Sep 092017
 
 September 9, 2017  Posted by at 1:21 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  8 Responses »
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Adolphe Yvon Genius of America c1870

 

A number of people have argued over the past few days that Hurricane Harvey will NOT boost the US housing market. As if any such argument would or should be required. Hurricane Irma will not provide any such boost either. News about the ‘resurrection’ of New Orleans post-Katrina has pretty much dried up, but we know scores of people there never returned, in most cases because they couldn’t afford to.

And Katrina took place 12 years ago, well before the financial crisis. How do you think this will play out today? Houston is a rich city, but that doesn’t mean it’s full of rich people only. Most homeowners in the city and its surroundings have no flood insurance; they can’t afford it. But they still lost everything. So how will they rebuild?

Sure, the US has a National Flood Insurance Program, but who’s covered by it? Besides, the Program was already $24 billion in debt by 2014 largely due to hurricanes Katrina and Sandy. With total costs of Harvey estimated at $200 billion or more, and Irma threating to cause far more damage than that, where’s the money going to come from?

It took an actual fight just to push the first few billion dollars in emergency aid for Houston through Congress, with four Texan representatives voting against of all people. Who then will vote for half a trillion or so in aid? And even if they do, where would it come from?

 

 

Trump’s plans for an infrastructure fund were never going to be an easy sell in Washington, and every single penny he might have gotten for it would now have to go towards repairing existing roads and bridges, not updating them -necessary as that may be-, let alone new construction.

Towns, cities, states, they’re all maxed out as things are, with hugely underfunded pension obligations and crumbling infrastructure of their own. They’re going to come calling on the feds, but Washington is hitting its debt ceiling. All the numbers are stacked against any serious efforts at rebuilding whatever Harvey and Irma have blown to pieces or drowned.

As for individual Americans, two-thirds of them don’t have enough money to pay for a $500 emergency, let alone to rebuild a home. Most will have a very hard time lending from banks as well, because A) they’re already neck-deep in debt, and B) because the banks will get whacked too by Harvey and Irma. For one thing, people won’t pay the mortgage on a home they can’t afford to repair. Companies will go under. You get the picture.

There are thousands of graphs that tell the story of how American debt, government, financial and non-financial, household, has gutted the country. Let’s stick with some recent ones provided by Lance Roberts. Here’s how Americans have maintained the illusion of their standard of living. Lance’s comment:

This is why during the 80’s and 90’s, as the ease of credit permeated its way through the system, the standard of living seemingly rose in America even while economic growth rate slowed along with incomes. Therefore, as the gap between the “desired” living standard and disposable income expanded it led to a decrease in the personal savings rates and increase in leverage. It is a simple function of math. But the following chart shows why this has likely come to the inevitable conclusion, and why tax cuts and reforms are unlikely to spur higher rates of economic growth.

 

 

There’s no meat left on that bone. There isn’t even a bone left. There’s only a debt-ridden mirage of a bone. If you’re looking to define the country in bumper-sticker terms, that’s it. A debt-ridden mirage. Which can only wait until it’s relieved of its suffering. Irma may well do that. A second graph shows the relentless and pitiless consequences of building your society, your lives, your nation, on debt.

 

 

It may not look all that dramatic, but look again. Those are long-term trendlines, and they can’t just simply be reversed. And as debt grows, the economy deteriorates. It’s a double trendline, it’s as self-reinforcing as the way a hurricane forms.

 

Back to Harvey and Irma. Even with so many people uninsured, the insurance industry will still take a major hit on what actually is insured. The re-insurance field, Munich RE, Swiss RE et al, is also in deep trouble. Expect premiums to go through the ceiling. As your roof blows off.

We can go on listing all the reasons why, but fact is America is in no position to rebuild. Which is a direct consequence of the fact that the entire nation has been built on credit for decades now. Which in turn makes it extremely vulnerable and fragile. Please do understand that mechanism. Every single inch of the country is in debt. America has been able to build on debt, but it can’t rebuild on it too, precisely because of that.

There is no resilience and no redundancy left, there is no way to shift sufficient funds from one place to the other (the funds don’t exist). And the grand credit experiment is on its last legs, even with ultra low rates. Washington either can’t or won’t -depending on what affiliation representatives have- add another trillion+ dollars to its tally, state capitals are already reeling from their debt levels, and individuals, since they have much less access to creative accounting than politicians, can just forget about it all.

Not that all of this is necessarily bad: why would people be encouraged to build or buy homes in flood- and hurricane prone areas in the first place? Why is that government policy? Why is it accepted? Yes, developers and banks love it, because it makes them a quick buck, and then some, and the Fed loves it because it keeps adding to the money supply, but it has turned America into a de facto debt colony.

If you want to know what will happen to Houston and whatever part of Florida gets hit worst, think New Orleans/Katrina, but squared or cubed -thanks to the 2007/8 crisis.

 

 

May 312017
 
 May 31, 2017  Posted by at 9:22 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »
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Johannes Vermeer Woman in Blue Reading a Letter 1662-3

 

China Is The Greatest Financial Bubble in History (Rickards)
In Watershed Event, Europe Unveils Plan To Securitize Sovereign Debt (ZH)
EU Executive To Say Eurozone May Need Treasury, Minister, Budget (R.)
Sterling Dips After Poll Suggests Hung UK Parliament (BBC)
Theresa May Asks Voters To Imagine Jeremy Corbyn ‘Naked And Alone’ (M.)
US Starts Shipping Weapons To Syrian Kurds (ZH)
The Plot To Overthrow Trump Is Very Real (Martin Armstrong)
‘She’s Finally Understood She Needs To Solve Europe’ (Exp.)
Merkel Comes Out Swinging At Trump And Misses (Luongo)
After A Year’s Delay, Dutch Approve Ukraine Treaty (R.)
Two-Thirds Of Greek Construction Jobs Have Vanished (K.)
Once Costly Deep-Sea Oil Turns Cheap, to OPEC’s Dismay (BBG)
US Army Veterans Find Peace In Protecting Rhinos From Poaching (G.)

 

 

“The toxic combination of government debt, corporate debt, WMPs, and unrealistic growth expectations have set up China for the greatest market crash in history. But, not yet. As analysis will continue to prove, political forces will put off a day of reckoning until early 2018.”

China Is The Greatest Financial Bubble in History (Rickards)

China is in the greatest financial bubble in history. Yet, calling China a bubble does not do justice to the situation. This story has been touched on periodically over the last year. China has multiple bubbles, and they’re all getting ready to burst. If you make the right moves now, you could be well positioned even as Chinese credit and currency crash and burn. The first and most obvious bubble is credit. The combined Chinese government and corporate debt-to-equity ratio is over 300-to-1 after hidden liabilities, such as provincial guarantees and shadow banking system liabilities, are taken into account. Paying off that debt requires growth, but the growth itself is fueled by more debt. China is now at the point where enormous new debt is required to achieve only modest new growth. This is clearly non-sustainable.

The next bubble is in investment instruments called Wealth Management Products, or WMPs. Picture this. You’re a middle-class Chinese saver and you walk into a bank. They offer you two investment options. The first is a bank deposit that pays about 2%. The other is a WMP that pays about 7%. Which do you choose? In the past ten years, bank customers have chosen almost $12 trillion of WMPs. That might be fine if WMPs were like high-quality corporate or municipal bonds. They’re not. They’re more like the biggest Ponzi scheme in history. Here’s how they work. Proceeds from sales of WMPs are loaned to speculative real estate developers and unprofitable state owned enterprises (SOEs) at attractive yields in the form of notes. So, WMPs resemble collateralized debt obligations, CDOs, the same product that sank Lehman Brothers in the panic of 2008.

The problem is that the borrowers behind the WMPs can’t pay their debts. They’re relying on further bubbles in real estate or easy credit from the government to meet their interest obligations. What happens when a WMP matures? Usually the bank customer is encouraged to rollover the investment into a new WMP. What happens if the customer wants her money back? The bank sells a new WMP to another customer, then uses those sales proceeds to redeem the first customer. The new customer now steps into the shoes of the first customer with the same pile of bad debt. That’s where the Ponzi dynamic comes in. Simply put, most of the debts backing up the WMPs cannot be repaid, which means it’s just a matter of time before the WMP market goes into a full meltdown and triggers a banking panic.

Finally, there is an infrastructure bubble. As explained in more detail below, China has kept its growth engine humming mostly with investment instead of aggregate demand from consumers. Investment is fine if it is directed at long-term growth projects that produce a positive expected return and help the broader economy grow as well. But, that’s not what China has done. About half of China’s investment in the past ten years has been wasted on “ghost cities,” white elephant transportation facilities, and prestige projects that look good superficially, but that don’t produce enough revenue or efficiencies to pay for themselves. Much of this investment was financed with debt. If the project itself is not revenue producing then the associated debt cannot be repaid, and will go into default.

Read more …

Watershed Ponzi.

In Watershed Event, Europe Unveils Plan To Securitize Sovereign Debt (ZH)

Less than a decade after various complex, synthetic, squared, cubed and so on securitized debt structures nearly brought down the financial system, here come “Sovereign Bond-Backed Securities.” Moments ago, the FT reported that in a watershed event for the European – and global – bond markets, Brussels is pressing for sovereign debt from across the eurozone to be “bundled into a new financial instrument and sold to investors as part of a proposal to strengthen the single currency area.” Call it securitized sovereign debt. In the latest attempt by Europe to create a common bond market, a European Commission paper on the future of the euro seen by the Financial Times, advocates the launching of a market of “sovereign bond-backed securities” — packaging different countries’ national debt into a new asset.

The logic is simple: combine all the debt from strong and weak countries into one big pool, eliminating the outliers on both sides, then tranche it out, and sell it based on required yield returns. “Officials hope that the plans would boost demand for debt issued by governments with relatively weaker economies, and encourage banks to manage their risks better by diversifying their portfolios, while avoiding old political battles over whether the currency bloc should issue common bonds”. Why now? Because as has been Germany’s intention all along, Berlin has been hoping to create a fiscally intergrated Europe (with a shadow government in Berlin of course), call it a (quasi) “fiscal union”, and which is much more stable and resilient than the current iteration which is only as strong as its weakest link. Securitizing the sovereign debt resolves virtually all outstanding problems.

“The commission paper is the latest in a series of efforts to kick-start integration inside the eurozone. Such integration efforts have stalled since financial markets became convinced in 2013 that the European Central Bank would not allow the eurozone to break up. The last successful integration project was the creation of an EU banking union three years ago.” There is another reason why now: over the next year, the ECB’s QE, which has been instrumental to implement Draghi’s “Whatever it takes” bluff, will start hiking rates and eventually unwinding its balance sheet, the world’s biggest. That’s when the European bond market may have its next freak out moment. As a result, Brussels and Frankfurt are hoping to preempt this potential unwind by coming up with today’s “ingenious” solution.

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Brussels wants the opposite of what the people want.

EU Executive To Say Eurozone May Need Treasury, Minister, Budget (R.)

The EU executive will suggest on Wednesday the euro zone might need to issue collective debt and run a joint budget, among proposals for bolstering the single currency that echo ideas from new French President Emmanuel Macron. People familiar with the European Commission reflection paper told Reuters the scenario of a finance minister managing common revenue, spending and borrowing had been worked on for many months in Brussels, but now appears a much more likely option since centrist former banker Macron won power on May 7. German conservatives dislike an idea they say means paying for poorer neighbors. But Chancellor Angela Merkel, seeking re-election in September, has welcomed Macron’s victory and EU officials said they hoped governments might start working on a plan to forge a more cohesive euro zone from next year.

The Commission paper examines possible reforms to the bloc after the 2010-2012 sovereign debt crisis that nearly destroyed it and which triggered a wave of quick fixes for its weak spots. While some problems have been addressed, there is a lot more EU governments need to do to have an optimally functioning Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), the Commission will say. The document, part of a wider series on the future of the EU, comes as the EU is to start talks with Britain on the terms of its withdrawal – a great setback to European integration but one that will see the euro zone make up nearly four-fifths of the EU’s economy, up from two thirds today. The Commission will avoid making any clear suggestions as to the evolution of the single currency area, leaving it up to EU governments to decide which of the ideas they like. But it does say that in the later stages of deepening euro zone integration, not least because it would require politically difficult and time-consuming changes to EU treaties, the bloc could establish a euro zone treasury.

Read more …

May’s fall is swift.

Sterling Dips After Poll Suggests Hung UK Parliament (BBC)

The value of the pound dropped after a projection suggested the Conservatives could fail to win an outright majority in the election on 8 June. Previous opinion polls suggested Prime Minister Theresa May’s party would increase its majority, which is currently 17 seats. But the projection, published in the Times and based on YouGov research, suggests a possible hung parliament. Sterling fell by more than half of one per cent, but recovered some losses. By early Wednesday morning, it was trading 0.44% lower against the dollar at $1.28020 and 0.29% lower against the euro at €1.146. The Times said the YouGov data suggested that the Tories could lose up to 20 of the 330 seats they held in the last parliament, with Labour gaining nearly 30 seats.

The Conservatives would still be the biggest party, but would not have an overall majority. The model is based on 50,000 interviews over a week, with voters from a panel brought together by YouGov. It uses a new “constituency-by-constituency” model for polling, which the paper says allows for big variations. According to the Times, “the estimates were met with scepticism by Tory and Labour figures.” YouGov’s chief executive, Stephan Shakespeare said the model had been tested during the EU referendum campaign, when it consistently put the winning Leave side ahead. But he added: “It would take only a slight fall in Labour’s share and a slight increase in the Conservatives’ to result in Mrs May returning to No 10 with a healthy majority.”

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Fear rules the waves. Telegraph headline today: “Tax on homes ‘to treble under Labour plans for Land Value Tax’ “

Theresa May Asks Voters To Imagine Jeremy Corbyn ‘Naked And Alone’ (M.)

Flapping Theresa May fired off a volley of insults at Jeremy Corbyn today after Labour surged in general election polls. The desperate Prime Minister even conjured up an image of the Labour leader naked in Brussels as she urged voters to consider the impact of propelling Mr Corbyn to No 10. She used a Labour legend’s quote as she mocked Mr Corbyn over what she claimed would be his weakness in tough EU divorce talks. “With his position on Brexit , he will find himself alone and naked in the negotiating chamber,” she said. “I know that’s an image that doesn’t bear thinking about but actually this is very serious.” The barb was particularly wounding for Labour by borrowing the charge from one of the party’s heroes, NHS founder Aneurin Bevan.

Urging Labour conference delegates in October 1957 not to support unilateral nuclear disarmament, he warned: “You will send a British Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber.” Challenged by the Mirror, Mrs May denied demeaning the office of Prime Minister with her outspoken attacks. And she was later forced to deny they showed she was getting “desperate”, saying: “It represents the difference between myself, having prepared for the negotiations, having a clear plan for the negotiations, and Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party who have said they would tear up the plan we have produced.” Speaking at the former railway station in Wolverhampton, Mrs May claimed her rival’s performance in the Sky News/Channel 4 TV showdown proved he could not be PM. “Despite being a Member of Parliament for 34 years, despite being the leader of the Labour Party for the last two years, he’s simply not ready to govern, and not prepared to lead,” she said.

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Some are trying to turn this into a war with Iraq.

US Starts Shipping Weapons To Syrian Kurds (ZH)

Just three weeks after reports first emerged that the Trump administration was considering arming the Syrian Kurd militia caught in the crossfire between Turkish and Syrian army forces, NBC reported that the American military has started shipping weapons and equipment to the Kurdish fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, also known as YPG, a key US ally on the ground in Syria. Citing an unnamed official, NBC adds that the U.S. began providing the equipment in the last 24 hours. Details were scarce, with no specifics about what weapons and supplies the US is sending the Syrian Democratic Forces or how those items are being delivered however when the report first emerged, the U.S. military announced it would provide the YDF with ammunition, rifles, armor, radios, bulldozers, vehicles, and engineering equipment.

Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon told RT taid that this move represents the “early steps to prepare for the eventual liberation of Raqqa,” which the Islamic State has declared the capital of its self-proclaimed caliphate. “Overall, the equipment the US-led coalition will provide to the SDF includes small arms, ammunition, heavy machine guns and weapons capable of defeating specific threats our partner forces are expected to encounter as they take the fight to a desperate enemy, such as heavily-armored vehicle-borne IEDs,” Pahon said. Earlier this month US officials said that Trump had signed off on a plan “to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces” in the fight to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from ISIS. “The SDF, partnered with enabling support from U.S. and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa in the near future,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

The announcement is guaranteed to send Turkey’s president Erdogan into another fit of rage. Earlier this month Erdogan condemned Trump’s decision to arm Syrian Kurds whom Turkey considers to be terrorists and an extension of outlawed Kurdish insurgents within its borders. Three weeks ago Erdogan said: “I hope very much that this mistake will be reversed immediately,” adding that “we want to believe that our allies would prefer [to] be side by side with ourselves rather than with the terror groups.” President Trump and Erdogan met earlier this month and discussed the administration’s plans to arm Kurdish militias in Syria. It was unclear what agreement the two leaders reached on this controverial move.

At the same time, Reuters reported that Syrian rebels say the United States and its allies “are sending them more arms to try to fend off a new push into the southeast by Iran-backed militias aiming to open an overland supply route between Iraq and Syria.” Rebels said military aid has been boosted through two separate channels: a program backed by the CIA, known as the MOC, and regional states including Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and one run by the Pentagon. “There has been an increase in the support,” said Tlass Salameh, head of the Jaish Usoud al-Sharqiya, one of the FSA groups backed via the CIA-backed program. “There’s no way we can let them open the Baghdad-Damascus highway,” he said.

Read more …

No doubt there.

The Plot To Overthrow Trump Is Very Real (Martin Armstrong)

There is a very REAL plot to overthrow Trump led by the political establishment and aided by the mainstream press.. This is not simply speculation – this is the real deal. Of course the Washington Post and New York Times are in full swing to get rid of Trump. No matter what it might be, the twist is always against Trump right down to the story how Sean Spicer wanted to see the Pope because he is a devote Catholic and was denied. CNN, of course, is also part of this conspiracy. You will NEVER find any positive article about Trump in mainstream media. Here is CNN and we can see that 50% of the top stories are always against Trump. We have Boehner coming out saying Trump is a disaster. This is the guy who threw people off committees if they did not vote for his agenda. The Kushner story is desperately trying to make something out of nothing.

Here we have after Flynn’s removal, Kushner suggesting setting up a direct channel for diplomatic purposes regarding Syria with the Russians. That is entirely within reason and has been done during confrontations in the past. This was only a suggestion. It was not done, yet the press twist this into somehow supporting Russia who single-handedly defeated Hillary and put Trump in office. They think if they can just keep selling that nonsense it will become a fact.. The press seems to want war with Russia and absolutely nothing else. No such link was established and the last thing you want to do is not talk to your adversary. So why is this a major story? Of yes. It’s again RUSSIA. The press created the Spanish American War. They supported the Vietnam War and kill more than 58,000 American boys, most of my high school friends died thanks to them.

Behind the Curtain, Republican Elites are conspiring to overthrow Trump (including Boehner) to protect the establishment. McCain and Graham are the worst of the lot in office. They obviously picked up the phone and called Boehner for help. The Republicans have lost it. They think this “populism” is over with Macron’s victory in France so it’s time to get rid of Trump and it will all be OK again. I have never seen such an all out effort on a massive coordinated effort to reject the people’s demand for reform. This is HIGHLY dangerous for we can very well move toward civil war. These people think getting rid of Trump and it will all be roses and raining money for them once again. They are DEAD wrong! Our model also warns that that United States can break up as a result of this by 2032-2040.

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No, Merkel has started her campaign.

‘She’s Finally Understood She Needs To Solve Europe’ (Exp.)

Attending a campaign rally ahead of the country’s elections, Angela Merkel claimed that now was the time for Europe to pay more attention to its own interests, and “take our fate into our own hands”. In an uncharacteristically bold speech, she went so far as to suggest that even the US was no longer a reliable partner to the EU – a strong statement, according to officials, who were left stunned. The words appeared to herald a change in transatlantic relations – effectively saying with Donald Trump in charge, the US-European alliance would never be the same. Mrs Merkel’s out of character appearance also signalled a strong pro-European stance to voters in Germany, as well as the wider EU, that Berlin will be playing a more activist role in the bloc. Norbert Spinrath, Europe spokesman in the Bundestag for the Social Democrats, said: “[Mrs] Merkel seems to have finally understood that she really needs to get stuck in and solve Europe’s problems.

“She has to realise that Europe is more than just fiscal consolidation — we need closer integration, we need to strengthen the currency and fight social imbalances.” The speech comes just weeks after newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron announced his plans to spearhead reforms in the Eurozone. It would be a sharp departure from her previous role as the EU’s crisis manager, with Mr Macron’s election pushing the German leader to present a more promising vision of Europe’s future. According to Jan Techau, a foreign policy analyst at the American Academy in Berlin, the speech was more for domestic audiences than those abroad, with the country’s federal elections just four months away. He adds: “It shows she is finally moving into campaign mode. “She’s switched from the international Merkel to the domestic Merkel.”

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What is Trump going to do if Corbyn wins? Or Merkel?

Merkel Comes Out Swinging At Trump And Misses (Luongo)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will preside over the end of the European Union. Her reaction to the G-7 meeting and U.S. President Donald Trump’s refusal to endorse the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will accelerate the market’s rejection of EU policy. I’ve been warning about this for months in my articles here on Seeking Alpha. Angela Merkel is caught between two stanch nationalists whom Germany depends on: Russian President Vladimir Putin to the east and U.S. President Donald Trump to the right. Last week, I told you that Trump would clash with Merkel over Brexit at the G-7 meeting. “But, the likelihood of that is remote. If anything, there are signs that Trump is getting control of the narrative and his presence at the G-7 meeting this weekend will put the EU, specifically German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her place with respect to Brexit by backing U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.”

And by all accounts he did that and more, forcing the G-7 to issue a four-page forward statement that outlined the lack of consensus among the participants. This is unprecedented. Trump went overseas and stood athwart the financial and political order to fulfill campaign promises. Now, Angela Merkel is forced to make campaign promises of her own. And she’s not happy about it. Merkel gave a “watershed speech” during a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) rally in Munich. From an AFP report on the speech: “Europe “must take its fate into its own hands” faced with a western alliance divided by Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Sunday. “The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that in the last few days,” Merkel told a crowd at an election rally in Munich, southern Germany. “We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” she added.

And while these are fighting words, they also ring hollow. Merkel is in no position to drive a hard bargain with either the U.S. or the U.K. over trade. Trump went to the G-7 to put the kibosh on the EU’s intransigence over Brexit. He succeeded. Trump is winning control of the political narrative at home. He’s up in the polls, he was deferential to Israel and even handed with the Arabs in Saudi Arabia. This trip and his standing up to G-7 technocrats on behalf of his voters give him the political capital to whip his Republican majority into line on spending, taxes and budgeting. The punditry is right. This is a watershed moment. But, it was not instigated by Merkel. It was instigated by Trump. And it will be the beginning of the next wave of capital flight out of the EU.

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So much for democracy in Holland. Make that Europe. Big mistake, guys.

After A Year’s Delay, Dutch Approve Ukraine Treaty (R.)

The Dutch senate on Tuesday approved a European Union “association agreement” with Ukraine, a final hurdle to the treaty, which strengthens the former Soviet republic’s ties with Western Europe and moves it further from Moscow’s orbit. It did so following amendments made at the EU level to take into consideration the Dutch referendum vote last year against the agreement. “Today’s vote in the Dutch Senate sends an important signal from the Netherlands and the entire European Union to our Ukrainian friends: Ukraine’s place is in Europe. Ukraine’s future lies with Europe,” said EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. The agreement, a treaty, had already been negotiated and approved by all EU governments and by Ukraine in 2014, and had even partially gone into effect pending ratification when it was abruptly rejected by Dutch voters in a snap referendum held in April 2016.

The Dutch vote was as much a rebuke to Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the European Union as a rejection of the treaty, which focuses mostly on trade ties. But Rutte and the European Union diplomats were forced to renegotiate parts of the treaty in order to render it palatable to Dutch parliament or risk seeing it derailed, since it cannot be ratified without support from all European Union legislatures. Ultimately the treaty was amended to underline it does not make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership, does not entitle Kiev to financial aid or military assistance from the bloc, and does not give Ukrainians the right to live and work in EU member states. The amended version passed Dutch parliament in March, and the Senate approved it Monday, both by comfortable margins.

Read more at

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Everything is left to fall apart. As billion-dollar buildings open in Brussels. Union.

Two-Thirds Of Greek Construction Jobs Have Vanished (K.)

The number of companies active in the construction sector has declined by 35.4% since 2004 as a result of the financial crisis and the considerable drop in investment in infrastructure. Worse, compared to the 401,000 employees in the sector during the third quarter of 2008 – just before the recession cycle started – construction employed just 141,800 workers at end-2016, which means that at least 64.6% of the construction workers eight-and-a-half years ago have now been forced out of the sector.

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Ironic quote of the year, from the oil industry: “There is life in deep-water yet..”

Once Costly Deep-Sea Oil Turns Cheap, to OPEC’s Dismay (BBG)

Reports of deep-sea drilling’s demise in a world of sub-$100 oil may have been greatly exaggerated, much to OPEC’s dismay. Pumping crude from seabeds thousands of feet below water is turning cheaper as producers streamline operations and prioritize drilling in core wells, according to Wood Mackenzie. That means oil at $50 a barrel could sustain some of these projects by next year, down from an average break-even price of about $62 in the first quarter and $75 in 2014, the energy consultancy estimates. The tumbling costs present another challenge for OPEC which is currently curbing output to shrink a glut. In 2014, when the U.S. shale boom sparked oil’s crash from above $100 a barrel, the group embarked on a different strategy of pumping at will to defend market share and throttle high-cost projects.

Ali Al-Naimi, the former energy minister of OPEC member Saudi Arabia, said in February 2016 that such producers need to either “lower costs, borrow cash or liquidate.” “There is life in deep-water yet,” said Angus Rodger, director of upstream Asia-Pacific research at Wood Mackenzie in Singapore. “When oil prices fell, many projects were deferred, but the ones that were deferred first were deep-water because the overall break-evens were highest. Now in 2017, we’re seeing signs that the best ones are coming back.” The falling costs make it more likely that investors will approve pumping crude from such large deep-water projects, the process for which is more complex and risky than drilling traditional fields on land. That may compete with OPEC’s oil to meet future supply gaps that the group sees forming as demand increases and output from existing wells naturally declines.

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We should start training young people for this. Send them to Africa to live with the vets and observe. Best teachers ever.

US Army Veterans Find Peace In Protecting Rhinos From Poaching (G.)

The sun has set over the scrubby savannah. The moon is full. It is time for Ryan Tate and his men to go to work. In camouflage fatigues, they check their weapons and head to the vehicles. Somewhere beyond the ring of light cast by the campfire, out in the vast dark expanse of thornbushes, baobab trees, rocks and grass, are the rhinos. Somewhere, too, may be the poachers who will kill them to get their precious horns. The job of Tate, a 32-year-old former US Marine, and the group of US military veterans he has assembled in a remote private reserve in the far north of South Africa is simple: keep the rhinos and the rest of the game in the bush around their remote base alive. The men are not mercenaries, or park rangers –they work for Tate’s Veterans Empowered To Protect African Wildlife (Vetpaw), a US-based nonprofit organisation funded by private donations.

All have seen combat, often with elite military units, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. Though equipped with vehicles, trail bikes, assault rifles, sniper suits and radios, the most important weapons in the war against poaching, Tate believes, are the skills and experiences his team gained on successive deployments in conflict zones over the last decade and a half. “We are here for free. We are not going anywhere. Whether it is cold or hot, day or night … we want to work with anyone who needs help,” Tate says. The initiative is not without controversy. Some experts fear “green militarisation” and an arms race between poachers and gamekeepers. Others believe deploying American former soldiers to fight criminals in South Africa undermines the troubled country’s already fragile state. But the scale of the challenge of protecting South Africa’s rhinos is clear to everyone, with a rise in poaching in recent years threatening to reverse conservation gains made over decades.

[..] Tate founded Vetpaw after seeing a documentary about poaching and the deaths of park rangers in Africa. His team now work on a dozen private game reserves covering a total of around 200,000 hectares in Limpopo, the country’s northernmost province. One advantage for local landowners is the protection heavily armed combat veterans provide against the violent break-ins feared by so many South Africans, particularly on isolated rural farmsteads. The team has also run training courses for local guides and security staff. But if one aim of Vetpaw is to counter poaching, another is to help combat veterans in the US, where former servicemen suffer high levels of unemployment and mental illness. “Everyone gets PTSD when they come back from war … you are never going to get the brotherhood, the intensity again.. [There are] all these veterans with billions of dollars of training and the government doesn’t use them. I saw a need in two places and just put them together,” says Tate.

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 March 31, 2015  Posted by at 9:57 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  5 Responses »
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Dorothea Lange Butter bean vines across the porch, Negro quarter, Memphis, Tennessee 1938

The US Economy Is Showing Cracks (CNN)
Greek Construction Sector Crumbles By 80% In Just Five Years (Kathimerini)
Bernanke: I Didn’t Throw Seniors Under The Bus (MarketWatch)
The Fed’s Startling Numbers on Student Debt (Simon Black)
The Fed’s ‘Repression’ Has Cost Savers $470 Billion (MarketWatch)
Low US Consumer Spending Points To Slow First Quarter (MarketWatch)
Jumping On Junk: Investors Crazy For High Yield (CNBC)
19 Economists Call On The ECB To Make ‘QE For The People’ (BasicIncome.org)
Foreign Investors Are Cashing Out of China (Bloomberg)
Bank Of England Stress Tests To Include Feared Global Crash (Guardian)
Germany Says Greece Must Flesh Out Reforms To Unlock Aid (Reuters)
Yanis Varoufakis Calls For End To ‘Toxic Blame Game’ (BBC)
Greek Plans To Unlock Aid ‘Lack Technocratic Input’ (Bloomberg)
Tsipras Presses Allies for Support as Greek Cash Crunch Deepens (Bloomberg)
Repeal, Don’t Reform the IMF! (Ron Paul)
Americans See Putin As Only Slightly More Imminent Threat Than Obama (Reuters)
Fracking’s New Legal Threat: Earthquake Suits (WSJ)
Iran Deal Unlikely Before March 31 as Russia Leaves Talks (Bloomberg)
Sierra Leone Ebola Lockdown Exposes Hundreds Of Suspected Cases (Reuters)

Many. But we knew that. CNN, though? Really?: “The consumer really hasn’t kicked in at full speed ahead..”

The US Economy Is Showing Cracks (CNN)

The U.S. job market had its best year of gains last year since 1999, and economic activity hit a whopping 5% in the third quarter – the best quarter since 2003. Three months later, the U.S. economy is looking a little tired. It’s losing momentum in puzzling ways. Hiring is still strong, but experts are starting to scale back their growth forecasts. Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen summed it up well in a speech Friday: “If underlying conditions had truly returned to normal, the economy should be booming.” Economists say there are two main problems: Workers’ wages aren’t growing much, if at all. As a result, Americans aren’t going out and spending much. On top of that, many foreign economies are slowing down, which puts pressure on the U.S. The question going forward is whether we’re just in a blip or a bigger shift is taking place.

“The consumer really hasn’t kicked in at full speed ahead,” says Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. “We’re going through a soft patch.” With March’s jobs report out on Friday, this economic head-scratcher will be in full focus this week. The U.S. added over half a millions jobs in the first two months of this year alone. That’s a 50% increase from the same two-month stretch a year ago when the Polar Vortex had much of America in a funk. Job gains have come across the board: health care, construction, the service sector and retail businesses have all seen strong pick up. The unemployment rate is down to 5.5%, its lowest mark in seven years. It would be a full-steam story on jobs except for one thing: wage growth. Hourly wages only grew 2% in February. That’s a marginal bump up, but it’s too little for most Americans to notice the recovery’s progress. It’s also well below the Federal Reserve’s roughly 3.5% goal. [..]

People don’t go out and spend unless they feel confident about the future. There was hope that cheap gas would spur people to feel better about the economy and their pocketbooks. A gallon of gas was $3.53 a year ago. Now it’s $2.42, according to AAA. But a lot of people are still holding onto that savings. Retail sales and construction on new homes both fell in February, missing estimates. The latest numbers on manufacturing are also weaker than hoped for. All this could just be a winter slowdown, but it’s raising red flags. “Most of it was due to the inclement weather we had…I think that kept a lot of shoppers at home,” says Bernard Baumohl at the Economic Outlook Group.

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That’s one big number.

Greek Construction Crumbles By 80% In Just Five Years (Kathimerini)

Construction in Greece has suffered one of the biggest declines to have been recorded by any professional sector within just a few years, as business activity in the domain has dropped as much as 80% since 2008, a study by the Foundation for Economic and Industrial Research (IOBE) showed on Monday. It added that more than a third of the economic contraction recorded from 2008 to 2013 in Greece is associated with the drop in investment in construction. Employment in the sector more than halved within five years, from 589,000 people in 2008 to 287,000 in 2013, the study revealed.

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The stupidest thing in a long while: “There is “absolutely nothing artificial” about setting the Fed rate at the equilibrium rate.”

Bernanke: I Didn’t Throw Seniors Under The Bus (MarketWatch)

Former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke unveiled a new blog on Monday and used his first post to defend his record from criticism that he kept rates artificially low and hurt savers. Bernanke said he was worried that his post was “very textbook-y” and with some reason. His blog is built around the concept of an “equilibrium real interest rate” which is the ideal level of rates minus inflation that would allow the economy to use all of its labor and capital resources. Fed Chair Janet Yellen discussed this concept in her policy speech last week. Underneath all the wonkiness in the post is a real passion to convince people that Bernanke was not “throwing seniors under the bus” as at least one of his legislative critics alleged.

During and after the financial crisis, Bernanke said, the equilibrium rate was low and even negative. If the U.S. central bank had pushed rates up to help savers, it would have likely led to an economic slowdown, Bernanke said. The best policy for the Fed is to set rates at the equilibrium rate, he added. So critics who argue that the he kept interest rates “artificially low” are also confused, Bernanke said. There is “absolutely nothing artificial” about setting the Fed rate at the equilibrium rate, he said.

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“Only 37% of total students loan balances are currently in repayment and not delinquent.”

The Fed’s Startling Numbers on Student Debt (Simon Black)

What I’m about to tell you is not my own opinion or even analysis. It’s original data that comes from the United States Federal Reserve and national credit bureaus.
• 40 million Americans are now in debt because of their university education, and on average borrowers have four loans with a total balance of $29,000.
• According to the Fed, “Student loans have the highest delinquency rate of any form of household credit, having surpassed credit cards in 2012.”
• Since 2010, student debt has been the second largest category of personal debt, just after a home mortgage.
• The delinquency rate for student loans is now hovering near an all-time high since they started collecting data 12 years ago.
• Only 37% of total students loan balances are currently in repayment and not delinquent.

The rest—nearly 2 out of 3—are either behind on payments, in all-out default, or have entered some sort of deferral program to delay making payments, with a small percentage still in school. It’s pretty obvious that this is a giant, unsustainable bubble (more on this below). But even more important are the personal implications. University graduates now matriculate with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. Debt is another form of servitude. Like medieval serfs, debt keeps people tied to jobs they dislike in places they don’t want to be working for bosses they hate doing things that make them feel unfulfilled. Debt makes it very difficult to walk away and start fresh. In fact, ‘starting fresh’ is almost legally impossible when it comes to student debt. Even in US bankruptcy court, student debt cannot be discharged in almost all cases.

It is an albatross that hangs over you for a decade or more if you do make the payments, and it follows you around for the rest of your life if you do not. (I’m not suggesting anyone default on what they owed—simply pointing out that nearly every other form of debt can be discharged EXCEPT for student debt.) This kind of debt has a huge impact on people’s lives. Again, according to the Federal Reserve, “[G]rowing student debt has contributed to the recent decline in the homeownership rate and to the sharp increase in parental co-residence among millennials.” So the Fed’s own analysis shows that student debt is a cause for people in their 20s and 30s to live at home with their parents. Amazing.

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How to destroy an economy in five easy lessons.

The Fed’s ‘Repression’ Has Cost Savers $470 Billion (MarketWatch)

Artificially low interest rates have cost U.S. savers $470 billion, according to a report released Thursday. The report, from reinsurer Swiss Re, argues against current high levels of so-called financial repression. Swiss Re came up with the $470 billion number by looking at rates from 2008 to 2013. The insurer argues that if the Fed had followed a policy based on the Taylor Rule — a mechanistic way of determining interest rates that some congressional Republicans advocate — the Fed funds target would have been 1.7%age points higher on average. That in turn would have boosted interest income by an average of $14,000 for the wealthiest 1%, and $160 for the bottom 90%. The report concedes that there are obvious beneficiaries of lower rates too, through lower mortgage rates, higher house prices and a rising stock market.

The boost to household wealth from house prices was an estimated $1 trillion and from the stock market was an estimated $9 trillion — dwarfing, then, the $470 billion hit on savings. The report points out, however, that since the rich are more likely to own stocks, and have pricier homes, this has aggravated inequality. Moreover, the report says it’s questionable whether there’s been a boost on actual consumption, since neither equity nor real estate gains are immediately translatable into cash. “As a result, the increase in financial and housing wealth has – at best – only marginally benefited the real economy,” the report says.

Swiss Re also has a natural, vested interest in higher interest rates. The report says U.S. and European insurers have lost around $400 billion in yield income due to financial repression. The financial repression index, shown in the chart above, is based on real government bond yields, the difference between actual yields and fair value, central bank asset purchases, the difference in policy rate vs. the Taylor rule, regulatory risk, asset encumbrance, the available of high-quality liquid assets and domestic debts holdings and capital flow. Most of the components represent an average for both the European Union and the U.S.

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It’s called deflation.

Low US Consumer Spending Points To Slow First Quarter (MarketWatch)

Forget about a strong start for the U.S. economy in 2015: Consumer spending barely rose in February after a decline in January, pointing to much slower growth in the first quarter. Consumer spending rose a scant 0.1% last month, the Commerce Department said Monday. Economists polled by MarketWatch were looking for a seasonally adjusted 0.3% gain. The small increase in spending in February and outright decline in January suggest the economy failed in early 2015 to match the pace of growth at the end of last year. Gross domestic product is forecast to expand just 1.4% in the first quarter, down from 2.2% in the fourth quarter and 5% in the third quarter. Harsh winter weather that kept people indoors and steered them away from car dealers and other retailers likely contributed to small gain in spending in February. Lower gasoline prices also were a factor in keeping spending down January and December.

Yet with the weather turning warmer and companies hiring at the fastest pace in 15 years, most economists predict the economy will accelerate in the spring. More American working will boost consumer spending, they say. A similar pattern played itself out in 2014. GDP shrank 2.1% in the first quarter but bounced back with an increase of 4.6% in the second quarter. What could also help this year are the first hints that wages are starting to rise, at least for some workers whose skills are in short supply. Personal incomes in February rose a solid 0.4% for the fourth time in five months. “Households are still flush with the money saved from the big drop-off in gasoline prices and, with the labor market still on fire, incomes should continue to increase at a solid pace,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “That provides the scope for a big gain in consumption in the second quarter.”

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Everybody’s vulnerable to swings.

Jumping On Junk: Investors Crazy For High Yield (CNBC)

The supply of U.S. companies with junk-rated debt is rising just as investor demand for higher yields is climbing. Moody’s reports a two-year high in company debt rated B3 negative or worse—a.k.a. junk—as part of a trend that has seen the list of 184 companies grow by 26% over the period. The rise has been led by oil and gas firms, which accounted for 12 of the 28 additions to the junk list in February. What’s more, the roster would be even longer but for companies falling off the list due to reasons including filing for bankruptcy. Of the 18 issuers no longer rated, 39% filed either for bankruptcy protection or “distressed exchange, and 33% withdrew, with just 28% getting off the list due to upgrades.” “This is a reversal from the previous two quarters, when most companies left the list via ratings upgrades,” Moody’s said.

“If this reversal continues, it could signal tough times ahead for speculative-grade issuers.” Not so far, though. Fueled by low default rates and generally favorable credit conditions, investors in 2015 have been pouring money into funds that invest in high-yield debt. In fact, the previous six weeks before the most recent week had the highest level of flows to junk funds since the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, according to Morningstar. Flows to junk-focused funds have taken in a net $12.2 billion so far in 2015 as part of a broader interest in fixed income amid a turbulent stock market, Bank of America Merrill Lynch reported. In addition to the big cash attraction to junk, high-grade bond funds have seen net inflows of $36.4 billion.

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Steve’s own debt jubilee is still a great idea. But it goes against every banker and politician’s desire.

19 Economists Call On The ECB To Make ‘QE For The People’ (BasicIncome.org)

A letter published [Mar 26] in the Financial Times signed by 19 economists calls on the European Central Bank to adopt an alternative quantitative easing policy. The letter includes a call to distribute cash directly to citizens of the eurozone. As a response to the ECB plan to inject €60 bn a month for the next 18 months into the financial system, 19 economists have signed a letter to the Financial Times calling on the ECB to adopt a different approach which they consider a more efficient way to boost the eurozone economy. “The evidence suggests that conventional QE is an unreliable tool for boosting GDP or employment. Bank of England research shows that it benefits the well-off, who gain from increasing asset prices, much more than the poorest,” the letter reads. The signatories offer an alternative:

Rather than being injected into the financial markets, the new money created by eurozone central banks could be used to finance government spending (such as investing in much needed infrastructure projects); alternatively each eurozone citizen could be given €175 per month, for 19 months, which they could use to pay down existing debts or spend as they please. By directly boosting spending and employment, either approach would be far more effective than the ECB’s plans for conventional QE.

The idea of having central banks to distribute cash to citizens has often been called “quantitative easing for the people” – a term coined by Steve Keen, an Australian economist. Prof. Steve Keen signed the letter, along with 18 other economists, including several advocates for basic income such as BIEN’s cofounder Guy Standing, David Graeber, Frances Coppola and Lord Robert Skidelsky. Guy Standing recently wrote an article outlining a proposal for having the ECB to finance basic income pilot studies in Europe:

“Monthly payments could be provided to every man, woman and child in, say, four areas on a pilot basis, with the sole condition that they would only continue to receive them if they were residing in those areas. People would still be free to move. However, it would help them to be able to stay. Such payments could be made for a period of 12 or 24 months.”

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First the bust of the housing bubble, now the stock bubble bursts. What’s next for China’s savings?

Foreign Investors Are Cashing Out of China (Bloomberg)

International investors are cashing out of China’s world-beating equity rally Foreigners sold a net 1.7 billion yuan ($274 million) of Chinese shares via the Shanghai-Hong Kong exchange link in the week through Monday, while outflows from the two biggest Hong Kong exchange-traded funds tracking mainland shares totaled $622 million. Money flowed out of the link again on Tuesday as the Shanghai Composite Index touched a seven-year high on government plans to bolster the housing market. Global investors are losing faith in the rally even as mainland traders open stock accounts at the fastest pace on record and authorities endorse gains in equities that have doubled China’s market value over the past year to a record $6.5 trillion.

While locals are focused on the prospects for further stimulus, UBS says foreigners are concerned it hasn’t done enough to revive growth after a gauge of manufacturing contracted in March and measures of industrial output and investment trailed estimates in the first two months of 2015. “The A-share market is in a bubble stage,” said Wenjie Lu, a strategist at UBS in Shanghai. “It makes sense for foreign investors to take profits.”

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The BoE’s already preparing for the BIG China bust.

Bank Of England Stress Tests To Include Feared Global Crash (Guardian)

The Bank of England is to impose a series of tests on large UK banks to establish whether they are able to withstand a dramatic slowdown in China, a contraction in the eurozone, the worst deflation since the 1930s or a fall in UK interest rates to zero. The Co-operative bank – which failed last year’s tests – is no longer included in the annual assessments of the industry’s financial strength as it is too small, leaving six banks and the Nationwide building society to be tested. The banks are Barclays, HSBC, Santander UK, Standard Chartered and the two bailed-out banks, Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland. The Bank will give more weight to international scenarios, devised after talks with the IMF, than it did in the 2014 tests, which had a domestic emphasis.

Last year’s tests were designed to meet those imposed by the European Banking Authority, which is not conducting tests this year. The City is expecting this year’s tests to focus on the strength of HSBC and Standard Chartered, although a scenario for the UK is included, under which inflation is negative for seven consecutive quarters – the largest fall in prices for 80 years – and the bank rate cut to zero from the 0.5% level at which it has been stuck since the banking crisis. Banks are being asked to test their ability to withstand shocks over a five-year period to the end of 2019 and be expected to maintain a minimum amount of capital and meet a leverage ratio – a tougher measure of financial strength – while ensuring lending to the real economy grows 10% over the five-year period.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank, said last year’s results showed the UK banking system was stronger than it had been before the 2008 crisis. “This year’s test will have a different focus and is equally important. By assessing the resilience of the UK banking system against a major shock, we will improve further our ability to identify vulnerabilities and we will ensure that banks have plans in place to address a wider range of problems,” Carney said. The severity of the test’s imagined downturn in China – with growth falling to about 1.6% growth – is likened to the scale of the fall in house prices in the UK used last year, when house prices were assumed to collapse by 35%. Chinese economic growth is about 7%.

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“..audits of bank transfers abroad, TV license and e-gaming tenders, a value-added-tax lottery scheme, a crackdown on smuggling and the settlement of arrears owed to the state.”

Germany Says Greece Must Flesh Out Reforms To Unlock Aid (Reuters)

– Greece’s biggest creditor Germany said on Monday that the euro zone would give Athens no further financial aid until it has a more detailed list of reforms and some are enacted into law, adding to scepticism over plans presented last week. A senior official in Brussels on Sunday had dismissed the list as “ideas” rather than a plan that Greece could submit to EU and IMF lenders to avoid running out of cash next month. Euro zone states are still waiting for Greece to send a more comprehensive list, a German finance ministry spokesman said. Chancellor Angela Merkel said Athens had a certain degree of flexibility on which reforms to implement but that they must “add up” to the satisfaction of European partners. “The question is can and will Greece fulfill the expectations that we all have,” she said during a visit to Helsinki.

“There can be variation as far as which measures a government opts for but in the end the overall framework must add up.” There was no immediate reaction from Athens on whether the list would be amended further. Lenders have said it could take several more days before a proper list was ready. Greek and other euro zone officials from the Euro Working Group are due to discuss the reforms on April 1. A Greek finance ministry official said the list included a lowered target of €1.5 billion in proceeds from asset sales this year and a proposal to set up a bad bank with bailout funds returned to the euro zone in February. Among the slated asset sales is a stake in the country’s biggest port, Piraeus, in which China has expressed interest. The list also estimates Greece can raise €3.7 billion this year through audits of bank transfers abroad, TV license and e-gaming tenders, a value-added-tax lottery scheme, a crackdown on smuggling and the settlement of arrears owed to the state.

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“..but no “recessionary measures” such as wage and pension cuts.”

Yanis Varoufakis Calls For End To ‘Toxic Blame Game’ (BBC)

Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has called for an end to the “toxic blame game” between Greece and Germany. He made the call as Greece prepares to finalise its list of economic reforms to present to its international creditors. The reforms are needed to unlock a new tranche of bailout cash for Greece, which could run out of money in weeks. Mr Varoufakis said that finger-pointing between Germany and Greece would only aid Europe’s enemies. Athens and Berlin have been engaged in a bitter war of words as the Greek government seeks to renegotiate the terms of its bailout. German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble has publicly expressed his anger, claiming last week that Greece “has destroyed all trust”. He also acknowledged that Greece could “accidentally leave the eurozone”.

Writing in the German business newspaper Handelsblatt, Mr Varoufakis said that tensions between the two countries “must stop”, adding: “Only then can Greece, with support of its partners, focus on implementing effective reforms and growth-orientated policy strategies.” Greece submitted preliminary plans to the EU, IMF and the ECB on Friday night that it says will raise some €3bn in state revenues. They include measures to combat tax evasion, more privatisations and higher taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, but no “recessionary measures” such as wage and pension cuts. However, the reforms as initially proposed do not appear to have been specific enough to win the approval of the lenders, formerly known as the “troika”.

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That definition says it all, doesn’t it?!

Greek Plans To Unlock Aid ‘Lack Technocratic Input’ (Bloomberg)

Greece’s proposed plans to bolster its finances in exchange for unlocking bailout funds still need lots of work, three European officials said. The 15-page draft, which was discussed Sunday in Brussels, requires more information and details and was a long way from serving as the basis of a deal, said one of the aides, who asked not to be named because the talks were private. Seeking a strategy that passes muster with European officials now withholding loans as the country’s cash crunch deepens, Greece’s government foresees a net increase of €3.7 billion in receipts this year. The biggest chunk would be as much as €875 million from the “intensification of audits on lists of bank transfers and offshore entities,” according to the draft.

“The implication from early on has been that the Greek side doesn’t have enough flesh on bones of some of the new proposals,” said Michael Michaelides at RBS. “The surprising thing about even current proposals given leaks is the seeming lack of technocratic input, which would have helped the Greek case.” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was elected Jan. 25 on a platform of easing budget cuts and restructuring debt. While he backed away from those positions to win a Feb. 20 agreement to extend the nation’s bailout until the end of June, his diplomatic maneuvering and the delays in providing a detailed economic plan are frustrating the rest of the currency bloc. They have also roiled financial markets and spurred Greeks to pull their savings from banks, derailing the economic recovery.

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Eh, yes, you can: “When the deputy prime minister is in China and making certain statements, you can’t contradict it here before he’s even returned to Greece.”

Tsipras Presses Allies for Support as Greek Cash Crunch Deepens (Bloomberg)

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, facing euro-area demands for a credible economic plan, is fending off allies at home who are spoiling for a fight. With the 40-year-old premier due to address parliament in Athens Monday evening amid a deepening cash crunch, a pair of his ministers warned against retreating from election promises to end austerity. Underscoring the cacophony, the energy minister contradicted Tsipiras’s deputy on the sale of the country’s biggest port to China. “This speaking with two tongues has an expiration date,” said Aristidis Hatzis, associate professor of law and economics at the University of Athens. “When the deputy prime minister is in China and making certain statements, you can’t contradict it here before he’s even returned to Greece.” [..]

Greece has red lines and won’t agree to any “recessionary measures” such as cutting wages or pensions or allowing mass dismissals, Tsipras told Real News newspaper in an interview published Sunday. The only way for Greece to end its crisis is through confrontation, if not conflict, with a “Germanized Europe,” Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said in an interview with the Athens-based Kefalaio newspaper. Privatizations, especially in strategic areas, “can’t and won’t happen,” he said. [..] Adding to the confusion, Euclid Tsakalotos, international economic-affairs minister, said Greece won’t abandon its anti-austerity philosophy in return for aid. He spoke in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper as talks were taking place in Brussels over the reform measures. Greece wants a deal but will go its own way “in the event of a bad scenario,” he said.

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I’m with Ron on this. As I said before, all supra-national organizations should be folded, because they will all over time drift towards attracting sociopaths attracted by the lack of transparency and democracy inherent in them.

Repeal, Don’t Reform the IMF! (Ron Paul)

A responsible financial institution would not extend a new loan of between $17 and $40 billion to a borrower already struggling to pay back an existing multi-billion dollar loan. Yet that is just what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) did last month when it extended a new loan to the government of Ukraine. This new loan may not make much economic sense, but propping up the existing Ukrainian government serves the foreign policy agenda of the US government. Since the IMF receives most of its funding from the United States, it is hardly surprising that it would tailor its actions to advance the US government’s foreign policy goals.

The IMF also has a history of using the funds provided to it by the American taxpayer to prop up dictatorial regimes and support unsound economic policies. Some may claim the IMF does promote free markets by requiring that countries receiving IMF loans implement some positive economic reforms, such as reducing government spending. However, other conditions imposed by the IMF, such as that the country receiving the loan deflate its currency and implement an industrial policy promoting exports, do not seem designed to promote a true free market, much less improve the people’s living standards by giving them greater economic opportunities.

The problem with the IMF cannot be fixed by changing the conditions attached to IMF loans. The fundamental problem with the IMF is that it is funded by resources taken forcibly from the private sector. By taking resources out of private hands and giving them to IMF bureaucrats, government distorts the marketplace, harming both American taxpayers and the citizens of the countries receiving the IMF loans. The idea that the IMF is somehow better able to allocate capital than are private investors is just as flawed as every other form of central planning. The IMF must be repealed, not reformed.

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“Syria’s Assad used to rank high. Only 17% see him as a threat now, but a year and half ago, John Kerry put him on a list he apparently keeps that also includes Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein. ”

Americans See Putin As Only Slightly More Imminent Threat Than Obama (Reuters)

People in the United States feel under threat, both from beyond our borders and within them. In fact, when asked about both U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, it was a pretty darn close call — 20 percent saw Putin as an imminent threat compared to 18 percent who said the same about Obama. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll asked more than 3,000 Americans what they see as some of the biggest threats to themselves and the country. You can slice and dice the information in literally hundreds of different ways here. People were shown a range of potential threats and then asked to rate how dangerous they were with one being no threat and five meaning the threat is imminent.

I think it’s safe to say that a national security expert might not agree with the public’s choices. More people fear Boko Haram, a scary but ragged Islamic radical group in Nigeria that might have trouble paying for plane tickets to the United States, than Russia, which recently invaded a major European country. And a whopping 34 percent consider Kim Jong-un, the leader of impoverished North Korea, an imminent threat. Kim may have a couple of nukes, but otherwise his nation is a basket case, so poor that it relies on international aid to feed itself. Though considering how fast Sony Pictures pulled “The Interview” from theaters, I guess the public’s not alone in being afraid of the young man with the unique hairstyle.

Perhaps the most disturbing part, however, is how Americans view each other, simply because of the political party they favor. Thirteen percent of us see the Republican and Democratic parties as an imminent threat. That’s the same number who think the Chinese might be. Quick reality check: neither political party is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt, nor could they cripple us economically in an afternoon. Nor has either party independently building an army that may soon be able to rival that of the United States — that we know of, anyway.

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Do Google Holland Earthquakes.

Energy’s New Legal Threat: Earthquake Suits (WSJ)

After an earthquake toppled her chimney, sending rocks crashing through the roof and onto her legs, Sandra Ladra didn’t blame an act of God. She sued two energy companies, alleging they triggered the 2011 quake by injecting wastewater from drilling deep into the ground. Ms. Ladra’s lawsuit, now before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, highlights an emerging liability question for energy companies: Can they be forced to pay for damages from earthquakes if the tremors can be linked to oil-and-gas activity? Oklahoma, with a history of mild-to-moderate seismic activity, experienced 585 earthquakes of 3.0 or greater magnitude last year—big enough to be felt indoors—according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

That’s more than the state had in the previous 30 years combined and the most of any state in the contiguous U.S. So far, most of the tremors under investigation in Oklahoma and other oil-producing states, including Arkansas, Kansas, Ohio and Texas, have been too small to cause major damage. But the prospect of facing juries over quake-related claims is reverberating throughout the energy industry, which fears lawsuits and tighter regulations could increase costs and stall drilling. “It’s definitely something that has risen to a level of fairly high concern,” Steve Everley at industry advocate Energy In Depth said of earthquake-related risks. “Companies recognize that there’s a problem here,” he said, adding that they are contributing data to help regulators determine what’s causing the quakes.

Most of the focus isn’t on hydraulic fracturing, which involves shooting a slurry of water, sand and chemicals into wells to let oil and gas flow out—and which helped touch off the recent U.S. energy boom. Instead, researchers say the most serious seismic risk comes from a separate process: disposal of toxic fluids left over from fracking and drilling by putting it in wells deep underground. Geologists concluded decades ago that injecting fluid into a geologic fault can lubricate giant slabs of rock, causing them to slip. Scientists say disposal wells are sometimes bored into unmapped faults. The practice isn’t new, but has proliferated with the U.S. drilling boom.

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If the US hadn’t antagonized Russia three ways to Sunday before, this would have been a whole different (storm in a) cup of tea.

Iran Deal Unlikely Before March 31 as Russia Leaves Talks (Bloomberg)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov left talks on Iran’s nuclear program and will only return if an accord is in sight, suggesting that negotiations will continue into the final hours before a March 31 deadline. Diplomats said obstacles remain after foreign ministers from the six powers jointly met Iranian envoys for the first time in the latest round of talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Lavrov will return if there’s a “realistic understanding of a deal,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. “The main thing that gives us optimism is the determination of all the ministers to reach a result without taking a pause,” said Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Rybakov. Russia sees positive signals at the talks, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said in Moscow.

After a 12-year standoff, negotiators are divided over the pace of easing sanctions on Iran and the limits to be imposed on its nuclear program. A framework accord by March 31 would be a step toward ending Iran’s economic isolation, though another three months are envisaged to reach a detailed final agreement. Talks are stuck on how to roll back sanctions and how to reimpose them should Iran violate the agreement, a European diplomat said after Monday’s plenary meeting. No decision has been made on how to dispose of Iran’s enriched uranium, which is essential to ensuring that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, a U.S. official said. While the countries in talks with Iran would prefer that the uranium be transferred to a guarantor nation, other options are being discussed, the European diplomat said.

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Yikes.

Sierra Leone Ebola Lockdown Exposes Hundreds Of Suspected Cases (Reuters)

A three-day lockdown in Sierra Leone has exposed hundreds of potential new cases of Ebola, aiding efforts to bring to an end an epidemic that has already killed 3,000 people in the country. Officials ordered the country’s 6 million residents to stay indoors or face arrest during the period that ended late on Sunday as hundreds of health officials went door-to-door looking for hidden patients and educating residents about the virus. Reports to authorities of sick people increased by 191% in Western Area, which includes the capital, during the lockdown compared with the previous weekend, said Obi Sesay of the National Ebola Response Center. “Tests are being carried out on their blood samples, and the results will be in by Wednesday,” Sesay said, adding that 173 of the patients in Freetown met an initial case definition for Ebola.

In the rest of the country, there was a 50% increase in sick people reported in the lockdown’s first two days, Sesay said. Sierra Leone has reported nearly 12,000 cases since the worst Ebola epidemic in history was detected in neighboring Guinea a year ago. In all, more than 10,000 people have died in the two countries plus Liberia. New cases have fallen since a peak of more than 500 a week in December, but the government said the lockdown, its second, would help identify the last cases and reduce complacency. A source who declined to be identified said there were 961 death alerts nationwide during the lockdown’s first two days and 495 reports of illness of which 235 were suspected Ebola.

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