Jul 302017
 
 July 30, 2017  Posted by at 8:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 30 2017
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Gertrude Käsebier Young negro woman, Newport, Rhode Island 1902

 

Wall Street Isn’t Ready For A 1,100-Point Tumble In The Dow Industrials (MW)
Dangerous Game: Shorting the VIX (Barron’s)
Zombie Companies Littering Europe May Tie the ECB’s Hands for Years (BBG)
Markets Relax Merrily on a Powerful Time Bomb (WS)
US Economic Resilience Is An Exaggeration (DDMB)
The Quest To Prove Collusion Is Crumbling (WaPo)
What’s The Matter With Democrats – Thomas Frank (IBT)
Decades From Now, They’ll Say He Had “The Tweets” (Jim Kunstler)
Leasehold Tycoon Whose Firms Control 40,000 UK Homes (G.)
Companies Abandon Nearly One Million Hectares of Alberta Oilsands (CP)
EU Accused Of ‘Wilfully Letting Refugees Drown’ In The Mediterranean (Ind.)

 

 

And it never will be.

Wall Street Isn’t Ready For A 1,100-Point Tumble In The Dow Industrials (MW)

The U.S. stock market has been on such a parabolic march higher that Wall Street investors may have forgotten what a typical, sharp downturn feels like. Indeed, much has been made about the lack of volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index otherwise known as the “fear gauge,” had been flirting with its lowest close on record, implying that market expectations for a sharp, sudden fall are near rock bottom, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite Index scale new heights. (The Dow notched a fresh record on Friday to end the week 1.2% higher.) The recent level of complacency permeating the market has pundits talking about the lack of 5% falls in the market—an occurrence that isn’t unusual in a normal market environment. However, a 5% tumble, while normal, isn’t that common either. It has occurred at least 75 times over the course of the blue-chip index’s, according to WSJ Market Data Group, using data going back to 1901.

The Dow, however, hasn’t experienced a 5% decline since 2011, and before that a 5% drop hadn’t happened since 2008, when there were 9 such drops: At this point, with the Dow just 200 points shy of 22,000, a 5% selloff would equate to a 1,100-point, one-day slide in the gauge. Is the market ready for that sort of sudden jolt lower, given the optics of a quadruple-digit downturn and how it might rattle investment psyche? Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, doesn’t think so. “I would say no because we’re out of practice. Your usual standard garden-variety volatility just hasn’t been around, and we haven’t seen it for 12 months,” Hogan told MarketWatch. “Quiet markets have been the norm and not the exception and I think a major pullback is going to feel a whole lot larger for lack of experience and the numbers are larger,” he said.

Even a 2.5% drop in the Dow, adding up a 550-point decline, could be unsettling, market participants said. Those sorts of tumbles are far more frequent, with 564 such moves of that magnitude occurring in the Dow since 1901. The most recent slump of at least 2.5% was on June 24, 2016, when the Dow tumbled about 610 points, or 3.4%, a day after U.K. citizens voted to end the country’s membership in the EU. There were 3 falls for the Dow of at least 2.5% in 2015. Hogan said it is even hard to imagine what the landscape of the market would like in the face of a plunge of the same magnitude of the 1987 crash, when the Dow lost 22.6% of its value, or 508 points, in a single session. “That’s why it is hard for investors to think about it intuitively. We have no muscle memory for it. It’s hard to harken back to 30 years ago. We have been lulled to sleep,” he said.

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What always happpens when everyone is on the same side of the boat.

Dangerous Game: Shorting the VIX (Barron’s)

As stocks keep dancing around record highs, and the CBOE Volatility Index remains historically low, some investors are preparing for a violent end to one of the world’s most popular trades: shorting volatility. A one-day Standard & Poor’s 500 correction of 3% to 4% could force some funds that short futures on the index, such as the ProShares Short VIX Short-term Future s exchange-traded fund (ticker: SVXY) and the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX ST ETN (XIV), to cover their positions. That could make the VIX skyrocket. If the weighted-average of 30-day VIX futures sharply jumped—say by 80% in one day—it would, in turn, trigger an “acceleration event” that would force more funds to buy back short VIX futures contracts. Some VIX funds could face margin calls.

And a chain reaction would likely explode across the volatility spectrum and ultimately the stock market, pushing down share prices and boosting volatility further. So many institutional investors use strategies that increase portfolio leverage as equity volatility declines that Marko Kolanovic, JPMorgan’s top quantitative strategist, fears the markets are nearing a turning point. “While these strategies include concepts like ‘risk control’, ‘crisis alpha’, etc. in various degrees they rely on selling into market weakness to cut losses. This creates a ‘stop-loss order’ that gets larger in size and closer to the current market price as volatility gets lower,” Kolanovic wrote last week. The S&P 500’s realized volatility–the level that’s materialized already—is the lowest since 1966. That influences expectations for future, or implied, volatility.

In fact, CBOE Volatility Index levels are so meager that relatively small point moves can create big percentage changes, creating a major problem for VIX funds. “The one-day percentage change is a big deal in the VIX complex because the levered and inverse VIX ETFs and ETNs rebalance daily, based on the percentage change, and some of the thresholds for forced [unwinding of positions] are based on the percentage change. This is why lower volatility creates higher risk,” Christopher Metli, a Morgan Stanley quantitative derivatives strategist, recently warned clients.

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But Draghi gets praised for saving the EU economy. Well, you can’t have it both ways. Decide.

Zombie Companies Littering Europe May Tie the ECB’s Hands for Years (BBG)

Watch out for the zombies. The plethora of companies propped up by the ECB will limit policy makers’ ability to withdraw monetary stimulus that’s been supporting the continent’s bond market since the financial crisis, according to strategists at Bank of America. About 9% of Europe’s biggest companies could be classified as the walking dead, companies that risk collapse if the support dries up, according to the analysts. After the crash of Lehman Brothers sent global markets into a tailspin, a decade of easy-money policies gave breathing room for nations to get their balance sheets in check and allowed for a spirited revival in corporate profits. But as central bankers look to pull back stimulus for fear of overheating, the potentially grim outlook for vulnerable companies may give them pause, according to Bank of America.

“Monetary support in Europe over the last five years has allowed companies with weak profitability to continue to refinance their debt and stave off defaults,” analysts led by Barnaby Martin wrote in a note Monday. “This supports the point that our economists have been making: that the ECB will likely be very slow and patient in removing their extraordinary stimulus over the next year and a half.” The strategists classify zombies as non-financial companies in the Euro Stoxx 600 with interest-coverage ratios – earnings relative to interest expenses – at 1 or less. The thinking goes that companies in this category are particularly vulnerable to rising interest rates. About 6% of European companies had a coverage ratio of less than 1 on the eve of Lehman’s downfall, a %age that fell to as low as 5% in 2013 when the euro-area sovereign debt crisis cooled.

Zombies shot up to as high as 11% in June 2016 before easing in recent months. Energy companies, thanks to weak oil prices, and those based in southern Europe –particularly smaller firms faced with weak profit generation amid feeble growth – make up a disproportionate share of the zombie world, according to Bank of America. To be sure, different metrics tell different stories about the health of corporate leverage, with some investors citing growth projections and yardsticks like net debt to earnings as reasons bond buyers can be more sanguine. But the coverage ratio is particularly useful in projecting how companies can cover debt costs from their earnings as interest costs rise.

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Leverage kills.

Markets Relax Merrily on a Powerful Time Bomb (WS)

Stock and bond market leverage is everywhere. Some of it is transparent, such as NYSE margin debt which was $539 billion as of the June report. But the hottest form of stock and bond market leverage is opaque, offered by financial firms that usually don’t disclose the totals: securities-based loans (SBLs) — or “shadow margin” because no one knows how much of it there is. But it’s a lot. And it’s booming. These loans can be used for anything – pay for tuition, fix up that kitchen, or fund a vacation. The money is spent, the loan remains. When security prices fall, the problems begin. Finra, the regulator for brokerages, doesn’t track this shadow margin, nor does the SEC. Both, however, have been warning about the risks. No one knows the overall amount of this shadow margin, but some details have been reported:

Morgan Stanley had $36 billion of these loans on its balance sheet as of the end of 2016, up 26% from 2016, and more than twice the amount in 2013. • Bank of America Merrill Lynch had $40 billion in SBLs on the balance sheet at the end of 2016, up 140% from 2010; • UBS and Wells Fargo “also have made billions in such loans, people familiar with those banks” told the Wall Street Journal. Raymond James, Stifel Nicolaus… they’re all doing it. • Fidelity used to fund its own SBLs for its clients, but three years ago partnered with US Bancorp. • Even the little ones are trying to get their slice of the pie: In April, robo-advisory startup Wealthfront, with less than $6 billion, announced that it would offer SBLs to its clients.

And now Goldman Sachs, which has been offering SBLs to its 12,000 super-wealthy clients through its Private Banking unit — accounting “for more than half of the unit’s $29 billion in loans outstanding,” according to the Wall Street Journal — announced on Thursday that this wasn’t enough and that it is partnering with Fidelity Investments to spread these loans far and wide.

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No. It’s an outright lie. Pure make believe.

US Economic Resilience Is An Exaggeration (DDMB)

Are US Federal Reserve stress tests leading economic indicators? That certainly seems to be the case. Just ask Capital One. As of the first quarter, credit card loss provisions at Capital One were above 5%, a six-year high. The company recorded some improvement for the second quarter, yet Fed stress tests of the bank’s overall loan portfolio in a deep downturn show losses topping 12%. That explains Capital One’s “conditional” passing score, a black eye that prompted a reduced share buy-back plan and no increase in its dividend. Most economists today applaud the resilience of the current recovery, which has stretched into its eighth year, the third-longest in postwar history. Resilience and rising household defaults, though, don’t tend to go hand in hand.

Pressures have been building in the background for some time. When adjusted for inflation, credit card usage has grown faster than incomes for 18 months. According to Fed data, that time frame coincides with the upturn in revolving credit, a proxy for credit card debt. In November 2015, outstanding revolving credit crossed above the $900-billion threshold for the first time since December 2009. By May of this year, annual growth was clocking 8.7%. Meanwhile, credit card balances hit $1.02 trillion, the highest level in almost eight years. Whether by choice or force, the aftermath of the financial crisis prompted households to ratchet back their usage of credit cards. As the recovery got underway, frugality prevailed, punctuated by an increase in debit card purchases.

It is thus notable that Bank of America data find debit card usage has weakened in recent years as households grew more comfortable rebuilding their credit card balances. “Confidence” is the term most associated with the rising credit card debt. But it’s fair to ask why confident households would choose to pay so dearly for the privilege. At 15.83%, the average rate on credit card balances is at a record high. It is more likely that households are increasingly tapping their credit cards to cover the cost of necessities, that they are less confident and more anxious about their future finances.

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This should be presented as a major mea culpa by WaPo, but no, it’s not them, it’s “the media” who screwed up. NYT runs similar piece. WIll they all fit through the exit door at the same time?

The Quest To Prove Collusion Is Crumbling (WaPo)

While everyone is fixated on President Trump’s unbecoming and inexplicable assault on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the media has been trying to sneak away from the “Russian collusion” story. That’s right. For all the breathless hype, the on-air furrowed brows and the not-so-veiled hopes that this could be Watergate, Jared Kushner’s statement and testimony before Congress have made Democrats and many in the media come to the realization that the collusion they were counting on just isn’t there. As the date of the Kushner testimony approached, the media thought it was going to advance and refresh the story. But Kushner’s clear, precise and convincing account of what really occurred during the campaign and after the election has left many of President Trump’s loudest enemies trying to quietly back out of the room unnoticed.

Cable news airtime and in-print word count dedicated to the nonexistent collusion story appear to be dwindling. Democrats and their allies in the media seem less eager to talk about it, and when they do, they say something to the effect of “but, but, but … Kushner didn’t answer every question … He wasn’t under oath … There are still more witnesses … What about this or that new gadfly?” They are stammering. And it hasn’t taken long for news producers and editors to realize that the story is fading. At last, the story that never was is not happening. There are a few showstoppers from Kushner’s testimony that make it obvious to any fair-minded, thinking person that there was no collusion with Russia. In his own words, Kushner makes it clear that his actions were innocent but, at times, misguided and ill-conceived.

He plainly states he had “hardly any” contacts with Russians during the campaign and found his June 2016 meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the infamous Russian lawyer to be an absolute “waste of time.” Democrats and their allies in the media have exhausted themselves building a scandalous narrative surrounding the Russian lawyer meeting, but according to Kushner, the meeting was so useless that he “actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after [he] had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote ‘Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting.”’ Maybe the collusion didn’t take very long, or maybe he realized what the lawyer had to say was a useless farce and he wanted to get on with his day.

Much to the dismay of Trump’s haters, Kushner’s account of events even further proves just how far the media has stretched the collusion story. When the campaign received an official note of congratulations from Russian President Vladimir Putin the day after the election, Kushner had to send Dimitri Simes of the Center for the National Interest an email asking for the name of the Russian ambassador so that he could reach out and confirm the message’s authenticity. So, that’s that. If you can’t remember your handler’s name, you can’t be guilty of nefariously colluding with that person. How much collusion could Kushner have possibly done with someone whom he had so little communication with that he could not remember his name and did not know how to contact him?

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From interview with David Sirota. Party has no future. Get out or go down with it.

What’s The Matter With Democrats – Thomas Frank (IBT)

Basically, I think the Democratic party is in deep trouble. The evidence of that is now plain, I think, to everyone — that they’re in a state of historic wipe-out across the country and in both of Houses of Congress, and of course, they lost the presidency, too… The leadership of the party have persuaded themselves that they don’t really have a problem, that all they have to do is wait for [Donald] Trump to screw up and they’ll waltz right back in, and so they don’t have to do anything different. I think Trump represents the culmination of a long-term shift of working people, working-class people away from the Democratic Party.

[..] The way I look at it is that this is a long-term problem. This is a culmination of a very long-term problem with the Democrats very gradually, but definitely, abandoning the interests of working-class voters, identifying themselves instead with a more affluent group, with the affluent white-collar professionals. It starts in the 1970s with the Democrats removing organized labor from its structural position in the Democratic party, and then it goes up through Bill Clinton getting NAFTA done, the free trade deals that the Democrats have … By the way, in my opinion, free trade or the trade agreements, I should say, was probably the issue that if there was one issue that really did Hillary in, I think that’s what it was: the trade deals under the Clinton administration, Obama sort of dropping the ball on labor’s various issues, doing these incredible favors for Wall Street while he blew off the concerns of union.

[..] Bailouts. The Wall Street bailout was the worst. This was, of course, George W. Bush … No, take a step back further. The deregulation under Clinton. Do you remember, bank deregulation was something that we now think of it as one of the central elements of neoliberalism, but Reagan couldn’t get it done. Reagan tried. They put some dents in Glass Steagall when Reagan was president, but it took a Democrat to really get it done, Bill Clinton, and it wasn’t just blowing up Glass-Steagall. There was this whole series of bank deregulatory measures when he was president. By the end of his term in office, basically, Wall Street was more or less openly identified with the Democratic Party. This is an enormous historical shift…

The Democratic party [used to be] this sworn enemy of Wall Street. Franklin Roosevelt broke up all of these banks, the Glass Steagall Act, put all these banks out of business, and set up the Securities and Exchange Commission to regulate these guys, all of these regulatory measures. That’s the Democratic heritage. That’s the legacy of the New Deal. Up until the days of Clinton, that’s really who the Democratic Party was. They had a very populist tone, and they would never identify themselves with Wall Street. Barack Obama comes in, and I was one of these people who thought that he represented a turn back in the other direction and that he would be, very shortly would be, getting tough with Wall Street. He had all the bailouts were underway. He had total authority over these guys, and he didn’t do it. Instead, he appointed all these various Clinton people to come in and manage the bailout situation.

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Like that line.

Decades From Now, They’ll Say He Had “The Tweets” (Jim Kunstler)

I know I’m not the first to point out how Anthony Scaramucci, President Trump’s brand new Communications Director, is suddenly and eerily carrying on like his namesake, the arch-rascal / buffoon of the Old World Commedia dell’Arte in lashing out at his fellow scamps and bozos in the clown school that the White House has become. Of course, these antics only reflect the astounding violent vulgarity of current US culture in general, especially as it recursively re-amplifies itself in the distorting echo chamber of TV. It’s how we roll nowadays – right up the collective butt-hole of history until some fateful event provokes a last frightful purging of our own bullshit. Still, it was rather shocking to hear Scaramucci refer to White House Chief of Staff Rance Priebus as “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic” and Trump ultra-insider Steve Bannon as someone who “enjoys sucking his own cock.”

It’s kind of like Paulie Walnuts of “The Sopranos” wandered into the West Wing of “Veep.” Somebody’s gonna get whacked, and it’ll be a laugh-riot when it happens. We need a little comic relief in these midsummer horse latitudes of the mind as the ill-starred Trump Show appears to enter its ceremonial death dance. There’s also something satisfyingly Napoleonesque about Scaramucci. Here’s a guy who cuts through the odious blubber of US politics right to the bone of things with a flensing blade of profane righteousness. Personally, I’d like to see him take some whacks at a few more deserving targets, and I can even imagine a somewhat farfetched scenario where the little guy shoves Trump out during a concocted national emergency and manages to declare himself First Citizen, or some such innovative title allowing him to run things for a while – say, until the generals toss him out a window.

Or maybe he’ll last less than a week in his current position. I would not be surprised, either, if Mr. Bannon beats little Mooch to death with an Oval Office fireplace poker right in front of the Golden Golem of Greatness himself. The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine – in this case, inexorably toward the restorative medicine of the 25th amendment. There is, after all, that hoary old artifact called the national interest lurking somewhere offstage aside of all this colorful mummery, especially as the Russian Meddling gambit appears to be dribbling away to nothing. It’s more than self-evident that poor Trump is in so far over his head that he’s come down with something like the bends, a debilitating systemic disorder rendering him unfit to execute the powers of office. Decades from now, they’ll say he had “the tweets.”

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You do know you live in a feudal society, right?

Leasehold Tycoon Whose Firms Control 40,000 UK Homes (G.)

He does not appear on any rich list but he has built a property empire that rivals that of the Duke of Westminster. Companies controlled by James Tuttiett, aged 53, have quietly snapped up the freeholds of tens of thousands of houses and flats in almost every city in Britain, which are now at the centre of controversy over spiralling ground rents. The scale of Tuttiett’s property empire has never been previously disclosed. Documents at Companies House reveal that he is frequently the sole director of companies that own the freehold of large-scale developments in Newcastle, Birmingham, Leeds, Coventry and London. Leaseholders are obliged to pay ground rents to his company, E&J Estates, that in some cases will soar to £10,000 a year per home.

The government this week proposed a ban on new-build leaseholds, and said ground rents on new apartments should fall towards zero. At the launch of an eight-week consultation, the communities secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “It’s clear that far too many new houses are being built and sold as leaseholds, exploiting homebuyers with unfair agreements and spiralling ground rents.” “Enough is enough. These practices are unjust, unnecessary and need to stop,” said Javid, adding on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ground rent had been used “as an unjustifiable way to print money”. [..] Research by Guardian Money found an extraordinary web of 85 ground rent companies controlled by Tuttiett, where the freeholds include not just homes but also schools, health clubs and petrol stations.

In 2016 one of these 85 companies, SF Funding Ltd, recorded an £80m increase in the value of its ground rents from the year before, taking them to £267.4m. Tuttiett is the sole director of the company, which has no other employees. The financing of Tuttiett’s property empire is helped by low-interest loans totalling £336m made by an insurance company, Rothesay Life, spun out of Goldman Sachs, in which the US investment bank remains the largest shareholder. Among the Rothesay Life loans made to E&J is one at £128m with a stated interest rate of just 0.95% a year, although it is understood the real rate paid is likely to be higher. The existence of the Rothesay loans opens a back door into Tuttiett’s interests, as Companies House lists all the properties over which Rothesay has a charge.

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Lenders are getting out. But not because they care about the earth.

Companies Abandon Nearly One Million Hectares of Alberta Oilsands (CP)

In another sign the bloom is off the boom for the oilsands, the industry has returned almost one million hectares of northern Alberta exploration leases to the province over the past two years. The total area covered by oilsands leases remained constant at about nine million hectares between 2011 and 2014. But it fell to 8.5 million hectares in 2015 and 8.1 million in 2016, following the crash in world oil prices from over US$100 to under $60 per barrel in 2014. Most of the returned acreage either represents expired or surrendered leases, according to Alberta Energy. Observers were surprised by the size of the lease returns which they attributed to industry cost-cutting and disinterest in spending to develop new prospects when there’s no money to build projects already on the books.

“It costs money to maintain these lands,” said Brad Hayes, president of Petrel Robertson Consulting in Calgary. “You can’t convince shareholders to continue to put that money out if there’s no prospect for success.” Alberta’s oilsands have been getting little respect lately, thanks to the exit of large foreign companies, the province’s hard cap on oilsands emissions, increasing carbon taxes and the stumbling price of crude oil. Its troubles have been welcomed by environmentalists who point out the industry’s outsized impact on air, land and water pollution. “This is good news. It’s a sign that investment dollars are shifting out of carbon-intensive energy,” said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada.

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Feels like all they do is try to create an ever bigger mess. Throw in another €100 million and say: We tried!

EU Accused Of ‘Wilfully Letting Refugees Drown’ In The Mediterranean (Ind.)

Aid workers have accused the EU of “wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean” as they face being forced to suspend rescue missions for refugees attempting the world’s deadliest sea crossing. Italy is attempting to impose a code of conduct on NGOs operating ships in the search and rescue zone off the coast of Libya, which is now the main launching point for migrants trying to reach Europe on smugglers’ boats. Humanitarian groups have argued the code will impede their work by banning the transfer of refugees to larger ships, which allows vessels to continue rescues, and forcing them to allow police officers on board. A revised code of conduct is expected to be presented by the Italian interior ministry on Monday, following meetings between officials and NGOs.

The 11-point plan, which has been approved by the European Commission and border agency Frontex, could see any groups refusing to sign up denied access to Italian ports or forbidden from carrying out rescues. They are currently deployed by officials at Rome’s Maritime Rescue and Coordination Centre (MRCC) and charities fear any move to restrict their operations, leaving just Italian coastguard and naval ships, will dramatically reduce rescue capacity during peak season. German charity Sea-Watch announced the deployment of a second rescue vessel in response to the plans, which it called a “desperate reaction” by a country abandoned on the frontline of the refuge crisis by its European allies. “The EU is wilfully letting people drown in the Mediterranean by refusing to create a legal means of safe passage and failing to even provide adequate resources for maritime rescue,” said CEO Axel Grafmanns.

“The NGOs are currently bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis and they are being left alone.” Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), which has staff on two rescue ships, said it was engaging with Italian authorities in an “open and constructive way” over the proposed code but had serious concerns over several clauses. “MSF employees are humanitarian workers, not police officers, and that for reasons of independence they will do what is strictly requested by the law but nothing more so as to protect our independence and neutrality,” a spokesperson said.

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Jul 222017
 
 July 22, 2017  Posted by at 8:34 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle July 22 2017
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Jackson Pollock Pasiphae 1943

 

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)
Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)
Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)
Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)
The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)
Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)
US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)
A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market
No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)
The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)
EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)
German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)
Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)
Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)
All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

 

 

PCR short and to the point. And don’t you ever forget it.

House of Cards (Paul Craig Roberts)

Despite unrealistic plots and weak characterization (except for Francis Urquhart), Michael Dobbs’ books, House of Cards, Play the King, and The Final Cut were best sellers that provided the basis for a long-running TV series. I haven’t seen the films, but I have read the books. I conclude that plot and characters are mere props for the didactic lesson of the novels: Democratic politics is concerned only with power and sex. Nothing else is in the picture. There is no such thing as a politician concerned with the people’s well being or capable of marital fidelity.

The media are as bad as the politicians. Female journalists use their bodies for access to power and become accomplices in political intrigues. Idealism is merely another vehicle used in the competition for power. I suspect the novels and TV series were popular because they expose politics for what it is. Politics serves only personal ambition. This is a lesson that liberals and progressives, who present government as a public-spirited alternative to private greed, need to learn. In showing politics in service to personal ambition, Dobbs is a master of truth despite his shortcoming as a novelist.

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Yeah, the future of the world depends on the definition of “tight”. Do you buy it?

Deeply Flawed Western Economic Models Undermine Worst Recovery In History (CNBC)

The Western economic system is deeply flawed with countries such as the U.S. and Britain contributing to the lowest quality economic recovery the world has ever seen, Chris Watling, chief executive of Longview Economics, told CNBC on Friday. “The economic model is deeply flawed and the system in the west is deeply flawed, particularly in the English speaking part of the world and it needs to change,” Watling said. “I think this is undoubtedly the lowest quality economic recovery we have seen globally… full stop,” he added. The Longview Economics CEO explained that a debt-laden global economy could be vulnerable to looming interest rate hikes. The Federal Reserve is on a course to gradually increase interest rates, with financial markets expecting it to approve one more rate hike this year.

In addition, other central banks are pulling the reins on bond-buying and other liquidity programs aimed at injecting cash into their respective economies. “This is a world that is more indebted than it was before the global financial crisis in 2007, there’s no productivity growth, asset prices are very elevated, a lot of debt that corporates have built up has gone to share buy backs (and) the number of ‘zombie companies’ has doubled since 2007,” Longview Economics’ CEO explained. In the U.S. alone, households have $14.9 trillion in debt while businesses owe $13.7 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve.

Bond guru Bill Gross also warned that the course of global central banks toward tightening policy could be detrimental for the economic recovery. He argued that raising interest rates would increase the cost of short-term debt that corporations and individuals currently hold. When asked whether an imperfect system constituted a clear and present danger for the financial markets, Watling replied, “Whatever you want to call it doesn’t really matter but these sorts of things always unwind when you tighten money. The problem is judging what is tight? And that is sort of the million dollar question.”

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What are shorts worth in a world without price discovery? Shorts are there to chase off zombies. But central banks keep them alive.

Short Sellers Give Up as Stocks Run to New Records (WSJ)

Times are tough for skeptics of the bull market. Flummoxed by the endurance of a 2017 rally that produced its 27th S&P 500 record this week, investors are backing off bets that major indexes are headed downward. Bets against the SPDR S&P 500 exchange-traded fund, the largest ETF tracking the broad index, fell to $38.9 billion last week, the lowest level of short interest since May 2013, and remained near those levels this week, according to financial-analytics firm S3 Partners. Short sellers borrow shares and sell them, expecting to repurchase them at lower prices and collect the difference as profit. Bearish investors say they are scaling back on these bets not because their view of the market has fundamentally changed, but because it is difficult to stick to a money-losing strategy when it seems stocks can only go up.

They believe the market moves are at odds with an economy that remains lukewarm as it enters its ninth year of growth, stock valuations that are historically high and a delay of business-friendly policies in Washington like tax cuts and infrastructure spending. “There seems to be an overall view that people are invincible, that things will always go up, that there are no risks and no matter what goes on, no matter what foolishness is in play, people don’t care,” said Marc Cohodes, whose hedge fund focused on shorting stocks closed in 2008. Mr. Cohodes is now a chicken farmer based in California who is looking to get into goat herding in Canada. He shorts a handful of individual stocks personally, but isn’t focused on the broader market.

[..] The practice of shorting companies is also going by the wayside as stocks continue to notch records. Short-biased hedge funds had $4.3 billion in assets at the end of March, down from $7.1 billion at the end of 2013, according to HFR Inc. The difficulty for stock-market bears stems from a Goldilocks-like market environment, in which the economy is expanding fast enough to support corporate earnings, but slow enough for the Federal Reserve to keep rates relatively low. Years of low rates and easy-money policies have boosted stocks, defying forecasts for a steep, prolonged downturn. “The shorts have been frustrated now for quite a while,” said Scott Minerd, global chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners, which has $260 billion in assets under management. The scenarios that might lead to a payout for market bears—an economic recession or a sharp rise in interest rates—don’t seem imminent, either, Mr. Minerd added.

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Sure, I believe you.

Greed Is No Longer Good – Bond Boom Comes To An End (G.)

City bond traders have put the champagne on ice. They had a good run. For some it lasted almost a year. But it’s over now and the “new normal” of low trading volumes and weak profits is reasserting itself. On Wall Street, Goldman Sachs took the biggest hit. This week the firm reported profits had plunged 40% in the second quarter on its bond, currency and commodities trading desks. All the other big names in the US investment banking world saw bond trading profits dive in the three months to the end of June, save for age-old Goldman rival Morgan Stanley, which restricted the loss to 4%. Lloyd Blankfein, the Goldman boss who rose through the ranks of bond traders to the top job, was unlikely to be sanguine about the turn of events amid concerns that his bank suffered more than most for relying on out-of-favour hedge funds as clients.

Back in October 2016 the story was very different. Barclays was on a high after what it said was a summer bonanza for its bond traders, pushing quarterly profits to a two-year high. Likewise Goldman, Deutsche Bank, Bank of America and JPMorgan were raking in the trades. Much of the reason for their optimism was a change of stance at the Federal Reserve. The US central bank signalled in late 2015 that the post-crash era of low inflation and low interest rates was coming to an end. To combat the threat of inflation, it would start to raise rates consistently through 2016 and 2017. This move put two trends in motion that spelled a big payday for the banks. First, the price of bonds started to fall, making them more attractive to buy. Second, not long afterwards, it became clear the other central banks were not going to follow suit in raising rates.

That broke seven years of agreement among the major central banks to hold interest rates at near zero as a way to boost economic activity. The Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan were still on board, but Janet Yellen at the Fed had broken away. Without a consistent story, investors in fixed-income securities, the jargon name for bonds, found themselves needing to back several horses. And investors demanded the banks buy and sell their securities more frequently as uncertainty translated into an ever-changing mood in the market. The main measure of volatility – the Vix index – was still well below the 2009 peak, but it was elevated in 2016. And traders make money in periods when uncertainty and confusion raise levels of volatility.

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Thomas Frank (re-)writes my article from a few weeks ago, Feeding Frenzy in the Echo Chamber.

The Media’s War On Trump Is Destined To Fail. Why Can’t It See That? (Frank)

These are the worst of times for the American news media, but they are also the best. The newspaper industry as a whole has been dying slowly for years, as the pathetic tale of the once-mighty Chicago Tribune reminds us. But for the handful of well funded journalistic enterprises that survive, the Trump era is turning out to be a “golden age” – a time of high purpose and moral vindication. The people of the respectable east coast press loathe the president with an amazing unanimity. They are obsessed with documenting his bad taste, with finding faults in his stupid tweets, with nailing him and his associates for this Russian scandal and that one. They outwit the simple-minded billionaire. They find the devastating scoops. The op-ed pages come to resemble Democratic fundraising pitches. The news sections are all Trump all the time. They have gone ballistic so many times the public now yawns when it sees their rockets lifting off.

A recent Alternet article I read was composed of nothing but mean quotes about Trump, some of them literary and high-flown, some of them low-down and cruel, most of them drawn from the mainstream media and all of them hilarious. As I write this, four of the five most-read stories on the Washington Post website are about Trump; indeed (if memory serves), he has dominated this particular metric for at least a year. And why not? Trump certainly has it coming. He is obviously incompetent, innocent of the most basic knowledge about how government functions. His views are repugnant. His advisers are fools. He appears to be dallying with obviously dangerous forces. And thanks to the wipeout of the Democratic party, there is no really powerful institutional check on the president’s power, which means that the press must step up.

But there’s something wrong with it all. The news media’s alarms about Trump have been shrieking at high C for more than a year. It was in January of 2016 that the Huffington Post began appending a denunciation of Trump as a “serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully” to every single story about the man. It was last August that the New York Times published an essay approving of the profession’s collective understanding of Trump as a political mutation – an unacceptable deviation from the two-party norm – that journalists must cleanse from the political mainstream. It hasn’t worked. They correct and denounce; they cluck and deride and Trump seems to bask in it. He reflects this incredible outpouring of disapprobation right back at the press itself.

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Contemplating the horrors of bankers leaving your society.

Goldman Sachs Boss Urges Long Brexit Transition. Is Anyone Listening? (Ind.)

I’ve no fondness for wealthy bankers, but that doesn’t mean to say they aren’t sometimes right. An example of that is Goldman Sachs International chief executive Richard Gnodde, who has just entered the Brexit debate to urge a “significant” transition period. Mr Gnodde is currently pouring money down a bottomless pit labelled “Brexit Contingency Plans”. There aren’t many Britons who will feel all that much sympathy for him over that. That money pit will mean less is available for the bonuses he and his colleagues are so fond of. So tough luck. Trouble is, his masters in New York won’t see it that way. They will eventually say that’s enough of that, start moving your people over to Frankfurt. Actually, the process has already begun. Some jobs are moving over to Germany.

Still more are simply staying in New York, which, for all the scrambling being done by Frankfurt, and Paris, and Dublin, has quietly become the biggest winner from this whole sorry affair. There are many who would shrug some more. What do we lose by inconveniencing a few thousand wealthy bankers anyway. They don’t exactly contribute much to society. Well, they pay a lot of tax for starters. It’s also true that they should pay more. But that’s just another debate. Despite that, I have for years argued that London’s financial centre has played too central a role in the nation’s economy, and that it would be a good idea for the Government to pursue a more balanced economic approach rather than coddling it (as it did until recently).

The trouble is it is now happening at a dangerously fast pace and it is impossible to see, as things stand, quite what is going to replace those tax revenues, which contribute to things like the NHS, schools, roads without potholes, and any number of other things. There are also a lot of support staff who work for banks like Goldman in the City. They’re not rich, by any means, and they’re unlikely to be able to move like the bankers so they’ll just lose their jobs. If it’s unpalatable hearing about this from Mr Gnodde – as it will be to an awful lot of people – consider also that the CBI has said much the same thing as have most sensible, and even semi-sensible, businesses both in the square mile of the City of London and beyond.

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Everyone walks. Yawn.

US To Drop Criminal Charges In ‘London Whale’ Case (R.)

U.S. prosecutors have decided to drop criminal charges against two former JPMorgan Chase derivatives traders implicated in the “London Whale” trading scandal that caused $6.2 billion of losses in 2012. In seeking the dismissal of charges against Javier Martin-Artajo and Julien Grout, the Department of Justice said it “no longer believes that it can rely on the testimony” of Bruno Iksil, a cooperating witness who had been dubbed the London Whale, based on recent statements he made that hurt the case. Prosecutors also said efforts to extradite Martin-Artajo and Grout, respectively citizens of Spain and France, to face the charges have been “unsuccessful or deemed futile.” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan asked a federal judge for permission to drop charges that included securities fraud, wire fraud and falsifying records. Martin-Artajo and Grout were indicted in September 2013.

“After four long years of protracted litigation, we are very pleased that the government has decided to do the right thing, and dismiss the criminal case,” Grout’s lawyer, Edward Little, said. The dismissal request marks a fresh setback in U.S. efforts to prosecute individuals for financial crimes. This has included the undoing of several insider trading convictions and pleas that had been won by Kim’s predecessor Preet Bharara. It has also included this week’s overturning of the convictions of two former Rabobank NA traders for rigging the Libor interest rate benchmark. Martin-Artajo and Grout were accused of hiding hundreds of millions of dollars of losses within JPMorgan’s chief investment office (CIO) in London by marking positions in a credit derivatives portfolio at inflated prices.

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At risk of, you said? Weird that if you let investors and analysts discuss this, turns out they have no idea what’s really going on. But doesn’t that cluelessness hurt their investments. their clients?

A Third Of Greeks At Risk Of Poverty As Athens Wants Return To Bond Market

The Greek government might be preparing to return to the bond market but there are many structural problems that have yet to be resolved to make the economy more sustainable, an analyst told CNBC on Friday. Greece is currently on a third financial program since 2010, due to expire next year. According to James Athey, fixed income investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, despite the reforms implemented until now, “it still doesn’t seem we are particularly far down the road in solving the structural issues of Greece.” “Until the Greek economy has got a business model which works and it’s productive and it’s creating stable, secure growth that it’s not reliant on debt relief, external support and constantly bailouts from the Europeans, then it’s difficult to believe that the path is towards something more healthy rather than something less healthy,” Athey told CNBC on Friday.

The IMF agreed Thursday to make a loan of $1.8 billion to Greece as part of its current bailout program, but warned that the country will have to continue reforming in order to receive that money. Greece has to continue focusing on reducing the level of bad loans in its financial sector and extend labour market reform to liberalize Sunday trade and allow for collective dismissals, the fund said. However, with the bailout program due to end in 2018, Greece wants to come back to bond markets to show the rescue has been successful and the economy is able to fund itself. The government is studying when and how such a comeback will be more appropriate. Though Athens refuses to comment on this issue, it is widely expected that Greece will issue bonds next week.

The move is somewhat confusing given that Greek government bonds do not qualify for the ECB’s asset purchase program. They are considered junk by credit rating agencies, and thus cannot feature on the central bank’s balance sheet. When asked how Greece would convince investors to buy bonds if the ECB isn’t buying these assets, Athey said: “I don’t know.” “I guess from a Greek perspective it seems to be a window of opportunity, we’ve seen Greek yields have fallen fairly consistently throughout the year…the fact that Greece might come to market at what optically looks like an attractive yield for a Greek issuer must be tempting to them, especially considering that we are expecting the QE program to ultimately come to a conclusion over the next 6 to 12 months, they certainly would not want to wait until then,” he suggested.

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Absolute fantasy predictions. That’s the only way left to sell their stories. They all want Greece back in ‘markets’ before the next bailout expires next year.

No Surprises From IMF Report On Greek Debt (K.)

Bond markets responded calmly on Friday to the debt sustainability analysis (DSA) of the IMF, which found Greece’s debt exceptionally unsustainable, while deciding to participate in the Greek bailout program with 1.6 billion euros. The markets’ reaction allows for the government to issue the five-year bond as early as on Monday. The DSA reiterates that the eurozone’s commitments to secure the sustainability of the Greek debt are not sufficient. The IMF estimates the debt will slide to 160% of GDP in 2020 and to 150% in 230, before soaring to 190% in 2060. Servicing the debt will exceed 15% of GDP in 2028, reaching as high as 45% in 2060.

The Fund argues that the estimates of Athens and the eurozone on growth rates, primary surpluses and other parameters affecting the debt are optimistic and insists its own views are realistic, saying that Greece has historically been weak in implementing reforms and cannot support high primary surpluses for many years. It goes on to say that revenues from privatizations will not exceed €2 billion by 2030 and believes that the state will not collect any substantial funds from the sale of the bank shares it acquired in the last few share capital increases. It therefore calls on the eurozone to reach an agreement on a realistic strategy for easing Greece’s debt.

The IMF’s proposal for a new stress test on Greek banks and a fresh asset quality review were met with a clear dismissal on Friday by a ECB spokesman, who pointed to Frankfurt being the sole monitoring authority that decides on such issues. The strong ECB response was also addressed at the IMF’s estimate that Greek lenders will require fresh recapitalization to the tune of €10 billion. On Friday Standard & Poor’s stopped short of raising the country’s credit rating, affirming it at ‘B-,’ but pointed to an upcoming upgrade switching Greece’s outlook from stable into positive.

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How much longer? We know there are reports.

The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All (Robert Fisk)

Theresa May has oddly declined to comment on the reported arrest of the mini-skirted lass who was videotaped cavorting through an ancient Najd village this week, provoking unexpected roars of animalistic male fury in a kingdom known for its judicial leniency, political moderation, gender equality and fraternal love for its Muslim neighbours. May should, surely, have drawn the attention of the rulers of this normally magnanimous state to the extraordinarily uncharacteristic behaviour of the so-called religious police – hitherto regarded as extras in the very same kingdom’s growing tourism industry which is supported by its newly appointed peace-loving and forward-thinking young Crown Prince.

But of course, since May cannot possibly believe that a single person in this particular national entity would give even a riyal or a halfpenny to “terrorists” – of the kind who have been tearing young British lives apart in Manchester and London – she’s hardly likely to endanger the “national security” of said state by condemning the arrest of the aforementioned young lady. In any event, a woman so proper that she would not risk soiling her hands by greeting the distraught survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has no business shedding even a “little tear” for middle class girls who upset what we must now call The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All. Or at least, we do not dare to speak its name.

It’s now a week since this extraordinary woman – our beloved May, not the cutie of Najd – declined to publish perhaps the most important, revelatory document in the history of modern “terrorism” on the grounds that to identify the men who are funding the killers running Isis, al-Qaeda, al-Nusrah and sundry other chaps, would endanger “national security”. Note that Amber Rudd, May’s amanuensis, intriguingly declined to specify whose “national security” was at risk. Ours? Or that of The Kingdom Whose Name We Dare Not Speak At All – henceforth, for brevity’s sake, the KSA – which must surely be well aware which of its illustrious citizens (peace-loving, moderate, gender-equalised, etc) have been sending their lolly to the Isis lads.

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If you read carefully, you see that it’s all been a mess for many years. The only difference is Trump doesn’t try to hide that.

EPA Will Allow Fracking Waste Dumping in the Gulf of Mexico (TO)

As the Trump administration moves to gut Obama-era clean water protections nationwide, an environmental group is warning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft pollution discharge permit for offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico violates clean water laws because it allows operators to dump fracking chemicals and large volumes of drilling wastewater directly into the Gulf. In a recent letter to the agency, the Center for Biological Diversity told the EPA that the dumping of drilling wastewater – which can contain fracking chemicals, drilling fluids and pollutants, such as heavy metals – directly into Gulf waters is unacceptable and prohibited under the Clean Water Act.

Under current rules established by the Obama administration, offshore oil and gas platforms can discharge well-treatment chemicals and unlimited amounts of “produced waters” from undersea wells directly into the Gulf as long as operators perform toxicity tests a few times a year and monitor for “sheens” on the water’s surface. About 75 billion gallons of produced water were dumped in the Gulf in 2014 alone, according to EPA records. Offshore fracking, which typically involves injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into undersea wells to improve the flow of oil and gas, has rapidly expanded in the Gulf of Mexico over the past decade.

The latest draft of the pollution discharge permit, which was largely prepared under the Obama administration, would require drillers to collect information on the fracking chemicals they dump overboard. Regulators want to know what these chemicals are; their catalogue of offshore fracking chemicals has not been updated since 2001, despite advancements in technology.

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Here’s real collusion for you: “special committees of up to 200 employees”. It wasn’t just software, they also agreed to use too small versions of the ‘tanks’ that clean emissions. Now VW is talking, trying to get its own fines diminished.

Oh, and you think nobody in government ever knew about this? Prediction: Merkel will push EU into lower fines. Prediction 2: they will comply.

German Carmakers Colluded On Diesel Emissions For Decades (Qz)

German magazine Der Spiegel reports that the country’s powerful automakers have been meeting in secret since the 1990s—and their joint decisions on dealing with diesel emissions may have laid the groundwork for Volkswagen’s massive emissions-cheating scandal. According to Der Spiegel, VW admitted to German authorities that it may have engaged in “anti-competitive behavior” with rivals BMW and Daimler via special committees of up to 200 employees that set prices, agreed on suppliers, and engaged in other forms of coordination. One major topic of the meetings was how to manage emissions from diesel engines. The result, as we now know in Volkswagen’s case, was the installation of emissions-cheating software, which was uncovered by American regulators in 2015 and has cost the automaker dearly since.

Daimler tried to get ahead of things this week by recalling 3 million diesel vehicles in Europe for a free emissions-system alteration. Audi followed suit today, with a similar offer to “improve emissions behavior” for 850,000 cars. Spiegel says that German regulators discovered signs of an illegal agreement between the automakers this summer, when they were investigating Volkswagen on suspicion that carmakers were fixing the price of steel. Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW declined to comment on the Spiegel report, with the latter two calling it “speculation.” Germany’s automakers are anxious as a backlash against diesel motors gathers pace. Several European cities—including Stuttgart, the home of Porsche—have called for a ban on diesel cars, which accounted for around 47% of cars sold in Europe’s five biggest markets in the second quarter of this year.

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Nice society you got there. Britain’s way overdue for a complete make-over.

Number Of Homeless Children In Temporary Accommodation in UK Rises 37% (G.)

Councils across England are housing the equivalent of an extra secondary school of pupils per month as the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation soars, according to local government leaders. The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils are providing temporary housing for around 120,540 children with their families – a net increase of 32,650 or 37% since the second quarter of 2014. It said the increase equates to an average of 906 extra children every month. The LGA said placements in temporary accommodation can present serious challenges for families, from parents’ employment and health to children’s ability to focus on school studies and form friendships. The LGA, which represents 350 councils across England, said the extra demand is increasing the pressure on local government.

It said councils need to be able to build more “genuinely affordable” homes and provide the support that reduces the risk of homelessness. This means councils being able to borrow to build and to keep 100% of the receipts of any home they sell to reinvest in new and existing housing, the LGA said. Council leaders are also calling for access to funding to provide settled accommodation for families that become homeless. Martin Tett, the LGA’s housing spokesman, said: “When councils are having to house the equivalent of an extra secondary school’s worth of pupils every month, and the net cost for councils of funding for temporary accommodation has tripled in the last three years, it’s clear the current situation is unsustainable for councils, and disruptive for families.

“Councils are working hard to tackle homelessness, with some truly innovative work around the country – and we now need the Government to support this local effort by allowing councils to invest in building genuinely affordable homes, and taking steps to adapt welfare reforms to ensure housing remains affordable for low-income families.”

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EU policies bring the vermin our of the woodwork.

Sicilian Mayor Moves To Block Far-Right Plan To Disrupt Migrant Rescues (G.)

A Sicilian mayor is seeking to block a ship chartered by a group of far-right activists attempting to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean. Enzo Bianco, the mayor of Catania, has urged authorities in the port city on the island’s east coast to deny docking rights to C-Star, a 40-metre vessel hired by Generation Identity, a movement made up of young, anti-Islam and anti-immigration activists from across Europe, for its sea mission to stop migrants entering Europe from Libya. The ship is expected to arrive on Saturday, and the group intends to launch its mission next week. “I’ve told [the relevant] authorities that allowing the ship to dock in our port would be very dangerous for public order,” Bianco said in a statement to the Guardian.

“I also consider it to be a provocation by those involved, with their sole purpose being to fuel conflict by pouring fuel on the fire.” Under a vigilante scheme called “Defend Europe”, the activists crowdfunded more than €75,000 (£67,000) to hire the boat. In a “trial run” two months ago, the ship successfully intercepted a charity rescue ship off Sicily. The activists’ aim is to expose what they claim to be wrongdoing by “criminal” NGO search and rescue vessels, which they accuse of working with people smugglers to transport illegal immigrants to Europe. They also plan to disrupt the work of the crews by calling the Libyan coastguard and asking them to take migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean back to war-torn Libya.

Anti-racism groups across Sicily have also urged authorities to take action against the group, to prevent them interfering in the life-saving missions. “Sicily is a place where every family has an emigration story,” Bianco said. “In recent years we have welcomed thousands of people fleeing from war and hunger, people who were saved from dying in the Mediterranean by European vessels, and those who have lost one or more family members crossing the sea. Talking about ‘defending Europe’ is not just demagogic, it’s unworthy.”

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“Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people.”

All Hell Breaks Loose As The Tundra Thaws (G.)

Strange things have been happening in the frozen tundra of northern Siberia. Last August a boy died of anthrax in the remote Yamal Peninsula, and 20 other infected people were treated and survived. Anthrax hadn’t been seen in the region for 75 years, and it’s thought the recent outbreak followed an intense heatwave in Siberia, temperatures reaching over 30C that melted the frozen permafrost. Long dormant spores of the highly infectious anthrax bacteria frozen in the carcass of an infected reindeer rejuvenated themselves and infected herds of reindeer and eventually local people. More recently, a huge explosion was heard in June in the Yamal Peninsula. Reindeer herders camped nearby saw flames shooting up with pillars of smoke and found a large crater left in the ground.

Melting permafrost was again suspected, thawing out dead vegetation and erupting in a blowout of highly flammable methane gas. Over the past three years, 14 other giant craters have been found in the region, some of them truly massive – the first one discovered was around 50m (160ft) wide and about 70m (230ft) deep, with steep sides and debris spread all around. There have also been cases of the ground trembling in Siberia as bubbles of methane trapped below the surface set the ground wobbling like an airbed. Even more dramatic, setting fire to methane released from frozen lakes in both Siberia and Alaska causes some impressive flames to erupt. Methane is of huge concern. It is more than 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and a massive release of methane in the Arctic could pose a significant threat to the global climate, driving worldwide temperatures even higher.

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Jul 122017
 
 July 12, 2017  Posted by at 9:21 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  2 Responses »
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Paul Cézanne The Card Players 1895

 

The Media’s Mass Hysteria Over ‘Collusion’ Is Out Of Control (WaPo)
Donald Trump’s Very Own Big, Fat, Ugly Bubble (Stockman)
Canada’s Housing Boom Expected to Spark Rate Rise (WSJ)
The Return Of The “Minsky Moment” (Rosso)
Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream Changed The Federal Reserve Forever (BI)
Russia Will Retaliate If US Does Not Release Property – Lavrov (R.)
Qatar’s First Shipment of Air-Lifted Cows Lands in Doha (BBG)
Greece’s Market Return May Be Imminent (R.)
NGOs Fearful Of Handing Island Refugee Camps To Greek State (K.)
EU Migrant Rescue Mission ‘Led To Increase In Deaths’ (Ind.)

 

 

The echo chamber smells trouble and starts eating its own tail. The WaPo turns on its co-conspirators.

The Media’s Mass Hysteria Over ‘Collusion’ Is Out Of Control (WaPo)

Hysteria among the media and Trump opponents over the prospect of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin may have hit its crescendo this week. That’s right: The wailing from the media and their allies about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with some “Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer” (whatever that means) may be the last gasp of this faux scandal. Good riddance. Predictably, the New York Times started the ball rolling with front-page coverage, going so far as to argue, “The accounts of the meeting represent the first public indication that at least some in the campaign were willing to accept Russian help.” As if this were some breakthrough moment. The Times followed up with a headline yesterday that the meeting request and subject matter discussed in the prior story were transmitted to Trump Jr. via an email.

Holy cow. The Times is so desperate to move the story that the meeting’s arrangement over email is being made into Page 1 news. You would have thought it had come through a dead drop under a bridge somewhere. And, of course, CNN has been apoplectic in its breathless coverage, running one story after another about this “development” on the air and online. But Politico takes the prize for the most over-the-top, made-up news, claiming that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting could amount to a crime. As I have written before, there are always people hovering around campaigns trying to peddle information and traffic in supposed silver bullets. There should be nothing to report on when a private citizen who works at a campaign takes a meeting with a friend of a friend offering information about an opponent. And yet, the media wants to make it a smoking gun.

[..] Regarding the delusion that a crime actually occurred in any of this, my favorite allegation is that by having this meeting and listening to what was said, Donald Trump Jr. somehow could have violated the law. According to Politico, Trump Jr.’s “statements put him potentially in legal cross hairs for violating federal criminal statutes prohibiting solicitation or acceptance of anything of value from a foreign national, as well as a conspiracy to defraud the United States.” I’m just barely a lawyer, but I know over-lawyering when I see it. I mean, by that standard, what if someone walked into a campaign and suggested an idea that led to that candidate’s victory? Would it have been a crime to accept “a thing of value” in the form of an idea? Of course not. This whole thing is getting weird.

For many in the media and elsewhere, the collective grievances that they have against Trump personally, the White House as a whole and Trump’s policies somehow justify their zealous promotion of the “collusion scandal.” But not because the story is valid. Rather, the media know that they are not getting to Trump with anything else. Today, much of the “news coverage” of Trump and Co. is about payback. The media thinks they aren’t getting the truth and so they don’t have to deliver it either. It is a bad cycle that is not working for the White House or the media. With this much intensity, it is hard to see how this ends well..

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Rumor has it Gary Cohn will take over from Yellen.

Donald Trump’s Very Own Big, Fat, Ugly Bubble (Stockman)

The overwhelming source of what ails America economically is found in the Eccles Building. During the past three decades the Federal Reserve has fostered destructive financial mutations on Wall Street and Main Street. Bubble Finance policies have fueled an egregious financial engineering by the C-suites of corporate America. This bubble has skyrocketed to the tune of $15 trillion of stock buybacks, debt-fueled mergers deals and buyouts of the last decade. The Fed fostered a borrowing binge in the household sector after the 1980s. It eventually resulted in Peak Debt and $15 trillion in debilitating debts on the homes, cars, incomes and futures of what used to be middle class America. It also led politicians down the path of free lunch fiscal policy.

By monetizing $4.2 trillion of Treasury and GSE debt during the last three decades, the Fed numbed the US economy from effects of crowding out and rising interest rates that would have come from soaring government deficits. This left the public sector impaled on Peak Debt. Ever since Alan Greenspan launched Bubble Finance in the fall of 1987, public debt outstanding has increased by nearly 9 times. Measured against national output, the Federal debt ratio has risen from 47% to 106% of GDP. These actions have stripped-mined balance sheets and cash flow from main street businesses. The Fed has stifled economic growth while delivering multi-trillion windfalls into the hands of a few thousand speculators on Wall Street.

These rippling waves of financial mutation are why the US economy is visibly failing and why vast numbers of citizens in Flyover America voted for Donald Trump for president. Ironically, even as he stumbled to his victory on November 8, Trump barely recognized that the force behind all the economic failure that he railed against was the nation’s rogue central bank. Only when it occurred to him that Janet Yellen was doing everything possible to insure Clinton’s victory did he let loose an attack on the Fed. In his famous warning, he leveled that America was threatened by a big, fat, ugly bubble. [..] When Wall Street launched a phony Trump Reflation trade during the wee hours of election night, the Donald forgot all about the great bubble. In fact, he quickly embraced it as a sign that investors were enthusiastically embracing Trump-O-Nomics.

No new arrival in the Oval Office was ever more mistaken.

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Create the bubble with ZIRP, milk it for all you can, then walk out and leave millions with grossly overvalued assets as the economy sinks.

Canada’s Housing Boom Expected to Spark Rate Rise (WSJ)

The Bank of Canada is widely expected on Wednesday to raise its benchmark policy rate for the first time in seven years, signaling the Canadian economy is on the path to recovery after years of tepid growth following the global slump in commodities. Canada’s central bank, led by Gov. Stephen Poloz, is joining peers at the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and the European Central Bank as they dial back on the extraordinary run of ultralow interest rates aimed at jump-starting the global economy in the aftermath of the recession of 2008-09. In Canada, which was hit with an income shock after the downturn in prices of oil and other commodities, low rates have resulted in an extended period of loose money that has fueled a housing boom in pockets of the country.

Some analysts say soaring real-estate prices, which have stretched affordability and forced official measures to curb investing, could be a factor driving Wednesday’s expected increase. Canadian housing starts rose 9.1% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 212,695 units in June, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said on Tuesday. Amid recent growth in gross domestic product and robust job creation, Mr. Poloz has signaled he will remove stimulus this week, monetary-policy analysts said. That is even though inflation—at an annualized 1.3% rate in May—remains well below the central bank’s 2% target, and wage growth remains stubbornly low.

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See, I don’t know who Rosso means when he talks about people having forgotten Minsky. Are those the people whose investments he advises on?

The Return Of The “Minsky Moment” (Rosso)

As he was a proponent of a pliable system of reform which could be altered based on the innovative risk humans create, Minsky would have been disappointed to know that the interconnected global shadow banking web continues to expand, Federal Reserve policies have created a great misallocation of financial resources, price discovery of risk assets is basically non-existent and the segment of the population or Main Street that was a concern for him, suffers great wealth inequality and wage disparity. Several catalysts exist today that may remind investors of Minsky. Readers should remain vigilant and keep the following concerns in mind as they invest and manage their personal wealth. The Federal Reserve has appeared to gravitate from data dependent to data ignorant.

Economic data remains sub-par. Inflation has fallen below the Fed’s target of two percent, yet they appear in their statements, determined to continue hiking short-term rates. In theory, a rate-tightening cycle is designed to take the edge off, tap the brake on accelerating economic growth. So, with GDP running below the long-term average of three percent and the personal consumption expenditures or PCE Index, the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation slipping to 1.4% year-over-year in May, the lowest in six months, a question begs asking. Yellen, what are you putting a brake on? Based on the analysis below, the Fed has no reason to continue rate hikes this year. However, they seem hell-bent to ignore the data. Why?

The Fed may be on an unofficial mission to curb stock market speculation. Several Fed officials including Vice-Chairman Stanley Fischer and San Francisco Fed President John Williams have voiced their concerns over lofty stock market valuations. Regardless, of the Fed’s agenda to forge ahead with rate hikes, it’s crucial to remember that low interest rates have been the primary accelerant for stock market appreciation, not earnings growth; rising rates along the yield curve eventually puts a damper on the economy and sets up a prime catalyst for market correction. If the Fed moves too quickly or inflation heats up to warrant swifter action, then a Minsky Moment may be closer than pundits believe.

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Undoubtedly well meant, but it turned the Fed into a political instrument. Not a good thing.

Martin Luther King’s Economic Dream Changed The Federal Reserve Forever (BI)

Most Americans have watched or heard Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington in 1963. Few know his rousing call for racial equality was the culmination of an event called the March for Jobs and Freedom. This is crucial because it reveals the central, and largely unrecognized, role of the American civil rights movement of the 1960s on the US approach to economic policy. That included a more prominent role for government in economic stimulus policies and, importantly, a broader, jobs-focused mandate for the Federal Reserve. That role is the focus of a new report by a group of Fed policy activists known as Fed Up, a coalition of community and pro-poor groups that have been pushing the Fed to adopt a more consciously pro-full employment stance.

“From the 1930’s and through the rise of the civil rights movement, racial justice activists including Coretta Scott King, called for a coordinated federal effort to attain full employment,” says the report, published in conjunction with the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, referring to Martin Luther King’s wife, who continued his fight after his assassination in 1968. “They envisioned an economy where every person who seeks employment can secure a job. King joined Congressional leaders Augustus Hawkins and Hubert Humphrey in eventually passing the landmark 1978 Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act (Humphrey-Hawkins) which legally required the Fed to pursue maximum employment.” Before the act, the mandate had been limited to low, stable inflation. To this day, Fed Chair Yellen’s semi-annual address to Congress on monetary policy, which is taking place on Wednesday, is known as the Humphrey-Hawkins testimony.

Fed Up and CEPR argue that the employment mandate, while not fully realized, has already generated millions of additional jobs over time, particularly in poor communities, which are most affected by steep levels of persistent unemployment. “There can be no question that the Fed would never have allowed the late 1990s boom and the consequential sharp reduction in the unemployment rate if it did not have a full employment mandate,” the study argues after reviewing data from that period and the rationale used by then-chairman Alan Greenspan for keeping interest rates low despite falling unemployment. The debate remains highly relevant today given that some Fed officials, despite their duty to maintain maximum employment, have recently expressed curious worries about the unemployment rate falling too quickly.

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Expectation is Russia will expel 30 US diplomats.

Russia Will Retaliate If US Does Not Release Property – Lavrov (R.)

Russia will retaliate in a reciprocal manner if the United States does not heed its demands for a return of diplomatic assets, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday. “We hope that the United States, as a country which promotes the rule of law, will respect its international obligations,” Lavrov told reporters after a meeting in Brussels with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “If this does not happen, if we see that this step is not seen as essential in Washington, then of course we will take retaliatory measures. This is the law of diplomacy, the law of international affairs, that reciprocity is the basis of all relations.” He declined to answer when asked if that meant that Russia would expel U.S. diplomats and seize diplomatic property.

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Qatar flying in cows from Australia and fruit from Peru says a lot about what’s wrong with the world.

Qatar’s First Shipment of Air-Lifted Cows Lands in Doha (BBG)

The first batch of an anticipated 4,000 dairy cows was flown into Qatar Tuesday, five weeks after the start of a Saudi Arabia-led boycott of the Gulf country. A shipment of 165 cows, sourced from Germany and flying via Budapest, are ready to produce milk immediately and the product should reach local markets this week, according to a spokesman for Power International Holding, which is importing the animals. Other shipments will include cows from Australia and the U.S., and should arrive every three days, the company spokesman said Tuesday. In total, the bovine airlift is expected to bring in the 4,000 cows within about a month. Led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar has been accused of supporting Islamic militants, charges the sheikdom has repeatedly denied.

The boycott that started on June 5 has disrupted trade, split families and threatened to alter long-standing geopolitical alliances. The showdown has forced the world’s richest country per capita to open new trade routes to bring in food, building materials and equipment for its natural gas industry. As part of its response, Qatar has imported Turkish dairy goods along with Peruvian and Moroccan fruit. Until last month, most of the fresh milk and dairy products for Qatar’s population of 2.7 million was imported from Saudi Arabia. When all the cows purchased by Power International Chairman Moutaz Al Khayyat are flown in, his brand of milk will supply about 30 percent of the country’s needs

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What’s Schäuble up to now?

Greece’s Market Return May Be Imminent (R.)

Greece could return to financial markets in the next few weeks, investors and bankers close to the discussions told Reuters, raising private cash that would mark an important step towards ending its dependence on official funding next year. Athens’ largest creditor, the European Stability Mechanism, said on Monday that Greece should develop a strategy to end a three-year exile from markets before its current bailout program expires in mid-2018. Greek finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos met with investors in London last month and one of those funds, BlueBay Asset Management, said the volume of calls they are receiving from bankers about a potential deal suggest it’s very close. “Over the last few months we would get one call on this every couple of weeks (from bankers), but over the last 10 days it seems to be every day I’m getting a call asking about this particular topic,” BlueBay’s Mark Dowding told Reuters.

“One senses we are getting to a point where this feels more imminent. We could well expect to see a deal in the next couple of weeks before investors depart for their summer holidays.” Dowding said BlueBay holds Greek bonds and would buy a new bond issue if the price was attractive. Tsakalotos also met investors including the world’s biggest bond fund PIMCO and US-based asset manager Standish, sources close to those meetings told Reuters. [..] A senior Greek government official told Reuters last week that no decision had yet been made on the timing of a deal. A banker advising Greece on its market return told Reuters on condition of anonymity: “They (Greece) are monitoring the market and they are trying to do something right now, so I wouldn’t rule out a deal within the next week or two.”

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FIghts in the Lesbos Moria camp yesterday.

NGOs Fearful Of Handing Island Refugee Camps To Greek State (K.)

Seven top NGOs aiding refugees in Greece have issued a joint statement expressing their concerns over the handover of responsibilities at migrant camps on the Greek islands to the government as of August 1. The NGOs say the Greek government has released few details about how it plans to continue providing existing assistance to residents at the camps. A deterioration of living conditions and diminished access to essential services are the main concerns cited if the Greek government does not communicate a plan to the NGOs before the handover. Since the start of the year, more than 9,500 refugees and migrants have arrived on the Greek islands, where nearly 14,000 are currently stranded. “Without a transitional plan, vulnerable men, women and children will be put at greater risk,” the statement said.

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The EU: where people go to drown.

EU Migrant Rescue Mission ‘Led To Increase In Deaths’ (Ind.)

A major naval mission spearheaded by the EU has failed to tackle people smuggling in the Mediterranean and may even be leading to higher death tolls, a new report has found. Operation Sophia, launched in 2015, has had little effect in deterring migration and its mandate should not be renewed, according to findings by the House of Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee. But the report concludes that the operation’s search and rescue work which has saved the lives of many people should continue. The initiative, involving 25 EU member states including the UK, was set up in the wake of disasters in which hundreds of migrants drowned attempting to reach Europe.

Yet detection of irregular migrants on the central Mediterranean route was at its highest level in 2016, when 181,436 people arrived in Europe by this route — an increase of 18 per cent on 2015, when the figure was 153,842. A naval mission is the “wrong tool” to tackle irregular migration, which begins onshore, the assessment found. It claimed an unintended consequence of Operation Sophia’s destruction of vessels had been that the smugglers have managed to adapt, sending migrants to sea in unseaworthy vessels. This led to a tragic increase in deaths, with 2,150 in 2017 to date, the report added. But it also noted that Operation Sophia vessels have rescued more than 33,000 people since the start of the mission.

The report comes just days after Amnesty International said “reckless” EU operations were destroying smugglers’ safest boats in the Mediterranean and causing more refugee deaths. It claimed the EU had “turned its back” on the search and rescue strategy. A report by the human rights group argued that the search-and-rescue measures implemented in 2015 dramatically decreased the numbers of deaths at sea, but that EU governments had now shifted their focus to disrupting smugglers and preventing boats departing from Libya. It said the EU strategy was “exposing refugees and migrants to even greater risks at sea”, destroying so many of the wooden boats used by smugglers that huge numbers of people had now started making the crossing on less safe rubber dinghies.

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Jul 062017
 
 July 6, 2017  Posted by at 9:07 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  3 Responses »
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Roy Lichtenstein Woman With Flowered Hat 1963

 

The Fed Grows Worried Its Loose Policy Threatens US Financial Stability (CNBC)
Fed Eyes September Announcement on Balance-Sheet Reduction (WSJ)
China’s Debt Binge Threatens Australia (CB)
Australian Housing ‘Bubble’ Fears Overblown, HSBC Economist Says (BBG)
Europe’s Quietly Growing Poor Population Is Getting Louder (Occupy)
German Banks Pose A Threat That Politicians Want To Hide (CNBC)
Saudi Arabia Chief Foreign Promoter Of Islamist Extremism In UK – Report (Ind.)
Theresa May: Austerity Prevents UK From Turning Into Greece (G.)
China’s Electric Cars Are Actually Pretty Dirty (BBG)
After Failure To Prove Trump-Russia Collusion, There’s Pro-Trump Websites (ZH)
Terrorists in Syria to Stage Provocations to Justify US Strikes – Moscow (Sp.)
Hollywood Promotes War On Behalf Of The Pentagon, CIA and NSA (M.)
Report In Sweden Claims Erdogan Orchestrated July 15 Coup In Turkey (SCF)
Three In Four Recent Greek Graduates Work For Less Than €800 A Month (K.)
EU Calls On Members To Aid Migrants Amid Rising Mediterranean Death Toll (G.)
EU Blamed For ‘Soaring’ Migrant, Refugee Death Toll (BBC)

 

 

I think the Fed has known this for a long time.

The Fed Grows Worried Its Loose Policy Threatens US Financial Stability (CNBC)

The Federal Reserve’s most recent interest rate hike came amid worries that keeping policy loose was posing increasing risks to financial stability and the economy. Fed officials indicated a determination to continue raising rates even with muted inflation levels, which they considered to be temporary and likely to rise over the long run to a targeted level of 2%, according to a summary from the June meeting of the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee. The Fed raised its benchmark rate target a quarter point at the meeting and outlined a plan to reduce its $4.5 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings it accrued while trying to stimulate the economy during and after the financial crisis. Meeting minutes released Wednesday indicated that Fed officials believe the balance sheet can be reduced with “limited” disruption to financial markets.

Officials also expressed little concern that low inflation would persist. However, Fed officials were divided on when the balance sheet runoff should begin, and did not release a timetable on when it would happen. Recent readings below the Fed’s 2% goal were attributed to “idiosyncratic factors, including sharp declines in prices of wireless telephone services and prescription drugs, and expected these developments to have little bearing on inflation over the medium run.” The rate hike came as several officials voiced concern over the effect, or lack thereof, that their recent measures were having on financial markets. Rather than causing conditions to tighten, they actually have grown looser since the central bank embarked on a series of hikes.

While the Fed has increased its benchmark rate target four times since December 2015, government bond yields have declined in recent months. Stocks have continued to gain in the second-longest bull market ever recorded, and multiple other measures of financial conditions remain loose. The meeting minutes reflected considerable discussion over why that was happening. Low bond yields, they reasoned, could be the product of “sluggish longer-term economic growth” as well as the Fed’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings.

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It’s time to say goodbye to the Fed and other central banks. They’re too destructive.

Fed Eyes September Announcement on Balance-Sheet Reduction (WSJ)

Federal Reserve officials have indicated there is a strong chance they will announce in September a decision to start shrinking the central bank’s portfolio of bonds and other assets, while putting off until December any further interest-rate increase. The moves would give officials time to assess how markets react to the balance-sheet reductions and to confirm their view that a recent slowdown in inflation will fade. Launching the balance-sheet plan in September also would afford Chairwoman Janet Yellen an opportunity to initiate it well ahead of any potential leadership transition. Her term as chair expires in February, and President Trump hasn’t indicated whether he would nominate her to a second term or replace her. While a final decision on the next Fed moves hasn’t been made, officials will have several opportunities in coming weeks to clarify their thinking.

The central bank releases minutes of the June meeting on Wednesday, and Ms. Yellen testifies before Congress next week. Officials will also gather in Jackson Hole at the end of August for an annual monetary-policy conference that will provide ample opportunities for them to offer further guidance. Earlier this year, some officials indicated they were considering raising interest rates in March, June and September and then starting the portfolio reduction plan in December. They did raise rates in March and June, but are considering the new strategy for several reasons. First, they agreed at their June policy meeting on how they would reduce the $4.5 trillion portfolio, and made that plan public. Some officials now think they might as well get started soon, given the U.S. economic expansion appears steady and global growth is improving.

Second, if Ms. Yellen isn’t nominated to a second term as chair, they would prefer not to wait until December and launch the plan shortly before her successor takes charge. Third, inflation remains a puzzle for the Fed. The unemployment rate fell to 4.3% in May, a 16-year low, yet price pressures have diminished in recent months, moving year-over-year inflation gauges further below the central bank’s 2% target. Some Fed officials in recent weeks have said they want to see more proof that such price softness is transitory before resuming rate increases, but haven’t signaled similar qualms about initiating the balance-sheet runoff. “Take the balance sheet, get that started, and position ourselves for a December rate increase,” said Chicago Fed President Charles Evans in an interview last month.

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But.. wasn’t it supposed to make Australia rich?

China’s Debt Binge Threatens Australia (CB)

No country can be indifferent to China’s economy, especially not Australia. We’re more exposed to what goes on in it than just about any other nation. China has long been the biggest market for our commodities, such as iron ore, coal and wool. And now it is the largest foreign buyer of our services, especially education and tourism. The upshot? Many thousands of Australian jobs depend on the health of the Chinese economy. Big Asian economies in our region – China, India and Indonesia – are bound to become even more important to us during this, the Asian Century. Our politicians like to dwell on the opportunities presented by the historic economic transformation to our north. But we’ll also need to be prepared for some nasty bumps along the way. The aftermath of China’s enormous corporate debt bubble could well be one of them.

For some years now China’s economic growth has been underpinned by an explosion in corporate lending. China has accounted for half – yes half – of all new credit created globally since 2005 according to the New York Federal Reserve. That’s a huge share for an economy that now only accounts for about 15% of the global economy. Alarm bells rang last August when the IMF pointed out the trajectory of credit growth in China was eerily similar to countries that experienced painful post-debt boom adjustments in the recent past. This includes Japan in the 1980s, Thailand prior to Asian Financial Crisis and Spain prior to the European debt crisis. The sheer pace of lending growth makes it likely many loans are going to marginal borrowers or unviable projects.

A recent Oxford University study that evaluated 65 major road and rail projects in China concluded just 28% could be considered “genuinely economically productive”. The rapid expansion of China’s less regulated “shadow banking” sector adds to the complexity. The Reserve Bank has described China’s financial system as “increasingly large, leveraged, interconnected, and opaque”. Authorities have recently taken steps to reduce credit growth in China but it continues to expand at a rapid pace. The Reserve’s latest review of financial stability published in April, said the risks continue to build. “The level of debt in China has risen significantly over the past decade to reach very high levels, with particularly strong growth in lending from the less regulated and more opaque parts of China’s financial system,” it said.

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Fire the guy, and all others like him.

Australian Housing ‘Bubble’ Fears Overblown, HSBC Economist Says (BBG)

Soaring home prices in Australia’s biggest cities are driven by strong demand and a lack of supply, rather than indicating a “bubble,” according to HSBC’s local Chief Economist Paul Bloxham. “At a national level, a key reason for rising housing prices has been housing under-supply,” Bloxham wrote in a research note on Thursday. “This also suggests that a significant fall in Australian housing prices, as occurred in the U.S. and Spain during the global financial crisis, is unlikely.” Five years of red-hot growth have left prices in Sydney and Melbourne up 80% and 60% since mid-2012, fueling bubble concerns. In June, Moody’s Investors Service cut the long-term credit ratings of Australia’s four biggest banks, saying surging home prices, rising household debt and sluggish wage growth pose a threat to the lenders.

Bloxham, a former staffer at the Reserve Bank of Australia, said that “fundamental factors” largely explain the price boom and, “as a result, we do not judge it to be a bubble.” Demand for housing in Melbourne and Sydney has been supported by domestic and international migration, foreign investment and a lack of new supply, he said. Price increases have been much smaller in places such as Perth, where demand has been weaker amid the waning of a mining boom. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has gradually been ratcheting up restrictions on riskier loans and in recent months the big lenders have all raised interest rates charged on interest-only loans. Bloxham said he believes these regulatory measures will help cool the market, along with lower demand from overseas and increased supply.

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“..more than 240 million people now live on the poverty line..”

Europe’s Quietly Growing Poor Population Is Getting Louder (Occupy)

[..] early last month, financial analysts lauded the explosive growth of the Eurozone, claiming that it had outdone the U.S. The ECB predicted that countries like Germany and France would be able to issue bonds worth over 600 billion euros by the end of the year. By all accounts it would seem that the storm has passed. The E.U. suffered long and hard, endured the departure of one of its most economically sound member-states, and has apparently managed to come out on top, even amid one of the most dire humanitarian crises in recent memory. However, a brief look at some the official reports published by E.U. economists paints a wholly different, less rosy picture. In March 2010, the European Commission published a detailed economic strategy that was intended to rescue the then 80 million citizens of the Eurozone from falling below the poverty line.

In a manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union, the Commission extensively defined “poverty” in as loose a terminology as possible, hoping to reduce the number of that population. It also measured income inequality using the wildly fluctuating per-capita incomes of each member-state. One of the more prevailing definitions used by the European Commission at the time was relative poverty: “People are said to be living in poverty if their income and resources are so inadequate as to preclude them from having a standard of living considered acceptable in the society in which they live. Because of their poverty they may experience multiple disadvantage through unemployment, low income, poor housing, inadequate health care and barriers to lifelong learning, culture, sport and recreation. They are often excluded and marginalized from participating in activities (economic, social and cultural) that are the norm for other people and their access to fundamental rights may be restricted.”

The purpose of the strategy was to implement, for lack of a better term, a “glorious 10-year plan” that would lift up the failing economies of the less developed or ailing member-states, encourage mobility within the Union and enable those 80 million citizens to be lifted above the poverty line. In 2017, the strategy was given a new, thorough assessment by Bruegel, a Brussels-based economic think-tank, which revealed that it not only failed to achieve its goal (an understandable outcome under the circumstances) but also increased the number of E.U. citizens risking poverty almost threefold. As of June, the European Commission website stated that more than 240 million people now live on the poverty line (around one-third of the E.U. population), with a full 9% of citizens suffering from deprivation.

That doesn’t factor in the considerable population of refugees and other marginalized communities such as the Roma, or the desperate populations of underdeveloped areas in countries like Romania. So where does all this leave the E.U.’s poor? According to predictions, financial troubles will escalate the already growing trend of social exclusion affecting women, single parents, immigrants and others in the E.U. for years to come. Already, E.U. citizens are choosing to abandon higher education in favor of steady employment. In countries like Greece, Macedonia and other member-states with expansive rural areas, the exodus of able-bodied young people combined with an aging population will lead to a long-term economic drain from which they may never recover.

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Too many banks? Or too much debt?

German Banks Pose A Threat That Politicians Want To Hide (CNBC)

With the Italian banking system in the spotlight, analysts have highlighted that Germany’s lenders are still not out of the woods, saying shipping loans and too many bank branches are some of the very real problems they are currently facing. German officials repeatedly tell EU members from the south of Europe to restructure their banking systems but industry experts believe they have a problem of their own as federal elections approach. “Germany is overbanked, too many banks, very little consolidation has taken place,” Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Germany, told CNBC via email on Wednesday. There are approximately 2,400 separate banks with more than 45,000 branches throughout the country and over 700,000 employees, according to Commercial Banks Guide, an industry website.

This increases the cost income ratio for banks, Brzeski explained. Meanwhile, the IMF warned last May that cost-to-income and leverage remain high in Germany. “Low profitability reflects structural inefficiencies, persistent crisis legacy issues, provisions for compliance violations, and the need to adjust to the new regulatory environment,” the IMF said in the report last May. Another problem seems to be the reliance on the shipping industry for many banks. “I would point towards some specific issues with asset quality: Shipping is one of the priorities of the single supervisor, the ECB, for next year,” Gildas Surry, senior analyst at Axiom Alternative Investments, told CNBC on Wednesday when citing the biggest problem for the German banking sector.

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As May refuses to make public a government report. Dead end.

Saudi Arabia Chief Foreign Promoter Of Islamist Extremism In UK – Report (Ind.)

Saudi Arabia is the chief foreign promoter of Islamist extremism in the UK, a report has warned. The conservative Henry Jackson Society said there was a “clear and growing link” between Islamist organisations preaching violence and foreign state funding. In a new report entitled “Foreign Funded Islamist Extremism in the UK”, the thinktank calls for a public inquiry into extremism bankrolled by other countries. It suggests several Gulf states and Iran are responsible for much of the foreign funding of extremism in the UK, but that Saudi Arabia in particular had spent millions on exporting its conservative branch of Wahhabi Islam to Muslim communities in the West since the 1960s.

The thinktank, run by controversial journalist and political commentator Douglas Murray, said this typically took the form of endowments to mosques and Islamic educational institutions which host radical preachers and distribute extremist literature. The report calls for a public inquiry in Saudi Arabia’s connections with UK based extremism. The UK’s Saudi Arabian embassy told the BBC the allegations were “categorically false”. But it comes as the Government is facing mounting pressure to release its own report into Saudi funding of extremism. Responding to a parliamentary question on Tuesday, Theresa May said ministers were “considering advice on what is able to be published and will report to Parliament with an update in due course”.

The report, which has been in Ms May’s personal possession for six months, was first commissioned by David Cameron in 2015 following an agreement with the Liberal Democrats to get their support for Syrian air strikes. But last month a spokesman for the Home Office admitted to the Guardian that the report may not be published because its contents were “very sensitive”. Since coming to power in July last year, Ms May has courted the conservative kingdom, which is one of the main buyers of UK-made arms. Earlier this year, the Government approved £3.5bn-worth of arms exports licences to the Gulf state.

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This is getting too absurd. She’s claiming austerity can rescue a nation, but look at Greece. Someone like Steve Keen should set May straight once and for all. Corbyn doesn’t sound terribly clear either.

Theresa May: Austerity Prevents UK From Turning Into Greece (G.)

Theresa May raised the spectre of a Greek-style economic collapse if Britain fails to press ahead with tackling the deficit on Wednesday, as she was challenged repeatedly by Jeremy Corbyn over the public sector pay cap. With intense political pressure on the prime minister – including from her own cabinet colleagues – to ease the strain for cash-strapped public servants, including nurses and teachers, she warned MPs about the risks of loosening the purse strings. “This is not a theoretical issue. Let us look at those countries that failed to deal with it. In Greece, where they have not dealt with the deficit … What did we see with that failure to deal with the deficit? Spending on the health service cut by 36%. That does not help nurses or patients,” she said.

Comparisons with Greece were repeatedly used by George Osborne in 2010 to justify public spending cuts, as riots erupted on the streets of Athens over the stringent bailout conditions imposed by the IMF and the eurozone. But the analogy represented a significant ratcheting up of the pro-austerity argument from May. A Conservative spokesman emphasised remarks afterwards, saying: “There are siren calls from Labour to abandon any kind of fiscal restraint whatsoever. What happens, we’ve seen as a case study, is what happened in Greece.” He added: “I think she was suggesting if Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party got the chance to impose its fiscal policies on the United Kingdom that is a very real threat.”

A spokesman for Corbyn described the claims as “preposterous”. “The situation in Greece is tied up with the eurozone and the management of the eurozone banks – we’re not remotely in that situation. Our manifesto and our pledges were costed, unlike the government’s,” he said.

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Prediction: the Green crowd is not going to listen.

China’s Electric Cars Are Actually Pretty Dirty (BBG)

China has been making great strides toward electrification. Electric vehicle sales are booming: Consumers bought more than 300,000 last year, and more than 5 million are expected to be on the road by 2020. The government just announced bold plans for a wave of big new battery factories. Encouraging as that may be, though, the move away from conventional cars and trucks won’t immediately reduce the country’s carbon emissions. On the contrary, the production and exploitation of electric vehicles in China actually produces more greenhouse gases and consumes more overall energy. In the short run, China’s moves could make greenhouse emissions go up, not down. Electric vehicles seem environmentally benign. They’re lightweight, energy-efficient, and potentially greener than their conventional counterparts.

But the reality is more complex. Their manufacture entails energy-intensive mining of rare elements, such as the lithium required for their batteries. Their fuel efficiency can make up for that in the course of use, but only if the electricity is produced in a relatively clean way. Developed nations get the best results, because they tend to generate electricity using cleaner sources. By one estimate, the average electric car in the U.S. has just half the greenhouse gas impact of a conventional car over its life cycle. It’s even less in the western, southern and northeastern parts of the country, where power plants draw more renewable power. A comprehensive energy model being developed by Argonne National Laboratory produces a similar estimate.

Europe does well, too. Looking at all the processes involved in the manufacture, use, and ultimate disposal of a range of both electrical and conventional vehicles, Norwegian researchers found that electric vehicles offer at least a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (assuming they were driven about 150,000 kilometers). To be sure, electric-vehicle batteries impose a host of other environmental costs linked to the mining of rare metals. But on carbon emissions, electric vehicles win out. The real challenge to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be in developing nations – especially China, which is likely to dominate the global auto market for decades to come. Unfortunately, the structure of China’s industrial economy will make it difficult. One recent study by Chinese engineers estimated that electric vehicles generate about a 50% increase in both greenhouse gas emissions and total energy consumption over their life cycle. The manufacture of the lithium-ion battery alone accounts for 13% of the energy consumption and 20% of the emissions.

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It’s high time for a reset. The narrative is dead.

After Failure To Prove Trump-Russia Collusion, There’s Pro-Trump Websites (ZH)

Having failed miserably to produce even one single shred of tangible evidence that Trump colluded with Russia to stage a coup in 2016’s presidential election, Democrats, rather than simply admit that their entire crusade to prove a false narrative was nothing more than a charade designed to cover up their embarrassing defeat, have decided to shift the narrative to target “pro-Trump websites.” You know, because a couple of websites sharing stories over Facebook clearly overshadowed the 24/7 Hillary Clinton cheerleading sessions on CNN, MSNBC, NBC, ABC, CBS, Washington Post, New York Times… Per The Guardian, this convenient shift in the ‘Russian hacking’ narrative comes just as Trump’s former head of digital media has been summoned to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer for his alleged ‘sins:”

“The spread of Russian-made fake news stories aimed at discrediting Hillary Clinton on social media is emerging as an important line of inquiry in multiple investigations into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Investigators are looking into whether Trump supporters and far-right websites coordinated with Moscow over the release of fake news, including stories implicating Clinton in murder or pedophilia, or paid to boost those stories on Facebook.The head of the Trump digital camp, Brad Parscale, has reportedly been summoned to appear before the House intelligence committee looking into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee carrying out a parallel inquiry, has said that at least 1,000 “paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia” were pumping anti-Clinton fake news into social media sites during the campaign.”

Ironically, the same investigators digging into the “Trump collusion” narrative admit that similar media campaigns were used during the Democratic primaries in favor of Bernie Sanders. Oddly, however, there has been no organized effort to figure out whether or not Bernie conspired with Putin to destroy Clinton’s chances at the White House. A huge wave of fake news stories originating from eastern Europe began washing over the presidential election months earlier, at the height of the primary campaign. John Mattes, who was helping run the outline campaign for the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders from San Diego, said it really took off in March 2016. “In a 30-day period, dozens of full-blown sites appeared overnight, running full level productions posts. It screamed out to me that something strange was going on,” Mattes said. Much of the material was untraceable, but he tracked 40% of the new postings back to eastern Europe.

Four of the Facebook members posting virulent and false stories about Clinton (suggesting, for example, that she had profited personally by arming Islamic State extremists) had the same name, Oliver Mitov. They all had a very small number of Facebook friends, including one which all four had in common. When Mattes tried to friend them and contact them there was no reply.

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Does anyone still notice the lack of evidence?

Terrorists in Syria to Stage Provocations to Justify US Strikes – Moscow (Sp.)

According to information in the possession of Russian Foreign Ministry, terrorists in Syria are planning to stage chemical provocations in order to justify US strikes on government forces, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during her weekly presser on Thursday. Russia believes terrorists in Syria plan to stage chemical attacks in order to justify US airstrikes against the Syrian military, Zakharova said. “According to information available [to us], Syrian terrorist groups plan staged provocative actions with the use of chemical poison gases to justify US strikes against the positions of the Syrian government forces,” Zakharova told a weekly briefing.

Daesh has deployed chemical laboratories and special equipment for creating chemical bombs to Deir ez-Zor from Raqqa in Syria, Zakharova revealed. The relocation of the laboratories from Raqqa speaks to the US-led coalition’s “selective reluctance to see facts” and “aiding insurgents,” according to Zakharova. The spokeswoman reiterated that Russia will seek thorough probe of the April 4 incident in Khan Sheikhoun in addition to other ‘chemical’ provocations against the Syrian authorities. “We will continue to consistently seek the most professionally rigorous and politically impartial investigation into the investigation of both the Khan Sheikhoun chemical incident and other persistent chemical provocations against the legitimate Syrian government,” Zakharova said.

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Setting the social mood. Robert Prechter can tell you a lot about that. But he sees it as a phenomenon that moves itself.

Hollywood Promotes War On Behalf Of The Pentagon, CIA and NSA (M.)

When we first looked at the relationship between politics, film and television at the turn of the 21st century, we accepted the consensus opinion that a small office at the Pentagon had, on request, assisted the production of around 200 movies throughout the history of modern media, with minimal input on the scripts. How ignorant we were. More appropriately, how misled we had been. We have recently acquired 4,000 new pages of documents from the Pentagon and CIA through the Freedom of Information Act. For us, these documents were the final nail in the coffin. These documents for the first time demonstrate that the US government has worked behind the scenes on over 800 major movies and more than 1,000 TV titles.

The previous best estimate, in a dry academic book way back in 2005, was that the Pentagon had worked on less than 600 films and an unspecified handful of television shows. The CIA’s role was assumed to be just a dozen or so productions, until very good books by Tricia Jenkins and Simon Willmetts were published in 2016. But even then, they missed or underplayed important cases, including Charlie Wilson’s War and Meet the Parents. Alongside the massive scale of these operations, our new book National Security Cinema details how US government involvement also includes script rewrites on some of the biggest and most popular films, including James Bond, the Transformers franchise, and movies from the Marvel and DC cinematic universes.

A similar influence is exerted over military-supported TV, which ranges from Hawaii Five-O to America’s Got Talent, Oprah and Jay Leno to Cupcake Wars, along with numerous documentaries by PBS, the History Channel and the BBC. National Security Cinema also reveals how dozens of films and TV shows have been supported and influenced by the CIA, including the James Bond adventure Thunderball, the Tom Clancy thriller Patriot Games and more recent films, including Meet the Parents and Salt. The CIA even helped to make an episode of Top Chef that was hosted at Langley, featuring then-CIA director Leon Panetta who was shown as having to skip dessert to attend to vital business. Was this scene real, or was it a dramatic statement for the cameras?

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Expect Erdogan to be loud and poresent this weekend around the G20.

Report In Sweden Claims Erdogan Orchestrated July 15 Coup In Turkey (SCF)

Last year’s failed coup attempt in Turkey is nothing but a false flag orchestrated by Turkey s autocratic President Recep Tayip Erdogan and his henchmen to create a pretext for a mass persecution of critics and opponents in a state of perpetual emergency, a new detailed study titled ‘July 15: Erdogan’s Coup’ by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) concluded. Based on publicly available data, the coup indictments, testimonials in court trials, private interviews, reviews of military expert opinions and other evidence collected by researchers, SCF is fairly confident that this attempt did not even qualify a coup bid in any sense of military mobilization which was unusually limited in numbers, confined in few cities, poorly managed, defied the established practices, tradition, rules of engagement and standard operating procedures in Turkish military.

This was a continuation of a series of false flags that were uncovered in the last couple of years under the authoritarian rule of Erdoan regime and it was certainly the bloodiest one, said Abdullah Bozkurt, the President of SCF. Erdogan appears to have tapped on widely circulated coup rumors in Turkish capital and staged own show to steal wind and set up his opposition for a persecution, he added. Judging from the results of the coup bid, Erdogan won big time by securing imperial presidency, consolidating his gains, stifle the opposition and even launching cross border military incursion into Syria for which he had been itching for too long. No wonder why he immediately called the attempt ‘a gift from God’. The report was originally published in Turkish. SCF plans to release an English edition soon with new changes and updated data.

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Shock doctrine. What can they do but leave?

Three In Four Recent Greek Graduates Work For Less Than €800 A Month (K.)

Almost three in every four (73%) people who graduated after 2011 in Greece collect no more than 800 euros per month, while one in six gets less than 400 euros per month, if they have a job, according to the findings of a survey the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) presented on Wednesday. That compares with just 24% of pre-2011 graduates who get less than 800 euros per month. In the years of the financial crisis graduates have found it much more difficult to find work, as the unemployment rate among degree-holders soared from 7% in 2009 to 18% in 2016.

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Report after report circles around money. Not people.

EU Calls On Members To Aid Migrants Amid Rising Mediterranean Death Toll (G.)

Brussels will urge European countries to give shelter to more refugees from Africa to ease the pressure on Italy, as record numbers of people attempt the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. The European Union executive wants all member states – including the UK – to contribute to resettling a total of 37,000 vulnerable people from five north African countries by the end of 2018. Interior ministers meeting in Tallinn on Thursday will be called on by Dmitris Avramopoulos, the EU home affairs commissioner, to make voluntary pledges by the middle of September. The appeal came as Amnesty International released a damning 31-page reportlinking “failing EU policies” to the the rising death toll in the Mediterranean, and shocking abuses faced by refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centres.

The EU resettlement plan is focused on children, as well as victims of people smugglers and torture, from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan and Ethiopia. Most people making the perilous sea crossing from north Africa are deemed to be economic migrants not eligible for international protection. But the EU announced a relocation plan for vulnerable people as part of a package of emergency measures to help ease pressure on Italy. “It can be an important safety valve for people with vulnerabilities,” said an EU source. Frans Timmermans, European commission vice president, has made clear Brexit does not exclude the UK from the 2017-2018 programme, although pledges are voluntary. The plan, which has a strong emphasis on returning unwanted migrants, emerged as it was revealed that EU countries have paid in less than half of the funds promised to help African governments manage migration.

The Africa “trust fund” was announced with fanfare in 2015 to win African support for the deportation of unwanted migrants in Europe. Brussels has contributed €2.6bn (£2.3bn) from the EU budget, but officials are frustrated that national capitals are not digging deeper into their state coffers. Only €90bn of a promised €202bn has so far materialised. The UK has paid in €0.6bn of its promised €3bn, far less than Italy, which has paid €32bn. France, Germany and Spain have put in €3bn each, according to the latest data from the European commission.

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The EU will say: but look at all the money we gave! And then blames member states.

EU Blamed For ‘Soaring’ Migrant, Refugee Death Toll (BBC)

Amnesty International has blamed “failing EU policies” for the soaring death toll among refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean. In a report, it said “cynical deals” with Libya consigned thousands to the risk of drowning, rape and torture. It said the EU was turning a blind eye to abuses in Libyan detention centres, and was mostly leaving it up to sea rescue charities to save migrants. More than 2,000 people have died in 2017 trying to get to Europe, it said. The EU has so far made no public comments on Amnesty’s report. It comes as interior ministers from the 28-member bloc are meeting in Tallinn, Estonia, to discuss the migrant crisis. They will review a $92m (£71m) action plan unveiled by the European Commission to deal with the issue.

The commission proposes to use more than 50% of the funds to boost the Libyan coastguard’s capacity to stop traffickers launching boatloads of migrants out to sea to be rescued. The rest is to help Italy feed, house and process the migrants who get there. “Rather than acting to save lives and offer protection, European ministers… are shamelessly prioritising reckless deals with Libya in a desperate bid to prevent refugees and migrants from reaching Italy,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty’s Europe director. “European states have progressively turned their backs on a search and rescue strategy that was reducing mortality at sea in favour of one that has seen thousands drown and left desperate men, women and children trapped in Libya, exposed to horrific abuses,” he said.

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Mar 182017
 
 March 18, 2017  Posted by at 9:04 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  11 Responses »
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Andreas Feininger Production B-17 heavy bomber at Boeing plant, Seattle 1942

 

How Bankers Became The Top Exploiters Of The Economy (Michael Hudson)
World Out Of Whack: What’s Next For Global Real Estate? (CE)
Make Big Banks Put 20% Down—Just Like Home Buyers Do (Kashkari)
Deepening EU Banking Crisis Meets Euro-TARP on Angel Dust (DQ)
The Paranoid Attempts To Tie Trump To Russia (Qz)
Clinton Ally Says Smoke, But No Fire: No Russia-Trump Collusion (NBC)
Justice Dept. Delivers Documents On Wiretap Claim To Congress (R.)
Secret Service Says Laptop Stolen From Agent’s Car In New York (R.)
A Bad Week and Getting Badder Bigly Fast (Jim Kunstler)
Athens Sees Turk Effort To Dispute Greek Sovereignty In Aegean (K.)
Turkey Threatens To Send Europe ‘15,000 Refugees A Month’ (AFP)
Over 10,000 Refugees Relocated, IOM Says (K.)

 

 

Absolutely brilliant interview with Michael Hudson. Read the whole thing. It’ll give you so much insight.

How Bankers Became The Top Exploiters Of The Economy (Michael Hudson)

There are two ways of thinking about the economy. The school textbooks only talk about was producing goods and services for wages and profits. They don’t talk about rent or unearned income. That’s what I mean by “unreal” – not grounded in production. And they don’t talk about interest either, or the framework of debt and property rights. There’s a lot of talk about what seems to be the circular flow between producers and consumers. That circular flow is called Say’s law. For example, Henry Ford said he paid his workers $5 a day so that they could afford to buy the cars that they produced. Workers are depicted as paying their wages to buy what they make. All that seemed to make sense, but the economy of production is different from financial and property wealth. Who owns the assets, and who owes debts to whom?

If you look at the economic framework in terms of assets and debt, you find that the 1% makes its money by holding the 99% in debt. Or at least, you could say that the 5% make its money by holding the 95% in debt. The trick is to get other people in debt. How do you do that? You make them think that they can gain. They’re willing to borrow to buy a home, because they think that since 1945, the way that most American families have gotten rich – indeed, the way the middle class was created throughout most western countries – was by the increasing price of real estate they bought on credit. What they didn’t realize was that the price of real estate was being bid up in two ways. Number 1: By more bank lending, on easier terms. Number 2: By public infrastructure spending. Cities, states and federal governments built parks, museums, roads, railroads, water and sewer systems, and electric utilities. But this began to come to an end with Reagan and Thatcher in 1980.

You have had a privatization of public infrastructure – goods that the public sector provided for free, saving people from having to pay monopoly prices. Instead of financing public investment by progressive taxation, it was financed by borrowing. Banks got more and more aggressive and reckless in creating new credit, because they felt they were guaranteed against loss. That was the essence of financialization. Financial engineering replaced industrial engineering. What people thought was wealth turned out to be a rentier overhead. This confusion between real tangible wealth and financial overhead claims on the economy was recognized already over 100 years ago by somebody who won a Nobel Prize: Frederick Soddy. But he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. He wrote many books saying what people think of wealth— stocks and bonds, bank loans and property rights —are virtual wealth. They are financial claims on real wealth.

A stock or bond is a claim on the income that real wealth can make. So it’s on the opposite side of the balance sheet from assets. It’s on the liabilities side. Economists used to talk about land as a factor of production. But land rights are really a property claim, like a monopoly claim. It’s as if you’d say Walt Disney’s patents on Mickey Mouse or movies that Walt Disney makes are a factor of production. They’re really a property right to charge a monopoly price. The right to charge a monopoly price for a cable service isn’t really a factor of production. It’s extractive. It’s what economists call a zero-sum activity. So classical economics has a different idea of what national income is from today’s idea. A monopoly right is not an addition to national wealth or income just because monopolists make more. It’s a subtraction from the economy’s circular flow.

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Painful.

World Out Of Whack: What’s Next For Global Real Estate? (CE)

Ever since anyone can remember, global real estate prices have been going up. Pretty much doesn’t matter which country you’re from (unless, of course, it’s Syria, or Iraq… or Fuhggedistan): if you bought something in the last 2 to 3 decades, it’s like the ceilings were insulated with helium. Even when the 2008 crisis hit and we had Captain Clever ensuring the world that things were just peachy: “At this juncture, however, the impact on the broader economy and financial markets of the problems in the subprime market seems likely to be contained. In particular, mortgages to prime borrowers and fixed-rate mortgages to all classes of borrowers continue to perform well, with low rates of delinquency.” – Ben Bernanke, March 28, 2007 Even with that setback real estate has marched upward. The US, of course, took a decent breather and is only today back to where it was pre the GFC. But the US isn’t the world, so let’s look at what everyone else has been up to. Take a look at this:

In truth, it hasn’t just been Mr. and Mrs. Smith in their tweed coats buying up UK properties, just as it hasn’t been Sheila and Bruce in Sydney, or even Maple and Hudson in Canada. A significant amount of buying power in these markets has come from offshore buyers, largely frightened Chinese money being parked. It’s pretty extraordinary, really.Prices alone don’t provide us with the entire picture or provide us with context. I mean, real estate prices in Harare went through the roof, too, in the 2008-09 period (in ZWD) but the currency went through the floor and real purchasing power collapsed. Context, therefore, is important.Also, clearly a swanky penthouse in Manhattan overlooking the Hudson river shouldn’t be priced the same as a swanky penthouse in Vientiane overlooking the Mekong. The main difference? Incomes. So let’s take a look at prices relative to incomes for a better understanding.

Buying a house in the US actually makes a lot more sense. Certainly relative to its international peers the US is cheap. In fact, if you factor in the ability to fix debt for a ridiculously long time in a currency that’s ultimately going to get hammered, and if you need to find somewhere to live then you’ve found a way to essentially be synthetically short the bond market (provided you fix your rates). I’m not advocating this as a strategy but merely pointing out the mechanics of the trade. As investors we’re interested in viewing real estate as we would any investment or asset, and as such understanding the cashflows is important. Naturally, incomes relative to asset prices tell us what the owner’s cashflows are relative to the asset they’ve buying… and the same analysis can be conducted against student loans, car loans – any credit instrument, really. Here’s rents (cashflows) relative to asset prices:

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Kashkari makes sense. Lots of it. But will he push it through? Put his career on the line for it?

Make Big Banks Put 20% Down—Just Like Home Buyers Do (Kashkari)

There’s a straightforward way to help prevent the next financial crisis, fix the too-big-to-fail problem, and still relax regulations on community lenders: increase capital requirements for the largest banks. In November, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, which I lead, announced a draft proposal to do precisely that. Our plan would increase capital requirements on the biggest banks—those with assets over $250 billion—to at least 23.5%. It would reduce the risk of a taxpayer bailout to less than 10% over the next century. Alarmingly, there has been recent public discussion of moving in the opposite direction. Several large-bank CEOs have suggested that their capital requirements are already too high and are holding back lending.

[..] Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan recently asked, “Do we have [to hold] an extra $20 billion in capital? Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but that’s $200 billion in loans we could make.” It is true that some regulations implemented after the 2008 financial crisis are imposing undue burdens, especially on small banks, without actually making the financial system safer. But the assertion that capital requirements are holding back lending is demonstrably false. How can I prove it? Simple: Borrowing costs for homeowners and businesses are near record lows. If loans were scarce, borrowers would be competing for them, driving up costs. That isn’t happening. Nor do other indicators suggest a lack of loans. Bank credit has grown 23% over the past three years, about twice as much as nominal GDP.

Only 4% of small businesses surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business report not having their credit needs met. If capital standards are relaxed, banks will almost certainly use the newly freed money to buy back their stock and increase dividends. The goal for large banks won’t be to increase lending, but to boost their stock prices. Let’s not forget: That’s the job of a bank CEO. It isn’t to protect taxpayers. [..] There is a simple and fair solution to the too-big-to-fail problem. Banks ask us to put 20% down when buying our homes to protect them in case we run into trouble. Similarly, taxpayers should make large banks put 20% down in the form of equity to prevent bailouts in case the financial system runs into trouble. Higher capital for large banks and streamlined regulation for small banks would minimize frustration for borrowers. If 20% down is reasonable to ask of us, it is reasonable to ask of the banks.

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This is why we get the calls for Eurobonds again, and the world’s biggest bad bank.

Deepening EU Banking Crisis Meets Euro-TARP on Angel Dust (DQ)

The total stock of non-performing loans (NPL) in the EU is estimated at over €1 trillion, or 5.4% of total loans, a ratio three times higher than in other major regions of the world. On a country-by-country basis, things take look even scarier. Currently 10 (out of 28) EU countries have an NPL ratio above 10% (orders of magnitude higher than what is generally considered safe). And among Eurozone countries, where the ECB’s monetary policies have direct impact, there are these NPL stalwarts: Ireland: 15.8%; Italy: 16.6%; Portugal: 19.2%; Slovenia: 19.7%; Greece: 46.6%; Cyprus: 49%. That bears repeating: in Greece and Cyprus, two of the Eurozone’s most bailed out economies, virtually half of all the bank loans are toxic. Then there’s Italy, whose €350 billion of NPLs account for roughly a third of Europe’s entire bad debt stock.

Italy’s government and financial sector have spent the last year and a half failing spectacularly to come up with a solution to the problem. The two “bad bank” funds they created to help clean up the banks’ toxic balance sheets, Atlante I and Atlante II, are the financial equivalent of bringing a butter knife to a machete fight. So underfunded are they, they even strugggled to hold aloft smaller, regional Italian banks like Veneto Banca and Popolare di Vicenza, which are now pleading for a bailout from Rome, which in turn is pleading for clemency from Brussels. What little funds Atlante I and Atlante II have left are hemorrhaging value as the “assets” they’ve been used to buy up, invariably at prices that were way too high (often at over 40 cents on the euro), continue to deteriorate. The recent decision of Italy’s two biggest banks, Unicredit and Intesa Sao Paolo, to significantly write down their investment in Atlante is almost certain to discourage the private sector from pumping fresh funds into bailing out weaker banks.

Which means someone else must step in, and soon. And that someone is almost certain to be the European taxpayer. In February ECB Vice President Vitor Constancio called for the creation of a whole new class of government-backed “bad banks” to help buy some of the €1 trillion of bad loans putrefying on bank balance sheets. Constancio’s idea bore a striking resemblance to a formal proposal put forward by the European Banking Authority (EBA) for the creation of a massive EU-wide bad bank that, in the words of EBA president Andrea Enria, would “make it much easier to achieve critical mass and to create a well functioning market for (impaired) assets.” Here’s how it would work, according to Enria’s words:

“The banks would sell their non-performing loans to the asset management company at a price reflecting the real economic value of the loans, which is likely to be below the book value, but above the market price currently prevailing in illiquid markets. So the banks will likely have to take additional losses. The asset manager would then have three years to sell those assets to private investors. There would be a guarantee from the member state of each bank transferring assets to the asset management company, underpinned by warrants on each bank’s equity. This would protect the asset management company from future losses if the final sale price is below the initial transfer price.”

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The Democrats are self-imploding over this. They need leadership, fast. And untainted.

The Paranoid Attempts To Tie Trump To Russia (Qz)

In the months following Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US presidential election, it has become increasingly clear that the Democratic party is unwilling—and perhaps unable—to come to terms with the country’s post-election reality. The party’s inability to accept defeat has since manifested itself through an increasingly hysterical campaign to blame Hillary Clinton’s defeat on alleged Russian interference. The charge that Russia, in the words of respected Russia expert and longtime Clinton associate Strobe Talbott, breached “the firewall of American democracy” has been repeated so often and by so many that it has taken on the patina of fact. It has become an article of faith, among disappointed Clinton partisans, mainstream political commentators, Democrats on Capitol Hill and Republicans like senator Lindsey Graham, that the election was tainted and that Trump’s legitimacy as president is questionable, at best.

The tendency to blame domestic disappointments on foreign bogeymen is not new and is perhaps better understood as a wave that periodically surfaces, then temporarily subsumes American politics. Indeed, this current reliance on conspiracy theories and accusations of unpatriotic disloyalty has been a feature, not a bug, of discourse regarding Russia since the onset of the crisis in Ukraine in early 2014. Yet this paranoia is, so far, little more than a distraction. By blaming Clinton’s loss on Russia, the political establishment is able to largely ignore the way economic, trade, and foreign policies failed large numbers of Americans. And, by elevating Vladimir Putin to supervillain status, this neo-McCarthyism is hindering debate and undermining legitimate attempts to deescalate tensions with our Russian colleagues.

MSNBC’s house intellectual Rachel Maddow has been among the most vociferous and, at times, most incisive critics of president Trump. Yet she also recently questioned whether Trump is actually under the control of the Kremlin. During her broadcast on March 9, Maddow told viewers that what she finds “particularly unsettling” is that “we are also starting to see what may be signs of continuing [Russian] influence in our country. Not just during the campaign but during the administration. Basically, signs of what could be a continuing operation.” That Maddow, a popular and respected liberal voice, would indulge in rhetoric of this sort is a worrying sign given the lack of hard evidence it is based on.

While many have convinced themselves that Russia tipped the scale of the election toward Trump, the more sinister allegations of Putin infiltrating the White House have not been born out. Even the former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in early March that he has “no knowledge” and “no evidence” of “collusion” between Russia and the Trump campaign. Yet Maddow’s charge recalls some of the worst excesses of the early 1950’s, when our political life was marred by the Red Scare and a climate of paranoia prevailed. Unsubstantiated allegations, not dissimilar to the kind Maddow just levied, were characteristic of that era.

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Steele was paying his ‘sources’ through third parties.

Clinton Ally Says Smoke, But No Fire: No Russia-Trump Collusion (NBC)

Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell, who endorsed Hillary Clinton and called Donald Trump a dupe of Russia, cast doubt Wednesday night on allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Morell, who was in line to become CIA director if Clinton won, said he had seen no evidence that Trump associates cooperated with Russians. He also raised questions about the dossier written by a former British intelligence officer, which alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. His comments were in sharp contrast to those of many Clinton partisans — such as former communications director Jennifer Palmieri — who have stated publicly they believe the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election against Clinton. Morell said he had learned that the former officer, Christopher Steele, paid his key Russian sources, and interviewed them through intermediaries.

“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all,” Morell said at an event sponsored by the Cipher Brief, an intelligence web site. “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.” Morell pointed out that former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on Meet the Press on March 5 that he had seen no evidence of a conspiracy when he left office January 20. “That’s a pretty strong statement by General Clapper,” Morell said. About the dossier, Morell said, “Unless you know the sources, and unless you know how a particular source acquired a particular piece of information, you can’t judge the information — you just can’t.” The dossier “doesn’t take you anywhere, I don’t think,” he said.

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No proof on this side of the fence either. Everybody’s just making stuff up.

Justice Dept. Delivers Documents On Wiretap Claim To Congress (R.)

The U.S. Justice Department on Friday said it delivered documents to congressional committees responding to their request for information that could shed light on President Donald Trump’s claims that former President Barack Obama ordered U.S. agencies to spy on him. The information was sent to the House and Senate intelligence and judiciary committees, said Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Devin Nunes, said in a statement late on Friday that the Justice Department had “fully complied” with the panel’s request.

A government source, who requested anonymity when discussing sensitive information, said an initial examination of the material turned over by the Justice Department indicates that it contains no evidence to confirm Trump’s claims that the Obama administration had wiretapped him or the Trump Tower in New York. The House Intelligence Committee will hold a hearing on Monday on allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers will testify and are expected to field questions on Trump’s wiretap claim. Leaders of both the House and Senate intelligence committees, including from Trump’s Republican Party, have said they have found no evidence to substantiate Trump’s claims that Obama ordered U.S. agencies to spy on Trump or his entourage. The White House has publicly offered no proof of the allegation.

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What an insane story this is. How did the media get all their info?

Secret Service Says Laptop Stolen From Agent’s Car In New York (R.)

The U.S. Secret Service said on Friday a laptop was stolen from an agent’s car in New York City but that such agency-issued computers contain multiple layers of security and are not permitted to contain classified information. The agency said in a statement that it was withholding additional comment while an investigation continues. ABC News, citing law enforcement sources, said the laptop contained floor plans for Trump Tower, details on the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and other national security information. The New York Daily News, citing police sources, said authorities had been searching for the laptop since it was stolen on Thursday morning from the agent’s vehicle in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.

Some items stolen with the laptop, including coins and a black bag with the Secret Service insignia on it, were later recovered, the newspaper reported. CBS News, also citing law enforcement sources, said that some of the documents on the computer included important files on Pope Francis. The agent also told investigators that while nothing about the White House or foreign leaders is stored on the laptop, the information there could compromise national security, the Daily News reported. “There’s data on there that’s highly sensitive,” a police source told the newspaper, adding: “They’re scrambling like mad.”

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Jim was interviewed by Tucker Carlson about this, hope the video shows below (embedding Fox doesn’t always work). Really, Jim, Fox? I know, who else is left?

A Bad Week and Getting Badder Bigly Fast (Jim Kunstler)

[..] it also looks a bit as though the Golden Golem of Re-Greatification has wandered into a political minefield so dense with booby traps that he’s already out of moves. First there’s the debt ceiling problem — which has so far received almost no attention from the Kardashianized collective news media. As David Stockman has pointed out on his blog, the US Treasury amassed a “war chest” of nearly half a trillion dollars last fall (via various book-keeping shenanigans) in expectation that President Hillary would need it to ride out some fiscal bad weather early in her reign. Then, the truly inconceivable happened and Hillary won bigly in the wrong states and not bigly enough in the right ones, and, well….

Immediately, with Trump ascendant, the Treasury and its handmaidens at the Federal Reserve engineered a rapid burn-through of the war chest at a rate of about $90-billion a month since November, so that now there remains only about a month’s worth of walking-around money to run the US Government. With the old debt ceiling truce expired, congress would have to resolve to raise it, to legally enable the Treasury to resume its massive borrowing operations, or else the government won’t be able to pay invoices or issue pension checks or meet any obligations. It could even default on its “no risk” bonds. Those dangers are theoretical for the moment, especially since there is always more accounting fraud to resort to when all else fails. But the longer a debt ceiling stalemate goes on in congress, the more trapped President Trump will be.

The cherry on top is the Federal Reserve’s move to raise interest rates the same day the debt ceiling truce expired. That will thunder through the system, making many loans more expensive to repay, dampening the real estate markets (at a time when commercial real estate is already tanking), and draining all kinds of other mojo (however falsely engineered) from the Potemkin economy. As if being trapped in a political minefield isn’t bad enough, the remaining safe patch Trump is stranded on turns out to be the LaBrea Tar Pit of health care reform. At this point, the crusade is doing worse than going nowhere — it’s getting sucked into the primordial bitumen where the mastodons and camelops sleep.

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Watch out, Merkel, Trump, NATO. You’re playing with fire.

Athens Sees Turk Effort To Dispute Greek Sovereignty In Aegean (K.)

In what is seen in Athens as an effort by Ankara to push through its message that Greece has limited sovereignty in the area of the Eastern Mediterranean surrounding the island of Kastelorizo, Turkish forces have in recent days maintained a steady presence in the region, either through military exercises or with the dispatch of research vessels. According to a navigational telex (navtex) issued by Turkey, the Piri Reis oceanographic vessel will remain in the area south of Kastelorizo until Monday. Furthermore, according to another two navigational telexes, Turkey is planning to conduct exercises with live ammunition in areas west and east of Kastelorizo (within Turkish territorial waters).

Moreover, Ankara has already announced that it will conduct hydrocarbon explorations in the Eastern Mediterranean next month. It remains to be seen exactly what part of the Eastern Mediterranean Turkey plans to explore. In Athens, Turkey’s moves are seen to be clearly linked to the decision by Cyprus to move ahead, in spite of Ankara’s objections, with the extraction of natural gas from drilling block 11 in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). In an interview with CNN Greece, which will be broadcast Friday, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades again expressed his concerns over the tensions that may be further fueled in the period stretching “from now until the Turkish referendum (on April 16),” and by the ongoing effort to create “an atmosphere of fanaticism within Turkish society.”

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The Erdogan referendum is one month from now. Much more important to him till then than international relations.

Turkey Threatens To Send Europe ‘15,000 Refugees A Month’ (AFP)

Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has threatened to “blow the mind” of Europe by sending 15,000 refugees a month to EU territory, in an intensifying dispute with the bloc. Ankara and Brussels almost a year ago on March 18 signed a landmark deal that has substantially lessened the flow of migrants from Turkey to Europe. But the accord is now hanging in the balance due to the diplomatic crisis over the blocking of Turkish ministers from holding rallies in Europe. “If you want, we could open the way for 15,000 refugees that we don’t send each month and blow the mind” of Europe, Soylu said in a speech late Thursday, quoted by the Anadolu news agency. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has already indicated that Turkey could rip up the deal and said Turkey was no longer readmitting migrants who crossed into Greece.

The crisis was sparked when the Netherlands and Germany refused to allow Turkish ministers to campaign in a April 16 referendum on expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers, prompting the Turkish strongman to compare them with Nazi Germany. Soylu, a hardliner considered close to Erdogan, accused The Hague and Berlin of involvement in June 2013 anti-Erdogan protests, October 2014 pro-Kurdish riots and the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt. “They are trying to complete the work that they did not finish. Who is doing this work? It’s the Netherlands and Germany,” Soylu said. He accused Europe of failing to help Turkey enter the bloc and of not helping with its fight against terror. “Europe, do you have that kind of courage…? Let us remind you that you cannot play games in this region and ignore Turkey,” he added.

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There were supposed to be 160,000. And this is less than one month of what Turkey threatens to send over.

Over 10,000 Refugees Relocated, IOM Says (K.)

More than 10,000 asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq and Eritrea have been relocated from Greece to other European Union states since the launch of the bloc’s relocation program in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, which is implementing the scheme. Since the beginning of March, 367 people have left Greece for Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain, bringing the total number of people relocated from Greece to 10,004, IOM said on Friday. Over the same period, another 475 people were relocated from Italy. The total number of people relocated from Greece and Italy since the program was launched in October 2015 now stands at 14,439, the organization said.

“We have seen a steady increase of pledges and acceptance from participating EU countries in the past few months. At this rate, there will be a further 15,000 to 18,000 relocations from Greece by the end of the program,” said Eugenio Ambrosi, director of IOM’s Regional Office for the EU, Norway and Switzerland. The numbers are short of the original target as 66,400 places had been allocated for relocation from Greece and 39,600 from Italy. “We cannot rest at ease because the overall numbers are too low given the needs in Greece and the commitments that were made. We continue to encourage EU member-states to follow through fully on their commitments,” Ambrosi said.

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