Mar 012019
 


Salvador Dali Eggs on the plate (without the plate) 1932

 

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)
The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)
China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)
China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)
Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)
CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)
Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)
Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)
The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)
Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)
Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)
The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

 

 

Well, they delivered something. But that’s a much bigger topic than just tax cuts, that’s Fed policy.

Lance is trying to utterly confuse us with an absolute overkill of graphs all in one place. But the gist is clear.

Tax Cuts A Year Later – Did They Deliver? (Roberts)

I received a lot of push back on my views when the “mainstream” analysis was the tax cuts would jump start economic growth. Of course, with 2017’s Q1 economic growth coming in at a meager 0.7% annualized, it would certainly seem to be needed. But as I questioned then: “Do tax reductions lead to higher economic growth, employment and incomes over the long-term as promised?” Speaking to NBC’s Meet the Press, VP Mike Pence argued at the time he was confident that eventually, the deficit would decline as it would be overcome by surging economic “growth” thanks to the tax cuts it will fund. [..] As shown in the chart below, changes to tax rates have a very limited impact on economic growth over the longer term.

Reagan’s tax cuts were effective because they were “timely” due to the economic, fiscal, and valuation backdrop which is diametrically opposed to the situation today. “Importantly, as has been stated, the proposed tax cut by President-elect Trump will be the largest since Ronald Reagan. However, in order to make valid assumptions on the potential impact of the tax cut on the economy, earnings and the markets, we need to review the differences between the Reagan and Trump eras. My colleague, Michael Lebowitz, recently penned the following on this exact issue.

‘Many investors are suddenly comparing Trump’s economic policy proposals to those of Ronald Reagan. For those that deem that bullish, we remind you that the economic environment and potential growth of 1982 was vastly different than it is today.” [..] The differences with today’s economic and market environment could not be starker. The tailwinds provided by initial deregulation, consumer leveraging, declining interest rates, and inflation provided huge tailwinds for corporate profitability growth. The chart below shows the ramp up in government debt since Reagan versus subsequent economic growth and tax rates.

While wages did rise marginally over the last, due more to tightness in the labor market rather than tax cuts, corporations failed to share the wealth. In fact, the ratio of profits to workers wages have materially worsened since the enactment of tax cuts.

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Going to the mattresses. To be honest, it’s always been clear that trying turn the US into a cashless society is the stuff for revolution.

The Death Of Cash Has Been Greatly Exaggerated – Look At The $100 Bill (MW)

The stock market is coming off its best January in years, the economy appears to be holding up well, interest rates are still low, cryptos and mobile payments continue to gain traction — it’s not exactly a cash-friendly climate at the moment. Then what’s going on with the $100 bill? A decade ago, $20 and $1 bills were both far more prevalent than the Benjamins. As you can see by this chart from Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok, the currency hierarchy has shifted dramatically since then.

In 2017, the $100 bill took the crown as the most popular U.S. bill, doubling since 2007, which has helped drive the sharp rise in currency and other liquid assets as a share of GDP:

But why? Deutsche Bank’s Slok mulled a few possibilities. “It could be driven by a global fear of negative interest rates in Europe and Japan,” he said. “Or it could be a savings vehicle for U.S. households worried about another financial crisis, or it could be driven by more demand from the global underground economy.” Of course, we know it’s not because more people are using the $100 bill as pocket money. Smaller bills are still far more popular in that regard. Just look at the average lifespan of each bill:

So what’s that telling us? Mattresses everywhere are getting increasingly stuffed with $100 bills instead of being put to work in the stock market or elsewhere. That speaks to the frame of mind of the Average Joe as much as anything else.

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“Lighthizer said after the testimony [..] that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods.”

China Trade Talks Made ‘Fantastic’ Progress Last Week -Kudlow (CNBC)

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said Thursday that trade talks between the U.S. and China are going great, noting the two countries are making “fantastic” progress in meetings last week. “Last week was fantastic,” Kudlow told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “We’re making great headway on nontariff barriers and tariffs regarding various commodities such as soybeans and energy and beef. We have mechanisms with regard to enforcement, which is -I think- unparalleled.” “The progress has been terrific,” Kudlow added. But “we have to hear from the Chinese side. We have to hear from President Xi Jinping, of course. I think we’re headed for a remarkable, historic deal.” U.S. equities briefly pared some of their losses following Kudlow’s remarks.

Kudlow also said China has expressed willingness to make key structural changes to prevent intellectual property theft, a highly contested issue in these negotiations. Kudlow’s comments follow testimony from Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that China needed to do more than just buy more U.S. goods for the two countries to strike a permanent trade deal. But Lighthizer said after the testimony, according to The Wall Street Journal, that formal steps would be taken to abandon plans of raising tariffs on Chinese goods. This is a clear signal that a trade deal could come in the near future. “Lighthizer has worked miracles on this Chinese deal,” Kudlow said. “We’ve never come this far on China trade.”

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News item by news item my long held ideas of the importance of the shadow banks for China’s official growth numbers are being confirmed.

China’s Shadow Debt Burden Much Larger Than Believed (ZH)

[..] a team of S&P credit analysts warned in an October report that China’s debt burden might be much larger than previously believed. Against a backdrop of soaring corporate defaults, the team from S&P warned that investors could safely tack on another ~40% of debt/GDP to China’s total (with even more likely hidden from view) after a careful analysis of a new source of shadow debt being tapped by local governments to further their development plans. These Local Government Financing Vehicles, or LGFVs, represented “an iceberg with titanic credit risks” as local officials had increasingly turned to these sources of shadow financing to finance development projects while bureaucrats in Beijing struggled to turn off the credit taps.

Now that Beijing has reckoned with the idea that now is not the time to try and contain the country’s massive debt load, even as the percentage of bad debt balloons, it increasingly appears that these measures might be too little, too late for investors who financed these LGFVs, as the Wall Street Journal revealed in a report about how a local government in China’s impoverished South had caused a stir by stiffing its creditors after racking up a debt pile – largely through these LGFVs – equivalent to roughly three times the government’s annual revenue.

While putting a number on the amount of shadow debt in the system is difficult due to the opacity of the Chinese financial system, one economist at a domestic think tank estimated that off-balance-sheet borrowings by local governments could be as much as 23.6 trillion yuan, as of the end of 2017, meaning that total is likely higher today, as governments have been forced to tap these vehicles during Beijing’s deleveraging campaign. The proliferation of private funds and other money-raising channels for local governments makes it difficult for economists and for Beijing to track the total amount of borrowings. Official figures pegged the sum of local and central government debt at 29.95 trillion yuan ($4.457 trillion) in 2017, roughly 36% of the economy.

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South Korea “exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.”

Growing China Downdraft Chills Asia Factory Activity (R.)

Weak demand in China and growing global fallout from the Sino-U.S. trade war took a heavier toll on factories across much of Asia in February, business surveys showed on Friday. Activity in China’s vast manufacturing sector contracted for the third straight month, pointing to more strains on its major trading partners and raising questions over whether Beijing needs to do more to stabilize the slowing economy. In many cases, business conditions were the worst Asian companies have faced since 2016, with demand weakening not only in China but globally. Japan’s factory gauge fell at the sharpest pace in 2-1/2 years as slumping orders prompted plants to cut production, while separate data from South Korea showed its exports plummeted.

“The weakening trend in Chinese import demand weighed heavily on exports across the rest of the region,” said Sian Fenner, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics. [..] China watchers are looking to Premier Li Keqiang’s work report to the annual meeting of parliament next week for clues on further stimulus plans. Li will set out the government’s economic targets for the year on Tuesday. Sources have told Reuters Beijing will set a 2019 growth target of 6.0-6.5 percent, down from around 6.5 percent in 2018. China reported economic growth cooled to 6.6 percent last year, its weakest pace since 1990, but some analysts believe actual activity is much weaker.

[..] In Japan, the Markit/Nikkei Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) fell into contraction territory as both domestic and foreign orders slumped. “We need to be mindful that uncertainty over the global economic outlook is heightening,” Bank of Japan board member Hitoshi Suzuki said on Thursday, after data showed the biggest drop in industrial output in a year in January. Readings from South Korea — the first economy in Asia to report trade data each month – were equally grim. Its exports contracted 11.1 percent in February from a year earlier, their biggest drop in nearly three years, with shipments to major buyer China slumping 17.4 percent.

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“Once deeply resistant to Trump, CPAC is now like a religious gathering full of Trump idolatry. “Make America Great Again” (Maga) hats and sweaters are much in evidence..”

CPAC On Socialism, Bernie Sanders And 2020: ‘Trump Will Win, 100%’ (G.)

“The favourite in the Democratic race is Bernie Sanders because the way he makes socialism sound,” said Brandon Morris, 32, wearing a Maga cap. “Most citizens don’t know how the system works; once I tell them, they see it will fall apart.” Morris, a nurse from Gainesville, Florida, who is African American, added: “I’m against socialism because I see it as a form of slavery. The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris talk about Medicare for All and that will kill doctors’ incentives to work hard. Look at Cuba.” Like Trump, Sanders ran in 2016 warning of a rigged system and the downsides of global trade and, like Trump, he thrived in midwestern states against Hillary Clinton. Less than a week after declaring his 2020 candidacy, Sanders had already raised $10m, well ahead of any of his rivals.

Wearing a Maga cap and stars and stripes jacket, Sam Lee, the communications director of conservative group Grand Opportunity USA, said: “I think Sanders has the ability to generate a base. He’s genuine. It’s the same thing as Trump: they’re very upfront about who they are. But Trump will win, 100%.” Lee rejected candidates such as Harris and Elizabeth Warren as “background noise”, adding: “Every election has people who aren’t going to make it and I don’t think they could.” Fran Wendelboe, the treasurer of the conservative organisation the 603 Alliance in New Hampshire, the first state to hold a primary, said: “Among the young voters, Bernie Sanders still seems popular. I think he still has great traction. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t seem to be getting much – she should get out of the race. But they’re all trampling themselves to get as far to the left as they can. Nobody’s going to beat Trump.”

Mike Wertz, a self-employed property appraiser, said: “It’s hard to run against Santa Claus: Bernie Sanders is Santa Claus because he says he would give everything away free. But Trump is still popular.” Wertz, 52, from Stevensville, Maryland, dismissed the prospects of Joe Biden, the former vice-president who is yet to declare whether he will mount a third bid for the White House. “Biden would get exposed. He stumbles around and says silly things. Trump would bring that out of him; he wouldn’t let Biden get away with it. If Biden said something stupid, Trump would tweet it in about 30 seconds.”

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Just to show you my views are not alone. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté.

Someone mailed me yesterday talking about the conservatism of my columns. Never saw that before. And I don’t agree. Raging against the empty narratives of the anti-Trump machine does not make me a Trump supporter. People should read more carefully. The world is not divided into two camps.

Claim Trump Had Prior Knowledge Of WikiLeaks Fails Hilariously (Dore)

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Cohen and the Democrats lost it all when he said at the start he never wanted a White House job.

Trump Says Cohen Lied ‘95% Instead Of 100%’ In Testimony To Congress (G.)

Donald Trump claimed on Thursday that Michael Cohen lied about almost everything during his explosive congressional testimony the day before – but told the truth by saying he had no evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. Speaking in Vietnam after meeting the North Korean leader, Kim Jong un, Trump said Cohen, his former legal fixer, lied “95% instead of 100%” of the time during a hearing of the House oversight committee on Wednesday. “I was impressed,” said Trump. Trump falsely claimed several times that Cohen had testified that there had been “no collusion”. In fact, Cohen said he did not know any “direct evidence” of collusion. “But I have my suspicions,” he told members of Congress.

Trump said of Cohen: “He lied a lot, but it was very interesting, because he didn’t lie about one thing. He said no collusion with the Russian hoax. And I said, ‘I wonder why he didn’t just lie about that too, like he lied about everything else.’” Cohen delivered a scathing account of his 10 years as Trump’s enforcer, calling the president a racist conman, implicating him in a series of felonies and estimating that Cohen had threatened 500 people on Trump’s behalf. He said Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, had been involved in a criminal conspiracy to pay hush money to a pornographic actor, Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with the elder Trump. Federal prosecutors in New York continue to investigate.

Cohen confirmed that Trump was under federal investigation for undisclosed crimes and warned that Trump may try to cling to power even if his re-election campaign fails next year. He also alleged that Trump knew in advance of plans by WikiLeaks to publish Democratic party emails, which US authorities say were stolen by Russian intelligence operatives, and that Donald Jr was to meet with Russians at Trump Tower. But, Cohen said, he knew of no direct evidence that Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election campaign. US intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian operation was aimed at boosting Trump’s chances.

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Trudeau’s riding has lots of SNC-Lavalin jobs. But he may have gone too far.

The Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s Justin Trudeau (G.)

What is going on in Canada? Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, is facing the biggest political scandal of his administration. The affair centres around allegations that his former attorney general, Jody-Wilson Raybould, was improperly pressured by some of his closest advisers to prevent the prosecution of a large Canadian engineering firm over accusations of fraud and bribery. Thus far, the scandal has been politically costly; Gerald Butts, a longtime friend of Trudeau’s, and his closest adviser, resigned two weeks ago. Wilson-Raybould has resigned, too. A handful of polls are showing the scandal is politically unpopular for the governing Liberals – which is worrying for them, given there is a federal election in October.

What is the company accused of? SNC-Lavalin, based in Montreal, is accused of paying C$48m worth of bribes in Libya to Muammar Gaddafi’s family, in order to secure lucrative contracts. The bribery is alleged to have occurred between 2001 and 2011. If found guilty, the company would be barred from bidding on federal projects for a decade. SNC-Lavalin employs nearly 50,000 people worldwide, with 3,400 in Quebec. Company executives have been lobbying fora “deferred prosecution agreement”, which in effect allows them to pay a fine in lieu of a criminal prosecution, with no ban on bidding for contracts. But federal prosectors have decided to pursue a trial.

This is where the scandal is centred: the prime minister and his aides, along with the finance minister, have been accused of pressing Wilson-Raybould to intervene and asking prosecutors to accept a deferred prosecution agreement. Wilson-Raybould declined to override the judgment of her top legal team.

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Nobody is willing to say yes to intervention.

Anti-Maduro Allies Regroup After The Fight For Humanitarian Aid (CNBC)

Venezuela’s opposition has formally urged the international community to keep all options on the table, after deadly clashes broke out in border towns over the weekend. On Saturday, at least three people were killed and hundreds more were left injured, Reuters reported, as opposition activists tried to defy a government ban to bring food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements into the country. It comes at a time when the South American nation is in the midst of the Western Hemisphere’s worst humanitarian crisis in recent memory. President Donald Trump has consistently refused to rule out the prospect of military intervention in Venezuela and the country’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido, has called on the international community to “keep all options open.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted over the weekend that Washington would “take action against those who oppose the peaceful restoration of democracy in Venezuela.” To be sure, the prospect of U.S.-led military intervention is clearly being signaled as a form of “action.” “I think large-scale U.S. military intervention remains unlikely, though the chances are increasing — that’s worrying,” Tom Long, assistant professor in the department of politics and international studies at the University of Warwick, told CNBC via email. “More than the deadly clashes, what I worry could push towards military action is the lack of options remaining for the opposition and its international allies to increase pressure,” he added.

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We can only guess as to why Chelsea picks the NYT to divulge details about this. We don’t have to guess as to why the NYT picks it up; it wants to repeat this one again:

” In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.”

And Chelsea now helps them do it.

Disclosing Subpoena for Testimony, Chelsea Manning Vows to Fight (NYT)

Chelsea Manning, the former Army intelligence analyst convicted in 2013 of leaking archives of secret military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, revealed in an interview on Thursday that she had been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury — and vowed to fight it. The subpoena does not say what prosecutors intend to ask her about. But it was issued in the Eastern District of Virginia and comes after prosecutors inadvertently disclosed in November that Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, has been charged under seal in that district. Ms. Manning, who provided a copy of the subpoena to The New York Times, said that her legal team would file a motion on Friday morning to quash it, arguing that it would violate her constitutional rights to force her to appear.

She declined to say whether she would cooperate if that failed. “Given what is going on, I am opposing this,” she said. “I want to be very forthright I have been subpoenaed. I don’t know the parameters of the subpoena apart from that I am expected to appear. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked.” [..] Ms. Manning said that her lawyers have been talking about the subpoena with an assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District, Gordon D. Kromberg. After an inadvertent court filing revealed that Mr. Assange has been charged under seal, it was Mr. Kromberg who successfully argued before a judge that any such charges remain a secret and should not be unsealed. Moreover, she said, Mr. Kromberg told her lawyers in vague terms that prosecutors wanted to talk to her about her past statements.

During her court-martial, Ms. Manning delivered a lengthy statement about how she came to copy archives of secret documents and send them to WikiLeaks, including her online interactions with someone who was likely Mr. Assange. “It’s disappointing but not surprising that the government is continuing to pursue criminal charges against Julian Assange, apparently for his role in uncovering and providing the public truthful information about matters of great public interest,” said Barry Pollack, a lawyer for Mr. Assange. [..] In recent years, Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks have become notorious for their role in disseminating Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of the Russian government’s covert efforts to damage the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help Donald J. Trump win.

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“Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century.”

The Grey Wall Of China: Inside The World’s Concrete Superpower (G.)

In the suburbs south of Beijing, what could one day be the world’s busiest airport is rapidly taking shape. Nicknamed “the starfish” due to the striking design by Zaha Hadid Architects, the Beijing Daxing international airport is set to open in October, and could eventually handle more than 100 million passengers a year. While the 52,000-tonne steel exoskeleton covering the airport’s six concourses immediately catches the eye, what lies beneath is familiar to many Chinese mega-projects: concrete – 1.6m cubic metres of it. Located 67km south of the capital, the airport sprawls across 780,000 sq metres – about a third of the size of Edinburgh. It aims to process 72 million passengers a year, and will have four runways by 2025, but there is a longer-term vision for additional runways and talk of 200 million passengers. Beijing’s existing international airport in the north-east, which will stay open, already handles around 96 million passengers a year.


Photograph: Sipa Asia/Rex/Shutterstock

The new airport is just the latest chapter in the story of how China became the concrete superpower of the 21st century. Since 2003, China has poured more cement every two years than the US managed in the entire 20th century. Even after a dip in recent years, China uses almost half the world’s concrete. The construction sector – roads, bridges, railways, urban development and other concrete-and-steel projects – accounted for one-third of the expansion of the Chinese economy in 2017. China is already home to the largest concrete structure in the world – the Three Gorges Dam across the Yangtze River. Sometimes touted as China’s “new Great Wall”, the dam includes 27.2m cubic metres of concrete and its hydroelectric power station is the world’s largest power station in terms of capacity.

Like all of China’s concrete achievements, the Three Gorges Dam has been mired in controversy. Around 1.4 million people were displaced by the project, and there were complaints that the rehousing settlements were inadequate or that compensation money disappeared into local government coffers. More than 100 workers died in the construction process, and archaeological and cultural sites were flooded. None of this prevented Li Yongan, general manager of the Three Gorges Corporation, from declaring in 2006 that the dam was “the grandest project the Chinese people have undertaken in thousands of years”.

Li only had to wait seven more years to be outdone by yet another Chinese feat of concrete. In 2013, the eastern route of the South-to-North Water Diversion Project opened, connecting the Grand Canal in China’s east with the capital in the north. The project is a multi-decade plan to divert the water from China’s lush south to its arid north, where water scarcity is an acute problem. The waterway has already cost around $80bn (£61bn), making it the most expensive infrastructure project in the world. In the first phase alone, it has used more than double the amount of concrete in the Three Gorges Dam: 65m cubic metres. The project ultimately aims to transport fresh water a distance of more than 4,300km.

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Feb 262019
 
 February 26, 2019  Posted by at 10:52 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali The Feeling of Becoming 1931

 

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)
18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)
Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)
Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)
With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)
Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)
Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD
Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)
Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)
UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)
Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)
Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

 

 

“..almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years..”

Bubble-Era Home Mortgages Are A Disaster Waiting To Happen (Jurow)

Remember all those sub-prime mortgages that blew up in 2007 and popped the housing bubble? The widely-held consensus is that millions of them were foreclosed as housing markets cratered. [..] The truth is these mortgages are still dangerous and could soon undermine the housing recovery. Collectively, loans from the bubble period that were not guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac were called non-agency securitized mortgages. Researcher Black Box Logic had an enormous database of non-agency loans until it was sold to Moody’s three years ago. At the peak of the buying madness — November 2007 — its database showed 10.6 million loans outstanding with a total balance of $2.43 trillion.

In 2016, Fitch Ratings first published a spreadsheet showing what percentage of these loans had been delinquent for more than three-, four-, or five years. Here is an updated table showing the 10-worst states and how the number of deadbeat borrowers has soared.

In 2012, just 2% of all these delinquent borrowers had not paid for more than five years. Two years later that number had skyrocketed to 21%. Why? Mortgage servicers around the country had discontinued foreclosing on millions of delinquent properties. Homeowners got wind of this and realized they could probably stop making payments without any consequences whatsoever. So they did. Take a good look at the figures for 2016. Nationwide, almost one-third of these delinquent owners had not paid the mortgage for at least five years.

In the worst four states, more than half of them were long-term deadbeats. Notice also that four of the other states were those you would not expect to have this rampant delinquency — North Dakota, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maryland. Another way to gauge the extent of the problem is to look at the major metros with the highest delinquency rate. Here is a table of the 10 metros with the worst delinquency rate in early 2016, taken from Black Box Logic’s database.

Within the last two years, important graphs and tables showing the extent of the delinquency mess have disappeared from reports issued regularly by Fannie Mae, mutual fund provider TCW, and data provider Black Knight Financial Services. According to a TCW spokesperson, the graph is no longer published in the firm’s Mortgage Market Monitor because there did not seem to be much demand for it. Really? This graph had appeared in their report for years and showed the extremely high percentage of modified non-agency loans where the borrower had re-defaulted. Meanwhile, the omitted Fannie Mae table also showed the rising percentage of modified Fannie Mae loans that had re-defaulted. Its last published table showed re-default rates of almost 40%. Do you think these important omissions are just coincidence?

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25% in 2019 alone?!

18 Reasons Why Australian Property Prices Will Fall Further (AFR)

The housing market has taken a turn for the worse moving deeper into the decline of a debt-financed asset bubble, possibly driving house prices to fall by as much as 25 per cent in 2019 on nominal terms, according to housing bear and analyst LF Economics. The group made up of Lindsay David and Philip Soos, who have authored books on boom and bust in housing markets, lists 18 factors that are putting extreme pressure on the Sydney and Melbourne markets. Their baseline prediction is a 15 per cent to 20 per cent fall in prices just in 2019 although 25 per cent is possible.

One of the main factors driving the pressure is $120 billion worth of interest-only loans that are transitioning to principal and interest loans between now and 2021. “Banks and regulators have already softened their stance on these borrowers, allowing some greater time to sell or extending the interest-only period ,” LF Economics said in a new report “Let The Bloodbath Begin”. “Nevertheless, with debt repayments rising anywhere between 20 [per cent] to 50 per cent upon conversion, many recent borrowers will be placed under considerable financial stress.”

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Question: how are the shadow banks linked to international trade?

Imports by China, Emerging Asia Plunge Most Since 2008 (WS)

Imports by China and other emerging Asian economies in December plunged to the lowest level in two years, in the steepest one-month plunge since 2008, after having already plunged in November, according to the Merchandise World Trade Monitor, released on Monday by CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis, a division of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. For November and December combined, imports by China and other Emerging Asian Economies plunged 13%, the steepest two-month plunge since November and December 2008 (-18%). In point terms, it was the largest plunge in the data going back to 2000. “Emerging Asia” includes China, Hong Kong, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Singapore. But China is by far the largest economy in the group, and by far the largest importer in the group.

The fact that imports into Emerging Asia are plunging is a sign of suddenly and sharply weakening demand in China. This type of abrupt demand-downturn was clearly visible in the double-digit plunge in new-vehicle sales in China over the last four months of 2018, plunging demand in many other sectors in China, and record defaults by Chinese companies. When it comes to China, “plunge is no longer an exaggeration. So the US trade actions against China – the variously implemented, threatened, or delayed tariffs – was largely geared toward hitting exports by China to the US. But it was imports that plunged! Exports from Emerging Asia too dropped in November and December, but not nearly as brutally as imports, down by 6.7% over the two months combined. And these drops were not all that unusual in the export index:

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Xi has lost control. There are reports about him being replaced, but that would be way into the future, if it happens.

Debt Roars Back in China, Deleveraging Is Dead (BBG)

For almost two years, the question has lingered over China’s market-roiling crackdown on financial leverage: How much pain can the country’s policy makers stomach? Evidence is mounting that their limit has been reached. From bank loans to trust-product issuance to margin-trading accounts at stock brokerages, leverage in China is rising nearly everywhere you look. While seasonal effects explain some of the gains, analysts say the trend has staying power as authorities shift their focus from containing the nation’s $34 trillion debt pile to shoring up the weakest economic expansion since 2009.

The government’s evolving stance was underscored by President Xi Jinping’s call for stable growth late last week, while on Monday the banking regulator said the deleveraging push had reached its target. “Deleveraging is dead,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia Pacific economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. Investors reacted positively to the official remarks, with the more than 30 brokerages listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen up by the 10 percent daily limit on Monday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., the world’s biggest lender by assets, rose 6.3 percent.

[..] China’s overall leverage ratio stood at 243.7 percent at the end of 2018, with corporate debt reaching 154 percent, household borrowings at 53 percent and government leverage at 37 percent, according to Zhang Xiaojing, deputy head of the Institute of Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Before that, the nation’s leverage ratio climbed at an average 12 percentage points each year between 2008 and 2016. China’s total debt will rise relative to GDPthis year, after a flat 2017 and a decline in 2018, Wang Tao, head of China economic research at UBS in Hong Kong, predicted in a report this month. While Wang cautioned that “re-leveraging” may increase concerns about China’s commitment to ensuring financial stability, investors have so far cheered the prospect of easier credit conditions.

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The shadows reign supreme in China.

“..a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019.”

With 10-to-1 Leverage, Shadow Banks Fuel China’s Huge Stock Boom (BBG)

Eager to pile into the world’s most-volatile major stock market with 10-to-1 leverage? China’s shadow bankers are happy to help – and that has the nation’s policy makers worried. Just hours after China’s CSI 300 Index notched a 6 percent surge on Monday, its biggest gain in more than three years, the country’s securities regulator warned of a rise in unregulated margin debt and asked brokerages to increase monitoring for abnormal trades. The China Securities Regulatory Commission’s statement followed a pickup in advertising by margin-finance platforms, which operate with little to no supervision and offer far more leverage than the country’s regulated securities firms.

While margin debt in China is much lower today than when it helped precipitate a market collapse in 2015, investors are taking on leverage quickly as they chase a rally that added more than $1 trillion to stock values since the start of 2019. The risk is that a sudden reversal would force leveraged traders to sell, exacerbating volatility in a market that posted bigger swings than any of its peers over the past 30 days. That prospect may unnerve Chinese policy makers, who have a history of trying to protect the nation’s 147 million individual investors from outsized losses. “If the market continues to go up, the situation will get worse and so will the risks,” said Yang Hai, an analyst at Kaiyuan Securities Co. in Shanghai. “Under the current regulatory scope, investors have to shoulder risks themselves.”

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Finally someone talks to Volcker and he doesn’t say anything.

Paul Volcker Is Worried About the ‘Culture of the Financial System’ (Fortune)

Former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker has some serious fears about the banking industry. And he believes supporting regulators to combat those fears is imperative. Speaking to analyst Mike Mayo in a CFA Enterprising Investor interview published on Monday, Volcker said that he’s “concerned” about the current “culture of the financial system, banking in particular.” He told Mayo that banks have been dominated by “how much profit the firm (and you) make.” And he believes that the focus on profitability could ultimately affect corporate oversight. “What’s the role of directors in keeping culture under control?” he asked. “Can the directors of a big bank really do an effective job of overseeing an institution? Or do they see their job as protecting the CEO who they appointed?

Or maybe the CEO appointed them, so there is a certain amount of built in mutual interest in ducking emphasis on internal controls.” Volcker, who served as Fed chairman during the Carter and Reagan administrations, has been one of the more vocal supporters of controlling and regulating banks. He’s the namesake for the Volcker Rule, which aims at limiting banking activity and bank interaction with hedge funds and private equity funds. It also puts the onus on banks to protect customers. In his interview with Mayo, Volcker talked about the importance of banks protecting their customers. He said that a right and good banking culture is one where “the customer comes first.” The issue, however, is that banks sometimes fail in doing that, Volcker said.

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No kidding.

Rising Level Of Corporate Debt A Risk To Global Economy – OECD

The global economy faces escalating risks from rising levels of corporate debt, with companies around the world needing to repay or refinance as much as $4tn (£3.1tn) over the next three years, according to the OECD. Sounding the alarm over the scale of the debt mountain built up over the past decade since the last financial crisis, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that global company borrowing has ballooned to reach $13tn by the end of last year – more than double the level before the 2008 crash. Nearly the equivalent of the entire US Federal Reserve balance sheet – roughly $4tn – will need to be repaid or refinanced over the coming years, the report said. However, the task is complicated by cooling economic growth from trade tensions and a slower rate of expansion in China ..

Financial market investors have grown increasingly concerned that high debt levels in the US could turn a looming slowdown for the world’s largest economy into a full-blown recession. High debt levels in several other nations as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates has also rattled financial markets in recent months. According to research from the Economist Intelligence Unit, a potential meltdown in the US bond market is the second biggest risk to the world economy after the US-China trade standoff, amid a combination of global economic headwinds “more wide-ranging and complex than at any point since the great recession”. The IMF has previously warned of gathering “storm clouds” for the world economy, including from trade tensions and heightened levels of debt – particularly in China.

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.. since 1999, Germans on average cumulatively richer by $26,120. Italians poorer by $84,000.

Germany & Netherlands The Only Real Euro Winners (RT)

The eurozone’s single currency, the euro, has been a serious drag on the economic growth of almost every member of the bloc, according to a study by German think tank, the Centre for European Politics (CEP).
Germany and the Netherlands, however, have benefited enormously from the euro over the 20 years since its launch, the study showed. The currency triggered credit and investment booms by extending the benefits of Germany’s low interest-rate environment across the bloc’s periphery. However, those debts became hard to sustain after the 2008 financial crisis, with Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Cyprus forced to seek financial aid as growth slowed and financing became scarce.

According to CEP, over the entire period since 1999, Germans were on average estimated to be cumulatively richer by €23,000 ($26,120) than they would otherwise have been, while the Dutch were €21,000 ($23,850) wealthier. To compare, Italians and French were each €74,000 ($84,000) and €56,000 ($63,600) poorer, respectively. The survey did not include one of Europe’s fastest-growing economies, Ireland, due to a lack of appropriate data. [..] In the first few years after its introduction, Greece gained hugely from the euro but since 2011 has suffered enormous losses,” the authors wrote, explaining that over the whole period, Greeks were each €190 ($216) richer than they would have been.

The study concluded that since the loser countries could no longer restore their competitiveness by devaluing their currencies, they had to double down on structural reforms. Spain was highlighted as a country that was on track to erase the growth deficit it had built up since the euro’s introduction. “Since 2011, euro accession has resulted in a reduction in prosperity. Losses reached their peak in 2014. Since then, they have been falling steadily,” said the report, adding: “The reforms that have been carried out, are paying off.”

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Corbyn should have been much more concerned about his credibility. This late in the game, does it even matter anymore?

Jeremy Corbyn: We’ll Back A Second Referendum To Stop Tory No-Deal Brexit (G.)

Jeremy Corbyn has finally thrown his party’s weight behind a second EU referendum, backing moves for a fresh poll with remain on the ballot paper if Labour should fail to get its own version of a Brexit deal passed this week. The decision to give the party’s backing to a second referendum follows a concerted push by the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, and deputy leader, Tom Watson, who fear any further delay could have led to more defections to the breakaway Independent Group (TIG), whose members all back a second referendum. Although the move has delighted MPs who are backing the People’s Vote campaign, Corbyn is likely to face determined opposition from dozens of MPs in leave seats if the party whips to back a second referendum, including a significant number of frontbenchers.

The former shadow minister Lucy Powell said she believed at least 25 MPs would vote against any whip to back a second referendum, meaning that it would face an uphill struggle to pass the Commons without significant Conservative support. A private briefing sent to Labour MPs on Monday night and seen by the Guardian makes it clear that Labour’s policy would be to include remain as an option in any future referendum. “We’ve always said that any referendum would need to have a credible leave option and remain,” the briefing said. “Obviously at this stage that is yet to be decided and would have to be agreed by parliament.”

The briefing also makes it clear that the party would not support no deal being included on the ballot paper. “There’s no majority for a no-deal outcome and Labour would not countenance supporting no deal as an option,” the briefing says. “What we are calling for is a referendum to confirm a Brexit deal, not to proceed to no deal.”

https://twitter.com/i/status/1100294356706168832

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No matter how big the political mess,

UK and US Agree Post-Brexit Derivatives Trading Deal (G.)

The US has lent its backing to Britain to protect the City from losing trillions of pounds of complex financial derivatives business after Brexit, warding off a potential banking industry land grab by the EU. In a joint announcement heralded as a sign of the special relationship between the UK and the US, the two countries said they would take every step to ensure the continued trading of derivatives across the Atlantic under every Brexit eventuality. Derivatives are financial contracts widely used by companies to manage risks, ranging from hedging against changes in central bank interest rates to fluctuations in commodity prices. Brexit threatens to unpick trading in the UK, even with the US, as City banks currently operate under EU rules while Britain is a member of the bloc.

Under the steps announced by the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission, firms working in the US and the UK will continue to meet the requirements required to operate in both countries, even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal. London and New York sit at the centre of the world’s multitrillion-pound derivatives market, with the US and the UK controlling 80% of the $594tn (£454tn) a year business – worth more than five times world GDP. About a third of the £230tn of derivatives contracts traded in the UK every year come from US companies, more than any other jurisdiction. The development comes as Brussels prepares rules that would force clearing houses – financial institutions key to the trading of derivatives – outside the EU to come under the supervision of its regulators.

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This is getting awfully close to class justice. Monsanto has hundreds of the top lawyers, and what do the plaintiffs have?

Judge Threatens To ‘Shut Down’ Cancer Patient’s Lawyer in Monsanto Case (G.)

Monsanto is facing its first federal trial over allegations that its Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, but a US judge has blocked attorneys from discussing the corporation’s alleged manipulation of science. In an extraordinary move in a packed San Francisco courtroom on Monday, US judge Vince Chhabria threatened to sanction and “shut down” a cancer patient’s attorney for violating his ban on talking about Monsanto’s influence on government regulators and cancer research. “You’ve completely disregarded the limitations that were set upon you,” the visibly angry judge said to attorney Aimee Wagstaff, threatening to prevent her from continuing. “If you cross the line one more time … your opening statement will be over … If I see a single inappropriate thing on those slides, I’m shutting you down.”

The unusual conflict in the federal courtroom has fueled concerns among Monsanto’s critics that the trial may be unfairly stacked against the plaintiff, Edwin Hardeman, a 70-year-old Santa Rosa man who alleges that his exposure to Roundup over several decades caused his cancer. Building on longstanding allegations, Hardeman’s lawyers and other critics have argued that Monsanto has for years suppressed negative studies and worked to promote and “ghostwrite” favorable studies about its herbicide to influence the public and regulators.

In a blow to the plaintiffs, Chhabria this year approved Monsanto’s request to prohibit Hardeman’s attorneys from raising allegations about the corporation’s conduct, saying issues about its influence on science and government were a “significant … distraction”. That means jurors must narrowly consider the studies surrounding Roundup’s cancer risks, and if they rule that Monsanto caused Hardeman’s illness, then in a second phase the jury would learn about the company’s conduct when assessing liability and punitive damages.

[..] Wagstaff told the Guardian last week before trial began that the limitations on evidence in the first phase meant the “jury will only hear half of the story”. “The jury will hear about the science, but they won’t get to hear about how Monsanto influenced it,” she said. “The jury won’t have a complete understanding of the science. If we win without the jury knowing the complete science, that’s a real problem for Monsanto.” Chhabria repeatedly interrupted Wagstaff’s opening statement Monday morning, reminding jurors that her comments did not constitute evidence and should be taken with a “grain of salt”. He also asked her to speed up when she was introducing Hardeman and his wife and discussing how they first met in 1975.

Wagstaff spoke in detail about the research on cancer and glyphosate, about some of Monsanto’s involvement in studies, and about the company’s communications with the Environmental Protection Agency. [..] The restrictions on testimony about Monsanto’s conduct and alleged manipulation of science is likely to be a major detriment to Hardeman and future plaintiffs, said Jean M Eggen, professor emerita at Widener University Delaware Law School. “It was a brilliant move on the part of the defendant Bayer to try to keep [out] all of that information,” she said. “And it may pay off for them.”

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We paved paradise. Which is a much wider and bigger issue than just a climate one.

Concrete Is Tipping Us Into Climate Catastrophe. It’s Payback Time (Vidal)

Because of the heat needed to decompose rock and the natural chemical processes involved in making cement, every tonne made releases one tonne of C02, the main greenhouse warming gas. Including the new Crossrail line through London, the building of Britain’s four largest current construction projects will, if completed, together emit more than 10m tonnes of CO2 – roughly the same amount as a city the size of Birmingham, or what 19 million Malawians emit in a year. Nearly 6% of all UK greenhouse gas emissions, and up to 8% of the world’s, are now sourced from cement production. If it were a country, the cement industry would be the third largest in the world, its emissions behind only China and the US.

So great is its carbon footprint that unless it is transformed and made to adopt cleaner practices, the industry could, on its own, jeopardise the whole 2015 Paris agreement which aims to hold worldwide temperatures to a 2C increase. To bring it into line, the UN says its annual emissions need to fall about 16% in the next 10 years, and by far more in the future. While some of the biggest cement companies have reduced the carbon intensity of their products by investing in more fuel-efficient kilns, most improvements gained have been overshadowed by the massive increase in global cement and concrete production. Population increases, the urban explosion in Asia and Africa, the need to build dams, roads and houses, as well as increases in personal wealth have stoked demand.

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Feb 252019
 


M. C. Escher Reptiles 1943

 

EU Explores Plans To Delay Brexit Until 2021 (G.)
May Delays ‘Meaningful’ Parliament Vote On Brexit Till March 12 (BBC)
Schiff Threatens To Call Mueller To Testify If Report Not Made Public (AP)
Trump To Delay China Tariff Hike After Trade Talks ‘Progress’ (AFP)
Global LNG Trade To Rise 11% This Year – Shell (R.)
Spain Surpasses Italy To Become “World’s Healthiest Country” (ZH)
African Union Seeks To Kill EU Plan To Process Migrants In Africa (G.)
One Million Tonnes Of Sludge To Be Dumped In Great Barrier Reef (BBC)
Concrete: The Most Destructive Material On Earth (G.)
Dearth Of Worms Blamed For Dramatic Decline In UK Songbird Population (Ind.)
Poachers Kill Elephant In Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (AFP)
Dozens Of Dead Elephants Discovered In Poaching Hot Spots In Botswana (BBC)

 

 

May is likely to ask for a few months’ delay, but Brussels won’t have that.

EU Explores Plans To Delay Brexit Until 2021 (G.)

Brexit could be delayed until 2021 under plans being explored by the EU’s most senior officials, at a time of growing exasperation over Theresa May’s handling of the talks, the Guardian can reveal. A lengthy extension of the negotiating period is gaining traction as the EU’s default position should the Commons continue to reject May’s deal, and a request emerge. Replacing the 21-month transition period with extra time as a member state would allow the UK and the EU to develop their plans for the future relationship with the aim of making the contentious Irish backstop redundant. Brussels is determined to avoid offering a short extension only to have to revisit the issue in the summer when the government again fails to win round parliament.

“If leaders see any purpose in extending, which is not a certainty given the situation in the UK, they will not do a rolling cliff-edge but go long to ensure a decent period to solve the outstanding issues or batten down the hatches,” one EU diplomat said. “A 21-month extension makes sense as it would cover the multi-financial framework [the EU’s budget period] and make things easier. Provided leaders are not completely down with Brexit fatigue, and a three-month technical extension won’t cut it, I would expect a 21-month kick [of the can]. It is doing the rounds in Brussels corridors. Martin Selmayr [the European commission’s secretary-general], among others, also fond of the idea.”

Exasperation with May’s handling of Brexit is growing in Brussels as senior insiders put the chance of the UK crashing out without a deal at “more than 50%”. Informed sources say there is dismay that senior government figures are focused on seeking domestic political advantage and appear wilfully blind to the opposition to reopening the withdrawal agreement. [..] There is also bewilderment that the recent flurry of meetings in Brussels involving May’s Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, and the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, are being characterised in London as “negotiations” when the reality is the EU is still waiting for the prime minister to show them the alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop for which she claims to have a majority in support.

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Why is May not in London, but in Egypt with the EU she wants to leave in a month and change? Arms deals?

May Delays ‘Meaningful’ Parliament Vote On Brexit Till March 12 (BBC)

MPs will be able to have a fresh vote on the Brexit deal by 12 March, Prime Minister Theresa May has said. Speaking as she travelled to an EU-Arab League summit in Egypt, Mrs May ruled out holding another so-called “meaningful vote” this week. But she said “positive” talks with the EU were “still ongoing” and leaving on 29 March was “within our grasp”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of “recklessly running down the clock”. In a tweet, he said the move was intended to “force MPs to choose between her bad deal and a disastrous no deal”.

Labour, he said, would “work with MPs across the Commons to prevent no deal, break the deadlock and build support for our alternative plan”. On the plane to Sharm el-Sheikh for a summit between EU and Arab league leaders, Mrs May said her team would be returning to the Belgian capital on Tuesday for further talks. “As a result of that, we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week, but we will ensure that that happens by 12 March,” she added.

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He wants No Collusion fully documented. Oh, wait, no, he wants to see if there are any scraps left that can serve to divert attention from the fact that there’s No Collusion.

Schiff Threatens To Call Mueller To Testify If Report Not Made Public (AP)

A top Democrat threatened on Sunday to call special counsel Robert Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill, subpoena documents and take the Trump administration to court if necessary, if the full report on the Russia investigation is not made public. House intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff told ABC’s This Week his committee will be watching Attorney General William Barr to see if he were “to try to bury any part of this report”. There will be intense scrutiny and pressure on Barr, he said, to fully release the report. “We will take it to court if necessary,” Schiff said. “If he were to try to withhold, to try to bury any part of this report, that will be his legacy and it will be a tarnished legacy.

So I think there’ll be immense pressure not only on the department, but on the attorney general to be forthcoming.” Schiff is not alone in calling for the report to be made public, or in promising aggressive investigations by Democrat-controlled committees. He himself has made such calls. But the pressure is mounting as Mueller is showing signs of wrapping up his nearly two-year-old investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election. Barr, who oversees the investigation, has said he wants to release as much information as he can. But during his confirmation hearing last month, he also made clear that he ultimately will decide what the public sees and that any report will be in his words, not Mueller’s.

On Sunday, Schiff suggested that anything short of Mueller’s full report will not be enough to satisfy Democrats. He pointed to a public interest in seeing some of the underlying evidence, such as information gathered from searches conducted on longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman. Schiff has said his committee planned to expand its own investigations by examining, for instance, whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates.

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From negotiations to dancing.

Trump To Delay China Tariff Hike After Trade Talks ‘Progress’ (AFP)

US President Donald Trump has vowed to delay a planned tariff increase on Chinese exports after both sides hailed “substantial progress” in trade talks, raising the prospect of a summit with President Xi Jinping to seal the deal. Trump said Sunday there could be “very big news” in the next two weeks, and he planned to meet with Xi at the US leader’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida if more progress is made. Top negotiators met in Washington for four days of talks that ended on Sunday in an effort to resolve a months-long trade war that analysts feared could torpedo the global economy.

The United States had been due to increase tariffs on more than $200 billion in Chinese goods on March 1, but Trump said he would now delay the punitive duties following the “very productive talks”. “I am pleased to report that the U.S. has made substantial progress in our trade talks with China on important structural issues including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues,” Trump wrote on Twitter. The official Xinhua news agency used almost the exact same language, reporting “substantial progress” on those thorny issues in the talks led by Xi’s top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He.

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Warning: someone will try to sell this to you as a positive for green.

Global LNG Trade To Rise 11% This Year – Shell (R.)

Global liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade will rise 11 percent to 354 million tonnes this year as new facilities increase supplies to Europe and Asia, Royal Dutch Shell said in an annual LNG report on Monday. Shell, the largest buyer and seller of LNG in the world, said trade rose by 27 million tonnes last year, with Chinese demand growth accounting for 16 million tonnes of those volumes. Shell’s forecasts, which see LNG demand climbing to 384 million tonnes next year, reflect a burgeoning industry with new production facilities opening in Australia, the United States and Russia and more countries becoming importers by constructing receiving terminals. Asia dominates the market with Japan remaining the top buyer.

China became the second largest in 2017 as demand soared due to a government-mandated push for power stations to switch from coal to cleaner-burning gas to help reduce pollution. Due to the uneven progress of developing liquefaction-export facilities on the one hand and regasification-import terminals on the other, many analysts see the global market becoming oversupplied if not this year then next year. But most also see a supply crunch around the mid-2020s because, at the moment, there are not enough liquefaction facilities being planned, financed and built. Such projects are underpinned by long-term supply contracts struck years in advance by their operators. Between 2014 and 2017 buyers were signing shorter-duration contracts for smaller volumes, making financing difficult to complete.

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Actually, it’s perhaps mostly about primary care.

Spain Surpasses Italy To Become “World’s Healthiest Country” (ZH)

As the US struggles with declining life expectancy (as deaths from suicides, drug overdoses and other “deaths of despair” climb), rising infant mortality and ballooning health-care costs that preclude access to preventative care for millions of Americans – not to mention the attendant ills of rampant obesity and tobacco use), America has seen its position among the world’s healthiest nations deteriorate, while, across the Atlantic, more European nations are claiming spots in the highest echelons of the global rankings. According to Bloomberg’s 2019 World Health Rankings, Spain has supplanted Italy as the world’s healthiest country. In the most ranking, published in 2017, Spain had placed sixth.

Four other European nations ranked among the top 10 in 2019: Iceland (third place), Switzerland (fifth), Sweden (sixth) and Norway (ninth). Japan was the healthiest Asian nation, climbing three ranks to place fourth overall, and supplanting Singapore, which dropped to eighth. Rounding out the top ten were Australia and Israel, which ranked seventh and 10th, respectively. Variables including life expectancy are used to rank countries, while factors like tobacco use and obesity work against the overall ranking. Environmental factors like access to clean water and sanitation are also taken into consideration. Spain has the highest life expectancy at birth among EU nations. Out of all 169 nations that BBG tracks, only Japan and Switzerland rank higher. By 2040, Spain is forecast to have the highest lifespan, at roughly 86 years, followed by Japan, Singapore and Switzerland.

The reason? Access to primary care. “Primary care is essentially provided by public providers, specialized family doctors and staff nurses, who provide preventive services to children, women and elderly patients, and acute and chronic care,” according to the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies 2018 review of Spain. Over the past decade, this has helped bring about a decline in deaths from heart disease and cancer. While China ranked 52nd overall, it’s on track to surpass the US by 2040, according to the Institute for health metrics and evaluation.

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“When the EU wants something, it usually gets it..”

African Union Seeks To Kill EU Plan To Process Migrants In Africa (G.)

The African Union is seeking to kill off the EU’s latest blueprint for stemming migration, claiming that it would breach international law by establishing “de facto detention centres” on African soil, trampling over the rights of those being held. A “common African position paper” leaked to the Guardian reveals the determination of the 55-member state body, currently headed by Egypt, to dissuade any of its coastal states from cooperating with Brussels on the plan. The EU set plans for “regional disembarkation platforms” in motion last summer to allow migrants found in European waters to have their asylum requests processed on African soil.

Brussels has a similar arrangement in place with Libya, where there are 800,000 migrants, 20,000 of whom are being held in government detention centres. The Libyan authorities have been accused of multiple and grave human rights abuses. A UN report recently stated that migrants in the country faced “unimaginable horrors”. Some northern states, including Morocco, have already rejected the EU’s proposal over the new “platforms”, but there are concerns within the African Union (AU) that other member governments could be persuaded by the offer of development funds.

Italy’s far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini has called for the centres to be based around the Sahel region, in Niger, Chad, Mali and Sudan. An inaugural summit between the EU and the League of Arab States is being held in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt on Sunday and Monday, and migration is expected to be discussed. “When the EU wants something, it usually gets it,” said a senior AU official. “African capitals worry that this plan will see the establishment of something like modern-day slave markets, with the ‘best’ Africans being allowed into Europe and the rest tossed back – and it is not far from the truth.”

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I’m sure this means Australia is going for some kind of award. Just don’t know which one.

One Million Tonnes Of Sludge To Be Dumped In Great Barrier Reef (BBC)

Australia plans to dump one million tonnes of sludge in the Great Barrier Reef. Despite strict laws on dumping waste, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) gave the go-ahead. A loophole was found – the laws don’t apply to materials generated from port maintenance work. It comes one week after flood water from Queensland spread into the reef, which scientists say will “smother” the coral. The industrial residue is dredged from the bottom of the sea floor near Hay Point Port – one of the world’s largest coal exports and a substantial economic source for the country. Larissa Waters, senator for Queensland and co-deputy leader of the Greens Party, called for the license to be revoked.

“The last thing the reef needs is more sludge dumped on it, after being slammed by the floods recently,” she told the Guardian. “One million tonnes of dumping dredged sludge into world heritage waters treats our reef like a rubbish tip.” It’s just “another nail in the coffin” for the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef, which is already under stress due to climate change, according to Dr Simon Boxall from the National Oceanography Centre Southampton. “If they are dumping it over the coral reef itself, it will have quite a devastating effect. The sludge is basically blanketing over the coral. “The coral relies on the algae, that’s what give them their colour and what helps them feed – without this partnership the coral will suffer dramatically.”

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“..we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet. ”

Concrete: The Most Destructive Material On Earth (G.)

In the time it takes you to read this sentence, the global building industry will have poured more than 19,000 bathtubs of concrete. By the time you are halfway through this article, the volume would fill the Albert Hall and spill out into Hyde Park. In a day it would be almost the size of China’s Three Gorges Dam. In a single year, there is enough to patio over every hill, dale, nook and cranny in England. After water, concrete is the most widely used substance on Earth. If the cement industry were a country, it would be the third largest carbon dioxide emitter in the world with around 2.8bn tonnes, surpassed only by China and the US.

The material is the foundation of modern development, putting roofs over the heads of billions, fortifying our defences against natural disaster and providing a structure for healthcare, education, transport, energy and industry. Concrete is how we try to tame nature. Our slabs protect us from the elements. They keep the rain from our heads, the cold from our bones and the mud from our feet. But they also entomb vast tracts of fertile soil, constipate rivers, choke habitats and – acting as a rock-hard second skin – desensitise us from what is happening outside our urban fortresses. Our blue and green world is becoming greyer by the second. By one calculation, we may have already passed the point where concrete outweighs the combined carbon mass of every tree, bush and shrub on the planet.

Our built environment is, in these terms, outgrowing the natural one. Unlike the natural world, however, it does not actually grow. Instead, its chief quality is to harden and then degrade, extremely slowly. All the plastic produced over the past 60 years amounts to 8bn tonnes. The concrete industry pumps out more than that every two years. But though the problem is bigger than plastic, it is generally seen as less severe. Concrete is not derived from fossil fuels. It is not being found in the stomachs of whales and seagulls. Doctors aren’t discovering traces of it in our blood. Nor do we see it tangled in oak trees or contributing to subterranean fatbergs. We know where we are with concrete. Or to be more precise, we know where it is going: nowhere. Which is exactly why we have come to rely on it.

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For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Dearth Of Worms Blamed For Dramatic Decline In UK Songbird Population (Ind.)

Britain’s first farmland worm survey has revealed that nearly half of English fields lack key types of earthworm and may help explain the alarming decline of one of the country’s most loved songbirds. The citizen science project, in which farmers dug for worms in their own fields, has prompted 57 per cent of them to pledge to change their soil management practices – a move that may benefit the song thrush, for whom worms are a vital food source. The English population of the song thrush, popular for both its voice and its habit of using stones as an “anvil” to smash the shells of its other favourite food – snails – declined by more than 50 per cent between 1970 and 1995, leading to it being listed as a species of conservation concern.

The #60minworms survey, led by Dr Jackie Stroud, a Natural Environment Research Council (Nerc) soil security fellow at the Rothamsted Research centre, adds to the evidence that the song thrush is being affected by a reduction in farmland earthworm populations, along with the loss of hedgerow nesting sites. In a statement about the survey, Rothamsted Research said: “The results indicate widespread, historical over-cultivation, and may explain observed declines in other wildlife, such as the song thrush, that feed on these worms.” Stressing the importance of earthworms, Dr Stroud added: “Earthworms play vital roles in plant productivity and are great bird food as well. They are really important in our soil systems. “They influence carbon cycling, water infiltration, pesticide movement, greenhouse gas emissions, plant productivity, the breeding success of birds and even the susceptibility of plants to insect attack.

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Stop any and all trade with any and all countries where animal parts are traded.

Poachers Kill Elephant In Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary (AFP)

An elephant has been found dead with its tusks and tail sliced off in a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia, where wild elephant numbers have dwindled to just a few hundred due to poaching and deforestation. The Southeast Asian nation has emerged in recent years as a key transit hub for the multi-billion dollar illicit wildlife trade, with demand for products made from tusks, pangolin scales and rhino horns high in China and neighbouring Vietnam. According to the Mondulkiri Project, an animal rescue NGO, there are about 400 elephants in the wild in Cambodia, and about 50 held in captivity.

The body of the male Asian elephant was found on Sunday in a wildlife sanctuary in northeastern Mondulkiri province, said Environment Ministry spokesman Neth Pheaktra. “The elephant’s tusks were missing and its tail was also cut off,” he told AFP on Monday, adding the animal was killed about 10 days ago. “There was a wound from a gunshot under its right eye,” Neth Pheaktra said, adding authorities are still hunting for the poachers. A baby elephant was found dead last year in the same sanctuary when it was caught in a trap set by poachers, he said. The Asian elephant is hunted for its precious tusks, while its tail hair is considered lucky and embedded in rings and bracelets.


The body of a male Asian elephant was found in a wildlife sanctuary in northeastern Cambodia on Sunday (AFP Photo/Handout)

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“..Tanzania lost 60% of its elephant population in five years..”

Dozens Of Dead Elephants Discovered In Poaching Hot Spots In Botswana (BBC)

One of the last elephant sanctuaries in Africa has “a significant elephant-poaching problem”, according to the final results of an aerial wildlife survey in Botswana seen by the BBC. Elephants Without Borders, which conducted the four-yearly survey with the government, said there was a six-fold increase in the number of “fresh” or “recent” elephant carcasses in northern Botswana amid “obvious signs” of poaching. Mike Chase, the scientist who carried out the survey, sparked a fierce debate in the country when he went public half-way through his study in August last year with accusations there was a poaching problem and alleging the authorities were ignoring him. He told the BBC at the time that while flying over northern Botswana, he had discovered 87 recently killed elephants in one “hotspot” area – a number now revised to 88 – and 128 overall.

The government called his figures “false and misleading” and criticised “unsubstantiated and sensational media reports”. He received death threats and has since had one of his two research licences suspended by the government. President Mokgweetsi Masisi at the time described the allegations as the “biggest hoax of the 21st Century” and denied there had been a spike in poaching in the country. But the final report identifies four poaching hotspots, provides photographic evidence from ground surveys and has been peer-reviewed by nine international elephant experts. “The response from… various people was to try and deny or whitewash – label me a traitor and a liar – without having actually verified the evidence we bore witness to,” said Mr Chase.

Botswana is home to 130,000 elephants – a third of the total number in Africa – and it is an obvious target for poachers. Even when extrapolating poaching figures from the sample found in the survey, the numbers killed will not have a major impact on such a large population. “If we are talking about a number of carcasses that have accumulated over a period of two years, given the population of elephants in Botswana it doesn’t really raise eyebrows,” said national parks director Mr Tiroyamodimo. This was not satisfactory for Mr Chase. “At what point do we say we have a problem?” he asked.

“Is it at 10? 50? 100? 150? 1,000? Lessons have taught us – when we look at Tanzania that lost 60% of its elephant population in five years – that’s how quickly poaching can settle into a population. “We saw with our own eyes 157 confirmed poached elephants. We estimate that the total poached in the last year is at least 385 and probably far more because that is based on what we actually saw and have not had time or finances to visit all carcasses on the ground.”

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