowing the largest banks to calculate their own capital requirements through proprietary risk models that (shock) massively understated actual risk. Bank CEOs used the lower capital requirements, the biased risk models, and the opaque CDOs to massively increase risk and predate on black and Latino home borrowers.

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We have a hard time remembering and learning.

‘We’re Flowing Toward The Path Of 1928-29’ – Yusko (CNBC)

Although the economy has been steady this year, at least one analyst has dire predictions, comparing the current period to the buildup to the Great Depression and warning that this fall is when things will come to a head. Mark Yusko, CEO of Morgan Creek Capital, has been predicting bad news for the economy since January and he is sticking by that, saying Monday on CNBC’s “Power Lunch” that he believes too much stimulus and quantitative easing has resulted in a “huge” bubble in U.S. stocks. “I have this belief that we’re flowing toward the path of 1928-29 when Hoover was president,” Yusko said. “Now Trump is president. Both were presidents with no experience who come in with a Congress that is all Republican, lots of big promises, lots of things that don’t happen and the fall is when people realize, ‘Wait, it hasn’t played out the way we thought.'”

He points to evidence of declining growth as well as that fall is a weak time traditionally for the U.S. economy as people return from vacation. “[By the fall], we’ll have a lot more evidence of declining growth. Growth has been slipping,” he said. However, it was not all gloom and doom as Yusko said the emerging markets were still strong places to invest. “Growth is where you want to invest,” he said. “All the growth is in the emerging markets, the developing world. It’s really tough if you look around the developed world.” he said profits in the United States are the same as they were in 2012. Yusko said at the beginning of the year “every single analyst” said emerging markets were going to underperform the U.S. “That hasn’t been the case,” he said. Indeed, in 2017 the iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) has been up more than 18% while the S&P 500 index has risen more than 8%.

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“..the number of homes sold in May for less than the asking price rose to 77%.”

Fresh Fears Of UK Housing Market Collapse (Sun)

New signs of the housing market slipping are expected this week when one of the best lead indicators of house price movement is released. The UK Residential Market Survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is expected to show a decrease in the number of members reporting house price rises. It comes after last weekend, it was reported is on the edge of a property price crash which could be as bad as the collapse in the 1990s according to experts who are also warning property value could plunge by 40%. Ahead of this week’s survey, Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to consultancy EY Item Club, told the Mail on Sunday: ‘It may well be that heightened uncertainty after the General Election weighed down on an already fragile housing market in June.’

The expectation of a crash has raised alarms about whether we could see a return of “negative equity” which is when a house falls so much in value it is worth less than the mortgage. Around one million people were hit with negative equity in the 1990s, the Mail on Sunday has reported. Paul Cheshire, professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics, said: “We are due a significant correction in house prices. “I think we are beginning to see signs that correction may be starting.” Prices plunged by 37% in 1989 when the price boom fell apart. In its most recent figures, The National Association of Estate Agents reported the number of homes sold in May for less than the asking price rose to 77%. Prof Chesire added that falls in real incomes is also likely to spark for a fall in house prices.

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The EU has a power problem. Germany dictates all important decisions, and in its favor.

The European Union Has a Currency Problem (NI)

Donald Trump, for all his rhetorical clumsiness and intellectual limitations, still sometimes makes a valid point. He does when he says that Germany is “very bad on trade.” However much Berlin claims innocence and good intentions, the fact remains that the euro heavily stacks the deck in favor of German exporters and against others, in Europe and further afield. It is surely no coincidence that the country’s trade has gone from about balance when the euro was created to a huge surplus amounting at last measure to over 8% of the economy—while at the same time every other major EU economy has fallen into deficit. Nor could an honest observer deny that the bias distorts economic structures in Europe and beyond, perhaps most especially in Germany, a point Berlin also seems to have missed.

The euro was supposed to help all who joined it. When it was introduced at the very end of the last century, the EU provided the world with white papers and policy briefings itemizing the common currency’s universal benefits. Politically, Europe, as a single entity with a single currency, could, they argued, at last stand as a peer to other powerful economies, such as the United States, Japan and China. The euro would also share the benefits of seigniorage more equally throughout the union. Because business holds currency, issuing nations get the benefit of acquiring real goods and services in return for the paper that the sellers hold. But since business prefers to hold the currencies of larger, stronger economies, it is these countries that tend to get the greatest benefit. The euro, its creators argued, would give seigniorage advantages to the union as a whole and not just its strongest members.

All, the EU argued further, would benefit from the increase in trade that would develop as people worried less over currency fluctuations. With little risk of a currency loss, interest rates would fall, giving especially smaller, weaker members the advantage of cheaper credit and encouraging more investment and economic development than would otherwise occur. Greater trade would also deepen economic integration, allow residents of the union to choose from a greater diversity of goods and services, and offer the more unified European economy greater resilience in the face of economic cycles, whether they had their origins internally or from abroad. It was a pretty picture, but it did not quite work as planned. Instead of giving all greater general advantages, the common currency, it is now clear, locked in distorting and inequitable currency mispricings.

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Those rules only last until they get in the way of some greater good anyway.

Schaeuble Says Italy Bank-Liquidation Aid Shows Rule Discord (BBG)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble joined his counterparts from the Netherlands and Austria in calling for a review of European Union bank-failure rules after Italy won approval to pour as much as €17 billion ($19.4 billion) of taxpayers’ cash into liquidating two regional lenders. Schaeuble said Italy’s disposal of Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca revealed differences between the EU’s bank-resolution rules and national insolvency laws that are “difficult to explain.” That’s why finance ministers convening in Brussels on Monday have to discuss the Italian cases and consider “how this can be changed with a view to the future,” he told reporters in Brussels before the meeting.

Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said the focus should be on EU state-aid rules for banks that date from 2013, before the resolution framework was put in place. Italy relied on these rules for its state-funded liquidation of the two Veneto banks and its plan to inject €5.4 billion into Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SpA. The EU laid down new bank-failure rules in the 2014 Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive after member states provided almost €2 trillion to prop up lenders during the financial crisis. The BRRD foresees small banks going insolvent like non-financial companies. Big ones that could cause mayhem would be restructured and recapitalized under a separate procedure called resolution, in which losses are borne by owners and creditors, including senior bondholders if necessary.

Elke Koenig, head of the euro area’s Single Resolution Board, said last week that the framework for failing lenders needs to be reviewed to “see how to align the rules better.” The EU commissioner in charge of financial-services policy, Valdis Dombrovskis, said that this could only happen once banks have built up sufficient buffers of loss-absorbing debt. The EU’s handling of the Italian banks was held up by U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari as evidence that requiring banks to have “bail-in debt” doesn’t prevent bailouts. The idea that rules on loss-absorbing liabilities that can be converted to equity or written down to cover the costs of a bank collapse “rarely works this way in real life,” he wrote in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

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“..the average Chinese would have had to spend more than 160 times his annual income to purchase an average housing unit at the end of 2016.”

Is This the End of China’s Second Housing Bubble? (ET)

When the economy started to cool in the beginning of 2016, China opened up the debt spigots again to stimulate the economy. After the failed initiative with the stock market in 2015, Chinese central planners chose residential real estate again. And it worked. As mortgages made up 40.5% of new bank loans in 2016, house prices were rising at more than 10% year over year for most of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. Overall, they got so expensive that the average Chinese would have had to spend more than 160 times his annual income to purchase an average housing unit at the end of 2016. Because housing uses a lot of human resources and raw material inputs, the economy also stabilized and has been doing rather well in 2017, according to both the official numbers and unofficial reports from organizations like the China Beige Book (CBB), which collects independent, on-the-ground data about the Chinese economy.

“China Beige Book’s new Q2 results show an economy that improved again, compared to both last quarter and a year ago, with retail and services each bouncing back from underwhelming Q1 performances,” states the most recent CBB report. However, because Beijing’s central planners must walk a tightrope between stimulating the economy and exacerbating a financial bubble, they tightened housing regulations as well as lending in the beginning of 2017. Research by TS Lombard now suggests the housing bubble may have burst for the second time after 2014. “We expect the latest round of policy tightening in the property sector to drive down housing sales significantly over the next six months,” states the research firm, in its latest “China Watch” report. One of the major reasons for the concern is increased regulation. Out of the 55 cities measured in the national property price index, 25 have increased regulation on housing purchases.

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The most tragic species.

“..Earth’s capacity to support life, including human life, has been shaped by life itself..”

The World Is Facing A ‘Biological Annihilation’ Of Species (Ind.)

The world is experiencing a “biological annihilation” of its animal species because of humans’ effect on the Earth, a new study has found. Researchers mapped 27,600 species of birds, amphibians, mammals and reptiles – nearly half of known terrestrial vertebrate species – and concluded the planet’s sixth mass extinction even was much worse than previously thought. They found the number of individual animals that once lived alongside humans had now fallen by as much as 50%, according to a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study’s authors, Rodolfo Dirzo and Paul Ehrlich from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, and Gerardo Ceballos, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said this amounted to “a massive erosion of the greatest biological diversity in the history of the Earth”.

The authors argued that the world cannot wait to address damage to biodiversity and that the window of time for effective action was very short, “probably two or three decades at most”. Mr Dirzo said the study’s results showed “a biological annihilation occurring globally, even if the species these populations belong to are still present somewhere on Earth”. The research also found more that 30% of vertebrate species were declining in size or territorial range. Looking at 177 well-studied mammal species, the authors found that all had lost at least 30% of the geographical area they used to inhabit between 1990 and 2015. And more than 40% of these species had lost more than 80% of their range. The authors concluded that population extinction were more frequent than previously believed and a “prelude” to extinction.

“So Earth’s sixth mass extinction episode has proceeded further than most assume,” the study said. About 41% of all amphibians are threatened with extinction and 26% of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which keeps a list of threatened and extinct species. [..] “When considering the frightening assault on the foundations of human civilisation, one must never forget that Earth’s capacity to support life, including human life, has been shaped by life itself,” the paper stated.

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Jul 022017
 
 July 2, 2017  Posted by at 9:54 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


JMW Turner Lake Llanberis and Snowdon Color Study c.1800

 

Can The Bank of England Get Britain To Kick Its Cheap Credit Habit? (G.)
Britain ‘Is On The Brink Of The Worst House Price Collapse Since 1990s’ (DM)
China Tears Up Promises To UK And Shows The World Who Is In Charge (O.)
Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss (ZH)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Orders Government Shutdown (CBS)
Only 2% of US Politicians Actually Want to Stop Arming Terrorists (Salles)
After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria (CP)
How Do We Know that What Hersh Was Told Was True? (PCR)
‘Clean Coal’ Will Always Be a Fantasy (BBG)
Qatar Rejects Deadline Demands, Saying It Does Not Fear Military Action (G.)
Debt-Stricken Greece Gets Record Number Of Visitors (G.)
ECB To Inspect Greek Banks’ Progress On Cutting Bad Loans (R.)
Schaeuble Says Greek Governments To Blame For Pension Cuts (K.)

 

 

The BoE promoted, incited, cheap credit and the housing bubble by lowering rates. And now it has to kill off what it promoted? Who believes that? The role of central banks is truly poorly understood.

Can The Bank of England Get Britain To Kick Its Cheap Credit Habit? (G.)

One thing sure to upset Bank of England officials is any suggestion that the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street has gone soft on the banking industry and turns a blind eye to reckless lending. It brings back disturbing memories of the 2008 credit crunch, the chaos it brought to the economy and the damage it caused the institution’s reputation. Last week, the Bank of England, which has become the overarching regulator of the banking system, made a point of being tough on the banks following the publication of its latest financial stability report. It slapped a demand for more than £11bn of extra reserves on the major lenders – just in case the current economic slowdown should trigger a rise in defaults.

Governor Mark Carney also warned the lending industry that it should expect tougher rules on how it sells mortgages, car loans and credit cards should the current rise in borrowing rocket any further. But one question remains: can Carney and his troops tame the British consumer’s dependence on debt? The most recent figures would say the answer is no. Last week the Bank’s own figures showed that consumer credit grew by £1.7bn in May, the biggest increase since last November, and higher than the six-month average of £1.5bn. The annual rate at which UK consumers are loading up on their already heaving debt pile remained at 10.3% in the year to May. A look at the total stock of UK consumer credit shows that it reached £198bn in April.

That might seem small compared with the total amount of outstanding mortgage debt, which is around seven times larger, at £1.3trillion, but for banks, consumer credit accounts for a much higher proportion of losses. “Since 2007, UK banks’ total write-offs on UK consumer credit have been 10 times higher than on mortgages,” the BoE says. And all this rising debt comes at a time of extraordinary falls in the savings rate. The most recent GDP figures showed that households were putting aside rainy day money at the lowest rate on record. It is a situation that worries experts of all stripes – from Jane Tully, a senior director at the Money Advice Trust, the charity that runs National Debtline, to former Bank of England official Kate Barker, who was a member of the Bank’s interest rate-setting committee during the last crash.

Tully said: “We have already seen an 8% rise in the number of people helped by National Debtline by telephone this year, and all the signs are that demand for debt advice will continue to increase. The higher borrowing levels rise, the more households will be exposed to the risk of financial difficulty in the event of a downturn.” Barker is concerned that eight years of ultra-low interest rates are fuelling a dependence on cheap borrowing, without any end in sight. She says that the growth of car finance plans appears to be a side-effect of the clampdown in other areas of credit, in particular the tighter regulation of mortgages. “There is obviously an incentive to borrow, so as one area is clamped down on, the problem pops up in another,” she says.

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A 40% fall in prices sounds reasonable.

Britain ‘Is On The Brink Of The Worst House Price Collapse Since 1990s’ (DM)

House prices are teetering on the brink of a crash that could be as bad as the bust of the early 1990s, a leading expert has warned. There are already warning signs that prices are heading towards a near 40% plunge, warns Paul Cheshire, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics. It raises the alarming spectre of the return of ‘negative equity’ – when a house falls so far in value it is worth less than the mortgage – which hit one million people at the worst point in the 1990s. Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Prof Cheshire, a former Government housing adviser, said: ‘We are due a significant correction in house prices. I think we are beginning to see signs that correction may be starting. ‘Historically, trends seem always to start in London and then move out across the rest of the country. In the capital, you are already seeing house prices rising less rapidly than in other parts of Britain.’

Such a shift could push many thousands of recent buyers into trouble. From 1989, the price boom fell apart over the next six years, with prices plunging by 37%. In its most recent figures, The National Association of Estate Agents reported the number of homes sold in May for less than the asking price rose to 77%. According to Prof Cheshire, the fall in real incomes – when wages fail to keep up with inflation – is likely to be the spark for a fall in house prices. Inflation hit 2.9% last month, while incomes only grew by 2.1%. Property experts and estate agents say the housing market in wealthier pockets of the country has been further hit by stamp duty hikes. Prof Christian Hilber of the LSE also warned: ‘If Brexit leads to a recession and/or sluggish growth for extended periods, then an extended and severe downturn is more likely than a short-lived and mild one.’ The Council of Mortgage Lenders said earlier this month that the housing market had ‘stalled’

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From bad to worse. The hubris boomerang.

China Tears Up Promises To UK And Shows The World Who Is In Charge (O.)

Xi Jinping’s tough talk in Hong Kong reflects growing self-confidence in China’s ability to shape world events and browbeat or ignore less powerful countries such as Britain. The Chinese president could have thrown a bone to the pro-democracy movement. He could have offered a sop on civil liberties and political rights to western opinion. Instead, he told Hong Kong who’s boss. Xi the hard man laid down the law according to Beijing. His message: fall into line, or else. His message to Britain was blunt, too, bordering on disdainful. China would not brook outside “interference” in the former colony. Forget about those guarantees of a free, open society painstakingly negotiated before the 1997 handover. “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and challenge the power of the central government is absolutely impermissible,” Xi said.

Under Xi’s bastardised version of the Basic Law, any criticism is henceforth forbidden, on pain of serious consequences. Boris Johnson received a stinging lesson in the new balance of power earlier in the week. “As we look to the future, Britain hopes that Hong Kong will make more progress toward a fully democratic and accountable system of government,” the foreign secretary intoned with uncharacteristic meekness. Johnson’s statement was shamefully deferential. He could, and should, have been more forceful about Beijing’s responsibilities and its own egregious, sometimes illegal meddling. But China took umbrage all the same. Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador in London, set Johnson straight: Hong Kong issues must henceforth be “handled properly” or overall ties would suffer.

Worse was to follow. On Friday, China’s foreign ministry formally renounced the 1984 Sino-British joint declaration, the basis on which Britain agreed to relinquish control of the colony. The two sides had agreed the treaty would remain in force for 50 years. “The Sino-British joint declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government’s management over Hong Kong,” the spokesman Lu Kang declared. The Foreign Office swiftly rejected the demarche. But in his present bullish mood, Xi is not listening.

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Keeping up appearances is getting harder.

Court Ruling Sends Illinois Into Financial Abyss (ZH)

[..] the state remains without a spending plan, its tax receipts and outlays mostly on “autopilot”, leaving it with a record $15 billion of unpaid bills as it spent over $6 billion more than it brought in over the past year, and with $800 million in interest on the unpaid bills alone. The impasse has devastated social-service providers, shuttering services for the homeless, disabled and poor. The lack of state aid has wrecked havoc on universities, putting their accreditation at risk. However, in a “shocking” development, just hours remaining before the midnight deadline to pass the Illinois budget, and Illinois’ imminent loss of its investment grade rating, federal judge Joan Lefkow in Chicago ordered Illinois to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars it owes in Medicaid payments that state officials say the government doesn’t have, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Judge Lefkow ordered the state to make $586 million in monthly payments (from the current $160 million) as well as another $2 billion toward a $3 billion backlog of payments – a $167 million increase in monthly outlays – the state owes to managed care organizations that process payments to providers. While it is no secret that as part of its collapse into the financial abyss, Illinois has accumulated $15 billion in unpaid bills, the state’s Medicaid recipients had had enough, and went to court asking a judge to order the state to speed up its payments. On Friday, the court ruled in their favor. The problem, of course, is that Illinois can no more afford to pay the outstanding Medicaid bills, than it can to pay any of its $14,711,351,943.90 in overdue bills as of June 30. The backlog of unpaid claims the state owes to managed-care companies directly, as well as to the doctors, hospitals, clinics and other organizations “is crippling these providers and thereby dramatically reducing the Medicaid recipients’ access to health care,” Lefkow said in her ruling.

Friday’s court ruling, which meant that the near-insolvent state must pay an additional $593 million per month, may have been the straw that finally broke the Illinois camel’s back. “Friday’s ruling by the U.S. District Court takes the state’s finances from horrific to catastrophic,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat, said in an emailed statement after the ruling. [..] “A comprehensive budget plan must be passed immediately.” Realizing where all this is headed, she said that payments to bond holders won’t be interrupted. [..] As a result of the court decision, “payments to the state’s pension funds; state payroll including legislator pay; General State Aid to schools and payments to local governments – in some combination – will likely have to be cut.”

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ME, CT, IL and NJ. Who’s next, please?

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie Orders Government Shutdown (CBS)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature are returning to work to try to resolve the state’s first government shutdown since 2006 and the first under Christie. The Republican governor and the Democrat-led Legislature failed to reach an agreement on a new budget by the deadline at midnight Friday, CBS New York reports. In a news conference Saturday morning, Christie blamed Democratic State Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto for causing the shutdown. “If there’s not a resolution to this today, everyone will be back tomorrow,” Christie said, calling the shutdown “embarrassing and pointless.” He also repeatedly referred to the government closure as “the speaker’s shutdown.” Christie later announced that he would address the full legislature later at the statehouse on Saturday.

Prieto remained steadfast in his opposition, reiterating that he won’t consider the plan as part of the budget process but would consider it once a budget is signed. Referring to the shutdown as “Gov. Christie’s Hostage Crisis Day One,” Prieto said he has made compromises that led to the budget now before the Legislature. “I am also ready to consider reasonable alternatives that protect ratepayers, but others must come to the table ready to be equally reasonable,” Prieto said. “Gov. Christie and the legislators who won’t vote ‘yes’ on the budget are responsible for this unacceptable shutdown. I compromised. I put up a budget bill for a vote. Others now must now do their part and fulfill their responsibilities.” Christie ordered nonessential services to close beginning Saturday. New Jerseyans were feeling the impact as the shutdown took effect, shuttering state parks and disrupting ferry service to Liberty and Ellis islands.

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Where the real power resides.

Only 2% of US Politicians Actually Want to Stop Arming Terrorists (Salles)

One of the few elected Democratic lawmakers with an extensive anti-war record, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), has combined forces with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) to push legislation through both the House and the Senate that would bar federal agencies from using taxpayer-backed funds to provide weapons, training, intelligence, or any other type of support to terrorist cells such as al-Qaeda, ISIS, or any other group that is associated with them in any way. The Stop Arming Terrorists Act is so unique that it’s also the only bill of its kind that would also bar the government from funneling money and weapons through other countries that support (directly or indirectly) terrorists such as Saudi Arabia. To our surprise – or should we say shame? – only 13 other lawmakers out of hundreds have co-sponsored Gabbard’s House bill. Paul’s Senate version of the bill, on the other hand, has zero co-sponsors.

While both pieces of legislation were introduced in early 2017, no real action has been taken as of yet. This proves that Washington refuses to support bills that would actually provoke positive chain reactions not only abroad but also at home. Why? Well, let’s look at the groups that would lose a great deal in case this bill is signed into law. With trillions of tax dollars flowing to companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and even IBM, among others, companies that invest heavily in weapons, cyber security systems, and other technologies that are widely used in times of war would stand to lose a lot – if not everything – if all of a sudden, the United States chose to become a nation that stands for peace and free market principles. For one, these companies have a heavy lobbying presence, ensuring that lawmakers sympathetic to their plight are elected every two years.

When the possibility of a new conflict appears on the horizon, these companies are the first to lobby heavily for action. But this dynamic isn’t a secret. We all know that the crony capitalist system that thrives in Washington, D.C., is the very bread and butter of politics in America. After all, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned the nation in his farewell address in 1961 that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” were becoming the great powers behind U.S. politics, and that if we weren’t weary of this influence, we would risk living in a perpetual state of war. Still, we allowed it to take over. And there isn’t one industry powerful enough to counter this destructive authority. With the support of an army of well-established and connected millionaire lobbyists, the war machine operating in Washington is so powerful that anything can be turned into an existential threat.

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Obviously, if only 2% of US politicians are willing to stop the machine, it will march on. Ike may as well have said nothing.

After Hersh Investigation, Media Connive in Propaganda War on Syria (CP)

So what did Hersh’s investigation reveal? His sources in the US intelligence establishment – people who have helped him break some of the most important stories of the past few decades, from the Mai Lai massacre by American soldiers during the Vietnam war to US abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2004 – told him the official narrative that Syria’s Bashar Assad had dropped deadly sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 was incorrect. Instead, they said, a Syrian plane dropped a bomb on a meeting of jihadi fighters that triggered secondary explosions in a storage depot, releasing a toxic cloud of chemicals that killed civilians nearby. It is an alternative narrative of these events that one might have assumed would be of intense interest to the media, given that Donald Trump approved a military strike on Syria based on the official narrative.

Hersh’s version suggests that Trump acted against the intelligence advice he received from his own officials, in a highly dangerous move that not only grossly violated international law but might have dragged Assad’s main ally, Russia, into the fray. The Syrian arena has the potential to trigger a serious confrontation between the world’s two major nuclear powers. But, in fact, the western media were supremely uninterested in the story. Hersh, once considered the journalist’s journalist, went hawking his investigation around the US and UK media to no avail. In the end, he could find a home for his revelations only in Germany, in the publication Welt am Sonntag. There are a couple of possible, even if highly improbable, reasons all English-language publications ignored Hersh’s story. Maybe they had evidence that his inside intelligence was wrong.

If so, they have yet to provide it. A rebuttal would require acknowledging Hersh’s story, and none seem willing to do that. Or maybe the media thought it was old news and would no longer interest their readers. It would be difficult to sustain such an interpretation, but at least it has an air of plausibility – except for everything that has happened since Hersh published last Sunday. His story has spawned two clear “spoiler” responses from those desperate to uphold the official narrative. Hersh’s revelations may have been entirely uninteresting to the western media, but strangely they have sent Washington into crisis mode. Of course, no US official has addressed Hersh’s investigation directly, which might have drawn attention to it and forced western media to reference it. Instead Washington has sought to deflect attention from Hersh’s alternative narrative and shore up the official one through misdirection.

That alone should raise the alarm that we are being manipulated, not informed. The first spoiler, made in the immediate wake of Hersh’s story, were statements from the Pentagon and White House warning that the US had evidence Assad was planning yet another chemical attack on his people and that Washington would respond extremely harshly if he did so. Here is how the Guardian reported the US threats: “The US said on Tuesday that it had observed preparations for a possible chemical weapons attack at a Syrian air base allegedly involved in a sarin attack in April following a warning from the White House that the Syrian regime would ‘pay a heavy price’ for further use of the weapons.”

And then on Friday, the second spoiler emerged. Two unnamed diplomats “confirmed” that a report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had found that some of the victims from Khan Sheikhoun showed signs of poisoning by sarin or sarin-like substances.

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“How clear does an orchestration have to be before people are capable of recognizing the orchestration?”

How Do We Know that What Hersh Was Told Was True? (PCR)

If national security advisers gave Trump such excellent information about the alleged sarin gas attack, completely disproving any such attack, why was he given such bad advice about shooting down a Syrian war plane, or was it done outside of channels? The effect of the shootdown is to raise the chance of a confrontation with Russia, because Russia’s response apparently has been to declare a no-fly zone over the area of Russian and Syrian operations. How do we know that what Hersh was told was true? What if Trump was encouraged to order the Tomahawk strike as a way of interjecting the US directly into the conflict? Both the US and Israel have powerful reasons for wanting to overthrow Assad. However, ISIS, sent to do the job, has been defeated by Russia and Syria. Unless Washington can somehow get directly involved, the war is over.

The story Hersh was given also serves to damn Trump while absolving the intelligence services. Trump takes the hit for injecting the US directly into the conflict. Hersh’s story reads well, but it easily could be a false story planted on him. I am not saying that the story is false, but unless we learn more, it could be. What we do know is that the story given to Hersh by national security officials is inconsistent with the June 26 White House announcement that the US has “identified potential preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime.” The White House does not have the capability to conduct its own foreign intelligence gathering. The White House is informed by the national security and intelligence agencies. In the story given to Hersh, these officials are emphatic that not only were chemical weapons removed from Syria, but also that Assad would not use them or be permitted by the Russians to use them even if he had them.

Moreover, Hersh reports that he was told that Russia fully informed the US of the Syrian attack on ISIS in advance. The weapon was a guided bomb that Russia had supplied to Syria. Therefore, it could not have been a chemical weapon. As US national security officials made it clear to Hersh that they do not believe Syria did or would use any chemical weapons, what is the source for the White House’s announcement that preparations for another chemical attack by the Assad regime have been identified? Who lined up UN ambassador Nikki Haley and the UK Defence Minister Michael Fallon to be ready with statements in support of the White House announcement? Haley says: “Any further attacks done to the people of Syria will be blamed on Assad, but also on Russia & Iran who support him killing his own people.” Fallon says: “we will support” future US action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

How clear does an orchestration have to be before people are capable of recognizing the orchestration?

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Yeah, we really need Bloomberg editors’ opinions on matters they know nothing about. Mind you, carbon capture is an empty slogan.

‘Clean Coal’ Will Always Be a Fantasy (BBG)

“Clean coal,” always dubious as a concept and never proved as a reality, has now failed as business proposition. Southern Co. has decided to stop work on a process that would have captured carbon dioxide emissions from a coal plant in Mississippi. Giving up on the project, which was nearly $5 billion over budget and three years behind schedule, makes sense for Southern’s customers and shareholders. And giving up on carbon capture makes sense for the energy industry. The technology is too expensive and complicated to be deployed quickly or widely enough to appreciably protect the climate. The better way to cut back on carbon-dioxide emissions is far simpler: Use less coal. Luckily, that change is already under way. (Michael R. Bloomberg supports the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, an effort to replace coal power with cleaner forms of energy.)

Carbon capture once seemed promising – even as recently as a decade ago, when coal fueled almost half of U.S. electricity generation. Back then, continued dependence on the dirty fuel looked inevitable, and a strategy to deal with its prodigious greenhouse-gas emissions seemed essential. Hence, utilities embarked on model coal plants that would capture the carbon dioxide before it could enter the atmosphere. Only a couple have been built, in addition to Southern’s in Kemper County, Mississippi, and none has established an economic case for carbon capture. The Petra Nova facility, in Texas, was reportedly finished on time and on budget, but its construction required a $190 million federal grant, and the carbon-capture unit requires a separate gas-fired power plant.

Canada’s Boundary Dam carbon-capture unit, meanwhile, has operated much less efficiently than expected, suffering multiple breakdowns and requiring expensive repairs. Unfortunately, such costs and complexities are unlikely to diminish very much, and few such facilities are likely to be built worldwide in the next 20 years. A new report issued by the Global Warming Policy Foundation concludes that carbon capture for coal-fired power has “no plausible economic future.”

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Is it time to cut the House of Saud down to size?

Qatar Rejects Deadline Demands, Saying It Does Not Fear Military Action (G.)

Qatar said on Saturday it does not fear any military retaliation for refusing to meet a Monday deadline to comply with a list of demands from four Arab states that have imposed a de-facto blockade on the Gulf nation. During a visit to Rome, foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani again rejected the demands as an infringement on Qatar’s sovereignty. He said any country is free to raise grievances with Qatar, provided they have proof, but said any such conflicts should be worked out through negotiation, not by imposing ultimatums. “We believe that the world is governed by international laws, that don’t allow big countries to bully small countries,” he told a press conference in Italy. “No one has the right to issue to a sovereign country an ultimatum.” Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic ties with Qatar last month and shut down land, sea and air links.

They issued a 13-point list of demands, including curbing diplomatic ties to Iran, severing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and shuttering the Al-Jazeera news network. They accuse Qatar of supporting regional terror groups, a charge Qatar denies. Al Thani rejected the demands and said they were never meant to be accepted. “There is no fear from whatever action would be taken; Qatar is prepared to face whatever consequences,” he said. “But as I have mentioned … there is an international law that should not be violated and there is a border that should not be crossed.” While in Rome, Al Thani met with Italian foreign minister Angelino Alfano, who backed the Kuwait-led mediation effort and urged the countries involved in the standoff to “abstain from further actions that could aggravate the situation”. He added that he hoped Italian companies could further consolidate their presence in Qatar.

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I read these things and think I must be missing something: “..Greece is braced for a record-breaking 30m holidaymakers this year..” and “For every extra 30 holidaymakers a job is created”.

That sounds like a lot of jobs. But seriously, a country that depends too much on tourism is not a healthy country. Not enough stability or resilience. The longer the US and EU wait, the more unstable Greece will become.

Debt-Stricken Greece Gets Record Number Of Visitors (G.)

Up high, above the hills of Arcadia, historic Dimitsana is on a roll. Its hotels are brimming, its cafes are full, and its footpaths and monasteries lure busloads of tourists decanted daily from other parts of the Peloponnese. Either side of the main road that splits the mountain village – in a world far removed from talk of emergency bailout funds, international stewardship and gruelling austerity – Greeks are hard at work, running boutique guesthouses, eateries and bars in the stone mansions that line Dimitsana’s cobbled streets. “Business is very good,” says Labis Baxevanos, the village’s deputy mayor, who owns a patisserie along the strip. “So good that a lot of younger couples have come to work here since the country’s economic crisis began.”

Debt-stricken Greece is braced for a record-breaking 30m holidaymakers this year, almost three times its population. Addressing the Panhellenic Exporters Association last week, the tourism minister Elena Kountoura said that between January and May there had been a noticeable increase in arrivals, revenues and occupancy rates with summer bookings in some areas rising by as much as 70%. Travel receipts grew by 2.4% or €23m (£20m). After eight years of grinding austerity, the influx is a tangible gift, on a par with the €8.5bn financial lifeline thrown Greece earlier this month to once again avert default. Dimitsana – once famous for the gunpowder mills that produced the firepower in the nation’s 1821 war of independence against Ottoman rule – is emblematic of the entrepreneurial spirit taking root as a result of the boom.

“Tourism is our lifejacket,” says Theonimfi Koraki, who opened a boutique hotel in the village last summer. “The aim now is diversity and drawing out the season all year round. Here in Arcadia the creation of the 75km-long Menalon [walking] trail has been hugely successful for example with foreign tourists. It has greatly helped the development of the region.” With the exception of shipping, tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign earner, the mainstay of an economy that has otherwise contracted by 27% since late 2009 when the country’s debt crisis began. The industry accounted for eight out of 10 new jobs in 2016, vital for a nation hit by crippling levels of unemployment. Bank of Greece figures show around 23.5 million tourists visited in 2015, generating €14.2bn of revenues, or 24% of gross domestic product. Last year, the country’s tourism confederation, SETE, announced arrivals of 27.5 million, an all-time high.

Increasingly, the sector has helped boost much-needed job creation, according to data released by the labour ministry. Recently, the prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said April and May had been record months for tackling the problem with 92,000 and 89,500 jobs created respectively. For every extra 30 holidaymakers a job is created, say officials. They have been at pains to make the point as striking municipal waste workers not only unnerved tour operators this week but highlighted how important tourism is for the economy.

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Translation: the Troika is not done with Greece yet. The bad loans issue will be used to throw more Greeks out of their homes etc.

ECB To Inspect Greek Banks’ Progress On Cutting Bad Loans (R.)

The European Central Bank plans to inspect Greek banks this year to monitor their progress in working off their huge pile of unpaid loans, ECB director Sabine Lautenschlaeger said on Friday. Greek banks have been cutting their share of non-performing loans (NPL) to companies and households, which account for slightly more than half of their books as a result of a severe economic crisis, to meet targets set by the ECB. The ECB supervises Greece’s four largest banks, or significant institutions (SIs), and is one of the three bodies responsible for the country’s bailout, along with the European Commission and the IMF.

“The ECB will perform on-site missions at the Greek SIs during the second half of 2017, a period in which the main operational measures to address NPLs … have to be already implemented,” Lautenschlaeger said in a letter to IMF chief Christine Lagarde. She was responding to an IMF request for information on the ECB’s supervisory work in Greece in the context of a possible IMF program for the country. Greece secured a credit lifeline from euro zone governments earlier this month. The IMF offered Athens a standby arrangement but said it won’t disburse any money until it obtains greater detail on debt relief for the country.

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The best for last today. Schaeuble suggests that Greece could have cut elsewhere and still meet Troika demands. Like kill all health care and education, presumably.

Schaeuble Says Greek Governments To Blame For Pension Cuts (K.)

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has insisted in an interview that successive Greek governments were to blame for the pension cuts that have been enforced in Greece. The German minister stressed in an interview with Ta Nea newspaper on Saturday that the Greek governments are the ones that decided the mix of policies needed to achieve the country’s targets. He also said that the IMF will never be involved again in a program to rescue a European country. Referring to his Greek counterpart Euclid Tsakalotos, he said they communicate frequently, while he dismissed his flamboyant predecessor Yianis Varoufakis as someone he no longer can “take seriously.”

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Apr 192017
 
 April 19, 2017  Posted by at 9:06 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Jan van Eyck Saint Barbara 1437

 

The Great Western Economic Depression (Nielson)
How Western Civilisation Could Collapse (BBC)
Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America (DDMB)
Trump’s New Problem: Americans Aren’t Shopping (CNN)
British PM Wants Election Now, Before Cost of Brexit Becomes Clear (ICept)
UK Tory MPs Still Under Investigation For Election Fraud (Can.)
China’s $8.5 Trillion Shadow Bank Industry Is Back in Full Swing (BBG)
So China’s Authorities Crack Down on Housing Speculation? (WS)
Subsidiarity – A European Union Smokescreen To Justify Failure (Bilbo)
Greece’s Migration Policy Ministry to Spread Migrants in Small Towns (GR)
How the Greek Crisis is Profitable for the International Monetary Fund (GR)
Key South Africa Leopard Population Crashing (AFP)

 

 

“Consider 0% and near-zero interest rates to be the economic equivalent of a defibrillator: the most-extreme, last-resort attempt to “stimulate” the human body when it is near death. Our economies have had this economic defibrillator attached to them for more than eight years – without the slightest glimmer of life.”

The Great Western Economic Depression (Nielson)

Western economies are “recovering”. How do we know this? We are told this, over and over and over again by our governments. Then this assertion is repeated thousands of times more by the dutiful parrots of the Corporate media. The problem is that in the real world there is not a shred of evidence to support this assertion. In the U.S.; ridiculous official lies were created claiming the creation of 15 million new jobs. In reality, there are three millionless Americans with jobs today than at the official end of the “recession”. These imaginary jobs are invented by assorted statistical frauds, with the primary deceit being so-called “seasonal adjustments”. To be legitimate, all seasonal adjustments must to net to zero at the end of each year. Instead, in the U.S.A., the biggest job creator in the nation every year is the calendar.

Beyond the grandiose but absurd claims of new jobs in the U.S., there have been few signs of economic health across the Corrupt West. Despite this, these traitorous regimes continue the pretense that their horrific mismanagement of our economies is making things better rather than worse. There are numerous subtle means of demonstrating that Western economies have never been in more calamitous ill health than they are today. Fortunately, there are also two very large and important indicators which provide absolute proof that all of the economies of the Corrupt West are in a Greater Depression: interest rates and energy demand. Regular readers have often seen the observation in these commentaries that interest rates across the West have never been this low for this long in the entire history of these nations – not even close. Why not? Two reasons:

1) Interest rates this low have always been perceived (by our governments and all legitimate economic commentators) as being so reckless that any short-term benefit from such rates would have been more than offset by long-term harm.

2) The reason why our governments have always deemed interest rates this low to be reckless is that in remotely healthy economies such rates would cause these economies to “over-heat” so rapidly and extremely that they would reach unsustainable levels of production and demand.

Are our economies over-heating? No. Nothing could be further from the truth. We see nothing but over-capacity all around us: one hundred million permanently unemployed people across the West, relentless business closures, declining real wages, and near-empty shopping malls (in “consumer economies”). Interest rates this low are supposed to cause such rapid business expansion that the economy suffers from a labour shortage. Why are there a hundred million people unemployed across the West instead of labour shortages? Regular readers have seen this question answered in the past in the form of a metaphor.

Consider 0% and near-zero interest rates to be the economic equivalent of a defibrillator: the most-extreme, last-resort attempt to “stimulate” the human body when it is near death. Our economies have had this economic defibrillator attached to them for more than eight years – without the slightest glimmer of life. What would happen to a human body if it was defibrillated continuously for more than eight years? Charred meat. This is what Western economies have become: charred meat.

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Bit bland, because BBC. But useful to note that inequality collapses civilizations.

How Western Civilisation Could Collapse (BBC)

While it’s impossible to predict the future with certainty, mathematics, science and history can provide hints about the prospects of Western societies for long-term continuation. Safa Motesharrei, a systems scientist at the University of Maryland, uses computer models to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that can lead to local or global sustainability or collapse. According to findings that Motesharrei and his colleagues published in 2014, there are two factors that matter: ecological strain and economic stratification. The ecological category is the more widely understood and recognised path to potential doom, especially in terms of depletion of natural resources such as groundwater, soil, fisheries and forests – all of which could be worsened by climate change.

That economic stratification may lead to collapse on its own, on the other hand, came as more of a surprise to Motesharrei and his colleagues. Under this scenario, elites push society toward instability and eventual collapse by hoarding huge quantities of wealth and resources, and leaving little or none for commoners who vastly outnumber them yet support them with labour. Eventually, the working population crashes because the portion of wealth allocated to them is not enough, followed by collapse of the elites due to the absence of labour. The inequalities we see today both within and between countries already point to such disparities.

For example, the top 10% of global income earners are responsible for almost as much total greenhouse gas emissions as the bottom 90% combined. Similarly, about half the world’s population lives on less than $3 per day. For both scenarios, the models define a carrying capacity – a total population level that a given environment’s resources can sustain over the long term. If the carrying capacity is overshot by too much, collapse becomes inevitable. That fate is avoidable, however. “If we make rational choices to reduce factors such as inequality, explosive population growth, the rate at which we deplete natural resources and the rate of pollution – all perfectly doable things – then we can avoid collapse and stabilise onto a sustainable trajectory,” Motesharrei said. “But we cannot wait forever to make those decisions.”

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Seeing the world through beer goggles.

Why the Federal Reserve Is Bad for America (DDMB)

Commercial real estate and bonds are more overvalued than at any time in history and stocks are trading at their priciest level save one period, the late 1990s before the dotcom implosion. The beer goggles, it would seem, have blinded investors to the bubble wrap that’s enveloped their portfolios. There are a few brave souls at the Fed who have raised a red flag. On March 22nd, Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren warned, “…we must acknowledge that the commercial real estate sector has the potential to amplify whatever problems may emerge when we at some point face an economic downturn.”

Wiser words, especially given so few who recall that it was not the decline in oil prices that made the late 1980s such a painful period for the economy, but rather the crash in commercial real estate the energy crunch catalyzed. Underlying the multiple overheating markets is a persistent underappreciation of financial instability among Fed policymakers. The institution, overladen as it is with PhD economists, has yet to revisit the models that drive its setting of interest rate policy. Had the Fed’s inflation metrics taken into account runaway stock prices in the late 1990s and skyrocketing home prices in the early 2000s, it’s likely they would have intervened to tighten financial conditions much sooner than they did. Revisiting the wisdom of former Fed chair McChesney Martin is useful:

The danger with these econometricians is they don’t know their own limitations, and they have a far greater sense of confidence in their analyses than I have found to be warranted. Such people are not dangerous to me because I understand their limitations.

They are, however, dangerous to people like you and the politicians because you don’t know their limitations, and you are impressed and confused by the elaborate models and mathematics. The flaws in these analyses are almost always embedded in the assumptions on which they are based. And that is where broader wisdom is required, a wisdom that these mathematicians generally do not have.

You always want these technical experts on tap in positions like this, but never on top. The hope is that President Donald Trump heeds McChesney Martin’s 1970s-era wisdom, that he respects the wishes of those who originally envisioned the Fed as an appreciably more intellectually diverse entity. After all, the original 1913 Federal Reserve Act requires the president to appoint leaders across a diversity of industries.

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How is it possible that these people completely miss out on the reason why? Which is: they have no money to spend. They’re not stingy, or skeptical, they’re simply poor.

Trump’s New Problem: Americans Aren’t Shopping (CNN)

President Trump keeps pushing “Buy American.” He’s planning to tout it again at a stop in Wisconsin on Tuesday. But the alarming reality is Americans aren’t spending much money on anything right now, regardless of where it’s made. Retail sales declined in February and March from the prior month, according the Commerce Department. Shoppers haven’t been this stingy since early 2015, and it’s likely to hurt the economy. The U.S. is on track for very sluggish 0.5% growth in the first three months this year, according to the latest estimates from Macroeconomic Advisers and the Atlanta Federal Reserve. That falls massively short of the 4% growth that Trump has promised. Trump loves to plug how Americans’ confidence in the economy has skyrocketed since he won the election. He’s right.

Consumers, businesses (big and small) and investors are all feeling a lot more optimistic, according to various surveys. But all that enthusiasm isn’t translating into more shopping, which drives the U.S. economy. About 70% of the American economy comes from people buying stuff. Kate Warne, a long-time investment strategist at Edward Jones, calls this the era of “skeptical optimism.” “People are more optimistic, but they’re skeptically optimistic,” Warne told CNNMoney. “I don’t think they are confident yet that things will change as much as they would like them too.” [..] Another twist is that Republicans are a lot more optimistic than Democrats. [..] Overall, the University of Michigan index of consumer confidence has jumped from 87 in October to 98 today. But that headline figure masks a wild division.

Democrats believe “a deep recession” is coming under Trump (their confidence index is a mere 55), while Republicans expected a “new era of robust economic growth” (their index level is a sky-high 122). Independents are in between, as you might expect. If half the country thinks recession is near, that might explain why retail sales are slowing, or even showing some signs of decline.

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Good observation. But a good chance for May’s opponents.

British PM Wants Election Now, Before Cost of Brexit Becomes Clear (ICept)

Prime Minister Theresa May, who was actually against Brexit before she was for it, made another dramatic U-turn on Tuesday, declaring that Britain needs to elect a new Parliament in June, three years ahead of schedule, despite her clear promise not to call an election when she campaigned to succeed David Cameron last year. Her decision to subject Britons to a third national election campaign in just over two years — after the 2015 general election and the referendum on exiting the European Union ten months ago — was met with something less than enthusiasm by many voters. In her address to the nation, May claimed that a fresh election was necessary to keep opposition parties from obstructing her Conservative government during negotiations over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

That argument rang hollow, however, given that the opposition Labour Party had just voted for the government’s bill to begin the process of leaving the E.U. and is not campaigning to overturn the results of last year’s referendum. To most political observers, it was clear that May’s decision was driven by something else: a desire to capitalize on the unprecedented weakness of the Labour Party, which is divided over Brexit, and its own leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and has trailed the Conservatives by up to 21 points in recent polls. As the writer Robert Harris and the broadcaster James O’Brien suggested, it might also be in May’s own self-interest, and that of her party, to ask the nation for a five-year term now, before the costs of Brexit become apparent. Although even many die-hard Labour supporters seemed resigned to defeat, some on the left welcomed the chance to vote against what they see as the potentially disastrous policy of a complete break with Europe.

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What is this, Brazil?

20 UK Tory MPs Still Under Investigation For Election Fraud (Can.)

Theresa May has announced a snap election on 8 June 2017. But as the country prepares for another election campaign, it’s important to remember that MPs in her party are being investigated for election fraud for the 2015 general election. And given the mainstream media’s reluctance to report the issue, we need to ensure it is kept firmly on the agenda. 12 police forces have submitted files to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over allegations that up to 20 MPs and/or their agents broke election spending limits in the 2015 election. The CPS is deciding whether charges should be brought. And a decision is expected soon – and is likely to come during the election campaign. The allegations centre around the ‘battle bus’ campaign, and associated expenses such as hotel rooms.

Many argue that the campaign promoted prospective local MPs in key seats. Under election law, any expenditure which promotes a local candidate should be covered locally. But the ‘battle bus’ and associated costs were declared nationally. Each constituency has a fixed amount of money it can spend locally. And including the ‘battle bus’ expenditure would have meant many candidates overspent. Additionally, the Election Commission has fined the Conservatives £70,000 for multiple breaches in connection to election spending during the 2015 campaign. But it isn’t just the ‘battle bus’ campaigns where the Conservatives have been accused of fraud. As The Canary previously reported, there are questions over how the party used social media and, particularly, Facebook, to target voters.

A report by the London School of Economics has also warned [pdf] that Facebook targeting opens the door to electoral fraud: “The ability to target specific people within a particular geographic area gives parties the opportunity to focus their attention on marginal voters within marginal constituencies. This means, in practice, that parties can direct significant effort – and therefore spending – at a small number of crucial seats. Yet, though the social media spending may be targeted directly at those constituencies, and at particular voters within those constituencies, the spending can currently be defined as national, for which limits are set far higher than for constituency spending.”

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“..the property and construction industries, which contribute about 25 to 30% of China’s economic output..”

China’s $8.5 Trillion Shadow Bank Industry Is Back in Full Swing (BBG)

China’s shadow banking is back in full swing, an unintended side effect of the government’s campaign against financial leverage, which has curbed traditional lending and squeezed bond financing. Data from the central bank Friday showed that off-balance sheet lending surged 754 billion yuan ($109 billion) in March, taking the first quarter’s total increase to a record 2.05 trillion yuan. Efforts by the People’s Bank of China to curb fresh lending may have prompted borrowers, especially real estate developers, to resort to alternative forms of financing, said Xu Gao at Everbright Securities. Since late last year, the PBOC and regulators have taken steps to rein in risks to China’s financial system, including raising short-term interest rates, clamping down on leverage in the bond market, and curbing funding for property speculation.

The measures have sent debt-reliant borrowers scurrying to shadow financing, an industry Moody’s Investors Service estimates is worth about $8.5 trillion, and another area where regulators are trying to reduce risk. “You must tread a fine line,” said Everbright’s Xu. “Choking the bond market to death doesn’t mean the financing needs will be curbed as well. Instead, it will drive funding to areas that are more unreachable for the regulators. At the end of the day, risks may be declining in the bond market, but in the overall financial system, they would be rising.” The PBOC in January ordered the nation’s lenders to strictly control new loans in the first quarter of the year, putting a particular emphasis on mortgage lending to contain runaway home prices.

The move saw banks extending 4.22 trillion yuan of new loans in the first quarter, 8.5% less than the same period in 2016. It was the first year-on-year decline since 2011. The government is trying to contain the possibility of a shock emanating from the property and construction industries, which contribute about 25 to 30% of China’s economic output, Moody’s estimates. The increasing role of shadow banks as providers of finance is among characteristics that have raised the financial system’s vulnerability to a property-related shock, Moody’s said in a March report. In a move to curb shadow banking, financial regulators are working together to draft sweeping new rules for asset-management products, people familiar with the matter said in February.

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Cracking down on what is 25-30% of your economy?!

So China’s Authorities Crack Down on Housing Speculation? (WS)

Dozens of cities have imposed ever tougher buying restrictions, more stringent down-payment requirements especially for second homes, stricter resale limits, etc. etc., and they’ve redoubled their efforts since mid-March when it became apparent that the prior redoubled efforts had not produced results, as people figured out how to get around them. But China depends heavily on property development and property speculation for its economic growth, and no one really wants to bring it down: The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reported on Monday that first-quarter growth in property investment – residential, commercial, and office spaces combined – soared 9.1%. This red-hot property sector, and the 40 other sectors that are directly affected by it, drove China’s official GDP growth in Q1 to 6.9%.

As always, analysts keep saying that it would take a few more months for the restrictions to take effect and start cooling the market. That line was once again repeated on Monday, officially: “Because the latest round of cooling measures came out after March 17, their impact on the entire economy including home prices may show in April or later,” Mao Shengyong, a spokesman for the NBS said at a briefing, according to Reuters. Houses are for habitation, not for speculative investment, he said. That would be a novel concept in these crazy times. But who really wants to cool the market, when state-owned developers and state-owned banks are firing it up? Yet, everyone sees the risks. Reuters: “Most analysts agree an overheating property market poses the single biggest risk to China’s economic growth, with increasingly tough government measures to cool soaring prices raising the risk of a nasty crash.”

But the cooling off is not happening yet. New construction measured in floor space soared 11.6% in the first quarter, year-over-year, the NBS reported, and sales jumped 19.5%, though that growth rate was down a notch from the year 2016, when sales at soared 22.5%, the highest in seven years, as the boom in first-tier cities was spilling into second- and third-tier cities. With state-owned developers, funded by state-owned banks, firing up much of the show, and with speculators, who assume the government has their back, running wild in a gushing celebration of ever-soaring prices and huge automatic profits, there’s little chance that this scheme that has already transcended irrational exuberance will simply “cool” to a level of “stability,” and plateau somewhere soon, as it is hoped. Phenomenal bubbles like this don’t go quietly.

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“The Oxford Dictionary defines subsidiarity as “(in politics) the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level”

Subsidiarity – A European Union Smokescreen To Justify Failure (Bilbo)

One of the various smokescreens that were erected by the European Commission and the bevy of economists that it either paid or were ideologically aligned to justify the design of the monetary union around the time of the Maastricht process was the concept of subsidiarity. In 1993, the Centre for Economic Policy Research (a European-based research confederation) published its Annual Report – Making Sense of Subsidiarity: How Much Centralization for Europe? – which attempted to justify (ex post) the decisions imported from the 1989 Delors Report into the Maastricht Treaty that eschewed the creation of a federal fiscal capacity.

It was one of many reports at the time by pro-Maastricht economists that influenced the political process and pushed the European nations on their inevitable journey to the edge of the ‘plank’ – teetering on the edge of destruction and being saved only because the European Central Bank has violated the spirit of the restrictions that a misapplication of the subsidiarity principle had created. It is interesting to reflect on these earlier reports. We find that the important issues they ignored remain the central issues today and predicate against the monetary union ever being a success. One of the authors of the 1993 Report, Jean-Pierre Danthine has recently reflected on the work some 25 years after its publication.

In his Op Ed (April 12, 2017) – Subsidiarity: The forgotten concept at the core of Europe’s existential crisis – he argues that “the disenchantment with Europe can arguably be traced to the failed application of the subsidiarity principle that was enshrined in the Maastricht Treaty.” He recognises that: “Europe’s deep-seated institutional design problem is tied to the inevitable trade-off between efficiency-enhancing centralisation and democracy-enhancing sovereignty.” Let’s go back to the Delors Report 1989, which I argue in my book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – misapplied the concept of subsidiarity. It is clear from the historical record that the Delors Committee mainly relied on the concept of subsidiarity to justify the absence of a European-level fiscal function in the plan it outlined for monetary union.

The term, subsidiarity, a long-standing concept in political theory (as far back to Aristotle), entered the European dialogue in 1989 as part of a new ‘Eurolanguage’ as the political leaders were intent on pushing through the economic and monetary union. The Oxford Dictionary defines subsidiarity as “(in politics) the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level”. The concept was popularised by the Roman Catholic Church in the 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno, which pronounced that: “It is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, fixed and unchangeable, that one should not withdraw from individuals and commit to the community what they can accomplish by their own enterprise and/or industry.”

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An ‘everybody gets rich’ scheme.

Greece’s Migration Policy Ministry to Spread Migrants in Small Towns (GR)

The Migration Policy Ministry is developing a plan to spread about 20,000 migrants in small towns and rural communities across Greece, offering economic incentives to locals. According to a Proto Thema report, the project has been implemented in the town of Livadia with relative success. Now the ministry is looking for similar communities (with populations of 10,000-15,000) that have economic problems. According to the plan, such communities can accommodate 500-1,500 migrants in rented homes, while migrants can buy food and services using coupons provided by the State and the UNHCR. As authorities expect that some communities will be hostile to Muslim migrants, the ministry aims at counter-balancing religious differences and possible frictions by offering strong financial incentives to boost the ailing local economies.

The project will be extended in towns of Epirus, Western Macedonia and North-Western Greece that have high unemployment rates, provided that they are not located close to international borders. The Migration Policy Ministry also plans to offer high wages to people who wish to work in the migrant hospitality infrastructure. According to the Proto Thema report, a project coordinator working in Livadia right now earns an annual salary of 24,933 euros and a housing program director earns 22,666, wages that are double of that of an average public sector employee. Similar wages are offered to people who wish to work with migrants. The report says that such wages and overall economic incentives aim at mitigating any reactions by locals. Characteristically, the report says, apartments of 60-90 square meters in Livadia are rented for around 400 euros, again, a price above an average rental.

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“Interest rates of 3.6% for a super senior risk free lender were almost three times as high as the more junior ESM loans..”

How the Greek Crisis is Profitable for the International Monetary Fund (GR)

The relationship between Greece and the International Monetary Fund has been, from the start, very contentious to say the least. There is no question that Greece needs to build the trust and confidence of taxpayers and the global capital markets. But, the IMF advice more often than not seems to be more political or ideological than practical. However, the IMF should not be used as a scapegoat for successive Greek governments disappointing performance in building trust and confidence. The EC, especially Germany, enlisted the IMF to act as a foil for any failed policies, arguably smart political insurance. As the political foil, the IMF was provided with a cash cow to milk: Greece. And, milk Greece it has.

Greece has paid almost €4 billion in fees and interest to the IMF since the start of the programme. Interest rates of 3.6% for a super senior risk free lender were almost three times as high as the more junior ESM loans. Greece payments are so important to the IMF that they were 118% of IMF’s operating profit. Since 2010, IMF personnel expense have increased 48% compared to a decline of 8% in the prior seven years. And, not to go unnoticed, the IMF newly refurbished headquarters is 31% over budget at $562 million. With 97% of IMF’s cost now essentially fixed, losing Greece, Portugal, and Ireland, would cause massive financial trauma at the IMF and may well render it insolvent. So, the obvious question is: does the IMF have an incentive to keep Greece in crisis to protect its own financial survival and continue to milk the Greek cow?

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How many will just glance over a story like this? In only a few years, species are pushed over a cliff.

Key South Africa Leopard Population Crashing (AFP)

The leopard population in a region of South Africa once thick with the big cats is crashing, and could be wiped out within a few years, scientists warned on Wednesday. Illegal killing of leopards in the Soutpansberg Mountains has reduced their numbers by two-thirds in the last decade, the researchers reported in the Royal Society Open Science journal. “If things don’t change, we predict leopards will essentially disappear from the area by about 2020,” lead author Samual Williams, a conservation biologist at Durham University in England, told AFP. “This is especially alarming given that, in 2008, this area had one of the highest leopard densities in Africa.” The number of leopards in the wild worldwide is not known, but is diminishing elsewhere as well. The “best estimate” for all of South Africa, said Williams, is about 4,500.

What is certain, however, is that the regions these predators roam has shrunk drastically over the last two centuries. The historic range of Panthera pardus, which includes more than half-a-dozen sub-species, covered large swathes of Africa and Asia, and extended well into the Arabian Peninsula. Leopards once roamed the forests of Sri Lanka and Java unchallenged. Today, they occupy barely a quarter of this territory, with some sub-species teetering on the brink of extinction, trapped in 1 or 2% of their original habitat. Leopards were classified last year as “vulnerable” to extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List of endangered species, which tracks the survival status of animals and plants.

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Feb 212017
 
 February 21, 2017  Posted by at 9:53 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle February 21 2017


DPC Masonic Temple, New Orleans 1910

 

Greece: The Economic Consequences of Depression Economics (Prime)
After Seven Years Of Bailouts, Greeks Sink Yet Deeper In Poverty (R.)
Greece’s Creditors Dash Hopes For Quick Deal (Tel.)
Greek Government In Damage Control Mode After Giving In To Troika, Again (K.)
Mr Draghi, What Are You Afraid Of? Release #TheGreekFiles! (DiEM25)
Fumbling Towards Collapse (Jim Kunstler)
Why Trumponomics Will Fail Spectacularly (Robert Reich)
Saudi Arabia Breaks Records on Oil Exports and Output for (BBG)
Chinese Banks’ Off-Book Wealth Products Exceed $3.8 Trillion (BBG)
Why Toronto (and Other Cities) Inflate Housing Bubbles to the Bitter End (WS)
Refugee Claimants From US Strain Canada’s Border Resources (R.)
‘Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra’ (K.)

 

 

A theoretical approach to austerity as a creator of poverty.

Greece: The Economic Consequences of Depression Economics (Prime)

The policy debate in Greece and the EU is burdened with hysteria over the issue of budget deficit and public debt. The proposition is that the less the governments borrow the better and, therefore, the main policy has been to put pressure on the State to curtail as far as possible all capital expenditure, without concern on how productive and desirable that is in itself. The idea is that cuts in government expenditures are not to be used by the government to tax the general population less but to borrow less on the assumption that if the government borrows less the private sector necessarily borrows more, though taxing less the highest rungs of the income distribution might be desirable as it is considered as an incentive to investment.

Second, led by the belief that the main thrust of policy should be internal devaluation, a program of cutbacks in expenditures, decrease in deficits and debts and wage and income restraint is pursued even in a time of recession. The idea is that if producers have reduced costs of production they will produce more and the prices of the produced goods will fall as much as wages. However, as Keynes pointed out that there is no reason to expect that any reduction of purchasing power will be offset by increases in other directions. Certainly, this reduction of purchasing power may cause a reduction of domestic expenditures on imports, which may improve the trade balance. It may also reduce savings, as public employees and others whose salaries are cut and those who lost their jobs may save less or draw on their passed savings to maintain their habitual standard of life.

However, producers will find that the expenditures of consumers (public employees, pensioners, unemployed) are reduced. Consequently, they can only match this reduction of revenue by either cutting down their own expenditure or making redundant some of their employees or both. As a necessary consequence of reduced incomes and profits there should be an increase in unemployment and a decrease in government tax revenues. Importantly, as Keynes noticed, deflation of wages, incomes and prices transfers wealth from the rest of the public to the rentiers and to those who hold titles to money. In effect, internal devaluation redistributes wealth as it transfers money from borrowers to lenders. The real assets in the country constitute the wealth of its citizens. Such real assets are buildings, stocks of commodities, goods in the process of production and the like. As is the usual practice, owners of these assets frequently purchase them by borrowing money.

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Don’t forget, it’s not Greece that’s being bailed out.

After Seven Years Of Bailouts, Greeks Sink Yet Deeper In Poverty (R.)

Greek pensioner Dimitra says she never imagined a life reduced to food handouts: some rice, two bags of pasta, a packet of chickpeas, some dates and a tin of milk for the month. At 73, Dimitra – who herself once helped the hard-up as a Red Cross food server – is among a growing number of Greeks barely getting by. After seven years of bailouts that poured billions of euros into their country, poverty isn’t getting any better; it’s getting worse like nowhere else in the EU. “It had never even crossed my mind,” she said, declining to give her last name because of the stigma still attached to accepting handouts in Greece. “I lived frugally. I’ve never even been on holiday. Nothing, nothing, nothing.” Now more than half of her €332 ($350) monthly income goes to renting a tiny Athens apartment. The rest: bills.

The global financial crisis and its fallout forced four euro zone countries to turn to international lenders. Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus all went through rescues and are back out, their economies growing again. But Greece, the first into a bailout in 2010, has needed three. Rescue funds from the EU and IMF saved Greece from bankruptcy, but the austerity and reform policies the lenders attached as conditions have helped to turn recession into a depression. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, whose leftist-led government is lagging in opinion polls, has tried to make the plight of Greeks a rallying cry in the latest round of drawn-out negotiations with the lenders blocking the release of more aid. “We must all be careful towards a country that has been pillaged and people who have made, and are continuing to make, so many sacrifices in the name of Europe,” he said this month.

Much of the vast sums in aid money has simply been in the form of new debt used to repay old borrowings. But regardless of who is to blame for the collapse in living standards, poverty figures from the EU statistics agency are startling. Greece isn’t the poorest member of the EU; poverty rates are higher in Bulgaria and Romania. But Greece isn’t far behind in third place, with Eurostat data showing 22.2% of the population were “severely materially deprived” in 2015. And whereas the figures have dropped sharply in the post-communist Balkan states – by almost a third in Romania’s case – the Greek rate has almost doubled since 2008, the year the global crisis erupted. Overall, the EU level fell from 8.5% to 8.1% over the period. The reality of such statistics becomes clear at places like the food bank run by the Athens municipality where Dimitra collects her monthly handouts.

Here, dozens more Greeks waited solemnly with a ticket in hand to get their share. All are registered as living below the poverty line of about €370 a month. “The needs are huge,” said Eleni Katsouli, a municipal official in charge of the center. Figures for the food bank, which serves central Athens, show a similar trend on a local scale to the wider Eurostat data. About 11,000 families – or 26,000 people – are registered there, up from just 2,500 in 2012 and 6,000 in 2014, Katsouli said. About 5,000 are children.

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Delusional theoretics: “..a greater emphasis on growth..”

Greece’s Creditors Dash Hopes For Quick Deal (Tel.)

Greece’s creditors have dashed hopes of a quick resolution to the country’s looming cash crunch, even as talks paved the way for debt inspectors to return to Athens. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the head of the Eurogroup, told reporters that there had been a “clear shift” in creditor demands following a meeting of finance ministers in Brussels on Monday. Yields on Greek government bonds fell sharply after he announced that representatives from the European Commission and IMF would return to Athens to thrash out an “additional package of structural reforms” to support long term growth and debt sustainability. Greece needs around €7bn in fresh rescue funds before July in order to cover substantial debt repayments to the ECB and private creditors. The Dutch finance minister said new measures would be “designed and agreed on the ground” in Athens, with a greater emphasis on growth.

“At face value, that means less tax rises and spending cuts and deep reforms to the country’s tax system, pensions and labour laws,” Mr Dijsselbloem told reporters. However, he played down reaching a solution before Dutch elections next month or even the French presidential election in May and said creditors were “looking towards the summer” for an agreement. “There is still a lot of work to do, a lot of issues to discuss and calibrate so I want to temper expectations,” he said. “There is no need for a disbursement in March, April or May.” Mr Dijsselbloem also signalled that differences remained between Greece, Brussels and the IMF over the reforms needed to unlock the next loan tranche and secure the institution’s participation in Greece’s third, €86bn rescue package.

Speaking after the meeting, a Greek government official said Athens was prepared to implement reforms beyond 2019. The official added: “The agreement includes the inviolable condition that was set by the Greek side for not even one euro more of austerity.” However, Pierre Moscovici, European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs, signalled that structural reforms, including pension cuts as well as tax and labour reforms would be required before pro-growth measures could be sanctioned. “I think that one word was forgotten [in the Greek official’s statement]. That was ‘net’,” he said.

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This one may be hard for Tsipras to explain. What’s the use of red lines if they mean nothing?

Greek Government In Damage Control Mode After Giving In To Troika, Again (K.)

After the government backed down on its vow not to take new measures at Monday’s Eurogroup, its number one priority now is damage control. In the runup to Monday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers, Athens had insisted it had drawn its “red lines,” but it left Brussels having promised its EU partners that it will legislate measures after the current bailout program expires in 2018, in exchange for the return of technical experts to Athens in the bid to conclude the second review of the country’s third bailout. Faced with the challenge of explaining its turnaround and agreement to take new measures to an increasingly disillusioned electorate and lawmakers of ruling SYRIZA and Independent Greeks (ANEL), the government is using the term “neutral fiscal balance” in an attempt to sweeten the pill.

According to government sources, the term essentially means that for every euro saved from the new measures, there will be equivalent reductions in value-added, corporate or property taxes. In other words, the government’s narrative is that even though new measures will be implemented, these will be neutral as their burden will be canceled out by tax relief. Senior government officials were also busy laying the groundwork last week, saying that the government may have to accept new measures “for the good of the country” as the protracted negotiations to conclude the review were having a negative impact on the prospects of the country’s economic recovery.

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Nice legal twist.

Mr Draghi, What Are You Afraid Of? Release #TheGreekFiles! (DiEM25)

Deep in a vault in the headquarters of the European Central Bank (ECB) lie #TheGreekFiles, a legal opinion about the ECB’s actions towards Greece in 2015 that could send shockwaves across Europe. As a European taxpayer, you paid for these documents. But the ECB’s boss, ex-Goldman Sachs head Mario Draghi, says you can’t see them. So former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and MEP Fabio de Masi, together with a broad alliance of politicians and academics (below), have announced they will file a mass freedom of information request to the ECB to uncover #TheGreekFiles once and for all. If Mario says no, they’ll take the campaign to the next level, and consider all options – including legal action – to make this vital information public. Support their request to release critical documents you paid for by signing this petition now!

What are #TheGreekFiles? In June 2015, the newly-elected Greek government was locked in tense negotiations with its creditors (the ‘Troika’ – the ECB, EC and IMF), doing what it had been voted in to do: renegotiate the country’s public debt, fiscal policy and reform agenda, and save its people from the hardship of the most crushing austerity programme in modern history. The Troika knew they needed to make a drastic move to force the Greek government to capitulate. And that’s just what they did: through the ECB, they took action to force Greece’s banks to close, ultimately driving the Greek government – against its democratic mandate – to accept the country’s third ‘bailout’, together with new austerity measures and new reductions in national sovereignty.

But in their haste, their zeal to crush the Greek government’s resistance, the ECB feared their actions might be legally dubious. So they commissioned a private law firm to examine whether those decisions were legal. The legal opinion of this law firm is contained in #TheGreekFiles. In July 2015, the German MEP Fabio De Masi asked Mario Draghi to release the legal opinion. Mario refused, hiding behind ‘attorney-client privilege’. Clearly #TheGreekFiles contain something he doesn’t want you to see. One of the foremost experts on European Law, Professor Andreas Fischer-Lescano, examined whether the ECB was right to refuse to release #TheGreekFiles. His detailed conclusion leaves no room for doubt: the ECB has no case for withholding from MEPs and the citizens of Europe the legal opinion the ECB secured (and paid for using your money) regarding its own conduct.

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“..lost in a hall of mirrors with the lights off..” Building infrastructure for a world that’s gone, strip malls etc.

Fumbling Towards Collapse (Jim Kunstler)

[..] the real issue hidden in plain sight is how America — indeed all the so-called “developed” nations — are going to navigate to a stepped-down mode of living, without slip-sliding all the way into a dark age, or something worse. By the way, the Ole Maestro, Alan Greenspan, also chimed in on the “productivity” question last week to equally specious effect in this Business Insider article. None of these celebrated Grand Viziers knows what the fuck he’s talking about, and a nation depending on their guidance will find itself lost in a hall of mirrors with the lights off. So, on one side you have Trump and his trumpets and trumpistas heralding the return of “greatness” (i.e. a booming industrial economy of happy men with lunchboxes) which is not going to happen; and on the other side you have a claque of clueless technocrats who actually believe they can “solve” the productivity problem with measures that really only boil down to different kinds of accounting fraud.

You also have an American public, and a mass media, who do not question the premise of a massive “infrastructure” spending project to re-boot the foundering economy. If you ask what they mean by that, you will learn that they uniformly see rebuilding our highways, bridges, tunnels, and airports. Some rightly suspect that the money for that is not there – or can only be summoned with more accounting fraud (borrowing from our future). But on the whole, most adults of all political stripes in this country think we can and should do this, that it would be a good thing. And what is this infrastructure re-boot in the service of? A living arrangement with no future. A matrix of extreme car dependency that has zero chance of continuing another decade. More WalMarts, Target stores, Taco Bells, muffler shops, McHousing subdivisions, and other accoutrement of our fast-zombifying mode of existence? Isn’t it obvious, even if you never heard of, or don’t understand, the oil quandary, that we have shot our wad with all this? That we have to start down a different path if we intend to remain human?

It’s not hard to describe that waiting world, which I’ve done in a bunch of recent books. We’re going there whether we like it or not. But we can make the journey to it easier or harsher depending on how much we drag our heels getting on with the job. History is pretty unforgiving. Right now, the dynamic I describe is propelling us toward a difficult reckoning, which is very likely to manifest this spring as the political ineptitude of Trump, and the antipathy of his enemies, leaves us in a constitutional maelstrom at the very moment when the financial system comes unglued. Look for the debt ceiling debate and another Federal Reserve interest rate hike to set off the latter. There may be yet another converging layer of tribulation when we start blaming all our problems on Russia, China, Mexico, or some other patsy nation. It’s already obvious that we can depend on the Deep State to rev that up.

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US manufacturing is inferior.

Why Trumponomics Will Fail Spectacularly (Robert Reich)

When Donald Trump gave a speech last Friday at Boeing’s factory in North Charleston, South Carolina – unveiling Boeing’s new 787 “Dreamliner” – he congratulated Boeing for building the plane “right here” in South Carolina. It’s pure fantasy. I’ll let you know why in a moment. Trump also used the occasion to tout his “America First” economics, stating “our goal as a nation must be to rely less on imports and more on products made here in the U.S.A.” and “we want products made by our workers in our factories stamped by those four magnificent words, ‘Made in the U.S.A.’” To achieve this goal Trump would impose “a very substantial penalty” on companies that fired their workers and moved to another country to make a product, and then tried to sell it back to America. The carrot would be lower taxes and fewer regulations “that send our jobs to those other countries.” Trump seems utterly ignorant about global competition – and about what’s really holding back American workers.

Start with Boeing’s Dreamliner itself. It’s not “made in the U.S.A..” It’s assembled in the United States. But most of it parts come from overseas. Those foreign parts total almost a third of the cost of the entire plane. For example: The Italian firm Alenia Aeronautica makes the center fuselage and horizontal stabilizers. The French firm Messier-Dowty makes the aircraft’s landing gears and doors. The German firm Diehl Luftfahrt Elektronik supplies the main cabin lighting. The Swedish firm Saab Aerostructures makes the cargo access doors. The Japanese company Jamco makes parts for the lavatories, flight deck interiors and galleys. The French firm Thales makes its electrical power conversion system. Thales selected GS Yuasa, a Japanese firm, in 2005 to supply it with the system’s lithium-ion batteries. The British company Rolls Royce makes many of the engines. A Canadian firm makes the moveable trailing edge of the wings.

Notably, these companies don’t pay their workers low wages. In fact, when you add in the value of health and pension benefits – either directly from these companies to their workers, or in the form of public benefits to which the companies contribute – most of these foreign workers get a better deal than do Boeing’s workers. (The average wage for Boeing production and maintenance workers in South Carolina is $20.59 per hour, or $42,827 a year.) They also get more paid vacation days. These nations also provide most young people with excellent educations and technical training. They continuously upgrade the skills of their workers. And they offer universally-available health care. To pay for all this, these countries also impose higher tax rates on their corporations and wealthy individuals than does the United States. And their health, safety, environmental, and labor regulations are stricter.

Not incidentally, they have stronger unions. So why is so much of Boeing’s Dreamliner coming from these high-wage, high-tax, high-cost places?

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Yeah, big cuts, remember?

Saudi Arabia Breaks Records on Oil Exports and Output for (BBG)

Saudi Arabia boosted oil exports and production last year to the highest monthly averages on record as the global crude market endured oversupply. Exports climbed to 7.65 million barrels a day on average last year, from 7.39 million barrels a day a year earlier, according to Joint Organisations Data Initiative monthly data compiled by Bloomberg. Production rose to 10.46 million barrels a day from 10.19 million, on average, over the same period. Saudi Arabia led the push by global producers to end a crude glut by cutting output as of Jan. 1. JODI data indicate that the kingdom’s exports surged to more than 8 million barrels a day in November and December right before the cuts were due to start. Shipments in November were the highest since May 2003, JODI data show.

“Whenever there was no agreement with others, Saudi Arabia was running after expanding its market share,” said Mohamed Ramady, an independent analyst in London. Saudi Arabia pumped 10.2 million barrels to 10.67 million barrels a day in the first 10 months as producers discussed output cuts without making an agreement. It reined in production in January following the deal between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC nations to reduce output by 1.8 million barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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This is just a part of the shadow banking sector, the part that’s held by official banks.

Chinese Banks’ Off-Book Wealth Products Exceed $3.8 Trillion (BBG)

Chinese banks had more than 26 trillion yuan ($3.8 trillion) of wealth-management products held off their balance sheets at the end of December, a 30% increase from a year earlier, according to the central bank. The expansion of this form of shadow banking, with money eventually being diverted to quasi-loans and bonds, outpaced the 10% growth for normal lending during the same period, raising risks for the broader economy and undermining the country’s “deleveraging” efforts, the People’s Bank of China said Friday in its quarterly monetary policy report. The central bank is including off-balance sheet WMPs in its so-called macro prudential assessment framework starting this quarter to better gauge the expansion of credit and potential risks in the financial system.

The move will probably lead to banks reporting higher credit growth and may require them to take steps to maintain sufficient capital reserves to limit risks posed by the investment products. Since late 2014, the China Banking Regulatory Commission has been tightening rules on WMPs, most of which are non-principal guaranteed, meaning they can reside off banks’ balance sheets. The products are a key reason behind the growth of shadow banking in China, and have been used by some financial institutions as a way to extend funds to risky borrowers and evade capital requirements. The investment vehicles are asset-management products by nature and therefore investors should shoulder any risks by themselves, the central bank said in its report. More work is needed to solve problems such as the real amount of capital banks should hold to cover WMPs, risk segmentation, regulatory arbitrage, and the perception of an implicit guarantee of repayment, the PBOC said.

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Tax addiction.

Why Toronto (and Other Cities) Inflate Housing Bubbles to the Bitter End (WS)

“Let’s drop the pretense. The Toronto housing market and the many cities surrounding it are in a housing bubble,” Bank of Montreal (BMO) Chief Economist Doug Porter told clients in a note last week. Many have called it “housing bubble” for a while, but now it’s official, according to BMO. In January, the benchmark price and the average price were both up 22% year-over-year, with the average price of detached homes up 26%, of semi-detached homes 28%, of townhouses 27%, and of condos 15%. Double-digit price increases have become the rule in recent years. But this jump was “the fastest increase since the late 1980s – a period pretty much everyone can agree was a true bubble – and a cool 21 percentage points faster than inflation and/or wage growth,” Porter explained in his note, cited by BNN.

Home prices in Greater Toronto have become “dangerously detached” from economic fundamentals and are soaring simply on the belief that they will continue to soar, he wrote. “The market is far too hot for comfort.” BNN: “The often-cited mantra that Toronto’s real estate market is being driven largely by a lack of supply is wearing thin, he argues. Housing starts in Toronto and Vancouver recently hit an all-time high of 70,000 units per year and overall Canadian starts are above demographic demand at 200,000 units in the past year, according to BMO.” The “massive price gains” are not driven by lack of supply, but “first and foremost by sizzling hot demand, whether from ultra-low interest rates (negative in real terms), robust population growth, or non-resident investor demand.”

“Toronto and any city that is remotely within commuting distance are overheating, and perhaps dangerously so,” he said. But don’t expect the city of Toronto to do anything other than inflate the bubble further. It has to – unless it wants to fall into a fiscal and financial sinkhole. This became apparent last week, when the city councilors approved Toronto’s operating and capital budgets. What a mess!

The tax-supported operating budget is now expected to grow by 4.4% in 2017, to C$10.5 billion. So more taxes must be extracted from the hapless folks in Toronto. Among sundry fees, taxes, and levies, the councilors approved a 3.29% increase in the residential property tax and raised the municipal land transfer tax. Under the new budget, property taxes would provide 38% of the revenues, and the land transfer tax 7%, for a total of 45% of the C$10.5 billion in taxes, or C$4.7 billion. Just how dependent the funding for Toronto’s ballooning operating budget has become on the house price bubble – and the property-related taxes it generates – is made clear in this chart by Warren Lovely, Head of Public Sector Research & Strategy at National Bank Financial, Toronto:

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A most curious difference.

Refugee Claimants From US Strain Canada’s Border Resources (R.)

Canadian police said on Monday they had bolstered their presence at the Quebec border and that border authorities had created a temporary refugee center to process a growing number of asylum seekers crossing from the United States. The Canada Border Services Agency, or CBSA, said at a news conference that it had converted an unused basement into a refugee claimant processing center. Both the border agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are reassigning staff from other locations in the province, as needed, to accommodate rising demand. The CBSA said the number of people making refugee claims at Quebec-U.S. border crossings more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last month, 452 people made claims in Quebec compared with 137 in January 2016, the agency said.

The influx is straining police, federal government and community resources from the western prairie province of Manitoba, where people arrive frostbitten from hours walking in freezing conditions, to Quebec, where cabs drop asylum seekers off meters away from the Quebec-U.S.border, the border agency said. A Reuters reporter on Monday saw RCMP officers take in for questioning a family of four – two men, a woman and a baby in a car seat – who had walked across the snowy gully dividing Roxham Road in Champlain, New York, from Chemin Roxham in Hemmingford, Quebec. “Please explain to her that she’s in Canada,” one Canadian officer told another officer.

Police take people crossing the border in for questioning at the border agency’s office in Lacolle, Quebec, which is the province’s biggest and busiest border crossing. Police identify them and ensure they are not a threat or carrying contraband. They are then transferred to the CBSA for fingerprinting and further questions. If people are deemed a threat or flight risk, they are detained. If not, they can file refugee claims and live in Canada while they wait for a decision “It’s touching, and we are not insensitive to that,” Bryan Byrne, the RCMP’s Champlain Detachment commander, told reporters near the border. “Some of these people had a long journey. Some are not dressed for the climate here.”

Asylum seekers cross illegally because Canada’s policy under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement is to turn back refugees if they make claims at border crossings. But as U.S. President Donald Trump cracks down on illegal immigrants, Amnesty International and refugee advocacy groups are pressuring the Canadian government to abandon the agreement, arguing the United States is no safe haven. On Monday, Montreal, Canada’s second most populous city, voted to declare itself a “sanctuary city,” making it the fourth Canadian city to protect illegal immigrants and to provide services to them.

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European governments criticizing Trump’s refugee policies have no credibility. But the people still can.

‘Casa Nostra, Casa Vostra’ (K.)

Thousands of people marched through the streets of downtown Barcelona on Saturday shouting the slogan “Casa nostra, casa vostra” (Our home, your home). Barcelona had prepared its plan for welcoming Syrian and Iraqi refugees back in September 2015. It put its municipal services on standby and organized an army of volunteers, whose generosity inspired residents in Madrid and Valencia to open their own cities to refugees. In the meantime, much of the rest of Europe was busy building walls, fencing itself in, warding inflows off, hardening its laws and ignoring not just the plight of the refugees themselves, but also the difficulties faced by Greece and Italy, Lesvos and Lampedusa. This amazing show of solidarity – not rhetorical but actual and tangible – from the Catalans convinced the Spanish government to raise its commitment for taking in refugees trapped in Greece and Italy from the 2,749 it had initially agreed to up to 17,680.

But numbers often suffer the same fate as words, dying out without leaving a single political or moral trace. Up until February 2016, just 18 refugees had been relocated to Spain, a number that makes sense when you consider that of the 160,000 relocations agreed on by the countries of the European Union, just 600 had actually taken place by that time. This failure to live up to commitments prompted Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau at this precise time last year to lash out against the Spanish government and the strategy centers in Brussels, which seem happy to confine their action to the deal made between the European Union and Turkey, even though this has been condemned by every respected humanitarian organization.

Colau’s protests fell on deaf ears, so on August 1, 2016, authorities in Barcelona placed a “counter of shame” on the city’s most popular beach, recording daily how many people are lost at sea in their effort to escape war or extreme poverty. We don’t know whether the counter triggered any feelings of guilt, but it certainly failed to awaken any sense of responsibility. When it was inaugurated, the number of victims stood at 3,034. By the end of the year, and according to official data from Europe, ever the passive observer, this surpassed 5,000. And as far as relocations to Spain go, these barely came to more than 1,000 last year. This, in general terms, is the background of that very encouraging rally we saw in Barcelona on Saturday. Whether the people who took to the streets were motived by their feelings or by their ideological beliefs is a question that only means something to those who think ideology is a fixation and feelings a sign of immaturity.

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